I woke up to cloudy skies the next day. It was my 2nd day in Moscow and despite the dreary weather, I was eager to explore the city. The hostel owner Timmy helped me with my itinerary and I hurriedly dressed to start the day. It was colder than the previous evening and the mood of Moscow seemed subdued. Perhaps this was due to the weather or the fact that it was a Monday morning, the first day of the week. My first stop was at the famous Red Square and the Kremlin. In Moscow, all roads seem to lead to the Red Square and I took in morning rush hour sights of Russia’s capital city while walking down a wide busy avenue. The scene was a regular one, found in every large metro across the world. Buses rushed, cars zipped by and trolleys trundled along the streets that were lined with stores and restaurants. Every vehicle seemed to be filled to its capacity and Moscow seemed like just another city on the planet.

Fashion and smoking habits of Moscow

People-watching in any place in the world is a lot of fun and in Moscow, this pleasure goes up by a notch or two. Russians by default are usually quite attractive and they are definitely some of the most stylish people on earth. Fashion and smoking seem to be raging trends in Russia and Moscow, being the capital city show off plenty of both. Because of the chill in the morning, nearly everybody from punk haired youngsters to bleach peroxide blonde old ladies seemed to smoke and innocent-looking nicotine puffs mingled with the already polluted air. Strange complicated sounding names met my eyes everywhere I looked and wedding cake style buildings with pretty embellishments lined the avenue down which I was walking. The walking did me good and I soon warmed up. Following a trail of fresh baking smells, I reached a hole in a wall bakery and bought a few crisp beef pastries along with a cup of Cha (tea). The wholesome breakfast cost me a mere 130 Rubles which was a fraction of the cost of breakfast at establishment eateries. That was my first lesson of saving money in Russia and I munched on the pastries while continuing my walk. Overall, it was a very pleasant start of the day and the only thing I watched out for was the fake police. Apparently, Russia, especially St Petersburg is riddled with the fake police scam in which uniformed men pretending to be policemen take away hapless unsuspecting tourists’ passports at some pretext to extort money.

Inside the gorgeous Red Square in Moscow

Inside the gorgeous Red Square

Red Square is always like a carnival

Despite the glum weather, the Red Square was busy and lively. A spectacular UNESCO heritage site, tourists, and locals mingled excitedly there as street musicians played, tour agents announced their wares on megaphones and bells tolled non stop. Pigeons flew off in hordes and there was a general sense of excited awe in the air. I started my Red Square exploration with the gorgeous onion-domed  St Basil’s Cathedral and walked around for hours at the spectacular GUM, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and the pretty pastel-coloured Kazan Cathedral. All of the beauty of Moscow seemed to have got concentrated at the Red Square and the fall colours made the royal Russian opulence look even richer. The autumn leaves dropped like flecks of gold and the late-blooming flowers exploded with deep jewel colors. It was a beautiful day filled with so much grandeur that I did not even notice how the time passed. It was only when the sunset lit up the sky with a burst of golden light that I realized the time and left Red Square to visit the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.

You can pose this cut-out of Putin at the Red Square

See the sun set at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow is a stunning church in white with glowing golden domes that blush saffron during sunsets. Needless to say, it was a wonderful second day in Moscow and I remember going to bed that night with a happy feeling of self-confidence. Moscow is a vast city with a complicated Metro system and it is not the easiest place to navigate for a non-Russian speaking traveller. Nevertheless, I felt that I had managed quite well; figured out the Metro network, hacks on travel money, and avoided all kinds of scams. The next day was the last one that I spend in Moscow and I had plans to travel explore the famed Golden Ring cities. I did not have much time on my hands and to make the most of it went to visit the beautiful grounds of the Tsarisyno Palace.

the Ekaterininskiy Park in Moscow

Inside the Ekaterininskiy Park in Moscow

Moscow fall foliage at Tsarisyno Palace

Created for Catherine the Great, Tsarisyno Palace is one of the loveliest attractions of Moscow. It has a beautifully landscaped park with beech forests, fairy tale bridges, grottoes, fountains, lakes, and ornamental hothouses. Originally intended to be the summer palace for the queen, Tsarisyno Palace was left unfinished as her money ran out. Lovely ponds, walking trails, bandstands, and archways fill this big park and I hopped on a buggy tour to enjoy the expansive grounds to the fullest. The palace itself did not impress me as much as the gardens. The mint coloured palace with its spiky archways seemed a bit Disneylandish but the fall foliage of the park made the entire setting gorgeous. I stayed there until late noon and on my way back to the Metro station, bought bagsful of dinner from small local eateries. Tsarisyno Palace being a bit out of the touristy areas has lots of amazing Lebanese diners around it. One can buy juicy shawarmas, grilled chicken, and cha for just 100 Rubles and I enjoyed my takeaway dinner at the shady park of the green-domed Trinity Church. From my location, I enjoyed a lovely panorama of the sunset setting over Moscow and it felt to be the most fitting place to say Dasvidanya to the exciting capital city of Russia.

