Attractions in Moscow
When you visit the various attractions, you will probably notice that you as a tourist pay a higher entry price than the Russians do. And you will almost certainly hear a loud, indignant American arguing about this at the ticket booth. But keep in mind that these museums are subsidized by the state, and the Russians have contributed their tax rebates. We do not have foreign tourists, so pay with a smile, it is no use to discuss.
- See DigoPaul for dictionary definitions of Moscow, Russia. Includes geographical map and city sightseeing photos.
The red space
Most tourists flock straight to Moscow’s obvious heart, the Red Square. This huge square is not just Moscow, but the whole heart of Russia. On and around this ancient marketplace you will find most of Moscow’s main attractions, and this is arguably one of the most beautiful and majestic squares in Europe. The square measures around 80 x 350 meters, and all of Moscow’s main roads lead right here, with several ring roads circling. The red square was the distinction between the royal fortress and the Kremlin power center on the one hand and the historic merchant quarters of Kitai-Gorod on the other.
The red square is remembered both for huge military parades, for Matthias Rust’s landing with a small plane in 1987, and in recent years for giant concerts with Pink Floyd and Paul McCartney. That the square is called The Red Square has nothing to do with communism or the blood that flowed here when Peter the Great executed twelve hundred of his rebellious guards in 1698. Krasnaya ploshchad, as it really is called, in old-fashioned Russian can also mean the beautiful square.
St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow
The well-known St Basil’s Cathedral rests on postcards and news broadcasts from Moscow, and is easily recognizable due to its colorful loop domes. St Basils is located on the southeast side of the Red Square, and was built in the period 1555-1561 by order of Ivan the Cruel.
According to legend, the architect got his eyes out so that he could never create something as beautiful elsewhere. Open all days except Tuesdays from 1000 to 1700, Affordable entrance as well as children and students have half price.
On Red Square is also Lenin’s mausoleum, where the embalmed body of the Soviet Union’s founder has mostly rested since he died in 1924. But while former Moscow residents stood in the long queues, today there are mostly tourists. Just behind the mausoleum are the tombs of other great Russians, including Presidents Stalin, Breshnev, Andropov and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
The mausoleum is open every weekday from 1000 to 1300 and there is free admission. Be prepared for a long wait, and you can’t use a camera inside either. Jokes and laughter will also be knocked down by the watchmen. Entrance from the northwest side of Red Square.
West of the Red Square and inside the walls lies Russia’s undisputed center of power, the Kremlin, which was built over 850 years ago as a fortress for Prince Jury Dolgoruky. But most of it has been changed or added in later centuries while it was home to the Russian tsars. In this huge complex that also houses several museums lies the Russian presidential residence, surrounded by glittering loop domes and majestic towers.
The Kremlin is open to visitors from 1000 to 1700 every day except Thursdays. Entrance about 65 kroner, and then you can visit the cathedrals and outdoor areas. Extra for the museums.
The Treasury of the Kremlin
Inside the Kremlin you must bring with you the Treasury, where the old Russian czar’s crown jewels, riches and treasures are stored. Here you can also see the lavishly adorned dresses or carvings used by Catherine the Great, ceremonial weapons and cannons.
The treasury can be visited in four pools daily (1000, 1200, 1430 and 1630) and the ticket can be purchased one hour before entry. Photo / video not allowed.
Moscow State Historical Museum
On the north side of the Red Square is the State Historical Museum, which deals with all aspects of Russian history, from the Stone Age to the present day. Founded in 1872, the museum houses over 4.5 million objects and 15 million document pages. Here you can see, among other things, a 5000 year old long boat and manuscripts from the 500s.
Open all days except Tuesdays and the first Monday of each month, from 1000 to 1800.
The Russian State Circus
The circus has long and deep traditions in Russian culture, and it is still hugely popular. In Moscow there are no less than two permanent circuses. At the University, in Vernadskogo Prospectus 7, lies the Russian State Circus, which has held performances every Wednesday, Friday and Sunday at 1900 since 1971.
Here, a traditional circus is shown in Russian fashion, with the country’s top artists, from magicians and clowns, acrobats and trapeze artists. The circus auditorium is 36 meters high and has a capacity of 3400 spectators.
Bolshoi Theater in Moscow
Moscow’s legendary opera and ballet building The Bolshoi Theater has existed since 1776 and has been the centerpiece of Russian cultural life ever since. Here, among other things, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake premiered in 1877, and it is constantly being set up for full houses. Don’t be surprised if you are charged $ 100 for the tickets, so order instead on the website.
It is quite possible to get very cheap tickets, albeit on the worst seats.
The Tretyakov Galleries in Moscow
On the south side of the Moscow River lies the foremost and by far the largest of Russian art collections. Founded in 1856, the Tretyakov galleries consist of over sixty halls with around 1,300 works of art, mainly Russian artists, from the 1100s to the 1900s.
Discounted tickets for children and students. Open daily from 1000 to 1930, but closed Mondays.
