Top 15 places you must visit in Moscow
Moscow is the 860 year-old capital of Russia. If St. Petersburg is Russia’s “window on Europe,” Moscow is Russia’s heart. A truly iconic, global city, Moscow has played a central role in the development of Russia and the world. Much of Moscow was reconstructed after it was occupied by the French under Napoleon I in 1812 and almost entirely destroyed by fire. Moscow has not stopped being refurbished and modernized and continues to experience rapid social change. Russia’s Soviet past collides with its capitalist present everywhere in the country, but nowhere is this contrast more visible than in Moscow
There are lots and lots of interesting, beautiful, sometimes intriguing places in Moscow reflecting centuries of history. However we picked up 15 places which we believe absolutely must be included in your travel plan. Make sure you have completed your Russian visa application process prior to making any plans.
1. Red Square
Immediately outside the Kremlin’s wall is the celebrated Red Square, the 400m by 150m area of cobblestones that is at the very heart of Moscow. It separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod
The name Red Square neither originates from the pigment of the surrounding bricks nor from the link between the colour red and communism. Rather, the name came about because the Russian word красная (krasnaya), which means both “red” and “beautiful,” was applied to a small area between St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Spassky Tower of the Kremlin, and the herald’s platform called Lobnoe Mesto (contrary to the common misconception, it actually never was a place of execution), and Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich officially extended the name to the entire square, which had previously been called Pozhar, or “burnt-out place”, in reference to the fact that several buildings had to be burned down to make place for the square.
Note that the square is often closed for various celebrations or their rehearsals, so go there first thing after arriving in Moscow to make sure you don’t miss it later.
Near by you can find Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Kremlin, Gum, State Museum, Alexander garden, Kazan Cathedral.
2. Saint Basil’s Cathedral
The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, commonly known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral, is a church in the Red Square in Moscow. It was built from 1555–61 on orders from Ivan the Terrible and commemorates a capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. A world-famous landmark, it was the city’s tallest building until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600.
The building is shaped as a flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no analogues in Russian architecture.
The cathedral’s apparent anarchy of shapes hides a comprehensible plan of nine main chapels. Each chapel was consecrated in honour of an event or battle in the struggle against Kazan.
Legend has it that Ivan had the architects blinded so that they could never build anything comparable.
3. Moscow Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin, usually referred to as the Kremlin, is a fortified complex at the heart of Moscow, overlooking the Moskva River to the south, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square to the east, and the Alexander Garden to the west. It is the best known of the kremlins (Russian citadels) and includes five palaces, four cathedrals, and the enclosing Kremlin Wall with Kremlin towers. Also within this complex is the Grand Kremlin Palace. The complex serves as the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.
The Moscow Kremlin is considered to be a symbol of the Russian statehood. The architectural ensemble “The Moscow Kremlin and the Red Square” is included into the UNESCO List of World Cultural and Natural Heritage.
The Kremlin Territory is very large, occupying an area of 27 hectares. The good news is that the larger part is accessible to tourists!
Once inside you can visit the gorgeous Cathedral Square, enjoy the views of the Kremlin Cathedrals and admire the Tsar Bell (the broken bell) and the Tsar Cannon. You will also see the exterior of some important Kremlin buildings, including the Presidential Residence and the Grand Kremlin Palace (also known as the Great Kremlin Palace).
After touring the architectural ensemble of the Cathedral Square, take the weight off your feet at the spacious Kremlin Garden which is especially charming during the warmer seasons.
In the Kremlin Garden make sure to see the Space Tree. The First Man in Space Yuri Gagarin planted it two days after his legendary flight on 12 April 1961. To find the tree, face the Moskva River, it will be to your left. It is the only oak tree in the Kremlin Garden with a sing in front – it’s in Russian… but we’re certain you won’t miss it!
Presidential Helicopter landing areas – you can see them too. Again, while in the Kremlin Garden turn to face the River and get close to the cast iron fence. On your left (in the Kremlin south-eastern corner) you will see the two helicopter landing pads.
