Russia is one of those places that never really held a ton of interest to me growing up. I envisioned Russia as a very cold, grey place where everyone wore grey clothes. Fast forward a few years, and my dad started travelling to St. Petersburg with some coworkers as part of cultural exchange. I started learning more about the people and the culture and got interested in the best places to visit in Moscow.
As soon as I heard that the 2014 Winter Olympics were in Sochi, I felt the urge to go. I didn’t have another reason to travel to Russia, so why not go for the Olympics. Since I’m not one to waste the opportunity of a flight to the other side of the world, I knew that I had to see more than just the Olympics.
I had limited time, so I was only able to choose one other stop in Russia. The choices of Moscow and St. Petersburg were both interesting. I ended up deciding to visit Moscow. My reasoning had to do with the urban design of the city. Peter the Great wanted to create a new capital that modelled after the architecture of the classical European cities. Having travelled extensively through Europe, I wanted to see a place that had evolved more organically. I wanted to see buildings with a more traditional Russian style and not the great cities I had travelled to before. So Moscow it was.
Go on a walking tour to visit all the must-see places in Moscow
One of the first activities I like to do in a city is a walking tour. This is especially helpful if the city is very spread out or has a lot of historical significance in the sights. The guides will usually give you a “locals” take on the sites, and you will learn more than what the guide books tell you. You have to make sure you time it out right now, or you might end up doubling up on seeing sights. Because I was so exhausted, I ended up rescheduling my tour for the following day. I did have a little bit of doubling back in the area around Red Square. That was ok because it was beautiful, and it was charming to see it both in the day and at night. I took the “free tour” from Moscow Free Tours. They offer other tours focused on various aspects of the city. I felt the free tour was highly informative, and I even made a couple of friends with whom I ended up touring the Kremlin.
Places to visit in Moscow: Red Square
Yes, I know this isn’t original as it is probably listed on EVERY list of things to see in Moscow. However, I want to mention it not only because there is so much historical significance in this location but also because it is also the location of many other cool spots. Around the square, you can hit many of the other spots on this list, as well as Lenin’s Mausoleum.
Places to visit in Moscow: Basil’s Basilica
This is THE building that everyone associates with Moscow. It is such a unique building that you won’t see anything just like it, even in other areas of Russia.
Places to visit in Moscow: Gorky Park
In the winter, Gorky Park houses the biggest skating rink in Eastern Europe. This rink is more like a race track. It isn’t just a giant circle of ice where everyone goes around and around. It is set up as a maze of paths and roundabouts, so there is plenty of room for everyone, and there is always a handrail for people who need a little extra help. The ice is lit from below, which adds to the winter wonderland atmosphere. There is an ice skating rink in Red Square as well. I thought that might have been really funny to say that I had done it. However, I’m glad I didn’t; Gorky Park is much more unique. It has miles of ice to skate on, and the price is much more affordable.
Places to visit in Moscow: Izmailovsky Market
If you are searching for souvenirs of any kind, you MUST make your way to the Izmailovsky market. The unique shapes of the roofs tower up, and you can see them from a distance. Get to the Izmailovsky market by travelling to the Partizanskaya metro stop. This station is only about 20 minutes from the city centre. Once you exit the station, head north for about 15 minutes, and you will arrive at the entry to the castle-like building that occupies the market. You can buy everything from clothing and kitchen supplies to porcelain decor, Soviet-era relics, and Matryoshka dolls.
The market opens at 10:00, and shops start to close up around 17:30. The first day I went on a weekday evening, there were hardly any vendors by the time I arrived. Luckily, I had time to visit during one of the weekend days and was pleased by the number of sellers were set up with their wares.
Places to visit in Moscow: Kremlin
A visit to Moscow is not complete without the Kremlin. This is where our tour ended, so a few of us stayed and decided to tour the inside. The Kremlin is a vast complex surrounded by a wall that includes 5 palaces, 4 cathedrals, and the Grand Kremlin Palace. This is the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation. The ticket sales area is confusing, and no one else seemed to really understand either. I had to go up to the front of one of the lines and ask the clerk. That really ended up saving all of us a lot of time. I recommend going in the morning as there will be fewer tour groups. From what I understand, the churches will close once they reach a specific capacity.
The Armory Chamber and the Belltower are two aspects of the complex that you will have to pay extra to see. I chose not to do the additional tours. Still, I enjoyed touring the main part of the complex with the exhibitions and the cathedrals.
Places to visit in Moscow: Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – Changing of the Guard
This ceremony occurs at the war memorial, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It happens every hour at the top of the hour. Try to get there a minute minutes early because people gather and want to get a spot close to the rails. The Presidential Guard at the Kremlin is the very elite part of the Russian Army.
Places to visit in Moscow: GUM
I am only listing this because I feel like this site needs an honest review. All of the guidebooks I recommended listed the GUM. (Pronounced like doom with a G). This store was the State department store in the Soviet Era. You will find them in most Russian cities. The most famous one is the one-off of Red Square. It has since been converted into a multi-story mall with VERY HIGH-END shops. However, the architecture isn’t anything significantly different from the rest of the surrounding area.
Places to visit in Moscow: the Metro
While you are touring Moscow, make a point of taking the Subway instead of taking a taxi. It might be a little worrisome to attempt to navigate with the language barrier. Don’t worry; the stops have labels in both the Cyrillic and Latin alphabets. The Moscow Metro has a reputation for being one of the most efficient (and cheapest) systems globally. It is truly the most beautiful subways that I have ever seen. Each station is different but equally ornate and beautiful. Many sites list the most beautiful stops. If you visit any of the stations near the sights listed above, you will see some of the great ones.