The days of Soviet era queues and shortages are long gone. Moscow is a modern city, full of shops, and just about everything that is available in the West is available here. The Arbat and Tverskaya are the main shopping drags, and are filled with shoppers visiting chic boutiques and other meccas of consumerism. However, high import duties, transportation costs and the relative lack of competition can make some consumer goods more expensive than in the West. The colourful Russian arts and crafts available at many locations throughout the city are popular with visitors as are exotic goods from the ex-Soviet Republics of Central Asia and memorabilia from the Soviet era.
Russia is the best place in the world to buy vodka and caviar, but buyers must be careful. Caviar should not be bought in the street and it is advisable to buy it in tins rather than jars. Even tins should be kept refrigerated at all times. Caviar is available from most supermarkets but, for a real Russian shopping experience, go to the slightly run-down Yeliseev’s Food Hall. A pre-Revolutionary delicatessen, it was known as Gastronom
No. 1 in Soviet times, and boasts chandeliers and stained-glass windows.
There is a great deal of bootleg vodka about, which can be highly poisonous. It is essential to ensure that there is a pink tax label stuck over the top of any bottle of vodka and none should ever be bought on the street. Popular vodkas such as Stolichnaya and Moskovskaya are available from most supermarkets including Sedmoi Kontinent.
Vodka and caviar are also available at the duty-free shops at the airports, but are much cheaper in town.
Russians never mix vodka, but instead eat snacks or drink juice or beer immediately after a ‘shot’, to cool the aftertaste and increase endurance.
Low labour costs mean that handmade goods are generally cheaper here than in the West and they make exotic and interesting souvenirs to take home. The best places to buy are the markets, such as the Izmaylovo Market, and souvenir shops on ulitsa Arbat. Lacquer trays and bowls, painted china and matryosbka dolls can be bought at Arbatskaya Lavitsa. Handmade lace and embroidery are on sale in Russkaya Vyshivka, while for Russian jewellery and amber visitors should try Samotsvety.
A good range of arts and crafts is also available at shops elsewhere in the city, such as Russkiy Uzory. Russkaya Galereia has an exhibition of paintings for sale, as well as jewellery and lacquer boxes. For more unusual souvenirs, try Dom Farfora, which sells hand-painted tea sets and Russian crystal, and the Salon of the Moscow Cultural Fund, which has samovars, old lamps and some whimsical sculptures and mobiles.
The new Russian rich are hungry for antiques and dealers know the value of goods, so the bargains of a few years ago are no longer available. It is also worth noting that exporting objects made before 1945 from Russia involves a lot of expense and effort. However, it is still well worth exploring the many wonderful shops full of treasures.
Ulitsa Arbat has many of the best antique shops in Moscow. Serebryaniy Ryad offers a good selection of icons, silver, jewellery and china, while Ivantsarevich has a variety of interesting Soviet porcelain.
For larger pieces and furniture visitors should go to the Aleksandr Art Gallery, and Rokoko which sells goods for people for a commission. The Foreign Book Store, which is principally a bookshop, also sells furniture and a lot of china, lamps and bric-a-brac.
There are many boutiques in the centre of town around GUM, TsUM and Okhotnyy Ryad, and along Tverskaya ulitsa. The centre also has two good arcades. Petrovskiy Passage sells clothes and shoes as well as furniture and electrical goods. Gallery Aktyor, a modern, three-storey arcade, contains Western and designer stores selling clothes, French perfumes and jewellery from Tiffany and Cartier. Clothes by Russian designers are gradually appearing in Moscow’s shops.
On the edge of the city centre is the Atrium shopping centre, which contains a variety of boutiques and stores, along with cafes, bars and a cinema. On the outskirts of the city are the Mega shopping complexes at Teply Stan and Khimki.
A wide range of authentic-Russian fur hats are sold in Petrovskiy Passage and on the second floor of GLJM.
For english-language books Anglia British Bookshop, Shakespeare & Co and Dom Inostrannoi Knigi are probably the best shops to visit. The enormous Moscow House of Books sells some English-language books, and also old icons and Soviet propaganda posters. Biblio Globus is well worth having a browse in, while the Moskva Trade House deals in Russian and foreign books, as well as selling stamps, small antiques and paintings. Melodiya sells a wide range of CDs of Russian performers. For vintage and specialist music try Transylvania, just off Tverskaya ulitsa.