All these travel tips for Moscow or Russia in general, I used myself…I am so thankful for Mrs D from Gluten Free Mrs D for providing me with a huge email of really important information for our trip; the information gave me an insight into what I was to expect from our visit to Moscow. I don’t like fluffy top 10 lists to be honest, so I’ve decided to share really practical tips with you all for your next trip to Russia…blog posts should be helpful and I do hope all this information helps!
Obtaining a Visa for Russia
Now this is the hard bit to be honest…they say don’t book any flights or hotels before you apply for your visa however we did but we made sure they were refundable incase it all went tits up…you actually need a letter of invitation from your hotel to get the visa (a right old catch 22 situation!). The visa form for Russia is online and it’s not that difficult to do all the hard work yourself – I found this blog post online that took me through each step with ease so we didn’t pay for an agency. Just a friendly word of warning, you will need to provide your foreign travel movements for the past 10 years…yes 10 years with dates!
You now have to be finger printed when you drop off your visa application; we visited the London application centre and I will be very honest and say it was bloody straight forward and easy – we were in and out within 30 minutes and scoffing burgers for lunch, not dinner like I was expecting.
Flying First Class to Moscow
British Airways has flights on certain days to Moscow with a First Class Cabin; fly out on Friday morning and come back on Tuesday afternoon for a city break weekend which was perfect for us and it meant we were able to use our 241 companion voucher. The flights cost us 68,000 avios (off peak rate) and £110 for the taxes…yes we only paid £110 for 2 first class flights; if you don’t have many avios and want to try out the BA first class cabin then this is definitely a cheap option to do so rather than paying £2,900 each for a seat! I’ve written a post on how to fly long haul in First Class for only £500 in the past, if you want to check out how to play the avois game.
This was my second visit to Russia (I visited St Petersburg in 2003) and it has changed so much. You are no longer required to fill in a landing card asking all those awkward questions on how much cash you’re carrying and where you will be staying; just make sure you have a visa in your passport before you arrive!
Mrs D advised to take some snacks incase we had a long wait at the airport to get through passport control and I would highly recommend this also – it took us maybe 30 minutes to get through the queue however we were the first off the plane so that helped and they had almost processed the Emirates flight in front of us by the time we arrived.
Book a Transfer to Moscow City Centre from the Airport
Mrs D advised us (I love Mrs D…can you tell…I’m so grateful for all her very practical and knowledgable tips!) to pre-book a transfer and thank goodness she did as the traffic is truly a nightmare getting into Moscow (you need snacks!)…think London traffic when there is a tube strike, that is Moscow traffic EVERY DAY! Pre-booking the taxi just takes your mind off the worry of getting ripped off by a rouge taxi driver on arrival and you will obviously have a set price. We used Lingo Taxis and they were really good and on the way back to the Airport we just used an Uber Taxi for a set price of 2,500 roubles (I think we got a good deal with this one to be fair).
Our journey into Moscow took 2.5 hours…yes you read that right and back out to the airport it took us close to 3 hours (we almost missed our flight…we were seriously shitting bricks as we arrived an hour before take off!). Give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport.
There is another option; which is catching the AeroExpress train from the airport to the city centre. We were going to do this on the way back to the airport however the traffic was at a standstill in the city centre and a 2km drive was taking 2 hours (the metro with 4 pieces of luggage is not advisable!)…the train station that you will arrive / depart from in the city centre is the Paveletsky Rail Terminal – on arrival I would suggest asking your hotel to book your a taxi pick up to save the hassle of finding a driver.
Choose your Hotel Wisely – we stayed at the Intercontinental Moscow
I’m a fan of the Intercontinental brand and I have to say that the Intercontinental Moscow was really lovely especially the Club Lounge (the ladies in the lounge were fantastic and probably the best food at an IC club lounge property!). While you have the Four Seasons Moscow, Hotel National (SPG), Ritz Carlton Moscow and a few other large hotels overlooking the Kremlin and Red Square area which offer fabulous views; we actually preferred the 10 minute walk into Red Square as it meant we were able to get out and about easier in uber taxis and we weren’t constantly stuck in traffic jams…not the case if you are staying right in the middle of all the action as the traffic is chaotic in this area.
