Tell anyone you’re off to Moscow on your holidays, and they’ll probably whistle through their teeth at the inevitable bankruptcy they imagine you’ll soon face. And they have a point. It is darned expensive, with the costs of everything from accommodation to dining out costly enough to make London look like a city of paupers.
But since easyJet has just launched a new route from London Gatwick to Moscow, which could cost from as little as £125 return, the temptation for anyone on a budget to go now is at an all-time high. Of course, as is the case in any major city, there are tricks to avoiding doing your wallet serious damage. So armed with a little insider info, you can visit, soak up the culture, party and see the sights on a (relatively) low budget. Here’s how.
Well, here’s a challenge. Many of Moscow’s bars and clubs are all about minimum-spend tables, VIP areas and eye-wateringly expensive cocktails, but there are exceptions. Of course, there’s always vodka. You could do what the less well-off Muscovites do – drink at home first. You can buy a half-litre for around £3 in supermarkets, which should set you up for a decent night on the town.
Then, head to Barfly – one of the city’s worst-kept secrets. It’s a proper smoky dive bar and sells cocktails from around £3 (about one-fifth of the cost of drinks in many of the more upmarket nightspots).
MORE INFO: Barfly, Strastnoy Bulvar 6, building 2; tel. +7 495 650 27 79.
Moving a fraction more fancy, drink at VinoSyr, an inexpensive cheese and wine bar where you’ll only have to shell out Ł3.90 for a glass of vino.
MORE INFO: vinosyr.ru
After a bit of an early charge, make your way to Propaganda, a huge warehouse where hip-hop, garage and jungle nights are held. Open until 6am, there’s no cover charge (except on Saturdays) and beers start from £1.90. Quids in!
MORE INFO: propagandamoscow.com
Believe it or not, there’s a company that offers free sightseeing tours of Moscow. Moscow Free Tour runs every day at 10.45am, takes two-and-a-half hours and includes a decent number of the city’s top sights, including St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the former KGB headquarters, also known as Lubyanka.
MORE INFO: moscowfreetour.com
Of course, another way to sightsee on the cheap is to bring a map and do it yourself – there’s little to no charge for many of Moscow’s most interesting sights. Keen on dead revolutionaries? Visit Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square to see the embalmed body of the former communist leader, where he lies in state under fierce armed guard. No horsing about is permitted here – visitors are expected to remain quiet and respectful when near the body or risk the wrath of the stern security.
The Mausoleum is at the foot of the Kremlin wall, and was reopened to the public in May after months of renovations. Admission is free. A stroll around Red Square itself is also free, and there’s no charge for gazing up at the St Basil’s Cathedral’s famous bright domes (entry is about £2 if you want to pop inside). One of Russia’s most iconic (not to mention eccentric) sights, this Russian Orthodox church dates back to the 16th century.
The palaces and cathedrals of the Kremlin are also nearby, although you’ll have to stump up about £15 to get into the Armoury Chamber, Cathedral Square and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. On the eastern side of the square is Moscow’s grand GUM department store, and while you definitely won’t be buying anything here (it’s wall-to-wall designer brands, and prices are up to 20 per cent higher than in London), a stroll through to check out Moscow’s mega-rich oligarchs buying up a frenzy for their girlfriends is entertaining. Next to it is the restored Kazan Cathedral, while on the square’s northern side is the State Historical Museum.
MORE INFO: gum.ru; moscow.info
For a cheap taste of the region’s cuisine, try Stolovaya No 57 in GUM, which is themed in the style of the Soviet period. Russian classics including dressed herring, borsch (beetroot soup) and goulash (stew) can all be sampled here, and a multi-course meal will only set you back about £10.
MORE INFO: gum.ru
At Restoranny Dom Tsentralny, a self-service canteen inside a Soviet-era mansion, you can help yourself to hearty Russian stews for less than a fiver.
MORE INFO: Restoranny Dom Tsentralny, 1 Kudrinskaya Pl, Kudrinskaya skyscraper.
As for breakfast, Shokoladnitsa does a decent spreadof pancakes, porridge, juice and coffee for £3.
MORE INFO: Shokoladnitsa, Prospect Mira 29, tel. +7 495 680 85 15.
Moscow is developing a reputation as a world-class arts hub. Entry into the more classical art museums, such as the imposing Tretyakov State Gallery, is quite pricey, but it’s a different story where contemporary art is concerned. Delve into this scene at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art to see works from Pablo Picasso, Joan Miró, Salvador Dalí and Henri Rousseau as part of the permanent collection. Although the usual £5 entry fee isn’t steep, canny gallery goers can get in for nothing when visiting on the third Sunday of every month.
MORE INFO: mmoma.ru
Alternatively, visit Winzavod, Russia’s biggest contemporary arts centre. Here, seven old industrial buildings have been transformed into a space for exhibitions, festivals, lecture programmes, cinema screenings, designers, workshops, concerts and art galleries – and you’ll be stoked to see entrance is totally free.
MORE INFO: winzavod.ru/eng
Gorky Park is temporarily home to the Garage Centre for Contemporary Culture, and hosts regular arts exhibitions. Currently showing is the fifth installment of The Museum Of Everything, a travelling showcase for undiscovered, unintentional and untrained artists from across Russia. Entrance is about £5.
MORE INFO: garageccc.com
Made of money?
Of course, it’s possible to visit Moscow without spending a small fortune. But as this is a city of seriously loaded people, there are ways to splash out – if you have some spare rubles, or find a rich benefactor, give these a go:
It’s a quintessential tourist experience to see a ballet performance while in Russia, but tickets to see the Bolshoi Ballet Company, based at the Bolshoi Theatre, will set you back anything between £100-£300 or even more.
Even the name is ostentatious, but drink at swanky nightspot The Most and you could find yourself perched on a barstool next to Chelsea ower Roman Abramovich, who famously drowned his sorrows here after the 2008 Champions League final. He might have needed to drown them again when he saw his bar bill – drinks start from Ł10 for a small glass of wine and go up to around Ł600 for a bottle.
The Ritz-Carlton Moscow
Sick of sharing a dorm with nine other smelly backpackers? Check yourself into the Ritz-Carlton, where a swimming pool lit through Swarovski crystals, armchairs shaped like Fabergé eggs and a vodka sommelier at your service are all yours for a mere £2k a night if you opt for a nice spacious suite … go on, treat yourself (in your dreams).