TOURIST INFORMATION IN MOSCOW
For a long time Moscow didn’t have tourist offices in the Western sense of the word: places where you can stop in and ask some question, get a map or make accommodation arrangements. The Russian alternative was "service bureaus," which are more less travel agencies that arrange tours, book hotel and offer transportation tickets.
However, since 2012, a network of tourist information centers have been set up at the city center, railway stations and the airports. The history of these information centers began with the creation of the Tourist Volunteer Centers of the city of Moscow, created by a law decreed by the Tourism Committee of the local government of Moscow. In addition to this Volunteer Center, a network of offices or tourist information centers or Tourist Info (called TICs) has been created. As of 2017, about dozen TICs had been established. They offer free maps, thematic guides with detailed information about the city’s museums, attractions, events, as well as itineraries. The information is provided in Russian and English as well as other languages such as Spanish, French, German, Chinese and Japanese.
The main tourist information centers in central Moscow is at the War of 1812 Museum, in Revolution Square, next to Red Square. Six TICs are in in the train stations of Belorussky, Leningradsky, Kievsky, Paveletsky, Kursky and Kazansky. There are also TICs at Moscow’s tow main airports: at Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo airports.
Since 2015 these centers have been joined by the City Expert Moscow offices, run by the company City Sightseeing Moscow, Ltd. (a company that manages the city’s tourist bus). These offices also provide tourist information, and it is possible to acquire a map of the city. The main office is located in the Triumfalnaya Square (metro Mayakovskaya), and it’s open from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm. The other office is located on the ground floor of the GUM Galleries (at the heart of Red Square), and it’s open from 10:00am to 7:00pm Websites: Moscow Official Tourism website: http://en.travel2moscow.com/. Official website of the local government of Moscow: https://www.mos.ru/en/.
Sights in Moscow
Tour attractions in Moscow include the Kremlin, Red Square, museums, parks, and permanent exhibitions. Moscow is widely regarded as one of the world’s foremost cultural cities. It is home to over 500 museums, and modern creative spaces such as the Vinzavor, the ARMA factory, and the ArtPlay design center. It also has hundreds of churches and about 20 monasteries. There are also estates, the merchant district of Zamoskvorechye and other historical areas. In terms of architecture there is Moscow City, with its tall buildings, Shukhov Tower and Stalin's Seven Sisters. For families there are theme parks, interactive museums, an aquarium and a zoo.
Among the museums are ones devoted to various arts, literature, music, politics, history and sciences. There are scores of small churches as well as large cathedrals. Most are Russian Orthodox but there are also Catholic and Protestant ones. The famous Bolshoi Theater is admirable for it famous opera and ballet performances and its architecture. In the Red Square area you can visit, the Kremlin, still the seat of the Russian Government, Lenin's Tomb and the colorful GUM Department. Nearby are the homes the revered Russian writers Tolstoy, Gorky, and Chekhov. Izmailovsky Park is famous for its market. Every weekend, local artists and craftsmen gather here to sell their works.
The Moscow Kremlin State Museum-Reserve, St. Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square are Moscow’s most famous tourism areas, The Kremlin is the heart, soul and symbol not only of Moscow, but all of Russia. The first Finno-Ugric settlements in the area now occupied by the Kremlin date back to the Bronze Age (2nd millennium B.C.) . The first wooden fortress was erected here in 1147 . The current Kremlin walls were constructed in late 15th century. Each of its 20 towers are unique. The most famous landmarks within the Kremlin are the Armory and the Palace of Facets, Ivan the Great Bell Tower, the Assumption, Annunciation and Archangel Cathedrals, as well as Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell. Tours are conducted in Russian, English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian. An entrance ticket starts from 700 rubles.
Red Square adjoins the Kremlin. Fairs and concerts take place here during the holidays; an ice rink and a Christmas market are organized in winter. Make time to visit the historical restroom of the GUM Department Store, the History Museum, the Mausoleum with the body of Vladimir Lenin lies, and Lobnoye mesto. From Red Square you can reach Alexandrovsky Garden, Manezhnaya Square and the old streets of Varvarka or Ilyinka, and admire their historical buildings or dine at one of their fashionable cafes or restaurants.