Did We Feel Safe in Moscow?
I actually felt safer in Moscow then I do walking around London; firstly we saw no trouble i.e. pickpockets, the locals were super friendly and trying out their English on us, there were body scanner machines at all the hotels, Metro stations and shopping centres due to heighten security so we felt really safe. There was a heavy police presence however not a military presence like I remember from my visit to St Petersburg.
You Don’t Need to Carry Your Passport
Contrary to what you read, you don’t need to carry your passport with you in Russia anymore! I did ask the concierge at the hotel and his advice was not to worry, they are more concerned about overstayers coming into Russia so if you show the police a hotel room key (swipe card) then that is generally enough as it shows that you are on holiday etc…if you do want to carry something with you then I suggest a copy of your passport identity page.
Prebook your Tickets to the Kremlin
Definitely prebook your tickets to the Kremlin if you can; I would suggest the Armoury and cathedral square which are stunning at the very least if you are pushed for time! Now if you do pre-book your tickets then make sure you get the 10am slot which is the first timed slot into the Armoury.
You will need to take your print out of the online ticket with you to the ticket office to change over to the official paper tickets and to do this you will need to show your passport…we didn’t have any identification on us so we had a battle of wills (it was New Zealand vs Russia) and I won in the end as I refused to leave until she gave me my tickets…I showed my credit card as it had my name on it but do take your passport or a drivers licence to pick up the tickets as you might not be as lucky as us (they want to see the original!).
The ticket office is in the Kremlin Garden to the right of the main entrance gate to the Kremlin…it’s a stand alone building which is poorly signed along with the entrance to the Armoury so give yourself time to find both.
Make sure that you get to the Armoury entrance no later than 9.30am as you will be scanned and your bags searched and this took over 30 minutes so we didn’t get into the Kremlin until almost 10.30am as we were at the end of the line and the locals like to push in.
You will need identification and a cash deposit to get an audio tour guide; we weren’t aware of this so we ended up just wandering around but there is quite a bit of information in English now which is fantastic.
If you can’t afford to travel to Moscow then you can do a virtual tour online which I think is pretty awesome in fact…here’s the link…it’s towards the bottom for all those armchair travellers out there.
Make Sure you See Red Square at Night
This was another tip from Mrs D, to venture to Red Square on your first night in Moscow and honestly it was such a fantastic experience. To stand in Red Square wearing red was on my bucket list however seeing the area all beautifully lit up for nighttime; it was just so magical and for me that was when I ticked Red Square off my bucket list and I went to bed so excited about seeing the rest of Moscow.
^^Just a quick photo from my camera phone
Is Anything in English?
I was really surprised to find that yes there is! There are a number of signs in Cyrillic and English pointing you in the direction of various tourist attractions to help out the folks that can’t read maps to save themselves albeit this is not the case on the Metro where everything is in Cyrillic…it’s a case of matching the letter up while admiring the beautiful stations.
Catching the Metro in Moscow
I was surprised that I managed to get us across Moscow without ending up in Siberia with relative ease using the Metro. The map of the Moscow Metro is very similar to the London Underground tube map; we bought tickets for the little lady at the counter (I think for approximately 60 roubles each…less than a £1!) and ventured across Moscow…the stations are masterpieces themselves and makes London look like a rather dull and poor cousin!
Walking the Mean Streets of Moscow!
Seriously I am not sure what they put in their sidewalks however your legs, feet and hips are going to kill you…a number of baths didn’t lessen the pain. Make sure you take really really comfortable shoes…I took my Supergas and Russell & Bromley Chelsea Boots and neither had given me blisters until Moscow…I was waddling around Moscow like a penguin! I would suggest a really good pair of walking shoes like Merrells which I had left in my car at the airport…doh!
If you think you will be jumping in taxis to get to various tourist attractions rather than walking then good luck as you will spend most of your time sitting in traffic…take walking shoes as you can’t get around central Moscow without them.
