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With the World Cup raging in full force, Russia is the epicenter of the travel universe this summer, welcoming visitors from every corner of the planet. While the legendary tournament takes place in cities across the country, fans, tourists, and even locals flock to the Russian capital of Moscow. Along with St. Petersburg, Moscow is considered to be the stronghold of both modern and classic Russian culture. While Moscow was once one of the more expensive cities to visit, a recent drop in the value of the Russian Ruble has made it a perfect place to travel on a budget. Since many sightseers’ wallets may be a bit (or a lot) lighter from tickets to the World Cup Final on July 15th, here are our recommendations for places to visit and not break the bank.
The Moscow Free Tour
The name just about sums it up — it’s free! Moscow Free Tour is consistently rated as the top tour company in the city by travel review sites. The tour itself runs every day for approximately two and a half hours and is given in English, by incredibly knowledgeable and friendly local guides. The itinerary includes a visit to nearly every major site in the city center. Explore Red Square where passersby can wave hello to Mr. Vlad Putin in the Kremlin, marvel at St. Basil’s Cathedral, the iconic church with its incredibly elaborate detail topped by colorful domes, and stroll down Varvarka Street lined with more ornate churches.
Take Advantage of Moscow’s Public Parks
Another great way to utilize leisure time in Moscow without worrying about a bank account catastrophe is to explore the city’s well-maintained park system. Two of the most visited and praised of these parks are Sokolniki Park and Gorky Park, also known as Gorky Central. Sokolniki, first established in the 17th century as falcon-hunting grounds by Peter the Great’s father, is a tremendous place to wander and get lost among the maze of trees. Within all of the greenery lurks a winter ice-skating rink, numerous fountains, and a hockey arena. Sokolniki also boasts a history of producing some of the finest chess masters in history, and guests to the park are welcome to stop by to watch a match in progress. Having undergone a major renovation in 2011, Gorky Park now operates as one of the premier parks in the capital. Richly decorated with large grass fields and flowerbeds, tourists can find areas in Gorky to ice skate, rent a rowboat, or even catch a river cruise to observe the city from the Moskva River.
If Gorky Park piques your curiosity, perhaps a little research on its namesake is in order. The park is named after the acclaimed Russian author, Maxim Gorky, a contemporary of better-known Russian novelists Tolstoy and Chekov. Gorky’s former home, known as the Ryabushinksy Mansion, is a great, free destination within the confines of the city limits. While Gorky is admired for his Socialist Realism style of writing, his house is quite the opposite. The Ryabushinsky Mansion is built in an Art Nouveau fashion that looks like a creepy manor straight out of a horror film — or maybe Casper the Friendly Ghost’s house for all those 90s kids out there. The interior of the home has elaborately painted ceilings, delicate stained glass, and wood features that seem to melt away from staircases and other moldings.
Yes, to get around the city cheaply you’ll need to navigate Moscow’s Metro system, but many of the metro stations themselves are points of interest. Moscow’s metro is the sixth largest in the world and those who have seen it are likely to argue it’s also the most beautiful. A number of the underground stations have the look and feel of a lavish museum with pieces of art on display, underground stained glass, and fancy chandeliers dangling from vaulted ceilings. A single ticket will set a commuter back less than $1 and the architectural wonder is well worth it. Be sure to check out Novoslobodskaya, Elektrozavodskaya, Kiyevskaya, Komosomolskaya, and Sokol.
It’s impossible to visit Moscow without taking part in one of Russia’s favorite pastimes. With beers going for under a dollar and vodka flowing from virtually everywhere, plus prices that fall below water, partaking in a night out is an easy way to have an affordable blast. The city enjoys a diverse selection of bars from upscale rooftop lounges to seedy pubs intermixed throughout Moscow. Take advantage of the ongoing World Cup and join the festive crowds watching various games. For an extra boost of national pride, circle the calendar for Russia’s remaining group game on June 25th. A word to the wise: don’t let a Russian see vodka with any ice or mixers — Russians don’t joke about their drink.