The Moscow winter is notoriously long. Of course, there will be those magical days of frost and sunshine when you can stroll through the woods and slide down the hills. But then there are those grey days when you need an injection of light and colour to see you through. Here are some suggestions for cheap and easy ways to beat the early winter blues. 1. Visit a house-museum
Moscow has nearly 100 different house-museums where some famous person's furniture and documents are preserved in a reverential shrine for visitors. They include apartment blocks and palaces, cottages and dachas. Sergei Yesenin's little wooden house and Maxim Gorky's Art Nouveau mansion are both free. The tiny room where avant-garde poet Vladimir Mayakovsky lived and died is the centrepiece of an incredible, surreal exhibition that takes up a whole block of flats near Lubyanka. It costs 90 roubles for foreigners - less if you can persuade them you live here.
2. Check out a church
If you're struggling along the icy road under a lowering sky, try looking into a church. The smell of beeswax, glimmer of votive candles on icons, frescoes and (often) the haunting choral service combine to cast a spell that lasts beyond the church doors and carries you through the wintry streets in a holy glow of gratitude. Since there are no pews and services are long, there is usually no objection to visitors discreetly coming and going (although women should cover their heads).
There are a staggering 400-odd churches in Moscow and nearly all of them are worth seeing, from the tiniest chapel in a side street to the grandiose Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the tallest Russian Orthodox church in the world. The styles are various: from the baroque Menshikov Tower near Chistiye Prudy with its scrolls and cherubs, to the elegant Art Nouveau Intercession church in the Martha and Mary convent, with frescoes by Mikhail Nesterov.
3. Run round the rynok
Another very different dose of colour therapy is available in the city's fruit and vegetable markets. The "rynok" is a great place to shop and it costs nothing to wander through. The more central markets such as Dorogomilovsky or Danilovsky are picturesque but expensive. They tend to be correspondingly generous with free samples and die-hard cheapskates could probably get a meal's worth of tasters. Rizhsky Rynok, near the Rizhskaya metro station, has a good line in flowers, and strolling past the banks of roses and chrysanthemums is a tonic on a winter's day. Floral teddy bears are arranged alongside the flesh and blood of pigs' heads and fish in tanks.
4. Take the tram
For cheap sightseeing, try riding the slow but scenic trams across the city. All you need to do is pay 25 roubles to the driver to get a ticket. The No. 39 tram runs from Chistiye Prudy all the way to Universitet, past great views of the Kremlin and the Danilovsky Monastery. For more unusual routes, hop on at Voikovskaya (perhaps before or after mooching round the mall - see 8). The frequent No. 23 travels west through woods and over bridges to end near Serebryany Bor. If you don't feel like sampling the outdoor delights of the "silver forest", just catch the next tram back again as far as Shchukinskaya. The views across the huge Strogino lake from Zhivopisnaya Ulitsa ("picturesque street") are particularly good at this leafless time of year.
5. Sample a stolovaya
The old Soviet "stolovaya", or canteen-style diner, is alive and well in modern Moscow, with the Grabli chain providing competition for the well-established Mu-Mu. The restaurants look smart, the food is fresh and tasty and the prices are low. When you start to look for them, the city is actually packed with hidden canteens, from the top floor of GUM to the basement of the old University buildings. There's a characterful bakery-stolovaya with a leaky silver samovar on Tsvetnoi Bulvar a few doors left from the metro. The fanciest décor has to be at the Restoranny Dom Tsentralny, in the old gastronom inside the Stalin skyscraper on Kudrinskaya Ploshchad.
6. Go to a gallery
Art galleries are popping up all over Moscow. Lots of them are free. One of the best is the funky red-brick Winzavod, a converted wine factory near Kurskaya Metro. Their changing exhibitions of in-your-face modern art or conceptual installations may not be to everyone's taste, but they are usually diverting. This month's include "Purple Study", paintings by Robert Fry, and "The Age of Silver", landscapes by Ivan Boiko. The complex has a café, art shop and frequent indoor fairs and markets.
