The hotel situation in Moscow has improved considerably since Russia became an independent state in 1992. New hotels have been built and grand old residences renovated. These works are likely to continue as Yuriy Luzhkov, the city’s dynamic mayor, has made new accommodation a priority. Despite the improvements, there is still a great shortage of hotels of all types in the city. Worse still, as with much in modern Russian life, expansion tends to have taken place at the top end of the market and there is a shortage in the mid-price range. Prices are liable to rapid change so should always be checked. There are websites that act as accommodation agencies and it is possible to make a reservation at most hotels directly online or by phone. The best method, however, is to book through a travel agent in advance.
In theory there are more than 200 hotels in Moscow. Many of these, however, are little more than hostels for professional delegations, with names such as The Oncological Research Centre Hotel. With occasional exceptions, therefore, the foreign visitor is in effect confined to hotels that fall into three broad categories: luxury hotels, the newer, mid-price hotels and the cheaper, plainer ex-Soviet hotels, which were formerly run by the state.
Luxury hotels are often foreign-owned or run as joint Russian-Western ventures. Many occupy historic buildings (some pre- and some post-Revolution), and have rooms combining period furniture with modern facilities. Service is similar to that in the best hotels in the West, but a double room rarely costs less than the equivalent of $250 a night. Hotels of this type are often referred to as Western-style.
There is comparatively little available in the mid-price range. For example, the Hotel Moskva, which was demolished recently, used to be a valuable landmark overlooking Red Square and represented excellent value for money. Legend has it that when Stalin was presented with the two possible designs for the hotel, he unwittingly approved them both. The hotel was built with an amalgamation of both styles, as no-one on Stalin’s staff wanted to point out his mistake. The Moskva hass been rebuilt, but it re-opened in 2007, and it is now a five-star luxury hotel.
A number of smaller, more modern hotels are gradually emerging to accommodate the mid-price bracket and these are being supplemented by the redevelopment and reinvention of a number of other prominent ex-Soviet hotels. The iconic Hotel Ukraine is currently closed for redevelopment and will reopen as a top-end hotel. The Leningradskaya will reopened after extensive refurbishment in late 2006, as a Western-standard three-star hotel.
Of the remaining ex-Soviet hotels, those that have not been redeveloped are generally lacklustre and the service can seem to take little account of what guests actually want. Nevertheless, the rooms are usually clean and of a good size. These hotels can also offer a fascinating insight into how the elite in the Soviet era used to live. It is planned that service will be standardized with the advent of a common system of hotel accreditation.
Most of the luxury hotels are within 15 minutes’ drive or metro ride of the centre, while ex-Soviet hotels tend to be a little further out. Unfortunately, there are few moderately priced hotels right in the city centre.
For all types of hotel, the price is unlikely to be affected very much by location. However, when choosing a hotel, visitors should think about how they want to get around the city and take into consideration whether or not they will have a car, whether they want to get to the main sights on foot, or if their ability to read Cyrillic script is adequate to allow them to use buses and the metro with confidence.
During the Soviet era all accommodation had to be arranged before going to Russia. To obtain a tourist visa, you must still pre-book a room. However, once in Moscow, it is possible to walk into any hotel and book a room on the spot. In practice, though, it is best to make arrangements before arriving. Many of the more expensive hotels may be booked up well in advance, particularly in the event of a major exhibition, which might make reservations for a full week problematic. In ex-Soviet hotels, there might be difficulties for foreign visitors arriving unannounced. Almost all the hotels listed here will accept reservations by fax or phone (many will not accept reservations by e-mail). All the luxury hotels have staff who speak good English, but it is advisable to book rooms at ex-Soviet hotels by fax, asking for written confirmation. Luxury hotels will usually ask for a credit card number as a deposit.
All luxury hotels provide the facilities that would be found in an expensive hotel in the West. These include television (often satellite), business facilities, such as a message-taking service and meeting room, mini-bars, a laundry service and 24-hour room service. All rooms have a bathroom with a bath or shower, or both. Fitness facilities and swimming pools are increasingly widespread, although they are not necessarily up to Western standards in cheaper establishments. Not all hotels have air conditioning, which can be a drawback in summer.
Rooms in an ex-Soviet hotel always contain a television, a fridge and a telephone. International calls from rooms are expensive and may not be easy to make if they have to be booked through the operator. En-suite bathrooms with a bath or shower are also standard. Ex-Soviet hotels, particularly the cheaper places, are not likely to have sophisticated room service, although a laundry service can usually be arranged.
