When I have friends in town… I take them for long, long walks. Though Moscow boasts one of the best transport systems in the world, you can see so much more on foot. Our routes often include Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills) to Gorky Park, historic Kitay Gorod neighbourhood and Chistye Prudy (Clean Ponds), or VDNKh park to Botanichesky sad (Botanical Gardens). And in between these stretches, we pop into tiny cafes to relax. Once a friend from Uruguay came to visit, and we walked around 60km in three days!
A typical weekend involves… being outdoors. These days we city people spend too much time sitting in front of computer screens. So I call my best friends and we go walking and talking, choosing the greener routes to get our weekly share of nature. Moscow has wonderful parks, most of which are outside the city centre so they are preferable for weekend trips – like Sokolniki and Izmaylovo (izmailovsky-park.ru).
For a big night out… Oh I’m not a fan of crowds and loud music, but two of the most popular nightlife areas are the Red October island and Kitay Gorod – both are full of vibrant bars and clubs. A standard Moscow bar is very expat-friendly. For beer fans, Beermarket (beermarket.club), Pivbar (facebook.com/pivbar1) and Beer Happens (beerhappens.ru) offer a wide selection of local and foreign craft beers. If you’re more into wine, Grand Cru (grandcru.ru), Vinniy Bazar (vinniybazar.ru) and Khleb & Vino (xlebvino.com) would be my recommendations.
When my mood needs a little lifting… I pop into Surf Coffee (surfcoffee.ru) – a tiny coffee shop in between the Old and New Arbat streets. It’s a vibrant chain from St Petersburg, and it envelops you in a special atmosphere of surfboards, funk music, delicious smells and random visitors who talk to each other. There’s always somebody telling a story, letting off steam about work, or playing the cafe’s ukulele or guitar. When I ask my favourite barista, Alina, for something sweet, she brings me a coconut-milk latte with raspberry-and-blackcurrant flavour. Yum.
An interesting concept we have here… is called the ‘anticafe’. You pay for time spent inside while they provide tea, coffee and snacks – as much as you want. There are board games, musical instruments, poetry evenings and language classes. You can bring your own food, too. Look up Tsiferblat and Lucky Lori (luckylori.ru) for starters.
The new craze in the city... are escape rooms. A lot of them, in fact – Claustrophobia (moscow.claustrophobia.com) has the largest number. You can email them in advance to choose the best options for English-speakers. The talk of the city these days is a performance quest called Pitomets (‘The Pet’; booquest.ru), which involves roaming an abandoned building in total darkness while there’s someone hunting for you, listening for your every move. My mates and I don’t have the courage, so let me know how it went!
For great meals… Khinkalnaya (khinkalnaya.com) is one place all my friends have been to. It’s my favourite Georgian cafe in town ever since that one freezing, windy spring day when my classmate and I fell in shivering, with red noses, and the manager hurried to bring us thyme tea she never charged us for. You can’t beat their khinkali (dumplings), delicious khachapuri (cheese-filled bread) and chashushuli (meat stew) – and wine, of course, is great too. Also, my photo’s on their wall of honour because I’ve recommended them to so many people. It’s pretty embarrassing (okay, I love it)!
For best buys… Moscow offers a great variety; however, compared to Europe and USA many things are very overpriced – we’re talking 20-70% more expensive here. If you’re looking for traditional souvenirs, Old Arbat street offers plenty, but for better prices and more variety Izmaylovsky Market is king. Have a look at local organic cosmetics – Organic Shop (organic-shops.ru) is a big deal here now. For authentic high-end fashion, Alena Akhmadullina Boutique would be my top pick (and then there are GUM and TsUM malls – fancy!). For small local designers, hit ArtPlay, Flakon and Winzavod galleries (all converted former factories).
One thing I hate about Moscow… is jumpy weather. It might seem odd to complain about it when there’s a city like St Petersburg, but Moscow is a champion of random weather swings. You could suddenly get snow in May, and then no snow for Christmas. Winters could be really cold and summers hot and stifling. And when the rains come, water could go up to your ankles sometimes!
Something you need to know about Moscow… is that if you smile long enough, people may actually smile back. So when you’re told that Russia is a country of Grumpy Cats, and Moscow is their capital, take it as a challenge. Smile!
Need more city travel inspiration? Check out The Cities Book, a celebration of 200 of the world’s great cities, beautifully photographed and packed with trip advice and recommendations.