When one comes to Moscow and asks about things to do, a ubiquitous recommendation is to visit Izmailovsky Market in the northeast of the city. The market is home to plenty of matryoshka’s (aka nesting dolls or “those dolls you open and there are progressively smaller ones inside”) and other goodies, and whether you’re a local, a tourist, or an expat, odds are you won’t come away empty handed.
If you’re visiting, plan your trip for the weekends. While I’ve never actually had the time to go during the week, plenty of other expats have mentioned that the trade off for less visitors is fewer vendors/less selection. Going on the weekend will make you feel like an NFL fullback due to having to squeeze by plenty of fellow bargain-seekers, but at least there’s more to jostle for. Another warning is that you should bring cash, and a fair bit of it. Vendors obviously don’t have card scanners, and I’ve never seen the food vendors with them as well. I hope that you’re ready to see how well of a diplomat you can be because, as with most markets, you’ll do quite a bit of haggling. If you don’t speak Russian (and I can’t blame you there if that’s the case) or not as much as you’d like to, I’ve run into a solid amount of vendors who know at least a smidgen. (By that, I mean they know prices in English/how to set the final bill.)
Right away as you step out of the metro (m. Partizanskaya), you’re greeted with the facade of the Izmailovsky Kremlin in the background. As you enter, the lovely sounds and odors of the vendors and food smack you as their unique way of greeting you. From the very get-go, plenty of stands offer opportunities to buy matryoshkas and “Soviet army” hats, but the real deals come further along in the market. Personally, while I know plenty of people want to buy Russian matryoshkas, the stands closer to the entrance offer more generic ones.That being said, there are a wide variety of them, and I’ve seen some rather bizarrely out of place NFL-inspired ones (that clearly cater to Americans) interspersed with politically-themed dolls. At either rate, this is heaven if you love and/or collect matryoshkas.
The caveat of the market is that you should be prepared to fight for the prices in what evidently is a time honored tradition here. Fight might be a stronger word than intended, but don’t be afraid to stand firm for the price(s) you think are appropriate; that being said, don’t be obnoxious and massively undercut the seller. This doesn’t have to entail a ton, but for example, I saved a few hundred rubles on a vintage map of Central Europe by standing firm and trying to find a decent middle ground. Sellers appreciate canny consumers, that’s for sure.Also, walking away if you find better prices is key. Be like a vulture flying high above a dying animal in the desert-know when to swoop in for that killer price.Don’t be afraid to outright tell sellers “that guy across from you sells the same thing for 200 rubles less than yours”. Remember, as the consumer, your money talks!
Once you get past the touristy areas, real gems manifest, and again, knowing some Russian helps tremendously. As I mentioned a few paragraphs earlier, vendors know a varying degree of English, and that more authentic the product they’re selling, the odds of them being able to hold a conversation decreases. Heck, I’ve seen some old army gear, miscellaneous trinkets, and lord knows what else Russians want to depart with. Oh, and if you want an authentic piece of Russian merchandise, there was a sizeable collection of shirts that prominently featured President Putin. I know this, because I shamelessly bought one with him riding a bear. All in all, it’s a real hoot!
So, Izmailovsky Market is something I would highly recommend experiencing should you ever find yourself in Moscow!