Unlike many modern, hipster-ish travellers, we like to buy souvenirs every time we go abroad. It’s a way of bringing home a very tiny piece of destinations we loved. We look at our magnet-filled fridge, we remember all the places we’ve been to and a smile instantly pops up. But when visiting Russia, we knew we needed to step up our game and find the perfect reminders of this magical place we are sure it will take a long time for us to visit again. Luckily for us, we found the Izmailovsky Market!
The Izmailovsky Market is a huge beautiful venue that looks like a crossover between a European fortress and an Asian temple. Once inside, you’ll find hundreds of wooden stalls selling pretty much any Russian-related item your twisted mind could imagine! If you want to know where to buy the best souvenirs in Moscow, WWII memorabilia or every day soviet items, then you are in for a treat!
After all, we both grew up hearing about this supposedly harsh, inaccessible and far-away land of Czars, onion domes and revolutions, so it’s no surprise visiting felt like a major event for us. Expectations were at an all-time high – and boy it delivered! However, after paying a small fortune for plane tickets, searching extensively for decent, affordable accommodation in Moscow (spoiler alert: we failed) and going through a complicated process to get our visa, we came to realize returning to Russia will definitely will not be as easy as going back to other countries we’ve visited before. Which brings us to the subject behind this post as we needed to make we sure managed to get our hands on the perfect souvenirs.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING THE IZMAILOVSKY MARKET
HOW TO GET TO THE IZMAILOVSKY MARKET
Assuming you’ll be staying as close to Moscow city centre as possible, taking the metro is by far your best bet.
All you have to do is take Line 3 (dark blue) heading to Schelkovskaya (Щёлковская) and get out at Partizanskaya (Партизанская). A disposable one-way ticket costs 55RUB.
Once you leave the station, you’ll immediately see the colourful Izmailovo Kremlin in the distance.
THE IZMAILOVO KREMLIN
Translated as “castle” or “citadel” in the Russian language, many people are surprised to discover there are actually many Kremlins spread all over Russia. In fact, the word is used when mentioning historic fortifications, usually surrounding castles or historic palaces.
The Izmailovo Kremlin stands as an exception. First, because the walls weren’t built around any royal residence, and second, because it’s actually a modern (2007) imitation of ancient kremlins intended to be used as a cultural complex of sorts! Be that as it may, one can’t deny its eye-candy features.
Colourful façades, fairy-tale onion domes and wooden palaces are put together in a single ensemble that looks as bizarre as it looks beautiful. Even if you’re not planning on buying anything, seeing the Izmailovo Kremlin up-close is definitely enough of a reason for you to hit the Izmailovsky Market.
WHAT YOU CAN BUY AT THE IZMAILOVSKY MARKET
As the ultimate home of all things Russian, the sheer amount of items available in the Izmailovsky Market is just staggering!
Starting with the most obvious: the Matryoshkas. There are literally dozens of stalls selling all kinds of everyone’s favourite Russian dolls, from the standard and cheaper 5-piece set, to the outrageously expensive hand-made sets with 30 and plus dolls (where you almost need a microscope to see the smaller ones). If you’re looking for an authentic nesting doll, here you are guaranteed to find one.
Items related to WWII or the Cold War are also pretty popular among the market’s visitors. In fact, there’s a whole section dedicated to this period where you may expect to find old magazines, postcards, newspaper articles, toys and even propaganda posters. If you’re a history buff like me, you’ll freakin’ love it!
Fur hats (called ushankas) also see a lot of demand at the Izmailovsky Market. And as it happens with the Matryoshkas, there are options for all tastes and wallets, although I’m inclined to say you wouldn’t want your head stuffed in some of these!
I really wouldn’t have the time to mention all the precious little trinkets I could find there, but one thing that stroke me the most was that Putin’s macho man persona is also widely spread in Russia. You’ll find tons of mugs, glasses and t-shirts with pictures of uncle Vlad most popular memes (yep, even the one where he’s shirtless). I had always thought this was not permitted in Russia… but then again that’s probably because I’m just another ignorant westerner!
QUICK TIPS FOR BUYING AT THE IZMAILOVSKY MARKET
There aren’t really any secret tips for buying here, just keep in mind you’re dealing with merchants who’ve been doing this for ages, so some common rules apply:
- It’s ok to speak in English but learn some basic Russian words. Surprisingly enough, this was the place in all of Moscow where I found most locals who could speak English! Still, speaking some Russian can go a long way when it comes to making a better deal.
- Don’t be afraid to haggle. In fact, you are expected to! Never accept the first price, as you’ll be able to bring it down a couple hundred rubles.
- …but always expect to pay more than the locals! Unless you’re accompanied by a Russian friend, you’ll always be considered a tourist and therefore you will end up paying more for whatever you want to buy. Don’t take it personal – it’s just how it is!
- Don’t buy in the first stall you see. Check out other sellers before returning to your favourite stall, and make sure the owner saw your little market research. Competition is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?
IZMAILOVSKY MARKET IN PICTURES
As one of my favourite spots in the Russian capital, I just had to promote this amazing place! Whether you want to buy a kick-ass souvenir or just do some sightseeing, the Izmailovsky Market should definitely feature on your Moscow itinerary. What will you buy here when you visit? Have you even been to this market? Let us know on the comments below!