Can I book just a guide from IWIR without any museum admission, and decide which places to visit in Moscow as we go?
In Moscow, as well in many other cities of Russia, guided tours in museums and other venues such as themed parks may require advance booking and guiding permit, moreover, museums and venues may have limited admission capacity. This is why we strongly recommend discussing your itinerary with your agent beforehand and book admission to the sights you wish to visit in advance.
Can I book a hotel with IWIR together with my Moscow sightseeing programme?
IWIR focuses on building tailored sightseeing programmes from airport pick up/ drop off to guided tours around Moscow and tickets to shows and performances.
For individual travellers we will be happy to offer a selected hotel booking, however, in modern day it is more cost efficient for you to go ahead and use one of the reputable online hotel booking services because the hotel rates are based on occupancy expectations and the online booking services will indicate the best deals of the day.
For group travel, IWIR will be happy to offer a hotel that fits into the programme best complete with a group rate. Feel free to message or call to discuss the options available and assess the cost.
What language shall I use when placing an inquiry and messaging with IWIR Travel agency in Russia?
We can communicate with you fluently in German, English and Russian. If you write in another language, this may cause some delay.
Can a I hire a private guide who will also be my driver in Moscow through IWIR?
IWIR is focused on safety and quality of services, and this is why we always provide a guide and a chauffeur driven vehicle.
First of all, the parking is limited in Moscow, and usually if you use a guide-cum-driver you have to drive first to the parking lot, and then walk from that parking space to the venue you’re visiting, and this can be tiring and time-consuming. Whereas if you have a dedicated driver, you and your guide can be dropped off at a desired destination, and the driver then move on to a parking lot and wait for a telephone call, and then he will pull over to a spot most convenient to pick you up.
Secondly, using your guide as a driver is not safe – during sightseeing tours or transfers from a sight to another sight there is always a lot to cover, and giving such a saturated narrative requires a lot of attention, whereas driving requires attention, too. In a way, it’s the same as talking on a phone while driving, which is prohibited in many countries, including Russia. Therefore, for safety reasons, we never offer such an option.
In short, using a dedicated driver and a professional guide makes you sightseeing experience pleasant, convenient and time efficient.
I would like to book a Moscow private tour for a whole day but skip lunch, is it possible to do?
We are happy to accommodate your wishes but, in our experience, going on for 8 hours in a row can be quite exhausting, and having at least a coffee break with a light snack makes sightseeing a more enjoyable experience. Another reason is that guides provided by IWIR all work according to the Russian Labour Code, and this legislation stipulates that all employees must be provided an opportunity to have a lunch break during an 8-hour working day.
In short, if you’d like to skip a full sit-down lunch (we usually accommodate 1.5 hour for lunch), we suggest you take at least half an hour coffee break, and make it a cultural experience, too – our guide will suggest a location that would be special in one way or another, be it some local specialties, fancy views or simply a place that’s en vogue with the locals.
Shall I consider a dress code for any sights or venues on our itinerary in Russia?
Russia is a European country, so general European/Western dress code rules apply. Casual dress code is ok for sightseeing, and wearing comfortable shoes is strongly recommended – there are many pedestrian-only areas in Moscow, and there is a lot of walking.
However, there are certain things that we recommend considering before setting off on a tour in Moscow or St. Petersburg:
- In churches, certain dress code applies. We recommend men avoid wearing shorts, ladies avoid wearing tank tops or blouses revealing shoulders (in this case, a shawl thrown over your shoulders can remedy the situation), and both genders should avoid wearing ripped jeans, otherwise admission cannot be recommended. Some churches offer oversized pants for rent. In many churches, headscarves for ladies can be suspended with, but carrying one just in case is highly recommended.
- In restaurants in Moscow and St. Petersburg, certain dress code may apply. We recommend avoiding wearing shorts and/or flip-flops or sandals for men, and avoiding sweatpants and tracksuit wear altogether. In general, the rule of thumb is dressing casual elegant, and this would fit almost all occasions.
- In theaters in Moscow and St. Petersburg, people do dress up, however, theaters (unlike some restaurants and churches) do not enforce a dress code - you could turn up to the theatre wearing anything and be permitted entry. However, we strongly recommend dressing up a bit just to feel in synch with the crowd, and, if you bring a fancy dress or a blazer, a theatre visit would be a perfect occasion to wear it.
In short, dressing elegant casual would fit all the occasions – combined with elegant yet comfortable walking shoes.
Can I pay with a credit card anywhere in Moscow? Shall I carry cash in Russia?
When you come to Russia and plan to visit the major cities only, you can expect that your credit card will be accepted almost everywhere – at hotels, restaurants, museums, metro, supermarkets and malls (but not taxis!). However, this applies to Visa and MasterCard, whereas other payment systems such as American Express, Diners Club, or China Union Pay are not accepted in many places except major hotels.
