Moscow travel guide
Moscow is the capital of the world's biggest country, situated in the centre of the European part of Russia. At the very heart of the city, and indeed the country, is the Kremlin, the Russian centre of governmental and religious power for almost eight centuries, including five palaces and four cathedrals. The view over Red Square and the exquisite, colourful domes of Saint Basil's Cathedral is likely the most iconic image of the Soviet Union in the minds of Westerners, luring travellers with the promise of something imposing and unique.
The city of Moscow is a fusion of both splendour and ugliness that is evident in the massive concrete slabs and high-rise apartments of the Stalinist era, and in the ornate churches, beautiful neo-classical houses, and impressive architecture of the old city. Wide grey thoroughfares give way to narrow winding inner city streets, and golden church domes gleam between the looming skyscrapers. Moscow attracts not only those eager to embrace new business and free enterprise, but also the poor from across the country, and the extremes of affluence and impoverishment are evident everywhere.
Since the fall of communism Moscow has been injected with a sense of urgency to change the face of the 'Mother City', embracing capitalism and shaking off the years of communist-imposed atheism with flashy shop fronts housing Western franchises, new restaurants, glossy hotels, and the frenzied restoration of lavish Orthodox churches. The once dreary streets are now a vibrant commotion of life with markets and eager vendors offering an assortment of goods that were unavailable during the Soviet years.
It is also a city of entertainment, with theatres and the renowned Moscow Circus, museums and art galleries. It boasts the world's largest and most efficient metro system with gleaming stations deep underground, astonishingly decorated in elegant marble, with glittering chandeliers and magnificent mosaics. Moscow is the soul of the new Russia and an intriguing mix of history and politics, business and culture.
Also within the Kremlin is the Armoury Palace, the richest and oldest museum, housing a staggering collection of treasures gathered over the years by the church and Russian state, including jewel-studded coronation capes, thrones encrusted with diamonds, royal coaches and sleighs and the renowned jewelled Fabergé Easter eggs, each containing an exquisitely detailed miniature object of precious metal inside. The Diamond Fund Exhibition in the same building contains the 180-carat diamond given to Catherine the Great by Count Orlov.
Transport: Metro stop Biblioteka imeni Lenina or Aleksandrovsky Sad
The word 'red' doesn't apply to the colour of the brickwork, neither is it a reference to communism. The meaning of the word 'krasny' originally meant 'beautiful' in Old Russian, referring to St Basil's Cathedral at the southern end, but over the centuries the word changed to mean 'red' too, thus the square's present name. St Basil's Cathedral is the city's most well-known building and is crowned by the bulbous multi-coloured domes that have made it an instantly recognisable landmark.
Address: Krasnaya Ploshchad
Transport: Metro stop Ploshchad Revolutsii
St Basils Cathedral
St Basil's Cathedral includes a central chapel surrounded by eight tower-like chapels, each crowned with a different coloured and uniquely patterned onion-shaped dome. The church escaped demolition many times during the city's turbulent history and with the beginning of the Soviet regime the cathedral was closed and later turned into a museum. The interior is a dimly lit maze of corridors and delicately decorated chapels, one of them housing a priceless 16th-century screen decorated with icons that shields the inner sanctuary. In comparison to the exquisite exterior, the interior can seem disappointing, but there is no question St Basil's is worth exploring.
Address: Krasnaya Ploshchad 4
Transport: Metro stop Kitai Gorod
Opening time: The museum is open 11am to 5pm in winter, and 10am to 7pm in summer.
Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre
Moscow's oldest and most famous theatre, the Bolshoi, dates from 1824 and is home to world-renowned opera and ballet companies. Completely rebuilt after a fire in 1856, the grand building is a masterpiece of Russian neoclassicism, including an eight-columned entrance porch topped by the horse-drawn chariot of Apollo, patron of the arts. The glittering five-tiered interior is richly adorned with red velvet furnishings, ornate gold detailing and chandeliers, and the size of the auditorium makes it one of the largest theatres in the world. The Bolshoi Theatre has hosted some of the world's most celebrated premieres, including Swan Lake, Spartacus, and concerts by Richard Wagner, and an evening performance at the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre constitutes one of Moscow's best nights out.
Address: Teatralnaya Ploshchada
Transport: Metro stop Teatralnaya
The Tretyakov Gallery houses some of the great masterpieces of traditional Russian art from before the Revolution and has the world's finest collection of Russian icons from the 11th to the 17th-centuries. The gallery's collection of paintings, graphics and sculptures covers Russian art from the 18th to the 20th century. The gallery was named after its founder, Pavel Tretyakov, an art collector who donated about 2,000 works of art from his private collection to the city of Moscow, forming the basis of the collection to which state acquisitions were later added. He also donated his own house, which became the original site of the art gallery. Two separate buildings at different locations house the works selected for display.
