Moscow is the financial and political centre of Russia and the countries formerly comprising the Soviet Union. It has a population of around 13 million and an area of 2,511km² after an expansion in 2012. One-tenth of all Russian citizens live in the Moscow metropolitan area. Moscow is the second most populous city in Europe, after Istanbul. Moscow is in the UTC+3 time zone; there is no daylight saving time.
The Moskva River bends its way through the city with most of the sites of tourist interest on the northern bank of the river. The other major waterway is the Yauza River, which flows into the Moskva east of the Kremlin.
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How to get to Moscow
Moscow (IATA: MOW) has three main airports:
Sheremetyevo International Airport
Sheremetyevo International Airport, (IATA: SVO), +7 495 232-6565, is 32km northwest of the centre of Moscow, in the city of Khimki. There are 6 terminals: A (business charter aviation), B (closed for renovations), C, D, E, and F. Terminals D, E, and F are located to the south of the runway and are connected to each other by walkway, but you have to take a shuttle bus to reach the other terminals, which are located to the north of the runway. Most Aeroflot flights operate to/from Terminal D. Sheremetyevo International Airport serves approximately 33 million passengers per year.
The airport has plenty of ATMs and currency exchange offices, duty free shops, a hairdresser, a pharmacy, and several overpriced cafes and basic restaurants. Unlimited free WiFi is available, but you will need to receive an SMS with a confirmation code in order to access it. There is also a hotel on the fifth floor of the AeroExpress terminal that might help you.
If you have a layover at Sheremetyevo Airport, you may stay at the Hotel Novotel Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport even if you do not have a Russian visa. Go to the ‘Transfer/Transit Without Visa’ desk upon arrival. You’ll be escorted to the hotel in a private bus and stay in a corridor with personal security guard. Rooms are spacious and comfortable. You’ll be picked up by Aeroflot staff about one hour prior to departure and the bus will bring you directly to the departure gate. The hotel offers rates for stays during the day as well as overnight rates.
Domodedovo International Airport, (IATA: DME), +7 495 933-6666, is 45km southeast of the centre of Moscow. It carries slightly more passengers than Sheremetyevo International Airport on an annual basis. The airport is the base of international discount carrier S7. Free WiFi is available throughout the airport. There are plenty of cafes, bars, restaurants, and shops in the airport. Even if you are only changing planes in Domodedovo, a visa may be required as some flights operate a point-to-point service (Easyjet at time of writing). Check with your airline before travelling.
Vnukovo International Airport
Vnukovo International Airport, (IATA: VKO), +7 495 436-7196, is 30km southwest from the centre of Moscow. Vnukovo International Airport serves approximately 12 million passengers per year.
Moscow is a railway hub, with connections to all parts of Russia and far into Europe and Asia. Due to its hub status, Moscow’s train stations are always crowded and are some of the most unsafe places in the city. Despite the relatively cheap price of air travel within Russia, train travel still remains the predominant mode of intercity transportation for the majority of Russians.
All long-distance trains are operated by Russian Railways and its subsidiaries. Tickets can be bought either at stations or online. Some international train operators also serve Moscow. Tickets bought online need to be validated at a counter or a ticket machine. There are often counters with English-speaking personnel at each station. Sometimes the English-speaking counters are marked, and sometimes you will be directed by the first person you speak to another counter with an English speaker.
The Paris-Moscow Express is a weekly train service that makes the 2-night 3,217km journey between Paris and Moscow. The train makes stops in Berlin, Warsaw, and Brest. The train includes 4-bed compartments (€245), 2-bed compartments (€345), and luxury compartments (€798).
The Polonez is a daily direct overnight train to Warsaw (17 hours), via Belarus. The Tolstoy is a daily direct overnight train to Helsinki (13 hours), via Saint Petersburg. There are also weekly trains to Vienna and Prague, viaBelarus and a weekly train to Budapest. You will need a Belarussian visa to ride trains that go via Belarus.
Many entry points to Moscow over the Ring Road and into the city feature rotating roadblocks, where teams of traffic police may stop a vehicle, especially if it is not featuring Moscow plates. You may be stopped and questioned but you’ll be allowed to proceed if you have all the proper documents.
