The Moscow Metro: An Underground Museum

The Moscow Metro is widely regarded as the most beautiful in the world. Intended to reflect the magnificent, radiant future that Soviet leaders envisaged when construction began in the 1930s, many of the stations are a joy to behold. The whole metro complex is an impressive blend of arches, columns, balconies and chandeliers, made of marble, glass, metal and stone. Forty four of the metro stations are cultural heritage sites. Often the metro feels like a museum, as tour guides lead groups round and statues loom over you. But it is first and foremost a transportation system, so rather than dwell on its beauty, I’ve compiled a little ranking system. 

Komsomolskaya Station

Komsomolskaya Station

Access: 6/10

The first thing you notice is the length of the escalators. From the top you can barely see the bottom and the little booth with a metro official crammed in. While people do politely stand on the right, you realise quite early on that the left is rarely occupied. Even on the way down, commuters tend to stand, rather than walk, preferring to save their quadriceps for the steps at station interchanges. The depth of the metro is impressive, but that soon wears off and the long climbs and descents become just an exercise in people watching and mind wandering. 

Reliability: 10/10

People are perhaps happy to stand because trains arrive with such alarming regularity. No sooner have the red rear lights of a train disappeared into a dark tunnel, than the sound of an approaching train tickles the ear drums. At peak times, trains arrive less than a minute after one another. Rather than show how long until the next train will arrive, a clock counts up from zero. Even late at night I have never seen the clock reach four minutes. 

Mayakovskaya Station

Mayakovskaya Station

Interchanges: 5/10

One area where the speed is not quite so impressive is at station interchanges. Rather than several lines running through a single station, individual stations connect with each other, often via long tunnels. Many interchanges don’t offer step-free access, which must be a nightmare for the elderly or wheelchair users. Helpful signs are also in relatively short supply. Once you know where you’re going and what to look for it isn’t too bad, but non-Cyrillic reading tourists from rural, metro-free areas, navigating the system must struggle.  

Value For Money: 9/10

As attractive as many of the stations are, the biggest pro for me is the price. At ₽35 a pop (around 50p), a ride on the metro is great value for money. Unlike in London, where every tap of my Oyster Card causes a small pang of irritation, a journey in Moscow feels reasonable and fair. What’s more, despite many stations being deep underground, there is surprisingly good 3G coverage, allowing Russians to scroll down their Instagram feeds to their heart’s content. All for half the price of a scratch card.

Belorusskaya Station, Green Line

Belorusskaya Station, Green Line

Entertainment Value: 7/10

As with all things Russia, the metro provides me with little moments of entertainment. No one runs for trains in Moscow, probably because people know they won’t have to wait long. And yet, people barge and jostle to be the first on the train, just, it would seem, for the bragging rights. Now and again, you might find a drunk man on the circular, ‘ring line’, going round and round, snoozing happily. Most passengers cast disapproving stares but, on one occasion, an elderly gentleman chose to kick the drunkard several times on the shins, awakening him from his slumber.

Based on my rankings, Moscow’s Metro scores just over 7/10. Throw in the design of the place and it’s a real corker. As metro systems go, it’s really rather good. I’ll leave you with a little video I made, documenting some of my favourite stations. Mayakovskaya takes the biscuit for me. Enjoy! 

Just a few video clips from strolling around Moscow's metro
Belorusskaya Station, Ring Line

Belorusskaya Station, Ring Line

Arbatskaya Station

Arbatskaya Station