On searching for the Soviet era in Moscow, Jim Heintz of Associated Press wrote: “Tourists at the souvenir stands on the edge of Red Square smirk and chuckle as they buy T-shirts emblazoned with Lenin's glowering visage and Soviet propaganda posters. But years ago, the Soviet Union was no joke. For a history-minded visitor, Moscow may be one of the world's most challenging destinations. In a city now full of consumer goods, one of the hardest things to find is a sense of how bleak life was under the hammer and sickle. Unlike Rome or Athens, where the tourist is called upon to imagine the glory that once was, in Moscow you have to visualize what wasn't there. Walk into a food store and imagine the shelves empty; picture the store without a clever name or attractive logo — its sign would have read only "meat" or "milk" or "products."These days it's unlikely that one's tour guide briefs the secret police at the end of the day. Your hotel may not be cute or comfy, but it's probably not overtly scary like the Rossiya, a signature Soviet monstrosity that's now a vacant lot. In a way, this may be kind of a disappointment: Going to the Evil Empire had more cachet than a trip to the Overpriced Capital.Nonetheless, there are a few places where visitors can feel like the clock's been rolled back to long before the Berlin Wall fell, and get a small taste of totalitarianism, of how the Soviet system quietly bullied even its most submissive citizens. [Source: Jim Heintz, Associated Press, October 12, 2009]
Orientation of Moscow
Moscow is huge. It has 120 districts. The downtown area is a maze of curving, narrow traffic-clogged streets, pastel 18th and 19th-century mansions, stately museums, gold-domed Orthodox churches, parks, fountains, tree-lined boulevards and modern office buildings. The outskirts and suburbs of Moscow are dominated by crumbling Soviet-style highrises and rundown streets.
Moscow is laid out like a spider web with the Kremlin at the center, the four Ring Roads, forming concentric circles, and the Moscow River winding through it. Many places of interest to tourists are located in the Kremlin and Red Square area. Other are scattered around the city and best reached by Metro. The downtown area is not a nice neat grid but a crazy quilt of streets and roads with names that often change from block to block. The busiest streets are the broad prospekts spread out from the Kremlin area like spokes on a wheel or lines or strings of a spider web.
The entire Moscow area is divided into 11 sections with a circle about one to two kilometers outside the Garden Ring marking the boundary between "Inner" and "Outer": The 11 sections are: 1) the City Center; 2) Inner North; 3) Inner Northwest; 4) Inner Southwest; 5) Inner South: 6) Inner Southeast; 7) Inner Northeast; 8) Outer North; 9) Outer West; 10) Outer South; and 11) Outer East.
Many streets were renamed after the collapse of the Soviet Union but maps and even street signs have not kept up with the changes, making it difficult for visitors and even Muscovites to figure out where places are. Many people continue to call the streets by their old names. Leningradskoye Shosse, the main road leading to Sheremetyevo International Airport, is often very congested.
Ring Roads in Moscow
Moscow is divided by four ring roads (sometimes described as three excluding the central ring): 1) the central ring is comprised of a semicircle of different roads and squares that encircles the Kremlin area. 2) the Boulevard Ring is three quarters of a circle between 750 and 1,500 meters outside the Kremlin, Each section has a different name. Boulevard Ring (Bulvarnoye Kolco) is often referred to as the innermost ring road.
3) The Garden Ring is a complete circle between two and 2.5 kilometers outside the Kremlin. Many of its sections are called Sadovaya ("Garden"), something, ulitsa. The entire Garden Ring is about is about 16 kilometers (10 miles) around it is possible to take a bus around the whole thing. The Garden Ring (Sadovoe Koltso) is also called the middle ring. "Inner Moscow" usually refers to the area within the area about a kilometer outside The Garden Ring. Outside of "Inner Moscow" is the suburbs. Whatever gardens were around the road were mostly gone by the 1930s. There are many more gardens around the Boulevard Ring.
4) The forth ring is the Outer Ring, a relatively newly-built beltway between 15 and 20 kilometers outside the Kremlin. More or less forming the Moscow city limits, it has ten lanes in some places and is the only road in Russia that qualifies as a Western-style highway. Also described as the Third Ring or the Moscow Ring Road (“MKAD”), it is heavily traveled and surrounds the city. There are plans to build and additional ring road between the Garden Ring and Moscow Ring Road. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel, 2008]
Accommodation in Moscow
Moscow has a fairly good selection of hotels the problem is booking a room for a decent price. Generally booking agencies and travel agencies can book rooms at the overpriced expensive hotels. There are some descent third class and business hotels that have rooms for around US$20. It is hard to book these in advance and if you arrive without a reservation often times they are full or there is some hassle.
