Tips for Shopping for Souvenirs in Moscow
John Seckel is Director of MIR’s Moscow affiliate office and has lived in Russia for years; he has lots of experience hunting down great souvenirs in Moscow. Here John shares his favorite insider’s tips.
There’s a Russian saying I love: “Каждому свое – Kazhdomu svoi-yo!” – “To each his own!”
What to Buy?
You’ll find all kinds of souvenirs in Moscow. Instead of buying a mundane coffee cup with “Moscow” written on it or an equally banal T-shirt, why not check out matrioshka dolls or Palekh lacquer boxes? My mother always loves earrings made from painted enamel – feenift. Jewelry made from amber is also high on her favorites list. Or, how about a beautiful Russian porcelain tea set? It’s heavy, but I bet none of your neighbors has one! Rest assured, you’ll find something for everyone on your list.
That’s the way it works on the Arbat pedestrian street – a great place to souvenir-shop for family and friends. I like it here because it’s in the center of Moscow, most shops mark prices on their merchandise, and you can usually pay with a credit card. Many shops are open every day, surrounded by the festive ambience of street musicians, artists, cafés, and restaurants.
Beyond, Into the ‘Burbs
Others love Izmailovo Flea Market, an outdoor venue just a short walk from Metro Partizanskaya. Here you’ll find many of the same souvenirs that are on Arbat Street, but mostly with no price tags. It’s up to you to ask and then bargain. Like to haggle? This place is for you.
But remember, Izmailovo is an outdoor market. When it rains, it also rains on you. And if it does rain, you’re certain to find umbrellas for sale – but more expensive than on a sunny day. That’s a market economy at its best!
Izmailovo Buying Tips
- Most sellers here know basic English or just enough to say the price. So write the price on a piece of paper and start bargaining that way.
- Before buying anything, jot down simple dollar-to-ruble exchange rates, say $1=30 rubles, $5=150 rubles, $10=300 rubles. This helps you keep prices in perspective during the bargaining process. Make sure you check the daily official currency exchange rate at your hotel or with your guide before heading out. The ruble fluctuates and you don’t want to be cheating yourself out of a few rubles, do you?
- Don’t pay the first amount offered by the seller. Bargain, bargain, bargain!
- Walk away if you don’t get the price you want. Sellers may decide it’s better to sell at your price than not sell anything at all.
- Saturdays and Sundays are the best days to visit Izmailovo. Best times are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. The market’s open during the week, but not as many stalls are open.
Russian Gifts at “Russian Gift”
If you want high quality, certified Russian souvenirs, then head to the National Cultural Center “Russian Gift.” Russian Gift is a contemporary indoor space with a vast collection of genuine, certified handicrafts from across Russia. There’s also a small museum and a restaurant serving traditional Russian cuisine.
The biggest difference between Arbat, Izmailovo, and Russian Gift is that Russian Gift has everything under one roof – all genuine, all certified. Although prices can be higher at Russian Gift, you also get a comfortable, high quality shopping experience.
So, take your pick:
- Arbat Street, centrally located with its many shops, marked prices, credit cards accepted. Ambience: street musicians, artists, cafés, and restaurants. It’s my preference. Getting there: Metro Smolenskaya dark blue line, or Metro Arbatskaya dark blue line, or Metro Arbatskaya light blue line
- Izmailovo Flea Market, with its thrill of bargaining and people-watching at an open air market. This is the place to bargain! Best times: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Small fee to get in (about 33 cents). Getting there: Metro stop Partizanskaya on the dark blue line. Once you get out, you will see most people going left in the direction of the market.
- Russian Gift, with high quality certified goods in a comfortable setting under one roof. Prices are marked and credit cards are accepted. Open weekdays only from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Getting there: Metro stop Polezhaevskaya, located on Zorge Street, House 9A, Building 2.
Whatever your choice, happy shopping!
Travel to Russia with MIR
When you travel with MIR to Russia and stop in Moscow, you have many opportunities to find just the perfect gift or Russian souvenir.
MIR offers a variety of travel itineraries to Western Russia that include a variety of these recommended stops:
Russia’s Imperial Capitals & Ancient VillagesOn this small group tour, discover where Russian art, architecture and culture began. In between the urban centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, experience the Golden Ring countryside (more info about this small group tour). Russian Winter Wonderland: New Year’s in St. PetersburgNobody loves New Year’s Eve like the Russians do – it’s the most festive holiday of the year, with parties, presents, and champagne toasts. This celebratory tour revolves around New Year’s in glorious St. Petersburg, with Moscow merrymaking and a visit to 12th century Suzdal to round out the festivities, admiring ancient churches and enjoying a traditional sleigh ride (more info about this small group tour). Inside the Russian Space ProgramThis tour named “Tour of a Lifetime” by National Geographic Traveler, is an electrifying exploration of the Russian Space Program is an incredibly close encounter with space flight – the manned launch of a Soyuz spacecraft. In Moscow, tour Star City, Russia’s premier cosmonaut training facility, where you can choose to participate in optional cosmonaut training yourself (more info about this small group tour). The Trans-Siberian RailwayYou can find interesting shops on all of our many rail journeys throughout Russia and along the Trans-Siberian. All of them begin or end in Moscow and allow plenty of time to find the perfect gift or souvenir (more info about Trans-Siberian Railway travel). A Custom, Private TourYou can also book a custom private journey – handcrafted to your interests, pace and dates (more info about a personalized tour).
Chat with one of our destination specialists by email or by phone at 1-800-424-7289 to start planning your travels today.
MIR has over 30 years of travel experience in Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
(Top photo credit: Jonathan Irish)
PUBLISHED: October 9, 2014