Moscow might be one of the most expensive cities in the world but there are ways of enjoying the Russian capital on a budget.
They say that Moscow is a playground for the rich, a city with the most billionaires in the world (79 according to Forbes.com). Mercers ranks it as the fourth most expensive place to live.
It’s a city that can give your credit card a good work out, for sure. 15g of beluga caviar in a swish restaurant costs $85; a good seat to a ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre costs at least $300; and the top suite at the Ritz Carlton will lighten the wallet by $2800 a night.
Fortunately, there are ways of having a great time in Moscow without splashing the cash. Here are five things not to be missed and three different budgets to choose from.
1- The Kremlin
The official residence of the President of the Russian Federation has been the seat of power for Russia’s rulers from Ivan the Terrible, who reigned with an iron fist, to Lenin, who led the Bolsheviks to victory in the 1917 revolution, to Stalin, Kruschev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Medvedev.
Among its attractions are historic palaces, stunning gold-domed cathedrals and the armoury, which has opulent displays of state treasures including Faberge eggs and jewel-studded thrones.
2- Red Square
Remembered by the world for its military parades, such as on Victory Day in 2008 when tanks rolled across Red Square after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Red Square is surrounded by beautiful buildings such as St Basil’s Cathedral, with its stunning multicoloured domes, and the historic GUM department store, an elegant 19th-century building packed with expensive designer shops.
3- The Metro
Moscow’s metro is something you have to see to believe. Built as a showpiece for the Soviet system, with the first line opening in 1935, the stations are showy underground galleries with marble stonework, brass trimmings, chandeliers and stained glass. Some were built to themes such as Kiev station, which has frescoes of Ukrainian life and bas-reliefs with scenes of chess players and ballerinas, and Ploshchad Revolyutsii, which has 72 bronze sculptures.
4- State Tretyakov Gallery
Moscow’s national treasury of fine art is an impressive collection of 150,000 exquisite works of painting, sculpture and graphics, created by generations of Russian artists.
Some of the works are massive, occupying entire walls. Walking through the gallery’s rooms and halls is like taking a journey through a Russian time portal between the 11th and early 20th century.
5- Novodevichy Convent
A complex of cathedrals and churches, the Novodevichy Convent was Peter the Great’s half-sister Sofia’s second residence when she ruled Russia as regent in the 17th century.
When Peter the Great took the throne, he imprisoned Sofia here. At night-time, the reflection of the convent in the lake beside it makes it look like a fairytale palace.
Here’s a video of a river cruise between Moscow and St Petersburg
$100 a day
Stay: If you’re on a tight budget, your best bet is to book a bed in a hostel. There are hostels within walking distance of Red Square such the Napoleon Hostel. Dorm rooms cost around 800 roubles ($25).
Eat: Food kiosks are conveniently located near the main tourist sites and offer low-cost snacks such as Russian pies filled with meat, cabbage and cheese (25 roubles/.80) and potato in a jacket with cheese and butter (65 roubles/$2). There are chain restaurants, such as Drova, where you can tuck into a buffet dinner for 350 roubles ($12).
Explore: A ticket to the Architectural Ensemble of the Cathedral Square in the Kremlin costs 350 rubles ($12) and allows entry to the five museum-cathedrals, the Patriarch’s Palace, exhibitions in the Assumption Belfry and One-Pillar Chamber of the Patriarch’s Palace. You can visit Red Square, admire St Basil’s Cathedral, look at the luxury boutiques in the GUM and admire views of Novodevichy Convent across the lake for free.
See: Cheap seats at the Moscow Circus start at 200 roubles ($6.60).
Go: A metro ticket is 26 roubles ($.85). You can ride from station to station and explore on one ticket as long as you don’t exit the underground.
$250 a day
Stay: Hotels near Red Square are expensive and your best bet is to choose one a little further away from the centre but make sure it’s near a metro station. Room rates can be three times higher during weekdays so planning to be in Moscow on weekends can save you hundreds of dollars. For example, rooms at Ibis Moscow Paveletskaya, which is located 3.74km from Red Square, cost $95 from Friday to Sunday but the mid-week price can jump to as much as $313. Breakfast is $24.
Eat: Choose mid-range family restaurants that are popular with the locals, such as Planet Sushi and Il Patio where three courses will set you back around 1000 roubles ($32).
Explore: Tickets to both the Architectural Ensemble of the Cathedral Square and the Armoury Chamber will set you back 1050 roubles ($34). Admission to the State Tretyakov Gallery costs 360 rubles ($12).
See: The historic Bolshoi Theatre, which has been undergoing renovations, will be fully re-opened in October. Tickets to the opera cost from 400 roubles ($13).
Go: A set of 10 tickets on the metro costs 265 rubles ($8.70).
$500 a day
Stay: You’ll be lucky to find a room in a five-star hotel for under 10,000 roubles ($340) and an entry-level room in the plush Ritz-Carlton will blow your budget in one night. A more affordable option is the Novotel Moscow Centre where room and breakfast cost around $190 a night. Another option is joining a river cruise that offers sightseeing in Moscow as part of the itinerary and where accommodation aboard the ship, touring, transport and meals are included.
Eat: Choosing the $190-a-night option means that there’s enough left over in the budget for a sumptuous five-star dining experience at the historic Café Pushkin, which is set in a lavish 19th-century aristocratic home. Three courses at Café Pushkin will cost around 3500 roubles ($115), wine is extra. A three-course set lunch costs 700 rubles ($24).
Explore: Same as the $250 a day budget
See: There’s something romantic about seeing a ballet in Moscow. A seat in the stalls or amphitheatre at the Bolshoi Theatre will cost 3300 rubles ($110) but a good seat will set you back a lot more.
Go: Same as on $250 a night budget.