Moscow never sleeps – every second, something is going on. An opening, a launch, an exhibition, a performance – take your pick. Having said that, this is not an easy city for tourists, and chances are you’ll need the assistance or the guidance of a local. I’m not a ‘local’, but visiting Moscow left me with a need to share my experience with others. Besides, here’s an idea – next summer, I’m going to organize boutique trips for small groups, to all the special places I discovered. Sign in, please :)
Until then, here’s a few tips (click the names to go to the websites):
The banya culture has deep roots in 19-century Russia. This place looks like a museum, with artwork on the walls. The entrance is for 3 hours, but I do recommend dedicating at least half a day to this experience – jumping into cold water after sauna sessions, getting massages, peelings and other treats. The place has the full menu of a spa, with facials, manicure and even hair services, in case you have an important meeting right after.
You can also order food from various cuisines, from Uzbekian cuisine to Chinese, or drink herbal tea. Cold crabs with beer are a classic I couldn’t resist, even though I’m not a beer fan. The visit to the banya, which by the way has separate spaces for men and women, will guarantee rejuvenation, and in the end your clothes will be waiting for you, washed and ironed. The staff is friendly and partially English-speaking, but you’ll be better off with a local.
My friend let me into the park saying: “welcome to Putin’s paradise!”, and it’s exactly what it is. Up until a year ago, this park was abandoned and neglected, but now it’s a luscious leisure center, with ping pong tables, fake sand handball courts, a lake with tanning beds, and during summer – open air cinema and endless coffee shops and food carts, just too much to handle. If you’re lucky with the weather, this park is a must – just like New York’s Central Park, it’s not just a huge park, but a cultural landmark, and a symbol of Moscow’s rapid Westernization and its journey towards cities like Berlin and London.
Located on the park’s property, this museum, which originally opened as a gallery, is dedicated to modern art. The entrance costs 300 rubl (8$). The gallery was opened by Dasha Zhukova, the wife of Roman Abramovich, the Russian oligarch and the owner of Chelsea football club. Soon, the museum will move to the huge facility that’s being built next to its temporary building, and at the very beginning it used to reside in a car garage – hence the name.
This museum left such a strong impression of me, I’ll have to dedicate it a separate post. It opened two years ago and you simply must visit it. You can book a guide ahead, even in Hebrew.
At first, I didn’t understand why we must dedicate two hours of our packed schedule to the cinema, especially if it’s not for a Russian film we can’t catch back home – the movie was Chef, which showed at the same time in Israel (by the way, it’s charming – a romantic happy-end comedy). But when I entered the beautiful building and smelled coffee instead of popcorn, saw the cute little gift store and sat in the comfortable chair, I understood that Pioner is all about the boutique cinema experience. Totally worth it.
If you want to buy excellent black caviar or just see how a Moscow market looks like, come here. Moscow has over 5 major markets, but this one is by far the best. You’ll find everything and anything – from fruits and vegetables from Russia’s different regions to caviar. I stuffed my suitcase with pickle jars – childhood memories are a strong factor! As for caviar, you can bring abroad no more than 250 grams, so be careful – you don’t want to get in trouble with the Russian customs. However, you must bring a little – the caviar taste is still in my mouth while I’m writing these liner. Delicious! By the way, bargaining is perfectly fine.
Where to eat
Recommending restaurants in Moscow is a tough mission, since there are endless possibilities and all of them are great. But I’ll try my best.
This 9-locations chain’s name speaks for itself – it’s the best coffee in Moscow. The food is great; the prices aren’t cheap (between Arcafe and Brasserie, perfect for a business meeting). I had breakfast with two friends and although I’m not a huge eater, I ordered a double order of blintzes with red caviar and crème fraiche. The fresh juices selection is good, and there’s an activity corner for kids on weekends. A breakfast for the three of us (a double blintzes order and sweet cheese pastries with whipped cream, a sweet memory from my grandma) cost about 500 NIS. Not cheap, but delicious.
Perfect for carnivores, this is a modern grill restaurant. The waiter convinced me to try a special dish – a bull cheek (check out the photo below), which turned out to be the softest meat I ever tasted. The place also serves excellent fish.
A relatively new and very trendy restaurant, with great Chinese food, special atmosphere and waitresses in Chinese military uniforms. Moderate prices.
Where to shop
Moscow has everything and anything (and let’s hope it stays this way, with all the sanctions the West keeps piling on Russia due to the Ukraine conflict) and yet, I wouldn’t count on wild shopping – this is no New York and finding bargains will be hard. But nevertheless, here are a few good places to check out:
TsUM: the best shopping mall in town, with plenty of international brands, but I’d suggest going for local designers. The Russian fashion scene is currently having a moment, and their clothes are in every celebrity’s closet. Even Rihana, the style queen that she is, wears Kira Plastinina, Maison Bohemique and Anastasia Romantsova. Don’t expect cheap prices.
The best multi-brand boutiques: Grand bazaar – libertinio, Liform, Kyzneckij most 20.
Where to party
Moscow’s night life is very bubbly and varied, but it’s all happening on the weekend – weekdays are pretty dull.
Krasni Oktyabr area – a former factory compound in the center, where multiple clubs are operating for the younger crowds. Here’s a tip – if you want to order a drink, don’t wait for the bartender to approach you, be proactive. Otherwise, you’ll wait forever.
Mendeleev – an underground lounge bar you have to know to get to – it’s in the basement of a tiny noodles bar named Lapsha, and not every hotel concierge can direct you there. The design kept the authentic arched building structure, the music is good and the atmosphere pleasant.
All this writing made me tired, and I don’t want to wear you out. I could go on for pages upon pages. I hope you’ll incorporate some of these recommendations into your next trip, and don’t forget to include the ‘must-sees’: the Red Square, the Bolshoi Theater and so on. I promise you won’t forget this experience!
jumpsuit – Michel Kors // bag – Chanel