Live like a local in Moscow

With the weather swapping from deepest winter to full on summer in a day these days, why not head for a weekend trip to the city of extremes, the Russian capital that is Moscow? Lucky for you we've got all the inside scoop and secret tips from local photographer and artist, Dasha Love

Words and photos by Dasha Love

Just three and half-hours from London, Moscow is a city of extremes. Everything here is massive – huge streets, monuments, parks, squares, bits of Soviet construction that take your breath away with the sheer scale of their grandness. The culture is rich and the architecture striking. And as the climate range here is so acute, with temperatures reaching 30 degrees in summer but dropping down to –20 in winter, a visit at either time of year would give you a quite different impression from this city.

With temperatures reaching 30 degrees in summer but dropping down to –20 in winter, a visit at either time of year would give you a quite different impression from this city.

In winter you can enjoy beautiful walks around a snowy Moscow, skiing and ice-skating and in summer you can spend balmy nights walking around the city and drinking wine in the countless parks and embankments, or riding bikes around the alleys and boulevards in the centre. The locals are a varied bunch too, some won’t mind waiting in line to see Dali’s show in the freezing cold for a good couple of hours, while others are very rude, and consider pushing their way through on the tube normal, acceptable behaviour. Young people in Moscow are very friendly though, and you’re sure to make friends on a night out, who’ll take you on to another couple of parties and make sure you stay drunk and have as much fun as possible while you’re at it. Girls here are pretty and many look like super models, trying to be all sexy and mature, while boys try to be cool and serious.

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Russia is notorious for its drinking culture, which has a long history to it. Back in the 19th century, it was normal to have a shot of chilled vodka or brandy before lunch or supper. Until recently there was no policy regarding when alcohol could be served, but now the law has changed, so you can’t buy liquor between 10pm and 10am. Vodka is a traditional hard liquor, in its many flavours it’s the most popular drink here, along with beer, wine and martini. Central Moscow has a lot of bars, my favourite is 16 Tons an English pub, which bizarrely serves the best margaritas ever and has a club upstairs. It’s at the Ulica 1905 goda Station. This whole area, called Presnya, was the place where the main workers’ protests of the workers took place at the start of the 20th century. These events are recorded in the names of the streets and the squares around the area.

When it comes to nightlife, Solyanka club is the most popular spot in town, and most kids end up here at some point on a Saturday night. This place is special as its located within an 18th Century building, and a massive flight of stairs covered with a rug leads up to the actual club. The interior was carefully designed and furnished with antique pieces from English flea markets and it serves all sorts of cocktails and drinks until 6 am on the weekend. The food is yummy and they serve mostly Russian dishes, however they have a few Asian and American dishes too. Other cool bars out here are John Donne, because of its fine choice of the beverages and Mayak, a down to earth venue that’s popular because of its friendly atmosphere and the affordable menu. Luch Bar on the other hand is located in an old pre-revolution building of an old light bulb production factory. With its tall ceilings, it has real nice Asian cuisine and an impressive cocktails menu. When it comes to going out, in the winter people usually start having drinks at home and get to clubs around midnight, in the summer kids get drunk outside, chilling on the alley benches and embankments.

Eating

Eating and drinking in Moscow is a lot of fun, because most restaurants and coffee shops stay open till late or 24/7, especially in central Moscow. Russian cuisine is very rich with a big focus on soup, meat and fish dishes, pies, dumplings and dairy products. Mu-Mu is a really nice network of traditional Russian and Ukranian canteens that offer a crazy selection of super-yummy traditional dishes and drinks at very affordable prices. Shokoladnica is a chain of cafés that serve coffee along with sandwiches, pasta dishes and some traditional Russian dishes, such as pancakes and special fried cheese cakes, called sirniki, they also have very nice breakfast menus. Coffee House is another network of cafes here, that’s similar to Shokoladnica and the have recently launched Vinegret Caffes, that specialise in serving very traditional Russian food.

