Navigating the metro in Moscow
The Moscow metro is one of the most famous underground transit systems in the world. Everyone who has used the Moscow metro is awed by its beauty, its history, its specialness. Many tourists flock to admire the many gorgeous stations. But on the other hand you first have to find your way in the maze of the underground.
Opinions differ about the navigation of the Moscow metro. Some highly recommend it, citing it as easy to use and enjoyable. Others find that navigating the metro requires some preparation because of its complexness. And those are just the opinions of born and raised Muscovites. We went out to investigate to find out for ourselves how foreigner friendly the Moscow Metro really is. First of all a metro station isn't hard to find. Just look for a large red M and you will find the entrance to the underground system. In the worst case you have to ask someone on the street where to find one. People immediately understand what you mean when you say the magical word 'metro'.
We continue on our way and get to our first obstacle: the ticket lady at the ticket office.

Buying a ticket also isn't that hard. While the cashier doesn't understand English, she understands I'm asking for a ticket and the transaction continues silently. I get my ticket with the only problem being that she doesn't give me my change and can't understand that I'm asking for it.

Then you scan your ticket on one of the little gates (that will bar your way if you try to enter without a ticket) and go on one of the escalators bringing you deep, deep below the ground.

So far so good, but navigating gets more difficult when all the signs are written in Russian. There are a few signs where you can read the name of the station in latin letters, but no signs in actual English.
Unless you can read Cyrillic, the only thing you can rely on for navigation are the arrows on the floor. Above that when you get to the station, the only way for you to get on a train in the right direction is to ask someone on the station and pray for them to understand you, as the signs are again only in Russian. The only exception being the Ring line which will take you to your destination no matter which direction, seeing as it has the shape of a circle.

Things get even more difficult when you consider the overlapping stations. Several of the overlapping points have more than two stations overlapping so navigating from one line to the other gets considerable more difficult.

Photo of orange-purple lines
Luckily these intersecting points have extra signs on the floor which will show the direction of the other lines with a circle that their corresponding number and colour. Still you will be forgiven for getting lost while trying to get to another line; this is one thing that everybody will admit to getting lost in.

As if getting to another line wasn't difficult enough there are a couple of stations where you can get to another line simply by getting to the train on the other side where you would usually take the train to the same line because you missed your station. Confused? So are we.

Even Russian people sometimes have trouble navigating the metro, though people who've lived here all their lives don't seem to understand that.

Floor sign
Inside the train keep an eye on the progress bar to see which station the train is at that. Sadly this is also in russian but apart from the voice announcing the stations, this is your only means of knowing where you are at the moment. Fortunately leaving the metro isn't always an ordeal. Usually you just follow the stream of people heading the same way as the 'Way out' signs. Or in stations without english you can follow the sign pictured below.

Photo of progress train
That is with normal stations. Take caution at intersecting stations that you don't get caught in the stream of people transferring to another line, unless you need to go that way. After that it's all very straightforward. You get on the escalator going up, find the gates and when you go through the doors you will finally see the beautiful blue sky. Up until you need to travel by metro again. All in all travelling by metro will prove to be an adventure until you've learned all its kinks and irregularities. So let us help you on your way by summarizing what you need to know and give you some tips and tricks.


  • If you don't want to try your luck with the ticket lady, there are ticket machines where you can buy your tickets in English.
  • Learn Cyrillic to read the signs. At least until there are proper English signs anywhere. But Russians will still tell you to learn to read it.

  • Look at the floor for signs, look for the colour and number of the line

  • Male or female voice indicates what direction the train is taking

  • Carry a map to orientate yourself and/or so you can ask somebody else the way by pointing at the station you need. Or you can download some navigating apps: Yandex map (яндекс карты) Yandex Metro, Yandex transport, Google maps. These apps all can be downloaded from the App Store.

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