Pretty much anyone you ask will try to advise you not to do it. But in reality, it's much more common and acceptable practice than some might lead you to believe. Besides, not every tourist thinks of buying those tickets 3 and more months in advance. Sometimes it's nice to be able to decide on the spot and go with your mood.
This kind of freedom will certainly cost you extra. But if everything everywhere is sold out, you've got to do what you've got to do, right? You ain't made all this trip for nothing.
Just to make you feel better about it, know that on any given summer day up to 40% of all visitors will end up buying tickets through some sort of bit-less-than-official mediator. Demand for evening shows on Historic Stage is rife, and oftentimes even local people will resort to this option.
So here's my top 3 of best scalping options for you:
3. A guy named Sergei
Whether you're seriously determined to buy Bolshoi tickets or don't even want to hear about them, chances are, you'll still encounter Sergei at some point throughout your visit, and he'll still try too sell you those tickets.
This is The Guy pushing Bolshoi tickets on Red Square to foreigners. He knows every single guide that ever visited it with a group of tourists, and he's there so constantly that at some point you just start thinking that maybe there are 2 or 3 Sergei twins that take shifts one after another not to miss a single opportunity.
And if you've already visited Red Square with a tour where you saw some guy approaching your guide with some questions about tickets. And now you're thinking, 'Wait... was that?..' - Yes, it was Sergei. There's no other guy like that there.
You know how they say that all people in the world know each other through a chain of maximum 5 friends in between them? Well, for all Moscow guides Sergei is, basically, all 5 of them.
And I feel like he deserves to be on this list, first, just for his inhuman effort and unyielding persistence. And second, because the man's actually got tickets, pretty much at any point.
And as a person who's witnessed groups of foreigners buying tickets from him several times, I can absolutely guarantee you - this guy sells only legit tickets. No need to go to the theater and double-check them later. Whatever he brings to you are the real ones.
Here's his phone number: +7 (985) 923-02-82
Don't really need to call him. Just send a WhatsApp message. Don't start from afar, like, 'Is this really you?' or 'Do you sell tickets?' Yes he does. Go straight to the point - 'Hello! Found your number online. What Bolshoi tickets do you have for today or tomorrow?' And that's it. He'll normally respond in 2-10 minutes. With something like, 'Ballet Swan Lake, today at the Historic Stage at 7:00 PM - 6000-14000 RUB per ticket'. At this point just ask to send the exact seat numbers available for the desired price category and compare what he sends you with this map here.
Now, Sergei is a man in his late 40s, try to keep the conversation on point. Also, he's an entrepreneurial type. If a random foreigner writes him from out of nowhere, he'll try to charge you the highest price he can possibly conjure at the moment. So make sure you dedicate some time for haggling there. There's always a room for that. Remember, most of the time you can find tickets even for the busiest shows for 5000-7000 RUB a ticket.
If you like what he's offering, just tell him where you'll be ready to meet him. He can deliver them to you to any place within the walking distance from Red Square. If not, politely say you'll think about it and never write again.
Pluses: You know that those are legit tickets. There's always a room for haggling. He accepts other currencies.
Minuses: Doesn't accept anything but cash. Will likely have sliiightly higher prices than other scalpers (as a premium for the whole Sergei brand, I guess).
My second suggestion will be those professional scalping people with a very decent website:
First of all, this is one the very few big scalping operators that has an official English version of their website. Second, they have very competitive prices comparing to other scalpers. Third, they always seem to have more tickets available that others. And finally, they have an incredibly well-functioning map of the theater on the web page that'll make your seat selection process as smooth if not better than on the official site of the Bolshoi.
They don't have a regular mobile number that you can send your WhatsApp messages to, but they promise to maintain a decent level of communication if you call them to their regular stationary phone: +7 (495) 150-25-05.
Alternatively you can just make a reservation online, and they'll contact you themselves. They will be much more eager to do so if you have a Russian SIM-card by that point.
The one time me and a group of my tourists actually bought tickets from them, we ordered them to be delivered to the entrance of the Bolshoi Theater itself, so that we can check right away with the official theater employees whether those are real. Which is something I would recommend you to do as well. And also to pay with cash only after you've determined the tickets' validity.
