Moscow is designed much like a target, going from the bulls-eye of the city centre outwards in several distinct circles, marked by concentric roads. The circles of the target are intersected by the Moscow River, which passes through the centre of Moscow, and numerous radial highways and roads, including Tverskaya Street – the road that leads from Red Square directly to St. Petersburg. These highways lead out through the city into the suburbs and finally smaller towns of the Moscow region.
The innermost circular road is the Boulevard Ring. It passes through Pushkin Square and encompasses the Kremlin and the famous department store GUM. The second road, known as the Garden Ring, marks the edge of Moscow’s city center. It is separated from the Boulevard Ring by less than one kilometer in places. The Boulevard and Garden Rings are both popular locations for theatres and high-end restaurants, clubs and retail stores.
Once you have reached the third ring – Tretoe Kolzo – you have left the center of Moscow. The third ring is about three kilometers beyond the Garden Ring and is purely a motor highway constructed on raised bridges to help relieve city congestion. While a fourth ring is under consideration, currently, the next ring out is the Moscow Automobile Ring Road – MKAD (pronounce em-kad). The MKAD marks the city limits of Moscow, and, in general terms, the end of the area serviced by the Moscow metro.
The first two rings mark the center of Moscow, and are rife with historic monuments, business headquarters for major corporations, and select residential buildings. The third ring and beyond are where the majority of Muscovites live. These areas are a testament to Soviet central planning. Every region of Moscow is split into fairly small administrative districts, each of which contains at least one school of every grade level, a public hospital, an open market, and usually at least one park. Each district also has designated government offices for everything from public works (gas, water, and exterior building maintenance) to a bureau of public records where births and marriages are recorded.
The residential areas in these districts are almost exclusively high-rise apartment buildings. Due to the high concentration of residents, it remains, even after the end of social planning, viable economically for each district to contain multiple malls, grocery stores, salons, dry cleaners, private dental clinics, entertainment venues such as movies theatres, and much more. To the Muscovite, very few services are beyond walking distance, and the need to leave the home district is limited to the daily commute to work and weekend trips to explore other parks or attractions of Moscow.
Underneath the city, the still-expanding Moscow metro system emulates the circular structure. A series of radial underground lines that runs through the center, and is connected – roughly underneath the third circle – by a circle metro line. Although daunting to the first timer and anyone who can’t read Russian the metro serves an important above-the-ground purpose, as its stations create easy-to-identify landmarks. Because of the sheer size of Moscow, and the length of many streets that cross through the entire city, metro stations are the most popular way to identify a part of town. For example, if co-workers want to know where you live, they would most likely first ask for the nearest metro station – as opposed to the name of the region or district – whether or not they plan to take the metro to come visit.