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Our “Your Layover Guide” series features destinations around the world where you’re likely to be stuck between flights, offering tips on navigating and spending time in the airport, as well as some things to do if you find yourself with time to explore the nearby city. In the wake of the TPG’s exclusive $399 airfare deal from Houston to Moscow and her own post on How to get a Russian Visa, TPG Contributor Katie Hammel guides us through Moscow’s Domodedovo International Airport (DME).
Of Moscow’s three main airports, Domodedovo International Airport (DME) is the largest. In fact, it’s the largest and busiest of all Russia’s airports, serving more than 33 million passengers annually, and is generally recognized as the country’s best. If there are two Russias — the one of frustrating bureaucracy, oppressively large Stalinist buildings, dour design and Communist ideals, and the one of frustrating bureaucracy, oppressively large modern buildings, high-tech design and luxury-obsessed oligarchical ideals — then Domodedovo represents the latter. It’s flashy and modern, but still quintessentially Russian.
Its two terminals (international and domestic) are joined together in the form of one massive shiny glass building, and are within walking distance of each other. There’s currently a project underway (expected to be completed in December 2016) to expand the airport’s footprint —with about 61 football fields’ worth of space. Eventually, after a third expansion in the later part of the decade, the airport will be more than 9 million square feet in size.
Note that while in some cases you can transit DME without a visa, US passport holders must have a Russian Visa to enter Moscow.
At the Airport
Domodedovo has all the basics services you’d expect of a modern international airport, but no extra-special bells and whistles. There are banks, currency exchange offices, ATMs, a post office, internet kiosks (free Wi-Fi is available throughout the airport), a kids’ center, 24-hour medical clinic, a chapel and a mosque.
In the lounges, of which there are 11, service tends to be cold at best. Two 24-hour business lounges are operated by Domodedovo, one in the international departures area and one in the domestic departures area, and are open to Rosbank cardholders and premium passengers. British Airways, Lufthansa, Austrian Airlines, Swiss International Airlines and S7 operate lounges in the International Terminal and should accept passengers traveling on partner airlines, but that doesn’t always happen, as rules in Russia tend to be changeable and sporadically enforced.
In the domestic terminal, there’s a UTG Travel Club Business Lounge (for UTair, Saravia, Kogalymavia, Volga-AviaExpress and Belavia passengers) and an S7 Comfort Lounge. Those without lounge access can use the showers in either of the airport-run Business Lounges for a fee. There’s also a Thai Spa (2nd floor, sector D) offering Thai and Balinese massages and other spa treatments like wraps and scrubs.
There’s a left-luggage facility in the underground level of the terminal.
Though bread lines are a thing of the past, Russia has a large (and growing) gap between its poorest and wealthiest citizens — and you can easily see which demographic is catered to by the airport. There’s no shortage of designer clothing, international perfumes and luxury-brand cosmetics on offer, as well as jewelry and crystal from Swarovski, Swiss watches from Consul, Viennese jewelry from FREY WILLE and high-end tea from Mlesna.
For a lower-cost souvenir of your time in Russia, there’s vodka from duty-free; matryoshka nesting dolls from Moscow Souvenirs; or, this writer’s choice, a faux-fur Russian hat from Accessorize (which also sells handbags, costume jewelry and other accessories). For other basic needs, there are multiple shops selling snacks and books, toiletries and over-the-counter drugs, luggage, and mobile phones and accessories.
In the main terminal area, there’s a Pub Spaten serving beer, pizza, sandwiches and Russian pancakes (like crepes, only made more delicious with liberal amounts of sour cream); a Subway, Burger King, and Sbarro; Paprika for Indian cuisine; Yamkee, a create-your-own noodle or rice bowl restaurant; and Uzbek and Pan-Asian options.
In the domestic departures area, grab coffee and strudel or schnitzel from Viennese Juluis Meinl, or try Kroshka-Kartoshka, one of the largest fast food chains in Russia, which serves its specialty: a baked potato with your choice of toppings, such as salmon, crab, ham, pickled vegetables or cheese. (There’s a second location in the international terminal.) Additional options for international travelers include Snack Bar, Shannon’s Irish Bar, BENVENUTI Italian and Due Colonne pizzeria e ristorante.
Travel to the City Center
Domodedovo is located 42 kilometers (26 miles) southeast of Moscow and is accessible from the city via bus, taxi, and train. A taxi will cost around $45-55 one way; with no traffic, the ride will take about an hour, but there’s almost always traffic. CNN ranked Moscow as the second-most congested city in the world. Add together the traffic of LA and San Francisco and multiply it by the absurdity of Russia and you can begin to imagine how bad it is. Bottom line: Avoid taking a taxi unless it’s during off hours.
The better option: The Aeroexpress train has direct service from the airport to the central Paveletsky Railway Station. The nonstop journey takes about 45 minutes and costs 420 rubles (about $7). A commuter train is also available, though it takes about 30 minutes longer. If you need to transfer to Sheremetyevo Airport, there’s a 24-hour bus that makes the connection in about two hours.