The GUM shopping mall is a landmark in Moscow’s Red Square. It occupies the majority of the historic square’s east side with a facade stretching the length of two and a half football fields. The Gum department store was built over a hundred years ago and is a testament to the expertise of late nineteenth century Russian architecture. With the looks of a royal palace this mall is a fitting addition to the numerous gems surrounding the Red Square.
The magnificent interiors comprise three elegantly designed floors with a glass roofed central courtyard spanning the whole length of the GUM. The floors are connected by bridges giving the whole area a graceful look associated with the finest buildings of yesteryear. At the centre of the complex is a lovely fountain that has served for decades both as a favourite meeting place and a popular photo opportunity.
Moscow’s GUM (each former soviet city had its own GUM) is today full of flagship stores with the most recognised brands from around the world. Apart from retail outlets, GUM also offers space for dining, cafes, exhibitions, galleries, leisure activities and cultural events.
Considering the beauty of this historic complex, the GUM in Moscow must be one of the most popular shopping malls in the country that doubles up as a great tourist attraction.
5. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
This gargantuan cathedral was completed in 1997 – just in time to celebrate Moscow’s 850th birthday. It is amazingly opulent, garishly grandiose and truly historic. The cathedral’s sheer size and splendour guarantee its role as alove-it-or-hate-it landmark. Considering Stalin’s plan for this site (a Palace of Soviets topped with a 100m statue of Lenin), Muscovites should at least be grateful they can admire the shiny domes of a church instead of the shiny dome of Ilyich’s head.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour sits on the site of an earlier and similar church of the same name, built in the 19th century to commemorate Russia’s victory over Napoleon. The original was destroyed in 1931, during Stalin’s orgy of explosive secularism. His plan to replace the church with a 315m-high Palace of Soviets never got off the ground – literally. Instead, for 50 years the site served an important purpose: the world’s largest swimming pool.
The Cathedral replicates its predecessor in many ways. The central altar is dedicated to the Nativity, while the two side altars are dedicated to Sts Nicholas and Alexander Nevsky. Frescoes around the main gallery depict scenes from the War of 1812, while marble plaques remember the participants.
6. Bolshoi theatre
In downtown Moscow on a beautiful square there is the main temple of Russia’s culture – the Bolshoi Theater. The pride of all Russia – Bolshoi Theater – is one of the world’s biggest opera and ballet theaters, rated as high as La Scala in Italy and Covent Garden in England. It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Bolshoi Theater for Russia. You can only enjoy its immortal creations and to admire its magnificent building, which is also an outstanding example of Russian architecture. The history of the Bolshoi Theater as it is both majestic and confusing. Take for instance the fact that there are two dates of birth of the Bolshoi Theater – March 1776 and January 1825.
The Bolshoi has recently undergone a much-needed renovation. In 2011 the theatre reopened the doors of its main stage after several years of work, revealing expanded theatre space and glittering mouldings. In the meantime, the smaller New Stage (Novaya Stsena), remodelled in 2003, has continued to host performances.
An evening at the Bolshoi is still one of Moscow’s most romantic and entertaining options for a night on the town. The glittering six-tier auditorium has an electric atmosphere, evoking over 240 years of premier music and dance. Both the ballet and opera companies perform a range of Russian and foreign works here. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Bolshoi was marred by politics, scandal and frequent turnover. Yet the show must go on – and it will.
The Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are amongst the oldest and most renowned ballet and opera companies in the world. It is by far the world’s biggest ballet company, having more than 200 dancers. The theatre is the parent company of The Bolshoi Ballet Academy, a world-famous leading school of ballet. It has a branch at the Bolshoi Theatre School in Joinville, Brazil.
7. Ostankino Tower
Ostankino TV tower (540m) is the tallest freestanding structure in Europe. You can enjoy the view of Moscow from its two observation decks: the glassed deck (337m); and the open observation deck (340m). You can only access the open observation deck from April to October and during favorable weather conditions
The Ostankino Tower is a very popular Moscow attraction and we recommend you book the visit in advance. The observation deck is open for visitors daily from 10:00 till 22:00. The tour lasts one hour. During the tour you will learn about the history, architectural and technical features of the Ostankino TV Tower and take in the picturesque panorama of Moscow from its observation decks.
Not far from the TV tower are such Moscow highlights as the Ostankino estate, VDNKH park, the Space museum. You can get to the TV tower by car or by monorail.
8. Poklonnaya Hill
The most famous place at the entrance to Moscow from the west, of course, is Poklonnaya (Bow) Hill, a notable place, connected with the various historical events in Russia. Once, this gently sloping hill was located far outside Moscow, and from its summit the spectacular view of the city opened. Travelers stopped there to have look at Moscow and bow to her: hence the name of the hill. It was on Poklonnaya Hill that Napoleon vainly waited for the keys to Moscow; it was there that the soldiers went to the front to defend the Motherland during WWII.
That is why Poklonnaya Hill became the symbol of Russia’s victory over foreign aggressors. In connection with the past events the large memorial dedicated to the Victory in Great Patriotic War of 1941 – 1945 with a park, monuments, museums, and churches was created.
Only on February 23, 1958 Poklonnaya Hill received the memorial sign saying “There will be erected the monument in the honor of the Soviet people’s victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945”; later the Victory Park was planted there.
9. Tretyakov Gallery
This spectacular museum is an essential destination for budding Russophiles and all visitors to Moscow.
For most Westerners, Russian art is something of a closed book up until the 20th century and the appearance of giants such as Kandinsky, Chagall and Malevich. The Tretyakov gives you the chance to discover the rich tradition from which these great artists sprang onto the world stage.
Often referred to as the Old Tretyakov to differentiate it from the annex next door, the gallery has 62 rooms and 100,000 works charting the development of Russian painting from the 10th to the end of the 19th Centruy.
Icons are an acquired taste – although the Tretyakov collection is impressive – and it’s hard to get excited over the derivative, Italian-influenced portraits and landscapes of the 18th Century, but the rejection of the Imperial Academy’s restrictive diktats and the attempt to create a national art for the people that gained momentum as the 19th century progressed produced some fascinating results. Fans of Russian literature can entertain themselves by seeing how the concerns and ideals of the great 19th century writers were reflected by the artists of the same period.
10. Gorky Park
The Central Park of Rest and Culture Named After M. Gorky, to give it its full name, is one of the most famous places in Moscow (thanks presumably to Martin Cruz Smith’s grizzly tale of a psychopathic professor, and the Hollywood film it inspired – shot mostly in Stockholm). Laid out in 1928, this was the first park of its kind, and the prototype for hundreds of others across the Soviet Union.
The park stretches along the banks of the Moscow River, and is divided into two parts. The first is primarily of interest to children or those trying to entertain them, as it contains a range of funfair rides and rollercoasters – some safer looking than others, although they are being upgraded all the time. You can also hire boats or horses, go bungee jumping, and there’s a sports club with tennis courts. In winter the whole area becomes a vast skating rink with skate hire, disco lights and music to match. In summer the “beach” area is hugely popular with sun-worshippers, and becomes an open air club in the evenings.
The other, older, half of the park is considerably more restrained, consisting of formal gardens and woodland that combine the former Golitsynskiy and Neskuchniy Gardens, names that crop up regularly in Russian literary classics. There are a number of fine old buildings dating from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, including two summerhouses by the great Moscow architect Mikhail Kazakov (who designed the Senate Building in the Kremlin), and the first City Hospital. Nearby is the enormous Green Theater, an outdoor amphitheater that hosts various gigs and concerts in the summer months.
Gorky Park’s attractions are generally more appealing for locals than for tourists but it’s the place to come if you want to find out how the majority of Muscovites spend their free time. Across the road from the main entrance, in front of the House of Artists, is the Graveyard of Fallen Monuments, a ramshackle but intriguing collection of old Soviet official statues and other homeless sculpture that’s well worth a brief inspection.
11. Pushkin museum
The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art is the largest museum of European art in Moscow, located in Volkhonka street, just opposite the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The International musical festival Svyatoslav Richter’s December nights has been held in the Pushkin museum since 1981.
Today, around 700,000 art works from different epochs are present in the Pushkin museum’s collection ranging from Ancient Egypt and Greece up until the beginning of XXI century. The assemblage of XIX-XX century French art is most exceptional in the museum and one of the most distinguished ones in the world. The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art attempts to engage modernity and classic art works in a mutual dialogue, as well as offer its original perception on widely recognized art pieces.
