Tour of the Metro
Every day, as many as seven million people ride the Moscow metro. What’s more, this transport system marries function and form: many of the stations are marble-faced, frescoed, gilded works of art. Take this tour for an overview of Moscow's most interesting and impressive metro stations.
Need to Know
- Start Komsomolskaya
- End Park Pobedy
- Distance 18km, one to two hours
- Time The Moscow metro runs every day from 5.30am until 1am. The metro can be uncomfortably crowded at peak times, so the best time to take a tour is Saturday or Sunday morning or any evening after 8pm.
- Price One ride costs R55, which is sufficient to tour the stations as long as you don't exit the metro. If you intend to use the metro for transportation during your stay in Moscow, you can purchase a card with multiple rides at discounted rates (eg 20 rides for R720).
History of the Moscow Metro
When Stalin announced plans for Metrostroy (construction of the metro) in the 1930s, loyal communists turned out in droves to lend a hand. Thousands of people toiled around the clock in dire conditions, using pickaxes and spades and hand-pulled trolleys. Some 10,000 members of the Moscow Komsomol (Soviet youth league) contributed their time to building the communist dream.
The first metro line opened on 16 May 1935 at 7am. Thousands of people spent the night at the doors of the station so they might ride the first train on the red line (between Park Kultury in the south and Sokolniki in the north). Two additional lines opened in 1938.
Construction continued during the Great Patriotic War, with the opening of two additional lines. Several stations actually served as air-raid shelters during the Siege of Moscow in 1941. The Ring line (Koltsevaya line) opened in the early 1950s.
Khrushchev’s tastes were not as extravagant as Stalin’s, so later stations employ a uniform, utilitarian design. But the metro continued to expand, and still continues today (as does Moscow itself).
At Komsomolskaya, the red line 1 (Sokolnicheskaya liniya) intersects with line 5, also known as the Ring line (Koltsevaya liniya). Both stations are named for the youth workers who helped with early construction. In the line 1 station, look for the Komsomol emblem at the top of the limestone pillars and the majolica-tile panel showing the volunteers hard at work. The Ring-line station has a huge stuccoed hall, the ceiling featuring mosaics of past Russian military heroes.
From Komsomolskaya, proceed anti-clockwise around the Ring line, getting off at each stop along the way.
Originally named for the nearby MGU Botanical Garden, Prospekt Mira features elegant, white-porcelain depictions of figures planting trees, bringing in the harvest and generally living in harmony.
Thirty-two stained-glass panels envelop this station in art nouveau artistry. Six windows depict the so-called intellectual professions: architect, geographer, agronomist, engineer, artist and musician. At one end of the central hall is the mosaic Peace in the Whole World. The pair of white doves was a later addition to the mosaic, replacing a portrait of Stalin.
The ceiling mosaics celebrate the culture, economy and history of Russia’s neighbour to the west. The 12 ceiling panels illustrate different aspects of their culture, while the floor pattern reproduces traditional Belarusian ornamentation.
Switch here to line 2 (the green Zamoskvoretskaya line), where the Belarusian theme continues, and travel south.
This is the pièce de résistance of the Moscow metro. The grand-prize winner at the 1938 World’s Fair in New York has an art deco central hall that’s all pink rhodonite, with slender, steel columns. The inspiring, upward-looking mosaics on the ceiling depict 24 Hours in the Land of the Soviets. This is also one of the deepest stations (33m), which allowed it to serve as an air-raid shelter during WWII.
This station was formerly called Ploshchad Sverdlova in honour of Lenin’s right-hand man (whose bust was in the hall). Nonetheless, the station’s decor follows a theatrical theme. The porcelain figures represent seven of the Soviet republics by wearing national dress and playing musical instruments from their homeland.
Change here to Ploshchad Revolyutsii station on line 3 (the dark blue Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya line).
This dramatic station is basically an underground sculpture gallery. The life-sized bronze statues represent the roles played by the people during the revolution and in the 'new world' that comes after. Heading up the escalators, the themes are: revolution, industry, agriculture, hunting, education, sport and child rearing. Touch the nose of the border guard’s dog for good luck on exams.
Take line three heading west.
This shallow station was damaged by a German bomb in 1941. The station was closed (supposedly permanently) and a parallel line was built much deeper. Service was restored on this shallow line the following decade, which explains the existence of two Arbatskaya stations (and two Smolenskaya stations, for that matter) on two different lines.