The streets can be six to eight lanes wide so you can’t cross them; there is always a subway to walk under these huge streets safely (and there are ramps on every set of steps we found)...I arrived in Moscow with cellulite but left with none due to all the walking and steps!
Is the Hop On Hop Off Tour Bus Worth It?
No…it’s quicker to walk eveywhere on the red route than taking the bus…the green route was a bigger loop however there wasn’t too much to see on this loop on your first trip to Moscow. Seeing Moscow from the top of a double decker bus was fantastic as the detailing on the buildings is just exquisite and the commentary was pretty funny…there was always a funny story which almost always ended with someone getting hurt, killed or cursed…I could only laugh!
I booked this for G as he is still recovering from a knee operation however we only used it once due to the traffic.
The Maps of Moscow are Deceiving
Now this was a tip that the concierge passed onto us…the city centre area around Red Square and the tourist attractions in this area are all true scale wise on the map and very walkable; however when you leave this central area most things are way off scale so where it may have taken you ten minutes to walk one distance in the city centre…when you are a little further out of this area that same distance can take you twenty minutes even though it is showing as the same distance on the map. This doesn’t help when the streets are ripping your feet to shreds.
Don’t Believe Everything You Read Online about Russia!
Now I’m not just talking about the news but it’s a good place to start; we had no issues at all as foreigners in Russia so don’t believe everything that these news channels spin.
Second thing; researching opening times for various tourist attractions is a nightmare and you really need a good concierge to help you get an itinerary sorted – Lenin is only open a few days a week for a few hours each day (and when we visited Moscow he wasn’t taking visitors due to the May Day Parade preparations plus the days had changed after having his suit changed earlier this year!)...while a museum may say it’s open on a Monday, it probably won’t be! There are opening times for many of the tourist attractions in Moscow however you have to be aware that these will depend on the season and they will probably only show the summer opening times…another thing I fell foul to on our trip…the information in Russian was updated however the English translations weren’t hence I wasted some valuable snooping time.
What is it Like to Travel to Moscow in April?
I’m a big fan of travelling out of season to popular travel destinations (remember me visiting Santorini in Winter!)...well April is considered out of season and there is a lot of maintenance / restoration work that is taking place at this time so you will find certain areas won’t be open.
Weather wise it can be quite literally four season in one day…we had snow, blinding sunshine, rain and winds and then total calm all within a space of 2 hours. We ended up travelling with a lot of clothes as the weather reports were such a mixed bag on our visit to the city however the temperatures never made it to double figures (but we were prepared for this). The following weekend it was 21 degrees in Moscow in April!
Is it easy to find Gluten Free Food in Moscow?
I will be honest and say that I ate at the hotel a lot as I knew that we could guarantee that everything was gluten free. Unfortunately I suffer from IBS so if I eat gluten, it goes straight through me so I didn’t want to take any risks while I was in Moscow. I did find a Georgian restaurant, Superavi Cafe (it has a few locations in Moscow) that has gluten free options and well informed staff.
Why is Moscow such a Marmite Travel Destination?
Moscow is such a marmite travel destination; you either love it or really really hate it! I am definitely in the Team Moscow camp as I really loved the city; it was fascinating, clean and just so so pretty. I do think tourists visit Moscow thinking that it will be very European however it is and it’s not at the same time…if that makes sense. You have to understand the history of Russia to appreciate the country and the people within it; and I think tourists get a huge culture shock and this is why they don’t enjoy Moscow…and I know travellers don’t like to admit to culture shock.
To really love the city; you have to be ready to accept all it’s quirks and weirdness…when we got dropped off at a derelict building and had to go underground through tunnels to a shooting range we thought we were going to die…we didn’t (obviously!) but oh my goodness we had a few laughs on that night and we still do. You have to embrace everything about Moscow to enjoy the city…we even started to enjoy the crazy drivers.
Moscow isn’t for everyone but it’s definitely a firm favourite of mine now…go with an open mind!
If you fancy checking my other Moscow posts then take a gander here – Moscow’s Hidden Gem: Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery, my honest review of the Intercontinental Moscow.
If there are any other travel tips for Moscow you are after…please drop me a comment below and I will try and help or point you in the right direction.