How Did Moscow Compare To St. Petersburg?

Filed Under: Travel

Ford and I have just wrapped up our incredible trip to Europe, where we visited Svalbard, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. I’ve already shared my thoughts on Svalbard and St. Petersburg, both of which greatly exceeded my expectations.

Our last stop was Moscow. Before visiting, my expectation was that Moscow would be a bit of a grimy city with a lot of old Soviet buildings, along with the iconic landmarks everyone recognizes, like Saint Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, etc. Most people I know who had been to both St. Petersburg and Moscow said that they enjoyed St. Petersburg more.

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Well, I was once again pleasantly surprised, because Moscow greatly exceeded my expectations, and I think I may even prefer it to St. Petersburg, at least in terms of choosing a city to return to.

St. Petersburg has much more beautiful architecture and more tourist sites, so I highly recommend it. However, Moscow feels much more cosmopolitan, like New York, London, or Shanghai.

So while there were a ton of buildings that looked like this…

Moscow - 8

…there were also a ton of charming streets that made me think I was in parts of some of my favorite cities.

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For what it’s worth, we felt safe in Moscow for the most part, though like any other major cosmopolitan city, there were some areas where we definitely watched our pockets. While I believe Moscow has a higher crime rate than St. Petersburg, we never felt uncomfortable walking around (even outside tourist areas), though we were also always alert.

Also, Moscow is so cheap right now, given how weak the Ruble is. Back in the day Moscow used to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, though I couldn’t get over how much the prices differed from my expectations. We had dinner at Grand Cafe Dr. Zhivago, one of the best restaurants in Moscow that a local highly recommended, and it as incredible. We ordered a bottle of wine, several appetizers, two mains, and shared a dessert, and the total was ~$90.


My Russian visa is valid for three years, and I definitely plan on returning to Russia before it’s up.

It sure seems like things will only get worse for Russia financially, so I’m guessing prices might dip even lower.

Bottom line

St. Petersburg is no doubt more picturesque than Moscow, and I highly recommend visiting it. While Moscow isn’t quite as beautiful, it was captivating in a different way, given how cosmopolitan it is. All around, I was super impressed by both cities.

Have you visited Moscow? What was your experience like?

  1. I am so delighted that the boys had such a great time in Russia. I hope their experiences help dispel some of the more outrageous perceptions many people have of traveling to Petersburg & Moscow. I especially hope that Ben’s & Ford’s trip helps extinguish the notion that Cossacks are rampaging through city streets hunting down gay people.

    Ben, if you do return to Russia may I suggest that you do so during winter? Petersburg and Moscow are pleasant but sort of languid during the summer; winter is when they become socially and culturally exciting. And Petersburg, especially, is magically beautiful when it is encased in ice and snow.

    Ben, rumor has it that you did not return to the US on dear old Aeroflot. I was so looking forward to reading of your impressions so I hope this is not true.

  2. Yes, it is true that St. Pete and Moscow is where Communists live a capitalistic
    lifestyle. So your observations are true of these two cities.
    Though, in most of Russia people are living like in the Middle Ages.
    Walls are put up to keep people in. Most people in Asia (of which Russia is) would love to escape this worker’s paradise.

  3. What a bunch of dribble. Of course you had a good time, bought off my hotels and restaurants. What you didn’t mention is the oppressive political and cultural environment, not to mention rampant corruption.

  4. Great summary! Having been to both cities, I agree with you. My advice to your readers is to visit both since you already paid for the Russian Visa and took a long flight there. So take an advantage of Russian train system which is convenient (access) and inexpensive. On my last trip, I also visited Helsinki (via train) and Tallinn (bus works better for Estonia). Wanted to go to Riga but ran out of time.

  5. Ron Steiger You are clueless. I am an American who lives in a small Russian town almost 4,000 miles from Moscow, and who has traveled all over this country. Walls? Middle Ages? Are you freaking kidding me?! It’s not the USSR. People where I live have access to modern amenities and damn near every teenager has an Iphone. Believe it or not, there is even good internet here and cable TV with options for American and European TV channels. And, contrary to your claim, people are not clamoring to get out. Maybe you should see for yourself before making such uninformed and uneducated comments.

  6. Could you do an article on how it was for a gay couple to travel in Russia?
    Have been wanting to travel there as I have family in Estonia, but have been too hesitant.

  7. @jesse Thomas I lived there in ’93-’94. Anywhere outside of Moscow was not tourist friendly to say the least in those days. So…. His experience probably simply differs from yours. It may not be wrong. Where the hidden Russian beauty lies is with the people who can be really fun. Travel hackers will never experience the true culture. Ben compares the greatness of Moscow in its sameness to other cosmopolitan cities. While nice to not sleep in a dump, Red Square-Kremlin to me trumps any other man made place. I do love CCCP stuff though. So… That explains it. I have also slept at the Russian equivalent of MIT back in the day and as a female, I had to descend four flights of stairs to use a toilet that was pretty rough.

  8. Glad you enjoyed your stroll back to the closet while in that homophobic hellhole.

  9. I totally agree with your description of the two cities. That’s why I prefer st. Petersburg much better. One thing I noticed in Moscow though, many people didn’t want to even talk to me when I tried to ask for directions. More tourists helped us than locals. I was telling my husband people weren’t that friendly there until he reminded me that some locals were probably afraid to talk to any foreigners in fear of being monitored by the police.

  10. Thanks for this sneak peak of your trip to Russia. I am looking forward to heading to Moscow and St Petersburg about the same time in 2017. I eagerly await your full reports.

