The following is a quick overview to some of those services and products that students often need in the course of a semester or summer abroad. This covers everything from haircuts to pharmacies and gyms to computer repair. Students should generally expect to need to speak at least some Russian when seeking out these experiences – that’s part of study abroad!
- Guide to Student Budgets: Moscow
- Guide to Jewish Moscow
- Guide to Moscow Museums; Guide to Moscow Theaters
1. A Practical Introduction to Moscow
Moscow is Europe’s biggest city and is rapidly developing in terms of goods available on the ground (yes, even with sanctions) and in terms of the modernity and comfort of the city’s infrastructure.
For students interested in politics and diplomacy – Moscow is not only Russia’s capital, but a major regional center of increasing global importance. For those hoping to better understand Russia as whole, Moscow offers convenient and surprisingly inexpensive domestic travel and is one of Russia’s most diverse cities, with students from throughout Russia populating its universities.
Moscow is very green. Several of Moscow’s parks are bigger than some small towns. Trees line the streets and often fill the spaces between buildings. Poplar trees are particularly plentiful and, while pretty, do create “snowstorms” in late April and early May of white, cottony seeds (Russians call it “pukh”). Bring some allergy medicine if you have hay fever.
Moscow winters can be very cold, but summers can be either cool and wet or very hot (and often a little of both). Fall and spring are marked with snow, ice, and slush, so bring a good pair of waterproof hiking boots with traction. Fall, spring, and summer all see considerable rain so bring an umbrella or rain poncho as well.
Moscow’s sheer size combines with its long history, deep culture, and substantial concentrations of wealth and power to create a city that is fascinating and seemingly endless to explore.
2. Eating Out
The following list is a quick list of recommendations based on SRAS’ long history in Moscow. It is meant to supplement the broader range of reviews on this site for various Moscow eateries.
Traditional Gone Pop: One of the great things about Moscow is that you can easily try food from all over the former USSR at very reasonable prices. MuMu and Grabli offer a (mostly) Russian menu in convenient and inexpensive cafeteria-style formats. For some amazing and amazingly cheap Russian pirozhki, we highly recommend Stolle. Ever wanted to actually try salo? We tried it at Korchma, a reasonably-priced chain of Ukrainian restaurants, and liked it! You should also not leave Moscow without trying Russia’s homegrown fast food chain, Teremok, which serves great blini, pelmeni, kasha, and soups… Georgian food is pretty hard to go wrong with and Moscow has many Georgian cafes and chains around Moscow including Dzhon Dzholi and Kafe Khinkalnaya, both chains offering a relatively upscale feel for still-reasonable prices. For great Uzbek food, try Chaikhana№1, a chain of comfy cafes with really excellent plov and lagman on offer. The Embassy of the Kyrgyz Republic has a small restaurant attached, open the public, that offers great Kyrgyz staples like beshbarmak and borsok. Varenichnaya looks like a Soviet answer to Applebee’s. They serve traditional Russian/Ukrainian foods in an atmosphere drenched in Soviet nostalgia – with old issues of Pravda and Soviet-produced domestic goods all over the walls. There are still a few Soviet-era eateries around as well. See Blini, Cheburechnaya, and Pelmennaya for near-museum eating experiences – they are still there!
Food Culture: Moscow also offers some truly excellent dining experiences – many of which are still reasonably affordable and accessible in terms of getting a reservation (most times you can just walk in). White Rabbit was named one of the world’s top restaurants on multiple occasions. They offer a creative menu based on traditional Russian foods and ingredients and friendly staff that will often walk you through your meal, explaining the dishes as they come out. The Pushkin Café serves exquisite, traditional Russian food in an atmosphere recalling the glory of Czarist times. It’s definitely worth at least one try while you are abroad.
For Music: Kitaisky Lyotchik (aka Dzhao Da) features local and European bands with reasonably priced drinks and covers. 16 Tons is more expensive, but also gets in some bigger names from time to time.
For Sports: BarBQ is an exapt hangout in central Moscow that shows English and American Football and major basketball and baseball matches. If you have a special request, the management may be willing to tune one of the several big screen TVs to the match that interests you most.
For the Homesick: Starlite Diner, open 24 hrs, is an old expat favorite featuring American food in an America-dripping ambiance. You’ll find burgers, milkshakes in metal mixers, pancake stacks, and even some passable Mexican foods. Moscow now has a lot of great burger places – try B&B Burgers and Peterburger for experiences that will rival any you’ve had in the states.
