Famous for its beauty and elegance, the Moscow subway makes my trip to Russia an exciting one commuting in the city alone. While the stations are bustling with locals, I could always see some visitors stopping in the crowded, sitting on a bench, and admiring the breathtaking arts and historic décors in different corners and the ceiling at the lobby and train platform.
About the Moscow Subway
“They used to have a palace for kings, we are going to build palaces for the people!” Said one of the key architects of the Soviet Subway. For decades, the Moscow subway provides efficient and punctual transportation services to the citizens and the historic network remains among the cleanest and effective subway systems in the world. As soon as the train approached the station, train doors open rapidly sprung open and passengers marching in and out of the cars in a smooth and orderly manner. So, don’t worry if you miss a train because the next one would probably come soon enough.
I have talked about the Free walking tour in Moscow some time ago (check out: We are Here! Moscow!), and the same company provides another Moscow Metro Tour at 3 pm every day, taking tourist through the metro stations with in-depth information and interesting facts of some of the most iconic stations along the “Coffee Ring”. If you are on a budget, it’s absolutely fine to take your time and visit these stations at your own pace.
How to design your own Moscow subway tour
The “Coffee Ring” (a.k.a. the Koltsevaya Line, or, the Brown Line) is the most well-known circle route that connects different subway lines in central Moscow. It is the most crucial to the transfer patterns of passengers since its completion in 1954. I have heard about this legend too many times when I was in Moscow – Joseph Stalin himself suggested the circle line when he placed a coffee cup on the original development map and then lifting it, leaving a circular coffee stain around the center of the city and said: “it’s your main fault, it should be built”. It is thought to be the reason why the line is brown on the maps.
Although the subway stations don’t have many English signs (there are new signs added on the floor), the system is still easy to navigate when you have a metro map in your hands. Use the numbers and colors because sometimes it could be confusing to the Russian alphabets to the names of the stations.
So, exactly, HOW to design your own Moscow subway tour? Well, most of the tourists are usually stay within (or along) the Coffee Ring. You will need a metro map to plan your tour:
First, select the one on the Coffee Ring that’s closest to you, and it should be your starting point. Go along the Brown Line for the next stop and visit those stations that are outside of the Ring when you reach an intersection. Save those stations that are closer (or within the Ring) to the last as they would be easier to get to, and the stations are less busy at night.
Best times to take the Moscow subway art tour
The best time to take the tour, obviously, is the off-peak hours. The wonderful thing about the Moscow subway is that it operates from 5:30 am until almost 1 am. If you are staying in the city for a few days, explore some other key attractions during the day, and visit a few subway stations in the afternoon or the evening (after dinner). The subway is generally safe and you could enjoy a lesser crowd on the platform and take as many photos as you want.
Moscow is a populous city and you will find it’s almost impossible to just stand still in the passages or platform at most times of the day. Having said that, it is not a must to visit all stations in one go, incorporate some viewing spots and you will get to see many of these stations as you move.
Moscow subway tickets
Since most of the must-sees and art decorations are on the station’s platform, you will technically need only one ticket for your subway tour. However, there are sometimes that the artworks are in the concourse, or you need to get out of the station for any reason. Either way, a single journey ticket is fairly cheap that you can simply buy 2 to 3 tickets for the tour.
Ticket Prices (Fares from January 2020)
Single Journey Ticket: Starts from 55 rubles (with zone A and B, and can be used one time within 5 days after purchase)
The ticket vending machine only accepts cash and now passenger could also tap their phone at the ticket gate use NFC technology with Apple Pay, or Samsung Pay. If you are staying in the city for a longer period of time, consider getting a Troika card. It’s easier to travel around without purchasing a single ticket at every stop, and it could be a good souvenir for your journey :).
