The capital of Russia, Moscow is one of, if not the most, expensive cities in the world. It’s people are known to be unfriendly to tourists and unfortunately in my short time there friendly assistance was hard to find. What I did discover during our 4 days there was that the more we made an effort to speak their language, even if it was just a spasiba (thank you) to a lady selling us a metro ticket, the friendlier they became.
Visually Moscow isn’t picture perfect everywhere you go. The main sights and the areas around them are spectacular and unlike anything I have seen so far in my travels. It’s architecture is of the grandest scale and the use of colours in its religious buildings has a jaw dropping effect. But parts of the city away from these main sights are old and in need of a good facelift.
When it comes to the arts and entertainment now is the perfect time to visit. Coupled with the existing world class galleries is new edgy galleries opening in restored factories and warehouses. Theatre and music lovers are also well catered for with playwrights, composers and choreographers choosing Moscow to premier their works. And the nightlife includes some of the best clubs in the world.
Foodies are also in for treat with a diverse choose of restaurants, wine bars and cafes on offer. These days the choices when it comes to cuisine are just as diverse as any other major city in the world. Traditional meals of hearty stews and soups can still be found in traditional restaurants and bring a welcome relief from the cold of a Russian winter.
And with all of the above I still haven’t mentioned the history. Be prepared for a barrage of historical information relating to Moscow’s most important historical buildings, events and people. You will find museums a plenty with something to suits everyone’s interests.
I was challenged when visiting Moscow for a number of reasons. Mostly because I focused my research on accommodation and sights and neglected to find out anything else like that they use a different alphabet to me (yep I am stupid!!!). All of the notes I had with me of street names and directions to get to my hostel were useless as they were in the wrong alphabet. So my advice to anyone wanting to visiting Moscow is be prepared. It isn’t as tourist friendly as places like Paris but it does offer a relatively unique experience slightly off the beaten path and this is why I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend others to visit (just don’t make my mistakes). Do your research and you will enjoy this city for all of the richness it offers.
My Top 5 Sights
Without a doubt this is one of the grandest city squares in the world. It took my breath away. This pedestrian only square (except for the odd limo coming in and out of the Kremlin) is located in the heart of the city and is surrounded by the city’s most important buildings including St Basils Cathedral, The Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum, GUM department store and State Historical Museum. This is the perfect place to start any visit to Moscow and you may even be lucky enough to catch a military parade like we were. Don’t forget to visit both during the day and at night to see it all lit up. (Free – Open 24/7 year round)
The Kremlin is where you will probably spend most of your time when in Moscow. This complex of palaces, cathedrals and grand government buildings is the home of the President and is fortified by massive walls (see pic above, I am 5 foot 2!!!). Located between the Moskva River to the south, Red Square to the east and Alexandrovsky Gardens (worth a look too) to the west, the Kremlin is hard to miss. While your inside you can check out the Assumption Cathedral with its five golden domes, the Armoury containing treasures from Russia’s past, Terem Palace with its eleven domes, Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the giant bell and the Diamond Fund Exhibition of royal jewels. While inside the Kremlin walls be sure to stay on the permitted walking route or one of the guards will blow his whistle and point at you (you have been warned!!!!). Entry into the Kremlin is via the gate in Alexandrovsky Gardens just off Manezhnaya Pl with left luggage near by under the Kutafya Tower. Be sure to also take a walk along some of the walls on the outside. I recommend the path along the Moskva River for a nice walk and a great perspective of the size of these walls. (Check out the Kremlin website for entry fees, hours and more.)
St Basil’s Cathedral
The coloured domes of St Basil’s Cathedral are probably Moscow’s most photographed sight and the symbol of the city. You won’t be disappointed as you approach the Cathedral as it is just a spectacular in person as in the photos. Created between 1555 and 1561, legend has it that Ivan the Terrible had the architect blinded after completion so he could never create anything similar. Start your visit on the outside with a walk and view it from all sides to see the different colours and patterns on each of its domes. Then head inside to find the interior is equally spectacular. Made up of nine beautiful fresco walled chapels, exploring all of it’s nooks and crannies is a delight. Regular restoration on these frescoes may mean you won’t get to see everything but I found it interesting watching the men and women as they worked to restore this historic interior. Entry to the interior is via the main entrance in Red Square. (Entry Adult R250, Student R50 – Open Wed-Mon 11am-5pm)
Even if your not a fan of theatre it is still definitely worth checking out the exterior of this building. The recently renovated (you can see the scaffolding in the pic above taken in 2010) Bolshoi Theatre is home to both ballet and theatre companies performing both Russian and foreign works. This historic theatre was where Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake premiered in 1877 as well as The Nutcracker in 1919. Out the front of the theatre during the day you will find locals and tourist on bench seats enjoying the small gardens and animated fountain. It’s a great spot to rest during a hard day of sightseeing. If you are inclined to see a show, tickets can be purchased from the box office by phone, online or in person at least 7 days in advance or you can try your luck with the many scalpers (make sure you bargain with them) out the front of the theatre just before show time. (Check out the Bolshoi Theatre website for more info on the theatre or tickets.)
