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Moscow Guide

Moscow is a city of contrasts and full of life 24 hours a day. There are a lot of things to do, and this mini-guide is designed to point out a few activities and places that you definitely don’t want to miss.

By Dmitry Paranyushkin, Way to Russia
Aug 19, 2005
First, a few facts about the city. Moscow was founded in 1147 by Yury Dolgoruky. A rumor goes that he was coming back from a successful battle and decided to celebrate near the place where the modern Kremlin and Red Square are currently located. Yury liked to party hard, so he stayed there for a few days, killed the local landlord, married his wife, and then gave his daughter to his son. This is when Moscow was first mentioned in historic chronicles, so 1147 is considered to be the birthday of the city. Today, there are more than 10 million people living in the city, it takes about 1000 square kilometers of space, and is rated the 3rd most expensive city in the world.

Moscow has two major airports: Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo. If you take a flight to Moscow, you will most likely arrive in one of them. Sheremetyevo, located in approximately 1.5 hours drive north of the center, has two terminals: SVO1 for domestic flights and SVO2 for international flights (5 km from each other). Both Sheremetyevo terminals have public transport services to the city, but they are usually slow and overcrowded. A taxi to the center of Moscow costs about $40 and it’s always better to book a taxi before you arrive, because the local taxi drivers tend to jump on foreigners upon their arrival, offering ridiculously high prices. It might also be a good idea to rent a car. There are some car rental stands at the airports, but the lowest prices are usually offered by the local Eleks-Polus (www.eleks.ru, tel: +7 095 232-9009): $20-$25 / day for a Russian car. You will need to pay $300 US as a deposit and, and present your passport.

Another major airport is Vnukovo, which was recently renovated, but it is not yet widely used. German Wings airlines have flights to Vnukovo from most German cities.

If you travel by train, you are going to arrive in one of nine Moscow train stations. The major ones - Leningradsky (destinations: St. Petersburg, Novgorod, Finland), Kazansky (destinations: Kazan, Urals, Golden Ring), and Yaroslavsky (destinations: Trans-Siberian trains, Siberia) - are all located next to each other near the the metro station Komsomolskaya. The ticket offices are open 24 hours.

The main bus terminal is located next to metro station Schyolkovskaya (east Moscow, 25 mins from the center by metro) and has services to many small towns and to St. Petersburg.

The Moscow’s public transport is one of its main attractions. The local metro system is one of the most famous in the world and can be compared to an underground museum. Every station is a piece of art and tells a unique story. The most interesting ones are Kievskaya (the revolution theme), Mayakovskaya (30s art style decoration), Ploschad Revolutsii (statues of Soviet people and workers) and Komsomolskaya (intricate mosaics).
The trains in Moscow metro run very often, and there are maps in English and Russian, but during the peak hours it can get overcrowded. A trip costs 10R ($0.30) and the metro is open from 5.30 am to 1 am every day. Metro tickets can be bought at the stations and it’s cheaper to buy a ticket for 10-20 rides which will save you about 30%.

A great way to explore the city is to take a bus, trolleybus, or tram. Tickets cost 10R-15R ($0.30-$0.50) and can be bought from the driver directly (more expensive) or at metro stations. Most buses, trolleybuses and trams have gates at the entrance.

The local taxi is quite unique as well. If you need one, just hail and any car will stop. Many Moscow drivers like to make extra cash giving a lift and even though it’s not as safe as using the official taxis, it’s always a lot of fun as you meet all kinds of people. Taxis are really cheap: you can get from the suburbs to the center for about $10 (30-minute drive), while a 10-minute "pub crawl" ride inside the city center will cost about $3.

Once you get to the city, it’s time to think about accommodations. Moscow is really expensive in this regard, as the prices for real-estate are ridiculously high and most investors prefer to build office centers rather than hotels. Generally, a 3-star hotel room in the center of the city will cost not less than $100 per night, while 5-star hotels start at $350 per night. There are a few hostels and cheap hotels outside of the city center, but they come at about $20 per bed. A good option can be to rent an apartment ($90 - $150 per night in the city center) and there are quite a few offers on the market.

