Over the last 7 years, Moscow has become like a second home to me. I visited it for the first time in 2009, when my parents moved to Saint Petersburg. Over Christmas in 2009, I wanted to visit Moscow so bad, that I begged my mom to take a train ride with me there, and since then I’ve been in love with this city. I now go at least twice a year, and every time I visit Moscow, it looks so different! New places pop up to visit (like Moscow City which was only built in the last 5 years), there are always new art exhibitions to see, and new restaurants to try. But some things always remains the same in the beautiful town of Moscow such as its rich history and historical sights. As an (almost) local, today I’ve compiled my list of Top Things to See When Visiting Moscow for you!
A quick note on the logistics- as of last year, South African don’t need a visa to visit Russia for a less than 90 days stay, so visiting Mother Russia has become that much easier! There isn’t a direct fight to Moscow yet (sadly), so the easiest route to get there is via Dubai or Doha. I flew via Rome last month and that was also a great route. You can get tickets to Moscow from as little as R7 000 (if you book in advance) and the maximum I’ve ever paid was R10 000 for a return ticket.
Okay, onto my list!
Visit the Red Square and the Kremlin
The heart of Moscow, this beautiful piece of history has been around since the 12th century and is a non-negotiable to see when visiting Moscow(even for the 10th time!). Kremlin means “The Fortress”, which is what it was originally to the Moscow residents back in the day. Now this is one of the most beautiful and interesting places that you could visit, that consists of 5 squares, 20 towers and various buildings. You need a full day to explore inside the Kremlin (at least) because there is so much to see!
On the outside of the Kremlin, lies the famous Red Square, and the image you often see on postcards and travel channels is that of Saint Basils Cathedral. An interesting fact about this building, is that it actually has a twin in Saint Petersburg! On the Red Square you will find Lenin’s Mausoleum (I have personally never been inside because I don’t want to see his embalmed body, but it is interesting), The Armory, The State Historical Museum and GUM (one of the most luxurious shopping malls in the country). You can get to the Red Square for free and take as many photos as you want, its only when you start going inside the museums that you will be charged(you can check the different fees over here). This is an absolute must-do when visiting Moscow, be in rain, shine or snow!
Insider tip– If you want breakfast with a view, then I recommend booking a table at the Grand Cafe Dr. Zhivago which is located right across the Red Square. Have a typical Russian breakfast- tea and porridge, and some cherry dumplings while you marvel at the view of the Fortress.
Admire the Cathedral of Christ the Savior
One of my favorite places to visit and to admire, is the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. The original Cathedral was actually demolished in 1931 by the Soviets, and in its place stood an outdoor pool. In the 1990s (once USSR collapsed) the government decided to rebuild the original masterpiece, and the Cathedral was finished in the early 2000s. It is now the largest Orthodox Church in the world, and it is absolutely beautiful. It is free to visit, so make sure you get to see this beautiful building.
Walk along Old Arbat Street
I love this street in Moscow, and my parents stay 200 meters from it, so when I visit them, I get to walk along it almost every single day. The Old Arbat Street is one of the most historic streets in Moscow, one that poets dedicated their masterpieces to, and the street that musicians sang about. Right now it’s a pedestrian street only, filled with souvenir shops, cafes and museums. The street is beautiful all year around, as during the winter time there are Christmas markets on it, during spring there are performers singing on the streets, during autumn the street is busting with fall decor, and during summer they dress it with beautiful flowers like in this photo! Get lost in this historical street and right at the top of it, you will find New Arbat which is the modern sister of Old Arbat. On New Arbat you can shop for designer items, visit the movie theater, or check out the biggest book shop in Moscow!
Eat of all the delicious Russian food!
Now I might be biased here because I grew up eating this food, but I love Russian food! I look forward to visiting Moscow, just so I can eat all of the yummy things that my mom makes, and all of the “fast food” that there is in Moscow. Fast Food in Moscow doesn’t only mean MacDonald’s and Burger King, as in any food court in Russia for lunch you can get Borscht (beetroot soup), Blini (thin crepes) and Vareniki (dumplings with different fillings inside). My favorite are the cherry dumplings served with sour cream, I can eat those the whole day!
For breakfast I always recommend Shokoladnitsa– a chain of restaurants that serves delicious breakfasts that I can only ever have in Russia. Try the rice porridge, the mince-filled pancakes or the ricotta cakes- a popular Russian breakfast food made out of cottage cheese, served with jam or condensed milk. For lunch you must have a soup- Russians always have soup as their starter! There are many options here, and besides Borscht, I also recommend trying Solyanka (a meat soup), Shchi (a cabbage based soup) or Uha (fish soup). For main meal there are lots of options, starting with Olivie salad, Pelemni (minced meat in pastry), or Beef Stroganoff. And go crazy with your dessert! Anytime is tea time in Russia, so make sure to taste some of the fruit flavored tea, together with pancakes, Napoleon cake, and my favorite cherry dumplings!