The 231-room National is considered by many to be the best Soviet-era hotel in Moscow. It reopened in May 1995 after a five year renovation. The Minsk is more run down. The Hotel Moscow has two different wings because Stalin mistakenly approved designs by two different architects. No one had the courage to inform Stalin of his error so it was decided that one wing from each architects plan would be built. The Metropole has rooms that go for US$750 a night, breakfast for US$50. The American-style Marriot Grand has 390 rooms that go for around US$400 a night.
The "Metropol" Hotel is one of the most legendary and historic hotels in Moscow, if not the world. Built at the beginning of the 20th century on the initiative of a wealthy industrialist Savva Mamontov, it is one of the best examples of Russian art nouveau architecture. Paintings and interior decorations were created by the artists Vasnetsov and K. Korovin. The central majolica panels on the facade are based on the painting "Princess of Dreams"by of Mikhail Vrubel.. During the October Revolution in 1917, the building was one of the main centers of resistance against the Bolsheviks. Russian army cadets holed up here. It was badly damaged by shelling. In the Soviet era, the hotel was a favorite meeting place of the Communist power elite. Lenin was among those that spoke here. The hotel’s guest have included the composer Prokofiev, the actress Marlena Dietrich, the writer George Bernard Shaw, and the Communist Chinese leader Mao Zedong. Many modern pop singers and film stars have also stayed here. [Source: Russian Tourism Official Website]
The Intourist, Moskva and Rossiya hotels were all torn in the early and mid 2000s. The Rossiya was one of the largest hotels in the world. Built in 1967 on an embankment of the Moscow River next to the Kremlin, it had more than 3,000 rooms, some with great views of the Kremlin, concert halls, dozens of restaurant and bars offering Soviet-style service. Many historical building on an old part town were removed too make way for the hotel when it was built. It was replaced by a new hotel and entertainment center.
All major hotel chains are present in Moscow: Radisson, Mercure, Marriott, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Hyatt, and others There are also unique accommodation options in the capital that are lesser-known but more memorable. The luxurious and expensive Petrovsky Palace Boutique Hotel is an elite hotel located in an architectural landmark dating back to the 18th century. Panorama City Hotel is located on the 48th floor of the Empire Tower in the Moscow Business Center. Art Hotel Chekhov is located in the center of the city and is decorated in an original style. Each room is a symbolic embodiment of a story by Anton Chekhov.
Cheap accommodation options include hostels and homestays. The Factory Hostel is an inexpensive option just 10 minutes away from the Kremlin, located in the Red October factory. It has a kitchen, and the terrace overlooks the neighborhood. At the station where the Trans Siberian trains arrive touts sometimes wait for people to offer rooms. There is a security risk here. The tourist agencies in Moscow may or may not be helpful.
Transportation in Moscow
You can get around the Kremlin and Red Square area well enough on foot. To get to other places you will to rely on public transportation or taxis. Moscow has an excellent underground Metro system. Other forms of public transport include the MCC, buses, trolleybuses (buses connected to electric lines over the buses), trams and suburban trains. Buses and trolley buses are often over crowded on main routes during rush hour. Some buses have routes to the suburbs or surrounding cities. Unless you know the Cyrillic alphabet it difficult to read the stops and signs on many buses and trolleybuses. Try to get a hold of a map that has both the English names and the Cyrillic names written down.
The fare depends on the ticket type. Buying a one trip ticket usually the most expensive. It’s more cost-efficient to purchase a Troika contactless card, which can be used on subways, buses, trolleys and trams. However, most places of interest are accessible from the Metro and Metro tickets are pretty cheap. The tickets for bus, trams and trolley buses are the same. They can be purchased from drivers or conductors, at some kiosks and shops and Metro stations. They are cheapest at the Metro stations but not all Metro stations have them. It is convenient to buy tickets in strips of five or ten. They need be validated in a turnstile when entering.
Metered taxis are available in Moscow. Private cars often serve as taxis. You can flag one down by standing on the sidewalk and holding at your hand to let passing drivers know you want a ride. Using non-official cabs — also known as gypsy cabs — is not recommended for security reasons. Car sharing options (registration in the relevant applications is required) include Delimobil, Yandex.Drive, Youdrive, BelkaCar, Rentmee, Lifcar, Car4You, Carousel, and Matreshcar. In the warm season, a convenient way to move between the city’s main sights is to use the Velobike city bike rental network (www.velobike.ru/) .