At 250m, Arbatskaya is one of the longest stations. A braided moulding emphasises the arched ceiling, while red marble and detailed ornamentation give the whole station a baroque atmosphere.
This elegant white-marble hall is adorned with a Kyivan-style ornamental frieze, while the frescoed panels depict farmers in folk costume, giant vegetables and other aspects of the idyllic Ukrainian existence. The fresco at the end of the hall celebrates 300 years of Russian-Ukrainian cooperation. Ironic.
This newer station opened after the complex at Poklonnaya Gora, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War. It is the deepest Moscow metro station, and it has the longest escalators in the world. The enamel panels at either end of the hall (created by Zurab Tsereteli) depict the victories of 1812 and 1945.
From here you can return to the centre by retracing your ride on line three.
Museums & Galleries
Moscow's rich history and dynamic culture are highlights of this cosmopolitan capital, as showcased by the ever-expanding array of museums and galleries. Once a cornerstone of conservatism, these venues are now experimenting with new technologies and subject matter, in an attempt to entertain and educate.
Moscow is packed with museums. History museums remember every era of Russia's past; countless country estates are now architectural museums; military museums commemorate the nation's wartime heroics; and anybody who was anybody has a 'house-museum' in their honour. There are two space museums, two Jewish museums, a chocolate museum and a video-game museum. Whatever you're into, Moscow has a museum for you.
Moscow is home to two world-class art museums: the State Tretyakov Gallery, exhibiting Russian art, and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, a showcase mainly for European art. They are both spectacular venues – well worth a day (or more) to admire their wide-ranging collections. In addition to these standard bearers, the capital contains countless smaller niche galleries dedicated to particular artists or genres.
Museums & Galleries
- Armoury Russia's storehouse of priceless treasures and historic artefacts.
- State Tretyakov Gallery The crème de la crème of Russian art, from ancient icons to exquisite modernism.
- Jewish Museum & Centre of Tolerance Genii and outcasts, dissidents and revolutionaries – the history of Jews in Russia at a glance.
- Garage Museum of Contemporary Art Moscow's most cutting-edge museum.
- Moscow Kremlin Recounting nearly 1000 years of history, starting from the founding of Moscow.
- Bunker-42 Cold War Museum Descend to the underground – literally – to see this secret Cold War bunker.
- Gulag History Museum Stalin's slaughterhouse – the history of one of the world's cruellest prison systems.
- Jewish Museum & Centre of Tolerance Explores a history that was long overlooked.
- State History Museum A massive collection covering Russian history from the Stone Age to Soviets.
- State Tretyakov Gallery First stop for art lovers: the world's premier venue for Russian art.
- 19th & 20th Century Art Gallery The Pushkin's collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings is unparalleled.
- New Tretyakov Gallery All of the 20th century: socialist realism versus avant-garde and nonconformist art.
- Museum of Russian Impressionism A new museum to educate and inform about a specific genre.
- Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines Arcade games as history lesson and sociological study.
- Zaryadye Pavilion Decode the QR-coded exhibits, or just admire the unusual decor.
- Lumiere Brothers Photography Centre A favourite for photographers.
- Glinka Museum of Musical Culture An amazing collection of musical instruments from through the years and around the world.
- Moscow Design Museum Catch an exhibit in the big, bold, black-and-white bus (or at some other venue around town).
- Mikhail Bulgakov Museum The censored writer's former flat offers a calendar of lively cultural events.
- Tolstoy Estate-Museum See where Russia's most celebrated novelist lived and worked.
- Ryabushinsky Mansion This architectural landmark was also the home of Soviet writer Maxim Gorky.
- Gogol House Gaze into the fireplace where Gogol famously tossed his Dead Souls manuscript.
- Garage Museum of Contemporary Art Unusual, thought-provoking art in a ruined restaurant in Gorky Park.
- Moscow Museum of Modern Art Hosts compelling rotating exhibits, especially at the branch outlets.
- Winzavod A former wine-bottling facility now filled with art.
- Multimedia Art Museum Rotating exhibits featuring photography and all manner of media.
Need to Know
Most museums are open from about 10am to 6pm, though hours often fluctuate from day to day. Be aware that most museums are completely closed at least one day a week – often Monday. Look for late evening hours on at least one day a week (usually Thursday).
Many museums close for cleaning one day per month, usually during the last week of the month.
Many museums still maintain a dual pricing system, whereby foreign visitors must pay a higher admission fee than Russian residents. Even student prices are often reserved for students of local universities, though this is not a uniform practice so it's worth enquiring.