Foreign cars, especially expensive cars, might attract unwelcome attention, and there is cumbersome paperwork involved to enter Russia by car.
The direct way to drive from Germany, Poland, or Belarus is along the E30 road, although it requires having permission to enter Belarus. If you can’t enter Belarus, an alternative is to go via Latvia using the E22 from Riga.
The E18 provides easy access from Finland through Saint Petersburg and Novgorod. This route is also known as Russian Federal Highway M-10. Traffic on the M-10 is heavy.
It is generally easier to travel to/from Europe or other parts of Russia via plane or train so most visitors to Moscow will not use the intercity buses.
Lux Express operates coach service between Moscow and various cities in Europe. Buses arrive to and depart from the Stantsiya Tushinskaya Bus Station next to the Tushinskaya Metro Station on Metro Line 7 (purple) in the northeastern section of Moscow. Destinations include Tartu (14 hours, €49), Riga (15 hours, €55), Tallinn (16.5 hours, €55), Vilnius (18 hours, €66-73), Warsaw (26 hours, €80-92), Minsk (34 hours, €78), Budapest (36 hours, €95-112), Prague (36 hours, €97), and Berlin (40 hours, €97-109).
Many domestic intercity buses stop at the Moscow Intercity Bus Terminal, next to the Shchelkovskaya Metro Station at the eastern terminus of Metro Line 3 (dark blue). Buses to the popular tourist destination of Suzdal operate from this station.
There are also several small bus stops and stations with buses to/from small towns that are not commonly visited by tourists.
All to see in Moscow
Museums and religious buildings
- Red Square – The heart of Moscow and the first destination for most visitors to the city. Surrounded by St. Basil’s Cathedral, the State History Museum, Lenin’s Mausoleum and one of the Kremlin’s long brick walls. The cobbles that make up the square are black and not red; the name comes from another gloss of the Russian word “krasniy”, meaning “beautiful”. Metro: Ohotnii Ryad, Teatralnaya or Ploshad Revolutsii.
- Lenin Mausoleum – in the centre of the Red Square. Walk past the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin (who actually did not want any monuments to be built for him) and join the debate: is it really him? You must leave all cameras, phones and bags in the luggage office. Free admission. Open 10AM-1PM Tu, W, Th, Sa; closed on Su, M, F.
- St Basil Cathedral – in the south part of Red Square. Built in 1555-61. Inside is a museum, although it looks best from the outside, but if you have the time, take a peek inside.
- The Kremlin Museum Complex. Includes the Armoury Collection of royal clothing and chariots, the Diamond Fund, several churches, the Patriarch Palace and the Bell Tower (open only in the summer). Guided tours fill up fast and should be booked early. Photography is prohibited in many exhibits. RUB350-700.
- Tretyakov Gallery – One of the world’s greatest museums, this is probably the one to choose if you only want to visit one museum in Moscow. In contrast to the worldwide collection of the Pushkin Museum, the Tretyakov is mostly a collection of Russian art. It has the best collection of Russian icons and many of the most famous pieces of modern Russian artists like Ilya Repin. Metro: Tretyakovskaya or Novokuznetskaya.
(NB: There are actually two Tretyakov museums now, the classic one and the 20th Century one. The classic one is where it has always been, the 20th Century one is in the Artist’s House Cultural Center across from Gorky Park. They charge separate entry fees.)
And many, many more…
- Old Arbat Street – Walk down this kitschy street and don’t forget to look at the small by-streets around the Arbat. They allow you to feel the “old Moscow spirit”. Arbat is full of souvenir vendors, tourist cafes, lousy restaurants, artists, etc. The prices of the souvenirs vary from reasonable to ripoff, but vendors are open to negotiation. Metro: Smolenskaya (both blue lines), Arbatskaya (both blue lines, from Dark Blue line take west exit).
