Moscow has everything the discriminating hotel guest could dream of -- for a price. The boom in Moscow hotel space since the Soviet Union's collapse has focused almost entirely on luxury or business-class accommodations. Demand is so high for the scarce midrange hotels that they have little incentive to offer discounts or perks. Nonetheless, the major chains continue to expand into this hungry market, and lower-priced options are not far behind.
Most of the better deals on hotels are found beyond the Garden Ring Road, well away from the main sights. This can be a major factor in your Moscow experience, since traffic to and from the center can eat up a chunk of the day. However, if your hotel is near a metro station and you're comfortable on public transport, this can reduce travel time considerably and make faraway accommodations more bearable.
Note: The prices listed may look shockingly exorbitant, and they're rising sharply every year. Almost no tourist pays these "rack rates," or the highest official rate a hotel offers. You can almost always get a discount at these hotels -- even 50% or more -- by reserving through an online travel agency or even the hotel's online service. Unless noted, rack rates listed here are in U.S. dollars, and do not include breakfast or the 18% VA. When you reserve online or through a travel agent, VAT is usually included. Many hotels charge for Wi-Fi in-room but offer it free in the lobby.
Suites are quite common even in older Soviet hotels, and always mean an extra room with sofa, unless noted. A double quite often means two single beds, pushed together or across the room from each other. Make it clear when you reserve if you want a double bed. Single rooms and single rates for double rooms are widely available, so if you're traveling alone, be sure to ask.
Few hotels offer car rentals in the standard sense, but most can arrange a car with a driver for a few hours or the duration of your stay, generally at a reasonable or negotiable price.
Getting Back Home -- Keep a hotel business card or brochure with you at all times, with the hotel's name and address written in Russian. You can show this to cab drivers or emergency workers to ensure you get home safely.
Many hotels, restaurants, and chic shops list their prices in "monetary units" (abbreviated Y.E. in Russian). The unit was essentially another way of saying "dollars" while adhering to the Russian law that forbids businesses from trading in any currency other than the ruble. This practice doesn't make much sense now that the ruble has been as stable as the dollar in recent years, but it persists nonetheless. Today the monetary unit is pegged to the dollar, the euro, or somewhere in between. Restaurants and hotels will have a note at the front desk and on the menus or price lists indicating the current "monetary unit exchange rate" (for example: 28 rubles = 1 Y.E.). It's a good idea to have a small calculator handy for times such as this. Even if the price is listed in dollar-pegged "units," however, you have to pay your bill in rubles. Whew!
Price lists are a dizzying affair in Russia. After you've figured out what currency is being quoted, the most perplexing part for visitors from capitalist economies is that most museums and some older hotels still charge foreigners more than they charge Russians. This is a leftover from Soviet days, when Soviet citizens enjoyed deep subsidies to offset low salaries. The newer hotels, and everything in the "Expensive" range and up, do not employ this practice and charge all clients the same regardless of citizenship. Some hotels, however, still offer lists that include:
- rates for Russian citizens
- rates for citizens of the "near abroad" or the Commonwealth of Independent States (basically a discount for friendly ex-Soviet states)
- rates for everyone else
It's no use protesting this system. If it's any consolation, Russians staying in such facilities often suffer worse service than international (and higher-paying) guests.
In addition, you'll find different prices depending on how upgraded the room is or how recent the renovations are. These rates are often euphemistically labeled, such as "tourist" rate for the newer rooms and "standard" rate for the older ones. Don't hesitate to ask to clear up any confusion.
Warning: Some hotels don't include the 18% VAT in their advertised prices, so make sure to check the final price before booking. Many don't include breakfasts, and standards change frequently. Always best to ask on check-in or before.
Because Moscow's hotel scene still caters more to the business visitor than the school-age one, family-friendly details are not yet par for the course. That is changing gradually, led by such chains as Marriott, whose three Moscow hotels offer baby-friendly rooms complete with crib, toys, bottles, and sterilizers. Sheraton Palace boasts a children's room where clowns entertain kids during mealtimes, and hosts special holiday events for kids. The Cosmos has a bowling alley with croquet-sized balls great for kids' hands, as well as game rooms and a theater that often shows kid-friendly fare. Farther outside town, Holiday Inn Vinogradovo offers boat trips, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing in the surrounding countryside. Babysitting services are increasingly available, even if they're not listed on the hotels' official websites and brochures. It's worth a call to check in advance.
This guide includes no brothels or hotels that charge by the hour, but Russia's lax attitude toward prostitution can be noticeable even in otherwise good-quality hotels. This attitude has fed the demand for prostitutes by foreign businessmen, which in turn means that many hotels, eager to cater to this demographic, double as trysting locales and quietly ignore the sexual commerce in their lobby bars. The ordinary tourist is usually unaffected by this, but foreign men traveling alone may be surprised by a late-night phone call to their rooms offering "female company" for the night. If you make it clear you're not interested -- it can't hurt to mention it to the reception desk the next morning -- the solicitation will stop.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.