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Ranking among the largest urban areas in the world, Moscow is a major political, economic, cultural, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia. It is named for the Moskva River on which it stands It is also the world’s most expensive city as of 2008 so it is somewhat appropriate that it is home to one of the greatest numbers of billionaires in the world.  Moscow has had a turbulent history since the first time that it was referenced in Russian literature in 1147 by Yuri Dolgoruki through to nine years later when he ordered wooden walls be built round the emerging city, and then in 1237-38 when it was sacked by the Mongols.

By 1327 it became the capital of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality exploiting its position on the headwaters of the Volga River becoming in time the prosperous Grand Duchy of Moscow.

How To Get There

There are international bus services to Russia and these are among the cheapest ways of getting to Moscow depending on where you are traveling from. By air, there are five principal commercial airports that serve Moscow- Sheremetyevo International Airport, Domodedovo International Airport, Bykovo Airport, Ostafyevo International Airport and Vnukovo International Airport.

Some of the best value carriers serve Moscow from the UK including Aeroflot and British Airways. If you are planning to return after a month also check out Lufthansa, Allitalia, Air France and SAS. Low-cost options include an Easyjet or RyanAir flight to Riga, Tallinn or St Petersburg and then getting an overnight bus or train. The two national airlines that serve Russia are Transaero and Aeroflot and they serve all major domestic destinations.

Where to stay

There are more than 200 hundred hotels of all shapes and sizes in Moscow ranging from five-star luxury to budget options for tourists watching their pennies. It is estimated that every night in Moscow hotels welcome around 70,000 guests. After the October Revolution, hotels in the city became state-run and many hotels that were active prior to that time were closed.

Later into the twenties and thirties and beyond, the first “Soviet” Hotels opened with names such as The Moscow Hotel, The Ukraine Hotel and The Leningradskay Hotel. Post communism has seen a renaissance of luxury muscovite hotels with names such as the Baltschug Kempinsky and the Ararat Park Hyatt.

Shopping

Moscow has become something of a shopper’s destination in recent years and visitors to the city will not be disappointed with the variety of malls and boutique stores. All of the big names are represented but there are also some esoterically priced local stores. Post communism Russians want to look good and so expect to pay top dollar for the privilege.

Out of town there are the more affordable shopping centres where you can pick up anything from electronic gadgets to cheap DVDs. The main shopping areas in Moscow include Tverskaya Street and the adjoining Tretvakovsky Provezd. For upscale names then visit the Kitai-gorod.

Nightlife and Eating Out

Nightlife is happening in Moscow and some of the most popular destinations can be found in and around Tverskaya Street. Towards the southern area of Tverskaya Street near Manege Square and Red Square is where you will find some of the luxurious bars and restaurants frequented by Moscow’s super-wealthy and celebrities.

Main attractions

Architecturally Moscow has some of the most recognisable buildings in the world including the onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral. Others include the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Seven Sisters (the nickname given to a group of Stalinist skyscrapers). Another feature of Moscow is how green it is in relation to other world cities of comparable size.

There are 96 parks and 18 gardens as well as four botanical gardens, 450sq.km of green zones and 100sq.km of forests. All of which means that for every person there is around 27sq.m of park in Moscow compared with six in Paris, seven and a half in London and 8.6 in New York.

Events in Moscow

January: Russian Orthodox Christmas - celebrations of the birth of Christ take place at churches throughout the city.

February: Prodexpo - the largest annual food and drink exhibition in Russia, featuring treats from across the Federation.

March: Maslenitsa or Blini Day - much like our pancake day it marks the coming of spring. Women's Day - honours the role of women in the revolutionary struggle.

Late April/Early May: Paskha (Easter) The main holiday of the Russian Orthodox church; 40 days of fasting ends with a feast of special cakes.

May: Victory Day - commemorates the end of WWII and takes place at war memorials throughout the city.

June: Moscow International Film Festival - celebrates more than 100 years of Russian cinema with screenings of classic and new films. Cinemas across Moscow.

Late June/Mid-July: White Nights Festival - music, theatre, fireworks and street performances throughout the city.

