The Ultimate Guide to Russian Souvenirs & Where To Buy Them

Russian souvenirs

Where to find the best Russian souvenirs in Moscow & St. Petersburg:

From authentic Russian nesting dolls to the best artisan Russian gifts

When it comes to souvenirs, Russia has so much on offer: from matryoshka dolls with red-cheeked faces to painted lacquer boxes, grand headdresses, khokhloma, and Russian sweets. In this guide, I will introduce you to all manner of Russian souvenirs, from things you’ve seen in the media to artifacts you most likely haven’t heard of. 

This guide includes yummy foods that transport well, and also a bunch of certified shops across St. Petersburg and Moscow that sell souvenirs for those of you who are picky enough to search for something specific, or of a higher cost. As I am Russian myself, I really tried to bring you a well-rounded account of the best things on offer. So without further ado, let’s get started!

Russian craftsmanship and local artisan souvenirs

Gzhel Russian souvenirs

Gzhel

This beautiful craft started in its namesake village in the 17th-century, where masters painted and crafted all sorts of objects from cutlery to toys. Historically, Gzhel painting used to encompass a myriad of colors, switching to the instantly recognizable cobalt blue in the middle of the 19th-century with the increasing popularity of porcelain.

Due to its popularity, it is often copied. A good way to determine whether you’re dealing with real Gzhel is to make sure it’s porcelain and not faience, which is typically thicker than porcelain. Keep an eye out for the factory stamp as well.

The price for Gzhel objects ranges widely depending on the difficulty, size, and design. A tea set could cost $50-100 and beyond while a small saucer could cost $5.

Khokhloma painting on wood Russian souvenir

Khokhloma

Khokhloma is another painting technique instantly recognizable thanks to its rich gold backgrounds and detailing that make the wooden crafts look festive. One of the most instantly recognizable Russian objects is a wooden spoon with Khokhloma. To achieve the desired effect, a mix of lead and special linseed oil is used.

Prices for Khokhloma objects range from as low as $5 to hundreds of dollars. In short, there’s something for everyone.

Pavlo-Posad shawl Pavlovo Posad shawl

These flower-filled shawls originated in Pavlovo Posad in 1795 and have taken the world by storm in the middle of the 19th-century. The recurring theme of the shawl has remained the rose, although there are too many variations to count. Originally the pattern had to be applied 400 times in order to transfer it properly. Now the process and the quality have been improved, but the classic patterns are still well-loved throughout Russia.

You can expect to pay around $40-60 for a wool shawl. The price ranges depending on the materials and complexity. The original factory has international shipping options for Pavlovo Posad Shawls as well.

Vologda lace, also known as Russian Lace

Even though the art of lacing dates back to the 17th and 18th-centuries, Russian lace became world-renowned during the 20th-century. This method of Russian lacing is instantly recognizable because each work has a clearly visible forefront and background.

The most popular products made of Vologda Lace are capes and collars which can be combined with different outfits.

Price: In general Russian lace can be very expensive, with collars costing around $100 and the prices growing significantly for boleros, capes and other items of clothing.

zhostovo-tray-russian-artisanship

Zhostovo painting on trays and boxes

This type of painting dates back to 1825 and is typically executed on metallic or wooden trays. The background must remain black in order for the paints to really blossom. The Zhostovo painting focuses on flowery motifs and still life arrangements.

Aside from trays, you can find Zhostovo paintings on ornamental boxes, Easter eggs, and other accessories. You can expect to pay from $30 to $70 for a 30cm Zhostovo tray, depending on the design.

Palekh miniature

Palekh miniature box depicting the Tale of Tsar Saltan by Ivan Golikov

The masters of Palekh were well-known for their masterful icon painting in Russian Orthodox Churches. That lasted until the revolution caused them to look for a new way of showcasing their art. The palekh miniature was born when they adapted their style and technique to work with papier-mâché which became a popular base for lacquer miniatures.

Prices: Palekh ornamental boxes also fall into the premium gift as the prices can differ wildly anywhere from $30 to as high as $800 depending on the item. If you’re getting a good deal, inspect the box for the master’s initials and the place of origin. There should be a logo on the back as well and it should be signed “Made in Russia”.

Kholuy miniature

Much like their Palekh neighbors, the masters of Kholuy transitioned into miniature from painting icons. You will find a whole range of scenes depicted on ornamental boxes, anywhere from classic Russian fairytales, to architecture and cityscapes to nature and Orthodox motifs. The price range is the same as the Palekh miniatures.

