1. Take your student card whenever you go to museums, as you will almost always get a discounted price or even free.
2. When you go up to the counter just say один in your most convincing Russian accent, as the price for foreign students can be higher than for Russian students.
3. Always ask before you take photos of people. Some people don’t mind at all, others will get very offended and even give you a telling off and make you delete the photo.
4. I would advise you to take your HIV certificate with you. In Moscow I didn’t have to get another one, but in Saint Petersburg, if you didn’t have your certificate from the UK, you had to get another one. In some places though, you may have to get one in Russian, but it's worth taking the English one anyway. For people living in London, there is a place called the Mortimer Street Clinic, which does HIV tests for free and provides you with a certificate and the test only takes about 60 seconds to determine the results.
5. Speak as often as possible and try to make as many Russian friends as possible. It will help you in so many ways.
6. Take thermals, or (for girls) thick woolly tights, to wear under your trousers. I was in Moscow in November and it went down to -27°C. I am always cold, but even all the most hardened of boys in my class were wearing them! Take good gloves and thick woolly socks. I found that the best sock combo was cotton underneath and then woolly on top!
7. You can buy a month or three month pass for the metro. You will use the metro every day, so this is definitely worth investing in.
8. For theatre, ballet, sporting events and pretty much any performances I used Kassir or Ticket Land. You can look at what is on over a month, or by theatre, then you can either book and pay online and get them delivered (at a cost), or you can pick them up at one of their offices around town (for free).
9. A hostel called Godzillas offers visa invitations and registration, even if you are just staying for one night. It is also a very nice hostel with clean big rooms, two kitchens, internet and friendly English speaking staff.
10. If you’re going to get a ‘gypsy cab’ (often to make a bit of extra cash, people will pick you up on the street and take you where you want to go for a reasonable fare), then never get in one which has more than one person already in it. Also avoid having to get a cab on your own.
11. Use Time Out and read the magazine Афиша to find out what is on in bars and around town.
12. For accommodation, if you want your own flat/room share then a really good website is Expat. People post flats, rooms and other various things, so you can pick and choose who you reply to. If you are looking for flats though, it is very common in Russia to go through an agency, so be aware that you will have to pay an agency fee.
When I arrived in Moscow, it was Autumn and Vorobyovy gory (Sparrow hills) was surreal! The hills lead up to Moscow State University and curve around the River Moscow. If it's a nice day, it is lovely to wander up through the forest and walk to MGU where you can get an amazing view of the city.
Izmailovsky market is a great place for souvenir shopping. Make sure to barter though, as the vendors will try to rob you blind... Great for amber jewellery, fur hats, soviet memorabilia etc. Make sure to check out the stalls on the first floor of one of the buildings, where babushkas and old men come to sell things which just seem to be bits of junk from their house! Great photo opportunities!
Walk down Novie Arbat on an evening (not in Winter) to encounter some of the city’s most talented (and some not so talented!) musicians, dancers and various other artists. Even though Moscow is a huge city, don’t be afraid to walk around and get your bearings. Though take a map at first! Bolshoi Students can get tickets to see performances at the Bolshoi for just 20 roubles! (about 50p) Go to the касса about an hour and a half (two if it is an esteemed performance) with your student card and stand amongst the other gathering students. You will then be let in to fight for the first forty tickets.
If it's winter, go ice skating in Gorky Park. They spray the paths with water, so that you can skate around the whole park - loads of fun!
Go inside St Basil's, it is beautiful and not what you would imagine at all. For the archetypal Russian church, visit Elokhovskaya Orthodox Church on ул. Спартаковская by Baumanskaya metro which is lovely.
See some ballet. My favourite theatre was the Musikalny Teatrim. K. S. Stanislavskovo i Vl. I. Nemirovich-Danchenko. The tickets can be pricy, but if you book well in advance (either at the касса at the theatre or using Kassir) then you can get tickets for a very reasonable price. I saw Swan Lake, Carmen and the Nutcracker and all three were incredible!
Pushkin Fine Arts Museum
The Gallery of European & American Art of the 19th–20th Centuries, which is part of the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, has an incredible collection of Impressionist art. Guaranteed that any well known artist you can think of, there is at least two or three of their paintings. Remember to take your student card for a скидка (discount).
If you’re feeling flush, then go for a fancy breakfast at Pushkin café where breakfast is quite reasonable (the hot chocolate is also amazing!). It is an incredible place where they make you feel like royalty.
Try some Uzbek, Kazak, and other tasty eastern cuisines. Sashlik, chebyrek, khachapuri, lavash, plov... all delicious and cheap for the most part. For the most incredible cheburek, go to the restaurant/bar of the same name on yl. Покровка (opposite the cinema 35MM). It is also a great bar, soviet themed, where пиво нул пять (half a litre) starts at 40 roubles, the cheapest I found!
If you’re a chocoholic, you have to try a горячий шоколад in one of the many Шоколадница cafés around the city. Just pure melted chocolate, brilliant!
If you’re interested in film check the Художественный cinema for festivals. When I was there, they had a festival on for two weeks and the films were free. 35MM is a good cinema which also hosts film festivals and Rolan too.
My favourite bars
1. Gogol (Столешников пер., 11. Metro: Кузнецкий Мост) Great place for a dance and there is often live music, a very fun club.
2. Kitaiskii letchik (Лубянский пр., 25/12, стр. 1. Metro: Китай-город, Лубянка). An underground bar which also often hosts live music. Good, cheap food and a great atmosphere with small tables and low lighting.
3. Cult (Яузская, 5. Metro: Таганская, Китай-город) Another good one for dancing, good DJs and music.
4. Mos proekt (CAO Club) (1-я Брестская улица, 13/14 Metro: Маяковская) Often has dub-step nights, electro, hip hop and dance nights too. Check out Афиша for more details.
5. FAQ café (Б. Полянка, 65/74. Metro: Добрынинская). Amazing labyrinthine bar that is very cool. Relax in one of the bunk beds, or hide in one of the nooks and crannies overlooking the bar. Great place to meet up for drinks.
6. Masterskaya (Театральный пр., 3, корп. 3. Metro: Кузнецкий Мост). This bar is also a theatre and often screens films. Check Time Out for details.
Travel as much as possible, get to see Russia outside of the cities. I had a fantastic trip to Archangelsk where we got drunk on the train with Russians, stayed in an общежития, took a boat trip across a frozen river and went to a banya and were whipped with birch sticks by a naked babushka! (The banya is a must by the way!)
Keeping your finger on the pulse
Read local papers and find out what is on around town (i.e parades, protests) and go and have a look. Though obviously if it is a protest, don’t: get too close, speak English too loudly or take photos.