My wife and I had the privilege of seeing Moscow for a couple of days in July of 2007. It is a very interesting and a very large city. There is a lot of history going back through the royalty and the soviet government, fascinating architecture, and interesting cultural aspects.
It was unfortunate we only had a couple of days, but we packed them with as much as we possibly could factoring in cost of course.
We flew into Sheremetyevo Terminal 2 on a SAS (Scandinavian Airlines) flight from Amsterdam, connecting in Stockholm, to Moscow. The ticket was a little over US$400. The airport is quite a distance from the downtown area, so plan on taking a taxi, public bus, or make arrangements with your tour agency.
You can also get there a number of other ways. Some people come on trains from other cities in Russia. These end up quite close to the downtown. The main stations are only about 15 minutes metro ride from the Kremlin and Red Square.
Using a Tour Agency or Doing It On Your Own
Up to you as always. We used a tour agency for our airport transfer into the city, train tickets in and out of Moscow, a place to stay, a city tour, and a Kremlin tour. We got ourselves to the train station and to our different tour starting points, and restaurants for meals.
If you are doing it on your own, I would recommend to pre-book as much as you can on the internet. Accommodation is not cheap in Moscow and is actually one of the more expensive places to visit in general. That being said, if you like to do a bit of reading on your own, you can definitely see most of the major sites without any help from anyone else.
One of the nice things about our Moscow experience was our tour guide, Svetlana. If you are looking for someone to give you a tour of the Kremlin and the city, we lucked out by having her on our trip. She has perfect English as she has a Masters in Linguistics from the university there and an excellent knowledge of Russian history (her husband is a professor of history at the university as well). If you are looking for your own guide, definitely contact her as an option. Here is her contact info:
Guide-Interpreter (Russian, English, Danish)
Home Phone: (7 495) 733-37-00
Mobile Phone: 7-916-618-62-71
The tour agency we used was quite good as well. Easy to contact, seemed to have a lot of knowledge, was accommodating to our budget (they said we could do St. Petersburg on our own and even provided us with a map and two page document for a walking tour), and seemed quite professional. We paid by bank transfer and they are affiliated to a company in San Francisco, USA, which might help ease any worries by North American travelers. They are actually the ones that hooked us up with our tour guide above. Here is there contact info:
Travel To Russia
Toll Free: 1-877-RUSSIA-9
We walked, walked, and walked some more. We also took the Moscow metro which is absolutely fantastic and worth a trip once just to look at it. It can be a bit confusing so make sure you have a map that has both the cyrillic and english pronunciation on it. I have a link to the map at the bottom of this article. It is only around US$0.50 to ride the thing as well.
Okay, I have traveled in a number of countries in Asia, a few in Africa, a couple in South America, and even in the U.S. and Canada. Russia is definitely one of the more expensive countries to travel in. Accommodation, sit down meals, tours, and transportation will all cost a fair amount. The inflation in there country is very surprising, seeing as the people themselves have a hard time affording it. There is a definite gap between the rich and poor here.
That being said. We found that fast food restaurants could be very cheap. Pizza places can feed 2 people for under US$10, easily.
Where Did We Stay
Hostels can be found for around US$30/night, but they are a fair distance from the main areas. Hotels are reaching around US$300/night so our travel agency recommended apartments. They still aren’t cheap, but you can get into them for around $150/night and up.
They booked us our apartment for us, but it can be booked along with others from this Apartments For Rent site too. Our exact suite was a suite along Old Arbat street. It was very clean and nice, included free international calling, washing machine, satellite television, internet via wi-fi, and more. For the price (around $180) you would expect this at home, but it is pretty good for Moscow. It is all you really need and it is only around a 15 minute walk to the Kremlin. If you don’t know, Old Arbat street is a pedestrian only street with a lot of trendy stores and restaurants. The only down side is you don’t get the daily cleaning service of a hotel, but it is twice a week if I remember right.