One of the things I love to do in any city with water nearby is take a cruise, whether it be on a river, canal or in the ocean. It gives you another perspective to view the city from. And Moscow has a great river for cruising on. The main sightseeing cruise company in Moscow and the one that we used is The Capital Shipping Company. They offer cruises on the Moskva River past all of the main sights along including The Kremlin, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the Peter the Great statue (pic above). The vessels top deck features an open/closed roof so on nice sunny days you can laze in the sun while taking in the views. (Check out the Capital Shipping Company website for prices, schedules and limited info in English.)
Other Notable Sights
Gorky Park – Where Moscowvites go to relax and have fun. Enjoy a picnic in the park or ride some of the amusement rides.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour – This gold domes cathedral is one of Moscow’s holiest places.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts – Considered to be one of the best art museums in the world.
State History Museum – Largest museum of Russian history with regular changing exhibitions.
Lenin Mausoleum – The resting place of the Soviet leaders mummified body.
As with most other major cities in the world there is a broad range of accommodation options from hostels to 5 star international hotels and everything in between. Now, with Moscow not being a cheap city you are going to find accommodation prices expensive for what you get. Once you know your budget explore websites like TripAdvisor, Expedia and Hostelworld for reviews and deals. Think central location, close to a metro station and with the amenities your comfortable with.
If your looking for a budget friendly hostel close to a metro station and 20 minutes walk from Red Square I can recommend Godzilla’s Hostel. This friendly and clean hostel offers all of the amenities you expect in a hostel such as multiple room sizes including private rooms, free Wi-Fi, guest kitchens, a TV room with DVD collection and visitor info such as maps etc. The staff are also multi-lingual and very helpful. Check out Godzilla’s website for more info and bookings.
Air: Four main airports service both international and domestic airlines with all having good connections with the Aeroexpress train to Paveletsky station in south Moscow. From there you can take the metro or a taxi to your accommodation. Make sure you check with your airline which airport you are arriving at or departing from before travelling. Taxis to/from the airport can be expensive if not booked in advance. Check with your accommodation for bookings.
Train: Rail links to other destinations in Russia, former Soviet states, some Eastern and Western European countries and China and Mongolia all arrive/leave from reasonably central train stations. All of these train stations are easily accessed via the metro or book a taxi through your accommodation.
Bus: Coming and going by bus is possible with Berlin Linien Bus and Eurolines to/from various other Russian and European cities. Travel by bus isn’t as comfortable or reliable as by train and the cost really is very similar so I would only choose this option if your destination isn’t serviced by train.
Moscow’s Metro is the easiest, fastest and cheapest way to get around the city. There are over 150 stations all marked with a big ‘M’ so finding a station is pretty simple. It’s once your inside that station that it gets a little more complicated. Most of the signage is in Cyrillic so it can sometimes be challenging figuring out which direction your going. We found the first day or two difficult , ending up travelling in the wrong direction etc. but after that we got use to some of the symbols and signs and were experts by the time we left. Be patient and you will get the hang of it.
Services run frequently with you rarely having to wait more than a few minutes for the next service. This is especially helpful in peak times when services can be full to the brim. Tickets can be purchased from ticket booths in the stations. At the time of writing this, a single ride is R19 but if you intend to travel around the city for a few days I would recommend a multiple-ride ticket with 10 rides at R155 and 20 rides at R280.
While your down in the stations make sure you check out some of the artworks and frescoed walls that the Moscow metro is famous for.
Safety can be an issue when travelling anywhere in the world Moscow included. My advice is to keep your wits about you at all times. Someone attempted to pickpocket my husbands backpack while on the escalators at the metro (unlucky for them there was only chocolate wrappers in the pocket they got to). You will notice a large heavily armed police presence in the city and their stern looking faces can be a little off putting at first.
I would love to hear about your experiences and sightseeing/accommodation recommendations in Moscow so I can add and improve this page. Please feel free to contact me below or via the Contact page with any information you think will help future travellers to Moscow.
All prices and information above are current at the time of publishing this post.