Coffee: Moscow’s coffee scene has rapidly developed over the past two years. The two ubiquitous chains are still Kofe Khaus and Shokoladnitsa, both of these have improved considerably as competition has picked up – but really offer just ok coffee and edible, if over-priced, re-heated food. CoFix and OneBucks specialize in cheap coffee to grab on the go. Our favorites, though, are generally the tiny new places, which often feature forgettable names and are usually staffed by a bored-yet-friendly young person. Taken collectively, these are almost as ubiquitous as the big chains now and usually offer the best coffee at the best value. Go local!
Brew: Craft brews are now sweeping Russia. Moscow has several places featuring large selections. Try for instance, Craft Republic, Vse Tvoi Druzya, and Beer Market. For a retro Soviet experience, try Zhiguli, a revived Soviet standby on New Arbat that bears the same name as a popular Soviet brew. They have very reasonable prices, and they play live music, usually Soviet retro, at night in the back hall.
Vegetarian: Moscow was once a desert for vegetarians. No longer! Most restaurants have at least one or two vegi-friendly selections available. Pretty much any Georgian restaurant (as common here as Mexican restaurants are in the US) will have dishes rich in bean, nut, and/or dairy protein. So far as we know, Georgian food comes in only one variety: delicious. For other vegetarian-friendly cuisines, try Jagannath (Indian and Asian), Viet Café (Vietnamese), Addis Ababa, (Ethiopian), or Staryi Sichuan (Chinese) food. Ganga Cafe, Avocado, and Sok offer all vegetarian food with fresh ingredients in creative dishes. See also this article about a vegan SRAS student in Moscow.
Groceries: Most SRAS students shop at Ashan, a chain of discount stores that resembles Walmart. Perekrestok is a slightly more upmarket chain that’s more likely to have things like peanut butter, cheddar cheese, and other things Americans miss when in Russia. For those desperate for things like Raisin Bran or sweet potatoes, Azbuka Vkusa is a high-end grocery chain specializing in imported goods. Vegetarians should check HappyCow‘s list of resources for related specialty items. VkusVille is a wide-spread chain offering mostly local, organic products. Specifically for spices, try the Indian Spice Market.
Water/Water filters: Moscow’s water is safe and the city filtration system is modern. However, the mineral content (high in iron and nitrates, in large part from the older pipes) is still visible and most Westerners remark that it tastes funny. Bottled water is cheap and everywhere and water filters are widely available in larger supermarkets appliance stores.
Rynok: The rynok was once a haphazard collection of stalls selling everything imaginable. Today, most of these have been abolished in Moscow. What are left (those that were large and indoor), have been turned into foodie-havens specialized in acres of high-quality fresh produce, meat, dairy, spices, and other food items. Many are now known for their food stands as well, with a variety of cuisines. You might try Danilovskii, or, near MGU and MGIMO, Usachevskyi. If you are pining for the old rynok, try Lefortovskii or Preobrazhenskii, one of the few left in the old format.
Shopping Malls: Moscow largest chain of malls is MEGA. These are fairly standard malls, with large “anchors” – usually IKEA (homewares) MVideo (electronics) and OBI (home improvement) and a range of clothing and specialty stores, food courts and cinemas. Go on a weekday to avoid the crowds. Other major malls include Metropolis, RIO, and, near Moscow State University, is the Kapitolyi Shopping Center.
Souvenirs, Antiques, and Local Crafts: Go to Vernisazh for a collection of small sellers that will most often haggle a bit with you.
Clothing: Clothing tends to be more expensive in Russia than America. See our Packing Guide for things you should bring with you. Red Square is now littered with high-end retail at GUM, which is worth a look, but you’ll find better prices just outside Red Square at Oxotnyi Ryad, a three-story underground mall with more realistic pricing. For the bargain shopper, try the Familiya chain for clothes and Zenden for shoes. Familiar brands like H&M, Finn Flare, and Timberland can also be found.
Phones and Electronics: Russia’s own MVideo is now Europe’s largest electronics retailer, with locations across Russia. If you are looking for a deal, try Savelovsky, a “radio rynok” that dates from the time of perestroika and which still features hundreds of small electronics shops (and a lot of other stuff). For phones and Internet dongles, Evroset and Svayznoi are the big retailers. The major service providers, MTS, Megafon, and Beeline, also have branded stores. For more on cellphone service, see our Guide to Moscow Budgets.
Eyeglasses and Contacts: Lensmasters can sell you contact solution, disposable lenses, cut glasses, etc. If you know your prescription, no doctor visit is needed. If you don’t, then they can test you. Ochkov.net is Moscow’s largest retailer of contact lenses and related supplies. You can also buy contacts out of vending machines around Moscow now.
