Capital of the mighty Russia and once the nerve-centre of Central Europe and the East, Moscow’s architecture, creative arts and historical revolutions have left their legacies imprinted on the world. Begin your explorations in the medieval fortress of the Kremlin and inhale the air laced with the power of bygone days. The modern city radiates out from this central point on the river, so wonder down the main streets of Tverskaya ul and ul Novy Arbat and into the department stores that have metamorphosed from drab, empty shells into symbols of Russia’s new, glamorous life.
Western labels are crammed onto the shelves that wink and glint at the drooling shopaholics, while immaculately made-up women saunter down the pavements searching for their next material hit. However, its not all about the consumerism, as Moscow has some wonderful parks and entertainment for all the family including the circus, ballet and banyas. So make sure you use this guide to check out the top attractions on offer.
Moscow Sightseeing Travel Guide
The medieval centre of the city forms a triangle on the banks of the Moskvar River and the modern streets fan out from this central point. Red Square makes a good starting point for any sightseeing trip, and, just up the road the Manezhnaya pl can be found. At the north-west end an immense shopping centre satisfies any consumer cravings – although prices are higher than in other parts of Europe – and on the south-west side the huge Moscow State University can be found. Heading north from Manezhnaya pl, the exquisite and world-famous Bolshoi Theatre dominates the Teatralnaya pl, with a night at the ballet being a must for all visitors.
1. The Kremlin
Telephone – 095 202 3776 Opening hours – daily except Thursday, 10am-5pm. Admission costs R300
Evoking a plethora of images relating to the Tsar rule and the seat of Moscow’s communist past, the Kremlin is the heart of Moscow and is oldest part of the city dating back to 1147. An impenetrable fortress, perched upon a hill and ringed by a chunky, crimson wall punctuated by 20 towers, the superb complex contains golden-domed churches, mighty palaces, museums, offices, grand halls and iconic monuments. At the very centre lies the spiritual core, Cathedral Square, containing yet more churches and the world’s largest bell that lies cracked at the foot of the Belfry of Ivan the Great.
2. St Basil’s Cathedral
Krasnaya Ploshchad 4 Telephone – 095 298 5880 Opening hours – daily except Tuesday, 11am-5.30pm Admission R100
The most iconic of all Russia’s great buildings, the myriad of onion-shaped domes twinkle in both snow and sunshine and never fail to elicit a gasp from the most hardened traveller. Standing on the edge of Red Square, the central chapel is surrounded by eight red brick tower-like chapels in a design that was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate yet another victorious campaign.
3. Red Square
The cobbles in this central square are drenched in history having seen executions, markets and public gatherings through the ages. Its latest reincarnation is a Soviet memorial cemetery and Lenin’s mausoleum can still be seen to one side of the square.
4. Tretyakar Gallery
Lavrushensky Pereulok 10/12 & 10 Krymsky Telephone – 095 951 1362 Opening hours – Tues-Sun 10am-7.30pm
If Moscow’s architecture isn’t artistic enough for you, then come and see great pre-Revolution Russian masterpieces, Russian icons dating from the eleventh century and other paintings from the eighteenth century right through to modern artworks. The collection is so extensive that it is housed in two different locations.
5. Gorky Park
Opening hours – 10am-10pm daily Admission – R50
See a microcosm of the Russian social milieu when hundreds descend on the 275 acres of park during sunny weekends. Fairgrounds, boating ponds, theatres and café’s all keep the masses entertained.
6. Seven Gothic Sisters
Dominating the skyline, these seven dramatic towers were constructed 800th year of Moscow’s founding, just after World War Two when Stalin decided that skyscrapers would show the world – and particularly America – that Russia was the greatest super power. Ukraina and Leningradskaya are both hotels, the Moscow State University is housed in another, and the apartment blocks of Kudrinskaya Ploshchad and Kotelnicheskaya naberezhnaya make up the rest.
3, Red Square Telephone – 4951 929 3470 Opening hours – Mon-Sat 9am-9pm and Su 10am-8pm.
This enormous Gothic state department store, constructed from 1889-93, is a symbol of the changing face of Moscow. Once selling the most frugal of items, the three stories of shops running the length of the building are now crammed with a mixture of glitzy western designer goods and traditional Russian products.
Scrub the city dust from your limbs at the quintessential Russian baths found across Moscow. The rooms are segregated into different sexes, and you sweat out the dirt in the steam room before being beaten with dried branches. Then wash off the residue, have a massage and plunge into the cold pools that are guaranteed to clean the pores, all while catching up on the city’s gossip.
9. Donskokoi Monastry
1, Donskaya Ploshchad Telephone – 952 1646 Opening hours – 7am-4.30pm daily
Created as a mark of gratitude for those who fought in the Crimean wars in 1591, this magnificent structure has been plundered no less than three times. Be guided around by the monks that reside there and remember to wear modest dress as a sign of respect.
10. Tsvetnoi Bulvar Circus
13 Tsvetna Bulvar Telephone – 200 6889 Performances are at 7pm Mon, Wed and Fri and at 3pm and 7pm on Sat & Sun.
Another form of world-renowned entertainment that Russia excels in is, of course, the circus. For a wonderfully fun and cheap night out come and marvel at the leaping acrobats and tumbling clowns who develop their acts around a central theme.