What to buy in Russia: your cheat sheet for best souvenirs (Part 1)
Updated: Nov 6, 2018
When it comes to souvenir shopping in Russia, first things that come to mind are all-time classics like matryoshka dolls and fur hats. Those would make a great present certainly and along with other Soviet-inspired items can be found in abundance at the flea market of Izmailovo Kremlin. But if you don't have that much time on hands, or simply want to save yourself a 30 min commute all for one matryoshka that you promised to your 4-year niece, just get it in one of the stores of the city centre, be it GUM (ГУМ) or Okhotny Ryad (Охотный ряд).
Now let's move on to other memorable pieces that some of my foreign friends and itinerary service users packed in their suitcases when travelling back home.
It doesn't always have to be a traditional costume of the peoples from Northern Russia. Although those are certainly very aesthetically pleasing, Russian designers have been stepping up their game, and there is definitely a good choice of more wearable items to purchase both for yourself and your friends. If you are in town when Lambada market takes place, that is a perfect event for unique pieces hunting. What expects you is plentiful of local designer and vintage clothes, as well as homeware, accessories and skincare.
To bring home great memories of cultural visits, keep an eye for special editions of clothes and accessories at Moscow museums. The Pushkin State Museum and Moscow Museum Of Modern Art normally stock a good selection of items. At Garage Museum of Contemporary Art go for t-shirts and sweat shirts which are released with selected exhibitions in mind. Visiting creative spaces like Artplay and Flacon are also a great way to satisfy your appetite for the latest design and art trends along with one-of-a-kind pieces shopping.
Head to Bosco sport for cute mittens, hats and scarves with Russia inspired designs. Official uniform supplier of Russian Olympic team has large stores in GUM and Tverskaya street. In terms of department stores in the city centre Tsvetnoy (Цветной) and Podium Market set aside quite a few corners for produce of Russian fashion creators.
Here is also an idea for an accessory that is both reach in history and still very much wearable - get one of the Russian shawls. Pavlovo Posad scarves and shawls (Павлопосадские платки) or Orenburg down scarves (Оренбургские платки) are probably in every guide book of shopping recommendations. And for a good reason.
They look great and are super warm, come in different sizes and fabrics. If you like scarves from big fashion houses like Etro and Dolce Gabbana, a lot of their designs are a la Russe inspired, but are a ruble or too more expensive :).
One important thing to note is: beware of lower quality and counterfeit. To be on the safe side I can recommend buying from one of the many stores that are official distributors of the original factory.
To tart up your dining room
If beautiful kitchenware is something that that tickles your fancy, direct your attention to some of the finest porcelain locally produced.
The oldest and most trusted manufacturer in this matter is of course Imperial porcelain factory. Their beautiful works have been on the market since as far back as 18th century and are available from many of the official brand stores and distributors among Moscow and St Petersburg.
Another well known species of handcrafted items for your dining room and interior is Gzhel. The brand (which is actually a name of the area where the magic started about 7 centuries ago) makes jars, cups, plates and many other household objects you can think of. Pieces are hand-painted in very recognizable blue and white patterns.
Again, as with any pricey souvenirs of artistic nature, beware of fakes! You don’t want that ‘porcelain’ tea set 10kg in weight that you got for your grandma for crazy money to turn out to be ‘hand-painted’ by AliExpress craftsmen on lower quality pottery. Unless you are an expert with tons of experience in telling real things and cheap imitations apart, always go for an official shop of producer.
Podstakannik (подстаканник) is an interesting contestant for your cupboard collection. This is essentially a carved metal glass holder with a handle. Those guys have been used since 19th century to serve hot beverages on sleeper trains and are said to demonstrate better stability than a normal cup in a moving train compartment.
Could potentially make a nice gift for someone who dreams of undertaking a Trans-Siberian journey by rail. Find them in many souvenir shops around the city centre.
And lastly, if all of the above is too gimmicky there is always good old Starbucks matryoshka tumbler. Such a hit!
To pamper your body and soul
This section is my personal favourite, and I am guilty of stocking up on these products myself religiously. And truth be told, the next couple of paragraphs are slightly more female friendly, than the rest of the post. Which makes recommendations suitable either for lovely ladies themselves or someone who would like to buy a useful souvenir for a lovely lady.
Might not be the first thing that comes to your mind when thinking of Russia, but natural and organic cosmetics is something really worth looking into when making a shopping list.***The country is so spread out in terms of climate zones and consequently so rich in unique plants and herbs, that it would be a crime not to make use of it. Let’s mention here a bunch of brands that put put goodness of nature into formulas for making high quality skin and body care.
The first one is the biggest and probably most well-known outside Russia. Natura Siberica has a fantastic range of products for body, face, hair, oral care, spa and even their smallest customers. The variety of exotic ingredients can boggle your mind: northern cloudberry, Altai seabuckthorn, Daurian rosehip, Siberian black crowberry… On top of that, the packaging looks great and contents smell deliciously. Best spots to browse for these beauty items are brand's own stores which stock the biggest choice of product lines.
My other two favourites when it comes to bodycare essentials are Organic Shop and Planeta Organica. Both can be found at Organic Shop chain of multi brand natural cosmetic stores, which gathered more than 80 producers under their roof. Both use natural extracts and oils their formulas, free of parabens, silicones and other nasty stuff. What to buy: body scrubs, body butters, hair masks.
A special mention goes to the guys from Splat who have combined goodness of some of the most efficient and safe components with science and innovation to create a wonderful range of professional products for oral care. Honestly, these toothpastes are great. I always have a bunch of different flavours in my bathroom cabinet.
***For those most devoted bio/natural/eco shoppers: make sure to check every single product for percentage of natural and organic ingredients. It differs from brand to brand and product to product. For example, it might be that the brand has only certain ingredients that are organic/bio certified.
Hope you enjoy your shopping in Russia and stay tuned for Part 2 of this guide. If you would like a more detailed consultation on planning a trip to Moscow or inspiration for activities in general, send me a message . I would love to hear from you.