Mstyora miniature

What sets Mstyora miniature apart from its neighbors is the stylistic differences such as Mstyora artists choosing decor, variety and panel styles that avoid using black backgrounds. The colors only add to the general feel of festivity. Mstyora miniatures depict fairytales, everyday scenes, and architecture. The price range is the same as the Palekh miniatures.

Orenburg shawl

Orenburg lace shawls

Orenburg shawls are knitted from goat’s down-hair which is the thinnest in the world. The knitting creates an incredibly dainty openwork pattern. The Orenburg shawls quickly became popular after winning a gold medal at a London Fair at 1862.

Price: The shawls are still handmade as in mass production the quality would be unacceptably lowered. Therefore, these handmade Orenburg lace shawls make terrific although expensive gifts. The prices on the shawls range from $40 to $300 or more.

Dymkovo whistler toys

Photo of Dymkovo Toys by Ele-chudinovsk [CC BY-SA 4.0]
The Dymkovo whistles and toys appeared in the 14th-century as a part of a pagan celebration called “Whistler” during which these toys were made and then sold at a fair. The tradition of toy-making stuck, and now it’s a piece of history.

These toys are made from red clay mixed with river sand, whitewashed and colored with natural dyes. The top toy designs are whistlers in the forms of different animals, riders, ladies and gentlemen, turkeys with fanned tails.

Price: You can expect to spend from $10 to $30 on a Dymkovo toy.

gorodets-painting-on-wood

Gorodets painting

This style of painting comes from the Volga river. It is known for its vibrant colors and fun motifs. Some of the favorite elements include flowers, a depiction of horses or cocks, as well as fun lifestyle scenes depicting the everyday lives of merchants and peasants. You will find nesting dolls painted in this style, as well as a variety of accessories.

Prices range from $5 to $50 for bigger sets or items.

Most common Russian souvenirs: 

Matryoshka Russian nesting dolls

The Matryoshka nesting doll…

is probably the most recognizable Russian souvenir ever. It’s called Matryoshka, not babushka (which means grandma in Russian). This Russian nesting doll is such a deep part of the culture that it’s hard to imagine that it was only created in the 1890s. Originally the only depicted face was a red-cheeked woman. Now, of course, you can find matryoshka dolls with celebrity faces. Open the dolls one by one to uncover other matryoshkas hiding within!

Russian Kokoshnik headdresses…

Kokoshnik Russian headdress

There’s no way you will be able to avoid seeing the fancy Kokoshnik headdresses that are sold to tourists. This headdress was a part of the national clothing for a very long time, back when women did not let their hair loose, tying it into braids instead. To complete the look, take a look at a Russian dress and tunic called a sarafan.

Ushanka hats…

Are just super handy when it comes to Russian winters. We love to make sure we’re super warm, and that includes hats with ear flaps to make sure no part is exposed, well, except for our red noses. You will see many of the hats with USSR memorabilia. This hat model is worn day to day without any references to the past, so don’t feel like you have to support a regime long gone.

Valenki…

Are winter felt boots worn with galoshes to protect your feet from the snow and slush. 

Amber…

90% of the world’s amber is sourced in the Kaliningradskaya area, so it’s no wonder that Russians love amber souvenirs, jewelry, boxes, and other dainty things. You will find it in souvenir shops as well.

Faberge Easter eggs

Faberge eggs…

Originally the Faberge eggs were decorative Easter Eggs that Emperor Alexander III commissioned as an Easter surprise for his wife. There were 71 pieces in total, 54 of them belonged to the imperial family. The Empress was so enchanted by the eggs that Karl Faberge became a royal jeweler and created them every year.

Each egg took almost a year long. The original eggs are now scattered across the world, 6 of them are lost, and the best way to see them is at the Faberge Museum in St. Petersburg.

The Faberge brand was reborn in 2007 and is now producing Faberge eggs as souvenirs, using precious gemstones. They now come in the form of egg pendants. The Faberge eggs are notoriously expensive, with prices starting from 3,000 USD.

However, you will find much Faberge-style jewelry across the stores of the capital, and while they might not be the original items, they are quite often very well-made and at typical souvenir prices, as well as more expensive versions. High-quality souvenirs are also sold at the Faberge Museum Gift Shop.