The pedestrian street in Arbat in Moscow
Arbat is the liveliest and most pleasant pedestrian street in Moscow, once the home of the city’s bohemians and intellectuals. It is still dominated by cafes and restaurants, but now more souvenir shopping tourists are entertained by the many street artists. This is one of the city’s oldest streets, mentioned in documents as early as 1493.
At the western end of Arbat, you cannot help but notice the mighty Foreign Ministry building, one of seven monumental Gothic buildings built on Stalin’s order in the 1950s.
Tourist in Moscow
It’s not just-just being a tourist in Moscow. There is hardly any tourist office here where you can get help and information, and the street signs and subway signs often have only Cyrillic letters. It is also not easy to find sightseeing buses that you can ride around to the various attractions. There are some operators, such as Capital Tours, who arrange three-hour tours twice a day. These cost about 165 kroner, but you can only see the outside of the buildings.
Day 1 in Moscow
The first day of the Moscow visit can be spent entirely on and around the Red Square, so you have no need for transport other than the metro from your hotel. If you get off at one of the three continuous stations Teatralnaya (Театра́льная), Ploshchad Revolutsii (Пло́щадь Револю́ции) or Okhotny Ryad (Охотный ряд), you are just north of the Red Square. The stops on the different lines have different names where they intersect, so one and the same station can in practice have three names. Lift your eyes before exiting the station, which is teeming with beautiful mosaics, leaded glass windows, statues and chandeliers.
If you come out of Teatralnaya or Ploshchad Revolutsii, you are just off the Bolshoi Theater, where there is a large Karl Marx statue in front. Then you go slightly west, to the Manezhnaya ploshchad square, a junction that you will probably pass several times. Here begins what may be called Moscow’s main street, Tverskaya, and below the ground is the Okhotny Ryad shopping center. Here you will see the Kremlin’s tower and walls in the south, the large and green Alexandrovsky Park with its numerous fountains and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in the southwest, and the Archaeological Museum in the north. There is also a statue of the Soviet Union’s foremost war hero, General Zhukov.
Enter the large gate with two identical red towers, to the left of the statue of General Zhukov. This is called the Resurrection Gate, and is, like several other buildings on The Red Square, a copy of the original that originally stood here and was demolished to make way for Stalin’s military parades. The same goes for the cute little Kazan Cathedral on your left. You come straight out onto the central center of Moscow and Russia, the Red Square.
Today’s first attraction is Lenin’s mausoleum, which is centrally located on the west side of the square, in front of the Kremlin’s walls. The entrance is on the northwest corner of Red Square, and here you have to put away the camera and wipe the smile off your face, otherwise the brisk guards in the mausoleum will do it for you. The Soviet father of the Soviet Union has been on display almost all the time since his death in 1924. He shared a period mausoleum with Stalin, but Stalin is now degraded to the graves behind the mausoleum. Here are also the tombs of several other Russian greats, such as the Presidents Breshnev and Andropov and the cosmonaut Gagarin. The mausoleum opens 1,000 every day except Mondays, and it might be smart to get here ten minutes before.
On the south side of the Red Square, you may see the most easily recognizable building in all of Russia, St. Basil’s Cathedral with its distinctive and colorful loop domes. Inside, it is a maze of passageways, smaller chapels and stairs around the central church room. Many of the pictures and paintings on the walls and ceilings may look a bit bland, but after all they were painted in the 1600s. The cathedral was built in the period 1555-1561 by order of Ivan the Cruel. According to legend, the architect got his eyes out so that he could never create something as beautiful elsewhere. The statues in front of the cathedral depict the butcher Kuzma Minin and the prince Dmitri Pozharski, the two heroes of the war against Poland in 1612.
Kremlin and Moscow
After St. Basil’s Cathedral, we suggest you visit the area that has been Russia’s center of power for centuries, the Kremlin. If you plan to spend a good deal of time in the Kremlin’s areas, you should have lunch first, because there is no food to buy when you first arrive. The entrance is on the northwest side of the triangular walls, and you walk along Alexandrovsky Park until you reach the ticket booth. The price is around 70 kroner, or 300 rubles, and it can be smart to bring enough cash. You must then go through a thorough security check before letting into the holiest, perhaps not so strange since you are near the president’s offices, and there are plenty of Chechens and Georgians who are not so fond of that man.
Inside the walls are large open spaces, but it is marked on the ground where you intend to go. If you tread your own route, you will quickly hear a shrieking whistle and see a morose guard on your way if you do not move back down the narrow path. The first building you come to on the left is Arsenal, the armory, lined with cannons, a swap of war from Napoleon’s unsuccessful invasion in 1812. The buildings east of Arsenal are the Senate, with the president’s office, and the Supreme Soviet.
The square in front of the Senate is Ivanovskaya ploshchad, Ivan’s Square, and here are two of the tourists’ favorite photo motifs. The enormous cannon from 1586 weighs over 40 tons, but has probably never been fired. And at least not with the huge cannonballs next door, which are too big even for this monster cannon. Next to what was once Moscow’s tallest building, the 88-meter-high bell tower of Ivan the Great, stands a huge clock weighing over 200 tons. The designer must have been long in the mask when he discovered he had made the clock too big to fit in the tower.