Address: 10, Lavrushinsky Lane
Transport: Tretyakovskaya or Novokuznetskaya metro stop to Lavrushensky Pereulok, or metro to Park Kultury
Poklonnaya, literally meaning 'bow down', lies in the west part of Moscow and was historically a spot for Western visitors to the city to pay homage before entering. Today it is a beacon to Russia's military strength, having withstood invasions by both Napoleon and Hitler. Atop the hill is Victory Park which provides a scenic walk and contains a memorial Mosque and Synagogue for victims of the war, and an open air museum dedicated to the victory over Napoleon. There are many tanks and other wartime vehicles on display in Victory Park, along with several impressive monuments and statues. History buffs will love exploring the many attractions of Poklonnaya Hill and Victory Park, and even those not interested in military history will enjoy the art and the views.
Address: 3 Pobeda Square
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
After Napoleon retreated from Russia, Tsar Alexander I declared that a cathedral be built in remembrance of the soldiers who had died defending Mother Russia. The original cathedral took more than 40 years to build. Decades later the cathedral was demolished by Stalin (who found the monument abhorrent) to make way for the colossal Palace of the Soviets, intended to be a symbol of Russian Communism, which was never actually built. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt again, on the same site, between 1990 and 2000 as a faithful duplicate of the original. It is currently one of the largest and tallest Orthodox Churches in the world. The contemporary Russian artwork, statues and memorials to the Russian Tsars, as well as a small indoor museum, are well worth a look.
Address: 15-17 Volhonka Street
Borodino Panorama Museum
The museum will delight military history buffs, but should also impress the less initiated. Those with smartphones can download the museum's interesting audio guide, helped along by free wifi.
Address: 38 Kutuzovsky Avenue
Moscow's Metro stations together amount to the most beautiful public transport facility in the world. Visitors to Moscow should not miss taking a ride on this glorious underground rail system, and exploring the stations. Each one has its own distinct aesthetic identity, variously adorned with Realist artworks, chandeliers, ornate pillars and marble floors. Moscow's Metro caters to something like two and half billion passenger rides per year, making it one of the busiest underground metro systems in the world. Despite this, the stations are more akin to palaces or five-star hotel lobbies rather than functional spaces. The depth of the elevators is also astounding. Most travellers will encounter the Metro system for practical reasons, but many will find that they choose to spend more time than necessary underground! There are nearly 200 stations but some of the most beautiful and ornate are Kiyevskaya, Dostoyevskaya, Prospekt Mira, Mayakovskaya and Ploschad Revolyutsii.
Address: The Moscow Metro covers most of the city.
Opening time: Daily 5:30am to 1am.
It might seem like a daunting task finding attractions andactivities that kids on holiday in Moscow will enjoy, but look alittle closer at this fascinating and historic city and you'll findthere are a few things that will spark interest for children. The Obraztov Puppet Theater features performances for childrenduring the day, while animal lovers should head to the Moscow CatTheater where domestic cats perform a multitude of acrobatictricks. The Moscow Dolphinarium will delight with dolphins, whales,seals, and sea lions performing tricks, balancing balls and jumpingthrough hoops, while older kids may take interest in the historicvalue of the Kremlin, but even younger children will delight in thesheer size of the Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell, which makes for agreat attraction while out and about in the city. For something a little more soothing, enjoy a boat ride through thecity where the kids can't run out of sight and the constantlychanging architecture and landscape will show them a side of Moscowthey'd never see.
For the most part, Moscow's tourist attractions bear testament to the city's turbulent past, but there are also a number of more light-hearted cultural and religious venues to enjoy in the city. Sightseeing in Moscow is best during the summer, from May until late August, when it is warmer and the days are longer. The city is most crowded during this peak season, but Moscow is really at it's best in summer so it is worth facing slightly longer queues.
The foremost Moscow attractions are the Kremlin, a UNESCO-listed medieval fortress dating back to the city's foundation in 1147, and the multi-coloured domes of St Basil's Cathedral, both iconic Russian landmarks. Red Square is another must when sightseeing in Moscow. The Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre is home to Moscow's famed performance arts, while the Tretyakov Gallery exhibits traditional Russian masterpieces.
Historic Moscow attractions include Poklonnaya Hill, which highlights Russia's military strength against both Napoleon and Hitler, and the Borodino Panorama Museum which has interesting artefacts and displays from the Napoleonic wars. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour commemorates the soldiers who died defending Russia in the early 19th century and can be added to the list of military memorials in the city.
