Vernisazh Souvenir Market at Izmailovo
Izmailovo Park (Metro Partizanskaya)
Wednesday-Sunday from 10am to 8pm
Closed Monday and Tuesday
Budget: 40 rubles – infinity
Calling all tourist trap victims who are simultaneously balling on a budget: Put down that overpriced Matryoshka doll that you found in Red Square and back away slowly. If you’re as enthralled with Russian art, cultural mementoes, and ornate souvenirs as I am, then taking a day trip to Вернисаж в Измайлово (Vernisazh in Izmailovo) is well worth your time—and money! Assisted by the striking backdrop of the Izmailovo Kremlin, this location is truly a magical wonderland of inexpensive souvenirs.
Directions: Take the metro to Partizanskaya Metro Station. Walk straight outside from the doors of the metro and cross the street directly in front of the station. You will then see the towers of the white Izmailovo Kremlin on your left!
Touring the bustling aisles and hidden corners of this flea market can become pretty overwhelming, especially on the weekend. If you are not a fan of large crowds, I would suggest planning your visit for a weekday; there will be fewer vendors available, but the crowds will also not be as daunting. For the people who could easily win the gold medal in Olympic Competitive Bargain Shopping however, the buzzing weekend atmosphere at Izmailovo is a perfect fit for you. Regardless of your personal comfort levels when it comes to crowded areas, there is one golden rule to live by when you decide to take the metro ride out there: Have. A. Plan.
Matryoshka dolls, khohloma patterned spoons, palekh, ornate scarves, gzel porcelain, amber necklaces, shell necklaces, artisan-crafted toys, fake furs, real furs, cheap trinkets, antique photographs of random Russian families, the inside of someone else’s babushka’s closet—if you’re looking for something in particular to purchase in Russia, odds are you will be able to find it at Izmailovo. That being said, the amount of items for sale there is enough to drive anyone out of their minds. Many of the aisles are reflections of the ones before it, but have different prices. There are enough Soviet pins on display throughout the area to build a small home, and enough wooden Matryoshka dolls to heat that home for three years. This barrage of potential purchases is why it’s important to do some research before arrival. If you are staying in Moscow for a month or two, I would suggest making a list of 3-4 item that you know you want to have in your hands when you’re on the train home, and stick to that list. You can always return for more! If you are only able to make one trip to the market, create a list as well, but make sure to be very careful about budgeting and getting the best bang for your buck. It’s easy to get swept up in the first few booths that you see, and accidentally blow through your personal budget before you’ve had a chance to fully survey the area. To anyone, regardless of how many times they plan on visiting, I would suggest taking a full walkthrough of the market, mentally noting where to find what and how the prices differ from vendor to vendor, and returning for those items later in the day.
Bargaining is another key tool to pull out when you’ve decided on an item that you’d like to buy. You will find much better deals at Izmailovo than
you will from street vendors or commercial malls. However, the attraction is still primarily geared toward tourists, and the prices can be unnecessarily inflated for this reason. But fear not, my friends. Bargaining in a foreign language is not as scary as it sounds! In fact, it will actually help you remember phrases and words if you are constantly repeating them throughout the day. A fun trick I like to use on occasion is pulling the “Ignorant American” card and pretending I don’t understand the price that’s been offered. I will simply hold up a lower amount of money and ask if it is enough. If the vendor says yes, great! If not, I will usually say, “Oh well, I only have this much to spend. Thank you anyways.” That’s how I was able to buy a music box for 600 rubles cheaper than the asking price. The power of walking away from a sale reaps discounts, kids. The vendor actually yelled, “WAIT” in English, and agreed to the price, but only after I had one foot out the door.
A note about vendors: they sometimes get an unfairly poor reputation! Unless you are dealing with a truly unpleasant sales person, or a seedy conman or woman (we’ve all been there,) most vendors will be very respectful to you and even try to start up a conversation. If you walk up to a stall and greet the vendor with a polite “Здравствуйте,” is it likely that they will do one of two things:
- Immediately change their facial expression to something to the extent of “Oh you’re not from here,” and proceed to ask you where you’re from. (Me. Every time.)
- Begin excitedly explaining their products and asking you if you’re looking for something in particular. Many of the vendors are selling their own artwork, so it is actually a really nice experience to witness them talk about their works with such passion.
Be polite to the vendors, and they will be polite to you. If you are just taking your initial walk through of the area and do not want to buy anything at the moment, you can nicely say “Я посмотрю и вернусь,” (“I will look and come back.”) Funnily enough, after I got into a conversation with a vendor during my first trip to Izmailovo, she taught me this phrase to use I ever needed a way to get out of buying something. Similarly to that woman, most of the vendors are very genuine and want to help you learn the language, even if it means teaching customers how to turn them down.
Visiting the Vernisazh in Izmailovo is a truly incredible experience. In a single day, you can walk away with some very interesting items as well as an amplified sense of confidence in your language skills. The vendors are used to tourists popping in and out, and are therefore prepared to hear some pretty terrible accents, or a complete butcher of a whole attempt of a sentence. So have fun with it! Regard your communication at the flea market as a great and friendly place to practice your Russian, and learn phrases that you can carry over the next time you go shopping in a mall. Remember to plan out what you want to buy, and how much you are willing to spend. Good luck and happy shopping!
Budgeting for Izmailovo is based on personal preference. Below, I have listed some common prices of goods that are regularly found at the market.
- Matryoshka Dolls: 100p-5000p, depending on the size, decoration, and number of pieces included.
- Palekh boxes: 700p-8000p, for authentic ones, depending on the detail and paint used
- Scarves: 300p, price increases with quality
- Gzhel Porcelain: 400p, price increases with quality and size
- Shell necklace: 500p
- Amber jewelry: 200p-2000p
- Soviet memorabilia: 40p and up