- New Arbat Street – Located near Old Arbat Street, this street offers a contrast from the touristy pedestrian-only thoroughfare. New Arbat is perhaps where Moscow’s rich are the most visible, as some of Moscow’s most expensive restaurants and nightclubs are located here. There are some reasonably priced cafes, however. The street is lavishly lit up at night and is always very lively. Also, check out Dom Knigi (House of Books) on New Arbat. It’s not as impressive as the St. Petersburg store, but probably the best bet for books in Moscow. Metro: Arbatskaya (both blue lines, take west exit for Dark Blue line).
- Tverskaya Street – This street starts from the Kremlin itself and runs northwest in the direction of Tver (hence the name) and Saint Petersburg. For that reason the road was a very important thoroughfare in Tsarist Russia. It is now Moscow’s most fashionable street, with several prestigious boutiques. It is also lined with cafes, restaurants, coffeehouses, a couple of theaters, and several hotels, including two locations of the Marriott. Most of the street’s architecture doesn’t actually have much history to it, though along the way you will find Russia’s first, and the world’s busiest, McDonalds. The statue of Pushkin at Pushkinskaya Square is a very popular meeting point. Walk its length. From Red Square to Belorusski Train Station is about one hour and is a great way to see the most famous street in Moscow. Take a peek inside the Yeliseev Grocery Store, Moscow’s answer to Harrod’s food halls, to see the restored ornate interior. Metro south to north: Ohotnii Ryad/Teatralnaya, Tverskaya/Pushkinskaya/Chehovskaya (Puskinskaya Square), Mayakovskaya (Triumfalnaya Square, sometimes called second Theatre square, containing Chaikovskii Concert Hall, Satire Theatre and nearby Mossovet Theatre), Belorusskaya.
- Vorobyovy Gory – The best place for a view of Moscow from the ground. Near the main Moscow State University building, there is a popular lookout point where one can see much of the city on clear days. Metro: A walk from either metro Universitet or Vorobyovy Gory. As alternative, trolleybus #7 (only before about 21:30) can also take you from/to Kievskaya, Leninskii prospect or Oktyabrskaya metro
- Ostankino Tower. 540 meters tall, with an observation deck 340 meters above ground. Adults: RUB980; Children: RUB490.
Moscow has many attractions, but many of them are not friendly to a non-Russian-speaker. English-language newspapers like The Moscow Times, Element, Moscow News and others can help navigate towards English-language friendly attractions and services.
- Bolshoi Theatre, (Metro: Ohotnii Ryad, Teatralnaya or Ploshad Revolutsii.), +7 (495) 455-5555 (firstname.lastname@example.org). The grand theatre in the center of the city. Includes ballet, opera, and classical music performances. Tickets usually sell out well in advance. You do not need to dress up to attend. RUB8000+.
- Kolobov Novaya Opera Theatre, 3/2 Karetny Ryad (Hermitage Garden), +7 (495) 694–08–68 (email@example.com). Ticket office is open 12:00-15:00 and then again 16:00-19:00.
- Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre, B. Dmitrovka, 17, + 7 (495) 723-73-25.
Moscow has two circuses, the Nikulin circus on Tsvetnoi Bulvar (metro Tsvetnoi Bulvar), and the new circus near the University. Tickets can be bought for as little as RUB200, and even these seats are good. Touts may be selling tickets outside and can save you a lot of queueing, and they’ll speak more English than the ticket office. Sometimes they are selling tickets at the cover price, and sometime at twice the price. Ask and make sure before parting with your cash.
- The Obraztsov Puppet Theatre at the very north part of the Garden Ring has performances during the winter in the evening. Everything is in Russian and meant for children, but the stories are simple and quite understandable even if you don’t understand Russian. There is a small box in front of the building where a puppet appears every hour and does a performance. At 12 midday all of the puppets appear for a short but entertaining appearance.
Make sure you visit a Russian bathhouse (banya) while in Moscow, as it’s an important Russian tradition and Russians, especially aged 40+, go at least once a week. Have a hot steam, followed by a good whipping with birch branches. While its not the most pleasant experience, the benefits you’ll receive afterward will enable you to understand why Russians are loyal to their banya.