Many ex-Soviet hotels still have a “dezhurnaya” (concierge) sitting at a desk on each floor. As one of their duties, these sometimes rather fearsome women look after guests’ keys while they are out. Visitors should make sure they do not lose the card given to them when the keys are handed in, as it sometimes has to be shown to get back in through the main entrance. Friendly relations with the “dezhurnaya” will increase the chances of receiving good service or obtaining food and drink at unusual hours.
All hotels have bars and restaurants. The luxury hotels contain some of the city’s finest restaurants, but do not expect to find a bargain here. Ex-Soviet hotels tend to be less flexible about meal times, and the food is much less exciting. Continental breakfasts are the norm in luxury hotels. In ex-Soviet establishments guests usually help themselves from a large buffet which includes eggs, “budterbrod” (sandwiches), salads and confectionary. Breakfast is not usually included in the room service and is typically only available between 7am and 8am.
The general shortage of accommodation in Moscow means that, almost without exception, hotel rooms in the city are over-priced. The rates given here are the standard rates quoted by the hotels. However, very few guests actually pay the full rate. Business guests usually have cheaper rates negotiated at the expensive hotels by their companies and most tourists book through an agent, again at more favourable rates. It is worth remembering that it is rarely economical to book any hotel room personally. Travellers interested in a particular hotel should ask a travel agent to enquire about special rates, or find an agent that has already dealt with the hotel. Leisure weekend discounts are available at many luxury hotels, since most of their clients are business people who stay only during the week.
Luxury hotels generally quote prices in a foreign currency (usually US dollars). However, it is illegal to pay in any currency other than roubles. The easiest way to pay in these hotels is undoubtedly with a credit card, which eliminates the need to carry around large amounts of money. Check in advance before trying to pay by travellers’ cheques as luxury hotels may have a hidden surcharge. Ex-Soviet hotels do not normally quote prices in dollars and most take only cash (in roubles). Some will take credit cards, though none accept travellers’ cheques. Luxury hotels frequently quote prices exclusive of VAT and city tax; this can add more than 30 percent to the bill. Visitors should also note that tax rates in Russia are liable to change at short notice.
Breakfast is rarely included in room prices and can be a significant addition to the bill. The cost of making phone calls (international or local) from a hotel room can be high. The local phone network is cheaper.
Russians idolize their children, but this rarely seems to translate into hotel facilities for families. In most hotels it should be possible to have an extra bed put in a room for an additional fee, and most luxury hotels will provide babysitters. Generally, however, hotels are more interested in business guests or tour groups, so do not expect to find extensive facilities for children or favourable room rates for families.
Few hotels in Moscow have wheelchair access, and those that do generally have few facilities. Disabled travellers should check in advance with their travel agents or the hotels, making sure to enquire about any specific needs.
While many of the dangers of life in Moscow are exaggerated, hotels (particularly those owned by foreign companies) take security very seriously. Do not be surprised to see security staff with walkie-talkie: patrolling the entrances of even the most refined establishments. Luxury hotels all have safe-deposit boxes and hotel guests generally have few problems with personal safety.
Ex-Soviet hotels also have a very good record on security. Porters keep undesirables out, and the “dezhurnaya” on each floor keeps a close eye on her own patch. However, as in other cities, tourists are often targets for petty criminals. Take particular care when leaving the hotel, as pickpockets are known to hang around outside tourist hotels.
For a revealing insight into Russian culture, staying with a family can be a worthwhile option, especially for visitors who plan to stay for a month or more. The system is similar to the European bed and breakfast and prices generally include breakfast only (meals other than breakfast can occasionally be provided at a cost). Your hosts are likely to be extremely hospitable, and will probably be keen to talk about life in Russia.
Moscow Bed and Breakfast and Interchange have a range of options for staying with a Russian family.
Options for travellers on i tight budget are very imited. Some of the cheaper ex-Soviet hotels have rooms or the equivalent of less than >100. The service may be rather sullen and the rooms a little shabby, but they should be clean. Their restaurants may be uninspiring at best.
Bed and Breakfast rents out apartments with cleaning included, most of them close to Belorusskaya metro. Flats for one person cost the equivalent of about $50 a night; the rate decreases for people sharing. There are a very limited number of hostels in Moscow. Places such as Godzillas, Traveller’s Guest House and Sherstone are of a good standard and specifically cater for travellers on a tight budget. They offer dormitory accommodation from the equivalent of $20, $35 and $40 a night respectively. The service is friendly and the dormitories are clean.