You are considering or have made the exciting decision to move to Moscow. Not for the faint of heart, this sprawling, exciting and lively city is your new home. You will make experiences here that you will remember for a lifetime. You are clearly an adventurous person who is not averse to challenge, however life in Moscow can provide you with quite the culture shock when you first arrive. Even if you have visited Moscow (or any other part of Russia) before, it’s not the same as living here, and Moscow will certainly supply you with moments of utter astonishment and disbelief - hopefully in more good ways than bad ways!
In order to help you settle into Moscow, and to prepare for your upcoming adventure, we have created this guide. Inside you will find what to bring, what to wear, what to expect and how to navigate this fantastic capital where you will experience some of the finest architecture, the best museums and the most beautiful metros! (Honestly, your pictures are going to look amazing). So, добро пожаловать! It’s time to learn everything you can about Moscow, in one handy guide!
Although Moscow has a reputation in the West for being a gritty and dangerous place, this is somewhat unfair with the developments of the capital in recent years. While true it is not a city to be taken lightly, much of this reputation is a holdover from the hard-scrabble transition period of the late 1980s and early 1990s following the decline and collapse of the Soviet Union. In the last few decades, the face of Moscow has changed dramatically. Of course, your home country might seem friendlier (Russians don’t smile as much as people from the West and you may get told off for doing something that you had even thought about before), but in general, Moscow is much safer than most large cities in Europe or America. As with any large city, however, you should always be aware of your surroundings and exercise caution.
The Police, or “Politsiya” (полиция) are the main law-enforcement personnel you will encounter in Russia, recognizable by their distinctive long wool coats and fur hats in the winter, and darkblue uniforms during warmer months. A special branch of the police is the OMON (ОМОН), that are roughly equivalent to American SWAT. These officers often wear a more military-style, camouflage uniform. Not to be confused with the police are the various private security or “Okhrana” (Oхрана) that can be seen in most metro stations, malls, and supermarkets.
Though corruption is not as much of a problem as it was fifteen to twenty years ago, it is still something to be aware of when dealing with Russian police and security. As a general rule, try to avoid contact with the police if at all possible. If you are stopped, comply as much as is reasonable, but be sure to call a manager if you encounter any significant problems. Do not try to negotiate a bribe. The person you are bargaining with more than likely has much more experience in this regard and you will almost assuredly end up paying far more than you would like. In the event of an emergency, whether fire or medical, call the main emergency number for Russia, “112”. The operators are required to know English, as well as several other European languages, and should be able to assist you with whatever problem you might have.
As you will be interacting with Russians on a daily basis, a basic understanding of cultural norms and expectations is essential for your interactions to go smoothly. Though Russia is a fairly westernized country, you may find that you are caught unawares by things that Russians don’t even think about.
On the street
Something that many comment on is the unsmiling, even sullen appearance of the average person on the street. Perhaps as a holdover from the communist period, as a general rule Russian people tend to avoid exhibiting emotion to strangers in public. This is not the case in a private setting, however, where Russians can be just as friendly and outgoing as anyone else. Be prepared to have people stare at you if you are speaking English in public, it is not hostility and is just interest.
Russia, especially since hosting the World Cup in 2018, has been making a conscious effort to provide English translations on public transport and street signs, however there are many signs that still remain in Russian. Please learn the Russian alphabet before you come to Russia. It will make navigating and surviving in Russia significantly easier. It is not as hard to grasp as it first appears, and should take you no longer than a few hours at the most (See “The Russian Alphabet” section below). Furthermore there are several important cognates that you will be able to understand through just knowing the Russian alphabet, such as туалет (toilet) and ресторан (restaurant).
Although proficiency in English has improved rapidly in Russia, many of the older generation will speak little to no English, so learning at least a few words and phrases is essential to interacting with Muscovites (see the Useful words and Phrases section below). Though you wouldn’t do it on the street, it is usually considered polite to greet your apartment neighbors with a simple “Здравствуйте!” (Zdravstvujte!), the standard Russian greeting.