Travellers planning a lot of sightseeing in Moscow should consider purchasing the Moscow Pass, which offers free entry to up to 38 attractions, among other things. Check out the options at moscowpass.com
Tolstoy spent 60 years living at Yasnaya Polyana with his family, and each of his 13 children were born there (although four died young). He founded a working farm and children's school on the estate, and is buried in an area called the Forest of the Old Order (so called because it was forbidden to cut down trees there).
Address: Shchekino District, Tula Region
Transport: Buses are available from Moscow, stopping in the nearby town of Tula.
One city that should not be missed, however, is Sergiev Posad, the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and home to the impressive Sergiev Posad Monastery. Suzdal is another highlight on any Golden Ring tour, home of the St.Euthymius Monastery and the enormous Spaso-Evfimiev Monastery, which houses 10 museums and is nearly as impressive as the famous Kremlin in Moscow.
The estate is easily reached by train, a 30-minute journey from the Yaroslavsky train station in the west of Moscow. In the summer and early autumn, all of the buildings are open for viewing. Visitors are welcome to explore the grounds and can bring picnics to enjoy in the gardens. There are also usually several music concerts hosted by the estate throughout the summer months. While still beautiful and worth a visit during the winter, the gardens are obviously not much of a sight, and some of the buildings are occasionally closed in the winter.
Celebrated over the Christmas and New Year period, the Russian Winter Festival combines different celebrations and holidays and is an opportunity for visitors to enjoy Russian customs and festivities, such as traditional folk music, troika (sleigh) rides and games, Russian food and lots of vodka. There are also musical and dance performances, and characters dressed as popular Russian mythological figures are there to greet the crowds. The Winter Festival is a celebration of all things Russian, but also of the season, as the name suggests, with outdoor ice-rinks coming alive and lights glittering on snowy streets. For more information email the Russian Federation Tourism Department at email@example.com
Venue: Izmailovo Park; Date:25 December 2016 to 5 January 2017;
Annually in February or March, Moscow residents engage in a festival of last minute debauchery before the sober month of Lent sets in. Because dairy and eggs are traditionally not allowed during Lent, the most common indulgence is bliny (pancakes), leading to Maslenista also being referred to as Pancake Week or Butter Week. Over the years, the Russians have used the practice of eating pancakes and the culture of general indulgence to celebrate Russian heritage. Celebrations in true Russian style include bare knuckle fist fights, bear performances, effigy burning and puppetry. Although the pancake eating tradition in the run-up to Lent is practiced in many Christian countries and communities, Maslenitsa is special because the Russians have turned it into a hedonistic celebration, making it a fun time to explore the country.
Date:20 February to 4 March 2017;
Fashion Week Moscow
Following in the vein of Fashion Week London, Pairs, Milan and New York, Fashion Week Moscow is a growing draw for fashionistas the world over, with well over 50 prestigious fashion houses showcasing their productions to more than 100, 000 guests bi-annually in the proud capital of Moscow. The Moscow event aims to promote and showcase the fashion industry in Russia and has helped raise to fame big names like Igor Chapurin, Andrew Sharov and Tatiana Parfenova. The event is sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and the full title is Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Moscow brings it's own special flavour to Fashion Week, making March and October the best months for the fashion-conscious to visit Russia's capital.
Venue: Gostiny Dvor; Date:18 October 2016; Website: www.fashionweek.ru
Eating out in Moscow is a warm and gratifying experience. There are ample Moscow restaurants serving traditional Russian cuisine such as caviare, beef stroganov and chicken kiev, as well as a many offering international or seafood menus.
Generally the best Moscow restaurants specialising in local fare can be found inside the Garden Ring and Kitai, or near Poklonnaya Hill. There are excellent seafood restaurants in both Red Square and Kiev Station Square, while international cuisine is available from restaurants in Pushkinskaya and Tverskaya, and on Teatralny Proezd (city centre). The Taganskaya area is also well-known for its wealth of restaurants.
While there are some Moscow restaurants that actually stay open 24 hours a day, most establishments require reservations. Some restaurants add a service charge to the bill and if not, 10 percent gratuity is acceptable. Moscow is an expensive city with many impressive fine dining options that will set you back substantially, but it is possible to enjoy traditional Russian cuisine on a budget.
Sometimes a big hamburger is the only cure for late night cravings and the agreed best after-hours restaurant in Moscow is the American-themed Starlite Diner. Open 24 hours to a loyal patronage of locals and expats this classic throwback restaurant serves up healthy portions of greasy good food and 1950s ambiance. For travellers with a touch of culture shock looking for a comforting taste of home, Starlite Diner is a great option.
