Moscow Made Easier

The city may not be as impenetrable as it once was, but that doesn't mean it has become a cakewalk. Moscow will always be a little difficult, a little tempestuous, a little dramatic. We wouldn't have it any other way.

Named after a resort community on the Latvian coast, Apshu is decorated like a Soviet cottage circa 1960. The prices are retro, too: Soups start at $1.60, salads at $3.40. Most people don't come here for the food alone, though. The restaurant has local bands playing folk and jazz nightly, often with no cover. Klimentovsky Pereulok 10/1, 011-7/095-953-9944. Metro: Tretyakovskaya.

The Yolki-Palki chain of family restaurants features dishes that a babushka (grandmother) would deliver; they're filling but not fancy. Russian cooking leans heavily on meat but Yolki-Palki also has a well-stocked salad bar. A full meal with a local beer runs about $15. Ulitsa Bolshaya Dmitrovka 23/8, 011-7/095-200-0965. Metro: Chekhovskaya.

Where to sleep like a bear

Moscow has a severe shortage of hotel rooms for individual tourists on a budget, because city development authorities have focused their energies on the more lucrative business travelers. Below are four of the safest and best values in the city. Less expensive options exist but they typically cater to traveling merchants and itinerant workers and would offer little assistance to the non-Russian-speaking visitor. Prices quoted are for a basic double room including a private toilet, TV, and phone. Male guests should prepare to field at least one call from a friendly female voice offering "companionship." Hint: Politely decline.

One of the city's best-kept lodging secrets is Alexander Blok, a cruise ship anchored just west of the city center, in the usually waveless Moskva River. It caters to locals who party and gamble on the ship and don't want to schlep home. The 30 rooms go fast, so reserve well in advance. Krasnopresnenskaya Naberezhnaya 12A, 011-7/095-255-9278, doubles $75. Metro: Ulitsa 1905 Goda.

A 10-minute walk from southern Moscow's Universitet metro station, the high-rise Hotel Universitetskaya is operated by the Russian Orthodox Church. Rooms are small but neat, and they have views of the sprawling Moscow State University. Michurinsky Prospekt 8/29, 011-7/095-939-9663, doubles $69.

Quaint it's not, with a capacity for 10,000 guests spread over five high-rise buildings. But the simple rooms at Izmailovo Tourist Hotel Complex are well-kept and the location can't be beat: The city's best souvenir shopping (Izmailovsky Market) and the metro (Izmailovsky Park) are a three-minute walk away. Izmailovo was built for the 1980 Olympics and still has a Soviet feel, fostered by endlessly long, poorly lit corridors. Specify the Delta building, where the staff speaks English, when booking. Izmailovskoye Shosse 71, 011-7/095-737-7055, izmailovo.ru, doubles $56.

With breakfast included, Hotel Molodyozhny is a superb deal. The drawback is the location, in northern Moscow and a 10-minute walk from the nearest metro station (Timiryazevskaya). The least expensive rooms haven't been significantly refurbished for at least a decade, so it's best to think of a stay here as a kind of urban camping. Still, the staff is friendly. Dmitrovskoye Shosse 27/1, 011-7/095-782-9001, hcm.ru, doubles $68.

Or take a pass on the hotels altogether and rent yourself an apartment. City Realty has a collection of 25--30 in downtown Moscow and charges a flat fee (from $85) for up to four people. With fully equipped kitchens and discounts kicking in after the first night, this is a clever way to sidestep the hotel crunch. Note: The company also has flats in St. Petersburg. 011-7/095-517-9846, cityrealtyrussia.com/moscow_apartments.html.

What to skip (and what to do instead)

Once billed as a bohemian artists' quarter, Stary Arbat was an obligatory stop for tightly chaperoned Soviet tour groups. Today the pedestrian walkway more closely resembles a relatively sober Bourbon Street populated by an eclectic mix of sketch artists, souvenir hawkers, and mediocre restaurants. A more refreshing outdoor activity is a 90-minute cruise on one of the small boats that ply the Moskva River from April through September, 11 a.m.--9 p.m. The route starts at the pier opposite Kievsky train station (metro: Kievskaya) and ends at the Novospassky Monastery (metro: Proletarskaya), with four stops in between; you can go either direction. The boats, which depart about every 20 minutes, offer some of the best views in the city--including ones of St. Basil's Cathedral, Gorky Park, and the towering gothic Moscow State University building--and a feel for Moscow's sheer size. The operator, Capital Shipping Company, has a Russian-language site that's worth checking out for a pictorial preview. 011-7/095-257-3484, cck-ship.ru/ru/main/, $7.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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