When meeting male acquaintances, other males are usually expected to shake hands – even if they are longtime friends. This “handshake rule” does not apply to women.
The giving of flowers is a very important cultural element within Russia, signifying anything from love, to friendship, to kindly consideration. While there are several rules concerning flowers, perhaps the most important is if you want to give flowers, always give an odd number, as an even number of flowers are usually only given at funerals, and can be considered offensive.
Russia has quite a number of national and cultural holidays. It is a good idea to learn when they will lie during the school year as Simply English gives all national holidays off to its employees (unless they specifically desire to work for overtime pay). The following are the most important:
Defender of the Fatherland Day “Den' zashchitnika Otechestva” (День защитника Отечества), occasionally referred to as “Men’s Day,” is the official day of the armed force of the Russian Federation. The holiday was established in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution.
International Women’s Day - Celebrated on March 8th, International Women’s Day (Междунаро́дный же́нский день) is a United Nations recognized holiday meant to celebrate women and the contributions they have made to society. Though originally established by progressives as a holiday to encourage equal rights, in Russia the day has taken on a decidedly different tone. Russian Women’s Day can be roughly equated to Valentine’s Day (a holiday not widely celebrated in Russia) with some aspects of Mother’s Day. It is traditional to present women you know with gifts and flowers on this day to express appreciation for their work, love, and devotion.
National Flag Day is a national holiday in Russia, celebrated on August 22nd. The holiday was established in 1994, partially to commemorate the defeat of the 1991 attempted coup.
May Day and Victory Day
“International Worker’s Day,” (День международной солидарности трудящихся) also called “Labor Day,” or just “May Day” is celebrated on May 1 st and was a major holiday during the Soviet period, celebrated with massive parades and artistic displays. Nowadays, the day is mostly just used by the Communist Party of Russia and various labor interests to stage demonstrations. Nevertheless, May 1 st is the start of a period known as “May Holidays” when Russians often take off a week or more from work to go on vacation. These Holidays culminate in Victory Day (День Побе́ды) on May 9 th , which commemorates the victory of the Soviet Union over Nazi Germany in World War II. Victory Day is perhaps the single most important holiday in Russia, roughly equivalent to Independence Day in the United States. The day is celebrated with a massive military parade and display on Red Square, concerts and other festivities in various parts of the city, and fireworks at night.
Russia Day (День России), is a national holiday of Russia celebrated on June 12. The day commemorates the official declaration of sovereignty by Russia from the Soviet Union in 1991.
Unity Day (День народного единств), first established in 2005, commemorates the ejection of Polish invaders from Russia in 1612. It is the restoration of a previous holiday that had been celebrated from 1649 until the revolution in 1917. In the past few years it has been coopted to a certain extent by nationalistic and neo-Nazi elements within Russia, who regular stage protests and marches on this day. The holiday is celebrated on November 4 th.
The Moscow Metro
Stalin’s glory, and still an unparalleled achievement in urban public art, the Moscow Metro is also an absolute necessity for those looking to traverse the city’s vast sprawl without the benefit of a car. You will be using the metro a lot during your time in Moscow, so learning how it works and how to use it effectively should be one of your top priorities.
Different metro stations have different hours of operation, but in practice the difference is insignificant. The metros open at about 5:00 am (some of the stations open at 5:30 am), and all of them close at 1:00 am. However, if you have already made it inside, you still have a chance to get home as the trains themselves are still running. When the clock strikes 1:00 am the last train leaves the first station on its line. This can give you as much as a half an hour leeway – just don’t push it.
The current price of one ride on the metro is 55 rubles, 110 for two rides. Ticket machines that accept coins and bills are located at the entrance of every metro station. While you could just buy a ride every time, it is more efficient and price-effective to purchase a “Troika” smart card with a certain number of rides, day, month, or year.
Navigating the metro
The Moscow metro is a very efficient means of getting about the city, and is quite easy to use – once you get the hang of it. The Moscow Metro Map (included at the end of this guide) will be your best friend for the first couple weeks you are here while you are learning your main routes, and will continue to be an essential point of reference long afterward when visiting new areas of the city. Don’t worry though, after a month you’ll be whizzing from one end of Moscow to another with no issue!
There are ten main lines on the map, each with its own name, color, and number. They are, in order from 1 to 10, the Sokolnicheskaya (Сокольническая), “red” line; the Zamoskvoretskaya (Замоскворецкая), “green” line; the Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya (Арбатско-Покровская), “blue” line; the Filyovskaya (Филёвская), “light-blue” line; the Koltsevaya (Кольцевая), “brown” or “circle” line; the Kaluzhsko-Rizhskaya (Калужско-Рижская), “orange” line; the Tagansko Krasnopresnenskaya (Таганско-Краснопресненская), “purple” line; the Kalininskaya (Калининская), “yellow” line; the Serpukhovsko-Timiryazevskaya (СерпуховскоТимирязевская), “gray” line; and the Lyublinsko-Dmitrovskaya (Люблинско-Дмитровская), “light-green” line. There are also two additional short “branch” lines, Kakhovskaya (Каховская), also colored light-blue; and Butovskaya (Бутовская), colored gray. Keeping track of all these different names is obviously a bit complicated, so most Metro veterans just stick to the colors for identification.
Be aware, while the Moscow Metro Map does include English transliterations, most signs in the metro and in metro cars do not (though this is rapidly changing). A familiarity with the Russian alphabet is therefore essential for easy navigation of the metro. Luckily, the alphabet is quite easy to learn. See the “Russian Alphabet” section of the guide for more information.
Knowing a couple words and phrases in Russian also helps metro navigation immensely. “Vkhod” (вход) is “entrance” in Russin, while “Vykhod” (выход) is exit. When you want to exit the metro, look for a sign stating “Vykhod v gorod” (Выход в город), meaning literally “Exit in the city.” When exiting the metro, keep in mind stations can have as many as eight final exits onto the street. The “Exit in the city” sign will often list street names or landmarks listed below. Also, a useful rule of thumb is to know whether you need to leave toward the front or back of your train when it enters the station hall. Another very important word to be aware of on metro signs is “Perehod” (переxод), Russian for “transfer.” Perehods are pedestrian connections between different metro lines. They are represented on the Metro Map by a white link between the colored connecting station circles.
Metro etiquette and safety
The Moscow Metro is one of the most used metro systems in the world, and as such is extremely crowded, especially during rush hour. Always be aware of those around you, and proper metro etiquette. If you get in someone’s way, they will likely have little compunction about giving you a good shove. If someone speaks to you on the metro, they’re usually asking you if you are getting off at the next stop, especially on a packed metro carriage. For this reason, it is best to stand away from the door until it is your turn to get off.
When using the escalators, it’s generally expected that if you want to stand you keep to the right, and let those in a hurry walk up the left side of the stairs. Standing to the side of the doors is also expected for arriving trains, as disembarking passengers have right of way. Try to avoid standing too near the edge of the platform. Though it’s unlikely someone or something will push you onto the tracks, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
When riding on the metro, seats are often at a premium. Women, children, and especially older men and women are given priority. You will likely be asked to give up your seat to an older woman if you do not do so of your own accord.
Pickpockets and thieves are rare but do have a presence in the Moscow Metro. It’s recommended for women to keep a firm grip on their bag, and for men to keep their wallet in one of the front pockets of their pants, rather than the back.
Accidents and terrorist attacks on the Metro are rare, but have both occurred within the last fifteen years. Always be aware of suspicious behavior, and use common sense when riding the metro.
Buses, Trolley Buses, and Trams
While buses, trolley buses, and trams are not as reliable and timely as the metro, they can still be extremely useful for getting to places not located near a metro station, or when you just want to be able to see Moscow from the surface. There are bus stops located at every metro stop, and periodically on most major (and side) streets. Most buses and the like have a sign displaying its number, along with a list of its major stops. There are also specialized buses traveling to and from specific locations, such as major malls. While ticket prices vary, keep in mind your "Troika" card also works for ALL buses, trolley buses, and trams within Moscow city limits.