Most of the must-see subway stations lie in the north of central Moscow. Some of them look more like cathedrals, ballrooms, and art galleries than a transportation hub. The stations still feature décor of Lenin or communist icons that reminded us of the time of Stalin. So without further ado, here are some of the best stations in the Moscow subway system that you shouldn’t miss:
How to use this map
So, I have created a map to point out all the station highlights, and I have also included the major attractions and “must-see” places in Moscow so you have an idea of what to see nearby any stations.
I have already mentioned a couple of times that you should incorporate your daily trips with these stations. You don’t have to visit all stations in a day, instead, split them into 3 or 4 days, you can mark your route for each day on this map to make the most of your visit to Moscow, and your travel pass. in fact, check out How to Spend 4 Days Discovering Moscow’s Best with the City Pass. So, here we go, grab your map and camera, and let’s start the tour!
The Red Line / Circle Line: Komsomolskaya
Keyword: The yellow ceiling
Komsomolskaya is probably the most featured and recognizable station in the network. The station is the intersection of the Red Line and the Circle Line and one of the very first stations of the subway system. As it’s located under three railway stations, it is also one of the busiest hubs.
The platform is a perfect example of an apotheosis of Stalinist Style – limestone and marble pillars, grey granite floor, enormous chandeliers, mural mosaic, and Baroque style ceiling decorated with precious stones, they are telling the story about the Russian fight for independence and glorious victories throughout history.
Drak Green Line: Mayakovskaya
Keyword: Soviet poet and a ballroom
Another unforgettable moment on the Moscow subway journey. The station is named after the Soviet poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky, who is a prominent figure of the Russian Futurist movement. Hence, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see how his spirit reflected in the design of the platform – It looks like a warmly lit modern ballroom! Apart from the wide arches, huge domes, and lamps, check out the 34 mosaics on the ceiling that represent “24 Hours in the Land of the Soviets”, they depict a Soviet future envisioned by the poet.
Dark Blue Line: Ploshchad Revolyutsii
Keyword: 76 giant sculptures
This is one of my favorite stations and it is unforgettable as well because of the 76 magnificent giant sculptures of Soviet people embedded on every corner of the platform. Called the revolution Square, it is for the people – the sculptures feature families and children, athletes, farmers, industrial workers, hunters, to soldiers. I love this station because of the boldness of these sculptures and its theme is taken from all walks of life.
Circle Line: Taganskaya
Keyword: Panels of light blue and white
Back to the Circle Line. Taganskaya’s magnificent panels, on both sides of the platform, though inspired by Russian folklore, are about war. The light blue and white decorations feature the bas-relief profile of ships, sailors, airmen, and other military figures of the Red Army and Navy – which, to the Russian, are important in their history and victory.
Circle Line: Novoslobodskaya
Keyword: Stained glass and “Peace Throughout the World”
The 32 beautiful stained glass panels, adorned by a brass border, in Novoslobodskaya are what the station is known for. Illuminated from within, the panels feature floral patterns and a range of characters from sailors, artists, architects, and engineers. At the end of the platform is a mosaic “Peace Throughout the World”, created by Pavel Korin.
Circle Line: Belorusskaya
Keyword: Statue “Belarusian Partisans”
The station is connected to Belorussky Rail Terminal. The station features an elaborately patterned plaster ceiling, light fixtures supported by ornate scroll-shaped brackets, and a variety of decorations based on Belarusian themes. The statue, “Belarusian Partisans”, installed on the passage was another showstopper of the Belorusskaya, it commemorates the 100,000 partisan fighters from Belarus.
Circle Line > Krasnopresnenskaya
Another intersection station of the Brown Line and Purple Line. Compared to the other subway stations, Krasnopresnenskaya has a rather subtle theme, decorated with red granite pylons with white marble cornices. Look out for the 14 bas-reliefs that depict the events of the Russian Revolution of 1905 and the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Circle Line: Prospekt Mira
Keyword: Golden Mosaic
The station is rather romantic with floral elements and a softer color tone. In the center are medallion bas-beliefs featuring the different aspects of the development of agriculture in the Soviet Union. The eye-catcher here is the hysterical golden mosaic at the end of the passage.