Pharmacies: Bring a supply of needed medications with you. However, if you need something, look for the international symbol of a green cross or the word “аптека.” If looking for something specific, try looking it up on Wikipedia in English and then clicking on “Russian” in the language menu on the left panel. Then, Aptekamos.ru can tell you which Moscow pharmacies are currently carrying your medication.
Books (Russian or English): Dom Knigi and Biblio Globus are the main meccas for book worms in Moscow. If you are looking for books in English, the easiest fix will likely be to just download Amazon’s Kindle App for your phone. Downloads for it work in Russia. Ozone.ru is Russia’s version of Amazon, although if you are living in the dorms, you may have trouble arranging delivery.
Arts and Crafts: Leonardo is a chain of Hobby-Lobby-like shops. Gorod Khobbi is basically a whole mall devoted to art, collecting, sports, and more. WinZavod, a wine-factory-turned-artistic-community-center has a well-stocked art shop. For art lessons (in Russian) see the Anna and Yuri Mirakov Master Gallery.
Cell Phone and Internet: For more on cellphone service, see our Guide to Moscow Budgets.
Public Transport: Moscow’s beautiful metro system transports a few million people a day between the hours of about 6am and 1am for less than a dollar a ride. Moscow’s busses, trolleys, and trams are also cheap and reliable. To navigate the city, Yandex Maps, Yandex Metro, and 2GIS are available in app stores and favored by locals. For more on public transport costs, see our Guide to Moscow Budgets.
Private Transport: Uber and Yandex Taxi are the favored ride-hailing apps in Moscow. Connect your credit card to the account for maximum security (no bargaining or cash involved!). In summer, your options expand with the city bike system, river boats, and even motorized scooters.
Medical Services: If at all possible, call your insurance before seeing a doctor. Often, there are certain doctors they want you to see. General care is available in English at Medsi or GMS. American Dental Clinic offers English-speaking dentists. There is also chiropractic care in English. English-speaking psychologists can be found at the EMC.
Gyms and Fitness: Moscow has a range of gyms including the more affordable SportLand and more upscale World Class Fitness and Gold’s Gym. Chaika Fitness Complex dates from the Soviet era and offers a great pool experience. For more extreme tastes, try Lata-Track with a large outdoor facility and rentable bikes, balls, and cross-country skis. You can rent a bike at MGU or at Kruti Pedali, Velosite and find like-minded locals to tour the city with on the specialized social networking site Katushkin.ru. Take classical dance classes (in Russian) from Galla Dance or hip-hop, funk, and jazz from Main Stream. Yoga is very popular in Moscow. Try it with Yoga.ru. Moscow is active!
Haircuts: Getting across what you want done with your hair in a foreign language is challenging. However, you can try any building marked “салон красоты” or “парикмахерская” and try out some new vocabulary. If you really want an English-speaking hairdresser, Expat Salon offers that, for a fairly hefty price. MONE and Persona sometimes have an upmarket stylist or two that can speak a little English. MONE has a location in the Kapitolyi Shopping Center near MGU.
Dry Cleaners: Diana is the largest chain of inexpensive dry cleaners in Moscow (though not of the highest quality). Contrast Cleaners is more expensive, but offers an English-language website, dry cleaning and laundry, and a delivery service.
Laundry: For additional laundry services, you can use Chistoff.
Manicure/pedicures: Try Tiffany Nails, where you can make an appointment over the phone or online. The salon offers coffee, tea, and snacks, and a frequent customer discount.
Charitable Giving: Giving is not as easy as in the US. The most convenient drop-off point in Moscow is the International Women’s Club, which then distributes the items to charities. See our Google Map for instructions on how to get there. Miloserdie, run by the Russian Orthodox Church, is similar to the Salvation Army in America. However, they only offer one out-of-the-way drop-off location in Moscow and you will probably need speak Russian to go through the process to donate.
Post: The main post office is in the Tsentralnyi Telegraf building at Tverskaya St., 7. It’s open from 8am to 10pm daily and offers stamps, envelopes, postcards, and other mailing services. For packages, etc. there is also a DHL office in this post office (tel: 956-1000). Fedex and Mailboxes,etc. are available too. If you will be in Russia for several months and need to receive important documents it is worth opening an account. Otherwise, it’s not, given the easy access to email these days. For sending things back home – such as postcards and letters and even larger packages like books – the Russian post is slow but acceptable.