All bus stops have a sign listing the number of the buses that stop there, as well as its final stop. Along with these, some stops have an electronic display showing the number of minutes until the next bus arrives. In addition, apps such “Yandex Maps” and “Yandex Transit” show you which busses to take, and live GPS information about where each bus is in the city.
Using the bus system can be confusing and frustrating at first, but it is a skill well worth learning. Using the busses in conjunction with the metro can make navigating Moscow a significantly easier and quicker experience.
“Mashrutkas” (Маршрутки) are small, usually privately-owned mini-buses that operate in the cities of Ukraine, Russia, and other former Soviet states. While Moscow has an extensive bus system, Mashrutkas can still be found at some train and metro stations and bus stops. Mashrutkas work on a “pay as you go” system, and are usually priced around 25-35 roubles. Like busses, Mashrutkas have their number and its stops displayed on the side. Keep in mind you will often have to tell the driver the stop where you would like to get off. Saying “Na Ostanovka!” to the driver will usually get him to stop at the next available opportunity (See Useful Russian words and phrases below).
As in Western Europe, trains are a very important part of travel in Russia. All passenger rail transport in Russia in operated by the semi-private company Russian Railways, abbreviated
The two main kinds of train you will use are commuter trains – called “Electrichka” (электри́чка) - which run within the city and to some outlying towns, and long-distance trains, which run to almost all cities within Russia and to other countries. Electichkas are cheap and convenient, but are not very comfortable. You don’t want to be stuck on one for more than a couple hours if you can avoid it.
Basic long-distance trains offer four main travel options ranging from cheapest to most expensive: “Seed,” “Platz,” (Плац) “Coupe,” (Купе) and “Lux” (Люкс). Seed is basic seating with no sleeping option. Platz is the first option with a bed, but you will be in an open car, sharing a space with five other people. Buying a Coupe ticket gives you access to a fourperson, closed sleeping compartment, and Lux allows you to reserve the entire compartment for just two people.
Tickets for Electrichka and long-distance trains can be purchased by machines located in all train stations in Moscow, or, if you speak Russian, you can buy tickets directly from the ticket office, called a “Kassa” (Kacca). Most convenient, however, is perhaps to purchase tickets from the website tutu.ru.
Keep in mind that, as opposed to most cities in Europe, Moscow has no central train station, or “Vokzal” (вокзал). When you purchase your ticket always make sure you are aware from which station your train will leave. The main stations you will use are located outside the Kievskaya, Kurskaya, Belorusskaya, Rizhskaya, Paveletskaya, Savyolovskaya, and Komsomolskaya metro stations. Komsomolskaya is unique in that it actually has three train stations nearby: Leningradsky (which services trains going to and from St. Petersburg), Kazansky, and Yaroslavsky.
“Aeroexpress” (Аэроэкспресс) is the name of a special train service that runs from certain train stations to the airport. Relatively cheap and very convenient, Aeroexpress will undoubtedly be your preferred method for traveling to and from the airport (though bus lines and taxis are also always alternative options). Aeroexpress services running to Domodedovo airport leave from Павелецкий вокзал (Paveletsky Voksal), those running to Sheremetevo leave from Белорусский Вокзал (Belorussky Voksal), and those to Vnukovo from Киевский Вокзал (Kievsky Voksal). Aeroexpress ticket machines and ticket offices are located around all three of these stations.
It goes without saying that Russia is cold during the winter (though it gets warmer from about mid-march onward), however if you come from a country such as the UK or South Africa, you are very likely not prepared for how cold it’s going to be. Although Russian homes, restaurants and other public buildings are heated, you do not want to be trampling through -20 temperatures in January in a flimsy coat and jeans. Please, please, please dress for the weather, because a frozen teacher is not a happy teacher!