In this post, I tell you about the main types of accommodations for tourists in Moscow or St. Petersburg and what criteria to follow when choosing hotels, hostels or apartments. I also explain how and where to find the best prices.
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One of the most important parts of any trip, and one that often makes up half the cost of the trip, is the choice of accommodation. Good accommodations can make your trip memorable, while bad accommodations can ruin it entirely.
In Russia you can find both excellent accommodations and horrible ones (I think more often than in USA, Canada, United Kingdom or Australia) as well. Fortunately, major online booking platforms include many reviews that allow travelers to easily avoid choosing bad accommodations.
In this post I tell you about the main types of accommodations in Russia and that I think are the most interesting when you are sightseeing on your own.
I also explain the criteria that I usually follow when choosing and booking lodging. The best option for making your reservation is usually a Russian platform similar to Booking.com.
1. Main types of accommodations in Russia
There are different levels of accommodations when staying in large Russian cities, each with its own characteristics and prices.
The three main types of options, depending on your budget and the amenities you desire, are: hotels, tourist apartments and hostels.
In Russia you can find both internationally renowned hotel chains, such as high- quality international chains as well as excellent local hotels that do not belong to any chain.
In recent years, major 3-5 star international hotel chains have proliferated. They are often located in downtown areas and mainly distributed in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi.
By the end of 2019, international hotel chains boasted a total of 150 hotels in Russia with over 33,000 hotel rooms. More than half of these hotels belong to three major international hotel groups:
- Accor Hotels. French hotel chain that has spread quickly throughout Russia in recent years. Already has 23 hotels and plans to have more than 80 in 2020. This group operates under the commercial brands Mercure, Ibis and Novotel. Personally, it is one of my favorite options since it has options for all price points and in great locations.
- The Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group. American hotel group that, by the end of 2019, had 30 hotels in major Russian cities under brands such as Radisson and Park Inn. Another excellent choice for hotels.
- InterContinental Hotels Group. A British chain with 15 hotels under the brands InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza.
Other chains in Russia include Marriott, Hilton, Best Western, Hyatt, Swissotel, and Lotte, a Korean hotel group whose only 5-star hotel in Moscow is the highest rated in Russia.
Besides the large international chains, there are also some major Russian hotel chains that also operate in other countries, such as Azimut Hotels Group or Intourist hotels, owner of the legendary macrohotel Cosmos, located northeast of the Russian capital and built to meet the demands of the Olympics Games in Moscow in 1980.
Alongside these large hotel chains, there are a number of local 3-5 star hotels that do not belong to any hotel chain, or so-called mini hotels.
1.2. Tourist Apartments
Tourist apartments have proliferated in recent years in Russia. This is a good way to travel if you go with family or a group of friends or if you’re going to Russia for a more extended stay.
They are located near the city center and are usually very well equipped. In many cases these are apartments that have been renovated in old Soviet-era buildings and are managed as tourist accommodations.
While the interior of the apartments is usually pretty good (some are pretty luxurious), the buildings exteriors are often very neglected and damaged. Therefore, you often will not find published photos of the facade or interior courtyards of these buildings when researching this option online.
For younger people, such as students, or for people traveling alone, hostels are a good option. Hostels usually offer bunk beds and shared bathrooms.
This is a form of cheaper housing, designed as a place to meet people from around the world.
They are usually very well located and some of them are very highly rated by their guests. You can usually stay in these types of accommodations for very affordable prices (less than 10 dollars per person per night).
2. Factors to consider when choosing your accommodations in Russia
Personally, I look at four main points when booking accommodations: location and easy access to public transportation; price; free cancellation; and reviews from other visitors.
2.1. Location and easy access to public transportation
If you’re a tourist in Moscow, I advise that you stay in a central area that is located within the first ring of Moscow and is located near a subway station.
The ideal is to be able to walk to the Red Square in about 30 minutes or, at least, to have a metro nearby. One area that I particularly like, although it is more expensive, is Arbat, whose heart is Arbat Street, which is surrounded by historical buildings and is itself another major tourist attraction. This area also includes the Tverskoy neighborhood near the Red Square and is characterized both by old architecture and new business areas.
More information in this article: Where to stay in Moscow: the best neighborhoods and hotels for tourists.
Below you can see the location of Moscow hotels with the Red Square marked with a yellow pointer:
In St. Petersburg it is also advisable to stay in a central area that is located close to the Hermitage Museum or Nevsky Avenue, to access most tourist attractions on foot. These include the Peterhof Palace, which you can access by boat from the pier opposite the Hermitage (although you can reach it by bus much more economically).
Below you can see downtown St. Petersburg hotels from the Hermitage and along Nevski Avenue (yellow pointer):
Everyone’s budget is different. Obviously it will be more expensive to stay closer to the city center and during the summer time.
Prices vary widely and can range from 10 dollars for a night in a hostel, to 300 or 400 dollars for a double room in a five star hotel downtown such as the Lotte Hotel Moscow. Although it should be noted that the 5-star hotels in Russia often do not have the same level of quality that you can find in other countries. You can find well located 5 star hotels at fairly reasonable prices (less than 100 dollars for a double room).
The average price of 3 and 4 star hotels would be between 60 and 180 dollars, depending on the location and amenities offered.
