We know how it is: You’ve finally made it to Russia and you’re ready to do everything you’ve been planning. But all the tickets and rides and passes are adding up, and soon enough you feel like you’re spending all your money just getting around and buying the odd pair of museum tickets. Visitors tend to do things the most obvious way, which is often the most expensive way.
Lucky for you there are several good ways to cut costs on travel and other activities while in Russia:
1. Use mass transit whenever possible
If you’re coming from the US, you might assume that mass transit just doesn’t work anywhere outside of New York. And yet it does. Even relatively small cities in Russia have functioning mass transit.
So ask a little bit in advance and instead of blowing all your cash on cab rides, you’ll be cruising on the trolley with the locals.
2. Buy a transit card and know what you’re buying
In the bigger cities, you may find that you have several options (subway or bus alone, subway+bus together). Take the time to figure your likely transit costs and compare them to the price of the card: Chances are pretty good it’s worth it.
A little advice from a local and a transit card can really take you places. Karina McCorkle, 24, is a graduate student in the USA and tells that the Troika card is indispensable for Moscow mass transit. It works on the metro, buses, trams, and even some short-range trains.
3. Use the ride-sharing app
Particularly around Moscow and St. Petersburg, BlaBlaCar app is quite popular and really useful for one-way trips to the Moscow Region, day trips to the Golden Ring, and the like. Do not go to Russia thinking ride-sharing and convenience are something you have to leave at home.
4. Instead of free museum days, hit the unusual museums
“The line will be long, but it’ll be free!” says Christina Rosivack, 26, writer, editor, and American expat, but sometimes the line on free admission days is just too long to be worth it. Do you really feel like standing in line at the Hermitage for hours just to save a couple bucks?
Pro tip: When is St. Petersburg, wait for free museum day at the Hermitage to absorb everyone else, and then go have some time to yourself at the Museum of Political History or the Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad. These names may sound a little too specific to Western ears, but a leisurely walk through them will teach you a lot, plus admission is inexpensive and you’ll beat the crowds.
5. Get oriented in the city, but for real
The Hermitage is amazing and the Moscow Museum of Modern Art just about knocked me over, although I went in there thinking I didn’t need to see any modern art. But that aside, any clear day is a chance for a self-guided walking tour through literally any Russian city.
Try this: stay on foot all day. Note the names of a few old churches. When you sit down, look them up and learn a little about them. Get moving again, and when you see an obscure little museum on a back street, go on in and see what they can tell you about it.
Check out the dimensions of parks and note all the fountains, the things the locals navigate by without even being aware of it. Remember to mark all this on your map and keep reviewing what you’ve seen throughout the day.
Now, climb as high as you can in that general part of town – Saint Isaac’s Cathedral in St. Petersburg is a good place – and try to find everything you marked on your map. Not as easy as it sounds, but it will help you get to know your city.