Moscow is one of those cities that you’ve probably heard a lot about but maybe never thought of going to. Well, if you’ve decided to take the plunge and venture to the land of bears and onion-domed churches, here are a few more things to do when visiting this vast city and some practical things that you need to be aware of.
1. Do take cash!
Although Moscow is a bustling and modern city, cash is still the most popular method of paying. Oftentimes smaller shops and markets don’t give the option of paying by card or you may find yours declined. To avoid getting stranded, please change your money before you go and only take cash out of reputable bank machines, like SBERBANK. Given the exchange rate of ₽89 to €1 and the average cost of a meal being around ₽500, a meal will set you back between €5-8. Not bad for a capital city.
Whilst there are many places to buy souvenirs in Moscow, there are none that can quite compare to Izmailovo market. Located on the outskirts of the city, you can easily reach this sprawling market through the Moscow metro in less than an hour from the city centre.
Although off the beaten track, this market is well worth the visit as souvenir shops in the city centre tend to be more expensive and carry the same wares. At Izmailovo, you can shop for just about everything, from beautiful hand-carved jewellery boxes to chess boards, plus you have the opportunity to haggle over price. It even has an older section where you can find all sorts of weird and wonderful items.
3. For the Instagram worthy shots
As you will no doubt see in Moscow, posing for photos is no big deal. In fact, they’ve got it down to a fine art. I’ve seen middle-aged men lay on Red Square in pursuit of the perfect angle, so there’s no need to feel camera shy in this city. For those of you who want a background more natural than St.Basil’s cathedral, the swings on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad are the perfect spot. Though be quick as you won’t be the only one wanting a go. If you’re looking for a luxury backdrop for your Instagram story, check out GUM on Red Square.
On the topic of photos, DO NOT take photos at Izmailovo Market unless you ask permission first. Vendors can get annoyed and the last thing you want is an angry Russian man shouting at you.
4. Cafe Pushkin
Triumfalnaya Ploshchad is also home to Cafe Pushkin, located on the same street as the swings. Whether you have heard of this place or not, Cafe Pushkin is a must-see for those who are looking for a unique dining experience. Surround yourself with fantastic decor as your taste buds experience traditional Russian cuisines, such as borscht, beef stroganoff, and a selection of other tantalising delights. Check out their menu here. Although there is a dress code, it is well worth it and helps form part of the fun of dining out in Moscow. What better way to spend an evening?
5. Biblio Globus
If you didn’t know, Russians are among the top readers in the world, second only to China, with 59% of Russians saying they read every day or at least once a week. So, if, like me, you enjoy browsing shelf after shelf of books or perhaps want to pick up some classic Russian literature as a souvenir instead, head to the largest bookshop in Moscow, Biblio Globus. Located next to Lubyanka Square, it has the added benefit of being near the old KGB building. So, if you’ve finished a tour there, you can pick up some cheap books afterwards. Don’t despair if you cannot read Russian as they also stock an array of books in different languages.
6. Use the Moscow metro
Although by far the cheapest, fastest, and most beautiful way to travel around Moscow, the metro can also be confusing for the weary traveller. To help you make the most of your time there, download the Moscow Metro App on your phone and never get lost again (you can also use it in St.petersburg). Although it can be intimidating during peak times, you will thank yourself later, as traffic in the capital city can be slow and expensive if you are stuck in a taxi.
Also, remember to stand to the right-hand side on the escalators unless you are in a rush, then you can run down on the left. Muscovites like their metro QUIET with many of them reading books as opposed to scrolling on their phones, so the last thing they want is a gaggle of tourists talking loudly. For the most part, Muscovites are a friendly bunch but they won’t thank you for blocking the way or disturbing their reading time, so remember the rules and you’ll be fine.
7. Don’t be afraid to try local places for food
Plainly speaking, McDonald’s and other western chain restaurants in Moscow are not always the best for quality food and can be expensive. There are many other cheap and tasty options to experience real Russian food, such as Teremok, Lepim i varim, and Farsh.
Teremok is one chain that offers blinis ( Russian pancakes) with sweet or savoury fillings of meat or condensed milk, whilst Lepim i Varim specialises in freshly made dumplings. However, if you are simply looking for a burger, try the popular restaurant, Farsh, located on Nikolskaya street in the city centre and, for vegetarians, you have to try FRESH. The BBQ burger there is simply amazing, the best I’ve ever had and I’m not even a vegetarian.
Depending on where you are staying, I wouldn’t advise drinking the tap water in Moscow. Most Russians tend to use filters in their homes, but, if you are staying in a hotel or Airbnb, it’s best if you stick to bottled water for the duration of your visit. Showering and brushing your teeth is okay, just don’t go taking any mouthfuls unless you want to risk an upset stomach.
9. Don’t drink in public
On the topic of drinking, although Russia has a stereotype for pouring vodka on their cheerios, you will be surprised to know that most take offence to this stereotype, with many young Russians abstaining from alcohol altogether. If you are going out for drinks in Moscow, do not make a point of getting wasted. It will not be appreciated and you may encounter problems with scammers or police. Also do not believe all the videos that you see on YouTube, Russia is not as crazy as you may wish it to be sometimes, so please do not act out because you think it’s normal there.
10. Don’t be afraid to speak a little Russian
Lastly, as intimidating as it can be, most Russians truly appreciate it when foreigners try to speak a little of their language. Even simple words such as “please” and “thank you” can go a long way and, as most older Russians have very limited English skills, you may be glad of it, particularly in the markets and museums. Russian has a formal and informal use, so never greet strangers with “privet”. It’s rude! If you want to say hello, use the formal “здравствуйте” which you can learn how to say here, or a simple “good morning” which is pronounced, “Dobray Ootra”.
So there you have it, folks, the more you know!