Regardless, it is always good to compare prices at several hotel booking platforms and reserve the hotels via one of these pages. Below I explain how you can find very good deals on Russian web platforms (like Booking.com).
2.3. Free Cancellation
I always try to book accommodations that allow free cancellation until shortly before arrival. You never know what can happen when you are planning a trip well in advance. Also, if later on you find a hotel that you like more, you can always cancel your hotel and book a new one.
You should bear in mind that even though you have to list the hotels where you will be staying in advance, as part of the visa application process (they should be listed in your letter of invitation or visa support), nothing happens if you decide to cancel your hotel reservation and book another. There may be many reasons to do this and you do not have any reason to be tied to a hotel.
However, do keep in mind that the reservations that allow you to cancel can be more expensive.
2.4. Opinions of other visitors
Before exploring a hotel option in more detail, I always read the opinions of other guests. Their reviews can give you clues as to whether the customer service is good, if the hotel is clean, if the food is good, if the wifi reaches the rooms, or if the hotel is quiet or noisy.
In this regard, booking websites with the highest number of guest reviews are the best and this is why, to me, Booking.com is a great website to use.
3. Websites for booking acommodation in Russia
There are many websites for booking accommodations in Russia, among which I would like to highlight the following:
- Classic reservation platforms like Booking.com, allow you to book all types of accommodation: hotels, hostels, apartments, etc.
- Platforms for making reservations with international hotel chains: Accorhotels, Radisson, Intercontinental, etc, where you can book rooms from the aforementioned chains.
- Websites of local hotels (eg Hotel Metropol)
- Websites of tourist apartments like Airbnb.
- Russian hotel reservation platforms. The most used by the Russians to travel within the country are Ostrovok (in Russian and English) and Oktogo (only in Russian). Ostrovok usually has very good deals and I recommend that you at least check this site before choosing accommodations anywhere.
It is always good to check more than one platform and compare prices. I recommend using two: Booking.com and Ostrovok. The first will allow you to read reviews from other Italians and tourists and Ostrovok should be used for the actual online booking since prices on this platform are often much cheaper than you will find on Booking.com.
There are many different types of accommodations where you can stay during your visit to Russia: hotels, whether international or local chains; tourist hostels; or apartments. The choice of one or the other may depend on many factors: budget, number of people, age, personal preferences, etc.
A great option is to stay at hotels in any of the international chains in Russia. Some of these chains, such as Accorhotels, have several options (Mercure, Novotel and Ibis) in various price ranges depending on the level of amenities offered. The same is true of the Radisson Hotels.
There are also many good 3-5 star Russian hotels in the city centers. Before making your choice, it is always good to read the opinions of other visitors.
For larger families or for extended stays, apartments can be a good option, while hostels are a good choice for young people, students or solo travelers looking for something cheap but well situated in the center.
In any event when booking a hotel, it is always important to read the opinions of other visitors and compare prices between different platforms such as Booking.com or Ostrovok so that you can find better deals.
I hope this article has helped you to choose the best accommodations for your stay in Russia and at the lowest price.
Do hostels also provide letters of invitation for Russian visas?
A follow-up question, Irena, Once I obtain my letter of invitation and visa, how do I register when I arrive if I am staying in a friend’s flat? Is it better to stay one night in a hotel to get an initial registration and then go to my friend’s flat? Or does my friend need to register me? Or just how does this registration work? Thank you. Don
1. Will my ivisa pdf letter of invitation be sufficient or will I have to pay for originals? I am applying by mail through Houston ILS.
2. Can I apply for a 3 year tourist visa with this single entry letter of invitation for this trip?
3. Can I apply for a 3 year tourist visa when my passport expires feb 22, 2022? Could I request dates that just will out my current passport?
Thank you, Irena!
I am visiting St. Petersburg from the U.S. I hope to stay in a flat with friends. I am wondering if I can use a service like iVisa, get a letter of invitation and the visa, but stay with my friends? Thank you for your thoughts, Don
You can use iVisa to apply for a tourist visa (not private visa). When you request the invitation, indicate that it is an Airbnb apartment or include a random hotel. Once you have obtained the visa you can stay at your friends house
I am staying near the Suvorov museum in Saint Petersburg. Is it too far from the centre?
Thanks for your hard work on the visa part. That part is the most confusing for westerners and the most complicated. How would you feel about changing the structure of the articles? Maybe, one article on applying for a visa if you happen to live in the same city as the consulate, another if you don’t and have to apply by mail? And then include any potential problems or snags with the plan. I kind of understand about making a larger date range than the dates I need. So, if I fly to Scandinavia between June 1st and July 1st and hope to enter Russia through Finland around June 15th and stay for a week, then I can just specify the whole month of June and the Russian border guards will be fine with that? Then, you can give links to visa expeditors for the people, like me, who have to mail it all in. Cause I live in North Dakota.
– I consider your suggestion but it is a lot of work.
– You can enter and leave Russia within the period established on your visa.
– Mail service: http://www.ils-usa.com/page…
Dear Ms Irena,
Your site is very helpful. In fact, I booked HERMITAGE MUSEUM (SPB) tickets online without problem.
Can you advise me what are other tourist places (in MOSCOW apart from KREMLIN) which can be booked online (within RUB 1000/person) as I planned to travel during 18 – 20 JUNE’16. I wanted to avoid ques.
Appreciate your wonderful help for first time visitors like us,