- Sandunovskye Baths (Sanduny), Neglinnaya Str. 14 Building 3-7 (Metro: Kyznetsky Most or Trubnaya), +7 495 782-1808. The oldest and most famous Banya in Moscow, it looks like a palace with enormous halls, marble stairs, and frescos. The restaurant serves drinks for the complete after-banya experience. 90-minute guided tours are available on Tuesday evenings. 4-person bath room: From RUB4,000/hour, with a 2-hour minimum.
- Pokrovskie Baths, Bagrationovsky proezd, 12 (Metro: Bagrationovskaya). Has a famous steam room with horseradish-flavored steam. Wide selection of brooms from birch tree, tatarian maple, lime tree, and eucalyptus. Prices are cheaper than other banyas.
- Rzehvskye Baths, Bannyi Proezd 3a (Metro: Prospekt Mira), +7 495 681 10 7. 9AM-10PM. 120 years old but recently renovated.
- Lefortovskie Baths, Lefortovsky Val, 9A (Metro: Aviamotornaya), +7 495 362-55-70 07. Famous for its traditionally-Russian massage with brooms soaked in mead where cold water is poured on you to get the blood flowing!
Like any city with snowy winters, Moscow is a great place to go ice skating.
- Gorky Park is most famous but overcrowded and ice is not always in ideal condition;
- Bosco rink on a Red Square is glamorous and easy, although bit costly and not too favoured by advanced skaters.
- Luzhniki has arguably the best ice, although service can be tough and open hours are not always convenient.
- The winter rinks at Chistye Prudy or Izmaylovsky Park are other alternatives.
- Kva-Kva Water Park, Gostinichnaya str., 4/9, + 7 495 788 72 72. 10:00-22:00. Water Park affiliated with Maxima Hotels (discounts for guests). There are 7 high thrills (90-120m in length) and a pleasant surprise for extremers – Tsunami trill – unique in Russia. There are also 4-line thrills – Multislide and a special area for kids – a small tropical town with shallow pool. Kva-Kva Lagoone offers hydromassage. There’s also pure Russian bath, Finnish sauna, Turkish bath (hamam) and Kva-Kva SPA-salon.RUB225-745.
- Hot air balloon ride (high), Suburban Moscow. RUB4400-5000.
- Moscow Zoo, Bolshaya Gruzinskaya str., 1. The oldest and the biggest zoo in Russia, has over 1000 animal species.
- Russian cooking classes are widely available. Learn how to cook “borsh“, “pelmeni”, “uha”, “kelubyaka”, etc. Neither experience nor deep cooking knowledge are required. The one thing you really need is a good mood, willing to communicate and to actively take part in the cooking. Everybody gets involved. The classes are conducted in English by friendly locals.
- Russia Flight Adventures, firstname.lastname@example.org, +79104432000. 11:00-19:00. All the activities you can imagine in the Russian skies: skydiving, hot air ballon, helicopter excursions, mig-29 flights, cosmonaut training center excursions.
Shopping, eat & drink
Cr card acceptance is widespread in large stores, but less common smaller stores and restaurants. However, ATMs are plentiful, display in English and accept the major card networks such as Visa/Plus and MasterCard/Cirrus. Currency exchange offices are plentiful in the city, but be sure to count your change and note that the advertised rates sometimes don’t include an added commission or only apply to large exchanges.
Be sure to break your RUB5000 or RUB1000 notes where you can, as the smaller merchants, street vendors and even many metro clerks often refuse them.
Large shopping malls are common near metro stations.
- Izmaylovsky Market, (In Izmalylovo Park; Take the metro to ”Partizanskaya” station, turn left out of the station, cross the street, and walk down the path with the hotels on your left towards the wooden fortress and find the market). A one-stop souvenir venue with hundreds of vendors selling everything from matryoshka dolls to fur hats to lacquer boxes to expensive jewelry. The ground level is where souvenirs are sold. Because some vendors only show up on weekends, the best selections are on Saturday, from 10am to 6pm or Sunday from 10am to around 3, but it’s open every day of the week. Beware of the police here as they are looking for an excuse to take money from tourists without proper regard for the rules. There is a charge of 10 rubles to enter the marketplace.
