Moscow, like the entire USSR, was heavily guarded against Western influence by the Communist Era for so long. It is still regarded as an exotic, enigmatic and powerful city.
Now, Moscow and the rest of the Russia started to be visited more and more by many tourists although westerners can’t help to feel a strange allure to discover this metropolis.
Moscow is huge, exciting and exhausting at the same time.
You say the word “Moscow” and most of the people think about Kremlin, Red Square, and images of intensely cold winters, vodka and beautiful blonde blue-eyed Russian ladies.
Of course, it is more than this. If you just visit The Red Square and Kremlin you won’t get the whole picture. To enjoy the city you need to meet people and experience the really Russian culture.
Below are a few of my personal recommendations on what to see when you’re visiting Moscow.
1. Have a walk in the Red Square
No trip to the Russian capital would be complete without a visit to the enchanting Red Square.
The Red Square is like the city of Moscow, ancient and vast, surrounded by styles of architecture of different periods. Since the fifteenth century, the Red Square was Moscow’s heart and soul. Why is it called the Red Square? Well, in the Old Russian language, the name “Krasnya” meant beautiful and it has nothing to do with red walls or communism.
The main tourist attraction within the Red Square is without any doubt St. Basil’s Cathedral, the symbol of Moscow and the most famous building in the whole of Russia. It was built by the order of Ivan the Terrible to commemorate the capture of Kazan. According to legend, the architect was blinded following the Cathedral’s completion in order to ensure that he does not plan a building of similar beauty again.
The beautiful building of the History Museum is to the north of the Red Square. It is the largest museum of Russian history, displaying a vast collection of artifacts from ancient times to date.
Facing the Kremlin’s wall there is the impressive GUM shopping mall, the oldest in Russia that looks more like a palace than a shopping mall. It has an elegant interior with beautiful arcades on three levels, all linked by foot bridges under a magnificent glass ceiling.
On the west, just next to the Kremlin wall there is Lenin’s Mausoleum.
For the burial of the Father of the Revolution, something special had to be arranged.
The result was an impressive pyramid. While the mausoleum is comparatively small from the outside, it is going deep from inside. There are two underground floors to the structure, which used to house a rest area for VIPs and the Kremlin guards and the laboratory that was once used to supervise the ongoing embalming process. Nonetheless, this is still something of morbid and it is giving you strange feeling.
These icons all represent Moscow as the political, historical, business and religious center of Russia.
2. Peep inside the Kremlin
Synonymous with Moscow, the residence of the Russian President and an ancient citadel. Home to Russia’s rulers for generations and declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, two thirds of the Moscow Kremlin’s twenty-seven hectares of triangular grounds are actually closed to the public but the remaining third is chock-a-block with some of Russia’s most treasured attractions including palaces, cathedrals, museums, squares, bell towers and a few curious and odd artifacts.
3. Enjoy the ride on Moscow’s metro
Go around Moscow fast and efficiently using one of the oldest and most beautiful underground systems in the world. More than 7 million people daily use this transport system during business week. During Stalin era metro has become a symbol of Soviet regime advantage over capitalism and the best architects and artist were involved in the creation of underground palace. It is a definitely must see attraction in Moscow.
Moscow metro is sometimes beautifully decorated. Of course navigating Moscow metro can be tricky, especially if you are not so familiar with the language. However, head straight to the official Moscow Metro Map for a handy guide with Latin letters, a description of each metro station and a great tool that calculates the exact time it takes to travel from any one station to the other!
During your stay, visit as many stations as you can.
Each stop is unique and emanates a different mood.
4. Glam up at The Bolshoi Theater
The Bolshoi Theater always has been and always will be one of the most iconic symbols of Russian culture! The Bolshoi Theater truly is one of the great cultural treasures of Russia. Since its creation in 1776 it has remained a unique architectural beauty and a true spiritual monument – a true jewel in the crown of the Russian capital. You shouldn’t miss to go to a performance. Be prepaid to buy the ticket online with 3 months in advance and pay attention for the audience hall. Generally, they use the new Bolshoi theater hall which is next to the theater building.
5. Shop for vintage at the Flea Market in Izmailovo
Izmailovo became an art market where paintings, crafts, souvenirs were sold on the Serebryanka river bank in the XVII century. Besides, there was so called grannies’ stuff: pharmacy vessels, empty perfume bottles, nacre buttons and many other used things. So original, peculiar, old fashioned articles have had a long story at Izmailovo market which is now located not far from Partizanskaya metro station. The flea market works from Friday to Sunday, the main bargain day is Saturday because there come traders from different Russian regions. Well, if you’re looking for something made in Soviet times, there are lots of flags, symbolic badges, tableware, books, fur hats, pioneer ties and many others. For book lovers there can be editions dated back to the XIX century with old Russian orthography, for amateurs of exotics there is a carpet section, national wooden furniture, the northern peasant stuff.
6. Visit the Wooden Palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich
The wooden palace of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich with 270 rooms decorated with paintings and carvings was built in 1667 without using any fasten materials, nails or hooks. It consisted of 26 buildings connected with each other by passages and halls. The whole complex was divided into male and female parts. The male part included ceremonial chambers, chambers of the Tsar and of his sons, while the female part belonged to the Tsarina and to the Tsar’s daughters.
