Before your trip to Moscow, there are a few things you should do to ensure you have fun and get to see everything that you want to. With the right preparation, you will effortlessly navigate the tourism hot spots of Russia. So have a quick read of these tips below and get excited about your trip!
1. Obtain a Russian Visa
Unless you hold a passport that gives you visa free entry (mostly citizens of former USSR states) then you will require a visa to visit Russia. Getting this visa is not as easy as it should be and it feels as if the process is a bit of a relic of the Soviet Union.
- First of all, for a tourist visa you will need a letter of invitation, which details when you will arrive and where you intend to visit. It sounds complicated, but you can easily obtain this letter from any number of Russian tour companies online. Don’t worry, you will not have to stick to the itinerary on your letter – once you are in the country you are basically free to roam.
- If you are visiting friends or family, they can also get you a letter of invitation, but it can often be easier just to pay for one.
- Once you have the letter of invitation, you can then apply at your nearest Russian embassy. The exact procedure changes from embassy to embassy, so check their website for details.
- You will generally leave your passport with the embassy and then need to return to pick it up 1-2 weeks after. Some embassies offer a postal return service, but don’t count on it.
Now you should have your Russian visa and have no problems entering the country. Just as a quick note, once you have arrived your hotel will ask for your passport so they can register you. Once they have done this, they will give you a small piece of paper with your registration on… DON’T LOSE IT.
2. Learn a Few Russian Words
While in the most touristy areas you will find English spoken often and with a high level of proficiency, you don’t have to go far from Red Square before no English is spoken at all. Russian is not the easiest language to learn and you can’t be expected to learn it all before you come, but it is nice to know a few basic phrases. Below I have listed ten key phrases, all in their formal form (better safe than sorry)
- Hello/Greeting: Dravstvujte
- My name is: Menya Zavut [INSERT NAME]
- What’s your name?: Kak vas zovut?
- Good morning: Dobre utro
- Good Afternoon: Dobre din
- Yes: Da
- No: Nyet
- Excuse me: Izvanitia
- How much?: Skolka
- Sorry: Prostite
These are just a few phrases that you might find useful – if you search online you will find many more. I would also suggest learning the basic numbers. The most common banknotes are in 100, 500, 1000 and 5000 denominations, so those numbers are a good place to start.
For translation on the fly, I find Yandex Translate works much better than the Google equivalent for Russian language.
3. Book Bolshoi Theatre Tickets
The Bolshoi theatre is iconic and many tourists wish to visit, but many leave Russia disappointed because they couldn’t get tickets. In reality, it is not that hard to get tickets, it is just a matter of understanding how the system works. Unless you want to pay ridiculous prices from a ticket scalper or agency (and this is never a guaranteed method), you must plan ahead and book tickets to the Bolshoi theatre well before your visit.
Tickets for shows on both the old stage and new stage go on sale approximately three months in advance via the Bolshoi Theatres official website. Some shows like the famous Swan Lake on the old stage will sell out within a day, while you have a little bit more time for lesser known shows, or performances on the new stage.
So make an account on the Bolshoi Theatres and watch your preferred dates like a hawk to book as soon as they become available to avoid disappointment!
4. Book Train Tickets
Just like tickets to the Bolshoi theatre, you can also miss out on the best train tickets, although you would have to be pretty unlucky to miss out altogether. Especially if you have a tight schedule and must travel on a certain train, or would like to travel in a certain carriage class, it pays to book ahead to avoid disappointment. If you are flexible about the time, date and class you travel in, then booking in advance is not so crucial.
Online booking for train tickets opens 45 days in advance. There are a number of websites where you can book, but I particularly like tutu.ru as it is very foreigner friendly, with all booking and correspondence conducted in English.
5. Install These Applications on Your Phone
The night before your trip, as you excitedly wait and double and triple check yoour bookings and reservations, take a moment to fire up the Google or Apple store and load some of these useful applications to your phone:
- Yandex Metro, which plans your route and gives status updates for the Moscow Metro (and all other metro systems in Russia).
- Yandex Taxi or Gett Taxi, which are both Uber clones that are by far the most popular taxi applications in Russia.
- Yandex Translate, a great app for accurate translations on the fly.
With the above points covered you will be more than prepared to get off the plane and start sightseeing. If you are a person who plans a lot, then the list could go on forever, but these are the most basic things that need to make your trip a success.
If you haven’t done so already, then check out our detailed Moscow and Russia trip itineraries for additional help in planning your next trip to Russia.