Restaurants can be found everywhere. Pick up a Lonely Planet guide and you will find a lot of restaurant listings you can try and find. On Old Arbat you will find a few. Everything from McDonald’s to nice sit down restaurants. One that was recommended to us, but we didn’t go to, was Moo Moo. It is spelled My My, which is cyrillic, but pronounced moo moo. Like a cow, because that is the theme of the restaurant.
Our favorite restaurant for Moscow was Mama Nina (Mama Hинa in cyrillic), a Georgian restaurant. The food was fantastic and we had a number of dishes. The total came to under US$30, which is cheap for that style of meal.
This area is the biggest point for stuff to see. One side is St. Basil’s, one side is the Kremlin, another is a mall, and there are more cathedrals on the other end.
Along the Kremlin wall is Lenin’s Mausoleum. You can view his body at certain times of the day throughout the week. I wasn’t able to go unfortunately, but if you pick up a guide book and check out the times, you can arrange it for yourself. It is free, but you should dress appropriately and you will have to check your camera.
Behind the mausoleum and along the wall is also the graves of former Soviet presidents. Not much to see, but interesting if you remember the history lessons for Russia.
This is probably the most photographed cathedral in Russia. You will recognize its large onion shaped spires right away and it is very colorful. I didn’t go inside, but you can if you want. It is located on the one end of Red Square.
The political center of the former world super power. Kremlin actually means “fortress” and so there are technically a lot of kremlins in Russia, but the one in Moscow actually houses the federal government buildings. I am not sure what the entrance fees cost because it was included in our tour, but I do know the lineups were long, so give yourself time when you go there.
Inside the Kremlin there is a palace that housed the royal family when they were visiting. The political buildings you can’t even cross the street to see, but you can look at the nice yellow color of them from the outside.
Cathedral Square is one of the main things you actually see. There are 4 different cathedrals, one of which a number of Russian Orthodox religious leaders are buried.
Also in the Kremlin is the Armory. I found this interesting. Basically a big museum housing artifiacts from the royal family. There are carriages, wedding dresses, jewelery, diamond studded bibles, ornamental eggs, and a number of other items. Give yourself a couple hours to see it and this is where our guide really paid off, in my opinion.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
This is a neat looking church. Just south of the Kremlin, you can walk here in about 15 minutes. When you look at it, you will think you are looking at a cathedral that is hundreds of years old. The fact is, it is was demolished by the communists and was just finished being rebuilt in the 1990’s.
We went inside during a “prayer session” and it was quite interesting. No seats and quite a few people. Definitely an all ages group. It seems with the fall of communism that there is a thirst for religion among the young generation.
The World War II Great Patriotic War Museum
I thought this was cool. You can see some Russian symbolism. There is a monument that is a giant pillar with an angel type figure on the top. At the bottom is a warrior having just cut off a dragon’s head nad driven a spear into it. Called the Victory Monument, it represents the Russian army cutting off the head of the Nazi’s.
There is a building housing a number of other art that is in the shape of a dam representing the Russian dam against the Nazi tide. Very cool. You can reach it on the metro.
At least go down into one station and look around. They have very cool artwork and long escalators that descend deep into the ground. Some stations have their very own “look” as well.
This is actually being renovated right now, so we couldn’t really see it that well from the outside. I think in 2008 you will be able to go back there for performances and what not. In the meantime they are doing performances at the theatre right beside the Bolshoi.
This isn’t really on most people’s “must see” list, but our guide took us here anyways. It is kind of interesting. Yeltsin’s grave it here along with Krushchev’s. A number of famous Russians are buried here. What makes it interesting is the intricate gravestones that depict what the person represented in their life. It is like walking through an art gallery.
Panaromic View of the City
If you go up to where the University of Moscow is, you can get an excellent view of the city. There was a Russian “pancake” stand up there that was very delicious. Kind of like a rolled up crepe with a ton of different fillers you can put in it. The Olympic ski jump is up there as well.
There are more museums then you can count. I think it is a remnant of the communist government trying to keep everyone “employed”. But if you are into that sort of thing, go at it.