Keeping in touch is not a problem in Moscow, with its many 24-hour internet cafes, wi-fi access points, readily available local SIM cards, and slow, but cheap post system.

The most popular internet cafes are Cafemax which are all open 24 hours. Two of them are located in city center, one next to metro Novokuznetskaya, another next to metro Novoslobodskaya.

Another good internet cafe is TimeOnline, which is located just next to Red Square in the Manezh underground shopping mall, and is open 24 hours a day.

If you need to make a phone call abroad, the best way is to get a local SIM card and a telephone IP card. This way, a minute will cost about $0.30. Another option is to go to Tsentralny Telegraph (Tverskaya, #7).

Sending your mail with the state post service is a cheap, but slow and not very reliable option. However, a post card or a letter should arrive just fine, taking 2-4 weeks. All major international courier companies have offices in Russia, and you can send courier mail through EMS, which has branches in most government post offices.

Eating out is a real pleasure in Moscow, and it is usually possible to have a good three-course meal for $15-$20 per person. Many restaurants offer a "business lunch" option on weekdays from 12 until 5, serving a full menu for about $7-$10. Also salad bars can be a really good bargain (usually $12).

There’s a tendency in Moscow for chain-like restaurants, so it will be hard to find authentic family-run places. On the other hand, there are a lot of "trendy" cafes open until late (or even 24 hours a day), serving good food, and featuring DJs every evening. If you’re going to a popular restaurant on a weekend it’s highly recommended to reserve a table.

There are also many worldwide fast food chain restaurants, such as McDonalds (throughout the center and near BP stations), Pizza Hut, and KFC.

Now that you’ve found accommodations, sent an e-mail home, and had a nice hearty meal, it’s time to finally get to sightseeing. Apart from the famous Kremlin and Red Square with Lenin’s mausoleum, which are on every traveler’s list, there are some other places that you shouldn’t miss.

Among them is the Church of Christ the Savior (metro Kropotkinskaya) – an impressive church built a few years ago has a beautiful interior and the area around provides great views of the Kremlin. Bolshoy Theater is another famous landmark (just next to Red Square). If you walk up Teatralny proezd 5 minutes you will see the former KGB headquaters (nowadays – FSB – Federal Security Bureau) located on Lubyanka square. From there it is a good idea to go for a walk to the Kuznetsky Most area, and you might even want to visit the famous Sandunovskie Steam Baths ("banya"), located at Neglinnaya st, #14/3-7 (open 8 am – 8 pm).

For history and art, the most important places are The Museum of History (located at the beginning of the Red Square (open wed-mon 11 am – 7 pm except 1st Monday of a month) and Tretyakov Art Gallery (classic art - Lavrushinskiy pereulok #10, modern Soviet art - Krimskiy Val #10, both open tue-sun 10 am – 6.30 pm).

If you have a bit more time, it may a be a good idea to visit the Cosmonautics Museum (metro VDNKh – next to a tall obelisk, tue-sun: 10.00-18.00, closed last fri of each month) and Marat Guelman’s contemporary art gallery (Malaya Polyanka street (metro Polyanka), #7/7, open tue-sat midday - 6 pm).

Moscow also offers unmatched entertainment. The clubs are always full and lively, and there are many choices in terms of atmosphere and music.

There are a lot of cinemas in Moscow, but if you want to see a movie in English, there’s not too many choices. 35mm Cinema (Pokrovskaya ulitsa, #47/24) shows the latest independent films in original language (with Russian subtitles), while America-Cinema (Berezhkovskaya nab. #2 "Radisson-Slavyanskaya" hotel, 2nd floor, metro: Kievskaya) and Dome Cinema (Olimpiski prospekt, #18/1 "Renaissance in Moscow" hotel, metro: Prospekt Mira) both show the latest mainstream films mostly in English.