Moscow is a beautiful city filled with impressive architecture and home to some of the world’s best museums.
Not considering visiting Moscow when planning a European holiday is a bad idea. Back in the past, the entire country of Russia was closed to visitors, but of late, it has opened its doors to people from all over the globe for tourism purposes. And as with any other place you’re traveling to, it’s always better to be well-informed before visiting. For that reason, we gathered this article with essential tips for first-time visitors to Moscow to help you make your trip to the Russian capital a trip to remember (after getting a Russian invitation/visa to visit the city).
So, here is what you need to know:
Table of Contents
Moscow is well known for having terrible traffic (after all, there are over 12 million people living in the city), so getting around by car is really not the best idea. And the same goes for buses and trams. The easiest way to get around Moscow is the metro. Moscow’s metro is fast, reliable, and beautiful. In fact, the city’s metro stations are an attraction on their own. Don’t miss checking out Komsomolskaya, Belorusskaya, Kiyevsskaya, Ploschad Revolyutsii, and Arbatskaya. If you’re planning to use the metro a lot (and we do recommend you do), it would be worth getting the Troika card – a contactless and reusable public transportation card that is valid for the metro, buses, trams, and suburban railways. You can also pay with a credit/debit card directly.
Another way to get around Moscow is by bicycle. In recent years, bicycle infrastructure has been created in Moscow, allowing locals and tourists alike to get around the city on two wheels. In winter, it might not be such a good idea, but exploring Moscow on a bicycle in summer is one of the most pleasant ways to see the city.
You can also get around Moscow on foot, but you have to keep in mind that the city is huge. Fortunately, most of Moscow’s tourist attractions and places of interest are located in the same area, more or less, which makes it a little easier to get around on foot. If that’s how you prefer to explore the city, we recommend you make a plan of the places that you want to visit and create an itinerary that will allow you to visit more places within a short walking distance. And then again on the next day, and the next, and so on.
It is also important to note that Moscow’s larger avenues and streets don’t have pedestrian crossings, so you have to navigate through the passageways. Passageways also feature centers of commerce where you can find and buy clothes, groceries, etc.
Say goodbye to Google
In other places of the world, you could easily survive by making use of the various applications developed by Google but when you’re planning to visit Moscow, you need to download other applications that would help you while visiting the city.
This is not to say that Google doesn’t work in Russia, it does, it just doesn’t work as well as its Russian equivalent Yandex. Similar to Google, Yandex also has a host of applications that you can download on your phone to help make your time in Moscow stress-free.
Yandex Metro is an important application you must download while visiting Moscow, as the underground transport system connects the entire city. Yandex Translate could also be useful as it is better for Russian translation than Google Translate. Additionally, you could also download Yandex GO for taxi services (works also in Serbia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova, and the Stans) and Yandex Food for food delivery.
Always carry your passport with you
It is unlikely that you’ll get stopped by the police, but in case that happens for whatever reason, you better have your passport on you. Passports in Russia are the standard form of identification (Russian citizens typically have two passports-an internal and an external) and could be required if you’re, for example, buying a SIM card or buying train tickets (some people even report their passports have been required in the theaters as well.
Allocate one day for the Kremlin
No trip to Moscow is complete without a visit to the museum complex and the Presidential residence of the Kremlin. It takes around six hours (if not more) to visit all the monuments within the complex of Kremlin, so make sure that you allocate a full day to explore the complex so you don’t have to rush your visit.
There are many people visiting the Kremlin all year round, but especially between the months of May and September – during this period, it is advisable to make your visitation arrangements ahead of time and start your visit early in the morning.
Extra tips for visiting the Kremlin:
- The nearest metro station is Biblioteka Imeni Lenina, on the red line.
- The entrance to the Kremlin is not located on the Red Square. The main entrance is located through the Kutafya Tower, and the second and less-used entrance can be found through the Alexandrovsky Gardens.
- The opening hours are from 9:30 AM till 6 PM.
- The ticket office is open from 9 AM till 5 PM.
- Moscow’s Kremlin Museums do not cooperate with any online ticketing platform. Entry tickets are available online at the museum’s official website – http://tickets.kreml.ru/en/ – and at the official ticket office at the Alexandrovsky Sad (Alexander Garden). The Moscow Kremlin Museums do not guarantee your admission with tickets purchased at nonofficial websites.
- The Kremlin complex is closed on Thursdays.
Learn a little bit of Russian
You should always learn a couple of words and phrases in the local language of the country that you are visiting. And in Russia, my experience was that not that many people speak English, so it is necessary. Russia uses the Cyrillic alphabet, so if you’re not aware of it, it would be useful to learn it – it will be helpful for you also if you’re planning on visiting other countries that use the Cyrillic alphabet such as Bulgaria, Macedonia, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Mongolia, and all the Stans.
Here are some keywords and phrases to learn in Russian before visiting Moscow:
- Hello – Привет – Privet (informal)
- Hello – Здравствуйте – Zdrastvuyte (formal)
- Goodbye – До свидания – Do svindaniya
- Thank you – Спасибо – Spasibo
- Yes – Да – Da
- No – Нет – Nyet
- Do you speak English? – Ты говоришь по-английски? – Vi govorite po angliyski?
- I don’t speak Russian – Я не говорю по-русски – Ya ne govoryu po ruski
- Excuse me – Извините меня – Izvinete
- Please – Пожалуйста – Pozhalusta
- Nice to meet you – Приятно познакомиться – Priyatno poznakomitsa
- Have a nice day – хорошего дня – Khoroshego dnya
- How much does it cost? – Сколько это стоит? – Skol’ko stoit?
- The bill, please – Счет, пожалуйста – Schot pozhalusta
- Help – Помогите – Pagamete
Money in Russia
The local currency of Russia is the Russian ruble, also spelled rouble. Major currencies such as euros and dollars are not accepted in restaurants and shops, so you’ll need to get some cash in rubles. But don’t make the mistake of stocking up on cash at the airport, where the exchange rates are typically terrible, to say the least. You can exchange a small amount of pocket money for the beginning and then exchange more in the city in both banks and exchange bureaus. Currently, because of sanctions, you cannot use your card from abroad to pay with it or withdraw from Banks and ATMs.
Cards are widely accepted in restaurants, shops, and literally everywhere. If you have a local bank card, you can easily pay with it and withdraw from it if you need cash. Moscow has a pretty good ATM network, with ATMs located in and near banks, big shopping centers, and tourist areas.
Buy a local SIM card
Although WiFi is widely available, many Russian WiFi networks require a Russian phone number in order to log on to them and use the Internet.
If you want to stay connected while visiting Moscow, buying a local SIM card would be a good idea. The major Russian telecom companies are Megafon, MTS, and Beeline. When I visited Moscow, I bought a SIM Card from YOTA-50GB of internet for about 4 USD.
NB: Bring your passport when buying a local SIM card, otherwise they won’t sell it to you.
Take the help of a tour agency
Certain travel agencies help you to plan well ahead. Due to various occasions like state holidays, public holidays, and holiday seasons where the estimated time to complete visiting the place could get a massive change. The tourist operators know the city inside and out, so they could give you a better idea of how to plan a perfect itinerary for visiting Moscow.
A lot of people are very pessimistic about the Russians not being very warm when they visit Moscow, but that isn’t the case. Russians are very friendly and helpful to tourists. Off late, getting a Russian Visa for visiting Moscow has become a very easy process. The state governments are taking many measures to increase tourism in the country.
*This article has been contributed to Owl Over The World by Visa Express, but since visiting Moscow, I have updated it with more info and some personal tips.
Image credits: Kremlin 3