    Just an observation on some of the commentators – there seems to be a lack of internationalism, indeed a hint of parochial nationalism in some comments, that seems strange to find in a website that is totally about travel – mainly international.

    One of the joys of travel for me is to both measure other cultures against the ones I’m used to, and to delight in the differences. I love that the way I act and the culture that is familiar to me (and I assume is ‘right’), is not so for others. Travel challenges assumptions about the world, and offers alternatives for how to view it, and be in it.

    That’s the ‘broadening the mind’ bit, that is forever fascinating.

    Ben, thanks for the stories. Sometimes it is the path to the destination, like the story, that is more interesting than the punchline, or destination.

  11. I have always been in the minority that finds Moscow preferable to St. Petersburg. I’m very happy to read (briefly) about your experience, and I agree that you should return in the winter – you won’t believe the difference!

  12. Thank you Jesse Thomas for your thoughtful response to Steiger (and Really). If they are US citizens, they really need to look up the definition of irony. In their defense, they are just spouting the US medias (i.e. Government) message that Russia is awful and Putin is pure evil.

    Thank you Ben (and Ford) for making the trip and for shedding some light on the situation on the ground in Russia. I hope to visit there soon.

  13. Jesse Thomas, Yes, you are right. It is not the middle ages. It was just an exaggeration. Sorry.
    I know governments will keep prices low on bread, cheap beer and other “goodies” from the west to placate citizens.
    All I meant is that to visit Moscow and St. Pete as representative of Russia is ridiculous. These cities are for Communist eliters who can enjoy and afford the finer things in life.
    Most Russian people are NOT living the good life as above.
    But if Jesse Thomas or the troll who he is thinks that all is well in Russa—has buried his head in the sand.
    Duma Deputy Galina Starovoitova, Sergei Yushenkov, Yuri Shchekochikhin, Khodorkovsky, Human rights defender Nikolai Girenko, Paul Klebnikov, editor of Russian edition of FORBES magazine, Alexander Litvinenko, Boris Nemtsov and others were murdered to cover up corruption and opposition in Russia.
    And you think you know Russia???
    Things are not what they seem. The USSR (neo-Soviet Union) is very much alive.
    Ask the families of the above or other Russians who are not stone drunk and just surviving on the side of the road. But after all, this is Asia, not Europe.

  14. The best way to characterize the difference between Moscow and St. Pete’s is Moscow is a merchant city. It’s brash, loud, impersonal and fast. People there tend to be rude (by Russian standards) and it still carries the soviet grandeur of being the USSR capital and with that the Stalinist brutalism. St. Pete’s is the city of culture and Empire. It’s much more European, it’s very polite, it carries both the prestige and hauteur of being the Imperial capital. People there tend to be more intellectual, It’s more international from the outset since many residents during imperial times were from Western Europe. It’s also a bit dour because of the location and the weather.

  15. I’ve been to Moscow twice thanks to some really good fares and was looking forward to a more pleasant experience in St. Petersburg. If Moscow is indeed nicer, then St. Petersburg is one city I can scratch off my “must visit” list.

    Moscow was not very tourist friendly. Signs were not in English so no hope of reading them. (Even Beijing has signs in English.) That was particularly a problem on the subway when arriving at some of the Moscow stations with three or four levels of connecting trains. Except for a few side streets, historic palaces, and the GUM mall, the architecture was dull and boring. Even the Bolshoi (from the outside anyway) was very ordinary looking.

    One visit was in winter. That would not improve the experience for the average tourist. Russians are great at keeping their airports open. Though bus gates at SVO in a snowstorm are no fun.

    Aeroflot crews and planes were great for intra Europe first class travel.

  16. @RoloT Putin is a bad dude. You may not think so, but if you look at the murder of media members there as well as of the political opposition it quickly becomes apparent. That doesn’t mean the Russian people are bad. Putin is not the same thing as the russian people. My ex is from Russia and she always used to say that they certainly have elections in Russia, but its just that everyone knows who is going to win before they even vote. Also, the people in russia can’t just move wherever you want. If you live in the countryside you can’t just move to Moscow. You need to get government permission. There is also widespread corruption in the government and police forces. So while the neocons are overreacting I think its fair to point out that Russia isn’t a democracy and your not going to get a sense of the country by simply reading a travel blog article.

  17. I’m surprised that you did a trip to homophobic country that hunts and kills people for what they are.
    This article show how clueless and ignorant you are. A lot of people has been systematical kill. Yes every city has its flavor. But come on. You forgot to mention mention in your fabulous and idealistic article that they are so repressive and the ramped assassination of LBGT community is had to miss. . I lost all respect for this site and your reports.

  18. People people, you don’t have to agree with a nations politicians to go there and appreciate its culture, natural beauty, food, whatever. We Americans seem to delight in moralizing to others. I wanted to visit Russia since I was 14 years old and studying that inscrutable language. I really enjoyed the people and food in St. Petersburg, as well as everything else about the city. I think it is the most impressive city I have ever seen, and the art collections are jaw dropping. Did not have as much interaction in Moscow, or see as much, but it is a huge and impressive city.

  19. ” I especially hope that Ben’s & Ford’s trip helps extinguish the notion that Cossacks are rampaging through city streets hunting down gay people.”
    Ah! But they are! Just another example of officially sanctioned violence against Gays.
    @Lucky Please tell us again why we should spend a single penny in corrupt homohating Russia?

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