Capital of Russia, home of the mighty Kremlin and the legendary Red Square and the city that inspired dozens of spy novels - this city needs little introduction. Once a small provincial outpost, Moscow has grown to become the cutting edge epi-centre of Russia, with a hedonistic nightlife scene, glitzy shopping malls, and world-class dining options yet it's a city that knows where it comes from and the streets are jam-packed with Russian history. It's the best place in Russia to get to grips with its modern politics and get an insight into the future the country is striving for.Read More
With internationally acclaimed museums and art galleries, vibrant parks and awe-inspiring historical monuments, the list of attractions can seem overwhelming though legendary Red Square is a good place to start, home to everything that makes Moscow so well-known including the colourful St. Basil's Cathedral – the subject of countless postcards and an enduring symbol of Russia, the mighty Kremlin - Russia’s political powerhouse where many infamous tyrants and dictators have conducted their business, and Lenin's Mausoleum where you can pay your respects to the father of Communism.
Thankfully getting around Moscow and its many attractions is easy using the stunning metro system. Gifted to the Soviet people by Joseph Stalin and a tourist attraction in itself, the underground transport network features opulent stations reminiscent of mini palaces. An entire day alone could be spent exploring the lavish metro stations and we recommend a good three days to do the city justice and see its star attractions.
Best sites to visit in Moscow
Red SquareView on map
As the political, historical and geographical heart of Moscow since the 19th century, Red Square is not to be missed. Moscow's major streets and highways converge on the broad square of grey cobblestones brought to life by some of the city's most iconic architecture. Historically it has been the site of public ceremonies and important proclamations and a stroll across the square is bound to inspire a sense of awe and wonder.
KremlinView on map
Few citadels in the world contain as much mystery as the Kremlin, a complex of churches, towers and arsenal ensconced within imposing red brick walls that run parallel with the River Moskva. Some of the buildings in the Kremlin date back as early as the 14th century and over the years many infamous tyrants and dictators including Ivan the Terrible and Stalin have conducted their business behind the impenetrable fortress walls.
Lenin's MausoleumView on map
Despite his final wishes to be laid to rest next to his mother in St. Petersburg, the embalmed remains of Russia's most famous communist revolutionary lie enclosed by a squat granite pyramid in the heart of Moscow. Built from smooth red, grey and black granite slabs designed to blend seamlessly with the red brick of the Kremlin walls, the tomb attracts hundreds of curious visitors on a daily basis wishing to pay their respects and catch a glimpse of the father of Communism. Entrance to Lenin's Mausoleum is free.
St. Basil's CathedralView on map
With colourful onion-shaped domes decorated in a patchwork of patterns and shapes, and topped by gleaming golden spires, St. Basil's Cathedral cannot fail to draw attention. Situated on Red Square in the heart of the city, the cathedral has come to represent Russia yet is one of a kind with no peers leading up to its construction in the mid-16th century. Composed of eight side churches laid out around a central tent-roofed tower, the cathedral was claimed by the secular Soviet Union in 1928 and has since served as a museum.
Christ the Saviour CathedralView on map
The opulent Christ the Saviour Cathedral is one of the world's largest Orthodox Christian churches with a gigantic height of 103 metres. Topped with gleaming golden domes, the cathedral was only completed in 2000 yet the site on which it stands claims a history dating back to the 19th century with the church undergoing many reincarnations from finely frescoed cathedral under the Tsars to a pile of rubble under Soviet rule. The present building was completed between 1994 and 2000 and the splendid landmark makes the most of its prominent position beside the River Moskva.
Gorky ParkView on map
Occupying an area of 300 acres beside the river, Gorky Park is the place to come for a spot of culture and leisure-time surrounded by attractive gardens and fine old buildings. The park dates back to the 1920s and had a major facelift in 2011 with a calendar of events including dance classes and art exhibitions. It's especially popular on the weekend with Moscow's urban dwellers looking for a spot of fresh air or to take advantage of the activities on offer from funfair rides to boating on the lakes and ice skating in the winter when the waters freeze over.
Tretyakov GalleryView on map
With a fascinating and unique collection of icons, landscapes and portraits that span the entire history of Russian art, the Tretyakov Gallery is not to be missed. Over 170,000 pieces are spread across 62 rooms with highlights including the large-scale historical scenes of Vasily Surikov and the realist paintings of Ilya Repin. Exhibitions change throughout the year with a spotlight on contemporary artists as well as those working in the 18th and 19th centuries. There's often queues so get in early to explore the gallery in a little peace and quiet. The gallery is closed on Mondays.
Recommended things to do in and around Moscow
Ride the MetroView on map
With 200 stations and a network of train tracks measuring over 300km, the Moscow Metro is one of the world's busiest subway systems with 9 million commuters using it each day. But not only is it a practical mode of transport it's also a visitor's attraction in its own right with magnificent marble platforms, soaring arches, beautiful mosaics and gilded art works. Gifted to the city by Stalin as a symbol of the Soviet's radiant future, the Moscow Metro deserves the title of most beautiful underground railway and it's definitely worth spending an hour or two jumping off at the most elaborate stations.
Ballet at the Bolshoi TheatreView on map
Few evenings out in Moscow can evoke the romance and splendour that a ballet or opera performance at the historic Bolshoi Theatre offers. The grand columned facade of the theatre encloses a six-tier auditorium and recently renovated decor and stage with a new one added. State of the art equipment and world-class performers make for spectacular productions of classics such as Nutcracker and Swan Lake to more contemporary dance versions of great literature. Performances sell out months in advance so get in early.