Russian sweets and food souvenirs

Russian baranki and bubliki at tea time

  • Red caviar is an inescapable part of every Russian feast. We mostly eat it on white bread with butter, but the other option well-known to the world is blini with caviar.
  • Russian biscuits are SO good, guys. There are so many varieties of bread products that are sweet, savory, and in between, and they’re often hard to find in other countries, so here is a rundown of the biscuits you just have to bring home with you:
  1. Sukhar is a rusk, which is a hard biscuit that you have to really bite into in order to chew. They taste amazing and are often made with raisins or nuts. They are perfect for a tea session. If you don’t like hard things, it’s perfectly acceptable to dip it into your tea until it softens up.
  2. Sushki are circular rusks with a hole in the middle. They’re tiny and come in a myriad of tastes. The classic ones are plain, but some have glaze on top or are made with poppy seeds.
  3. Bubliki are soft, big, and also come with a myriad of toppings. You have to eat them relatively quickly otherwise they will stiffen up. Poppy seeds are also used as a topping for them and it usually tastes amazing.
  4. Baranki are harder than the bubliki but look very similar. They keep for longer because the dough is already pretty hardened. It’s crunchy and crumbles heavily.
 

Tula gingerbread pryanik

  • Tula gingerbread (Tula pryanik) is a fantastic souvenir to bring back from Russia. It’s perfect for teatime, doesn’t spoil for a while and has the most beautiful pattern design. You can find it in basic food stores.
  • Homemade jams are a big thing in Russia. Depending on the place, you will find those made out of northern berries such as cloudberry jam or nettles jam, but the most common ones are redcurrant and blackcurrant jams, raspberry and so many others.
  • Condensed milk is a part of Russian childhood. Also, it’s a fantastic topping that goes with pancakes. It’s awfully sweet for an unpracticed eater, but it’s an absolute classic. It’s sold in tin cans with white-blue markings and it’s easy to find in the grocery stores.

Samovar with a glass in glass holder

  • Podstakannik is a glass holder common in the USSR. They are still used now, mostly in trains. The purpose is to make sure the glass isn’t rocked as much and also that allows you to drink out of a glass as if it was a cup. The holders are made out of melchior, brass and sometimes even silver. This is a great souvenir to bring home.
  • Samovar literally means self-cooker, and it’s an old-style alternative to a kettle. It is a giant decorated pot that you fill with water and heat it up. You will find the samovar appear on many Russian paintings. While it’s not widely used, most households will have at least one leftover from old times. I know we have two in my house, they stand on top of the closets.
  • Russian confections often come in wrappers with beautiful artwork. They have distinctive tastes that everyone knows (think candy bars and Ferrero). You will find them in most grocery stores, but you can also head to the Krupskoy candy stores that are all over St. Petersburg (see all addresses here). Some of the best ones to try are Bear in the North (‘Mishka na Severe’), Squirrel (‘Belochka’), Grillage. The Alyonka chocolate bars are also very well known.

Where to buy Russian souvenirs in Moscow Russia

Birch bark boxes "Beresta"
“Beresta” Birch boxes

Where to buy Russian souvenirs in St. Petersburg Russia

  • Souvenir market next to Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood
  • Dom Knigi bookstore for postcards and small souvenirs: Nevsky Ave, 28, St Petersburg
  • Podpisnyye Izdaniya bookstore for wonderful unusual postcards and literature on Russia: Liteyniy Ave, 57, St. Petersburg
  • General souvenirs: Naslediye Souvenir shops on Nevsky Prospekt b. 32, b. 29, b.22, and b. 11 (yeah, there are a lot of them and they stock basic souvenirs but also artisan workmanship like gzhel, lacquered boxes, amber jewelry and more)
  • Underground pedestrian crossing to the Gostiny Dvor – Nevsky Prospekt metro station have souvenir shops at a better price
  • If you want to buy souvenirs where Russian people buy them, check out the Knizhnaya Yarmarka Dk Im. Krupskoy at Obukhovskoy Оborony Ave, 105, St Petersburg. They sell books, stationery, gifts, amber jewelry and more.
  • Samovars are sold at Mir Samovarov at multiple locations: Ligovsky Ave, 43/45 Б, St Petersburg. There’s another accessible shop at Gorokhovaya St, 69. They also sell birch boxes.
  • Pavlo-Posad Shawls are sold at Nevsky Atrium at Ulitsa Marata, д.1/71, 3rd floor. There are plenty of other souvenirs sold at this location too but the shawls are licensed and authentic.
  • Souvenirs can also be found at Perinnyye Ryady Dumskaya Ulitsa, 4, St Petersburg. There are Pavlo-Posad shawls there as well on 2nd floor, pavilion B15.
There you have it, the full guide to Russian souvenirs! Which one would you buy?
Which Russian souvenirs do you need to buy and where to find them in Moscow and St. Petersburg: gzhel, khokhloma, matryoshka Russian nesting dolls, candy, Russian food and so much more.

#Russia #travel

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