Lay of the Land
Moscow is a sprawling city divided into districts usually named for the nearest metro station, a main thoroughfare, or a nearby park. At the heart of the city, the Kremlin sits on the banks of the meandering Moscow River. Most of the other major sights are within walking distance or a short metro ride away. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior is just downriver from the Kremlin; farther downstream, Russia's global aspirations are visible in the skyscrapers of Moskva-City, a soon-to-be-completed business district. Until recently, Moscow's only skyscrapers were seven Stalin-era towers sprinkled across the city. They are still key visual markers in this ever-expanding city.
WHEN TO GO
Although the number of unseasonably warm days has increased in recent years (thank you, global warming), winter in Moscow can be bitterly cold. Summer can be baking and punctuated by thunderstorms. The best time to visit is in late spring and early autumn, although even then the weather is unpredictable. In late spring it might range from the 40s to the 80s, and in the autumn from the 40s to the 70s. There are pluses, though, to visiting in the summer when the city empties outno traffic and more room in hotels and restaurants.
HOW TO GET THERE
Domodedovo International Airport, which is located about 50 miles south of Moscow, was revamped in 2000 and has been expanding ever since (7-495-933-6666; www.domodedovo.ru). As a result, it's a much better option than Sheremetyevo-2, which is closer to the city center (20 miles to the north), and has been the city's main international terminal since Soviet times (7-495-578-9101; www.sheremetyevo-airport.ru). Sheremetyevo-2 is undergoing extensive renovations of its own, although the completion date is unclear, and for now, travelers have to deal with an immigration control area that's cramped and unequipped to process more than one flight at a time. Sheremetyevo-1, the domestic airport, is located a few miles away but shares the same runway as Sheremetyevo-2. A long-awaited modern terminal, Sheremetyevo-3, is under construction, but that hasn't stopped some major airlines, including Lufthansa and American Airlines (which launched its first route to Russia in June 2008), from choosing Domodedovo. Vnukovo airport, located about 20 miles southwest of Moscow, also upgraded in 2004 and a new international terminal is expected to open by the end of 2008 (7-495-436-2813; www.vnukovo.ru).
All three airports have direct train links, called Aeroexpress, to the city. From Domodedovo, the train to Paveletsky station (located just south of the city center) takes about 45 minutes and costs around $8. From there, grab a taxi or the metro to your destination. The train connection from Sheremetyevo costs about $10 and takes about 30 minutes to reach the Savyolovsky station (just outside the northern edge of central Moscow). The station is a bit seedy and not the best introduction to Moscow, but it is just three metro stops to Chekhovsakaya station, in the heart of the city. There's a 35-minute train connection between Vnukovo and Kievsky train station, for about $8. All three connections run regularly from early morning until late at night. See www.aero-express.ru/en/index.php for a schedule in English.
Taking a cab directly from Domodedovo will take about an hour and costs about $80. From Sheremetyevo, you can arrange a taxi in advancetry Rent Avto (7-495-772-5181; www.rentavto.ru). Otherwise, try the official taxi desk, called Zakaz Taxi, near the exit. Either way, a ride into town is about $80 and takes about 30 minutes. Aggressive cabbies on the prowl in and around the terminal may try to charge you even more. Trans-Free, Vnukovo airport's official taxi service, quotes a price of about $60 into the city center (www.vnukovo.ru/eng/for-passengers/service/taxi). The length of the ride depends wholly on traffic. It could be 35 minutes. It could be hours.
On your return, be aware that Leningradsky Prospekt always seems to be in the midst of major roadwork, which seriously affects traffic to Sheremetyevo. Take the train or leave well in advance, up to four hours ahead of departure, so you don't miss your flight.
Moscow's most famous sightsthe Kremlin, Red Square, and so oncan be covered on foot. Otherwise, the city's metro is extremely cheap and ranks among the world's finest subway systems, with frequent, punctual trains (daily between 5:30 am and 1 am) and palatial stations decorated with chandeliers and stained-glass windows. Growing congestion on Moscow's roads has made the metro even more importantand more crowded. It's a good idea to learn enough Cyrillic to recognize the names of the stations and entrance and exit signs. The fare is the same regardless of the distance traveled; you can purchase a magnetic card good for 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, or more journeys. A single fare is about 75 cents but goes down the more rides you purchase on a card. A monthly pass for all public transit (metro, buses, trolleybuses, and trams) is about $40. Metro maps are available at newsstands.
Renting a car is another optionAvis, Hertz, and Europcar have branches in Moscowbut it won't cost you much more to rent a car with a driver. That way you won't have to struggle with potholes, Cyrillic signs, and the ruthless Russian driving style. To hire a car and driver, try Rent Avto (7-495-772-5181; www.rentavto.ru).
Muscovites and experienced expatriates without their own wheels often flag down a ride. That means anyone might stop, from a legitimate taxi driver to a government official's driver on lunch break. It's considered safe to travel like this, but caution is advised. In all cases, fares must be negotiatedeven "real" metered cabs don't use the meters. A ride in the center of Moscow shouldn't cost more than about $8, but price gouging is common, so if you don't speak Russian, beware. Drivers are known to charge 500 rubles (more than $20) to go around the corner if they pick you up at a place like Galereya.
Russia National Tourist Office
224 W. 30th Street
Tel: 877 221 7120 (toll-free)
Tel: 646 473 2233
5/10 Chistoprudni Bulvar
Tel: 7 495 980 8440
Fax: 7 495 980 8441