7. Admire the metro
Moscow's largest art gallery spreads the length and breadth of the city under our feet. The famously elaborate metro stations are always worth a second glance. A 22-rouble ticket entitles you to unlimited sightseeing. The 1950s stations on the brown ring line tend to be the most over the top. Have a look at the series of gold-backed mosaics on the ceiling at Komsomolskaya, designed by the artist Pavel Korin. They represent scenes from Russian military history from Alexander Nevsky and Dmitry Donskoy all the way through to WWII. On the way, you can see General Suvorov in the snowy alps and Kutuzov on the field at Borodino. For a contrast, try the elegant Egyptian-tomb grandeur of Kropotkinskaya or the playful majolica decoration at Rimskaya.
8. Mooch round the mall
They're not as lively or authentic as the markets, but shopping malls, with their shiny marble floors, clean loos and well-lit spaces, are sometimes just what you feel like. The Metropolis in Voikovskaya, which opened earlier this year, has been a pleasant addition to the local landscape, a place where you can hang out and pick up free English-language papers. Prices on the food court are cheaper than at the coffee shops.
9. Budget coffee breaks
For a less sterile environment, there are some hideaways with cheap coffee and great atmosphere. One of the city's best business lunches is at Club Petrovich, through a grey metal door in the far left corner of the courtyard behind 24 Myasnitskaya Ulitsa. The help-yourself buffet is 180 roubles, but you can get a coffee for just 50 roubles and the décor is fantastic. Another little gem is the café at Bulgakovsky Dom, in the courtyard at 10 Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa. The red velvet chairs and salon-gloom are enhanced by the free museum, enormous cat and satanic undertones.
10. Take in a show...
Theatre and concert tickets are one of those few things that can be good value in Moscow. Sure, you can pay up to 12,000 roubles to see a Bolshoi ballet in the evening, but for an opera in the morning, tickets start at 60 roubles if you book far enough ahead. The Novaya Opera in the Hermitage Gardens is a colourful option if the Bolshoi is sold out. Tickets for their unashamedly traditionalist productions start from 100 roubles. Several other theatres and concert halls offer similar bargains if you get there in time, from Gogol's comedies at the Mayakovsky to "War and Peace" at the Fomenko.
Addresses and times
Sergei Yesenin Museum, 24/2 Bolshoi Strochеnovsky Per., m. Serpukhovskaya, Wed.-Sat. 11 am-5 pm
Gorky House, 6/2 Malaya Nikitskaya Ul., m. Arbatskaya, Wed.-Sun. 11 am-5 pm
Mayakovsky Museum, 3/6 Lubyansky Pr. m. Lubyanka, Fri.-Mon. 10 am-5 pm
Christ the Saviour Cathedral, 15 Ul. Volkhonka, m. Kropotkinskaya
Menshikov Tower, Arkhangelsky Per., m. Chistiye Prudy
Intercession Church, Martha and Mary Convent, 34a Ul. Bolshaya Ordynka, m. Polyanka
Dorogomilovsky Market, 10 Mozhaisky Val. m. Kievskaya, 7 am-8 pm
Danilovsky Market, 74 Mytnaya Ul., m. Tulskaya, 8 am-6 pm
Rizhsky Market, 88 Prospekt Mira, m. Rizhskaya, 7 am-6 pm
Restoranny Dom Tsentralny, 1 Kudrinskaya Pl. (Kudrinskaya skyscraper), (499)255 4744, m. Barrikadnaya, 10 am-11 pm
Winzavod, 1/6 4th Syromyatnichesky Per., m. Kurskaya
Metropolis, 16 Leningradskoye Shosse, m. Voikovskaya, 10 am-11 pm
Mayakovsky Theatre, 19/13 Bolshaya Nikitskaya Ul., m. Pushkinskaya, www.mayakovsky.ru
Fomenko Theatre, 29 Naberezhnaya Tarasa Shevchenko, m. Kutuzovskaya, www.fomenko.theatre.ru