Moscow is one of my favorite cities. It is clean, safe and beautiful. And there are so many fantastic places to visit in Moscow, you can’t even imagine it. I spent a week there this August only (I have been to Moscow more than 5 times) and I still have a long list of things to do there. So, if it is your first time in the city or you if you want to fully enjoy it, here is my travel advice for Moscow.
Moscow travel advice: general tips
1. Currency and exchange
Rouble is the Russian currency and prices are in roubles everywhere. I haven’t seen any places accepting dollars or euros, but you can pay by card in many restaurants, supermarkets and sights. Just don’t assume that your card will be accepted everywhere, so I advise you to have some cash on you. In my country I can buy roubles in banks and exchange bureaus. When it comes to Moscow, I exchange money in Sberbank, the biggest bank in Russia.
I was planning to write this post a year ago, and I remember that I wanted to specifically indicate that English would not help you much in Moscow. Almost all inscriptions everywhere were in Cyrillic, so foreigners had hard time in the city. But it’s no longer the case. I visited Moscow after the World Cup again, and English is wider spoken now. Almost all informational displays are translated into English, names of metro stations are written with Latin letters below the Cyrillic ones. Staff at many tourist places speak English, which was not the case before. When in Russia, I don’t need to speak English, as Russian is my mother tongue, but I talked to a guy from the USA and he said that many Russians speak English, so you will not get lost.
3. Where to stay in Moscow
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Moscow is a huge city and there are hundreds of hotels and hostels for every budget. And during my two last visits to the city I stayed in the same hotel Aroom Hotel in the city center. It is cheap, much cheaper than in European capitals and it’s within walking distance from the Kremlin. It is not far from Maroseyka and Pokrovka, very lively streets with many restaurants for every taste. The rooms are small, but each has a private bathroom and a kitchen where you can cook. I like the place, it is small and the staff is very nice.
Anyway, I advise you to stay in the city center, as the distances are huge so you will spend a lot of time in buses or metro. It would be perfect if you could stay in or around that circle that I marked below. I book accommodation via booking.com, so you can check there hotels and hostels.
4. Cheap chains of restaurants
I have written a big post on places to eat in Moscow where locals go, but I want to specifically mention two places I really liked. Both of them are the so-called pret-a-manger restaurants where food is ready to eat so no need to wait. It’s Bratya Karavaevy and Brusnika. Their menus are varied and the food is really delicious. And the prices are lower than in proper restaurants (I hope I am not offending anyone here).
If you crave Russian food, then go to Varenichnaya Nr 1: it is a place where they serve all kinds possible of vareniki, Russian dumplings. And they have borscht, of course 🙂
5. Renovating and beautifying
Moscow is now in the stage of renovation. What I mean is that you will see scaffolding and green net everywhere. The Novodevichy Convent is covered in scaffolding completely.
Some of the churches inside the Kremlin are being renovated as well. Many roads are dug up. But I have to say that they work quite quickly. So, Moscow is beautifying 🙂
6. Carry a bottle of water
If you go to Moscow when the temperatures are high, make sure to carry a bottle of water with you always. Otherwise you will have to buy the overpriced one at sights. But price is not the only problem. When you enter the Kremlin, there is just one place to buy water, and considering the number of people that visit it, you will easily be left thirsty. I know what I am talking about as this happened to me: I was there in August, it was quite hot, and every vendor was out of water.
Of course, there are toilets at every touristic sight, but let’s talk about other places.
Some metro stations, like Kropotkinskaya, have public toilets. Payment is 60 RUB via Troyka card, and it is inside the station meaning you will have to pay to enter the metro first.
There are toilets in parks, usually they cost 50 RUB, but don’t be surprised if they are not working, and many of them won’t.
8. It is not what it seems to be
I guess this tip is useful while the renovation projects are unfolding in Moscow. Because of the works some places or entrances to these places will be closed. Even if your map shows the entrance is here, I would not bet on it. I had to circle around a park once to find a way to get in and then to get out 🙂
Moscow travel advice: transport
9. Distances are not a joke here
Moscow is huge, like, really huge. If you are very fit, you can attempt to see its sights on foot, but that’s not what I advise you to do. I did a silly thing when I went to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on foot from the Kremlin. It is 2 kilometers only from the Red Square, but I had already walked around the Kremlin for a couple of hours, and by the time I got to the cathedral, I was exhausted. Just take metro, it is much easier.
10. Transportation system
Moscow is a capital city with more than 10 million citizens, so, trust me, the transportation system is well-developed here. They have metro, buses, trams, trolleybuses covering the whole city. And the best thing is that almost all tourist sights are next to a metro station, and you won’t need another means of transport. You can find the metro map in two languages here: it is not downloadable, but you can print it anyway or make a screenshot. Frankly, considering the local transportation system, there is no need in taxis here, but in case you need one, download Gett or Yandex Taxi apps.
What is very important is that in Russia public transport is much cheaper than in Europe. For example, a ticket for metro costs 55 roubles or 0,75 EUR. If you are planning to stay just a couple of days in Moscow, you might consider buying a ticket for 415 roubles that is valid 3 days and gives you an unlimited number of trips.