Address: Bolshaya Sadovaya Ulitsa, No. 16a; Website: www.starlite.ru
Filimonova & Yankel
A favourite seafood hot spot, F&Y serves up seafood cooked in a variety of styles. A large banquet style dining room makes for a festive atmosphere perfect for larger gatherings. A live but mellow jazz band sets the ambiance further with a classy yet casual atmosphere, much like the fun but quality fish dishes which come in many forms - baked, seared, grilled or still flopping.
Address: No.2 Kiev Station Sq; Website: www.fishhouse.ru
Mu-Mu operates a string of popular restaurants in Moscow all serving cheap traditional Russian food. Very popular with locals looking for quick eats and tourists wanting to try specialty Russian food without spending a fortune, the restaurants usually sport a pleasantly busy atmosphere. If you need fast food in Moscow on a budget Mu-Mu is a good option because it will still give you a taste of something typically Russian.
Address: Myasnitskaya St. No. 14, metro Lubyanka, Kitai; Website: www.cafemumu.ru
Plush, pricey, popular and professional… and if you think that's a mouthful, you should try their food. Café Pushkin offers, arguably, the most exquisite dining in Moscow, upmarket enough to charge outrageously but not so pretentious as to skimp on the portions. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the food is fantastic whether you're having pancakes for breakfast, delicious sturgeon for dinner or a meaty steak halfway through a night out. The weekday business lunch specials are a good deal, considering the venue.
Address: 26a Tverskoi bulvat, Tverskaya; Website: www.cafe-pushkin.ru/en/
There's a strange paradox at work in this swanky, themed restaurant. While waitresses dress as milkmaids, goats and chickens (live ones) occupy cages near the restaurant centre and the decorative furniture consist of haystacks, the calibre of service and meals are up to the standards of the upper echelons of society. Indeed, most of the restaurant's clientele dress smartly for dinners here. It is a Ukrainian restaurant serving up Ukrainian and Russian specialities, open for breakfast, lunch and supper. Reservations are recommended but may not be necessary.
Address: 2 Ulitsa, Garden Ring; Website: www.shinok.ru
For some of the city's finest dining, The Metropol has hosted some of recent history's most famous figures beneath its large glass dome and stained-glass windows. The food matches the opulent decoration with the best of European cuisine and some of Russia's most extravagant dishes. The classic feel will leave diners feeling like visiting foreign dignitaries and there is good chance you may meet one. Located conveniently close to the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Theatre this is the perfect fine-dining treat in Moscow.
Address: 1-4 Teatralny Proezd; Website: www.metropol-moscow.ru/en/
Moscow's notorious nightlife features an amazing selection of bars, clubs, bowling alleys, billiards rooms, casinos and concert venues. The most popular party scenes can generally be found in and around Kitai Gorod, Arbat and Garden Ring, and a stroll along 1905 Goda Street is a must if you're on the look for the latest hot spot. Be aware that many Moscow bars and nightclubs operate on strict face and dress control systems, meaning that the bouncers will actively turn away people they don't find attractive or fashionable enough.
There are a handful of prime nightlife spots near Red Square, as one might expect, but travellers should be wary of tourist traps - often the clubs and bars frequented by locals are the best.
For those keen on a little gambling or gaming Moscow's casinos include Carnival and Casino Desperado, and bowling alleys and billiard rooms are numerous. Luzhniki Stadium hosts massive international music concerts, while Hermitage Garden is good for open-air performances and contemporary electronic concerts, and also boasts the Novaya Opera Theatre and an ice-skating ring. Good live music is not hard to find in Moscow and the city is world-famous for it's performing arts.
Russians are traditionally enthusiastic consumers of alcohol and drinking laws are seldom strictly enforced, but the legal age for purchasing alcohol is 18.
Shopping in Moscow is surprisingly rewarding. This previously-deprived nation loves shopping and Moscow's city centre has numerous malls and upmarket boutiques, offering all the big name brands and some pricey local produce.
The GUM building in Red Square hosts names like Hugo Boss, Dior and Calvin Klein. Tverskaya Ulitsa, running north from Red Square, is Moscow's most trendy shopping street. More modest, high-street fashions such as Benetton, Guess, Nike and Reebok are available from Okhoktny Ryad, under Manezh Square. Izmailovskii Park has a market at the weekends, selling traditional Russian arts and crafts (such as nesting dolls) which make for good souvenirs.