There was nothing suspicious in the way they behaved when delivering them. Not even some slight weird hiccup that would've made us thinking that we were not getting what they'd promised. But scalping... is that kind of line of business, dealing with which you better take all precautionary measures possible, just in case.
However, if you feel like their website is too good for them to just blatantly screw you somewhere along the way, then you can order delivery to any part of Moscow that they promise to do on the same day, absolutely for free.
Pluses: Decent prices for scalpers. Amazing digital map of the theater. Accept cards. Free delivery.
Minuses: No haggling whatsoever. No formal guarantees of delivery if you're paying by card.
1. Dudes right in front of the theater's main entrance
To me, personally, this is a pretty strange phenomenon. Every night starting from two hours before the main evening show the Bolshoi's main entrance starts looking a bit more like a flee market than a portico of a super posh place. A bunch of people looking somewhat opposite of regular theater-goers try to push those overpriced tickets to anyone who gets even close to that entrance. And they do it because they know that anyone in that area at that time is probably looking for them.
I once stopped at the corner of the building just waiting for someone one summer evening for 5 minutes. There were 2 random ladies, one Russian and one foreign, asking whether I was selling tickets one after another. I certainly though to myself that I should've shaved and put on at least a blazer for decency's sake before stopping there. But I also started thinking about just how deeply entrenched this phenomenon is, and how much of an important role it probably plays in the theater's business model.
Because not only that everyone around seems to be in on this, the theater itself seems to be excited to have them there too. Sergei keeps being offended every time I introduce him as a scalper to tourists. He says, 'Yo, I'm an official Bolshoi ticket distributor'. And I guess those people would say the same if you asked them. And there's probably some legal explanation as to why are they so open about what they are doing, and every time almost force you to go with them and verify your ticket with theater guards after you buy it. But eventually, the whole process looks and sounds no different from if you were buying them from a dude in a trench coat in a dark alley. So I'll just refer to them as scalpers here for clarity's sake.
But no matter how you choose to call them, nothing else beats those people in terms of the price and ease, with which you can buy Bolshoi tickets on the second hand market.
You always know where to find them, they are always in front of the main entrance 1-2 hours before the start of every show. You have tickets almost always available there (98%) of the time. And there are the widest opportunities for you to haggle there than with any other second-hand retailer.
Because there are several of them, there's always some competition among them. Even if two or three of them stay in front of you and are swearing that there could possibly be no lower price for those seats, you can always find a fourth one standing a bit aside and ask him whether he wants to sell his tickets faster than his colleagues here.
Everything here depends on how audacious your haggling skills are. You will get overcharged eventually. But if you manage to get super-overcharged in that place - that's on you.
I was once doing a tour with a black lady from the States, who decided to test there how local haggling works herself. And she, eventually, managed to cut the price to about half of what they originally offered to her that made me feel slightly bad for the scalpers themselves. It seemed like a couple more minutes of that kind of negotiations, and they would end up owing her some money instead.
One strategy can be to ask for prices and then just wait a bit if no one wants to drop it. Their prices usually change according to how likely they feel they are to sell those tickets today. If no one's buying them for a while they'll give you a bigger discount. But it can backfire. If more people start buying than they've expected, they'll raise prices for the remaining tickets even further.
Just make sure you don't try to negotiate with them with your date present. It'll be too easy for them to make you feel bad about not trying to spend as much as you can on that wonderful lady. Unless it's you wife, who's always in on all sorts of weird adventures.
Also, don't be in a three-piece. If they see that you're already determined to get there this evening, they'll try to squeeze as much as possible from you.
Pluses: Almost guaranteed availability on any day. Immediate ticket check with theater employees. A lot of room for haggling. They can potentially accept foreign currencies.
Minuses: If there are only few tickets left, the price can go up to some absolutely unprecedented levels. They accept only cash, obviously.
Well, this will do it for my best advise on buying the Bolshoi tickets through scalpers. I hope it helps you to find you best overpriced but not-that-overpriced offer and enjoy the famous theater even if you decided to buy tickets on the same day as the show.
At the end of the day scalping is a huuuge global phenomenon that people haven't really found a definitive cure from yet. And many even consider it a sort of necessary evil in our society. Because you might be overpaying but actually getting tickets that otherwise might not have been available. So don't hold much grudges against them even if it feels like you're somewhat overpaying. At least you're there, eventually. And some people that would've been blocking your might not be there because of scalpers as well.
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