Metro in Moscow
The Metro in Moscow is the world's busiest subway system. Opened in 1935, it had 4,143 railcars, 158 stations, 158.9 miles of track and serviced 8.5 million riders a day or 3.2 billion passenger journey's a year in the mid 2000s. The 23½-mile-long line on the Moscow Subway between Medvedkovo and Bittsevsky is the world's longest subway tunnel.
The layout of the Moscow Metro is fairly simple: each line has a color and name; the name of the station is announced at each stop. The station are marked by big "M" signs. The trains are very frequent. No problem if you miss one. Rarely do you have to wait more than three minutes for the next one to arrive. During rush hour in the morning and evening the trains run every 90 seconds. The Metro starts running at 5:30am. On all lines, the last trains leaves from their starting stations at 1:03am. This means the Metro can carry late passengers until 2:00am. .
Some knowledge of Cyrillic necessary to decipher Moscow metro system. Subway cars have English-language maps, but all other signage is in Cyrillic only. If you don't know the Cyrillic alphabet get a hold of a map that has both the English names and the Cyrillic names written down. The system is fairly well organized and logical. The most confusing thing is dealing with stations in which you change from one train to another. Sometimes a single station can have different station names for different lines.
The Metro fares are ridiculously cheap. A single-ride ticket is less than a dollar. Passengers use magnetic cards which are placed in a machine when you enter the station and when you leave. The price of a ticket is the same regardless of the distance and number of transfers. The tickets are available in denominations of 1, 2, 5, 10, etc, rides and monthly passes. A 10-ride tickets is very convenient. Almost all metro stations have emergency call (SOS) columns installed, in case you have difficulty with navigating the Metro (assistance is available in Russian only).
The Moscow metro staions most used by tourists include Mayakovskaya, Revolution Square, Arbat (Arbat-Pokrovskaya line), Komsomolskaya (Ring), Novokuznetskaya, Kropotkin, Kiev (Ring and Groove).
History of the Moscow Metro
Construction of the Moscow Metro began in 1931. The first section — from Sokolniki to Park of Culture station and the branch from Okhotny Ryad to Smolenskaya — was built in less than five years and opened in 1935. The length of the line at that time was 11.2 kilometers.
Three years after opening in March 1938 there were two lines: From Smolensk the train went to the Kursk and from here there were two branches. 1) Kirov-Frunze (now part of Sokolniki) and 2) Arbat-Pokrovskaya. Another line — the Gorky Radius, now part of Zamoskvoretskaya line — was built from Theater to Falcon. In 1950 the first section of the Circle Line (from the Kursk to Park of Culture) was built. In 1954, this ring was finished. All lines now connect with this line.
Between 1958 and 1961 automated passages and escalators were installed in the subway. Turnstiles were also installed around this time. The central ring, connecting the Metro station to a wider range of the Circle Line, opened in September 2016.
Metro Stations in Moscow
The Moscow Subway is sometimes called the "world's most beautiful subway.” Some of the stations are adorned with chandeliers and engraved arches. Others have art-nouveau stained glass windows and Stalinist mosaics. Sparrow Hills and Exhibition stations are well known for their design and decorations. Komsomolskaya Station is decorated with mosaics, crystal chandeliers and stained glass. From the outside Komsomolskaya station looks like an Orthodox church. In recent years it has become overrun with beggars and homeless people.
Some of the best Stalinist architecture is underground the Metro. Mayakovskay Station has overhead mosaics, soaring marble arches and pillars and a stained glass ceilings. Ploshchad Revolutsi (Revolutionary Square) is lined with marble niches with bronze statues of famous athletes, soldiers, farmers and factory workers. Novoslobodskaya has stained glass windows. Kievskaya metro station features an ornate gallery that looks like something from a baroque palace. Jim Heintz of Associated Press wrote:.The Kievskaya ring-line station is a favorite of connoisseurs. Well-executed mosaics of diligent tractor-driver brigades and collective-farm workers dancing at harvest-time festoon the pillars. Another shows Lenin editing the revolutionary newspaper Iskra, and nearby some apparatchiks open a huge hydroelectric plant, their faces showing benevolent expressions that may not have been seen in real life...The ring line, marked in brown on maps and signs, hits several of the most elaborate and propaganda-filled stations.” [Source: Jim Heintz, Associated Press, October 12, 2009]
High-speed, four lane escalators carry people as far down as 200 meters into the underground stations. The station were designed to double as air raid and civil defense shelters, which is one reason why the escalators are so long and fast and the stations are so deep underground. Most of the stations are spotlessly clean. Russians who have traveled abroad say they are much “more civilized” than the ones in New York.
