My Guide to Using Public Transportation in Moscow

I’ve read a fair number of blogs from people being treated in Moscow and I noticed that many people did not venture out much from the hospital to do any exploring of the city.  Those who did often stuck with using a taxi and rarely branched out to using other types of transportation. Carers of patients often just stuck with using buses or trams to commute back and forth between the motel complex and the hospital.  Since I opted to do some sightseeing alone and with others via the metros and trams I decided to write a blog post about the options for public transportation that I used, metros and trams, and some tips on how to go about using them, buying tickets, etc. This will be a long post with pictures, so bear with me.  But if you are afraid of using public transportation, Anastasia will give you a list of several English speaking Taxi drivers that can drive you around the city at great rates too.

I will first admit that I did travel around Moscow alone.  That may sound crazy to some people but I found this city to be very safe and felt completely safe by myself.  The language barrier here is huge as practically nobody speaks any English at all, but if you need directions, pointing at your little map can often get someone to help you and the locals are more than happy to attempt to point you in the right direction.  I’ve heard others say they find the locals to be rude and not friendly, but if you are ignoring them, speaking a different language loudly, and acting out of place, they probably will avoid you.  I see that happen in my own country all the time when groups of tourists come through, they seem like they just want to stick with their own group so you tend to ignore them, not meaning to be rude, but it’s just what people do.  And not many tourists seem to use public transportation here, so someone speaking a foreign language, like English probably will get people staring at you, more as a curiousity thing, plus odds are you will be dressed differently than them as well, makes you stand out even more.

First off, public transportation here is crazy cheap compared to the USA and I’m guessing it’s pretty cheap compared to most places in the world.  A one way ticket on any type of public transportation here costs 50 Rubles, which at the moment breaks down to around $0.77 USD.  All the tickets look pretty much the same, but what I’ve determined is that if you buy tickets on the Tram, you can only use them for the Trams, and if you buy them at the Metro station, you can only use them on the Metros.  Here’s what the tickets look like.  It looks like you can use them interchangably, but when I have tried, it doesn’t work, maybe my tickets were moody, but just a heads up on that.

When using the Trams, you just board the tram at the front door near the driver.  There is a little window there and you just pass through 50 rubles and the driver will hand you a ticket, if you pay with a 100 ruble note and only want 1 ticket, hold up one finger, so you get 1 ticket and 50 rubles back in change.  You can buy multiple tickets at once as well, just hold up the number of fingers for the amount of tickets you want.  You do need to pay in small bills though, so ensure you have some, otherwise they cannot make change.  After you have your ticket you just swipe it in front of a sensor and it allows you to walk through the little gate, pick your seat and enjoy the ride, then just get off at whatever stop you want to.  Since your tickets all look identical, ensure you put the used one somewhere so you don’t accidentally try to use it again. If you are commuting between the hospital and the Vega motel complex, which is the most common route people take, you can catch the Tram about a block away from the hospital, it is the #11 tram.  Three different trams run on that same line, the #11, #34, and #34K.  Be sure you get on the correct tram.  They seem to run every couple of minutes, but you may have to wait up to 15-20 minutes for the #11, depending on traffic and time of day.  There are several blogs that give excellent directions with pictures to/from those tram stations so I don’t need to go over that again. The trams do come in different colors, but as long as it says #11, you are good to go.  Now these trams are not super accessible for those who require a wheelchair, some of the trams do have wheelchair lifts, but they are far and few between, so trying to catch one that is accessible may take quite a while.  Most of the buses have wheelchair lifts though, so for those with more mobility issues, the bus may be the better option.  Here are some pics from my experience using the trams, you can see a picture of a tram ticket, what the tracks look like, the station near the Vega motel, and what some of the trams look like.

Now onto my favorite mode of transportation here, the Metros.  Accessing the metro station from the hospital is a bit of a walk, it is several blocks away and takes about 20-25 minutes to get there if you are walking at a normal pace and hit the lights correctly to cross the roads where needed.  There is a metro station near the Vega as well, but really if you are just going between the 2 places, the trams really are the best option and involve less walking.  But if you want to actually go out and explore the city, then the metro system is the way to go.  Your 50 ruble ticket lets you stop at as many different stations as you want, as long as you stay underground, you can spend the whole day just sightseeing all the neat metro stations, a very cheap way to see a lot of amazing architecture.  Many of the metro stations have amazing statues, murals, and artwork.  It’s worth spending a few hours riding the metro and just getting off and on at different stations.  There are metro lines all over the city so you really can get anywhere by using them. It is the easiest way to get to Red Square and the Kremlin from the hospital.