The beautiful gardens of Moscow

Moscow Travel Money Saving Hacks

Russia is perhaps not the cheapest country to travel and exploring Moscow can seem like an intimidating idea. With the following money-saving hacks, make your first visit to Moscow not only affordable but also a lot of fun.

  • Use the expansive Moscow Metro – Using the metro in Moscow is the most sensible way of travelling. Moscow suffers from crazy traffic jams and in such scenarios, metros are fast, cheap, and dependable. Moscow metro stations are also some of the most beautiful in the world and many tours are focused only on them. Use this Moscow metro list to see the most spectacular metro stations of the city. If you are spending a few days in Moscow, then make sure to buy the Troika card, which allows you to use all public transport in the Russian capital (Metro, bus, trolley bus, and tram) at very low prices. You can buy this card at many places in the city, at the airports, and mobile phone shops. Recharging is also very convenient and it is valid for 5 years while being usable by multiple persons. Click on this link for more information on the Troika card. To know more about the Moscow metro, click here.
  • Visit the museums on the admission-free day – The third Sunday of every month is an “open museum day” with free admission to museums falling under municipal jurisdiction. Since it is an open secret, arrive early to enter or be prepared to wait in queues for hours. For typical Russian museum experience, visit the GULAG History Museum, devoted to the dark history of the infamous Soviet forced labor camp system and the Museum of Cosmonautics, where you can learn all about the impressive Soviet space history. Annually on the night of Saturday to Sunday in the 3d week of May Moscow celebrates the Museum Night when the public enjoys free entrance and the majority of cultural institutions organize different activities.

    Beautiful street art in Moscow

    Beautiful street art in Moscow

  • Eat smart at the local places – Many cafes and restaurants have special offers for lunch from 12 PM to 4 PM for 250 – 600 Rubl (~ $4 – $10) and even for breakfasts till 12 PM and for supper from 4 PM. Duck in and ask for the special offers. Almost all the bakeries in Russia sell their day’s baked goods at reduced prices in the evening. After 8 PM you can buy sandwiches and cakes at nearly 20%-50% cheaper prices. Teremok offers traditional Russian dishes like blinis, soups, and porridges for reasonable prices. Wokker has on its menu an assortment of wok noodles with prices starting from 300 Rubles. Moscow has plenty of small cafeterias with fixed-price set menus offering salads, quiches, pies, sandwiches, coffee, and lemonades for only 60 Rubles. Some of these places are Cofix on Arbat St. and Manezhaya Square, 1 Bld. 2, the food court in the mall Okhotniy Ryad. Check out this link for more information on eating cheap in Moscow.
  • Some more handy tips on saving money in Moscow – For the cheapest food options especially snacks, breakfast head, coffee, and stock of water, head out to the metro stations which also double up as an underground pass. Moscovites shop for hot potato pastries, beef buns, yummy cheese puffs, cookies, coffee and bread from the tiny bakeries cooped in there. You can also buy cheap souvenirs, woolens, cakes, juices, flowers, and even lingeries there.
  • Walk around, join free tours, ask around, and get a Metro map in English – Walking around the historic sites of Moscow or taking the Metro is the cheapest, quickest and most efficient way to avoid the dreadful city traffic. It is all right to get lost for the first few times as the locals are super friendly and you can travel as many stations with one ticket as long as you don’t punch out. Colour-coded with multiple links networking the entire city Moscow Metro has one of the most beautiful stations all done up in gleaming marble, bronze statues, and gilt chandeliers. Just make sure that you get a Metro map as at some stations the route charts are in Russian only. To experience the best of Moscow, book your 2.5 hours Moscow Free Tour. Organized daily at 10.45 AM, these tours show all the major attractions of the heart of Moscow: the Red Square, the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, GUM, the Bolshoi Theatre. You can also witness the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. For more fun free tours, check out this site.

    Beautiful autumn colours of Moscow

    The gorgeous domes of Moscow churches

    One of the incredibly beautiful church domes and spires of Moscow

    Inside the Red Square

    Some more incredible domes of Moscow

    This church inside the Red Square has incredible murals

    Red walls, warm sunshine, and clear days of Moscow autumn

    Don’t miss the changing of the guards

    Inside the picturesque Kremlin in Russia

    Inside the picturesque Kremlin

    Despite being touristy, Moscow is a lot of fun.

For a more comprehensive Moscow on a budget guide, check out this detailed information.

Follow the rest of Russia series

The world’s largest country seems to have it all: awe-inspiring natural beauty, exquisite architectural jewels, ornate culture, intriguing folk rituals, glitzy metro cities, and lots of myths. This is the land of massive economic, political, and social power. It is also the land of shamans, bears, volcanoes, icebergs, and long unexplored stretches of taiga. Imagination runs wild when it comes to Russia and it is one of my favourite places in the world.