What (Not) to Buy in Russia - A Russia Shopping Guide

Interior, former GUM department store
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Russia is shopping heaven for those who like the finer (or cheaper) things in life. However, while some things are absolutely worth buying in Russia, there are others that should be avoided because it’s simply not worth it to lug them from Russia to your home country. Here’s your to-buy and not-to-buy guide for Russia shopping:

Do Buy

Art: You will find a lot of vendors selling art on the street in Russia, and a lot of it will be absolutely beautiful.

And of course, if you’re an art collector, Russia is a great place to go as well.

Fur: Russians probably wear more fur than any other nation in the world. You will find the highest quality, the best selection and the latest fashion if you shop for fur in Russia.

Cigarettes: Russian cigarettes are no different from cigarettes anywhere else, but they are about ten times cheaper than anywhere in the West, so if you’re a smoker, I recommend stocking up (to the legal allowed limit, of course).

Vodka: Russia is naturally the place to buy vodka – any supermarket will deliver a higher quality and a better selection than practically anywhere else in the world. If you like vodka, make sure to bring some back with you!

Porcelain: You will find a lot of beautiful and decently-priced porcelain in Russian shops and markets. Unfortunately it’s a pain to bring back with you because it’s so fragile, so I would recommend not buying too much!

Matryoshkas (Nesting Dolls): Of course Russia is a good place to buy Matryoshka dolls. Depending on how serious you are about wanting some, you can buy collector’s item-type-dolls in upscale souvenir shops right down to cheap Chinese knockoffs from street vendors. For medium prices and medium quality, look in regular souvenir shops.

Chocolate: Russian chocolate, and chocolate candy, is delicious, and all Russian people find it irresistible. A particularly famous brand is Красный Октябрь (Krasny Oktyabr’ – Red October), with its famous Soviet-girl-adorned “Alyonka” candy. You can even visit the Krasny Oktyabr’ factory (and shop) in central Moscow. Another good brand of chocolate is Бабаевский (Babayevsky) – it’s been around since the early 1800s!

Caviar: Russians love caviar and produce some of the best in the world. Watch out, however – buy only from vendors that seem reputable, because illegally- (very cruelly- and unsustainably-) produced caviar is very common in Russia. As well, be forewarned that customs officials will only let you take in a sealed (glass) jar no larger than 250 ml back home with you.

Do Not Buy

Makeup: There is no point in shopping for make-up in Russia – it is difficult, expensive, and the quality is the same as everywhere else in the world. Unless you’re looking for a particular Russian brand of make-up (unlikely, as Russians wear mostly French or Italian brands), stay away from the beauty shops during your visit.

Perfume: Likewise, there isn’t any reason to buy perfume while you’re in Russia – it will be overpriced and the brand selection will be identical to the rest of Europe.

If you are a perfume lover, I might make an exception to this statement to recommend checking out the duty-free shop before leaving Russia. Russian women do love perfume so the selection will probably be overwhelmingly large, even if the prices are not particularly lower than other shops.

Brand Name Clothes, Shoes, and other Goods: As with make-up and perfume, don’t bother shopping for brand names in Russia. While Russians (especially Russian women) love brand-name goods, the prices in Russia are hiked up to a ridiculous extent, in large because of the high import costs.

Books: If you need a book while traveling through Russia, you will have no shortage of wonderful bookstores to choose from. However, unless you’re looking for literature in Russian, there’s really no reason to buy books there.

The English-language selection is usually quite limited and the prices are, again, much too high.