Visit Gorky Park
Especially if you are visiting during the warmer months, Gorky Park is a must-do! Located just across the Mosvka-Reka River, Gorky Park is like the Central Park of Moscow. You can relax on the green lawns while exploring a virtual library that is available there, you can grab a hot corn and walk around, or you can rent a scooter, a bike, or roller blades and just cruise around. There are many fun activities for kids to do in the park, and from here you can catch a boat ride along the river, and see Moscow from another angle.
Visit Tsaritsyno for a Russian Empire Throwback
Tsaritsyno is a palace museum and park reserve in the south of Moscow. It was founded in 1776 by the order of Catherine the Great, but she apparently only visited the palace once! Currently, in Tsaritsyno there is a history and architecture museum, a landscape park with an adjacent forest, an art museum, the Biryulyovo dendropark, and a cascade of the Tsaritsyno ponds. We visited it when it was still a little bit chilly, so we didn’t get to enjoy the outside part of it as much as I would have wanted to, but inside it is beautiful! The hallways really take you back to the lush grandeur of 17th century Russia, and you can even dress up in a queen’s outfit, and feel like a queen for the day!
You can visit the park for free, and there is free entrance to the Bolshoi (Big) palace and the Khlebny dom (Bread house)on the 3rd Sunday of each month. Otherwise tickets to visit are about 10$ each. It’s a lovely place to see if you are interested in the Russian history, as all of the other palaces from the Imperial Russia times are located in Saint Petersburg. I really enjoyed visiting Tsaritsyno so I do recommend it.
Have a drink in Moscow City
A fairly new addition to the Moscow Sky line, The Moscow International Business Center (MIBC) (also known as “Moscow City” ) is a commercial district in central Moscow. Europe’s second tallest building, the Federation Tower, is in the MIBC. The complex also includes the third-tallest, fourth-tallest, sixth-tallest, seventh-tallest, and eighth-tallest buildings in Europe. You can see it from many angles, and the main reason to visit Moscow City is to have drinks at The Sixty.
The restaurant Sixty is located on the 62nd floor of the Federation Tower, one of Moscow’s tallest skyscrapers. At 225 meters above the ground, you can almost touch the clouds during the day or count the stars and lights of the Moscow City skyscrapers at night. This is something cool to do in the evening, before you head out for dinner.
See the beautiful and historical Moscow Subway Stations
You can get around Moscow easily using public transport, or simply walking around (depending on the distance). The buses run on time (and there is free wife in a lot of them!) but knowing Moscow traffic, you might get stuck in a jam. So I do suggest taking the subway, especially because so many of the Moscow subway stations are very beautiful! Here is a great list of all of the beautiful stations in Moscow, if you have time, try visit as many asyou can!
Spot all 7 of the 7 Sisters
The Seven Sisters are a group of seven skyscrapers in Moscow designed in the Stalinist style. They were built from 1947 to 1953, in an elaborate combination of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles. The Seven Sisters are: Radisson Blu Hotel(previously know as Hotel Ukraina), Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Apartments, the Kudrinskaya Square Building, the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs building, the main building of the Moscow State University(also positioned across the beautiful Sparrow Hills), and the Red Gates Administrative Building.
I love spotting these buildings all over Moscow, and to date I have seen 5 out of the 7. There is an amazing restaurant inside the Radisson Blu building, called Erwin, which I recommend for dinner if you like seafood. The Moscow State University building is also right across the Luzniki stadium (where the FIFA final was played) and on the other side there is Sparrow Hills, which is an observation platform, which gives an amazing panoramic view of the city.
Admire the art in the Tretyakov Gallery
I did mentioned this in my original post about Moscow over here, and to-date this remains on my favorite galleries that I have ever visited! The gallery’s history started in 1856 when the Moscow merchant Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov acquired works by Russian artists of his day with the aim of creating a collection, which might later grow into a museum of national art. In 1892, Tretyakov presented his already famous collection of approximately 2,000 works and right now the collection contains more than 130,000 exhibits. Whether you’re a fan of art or not, make sure to visit Tretyakov, as it has something for everyone!
Just walk around, and explore!
There is SO MUCH to do in Moscow and the best way to see it, is just by walking around and exploring. Go shopping in GUM, see the latest art exhibition at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, visit Izmaylovo for some souvenir shopping, see the beautiful Novodevichy Convent and its cathedrals, try delicious Georgian street food, and fall in love with this city just like I did!