Long after the death of Alexei Mikhailovich the palace was inspected by the Catherine the Great which ordered to carry out some minor restoration work. She was planning to make it her Moscow residence, but it was not meant to be. Instead she ordered to demolish. Two centuries later, in 1990s, authorities begun its reconstruction. The palace was turned into the museum where currently visitors can see the everyday life of the Tsar’s family.
7. Uncover the Cold War Museum (Bunker 42 on Taganka)
This top secret bunker is located 18 floors beneath Moscow in the Taganskaya area. So close to the metro, there are not only adjoining tunnels but carriages rattling past fill the concrete passageways with a whole lot of groaning noisy sound. Decommissioned and sold off at auction, this ex-military communications post is now a museum dedicated to the Cold War. Complete with KGB rooms, raid sirens, and kilometers of tunnels, this is the real experience. Not recommended for claustrophobes, but definitely for the curious and historically inquisitive.
8. Look down from Sparrow Hills (Vorobyovy Gory)
It was named after the village Vorobyovo, is a famous Moscow park, located on one of the so called “Seven hills of Moscow”. It`s a green hill on the bank of the Moskva river, huge beautiful park, pedestrian embankment, river station, and observation platform, which gives the best panorama of the city, Moskva River, and a view of Moscow State University, it`s close to. It is a good panoramic view.
9. Go up to the Ostankino TV Tower
It is an old TV tower. It supposed to be the tallest free standing structure in Europe. Go up for a great panoramic view that can give you a sense of how enormous Moscow is. It takes 58 seconds to reach the observation deck. Located at 337 meters from the ground, this rotating observatory presents an entirely new perspective. Just below the observation deck there is a restaurant serving up delicious food.
10. Take a boat tour on Moscow River
There are cruises on the Moscow River from May till October. Cruises run every 20 minutes so there is plenty of opportunity to catch one all day long.
A river cruise is an easy and affordable way to avoid the busy roads of the city center while enjoying an unimpeded view of historic land marks of the Moscow such, as the Kremlin, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Peter the Great Statue, Novospassky monastery as well as numerous bridges and churches.
The cruise vessels have a large open sun-shaded top deck and enclosed lower saloon with a bar so you can either enjoy the open air or get cozy below deck.
11. Have a stroll on Tsaritsyno Museum and Park
Step back in time to the former country residence of Catherine The Great at Tsaritsyno Park and antiquities museum. The Tsaritsyno Estate entails a huge park and gardens, with suitably dramatic archways, bridges and musical fountains (open from April to Oct). The gilded interiors were built in a mix of styles from Neo-Gothic to Renaissance, but construction stopped when Catherine died in 1796 and the palace fell into ruin until it was restored in the late twentieth century.
12. Enjoy Arbat Street
Arbat is a live, hot and beating heart of Moscow. Initially was the suburb – just right behind the Kremlin walls. Actually, Arbat was not only a street, but also a district with plenty of trade shops such as carpentry, jewellery, coinage ones and many others. It was made entirely of wood and fires which happened often seemed a real danger, thus to prevent it, streets and lanes were designed in a crooked way, as twisting ones to reduce wind power and thus fire catching.
Now it is a pedestrian zone with trade stalls, tiny shops and local cafes. It has become the Russian «Montparnasse», place, where poets, writers and painters lived.
Arbat is really easy to find, it is right in the heart of Moscow, between Smolenskaya and Arbatskaya metro stations.
13. Hang out at Gorky Park
The Central Park of Rest and Culture Named After M. Gorky, to give it its full name, is one of the most famous places in Moscow (thanks presumably to Martin Cruz Smith’s grizzly tale of a psychopathic professor, and the Hollywood film it inspired – shot mostly in Stockholm). Laid out in 1928, this was the first park of its kind, and the prototype for hundreds of others across the Soviet Union.
14. Browse the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Featuring prominent paintings and sculptures from ancient history, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is sure to please all art lovers. The museum regularly varies its permanent display to show off the museum’s full collection, spanning millenia from ancient Greece to the twenty-first century. Stand-out works include pieces of art taken from Berlin at the end of WWII and a selection of famous French Impressionist art and its temporary exhibitions hold the same high standards, featuring the likes of Japanese artist Yasumasa Morimura in 2017.
15. Don’t miss the Russian cuisine
It is not very easy to find authentic Russian food through the vast variety of “traditional” restaurants.
Russian food it is not spicy, features a lot of meat, fish, vegetables, baked pies and pastries, as well as a variety of alcoholic and non-alcohol drinks, such as ‘kvas’ (a drink made from fermented bread) and, of course, the vodka, which everyone should try whilst visiting Moscow! It has perhaps one of the most diverse cuisines in the world due to its incredibly varied ingredients that can be locally grown, caught and hunted.
16. Visit one of the Seven Sisters
This majestic group of buildings stand as a reminder of formidable Stalinist ambitions, when the USSR was a force to be reckoned with and communism was in full swing. If you only have time to see a few, don’t miss Moscow State University (with a great panoramic viewing point of the city) and the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
17. Party all night long
If party is your thing then, Moscow for sure will satisfy you. It is better to have Russian fellow to guide you through. This city is an all-night party town with enough energy to keep the beat going for as long as you want.