Welcome to Moscow: locals keen to show visitors a good time

Modern and full of history it may be, but Moscow does not always show its welcoming side to foreign visitors. RT has looked into ways to make your Moscow trip a unique and memorable experience.

Pierre-Paul and Christiane have traveled from Belgium to discover that the city can be a tough nut to crack.

“We had a lot of trouble getting our visa. There was quite a lot of red tape,” Belgian tourist Pierre-Paul Boegen told RT. “The city certainly impresses, but the traffic jams are appalling. It takes ages to get where you want and taxis are expensive. Everything’s in Russian – you feel lost if you don’t speak the language.”

They are not alone in finding the experience daunting. A recent independent poll shows that after visiting, more than 80 per cent of tourists do not want to return – that is if they make it to the city in the first place.

Last year Paris welcomed more than 15 million overseas visitors, London more than 14 million and New York almost 10 million. For Moscow the official figure is a humble four million – and only 15 per cent of them were tourists. It seems the Russian capital is better suited for doing business than seeing the sights.

Indeed, Moscow-based travel agencies say their international clients complain of the lack of places to visit apart from the obvious Kremlin and Red Square. Tourists also see security issues, pollution and unfriendly locals as key problems.

Now though, the city is out to shed its frosty image. A new public project’s been set up to make it more tourist-friendly.

“Our web site will be in eight different languages and it’ll have information about what to see and where to go. It will be offering various discounts as well,” Valeria Shpileva, from Wow Moscow Project, told RT. “We’re also planning a network of tourist information desks across the city, so that even if you come here alone, you’ll still feel at home.”

Meanwhile, city authorities have launched a series of advertisements to promote Moscow and are planning to invest more than $2 billion over the next three years to make it a tourist heaven.

To start with, street signs in English are springing up across the capital. There is also now an alternative to wandering through the city alone or taking a guided tour along the beaten track, namely, discovering Moscow through the eyes of Muscovites.

The Moscow Greeter initiative offers free walking tours of the city with a local resident. Dedicated volunteers, mostly foreign language students or teachers, are eager to reveal the capital’s hidden gems that the guide books have overlooked.

“We took the idea from New York,” Zoya Shurygina, volunteer at Moscow Greeter Project, told RT. “The main aim of Moscow Greeter is to show less popular sites, different from the classic ones. You just go to our site, moscowgreeter.ru, and fill in the request form and here you are.”

To first-time visitors, Moscow may seem anything but their oyster. Still, with a big tourism-boosting effort underway, the city may well be able to take you far beyond the clichés.

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