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Layover in Moscow Airport - should we try to go to Red Square?

We have a 7 1/2 hour layover in Moscow (Sheremetyevo Airport) in late December, arriving at 7:10 a.m. and departing at 2:40 p.m. There are 4 in our group, my husband and I and our two teenagers. We are wondering if it is worth trying to venture into Red Square during our layover or if the time it too tight. We already researched this a little and know that it is best to take the train due to traffic issues. Does anyone have any experience going to Red Square during a layover? Is a transit visa the appropriate documentation that is needed? How long does going through customs/passport control usually take? Do trains run on time? Is there storage in the airport for our luggage? Any other advice? We are leaning towards not venturing out of the airport, but also don't want to miss an interesting travel opportunity by being overly cautious.

Posted by
4802 posts

Where is your next stop after the layover? The point being that Visa issues will dictate if you can do that. If you are just in transit and have no Russian Visa, then you are pretty much out of luck. Even with a Visa, you may be questioned as to why you are not proceeding to your final destination. I would contact the Russian Embassy first to find out what is allowed, if it is not an issue or you can modify your itinerary, then investigate the logistics.

Posted by
2933 posts

Paul makes a good point . From where are you arriving , and where are you going ? If you are departing the airport for the city , you will definitely need to have a Russian visa , no ifs , ands , or buts .

Posted by
2 posts

I know we would need visas to leave the airport. A regular tourist visa doesn’t seem to fit our need since we don’t have a hotel or tour sponsor, but don’t know if the transit visa works if we are leaving the airport and then returning to the same airport. Our flight is NYC to Rome with the layover in Moscow. Our question in addition to getting the right visa is - will we have time to leave and return?

Posted by
5019 posts

don’t know if the transit visa works if we are leaving the airport and then returning to the same airport.

No, it doesn't work for that. If you're leaving the airport, you need a visa. This is a non-trivial issue in Russia.

I think that makes your other question (about traffic/time needed) moot.

Posted by
2933 posts

Please don't take this the wrong way , but NYC to Rome via Moscow ? A bit roundabout ? I am coming back to JFK next week from CDG , flew direct to Rome from JFK . Also , I flew NYC to Moscow in 2017 , no direct flights , and had a layover in Geneva on the way ( same thing flying to St Petersburg , layover in Amsterdam in 2015 ) . Do you have an additional layover between New York and Moscow , I am curious .

Posted by
320 posts

Wa-i-i-t.
Yes, the transit visa will work for you, as will a regular tourist visa (you would need to get an online "visa support document" in lieu of hotel invitation). The costs will be very similar for either option.

Assuming you are ok with the idea of paying about 500 dollars in visa fees for the four of you spending a total of a couple of hours in Moscow, here's some pointers:
1. Experience: an Israeli friend of mine did just that this summer. Over the three hours he spent downtown, he did the Red Square, GUM, Alexander's Garden, Zaryadye Park, the Choral sinagogue, and three very rushed vodka shots at Kitay-gorod. I guess if you pre-purchase tickets, you could also do a (quick) tour of the Kremlin.
2. Customs/passport: depends on your terminal at SVO, but generally the immigration control proper takes 15 to 30 minutes. Typically, I shoot for 40 minutes to an hour between "seat belts off" in the aircraft and "seat belt on" in the cab.
3. Trains most certainly run on time and are generally a good option, especially on a weekday morning. With 4 pax, an Uber would be cheaper, but far less predictable.
4. There is storage (https://www.svo.aero/en/services/in-airport/left-luggage) - but your bags will most likely be held by the airline anyway.

Other advice - if you do decide to go for it, your visit will be rushed at best. If it's at all an option, consider extending the layover - or coming back for a full-fledged visit another time.

That said, I did similar layover runs in Amsterdam, Brussels, Kiev, and Paris - it's doable and can be quite fun, but rather stressful.

Posted by
320 posts

Realistically, let's consider your best-case scenario (i.e. all flights are on time; no complications at immigration; you know how to navigate the terminal and the metro system; you either have cash (roubles), or a bank card/nfc-enabled phone that you know for sure will work to pay for the metro and trains, etc):

Arrival: 7am. Catch an 8:30 aeroexpress to Belorusskaya.
Arrive at Belorusskaya station: 9:10. Get to green metro line, buy tickets, get into metro: 9:20.
Time in transit to Teatralnaya - 10 minutes (3 stops), but some of those stops (especially Mayakovskaya) are pretty cool as they are, and you might want to look around. So let's make it 20. At Teatralnaya by 9:40, assuming you got to the right exit, you should be standing in the middle of Red Square by 10 am.

To catch your flight at 2:40, you want to be at the terminal by 12:40. That means catching the 12 o'clock aeroexpress from Belorusskaya.
You literally have a little less than 2 hours.

Frankly, I'd still do it, but that's just me :-)

Posted by
582 posts

Hi Sheryl -

I'm going to bet it will take you longer to fill in the visa applications than your layover! They are very thorough, if that's the right word. We went through an agency approved/recommended by our travel company and we still had to supply other supporting documentation - the Russians can't believe that not everybody goes to university or into further education on finishing school. The process was fairly lengthy for us, and yes, they do need you passport as well.

In my view it's probably not worth the hassle and expense and already time is against you based on our experience!

It is worth doing for a separate trip in the future though. Both Moscow and St. Petersburg are worth the effort.

Ian