Purchasing your metro ticket is rather easy. Once you enter the metro station, all marked with a giant M at the entrance, you just walk over to the ticket counter and hand the person your money, if you only want a 1 way ticket for 50 rubles, and pay with a larger bill be sure to hold up the number of fingers for the number of tickets you want, no speaking needed.  If you want 2 tickets so you can get to your destination and back, give them a 100 ruble note and hold up 2 fingers, they will give you just one ticket but it has 2 trips on it, so after you swipe it the first time, be sure you don’t lose it, because you will swipe it again to get back on later. After purchasing your ticket you just swipe it in front of the sensor and it opens the little gate and lets you walk into the station, you then head down the stairs, escalators, or hallway to get to the tracks.  Metros run non-stop so if you miss one, don’t fret, another one will show up in 1-3 minutes, seriously they are that frequent, it’s crazy.  Now everything is in Russian there, there is zero English at all, so you really need to get a map of the metro lines, which you can get for free at the motel, or if you are just staying in the hospital, another patient’s carer can probably snag you one if you ask.  Be sure to identify your station by its Russian name so you remember how to get back there, taking a picture of the station name with your phone/camera is helpful for this, also circle it on your map.  The easiest way to figure out how to get to where you want to go via metro is to count the number of stops before your destination, so you can keep track and get off at the right location.  If you end up going too far or not far enough, no need to fret, another metro will be showing up in about a minute, so just hop on it and go whatever direction you need to go.  Here is a map of the metro system, and for the life of me, this blog will not allow me to flip the picture, so if need be save it and flip it yourself, or an online search will easily pop one up for you. The dark blue line where things are marked and circled in the line that takes you to/from the Vega motel complex, hospital, and also to Red Square/Kremlin.


Metro Map

Now if you are going to be adventurous and want to explore more of the city like I did one day, I ended up taking several different metro lines.  You will notice on the map that there are certain spots where it shows 2-4 different metro lines all meeting up in one place, if you want to switch lines, get off at that stop and start reading signs.  The lines are all color coded so find the color of the line you want to go to and follow the signs to get to that line.  It may involve going up or down escalators/stairs, around some hallways, and seem confusing, but you will eventually get to where you need to go.  Then read the signs closely and figure out what station you are headed to so you can get on the metro going the right direction.  Again, if you screw up and go the wrong way, just hop off at the next station, and catch a metro going the other way.  And if you are very lost, find a nice person and start pointing frantically to your map and odds are they will attempt to point you in the right direction.  When you eventually get to your final destination, get off the metro and start taking the stairs/escalator to get to the surface where you can then exit out on the street.  Again it’s helpful to take a picture of the metro station name and picture of the actual station entrance itself, so you can find it again.

Metros can get very busy at certain times of the day, the closer you get to the center of the city, like by Red Square and the Kremlin, the more packed the cars are going to be.  So be prepared if you get on a metro at one of those locations that you may be standing for a bit before a seat opens up.  Metros are not very accessible for those in wheelchairs, we never seen an elevator at any of the stations, you’d pretty much have to brave holding onto the wheelchair while on the escalator or go down the sketchy metal rail or cement ramps that are on some of the stairways.  They are pretty steep, so you’d need someone who is pretty strong to keep ahold of you for either of those routes.  Russia in general doesn’t appear to be to easy to maneuver for those in wheelchairs.  I took quite a few pictures of the whole metro process, so click through them for the descriptions that go with them.  This batch of pictures shows the Metro Station nearest the hospital, how to get inside it, buy your tickets, read the signs inside, what the metro looks like inside, what the station at Red Square Looks like and how to get out of that station.

Now when you are wanting to make your way back to the hospital or to the Vega Motel complex from Red Square you need to ensure you enter the right Metro Station.  If you enter the wrong one you will still be able to get to the dark blue line you need, but you will be walking through tunnels and up and down stairs, and it’s quite confusing, finding the right station at the start saves a lot of time and energy.  The pictures below show the entrance to the Metro Station in Red Square that will get you on the correct train.  You’ll know it’s correct after you swipe your ticket and have to ride down some very steep escalators.  Again you will see the awesome statues you did when you arrived and you will see the station name on the side of the tunnel.  Just ride the metro back to either the hospital station or the Vega station and you’ll be back where you started.

Now for carers that plan to stay in Moscow for the entire month and want to do more traveling around town or perhaps make several trips to and from the hospital each day, there is a cheaper option.  There is a card you can buy called the Troika Card, it is a hard plastic card that initially costs 50 rubles, that price is refundable when you return the card. You can load the card with whatever amount of rubles you want and it gives you cheaper fares on all forms of public transportation including trams, buses, metros, etc.  They can be purchased at any Metro station ticket counter as well.  Just swipe it like your regular tickets and it just deducts the amount for the fare.  A cheaper and easier way to travel around the city and worth looking into.  An internet search can pop up more information about that card and the fare prices for the year, here is a picture of the front of that card:


Troika Card

I found traveling around Moscow to be very simple.  I was a little skeptical at first, but once I tried it once or twice it really grew on me.  I highly recommend giving public transportation a shot.  If you have any questions feel free to ask, I’m happy to help.



About Cat

I'm an outdoorsy gal, wife, mom of 2 and MS Warrior. I underwent HSCT in Russia in April/May 2016 to halt my MS and documented my entire journey while I was there in my blog and am now continuing to blog through my recovery.
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