Moscow is a place rich in its history. It is an architecture wonderland with intricate sculptures decorating the pillars and walls of every building. Witness the gandiosity of the empires dating back from the 15th century and listen to stories about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Hunt for ancient treasures or talk to the streets of craftsmen and artists, displaying their work of creativity along Izmailovsky market. There are just so much to take in when you are in Moscow.
But before you start packing your bags, there are some things that you might need to know. Read on and begin making your plans for your trip!
You can check out my other post about the things you should do and places to visit while in Moscow, if you are already familiar with these tips!
Before you go: Visa requirement
You will probably require a tourist visa to enter Russia. Depending on where you are coming from, the fees will differ.
For fellow Singaporeans, fees are generally higher if you require it to be processed within 4 days. There is also a Russian Visa Application Centre service charge of $42 (including GST) for each visa application. You can apply for your visa via the VFS.Global website.
Buying a data plan will definitely ease your travel. You can source for information about where to go, eat, read up on the historical sites, make hotel or transport bookings and communicate with the locals using google translate (though in Moscow, it might not be necessary as most people do speak some English).
You can get the data plan at the airport. The cheapest one is currently offered by Megafon (while we were there). It costs us around 1000 rubles for 14 days, giving us unlimited data usage for key applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. There was also 10gb for normal internet surfing. MTS on the other hand, cost 1500 rubles for 30 days with 7gb of data and unlimited data for the key applications. Both telcos offer free talk time and messages.
Aside from Megafon and MTS, there are also other telcos at the airport that you can explore. The staff will help you activate the card, but make sure that the data is connected before you leave the airport.
Where to stay
If you google the map of Moscow, you will realize that central Moscow is outlined in the shape of an egg that is sunny-side up. Red Square is the central of Moscow, and is right smack in the centre of the egg yolk.
Finding hotels around the road that forms the outline of the “yolk” is probably going to cost you lesser than living right within Red Square. We stayed at capsule hostels around Arbat street, as indicated in the starred places within the map (above).
Our choice of stay was at Capsule Hostel and Jedi Hostel. Both capsule hostels are quite worth its price, and are near to the SMOLENSKAYA metro (Blue line). Thought we will just give you a brief overview of our two accommodations.
Located right beside the Singapore Embassy (place to be if you want to feel really safe?), Capsule hostel is an apartment with three rooms. There are around 30 capsules across the 3 rooms, with a common area, kitchen area and 2 toilets. The capsules are stacked, and it may be difficult accessing the higher capsules due to the way the steps are designed. Also, you can’t do it without the capsules creaking.
The capsules are generally smaller in size but still reasonably comfortable without us feeling claustrophobic. For those who are concern about the toilets, both the capsules and toilets are well-kept and clean. We didn’t really have any complaints. You might find some long-term guests hanging around the common area, probably a good space if you like to meet new people. You can make yourself some coffee or tea in the kitchen, but the cleanliness of that space is alright.
Located diagonally opposite Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also one of the 7 Sisters with the Stalinist architecture, you might be able to get a beautiful view from your room if you are lucky.
There is a living, dining and a small kitchen area where you can make your drinks or cook a meal. The whole hostel is clean and well-kept. The capsules are generally spacious, with between 4 to 8 capsules in each room. We got the room with only 4 capsules. The steps to the higher capsules are also broad and easy to access. The bathrooms are well kept, and because there were 3 dry and 3 wet toilets, we didn’t have to wait to use the bathroom throughout our stay. A place I will recommend if you are planning for a hostel stay in Moscow.
Getting in and getting around
There are three main airports where you might enter Moscow, depending on the airline of your choice. Domodedovo is located to the south of Moscow Central, Shemeretyevo is located to the north and Vnukovo is located to the southwest.
There are the Aeroexpress train services that connects the airport to the metro services, where you can transit to whereever you are staying in Moscow central. The cost for the Aeroexpress is 500 rubles and a metro ticket cost 55 rubles, regardless of the station you exit. There are also tickets for family of 4 that will cost you 950 rubles for 4 pax.
That said, if you have 2 pax or more, you may consider calling Uber, which will cost you between 900 to 1100 rubles. The journey for both the train and the car will be between 45 mins to 1 hour. Try not to get the cab from the airport, as the taxi from the airport will cost you significantly more, costing anything between 1700 to 2500 rubles.
Once you are in Moscow central, you can easily get around using the metro system. The metro system covers most of the city center, and there is a good chance that you will be able to find a metro near you wherever you are. Rather than repeating content available online, this site that I came across provides you with a good overview of the metro services and how to use it.
Within Moscow central, if you are travelling with 3 pax or more, I will suggest that you go with Uber instead. Depending on where you are going, the prices can be comparative or even cheaper than the metro. It will also save you time from having to walk to the metro stations. Below is a snapshot of the costs of our Uber ride during our stay in Moscow.
To get to other cities in Russia, there are multiple ways, including bus, trains or plane. The most commonly used services would be the train. You can read up more about the various transport services from this guide that I found.
Driving in Russia can be quite a madness. If you have taken the taxi or the Uber, you will know what I mean. I will not recommend driving in Moscow central as the metro is convenient and Uber is readily available. That said, the drive outside of Moscow central can be really enjoyable, with straight clear roads and nice sceneries. You can try driving the Golden Ring of Russia if you are planning a road trip.
If you intend to drive while you are in Moscow, you will need an international driving permit. This can be applied through the AA Singapore’s website for Singaporeans. Do note that most car rentals in Russia require at least 2 years of driving experience.
While most car rentals require a deposit prior to the collection of the car, we managed to skip that with Rentmotors. We filled up the form on the website, and the booking was confirmed. Deposit of 10,000 rubles through credit card was only collected the day we got the car.
While the reviews of Rentmotors online is not entirely positive, mostly due to the attitude of the staff, we had no complaints. Other than looking slightly impatient, all the staff we met spoke English and answered all our queries. Also, the price was significantly cheaper than the other rental agencies that we found online. The car was also in good condition, and the collection point was in central Moscow. That said, do make a thorough check, and make sure that the spare tyre is in the car boot.
It is always good to bring some rubles over to Russia as the exchange rates at the airport are usually not attractive. Once you are out of the airpot and in the city, the rates are generally better. While in Moscow, banks are the places where you can get your money changed.
While not easily available in Singapore, you can still get rubles at some of the money changers in Chinatown and The Arcade. The rates were competitive to what we’ve got in Moscow.
You can change slightly more rubles if you would like to, but do note that you might have problem changing them back to your own currency once you leave Russia. My advice is to change enough rubles for a couple of days, and bring US dollars to change while you travel.
Modern media definitely does not do justice to the people of Russia. While western media often portray Russian as fierce, unfriendly, angry-looking mobs, the people we met in Russia were kind and pleasant.
While it is true that most people do not smile much, you will almost always find a response when asking for help or greeting the shop-owners. The shop owners were actually very helpful and took the time to answer our queries, regardless of whether we were buying stuff.
As long as you keep an open mind, be geniune, do not take matters personally, throw in a couple of jokes as you engage in conversations and recognize that there will always be some cultural differences wherever you travel, you will definitely enjoy yourself in Russia.
Check out my other relevant articles on Russia: