By Rachael Funk
Rich in history and grand architecture, Russia's capital of Moscow is brimming with cultural wonders. From intricate mosaics decorating grandiose theaters to first-rate museums, the city’s attention to ornate detail and excellence make it an unforgettable travel destination.
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What to Know
Majestic in its storied past and modern present, Moscow’s powerful atmosphere is unmissable as you walk its streets. The remains of the Soviet state can be glimpsed all over the city in monuments, clubs, and even arcade games. Russia’s capital proudly displays its gems of architecture and fine art in Moscow and the best place to start exploring is at the famous Red Square.
When to Go
To avoid the most outrageous hotel prices and catch the warmer months, a good time to travel is between April and May. Then, the temperatures should begin to crawl toward the 50s and 60s, the sun will be coming out for most of the day, and hotel prices will not have yet hit their peak for the season.
How to Get Around
The best way to get around the city is to use their extensive metro system. It reaches through the downtown area and a one-way ticket costs about $1 USD. If you made a bundle purchase, you can save money per trip. Be aware that none of the signs will be in English, so you will want to either travel with someone who can translate, get a translation app on your phone, or grab a dual language map from the Moscow Metro’s website.
The city’s trolleybus system runs on gas and electricity. The network includes both state and privately run trolleys and tends to be slower and less reliable than the underground metro system thanks to its lack of a central organizing body. Average wait times can vary between five and 40 minutes and routes and schedules are subject to change and traffic. “A” signs designate bus stops while “T” signs mark trolley stops. Tickets for trolleys and buses are available at kiosks and metro stations around town and cost about $1 USD.
Moscow’s roads are shaped like large wheels or “ring roads” circling the city with smaller streets extending out from the city center like spokes. If you rent a car and plan on driving, be aware that congestion is an issue that lasts well beyond typical rush hours and parking downtown can be pricey.
Grabbing a taxi on the street is an option, albeit an expensive one. In Moscow, you will find an option of private and public cabs. Private cabs are usually residents driving their own cars and in this case, it’s a better idea to opt for a public cab as they are licensed drivers in marked cars who know the city better. Before you get in the cab, agree on a flat price with the driver. Also, be aware that due to traffic in the city, it may take some time to arrive at your destination.
Where to Eat
Food in Russia doesn’t have to just be cabbage, borscht, and cavair! In fact, since the fall of the Soviet Union, Moscow has seen an influx of new restaurants lovingly creating dishes for everything from traditional Russian fare to international foods like sushi. Here are a few places to check out while you’re in the city.
- StrEAT Ulitsa Leninskaya Sloboda, 26 стр. 1 Phone: +7 985 228-66-33
- Uhvat Rochdelskaya Street, 15-41 Phone: +7 977 125-51-77
- Oblomov 1-Y Monetchikovskiy Pereulok, 5 Phone: +7 495 953-68-28
- Severyane Bol'shaya Nikitskaya Ulitsa, 12 Phone: +7 499 348-83-32
- Lepim I Varim Pereulok Stoleshnikov, 9, строение 1 Phone: +7 985 688-96-06
- Ottepel Prospekt Mira, 119 строение 311 Phone: +7 499 650-00-28
- Pasticceria Don Giulio Pokrovka Street, 27 строение 1 Phone: +7 495 624-56-52
- Grand Café Dr. Jhivago Mokhovaya St, 15/1 Phone: +7 499 922-01-00
What to See
Housing the embalmed body of communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, the mausoleum is located in the Red Square and there is no charge to enter. Bags, phones, and cameras are strictly forbidden and you can check them for a fee before you proceed through the mausoleum. There are rumors this site may not be open to visitors for much longer, so stop by while you can!
St. Basil’s Cathedral
One of the most iconic sights of the city, St. Basil’s Cathedral is known for its bright colors, shapely domes, and imposing presence. Czar Ivan the Terrible commissioned its construction to celebrate a military victory over the Mongols, but now it is a museum and one of the Red Square’s biggest attractions.
A trendy urban space which has undergone a complete transformation from its early days, Gorky Park is now full of cafes, lounge chairs, an outdoor cinema, and dance and yoga classes. You can enjoy food kiosks around the park or head over to the Gorky Park Food Row to explore the scene!
The world-renowned theater underwent a renovation in 2011 and now boasts updated acoustics, seating, and mosaics. The productions you can find at the theater are sure to be top quality ballet and opera, though if you don’t have time to sit for an entire performance, the exterior alone is enough to warrant a stroll past.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
One of Russia’s most visited cathedrals, this site was built in the 1990s. It was built in the same place where a 19th-century church with the same name once was, but had been destroyed in the 1930s. The cathedral holds the well-known Christ Not Painted by Hand by Sorokin, which managed to survive from the original building.
Take a jaunt to the bargains, crafts, and bustling kiosks of Iznailovsky Market. There, you can sift through all kinds of souvenirs and knick knacks while you take in the local atmosphere. Grab a snack or some mulled wine from the vendors while you shop!
Tips and Tricks
Don’t count on your smartphone GPS for navigation in the city. Your best bet is a paper map and a friendly stranger’s directions, so be sure to plan out your day ahead of time!
If you are traveling during the winter, bring an extra battery for your cell phone. The low temperatures may make it more difficult for your phone to hold a charge or turn your phone back on and you’ll be glad to have a “jump-starter” with you.
Carry your passport with you at all times while in Russia. If you are stopped by authorities, you may be asked to produce ID.
Don’t ask for a mixer for your vodka unless you want to cause a scandal – vodka is drunk in a quick shot and chased with a lemon or pickle, if anything at all. It’s traditional to eat something between shots as well so treat yourself to a little snack between drinks.
One of the most popular places to travel to on the Golden Ring, this city has no train station and no heavy industry, making it picturesque and tranquil. Many have described the town as an open-air museum thanks to its charm and architecture. The city is easily walkable and is famous for its mead, which can be drunk hot or cold and can be found on virtually any menu in the city.
Home to one of the most respected monasteries in Russia, Sergiev Posad is easy to reach by train. The main site in the city is, of course, the Troitse-Sergieva Lavra which is located about half a mile from the train station. There is also usually a souvenir market outside the monastery where you can buy a bottle to fill up with holy water during your visit.
The estate where Vladimir Lenin died and where his body was first embalmed, Gorki Leninskie is about 19 miles from Moscow. The main sites are the estate house where Lenin lived and died, which is now a museum, and the three other museums which are located in the immediate area. Additionally, there are monuments all over the estate to explore. Tickets are good for two days, and there is enough to see that you may consider extending your day trip into a two-day trip.