For Soviet romantics I’d recommend you go to the Zhiguli Caffe, it was legendary in its day as a beer bar, but now it’s been refurbished as a café with a 70s and 80s look, and staff dressed in uniforms by Simachev. The last spot, and the most special, is called Delicatessen, it’s an underground restaurant hidden in an old municipal flat, which was originally shared between a few families. As it’s located in a normal council estate, finding the entrance can be tricky, you need to walk through a yard past the public bins and ring the downstairs bell to get let in but it’s super-worth it. When it comes to street food, the best options are Kroshka Kartoshka (a café that serves baked potatoes with all sorts of toppings) and the pancake booths, where toppings include caviar, meat, jam and fruit.

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Shopping

Moscow is a cool place to get designer stuff. A lot of shops are located centrally on Tverskaya street and around the district, there are also two massive malls that stock designer things as well as many high street brands right next to the Red Square and Okhotny Ryad. Respublica is the place to get vinyl, Moleskin notebooks, lomo cameras and other assorted hipster stuff, it’s overpriced but it has the best selection. When it comes to more independent stuff, I’d recommend visiting Lick the Star store at the Cvetnoy shopping mall. They have all sorts of Euro and American vintage clothing. There are also some cool indie designers out here, Like Gosha Rubchinskiy, Artur Lomakin with his brand Forget Me Not and Chaos Reigns.

If you feel like spending 30 bucks for more stuff than you can carry, getting random things and chatting to elderly Russian people, Levsha is definitely the place to go

Thrifting in Moscow is good too, as there are a ton of second hand stores. The craziest shopping experience is to go to a Baraholka or flea market. Levsha, which used to be called Platforma Mark (Station Mark) after the station where it was originally located used to be massive, with people (mostly pensioners selling old Soviet crap) setting up their stalls on the ground right at the train rails. It’s not as wild as it used to be since it got moved, but it still functions, so if you feel like spending £30 for more stuff than you can carry, getting random things and chatting to elderly Russian people, that is definitely the place to go.

Sleeping

As Moscow is a very expensive city, nice hotels in the centre cost a lot so staying in a hostel is a better and cheaper option for a young traveller. Most of them have free internet, and most are equipped with other various necessities such as safes, dryers, shared kitchens, washing machines and so on. Monro is 5 minutes from the Kremlin, with prices starting from £14 a night, they’ll also help arrange invitation letters for visas. Other include the Moscow Home Hostel, Bulgakov Hostel, which allows pets, and 1st Arbat Hostel.

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Moscow is a culturally rich city, but, unlike many others, this beauty starts underground. Built in the 30s, many artists and architects got involved with designing the metro, so many of the stations are decorated with paintings, mosaics and sculptures, which are themselves pieces of art. When it comes to museums, Pushkin Museum, is one of the biggest and oldest galleries in Moscow, but it also has exclusive contemporary art shows, at the moment Annie Leibovitz is on. Another great place is the Central Exhibition Hall Manezh, right next to the Kremlin. Dom Hudozhnika is a great venue too, a few years back they curated a great Russian Pop Art exhibition. Vinzavod and Art Strelka on the other hand are the contemporary art centres, both located within old factories in central Moscow. Street art is big in Moscow too, and one crew that definitely stands out is called Gruppa 310, these guys make graffiti in a Pop Art manner that truly brightens up the city.

Moscow is a green city, as there are a lot of massive parks. The trendiest and most popular music festival here is called Picnic Afishi, which takes place in one of them. Park Gorkogo is very enjoyable both in the summer time, because of the massive green grounds and new skate park which was recently built there, and in the winter, as the whole park gets transformed into a massive ice skating spot. Vorobyevi Gory is another park, that is located on hills, right next to the river, one can enjoy most beautiful views, plenty of fresh air, amazing walks and skiing and snowboarding and the winter. The coolest skate park is located there too, under the bridge, right next to the tube station.

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Beer: 55p/64 for a can of Russian beer

Night in a hostel: from £10/ 11.90 euros

Internet: free in most cafes and McDonald’s

Bunch of pancakes: £1/1.16 euros

Bus: 58p/66 euros

Underground 5 ride ticket: £2.75/3.20 euros