September: Fashion Week in Moscow - Fashion Design Festival at Gostiny Dvor and other venues around Moscow. Moscow Day also in September celebrates the foundation of Moscow with fireworks, parades and music in Red Square and throughout the city.

October: Kremlin Cup - nine day tennis tournament in Moscow at the Olympic Stadium.

November: Millionaire Fair - Exhibition of luxury goods at Crocus Expo. Day of National Unity November Communists commemorate the October Revolution throughout the city.

December: Evenings Festival - classical music performances throughout December at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.

End December / early January: Russian Winter Festival - winter events and rides in troikas at Izmaylovsky Park and other venues.

How to get around

Broadly speaking the heart of Moscow’s road system is at the Kremlin. From there roads radiate and are intersected by a number of road “rings”.

Moscow has five commercial airports (three international), nine railroad terminals and the second busiest metro system in the world after Tokyo. You can get around by taxi and these can come in different forms. In Moscow, pretty much anyone can operate as an unofficial or gypsy cab and you will frequently see private cars cruising around the city looking for a fare. If you are interested then stick your arm out. Otherwise official cabs are recognisable by the chequerboard logo on the side of the car and small green light in the windscreen.

Drivers infrequently use the meters that they have and apparently few will admit having change. Be careful when hailing cabs outside nightclubs and tourist hotels. This is particularly true if you are a woman alone. You can of course book a taxi through your hotel which may save you trouble if you do not speak Russian.

Public Transport
If you are travelling outside of Moscow taking a bus is a good alternative. Fares are broadly comparable with second class trains. That being said, buses tend not to be as reliable or comfortable as the train equivalent and so are normally more appropriate if you destination has poor rail links. For domestic tickets book at the Shchyolkovsky bus station which is 8km east of the city centre. To avoid queues consider booking ahead especially if you are travelling at the weekend. As metro stations are relatively far apart in Moscow in comparison with many cities, the bus service within the city is a very important way for people to travel around. All major roads will have at least one bus route and some are augmented by trolleybuses.

Car & motorcycle You can rent cars and motorcycles but there is much to find frustrating about the Russian road experience for the British visitor including poor roads, poor signposting, poor quality petrol and overly zealous traffic police. If you do want to rent a car for heading out of the city, be advised that many firms will not let you leave the city in their car. Alternatively you can but it includes a driver. This can avoid some of the frustrations of dealing with driving in Russia and is often not much more expensive. Best bet is to reserve the car before you arrive as this can drop the price by 50%.

The major rental firms will drop off and pick up the car from your hotel. Other options include the Moscow metro which operates 12 lines across 177 stations and some of the deepest in Europe (Park Pobedy is 84 metres underground.) There is a short monorail which opened in 2004 which runs from Timiryasevskaya metro station to the tram depot at Sergeya Eyzenshteyna.

Fast Facts

Location: Moscow is situated on the banks of the Moskva River which flows for 500km through the East European plain.
Climate: Humid continental climate with warm, humid summers and long, cold winters.
Area: 1,081sq.km
Population: 10,514,400
Religion: Christianity (Russian Orthodox)
Electricity: Electricity throughout Russia is 220 volt/50 hz
Language: Russian
Telephone code: 7 495 and 7 499
Currency: Rouble
Passport/visa requirements: You will need a visa before travelling to Russia and these are issued at the discretion of the Russian authorities. The visa for the Russian Federation is a document which specifies your name, your entry and exit dates, passport details and your purpose for travel. It is worth noting that this is valid for exit as well as entry so if you lose your visa or overstay the terms of the visa then leaving the country may also prove difficult. Some of the main types of visa are listed below: Single entry tourist visas are valid for up to one month.
National airline: Aeroflot and Transaero
Airports: Five airports that serve a range of destinations.
Flight time: Approximately four hours.
Public Holidays: New Year Defender of the Fatherland Day -23 February, International Women's Day -8 March Spring and Labor Day- 1 May Victory Day 9 May Russia Day- June 12. Unity Day November 4.

More information: Russian Embassy, 5 Kensington Palace Gardens, London W8 4QS Tel: 0203-051-11-99.

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