If You Have Half a Day
Though the Aeroexpress train will get you to Paveletsky Railway Station in about 45 minutes, it’s another Metro ride (about five minutes) plus some walking, to get to the Kremlin, Red Square and St. Basil’s Cathedral, which are clustered close together, relatively speaking. Given the time it takes just to descend into Moscow’s Metro (the stations are among the deepest in the world) plus transferring stations, 90 minutes is a more realistic time frame for the journey from the airport to Red Square. That said, if you can be assured of at least a few hours on the ground in the city, you can get a perfunctory look at its highlights.
Start in Red Square, one of the most iconic squares in the world, which borders the Kremlin and St. Basil’s. Contrary to popular belief, the square’s name has nothing to do with Communism. The square’s Russian name is Krasnaya Ploshchad; Krasnaya can mean either “beautiful” or “red.” In and around Red Square, you can visit Kazan Cathedral, the State Historical Museum, the massive and absurdly lavish GUM department store and Lenin’s Mausoleum, where you can view the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin. On the south end of Red Square sits the colorful, onion-dome-topped St. Basil’s Cathedral. One of the city’s most famous landmarks, it was commissioned in the 1500s by Ivan the Terrible, who, legend has it, blinded the architect after he completed the church so that he would never build anything more beautiful.
The main draw of the area, though, is the Kremlin, which contains five palaces, four cathedrals, the Armoury museum and the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. The best way to see the Kremlin is on a guided tour; most include admission to the Kremlin but there’s a separate fee for the Armoury, which is only open at certain hours (10am, 12pm, 2:30pm and 4:30pm, closed Thursday, and tickets must be purchased 45 minutes before entry). It’s worth the extra cost and effort though, to see the famous Fabergé eggs and hundreds of jewels that once belonged to the tsars.
If you have more time, keep walking southwest from Red Square along the Moscow River to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a recent recreation of a 19th-century church that was blown up by Stalin in 1931. The gold-topped cathedral, which is the world’s tallest Orthodox Christian Church, was also the site of the 2012 Pussy Riot protest that resulted in the jailing of five members of the group.
If it’s a nice day and you have additional time, continue past the Peter the Great Statue which towers over the river, and spend some time in Gorky Park.
If You Have a Full Day
While the above could easily take up an entire day, there are plenty of other ways to fill a short stay in Moscow. If art is your passion, check out the State Tretyakov Gallery of Russian art. For a different view of Moscow, head to the observation deck of the Ostankino TV Tower or take a cruise along the Moscow River.
Immerse yourself in Russian culture at a banya such as the Sanduny Baths or see a ballet at the opulent Bolshoi Theatre, one of the oldest ballet companies in the world. Go underground to visit Bunker 42, the deepest museum in Moscow, in what used to be a top-secret bunker more than 200 feet beneath the city.
You can see modern underground Moscow on a guided (or self-guided) Metro tour. Moscow’s Metro stations were designed to be the “palaces of the people” and are surprisingly beautifully given the country’s penchant for gloomy barrack-style apartment buildings. Marble, mosaics and glittering chandeliers await in stations such as Mayakovskaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsii and Teatralnaya.
If You Have the Night
If you want to stay close to the airport, the Domodedovo Airhotel sits just over 1,500 feet from the terminals, and offers a gym, restaurant, bar and free shuttle to the terminals (rates starting at $80 per night). The Ramada Moscow Domodedovo, located about three miles from the airport, also offers an hourly shuttle, free Wi-Fi, 24-hour room service, a sauna and a gym. Room rates start at around 15,000 Wyndham Points or 4,900 rubles (about $77) per night.
In the city, the stylish and modern Ararat Park Hyatt is close to Red Square and is one of the best five-star options, with a heated indoor pool, sauna and steam bath, gym, spa, three restaurants and a rooftop lounge. Rates start at around 16,000 rubles (about $252) or 25,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points per night.
If you want to feel like one of the tsars, book into the Ritz-Carlton Moscow, where rooms have an old-world elegance but no lack of modern amenities. (Basically, if Anna Karenina needed a room in Moscow, this is where she’d stay.) There’s a restaurant, two lounges, and a cafe (plus 24-hour room service), a fitness center, and Frette linens and marble baths in the rooms. Rates start at around 27,000 rubles (about $426) or 40,000 Ritz-Carlton Rewards Points per night.
On the less-expensive end of the spectrum, the Courtyard Moscow City Center offers more basic rooms with rates starting at 7,200 rubles (about $114) or 30,000 Marriott Rewards points per night. There’s an on-site spa and fitness center, and both Mexican and American dining options.
Also be aware that you’ll receive free lounge access at the Hilton Moscow when you book that exclusive $399 airfare deal on Singapore Airlines from IAH-DME — making a trip or layover in Moscow between September 1 and December 1, 2015 look all the more enticing. Happy travels!
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