West of the bell tower lies the Kremlin’s heart Sobornaya ploshchad, or Cathedral Square. And here are no less than three cathedrals. Visit the Cathedral of Erkeengel from 1508, where most of Moscow’s rulers are buried, including the two most famous Ivan’s; the Cruel and the Great. Since 1955, the cathedral has been open to the public as a museum.
There are plenty of museums where you have free admission with your Kremlin ticket, but most of the information is in Russian, so it can be a bit dry for most people to walk around looking at old objects that you don’t know the history behind. On the other hand, the most essential museum, the Treasury, has to pay extra. Here the ancient Russian czar’s crown jewels, wealth and gold-plated treasures are stored. Here you can also see the lavishly adorned dresses or carts used by Catherine the Great, or ceremonial weapons and cannons. The treasury can be visited in four pools daily (1000, 1200, 1430 and 1630) and the ticket for about 75 kroner can be purchased one hour before entry. Photo / video not allowed.
Bolshoi Theater in Moscow
If you want to experience Russian high culture in the evenings, you can try to get tickets for a performance at Moscow’s legendary opera and ballet building Bolshoi Theater. This has been around since 1776, and has been the center of Russian cultural life ever since. Here, among other things, Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake premiered in 1877 and it is constantly being set up for full houses. Don’t be surprised if you are charged $ 100 for the tickets, so order instead on the website. It is quite possible to get tickets down to 20-30 kroner, albeit on the worst seats. Please note that the historical parts of the theater are closed for renovation until November 2009, and in the meantime, the performances will take place in a smaller hall in the neighboring building.
End the evening in what we believe is Moscow’s cosiest pedestrian street, Kamergersky. This is a side street to Tverskaya and is just west of the Bolshoi Theater, a three-minute walk away. Here are many pleasant restaurants and pubs, and you are sure to find one that appeals to you. And if you can’t walk home to the hotel, or don’t reach the subway, be sure to agree on a specific price, which you can pay in cash, with the taxi driver before getting in the back seat!
Day 2 in Moscow
Today, we start at the foremost and by far the largest of Russian art collections. Founded in 1856, the Tretyakov galleries consist of over sixty halls with around 1,300 works of art, mainly Russian artists, from the 1100s to the 1900s. Take the metro to Tretyakovskaya and you will find the gallery just west of the station. Please note that the Tretyakov galleries are closed on Mondays.
If you are ready for lunch afterwards, one of Moscow’s most popular eateries is close by, in ulitsa Bolshaya Ordynka 40. Correa’s is great for breakfast, lunch and dinner, but is so small and intimate that ordering a table is a good idea, especially on Sundays. Continue down the street ulitsa Bolshaya Ordynka and take a look at the 240-year-old St. Catherine’s Church at No. 60.
Then turn right into Pogorelsky and you will soon come to the large Iskusstvo park where many local artists have a sales exhibition in their own stalls. Here is also the new wing of the Tretyakov galleries, if you did not receive the dose of Russian art before lunch. You should also look inside the gloomy Sculpture Park, where many of the hero monuments of the Communist era and statues of gentlemen such as Stalin and Breshnev have ended. The ticket costs 100 rubles, about 22 kroner, for tourists.
Cross the highway just southwest of the Sculpture Park and you will reach the main entrance to Moscow’s famous Gorky Park. This is an amusement park with roots dating back to 1928, but it is by far the most well-kept park we have visited. You can also visit the retired space ferry Buran and get a simulated trip into space with the Cosmic Experience, although you will hardly be impressed with that particular experience. In winter there are opportunities to skate in the park.
The pedestrian street Arbat in Moscow
You can cross the Moscow River at the Krymski Bridge, right at the entrance to Gorky Park. Then you will reach the Park Kultury metro station. If you are not tired yet, you can continue towards the landmark you see right in front of you, the 172 meter high Foreign Ministry building. This is one of Stalin’s so-called Seven Sisters, the skyscrapers that Stalin had built in his last years, in the early 1950s, for Moscow to also have an impressive skyline.
Just behind this monster colossus starts one of Moscow’s oldest and most pleasant streets, Arbat, mentioned in documents as early as 1493. This is one of the liveliest and most pleasant pedestrian streets in Moscow, and once the home of the city’s bohemians and intellectuals. It is still dominated by cafes and restaurants, but now there are more souvenir shopping tourists who eat, drink and entertain by the many street artists.
In the evening, we suggest you try food from one of the old Soviet states. Uzbekistan restaurant is located in Neglinnaya ulitsa 29/14, a few hundred meters north of Bolshoi Theater. The Uzbekistan restaurant serves exciting and tasty dishes, which are more closely related to Turkish and Persian cuisine than to Russian.
The restaurant may not be so easy to find, because there are no big neon signs here, just a big white building. Especially inexpensive is not eating out in Moscow, nor at this restaurant, but you still get value for money and even belly dance on the purchase. Afterwards you do not have a long way to nightlife at Tverskaya in the southwest, Teatralnaya in the south or Lubyanka in the southeast.