River Boat TourView on map
One of the best ways to enjoy unimpeded views of Moscow's most famous landmarks is via a leisurely cruise on the Moskva River. Cruise vessels vary between public boats that operate throughout the day with a large open top deck perfect for sightseeing, and state-of-the-art river boats with an onboard restaurant where you can watch the city go by from the comfort of a dinner table complete with three-course meal. Options are available throughout the year with vessels heated during the cold winter months.
Eating out in Moscow
Varenichnaya No.1View on map
For authentic Russian food at affordable prices in a cosy retro Soviet setting, head to Varenichnaya No.1 on the pedestrian street of Arbat. The vibrant interior is a jolly ensemble of books, old B&W televisions and phones while the menu features a small yet totally satisfying range of tasty dishes from filling dumplings and herring salads to borscht and pickled vegetables. The service is quick and friendly with an English menu available.
Meal prices: $
Cafe PushkinView on map
Those looking to splash some cash and enjoy quality Russian food in a fine setting should make Cafe Pushkin their first port of call. The Baroque mansion features three floors with a richly furnished library with wood panelling and old astronomical objects and a saloon-style bar. The attentive staff deliver dishes from a menu of Russian and French cuisine including caviar, dumplings and beef stroganoff.
Meal prices: $$$
Odessa-MamaView on map
Inspired by the food offerings of the Ukraine's port-city, the Odessa-Mama is a popular choice for seafood with a menu that favours Black Sea fish, much like Odessa the city does. The hip interior of the restaurant resembles a warehouse apartment with sofa-style benches and low hanging ceiling lights. Those not too keen on seafood will find plenty else to entice them from hearty 'nautical' pasta to apricot-stuffed chicken as well as a range of stuffed dumplings, warming soups and potatoes cooked in every imaginable fashion.
Meal prices: $$
Bosco CafeView on map
Few places can top the Bosco Cafe for its views of the mighty Red Square. Situated within the GUM department store, it's the perfect place to relax over a fine cappuccino while soaking up the sight of the Kremlin and Lenin's Mausoleum. The terrace is extremely popular in summer. The cafe specialises in Italian cuisine with the usual pasta and risotto dishes as well as a small selection of traditional Russian offerings. The extensive wine list means it's great for a leisurely drink while the comprehensive menu means there's something for everyone come dinner time.
Meal prices: $$$
Shopping in Moscow
GUM Department StoreView on map
A mecca for shoppers in Moscow, the GUM department store is also one of Russia's most historic shopping centres with the top floor once only open to the higher echelons of the Soviet party. Built in the 1890s it's a stunning piece of architecture with an elaborate facade and a glass roof reminiscent of a European train station. Hundreds of upmarket stores are spread across three levels and it's a great destination for designerwear and boutique outlets. It's worth a perusal even if you're not looking to purchase anything and if you're in need of a quick loo stop the store's fancy toilets add a touch of luxury to the experience!
Izmailovsky MarketView on map
Moscow is home to a number of vibrant markets but Izmailovsky Market is the best of the bunch for a cornucopia of souvenirs from the iconic matryoshka dolls to Soviet paraphernalia. The sprawling complex of stalls is also a good option for tableware, lace and real antiques often at lower prices than found elsewhere. The market is open daily from 10am to 8pm though some of the stalls only open on the weekends and it's best to get in early as you'll be competing with professionals who know how to spot a bargain. With a number of cafes it's possible to make an enjoyable morning or afternoon visit.
Yeliseev GroceryView on map
Foodies will find plenty to drool over in the grand Yeliseev grocery located on Tverskaya ulitsa. Set in a former 18th century mansion it's a particularly beautiful food hall with a lavish interior of stained glass windows, gilded woodwork and large chandeliers. There's a great choice of delicacies on offer from caviar to chocolate, vodka to sweet Crimean wines. Prices are a little more expensive than what you may find in the standard supermarkets but there's many nice souvenir options and the building itself is worth a visit alone.
Transport links in Moscow
Flying InView on map
Moscow is served by three airports - the two efficient international airports of Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo as well as the smaller Vnukovo airport where mostly domestic flights depart alongside routes to the Caucasus region. The comfortable high-speed Aeroexpress train connects Moscow's city centre with all three airports reached within 35-45 minutes. Most travellers prefer to use the train to get around Russia but those short on time can reach Yekaterinburg within 2.5 hours and Irkutsk within 5.5 hours by plane.
Railway ServicesView on map
The rail system in Russia is legendary and as capital Moscow is well-served by train with links to the rest of the country as well as many cities throughout Europe. It's even possible to travel to Moscow by train from China on the Trans-Siberian railway. There's nine main stations in Moscow with some overlap in destinations so make sure you check your ticket before heading off to the station. The majority of visitors to Russia will use the long-distance trains which offer a range of cabin classes to popular destinations including St. Petersburg and Novgorod.
By RoadView on map
Moscow is well connected to nearby cities with ten major highways flowing out of the capital, all in good condition. The public transport in and around Moscow is good enough to mean most visitors will use trains over car transfers, for instance, the high speed train between Moscow and St. Petersburg takes around 4 hours while a car journey will take closer to 9 hours. Driving in Moscow is not for the faint hearted either with poor road signage and heavy traffic.
Best Time to Visit
The seasons of spring (April and May) and autumn (September and October) are considered the best time to visit Moscow for this is when temperatures are pleasant, there's usually little rain and the skies can be clear and sunny. These are considered the shoulder seasons so prices are lower than at other times of the year and bargains are to be found. The summer months of June to August are high season when the temperatures are at their highest and rain minimal.