The best advice for travelers who wish to visit Moscow for cheap is to go now. Russia is one of the world’s largest oil producers, and low oil prices in recent years have resulted in an unstable Russian ruble. While you could get about 30-35 Russian rubles for 1 US dollar in 2012, the currency rate has risen to 50-55 Russian rubles per dollar in 2017. Moscow used to score high on lists of the most expensive cities in the world, but not anymore. It’s still expensive compared to other Eastern European cities, but cheaper than it used to be. And while a weak ruble makes Russian citizens’ life more difficult, it makes a visit to Moscow more affordable for foreign travelers. Once you’ve managed to secure a visa to enter the country, there are many easy ways to enjoy Moscow on a budget.
1. Travel by Moscow subway.
Using the subway (or “metro”) in Moscow is often not just the better option, but the only option to get from A to B. A Muscovite loses an average of three days every year sitting in traffic jams, so the subway is an attractive alternative to surface transportation. It is cheap, fast and a true aesthetic experience. The Moscow metro in the city center feels like a museum: it is full of statues and paintings depicting Russian and Soviet historical events. My favorite stop, however, is Dostoevskaya, a bit farther from the city center. The walls of this subway stop are decorated with black and grey mosaics of soul-stirring scenes from novels by Fyodor Dostoevsky, the world’s most famous Russian writer.
2. Spend time in Gorky Park — any time of the year.
Gorky Park is a large, 300-acre park opened as part of a Soviet urban planning project in 1932. Entrance to the park is free, so it is usually full of people, but there is always space for more. If you visit Gorky Park in summer, you can just walk around its vast territory, or enjoy the greenery on a bench. You can also rent small boats at the pond, a popular choice for couples on dates. In winter, try out skating on the ice rink or play ice hockey: these activities will cost some money, but it is worth the experience. I have been to Gorky Park many times, and I keep returning because there is always something new to discover.
3. Pay for your time — not for your coffee.
An interesting way to save some money in Moscow is to visit one of the two Ziferblat cafés in the Russian capital. Ziferblat, meaning “clock face”, is both a social project to create friendly co-working spaces and a business model that has been exported to other European cities after the first café was opened in Moscow in 2011. The Ziferblat motto is that “everything is free, except time.” You do not have to pay for the goods you consume, only for the minutes you spend in the café. Helpers prepare coffee, tea, and biscuits depending on the available offer. Ziferblat is perfect for doing work unbothered in a cozy corner, but also for getting to know locals or expats who can share sightseeing tips with you.
4. Visit museums for free.
Moscow has a vibrant cultural life with plenty of museums and exhibitions to visit. Luckily, the third Sunday of every month is a so-called “open museum day” with free admission to museums falling under municipal jurisdiction. Unluckily, many Muscovites know about this discount day, too, so arrive early, or be prepared to wait in line for hours. One hauntingly fascinating place to visit is the GULAG History Museum, devoted to the dark history of the infamous Soviet forced labor camp system. For a less gloomy experience, go to the Museum of Cosmonautics, where you can learn all about Soviet space history, and check out personal items from cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space!
5. Buy souvenirs at the Izmailovsky flea market.
Everyone who visits Moscow should get themselves a matryoshka doll — a set of wooden dolls that can be placed inside each other. The city center is full of souvenir shops, but you can make souvenir hunting more adventurous and less expensive if you make a trip to the Izmailovsky flea market. It can be easily reached by subway: get off at Partizanskaya stop on the dark blue line and follow the crowd. Izmailovsky is actually much more than a flea market — you can find quality souvenirs, ushankas (fur caps), paintings, old Soviet badges and medals, Central Asian carpets, anything you can imagine. As it is a market, you can also try bargaining!