Huge electronic clocks above the entrance to the tunnel at every station show Moscow time and the time when the latest train departed. These clocks — called interval timers — are not for passengers, but for drivers. Metro driver Anton Khlynin told Russia Today: “All trains follow a strict schedule, but during rush hour, when the schedule may be slightly broken, the train departure is determined according to these clocks. When the train leaves, the clock is reset.” Clocks showing the time remaining before the arrival of the next train have only recently been installed and they bot available on all lines yet.
Train Stations in Moscow
Moscow has nine major train stations called “Vokzal” — all located around the perimeter of the city, just outside the Garden Ring. Fortunately three are located close together on Komsomol Square: Yaroslav Station, Leningrad Station and Kazan Station. many of the station house architecturally impressive buildings.
The stations more or less line up with the direction their trains come from: 1) Yaroslav Station handles the Trans Siberian Railroad, and other trains to the west. The station contains a large map showing all of the former Soviet Union's major train stations. 2) Leningrad Station offers several trains to St. Petersburg. It is a lovely station with stunning, arching eaves and grandiose architecture and a passenger-friendly environment. Kazan Station services Tatarstan, Kazan, Volgagrad, Rostov-on-Don and destinations in the Central Asian republics.
4) Riga Station handles trains to the Baltic States. 5) Smolenskya (normally Byelorusskiy) Station has trains to and Belarus and Warsaw. 6) Crowded and unpleasant Kiev Station (Kievskiy Vozakl) services trains to the Ukraine, Prague and the Balkans. 7) Paveletskiy Station has trains to the eastern Black Sea and Georgia and Armenia. The other stations are 8) Kursk and 9) Savelovskiy.
Moscow Traffic and Driving Conditions
Never has a place with so many bad drivers become filled so quickly with so many cars. The number of cars in Moscow jumped from 850,000 (79 per 1,000 people) in 1990 to 2.7 million (224 per 1,000 people) in 2001, with about 300,000 new ones added every year. Roads that were built for horse-drawn carriages have not been widened and are full of cars. A drive from the New Arbat Area to the Kremlin a few hundred meters away can take can more than an hour.
When the traffic is not gridlocked, cars speed by at break-neck speeds, drunk pedestrians stumble into traffic and freelance taxis and motorcycle gangs take up entire lanes. Traffic signals are relatively infrequent and they are often not synchronized and are ignored anyway. Left turns are banned and people often park on the sidewalks. To avoid making left turns motorist often have to take circuitous routes that involve negotiating mazes of one-way back streets and making U-turns.
Planners have tried banning trucks from the city center, rerouting traffic, and making streets one way but thus far none of these measures seems to have made much difference. Planners estimated in the early 2000s that Moscow needed another 300 kilometers of streets just to handle the vehicles at that time. Now there are twice as many cars and few plans made it past the drawing board.
Yuri Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow in the 1990s and 2000s, made the traffic problem a top priority. The government built new highways and bridges but has not been able to keep pace with the explosion of new cars. Moscow Ring Automobile Road (known as the MKAD) is Moscow's widest, busiest and most costly road. Conceived under Khrushchev and completed in 1998, it circles the outer reaches of Moscow and is 10 lanes wide and 110 kilometers (69 miles) long and cost more than US$1 billion to build. The MKAD is the outermost of three rings roads. It is sometimes called "Death Road" because of the number of driving fatalities that have occurred there.
According the to Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT): 1) Traffic jams are common on work days. 2)Drivers frequently disobey the speed limit and lane markings and run red lights. Drivers may drive while under the influence of alcohol or drive in the wrong lane, against oncoming traffic. 3) More than 12 percent of road crashes occur in Moscow. High-speed chases by police are common. 4) Proceed only when traffic lights are green. Right and left turns can only be made on arrows. 5) The system of fines for violating traffic regulations is inadequate and does not serve as a deterrent. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT)
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020