For years, Moscow hotels were plagued by the same Soviet-bequeathed deficiencies the city's other service industries had: poor value, inconsistent service, and a limited selection. These days, the situation has improved over what it was five or even three years ago, but progress is still slow. Four- and five-star luxury behemoths still dominate, although there's also a growing number of unfrilly, steel-and-Plexiglas business hotels that fill their rooms with exhibition-goers and salespeople. Unfortunately, only a handful of places in the center could be called both intimate and affordable.
That said, the glitzy affairs that crowd ulitsa Tverskaya and other boulevards downtown are world-class, with soaring marble foyers, celestial spas, and increasingly gracious and well-trained staff. Many of them replaced or transformed old Soviet gostinitsas (hotels) beyond recognition—both architecturally and service-wise. The magnificent Radisson Royal spread red carpets over the remains of the former Hotel Ukraine and became the top luxury business hotel in the city. A sparkling InterContinental (the first in Russia) arrived at the site of former Minsk hotel on Tverskaya. The Moscow Ritz formerly known as Intourist and steps from the Kremlin, still sets the gold standard for opulence and fine service in the city. All eyes are on a much-anticipated opening of the Four Seasons on Manezh Square, designed to be a replica of the iconic Soviet Hotel Moskva, famous for having its image on the label of Stolichnaya vodka.
Moscow's hotels live up to their dubious reputation as the most expensive in Europe. A major shortage of worthy choices still plagues the midrange segment, especially inside the Garden Ring. Within those bounds, you might have to scour every side street to find a room for under 6,000R a night, and for that price, you typically won't get the breakfast spread and heated pool you could expect at a typical chain place in the U.S. However, amenities are improving rapidly. Once the norm was plywood furniture and tarnished polyester upholstery, but now furnishings are sturdier and there are softer linens on firmer beds. (Plenty of hotels still haven't taken up that ubiquitous mouse-brown carpeting, though.)
A glaring Soviet carryover is in the approach to service. The customer is not always right at many midrange hotels, so it helps to treat the staff with extra care when making requests and even when asking questions. And ask questions you should; because standards vary widely, it's advisable to ask about everything you might want—including turndown service, assistance with concert tickets, and no-smoking rooms—before booking. Another pitfall to keep in mind when booking is the 18% VAT Russian hotels impose. Although in most cases the amount is already added to the room price, some hotels (particularly the upscale ones) prefer to charge that on top of the listed price. Read the fine print and rate rules.
At hotels in Moscow, someone on staff usually speaks English, so you can almost always find someone who can help you. However, English-speakers typically aren't fluent, so be patient when explaining anything complicated. In general, very few people will be offended if you speak English with them—in fact, many are eager for the practice—but do ask whether someone knows the language first (Vi gavaritye pa-angliisky?).
If you're a confident traveler, you might consider renting a short-term apartment like those provided by Four Squares Apartments, as they often provide the best value. You might even be able to find living quarters near the Red Square that dwarf the suites of a luxury hotel next door. But if you want to be central, expect to pay a hefty sum no matter where you stay; for now, that's what Moscow demands.