11. Troyka card
If you stay longer, it might be reasonable to buy another thing. I am pretty sure, 55 roubles seem cheap to Europeans, but there is a way to pay even less. I advise you to get a Troyka card. It is the size of a bank card, and you can top it up with any amount you want and use it in any public transport. That means no need to buy tickets every time, and one trip costs 36 roubles or 0,50 EUR.
The card costs 50 roubles, and you will get them back when you return the card. You can buy it in the ticket offices in the metro stations and specialized machines that sell tickets.
12. Metro is extremely crowded
While we are talking about metro, which is the most convenient and fast type of transport in Moscow, you have to know that you should avoid using it during peak hours in the morning till 10 AM and in the afternoon around 6 or 7 PM. Why? Just like I said there are more than 10 million people living in Moscow, and majority of them go to work by metro. I worked in Moscow for a couple of months, and I know what I am talking about 🙂 When you wait on the platform, train comes, doors open, people just fall out, and you just realize there is no way you can fit in. Every morning I thought that it would be really nice to have pushers here like in Japan 🙂
13. Metro is amazing!
Despite crowds in the peak hours, the metro in Moscow is stunning. Some stations are masterpieces with chandeliers, statues and frescoes. Actually, Moscow’s metro is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, so just get yourself a tour for 55 or 36 roubles 🙂 Make sure to visit Mayakovskaya, Komsomolskaya, Kievskaya, Arbatskaya, Prospekt Mira, Belorusskaya and Novoslobodskaya stations.
14. Moscow airports
There are 3 airports in Moscow: Sheremetyevo, Vnukovo and Domodedovo. The closest one is Vnukovo, it is 19 km away from Moscow, and the farthest one is Domodedovo, 52 away from the city. Why am I telling it? Make sure you are going to the right one. I know someone who went to the wrong airport and missed the flight.
I mentioned in my guide to planning a trip that the best way of finding information on getting to the city center is the website of a specific airport. If you want to take a bus to downtown, check the routes and prices for Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo and Vnukovo. Usually the buses take to a metro station, but depending on the traffic it might take some time to get there. A quicker but a more expensive way to get to the city is by Aeroexpress, a fast train. I always take Aeroexpress when I arrive at Domodedovo. To check more info on Aeroexpress visit the websites of Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo and Vnukovo.
Moscow travel advice: safety
16. Moscow is safe!
I know what moods are wandering now around the world, specifically the Western world concerning Russia. Many people are afraid to go there because of what they read in newspapers and hear on TV. People, Moscow is safe! There are no gangsters waiting for you around the corner, or robbers lurking in the darkness ready to strip you off your belongings. Just like in any other city, you have to take general precautions, like not walking around late at night in the distant parts of the city and be careful with your stuff so that pickpockets don’t have a chance. And usually there are policemen around the Red Square.
Security is taken pretty seriously in Moscow. There are metal detectors in every metro station. You and your bags will be scanned when you enter the Kremlin and other major sights. Your luggage will be x-rayed before you enter any of the airports. You will be checked twice if you go to Ostankino tower, they will ask to see even your passport. Seriously, Moscow is one of the safest cities in the world.
17. Moscow is clean
Moscow is one of the cleanest cities I have been to. There are dozens of people sweeping the streets every minute, so you will rarely see a piece of paper or a cigarette butt. It is so nice to be in a clean city 🙂
18. Water is safe
I saw a question once on Facebook: a lady asked for travel tips for St Petersburg. And someone said not to use tap water for brushing teeth. I was confused. I travelled to both St Petersburg and Moscow several times and never had any problems. I used tap water to shower and brush my teeth. Anyway, I do not advise to drink it, I always buy bottled water whenever I travel. Other than that, it is good for all purposes.
Moscow travel advice: tickets
19. Online tickets
In case you are travelling to Moscow during the high season, it might be reasonable to buy some tickets in advance. It is especially true for the Kremlin, for queues can be really-really long. You can book tickets for Tretyakov Gallery as well. In general, just check the website of the place you want to visit 🙂
20. Tickets to Kremlin
I decided to put the Kremlin separately as it is a special case. The Kremlin is big, and the places open to visitors are split into several parts. One part is the so-called Cathedral Square: accessing it you will see the many cathedrals, the famous Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell, and the gardens. In the Cathedral Square one of the churches is Ivan the Great Bell Tower 81 meters high: visitors are allowed to climb it, but they will need to buy a separate ticket for that, and there are time slots available so keep this in mind. To sum it up, if you want to see the Cathedral Square and climb the tower, you will need two separate tickets.
Then you will have to buy another ticket to visit the Armoury Chamber and another one for the Diamond Fund.
You can book tickets online here. Don’t forget to read the rules first. The most important thing to pay attention to is that you will get a voucher to your email and you HAVE TO EXCHANGE IT for a ticket at the ticket office in the Kremlin.
I visit Moscow quite often, usually once a year, and I can clearly see how it changes to the better. Well, I am not sure the locals would agree with me 🙂 And I know that it is not only Moscow, that Russia itself is changing after communism. I did not visit it during the communism time, I was too little then, so I can’t really compare, but now Moscow is a truly magnificent city.