- Aviapark, (Free shuttle bus from Dinamo, Polezhaevskaya or Savelovskaya metro stations). Opened in 2014, at 390,000 square meters, this is Europe’s largest shopping mall. There are more than 500 shops, a cinema with 17 halls, winter garden, and a 4-level aquarium with tropical fish. The stores have been slow to open due to the weak economy.
- Evropeisky, (At Kiyevsky Station), +7 495 921-34-44. Opened in 2006. Many international brand-name shops e.g. Marks and Spencer, Next, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, and Swatch can be found here. There is also a multi-screen cinema, food gallery, supermarket, and opticians.
- Okhotny Ryad, (Okhotny Ryad Metro Station), +7 495 737-84-49. Underground shopping mall with shops with lots of internationally known brands.
- Atrium, (Next to Kurskaya Metro Station).
- GUM, (Adjacent to Red Square; Metro: Ploschad Revolutsii), +7 495 788-43-43. Once filled with Soviet-era goods of mediocre quality, it is now a mall with international labels and hyper-expensive boutiques. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s highly recommended you go inside and look at the architecture.
- Detskiy Mir (Children’s World), (Metro: Lubyanka). Has stores selling toys, books, DVDs, and souvenirs. Again, even if you do not buy anything, its worth going to explore this building.
- Vremena Goda (Времена года), 48 Kutuzovski Ave. 10-22. A luxury shopping centre that includes international stores such as Chanel, Porsche, Cartier, VIP cinema, trendy restaurants, spas.
Dining establishments in Moscow range from food stalls near metro stations to quick canteen-style ‘Stolovaya’ eateries to American-style fast food chains to overpriced restaurants catering to tourists to high-end restaurants where you can spend RUB10,000.
Restaurants and cafes promising “European and Caucasus cuisine” generally cater to tourists and are usually bad; seek a restaurant that specializes in a single region instead (Georgian, Russian, Italian, French, etc.).
Many small restaurants offer lunch specials costing RUB200-250. These deals are valid from 12:00 to 15:00 and include a cup of soup or an appetizer, a small portion of the main dish of the day, bread and a non-alcoholic beverage.
Authentic ethnic food from countries of the nearby Caucasus (Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia) is common in Moscow. Japanese food, including sushi, rolls, tempura, and steakhouses are very popular in Moscow. Other Asian cuisines including Vietnamese, Thai, and Chinese are becoming increasing more common.
Fast Food Chains
Free-standing kiosks serving sausages, meat pies, or kebobs are plentiful, although the origins of the meat served is questionable and the food has been known to occasionally make people sick. McDonalds and KFC have locations near almost every shopping mall. It is common to pay extra for condiments.
- Kroshka-Kartoshka – These green kiosks sell microwave-baked potatoes as well as toasted sandwiches and a few drinks. Hot and filling, but rather expensive for a potato.
- Riksha Ivan (“Ivan the Rickshaw”) – Quick Chinese-like cuisine; fried rice with meat to go.
- Teremok – These brown-colored kiosks sell large blinchiki, Russian crepes that come with a variety of fillings. Very tasty and authentic. Make sure to try the Kvass – a traditional Russian drink made from rye bread.
In these cafeterias, you take a tray, move along a counter with food (either taking the dishes yourself or asking the staff to give you a bowl of soup, a plate of vegetables, etc.) and pay at the cash register at the end of the counter. These self-serve establishments have decent quality food, no waiting time, and good prices. Canteen chains include Café Moo-Moo (30 locations) and Grabli (Грабли).
- Darbar, Leninsky Prospect, 38 (Hotel Sputnik), +7 495 930-2925 (email@example.com). Indian restaurant with panoramic view over the city. The cuisine is authentic; arguably it’s the best Indian restaurant in Moscow.
- Gavan’ v Khamovnikakh, ul. Rossolimo 7 (Near Park Kultury Metro Station and Gorky Park), +7 499 246-94-32. Great authentic Armenian food.