Nonetheless, we recommend carrying at least 100-200 euro or US dollar cash worth in roubles, and you may need the roubles cash in the following situations:
- Leaving a tip at a restaurant (the Russian accounting system cannot accommodate adding a tip to your bill paid by a bank card, so tipping 10% of the bill in cash is recommended if you’re happy with the services, of course);
- Paying a street vendor for a souvenir, making purchases at a market or even buying the famous GUM ice cream – the GUM ice cream kiosks do not accept bank cards;
- Paying for taxis – the majority of local taxis do not have POS terminals for bank cards, and you can either pay cash, or pay via online app that you need to install first and link your bank card to your taxi app account;
- Some souvenir stores will offer a better discount for cash payment;
- In situations when the Internet connection is down and the business establishment cannot process your bank card.
Also, we strongly recommend carrying cash if you travel outside of Moscow and off the beaten tourist track, e.g. to a remote Russian countryside place.
For foreign currency exchange tips, please refer to the next FAQ 8.
What is the best way to exchange foreign currency into roubles in Moscow?
There are several safe ways to exchange your foreign currency in roubles, but we would like to start with the situations to avoid.
Foreign currency exchange DON’Ts:
- Do not bring into Russia your national currency if it’s not euros or US dollars. Even British pounds are accepted at very few banks, and the cross rate is usually not good. As for all other currencies in cash, you will struggle to exchange them as there are very few places that accept them, if any.
- Do not rush to exchange your euros or US dollars at the airport because the exchange rate at all the Moscow airports is at least 15-30% lower than that in the city.
- Do not exchange currency at a street exchange office because they often run scams slipping in fake money or cheating on the rate.
- Do not accept offers from individuals (in front of exchange office) to exchange your currency because you may end up with fake rouble bank notes.
Foreign currency exchange Dos:
- If you would like to bring foreign currency cash into Russia and exchange it into roubles, always bring either US dollars or euros because other national currencies may be difficult to exchange.
- The safest way to exchange euros or dollars into roubles is inside a bank. Banks operate 9.00-18.00, usually Monday through Friday, some banks are open on Saturdays, too.
- Another way to get roubles is to draw roubles in cash from an ATM. Make sure you use an ATM inside a bank or inside a hotel. The bank commission may apply.
We hope these tips and recommendations will help you stay safe, avoid losing money and make you stay in Russia trouble-free and enjoyable.
What is the tipping culture in Russia?
Russia is a tipping culture, and tips for quality service will be much appreciated. We hope that the tipping guide bellow will help. Please, note however that it is customary to leave a tip in cash in roubles, so having small bills on you is recommended.
Waitstaff at restaurants
While most restaurants will note at the bottom of the menu that taxes and service charge have already been included in the bill, it's still common for diners in Moscow and St. Petersburg to tip the service staff. A figure between 10% and 15% is customary, but this is dependent on the quality of service. Minimal tip at a bar would be 100 roubles. Please, note that even if you pay with a credit card, it is better to leave a tip in cash because the Russian accounting system does not accommodate adding a tip to your bill. It is not customary to tip at fast food establishments or street kiosks.
Taxis in Moscow and St. Petersburg are cheap and plentiful, and therefore tipping the driver is a common occurrence. Generally, a small tip of 100 roubles is given because a ride across the city center is rarely over 1000 roubles in cost. Usually, passengers will just round the fare up to the nearest note and allow the driver to keep the change. Please refer to FAQ 10 for further explanation how to hire a taxi safely in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
Valets, bellboys and coat check attendants
Again, it's customary to tip hotel staff and valet drivers but it’s not always expected, so don’t worry if you don’t have any change on you. Most guests would give around 200-500 roubles, but you should give them slightly more if your luggage is heavier, or if you have a lot of suitcases. Also, the cold season is long in Russia, so many places – from restaurants to museums and theatres - have coat check facilities. A small tip, usually 50 roubles per coat, will be much appreciated.
Spa and beauty therapist
Depending on the particular treatment, tips will vary from 500 roubles to 10%-15% of the treatment value. Smaller treatments such as manicures would warrant a smaller tip, whereas a bigger tip would usually be given for a haircut or massage.
Guides and dedicated drivers
Again. If you’re happy with the services your guide and driver have provided you with, you can tip your guide, general guidelines are USD50 (3500 roubles) per small group per day, or USD5 (350 roubles) per person per day for bigger groups. As for the driver, general guidelines are USD15 (1000 roubles) per small group per day, or USD1-2 (100-150 roubles) per person per day for bigger groups. As always, gratuity will be much appreciated but in no way expected or mandatory.