What is the best time to visit Moscow?
I’m writing this post in late November, not exactly the the month that you would think of as the best time to travel to Moscow. Among travellers nothing spreads as much fear as Russian winters and sitting between two overweight people on a long-haul flight.
But in this post I’ll tell you what the best time is to go to Moscow.
You will find out:
- How cold it really gets in Moscow and when winter starts
- What the weather is like in summer in Moscow
- Why fall and spring are really short in Moscow
- What to wear in Moscow for different months
- What the national holidays are in Russia and why this is important for traveling to Moscow
- What are the best months to visit Moscow
By the end of this post you will be ready to pack your bag and come to enjoy Moscow nightlife right away!
When does winter start in Moscow and how cold is it really
I’ll start with the obvious one, since that’s probably what everyone is asking themselves before they actually come here.
Is it really so damn cold over there?
Yes and no.
You have to know that the climate in Moscow is very continental. This has the effect of the air being very dry, unlike New York City air for example, which felt like a beach resort to me. Very high and very low temperatures become somewhat more bearable.
That being said, between December and March it is pretty much consistently below 0 Celsius. January and February are the coldest months and yes, you’ll easily get a few days in a row where it’s -20C or less.
Again, thanks to the continental climate though, it is not quite as bad as it sounds. If you pack yourself in in warm clothing, you’ll be good. I’ll cover that one later.
This might be good or bad news but St.Petersburg for example is much worse in that regard. I experienced -27C there and this was pretty friggin cold to say the least.
Usually the first snow falls around the end of October. From then on it depends on the year if it becomes cold immediately or not. November 2017 has been somewhat mild with very little snow.
Don’t worry about being inside by the way, Russian apartments and buildings use a generous amount of heating. Not good for the environment but you’re more likely to be hot rather than cold inside.
When does summer start in Moscow
Let’s talk summer, which unfortunately is not as long as it should be in Moscow. Usually temperatures creep up to 20C in May, right in time for the holidays at the beginning of the month. This year unfortunately was particularly bad and we had snow in Moscow as late as June, no kidding. Not the rule though.
Actual summer only lasts for a good three months, June to beginning of September. It does usually get pretty warm with temperatures around +25C, sometimes even above that. Outside it’s bearable thanks to the dry air. In the metro you’ll be sweaty and sticky though. Pretty much the same in winter to be fair.
When do spring and fall start in Moscow (and why they are so short)
The funny thing about Moscow weather is that there’s almost no spring and fall.
I mentioned how in 2017 winter kind of took spring hostage until May and even June. Usually temperatures rise above 0 celsius consistently in April, although it will still be grey and miserable a lot of the time. March, though colder, can actually be better in terms of sunshine.
End of April and especially the beginning of May is when real spring starts in Moscow. The norm is 15C+ in May but it can get even warmer (and also colder…). June is generally already a summer month.
By the end of August you can feel summer already retrieving and September is the only real month of fall in Moscow. Temperatures are still mild, so it is still pleasant to be outside.
October can be ok but can turn very grey as well. November temperatures around 0 are probably considered winter in most of Europe and the US, while in Moscow we will book this as mild and still ok.
So both spring and fall feel very short. You get a good two months of each at best and should consider this when making your travel plans.
What to wear in Moscow for different seasons
I covered style and fashion for nightlife in my popular dress code guide.
Here I want to concentrate on what to wear in winter, since it is the elephant in the room and most people should not have trouble figuring out what to wear during the other seasons. Overall though, what I mentioned in my nightlife dress code guide still hold true:
You can (almost) never be overdressed in Moscow
This isn't a fashion blog and there's plenty of resources out there that will tell you how to dress sharply. But when in doubt go for the more fashionable option in Moscow.
That being said, here's what you should bring in winter (December - March):
- A very warm overcoat or winter jacket: think thick wool or something with good isolation. Russians wear a lot of fur and for a very good reason.
- A very warm cap or whatever you prefer to cover you ears
- Good boots with a rough profile so you don't slip (in nightlife the usual rules apply, no boots but dress shoes and heels!)
- Warm gloves and a scarf should be obvious
- If you're a little chicken, or plan to stay longer than 15 minutes outside when it's below -15C, then you should bring thermal underwear as well. I don't have any and it's not necessary if you don't stay outside for too long.
Generally it is not as bad as you imagine, as long as you don't spend hours outside. Wear layers because you will be putting something on and off all the time. November and April are more forgiving and more like "normal cold" months.
What are the national holidays in Russia (and why the nightlife traveler should care about this)
Russia has a bunch of national holidays. Take a look at the calendar for 2018 below:
National holidays in Russia in 2018
- 1.1. - 8.1.: New Year's holidays (yes, the whole country gets 9 days off, crazy I know)
- 23.2. (Friday): Defender of Fatherland Day
- 8.3. - 9.3. (Thursday + Friday): International Women's Day
- 30.4.- 2.5. (Monday - Wednesday): Spring and Labour Day
- 9.5. (Wednesday): Victory Day
- 11.6. - 12.6. (Monday + Tuesday): Day of Russia
- 5.11. (Monday): National Unity Day
Can you see the pattern?
That's a lot of extended weekends right there. And since this isn't a site that tells you about Moscow's best libraries, you can imagine what this means for nightlife.
Some of these holidays aren't really that good for partying. Victory Day is such a day and so are the New Year's holidays. These are more family-oriented holidays that do not really fill the clubs.
The better ones are the February and March holidays. The earlier May holidays should be good as well, at least in 2018. Be aware that the FIFA World Cup starts on the 15th of June, so this week should be absolutely crazy in Moscow.
In general nightlife on a Sunday of an extended weekend isn't crazy good but definitely an improvement over a normal weekend. However, nightlife on a Thursday and Friday before an extended weekend is usually a whole lot better. Something to keep in mind in terms of your planning.
My advice: if you don't mind dressing a bit warmer, then visiting over the winter holidays is totally worth it and can be better than a "normal summer weekend".
What are the best months to visit Moscow
At this point you might be thinking: "That's all well and good but I don't give a rat's ass about all of this, just tell me when's the best time to come"
Ok, I hear ya. The best months for visiting are:
In that order.
You might be wondering where August is. I left it out on purpose. The very simple reason is that August is a classic down month in Moscow. Lots of Muscovites leave for holidays abroad or to their dachas and Moscow feels remarkably empty during this month. Yes, the weather is good but I strongly recommend to visit Moscow in September over August.
2018 is going to be unpredictable because of the FIFA World Cup in Russia,
On the one hand this is great because it's surely going to be one hell of a good time. I remember the World Cup 2006 in Germany and it was awesome. If Russia can pull it off half as well, it's going to be fantastic. Lots of visitors, great atmosphere and constant partying should be guaranteed.
If you're not into lots of tourists, football and artificially high prices (can't imagine we won't get those), then you're better off avoiding June and July in 2018. Come before that or come in fall.
For traveling to Moscow winter is also not as bad as you might be thinking. Especially before the New Year you get to see great decorations and experience a very festive atmosphere in the city.
Avoid April and November. These are the greyest and most "in between" months of the year, both in terms of weather and the overall vibe of the city. No one likes to be around constant grey clouds and melting snow.
Now you know all there is to know about Moscow weather and when to travel to Moscow.