Eliseev Gastronome was an 1880s palace and retains many of its original features, such as curling marble pillars and candelabras, but is now an exclusive supermarket where visitors can find the finest Russian vodka or caviar; the Cheremushinsky Rynok market also sells fresh local produce. Warehouses in the suburbs sell cheap electronic goods, DVDs and software, as do vendors at the Gorbushkin Dvor market.
Shops are generally open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm; some larger retailers stay open till 8pm, and many smaller shops are closed between 1pm and 3pm. Ensure that all necessary export permits are in order, and beware of purchasing illegally manufactured/pirated goods.
Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 16 miles (26km) northwest of Moscow.
Time: Local time is GMT +3.
Contacts: Tel: +7 495 232 6565.
Transfer between terminals: Most international flights will arrive at Terminals D, E and F. Terminals B and C, about 15 miles (24km) away, serve domestic and charter flights. Public and Express buses, taxis and free airline shuttles are available between all five terminals. There is a walkway between Terminals D, E and F.
Getting to the city: There are several bus services, connecting each terminal to the nearby metro stations; from there, connections can be made to the city centre. Minibuses are also available.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Sixt, Hertz, Avis and Europcar.
Airport Taxis: A taxi ride to the city centre takes around 30 minutes (traffic dependent). Taxi touts operate in front of the terminals and are to be avoided. Book a taxi from one of the official taxi company booths. It is advisable to prebook a taxi and be met on arrival.
Facilities: Once through check-in at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport, all terminals include business lounges, refreshment facilities, bureaux de change, restaurants, bars and duty-free shopping. For disabled passengers, wheelchair transfer from the aircraft to the terminal building should be arranged in advance.
Parking: Parking is available close to each of the terminals. Most offer free parking for the first five to 15 minutes.
Departure tax: None.
Moscow Domodedovo International Airport
Location: 22 miles (35km) south of Moscow city centre
Time: Local time is GMT +3 (GMT +4 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in September).
Contacts: Tel: +7 495 933 6666.
Getting to the city: A highway links Moscow city with the passenger terminal at the airport, making access by public transport, taxi or private car possible. There are trains linking the airport to Paveletsky Rail Terminal in Moscow city centre. The trains run every 30 to 60 minutes and the trip takes about 40 minutes. There are also express trains to Belorussky Rail Terminal via the Kursky and Kalanchevskaya stations. A coach service between the airport and the Domodedovskaya station on the Moscow Metro runs every 15 minutes and takes about 30 minutes.
Car rental: Car rental companies at the airport include Europcar, Hertz and Sixt.
Airport Taxis: There are share taxis between the Metro station and the airport, and the fare is 100 rubles. The official taxi operators are MV-Motors, Gorodskoe Taxi (City Taxi) and Formula Taxi.
Facilities: There are shops, cafés and restaurants in the Trade Centre on the 2nd floor of Domodedovo, and more cafés, bars and shops located on the 1st floor. There are postal, phone and e-mail facilities available in the airport, as well as currency exchange and wire transfer facilities. The airport also boasts a DVD movie theatre.
Parking: There is short- and long-term parking available at the airport. Airhotel customers can park in Lot 8 for a reduced rate per day, and take a shuttle to the terminal.
The easiest and most pleasant way to get around Moscow is on the underground metro. It is inexpensive, very efficient, and easy to use, even considering all signage is in Russian, but it's still a good idea to have the destination written in Cyrillic characters to help identify the correct station. The metro runs until 1am and fares are standard regardless of the distance travelled, allowing unlimited transfers. Overland transport is less efficient than the metro, but an extensive network of buses, trams and trolleybuses covers the areas not serviced by the metro until about 11pm. They can get unpleasantly crowded during rush hour. Alternatives to the bus are the passenger vans called marshrutka, which follow the bus routes and stop on request. There are also scores of official metered taxis and unofficial cars that can be flagged down on the street, but fares must be negotiated before entering the vehicle, especially as foreigners are likely to be overcharged. Although taxis are generally safe, tourists should be cautious and single women are advised to avoid them at night. Driving in the city is not recommended.
Moscow has a continental climate, typified by exceedingly cold, long winters (November to March) and hot summers (June to August). In mid-summer, during July and August, temperatures are pleasantly warm, with occasional hot spells, and humidity tends to be high. Winters differ drastically, with only about six hours of daylight in the middle of the season and temperatures recorded at way below freezing point. In summer temperatures average between 53°F (12°C) and 79°F (26°C), and in winter temperatures average between 13°F (-10°C) and 25°F (-3°C). Winter snows start in October and the snow blanket persists well into spring. Moscow has little rainfall, most of its precipitation falling as snow.
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