12. Tagansky Protected Command
The Tangansky Protected Command Point, also known as An-02 (1947), FS-293 (1951), FS-572 (1953), and GO-42 (from 1980), as well as RFQ “Tagan”, and now Exhibition Complex Bunker 42, is a once-secret military complex, bunker, and Spare Long-Range Aviation Command Post (ET-42) in Moscow, Russia, near the underground Moscow Metro station Taganskaya. It has an area of 7,000 square metres (75,000 sq ft) and is situated at a depth of 65 metres (213 ft) below ground.
Construction of the facility began in 1951, in connection with the early threat of nuclear war with the United States. The underground complex was built using the same technique that was used in the construction of the Moscow Metro subway, to which it is connected by two tunnels. The first tunnel was used to supply the facility, and connects to the subway between the Kurskaya and Taganskaya stations. The second tunnel connects to the technical areas of Taganskaya.
In 1956, the facility operated as an emergency command post headquarters, and was involved in long-range aviation communications. Personnel at the facility, including technical staff, were changed over every 24 hours. The staff worked in short shifts in order to stay alert and prevent combat anxiety. According to recollections of veterans, many of the staff members worked for various other institutions, including the central telegraph, radio studio, and geodetic laboratory. In the 1960s, the bunker was equipped with everything needed to continue operating in the event of a nuclear attack, including food, fuel, and two artesian wells to provide clean drinking water for an extended period of time.
In the mid-1970s, it was decided to reconstruct part of the bunker to serve the needs of the central telegraph office. This was due to a backlog of maintenance issues in the complex, such as a lack of waterproofing, and aging diesel generators and ventilation systems. These plans were never carried out, however, and the bunker was fully declassified in 1995.
13. Peter the Great Statue
The Peter the Great Statue was unveiled in 1997 on the spit of Moscow Riverand Vodootvodny Canal (water bypass canal). Grand statuary group was erected on the artificial island. The unveiling of the monument was coincided with commemoration of 850th anniversary of Moscow. The total height of the monument is 98 meters: it is the highest monument in Russia and one of the highest in the world. The construction of statuary group is very complicated and unique. The column, fixed up on the granite pedestal, supports the boat, in which the figure of Peter the Great is situated. The frame structures of the monument are fabricated of stainless steel and bronze facing blocks are fixed on them. Pedestal, boat and tsar figure were framed separately and were fixed up in the assembled condition. Peter the Great is holding golden scroll in his hand. St. Andrew’s flags are fixed up on bearings as wind spinners; roods on them are also golden. Fountains, which create effect of floating ploughing boat, are built in reinforced concrete base.
14. Sparrow Hills
This name was given to the high wooded right bank of the Moskva River. In the vast green area on the mountain slopes there is a park, a favorite place of summer rest for the Muscovites. The name of the place originated from the village of Sparrow existed there in the Middle Ages. There, on Sparrow Hills, there are the buildings of the Presidency, a number of institutions of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Moscow State University with one of the Seven Sisters in the middle. There is also a viewing platform overlooking the magnificent panorama of the city.
Moscow planetarium is one of the most interesting places to visit, there are various objects which illustrate fundamental physical laws and interactive activities when somebody can control the toy moon probe or simulate a thunderstorm.
The museum is not far from the zoo, right in the heart of Moscow and has a recognizable dome. Cucumber top shaped it catches the eye immediately and is really popular among Moscovites.
There is Sky Park with an observatory, Urania museum and Lunarium (the Moon hall) with multilingual guided tours. Planetarium is highlighted by the giant semi sphere screen where viewers can see galaxies, constellations, different space bodies as if they look through the telescope lying in their armchairs. These films are exciting, informative and show the most global and universal scope of the world. Besides, recently the museum has introduced visual music shows to Pink Floyd songs at the big Star hall.
Planetarium was founded in 1929, used to be an astronomy centre in Soviet times and worked as a training base for polar pilots but now is a museum which has turned into a modern and well equipped science attraction for both adults and kids.