- Hard Rock Cafe, Old Arbat Street 44, +7-499-241-98-53. Serves the same menu it does worldwide for reasonable prices. They are open for breakfast at 06:00 and serve traditional Western breakfasts. Freshly squeezed orange juice and hash browns are a highlight here. You can eat outdoors and watch the endlessly fascinating parade of characters that walk the street all day and all night.
- Carré Blanc, Selezniovskaya ul. 19/2 (Metro: Novoslobodskaya), +7 495 258-44-03. French restaurant with an attached and much cheaper bar/cafe which also serves good food. Good wine list. French/English/Russian spoken.
- Chemodan (Suitcase) (Бар-ресторан Чемодан: Главная), Gogol Boulevard 25/1 (Metro: Arbatskaya, Kropotkinskaya), +7 (495) 695 3819. Specifically a Siberian restaurant, with a menu featuring the freshest river-fish from Siberia’s vast rivers and lakes, game dishes from the riches of the taiga forests, pickles and preserves featuring mushrooms and berries. Good food, good service. Mains: RUB700-1,500.
- Expion, Pevcheskiy Lane 6, +7 495 775-60-75. Northern cuisine, specializing in seafood. Mains: From RUB1,000.
- Kruzhka, Multiple locations. 0.5L beer: RUB75.
- Yan Primus, Miklukho-Maklaya, 27A (M. Belyaevo, Vityaz cinema), (495) 336-5755. 10AM-6AM Mon-Sun. Belgian beer restaurant, a rare women-friendly beer place. Table games. Parking; outdoor terrace (open until 11PM; booking required).
- Beer Market, Butyrskaya 69 (M. Dmitrovskaya), +7(495)967-1519. noon-midnight Mon-Sun. Probably the widest choice of beers in the city in the regular menu, plus seasonal extra beer listings, new region every season.
- Fabrique, наб. Космодамианская, 2, +7 963 687-88-88. Former workshop of the Design University. This club has nothing to do with the London club, but it is no less happening and lively. Beware of “face control” (Russia’s way of letting only the chosen into the club). Great club atmosphere with generally fantastic dj’s. Vodka shots: RUB200.
- Gogol Bar, Pereulok. Stoleshnikov, 11 (The entrance to the bar is between Vivienne Westwood and the Lancel boutique.), +7 495 514-09-44. On a very posh street. The interior, menu and drinks are quite simple. Musical performances every weekend. During the winter, the small yard is used as a skating rink. There are also Gogol’ Bars on Arbat and Maroseika St. No entry for non-europeans.
- Propaganda (Пропаганда), Zlatoustinskiy Bolshoy per., 7 (Metro: Kitay Gorod), +7 495 624-57-32. 11:30AM-6AM Mon-Sun. A great alternative bar with lots of cheap drinks. With great music, a hip and funky crowd, as well as a relatively relaxed door control. A great place to dance all night and have fun. Also very good value-for-money place to eat. Vodka: RUB100; Beer: RUB150.
Moscow has several café chains with great coffee including Coffeemania, Coffee Bean, and Starbucks. Moscow also has a good selection of tea saloons. High-quality infusion teas such as Newby, are widely available in cafes, both in packets and loose.
Asking to add boiling water to the tea you ordered earlier is a practice that some cafes don’t welcome, but normally it’s acceptable.
- Bulka, Pokrovka 19; Bolshaya Gruzinskaya 69; Park Sokolniki; «Otrada» shopping mall. This bakery is known for its award-winning coffee. A great place to have a hearty breakfast, a delicious and reasonable priced «business lunch» or an outstanding dessert. Every spot provides free wi-fi and has a special menu for kids.
- Volkonsky, Maroseika 4/2. For a late night nibble or a quick morning pick me up, Volkonsky is one of the better places in Moscow that doubles as a bakery/coffee shop. Great ambiance and a neighborhood feel.
With the exception of some high-end hotels, all hotels and hostels offer free WiFi and many have computer terminals. Almost all accept cr cards. Hotels and hostels will usually provide a visa invitation and registration for an additional fee.