Moscow was the starting point of my Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian journey to Beijing. Although I had a list of things to see, I left without exactly knowing what to expect from this great metropolis.
I was greeted by a beautiful, incredibly fascinating, eclectic, and dynamic city. In a few days, I managed to visit a lot of exciting places, and yet I said goodbye to Moscow with still a very long list of things to do and see.
Moscow in a nutshell
The following is an interactive map. Some of the main points of interest are marked with red pins, some parks in green, some restaurants in orange, and the two of the most important museums in Moscow in gray. Finally, the monumental Metro stations, the Seven Sisters Skyscrapers, and other architectural hot spots are marked with brown pins.
In my opinion, there is only one place where to start a Moscow city tour, and this is Red Square, one of the largest squares in the world.
Some of the buildings that surround the square are painted in red, but this is not the reason why Red Square has this name. It is not even in homage to the color of Communism. In Russian, the same adjective was once used both with the meaning of red and beautiful. So Red Square stands for Beautiful Square.
Around the square there are some of the most famous and well-known buildings in Moscow:
Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
- Moscow Kremlin.
- Lenin’s Mausoleum.
- Kazan Cathedral.
- GUM Department Store.
- State Historical Museum.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
The Cathedral was built on orders from Ivan IV the Terrible to commemorate his war conquests, and it is probably the most famous monument in Moscow. Its colorful and irregular towers are, in fact, a unicum in the history of Orthodox and Russian architecture.
Today, the Cathedral has lost its religious function and has become a museum.
It is another of the most significant points of interest in Moscow. Kremlin literally means fortress inside a city, and many Russian cities have one. Everywhere, the Kremlin represents the oldest and most ancient part of the town.
Cathedral Square is the center of the Moscow Kremlin, which is also surrounded by the Kremlin Wall and its twenty towers. As if this were not enough, within the walls, there are the Kremlin Arsenal, several historical Palaces, Tsar Bell, and Tsar Cannon. This place is a sort of open-air museum.
It is the red granite funerary monument that houses the body of the Soviet leader. During my Trans-Siberian tour, there is no place I visited without a statue, a bust, or similar dedicated to him. Lenin’s body is here preserved and exposed to the public, admission is still free (2019).
Usually, there is a line of visitors that branches sometimes off to the center of Red Square. During my visit, the Mausoleum was closed for security reasons due to another event taking place in the square.
Looking at it, it seems incredible that this Cathedral is only a very faithful reconstruction of the original, that was demolished in 1936 on orders from Stalin.
GUM Department Store
The GUM is an elegant and historic building, which overlooks the Red Square, skirting it almost the entire length. It is currently a large shopping center and houses shops of the most famous luxury brands, as well as restaurants and bars.
I recommend visiting it even if you are not going to go shopping.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Over 100 meters high, it is the tallest Eastern Orthodox church and can host up to 10,000 people.
It is a copy of the original, which was blown up during the Stalin regime to make room for the Palace of the Soviets. The Palace was a futuristic construction in honor of Lenin, which was never completed, first due to the outbreak of World War II, and then for lack of funds. The Cathedral was thus rebuilt and opened in 2000.
This district with the famous Arbat Street is one of the main tourist attractions of Moscow, full of sellers, street artists, craftsmen, and restaurants.
I confess that Moscow was the first city (and probably will also be the last) in which I made a subway stations’ tour. This is a truly incredible thing, but the monumental stations of the Moscow Subway are real architectural jewels that leave you breathless.
The architecture, styles, and colors are sometimes very different from station to station. Avoid the rush hours if you want to better enjoy their beauty.
Another tour that I did not want to miss. This group of seven skyscrapers, wanted by Stalin, was built after World War II in the style of socialist classicism to compete with the American ones (with which they partially share the external forms) and to glorify the greatness of Russia.
Wherever you are in Moscow, just turn around to see one or two of these skyscrapers. Regardless of personal tastes, in my opinion, going to see at least one or two is mandatory if you visit Moscow, at least for what they represent historically speaking.
Spending at least a moment to visit this ballet and opera theater (one of the most important in the world) should be on any Moscow visitor’s list.
It is since 2004 a UNESCO World Heritage Sites, but the whole area is currently (2019) under renovation. However, the monastery is located in a bend of the Moskva River, a green and very peaceful area of the city, and for this reason, it is still worth planning a visit here.
I have marked several green areas in my interactive map above, some more famous, and some less famous. Certainly, Gorky Park plays a central role here for the notoriety it has acquired in contemporary culture and art. For example, Martin Cruz Smith wrote a book with the same name or the band Scorpions quoted it in their song Wind of Change.
Sparrow Hills is about 200 m high and one of the highest points in Moscow. Second only to Gorky Park for popularity.
Zaryadye Park is adjacent to Red Square. It includes some modern architecture buildings, churches, and a floating bridge over the Moskva River.
Anyway, there are in Moscow many green areas arranged almost everywhere, all well-kept and spotlessly clean. Here are two examples of not well known and yet pleasant parks:
There is so much to see in Moscow that the Museums almost seem to overshadow. Yet here there are some very prestigious museums, and it is mandatory to mention at least two:
- Puškin Museum of Fine Arts.
- Tretyakov Gallery (Russian Fine Arts).
If you have extra time
Some of the points of interest listed below are still on my list of things to see in Moscow. I haven’t been able to visit them either.
- Russian State Library.
- Gostinyy Dvor (located near Red Square is supposed to have one of the biggest glass roofs in Europe).
- Patriarch’s Pond (it is a residential area, with historical buildings surrounding a pond).
- Church of the Ascension at Kolomenskoye (located pretty outside the city center, it stands out because it breaks with the traditional patterns of Orthodox architecture. It is since 1994 a UNESCO Heritage Site.).
- Moscow City (skyscrapers and modern architecture).
Things to eat
It may seem strange, but Moscow is full of self-service restaurant chains, which prepare dozens of dishes. Take what you want and then pay. In the map above, I have marked some Grabli Restaurants (also written Grably), the locals recommended them to me when I asked them where Muscovite go for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
I was one evening for dinner at the Khachapuri Restaurant, and I can only recommend it. Fast and kind service and the waiters also spoke English. They serve Georgian cuisine, which I absolutely recommend. After trying it there, I ate Georgian as many times as I had the chance!
How to get around in Moscow
The city center and the Kremlin can be visited entirely on foot. But Moscow is pretty big and, for all other destinations, I recommend using the Metro (take advantage of it and visit the monumental stations).
To move without too much trouble, just buy the Troika Card as soon as you arrive. It is a rechargeable that allows you to use all public transport at a reduced price per way. The Troika can be made and recharged at the automatic machines or at the counters. Before leaving Moscow, you can give it back and recovery the unused credit.
Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian Railway – All you need to know
Travel arrangements: General Information
Departure station: Moscow
First stop: Nizhny Novgorod
Second stop: Kazan
Third stop: Yekaterinburg
Fourth Stop: Novosibirsk
Fifth stop: Krasnoyarsk and Stolby Nature Sanctuary
Sixth stop: Lake Baikal
Seventh stop: Irkutsk
Eighth stop: Ulan-Ude
Ninth stop: Ulaanbaatar
Tenth stop: Datong
Arrival station: Beijing