Things to Do in Moscow
An imposing red-brick fortress stretching along the banks of the Moskva River, the Moscow Kremlin is the grand centerpiece of Moscow and one of Russia’s most recognizable landmarks. Originally the seat of the Russian grand dukes and later home to Soviet leaders such as Lenin and Stalin, the Kremlin is now the Russian president’s official residence.
Red Square has been Moscow’s historic and cultural epicenter for centuries, holding everything from a medieval marketplace to Soviet military parades to rock concerts. No visit to the Russian capital is complete without a stroll through the square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's encircled by some of Moscow’s most iconic landmarks.
With its underground network of trains and tunnels stretching for more than 190 miles (305 kilometers) across 200-plus stations, Moscow’s metro system covers a lot of territory. It’s more than just a transport hub though. Many metro stations are architectural landmarks, built in Soviet times and dubbed "the palaces of the people."
Completed in 1561 after it was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, St. Basil’s Cathedral is one of the most recognizable and iconic landmarks in Moscow, and perhaps in all of Russia. Officially named Intercession Church, St. Basil and its nine, colorful onion domes reside on the southern end of Red Square, marking the geometric center of Moscow.
GUM is an abbreviation meaning “Main Universal Store”, from the Russian “Глáвный универсáльный магазѝн”. It is the name of a private shopping mall located in central Moscow, just opposite Red Square. The building is a trapezoidal shape, with a steel framework and a glass roof. This made it quite unique at the time of construction, in the 1890s. From 1890 to the
1920s, the Red Square GUM was known as the Upper Trading Rows and served as a State Department Store. It was built to replace the previous trading rows, which were destroyed during the 1812 Fire of Moscow. However, GUM hasn’t always served as a shopping destination.
In 1928, Joseph Stalin converted it into office spaces, and it only reopened as a department store in 1953. It then became one of the only stores in the former Soviet Union not to suffer from consumer goods shortage, often resulting in long shopper queues spilling into Red Square.
The Cathedral of Christ the Savior (Khram Khrista Spasitelya) was originally commissioned by Tsar Alexander I after Russia’s defeat of Napoleon, but work did not begin on it until 1839. Designed by a famed St Petersburg architect, it was modeled on the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
The cathedral was eventually consecrated in 1883, but its tenure was short-lived as the Soviets destroyed it in 1931 to make way for what would have been a Grand Palace of Soviets. However, the palace was never built and instead a swimming pool stood in its place for several decades. In the mid-1990s, Moscow’s mayor joined with the Russian Orthodox Church to rebuild the cathedral and construction began in 1994.
With donations from more than a million Moscow residents, the new church followed the original design, but with modern day improvements. At 103 meters tall, it is the tallest Orthodox church in the world and can accommodate nearly 10,000 church-goers. A highlight for visitors is undoubtedly the panoramic view from a 40-meter-high observation platform inside the bell tower.
Hidden beneath the unassuming façade of a residential building, Bunker-42 was once one of the USSR’s best-kept secrets—a nuclear bunker buried 197 feet (60 meters) underground. Now preserved as a museum, the site offers insight into Soviet-era Russia and the Cold War.
Towering 1,772 feet (540 meters) over Moscow’s All-Russian Exhibition Center (VDNK), the Ostankino TV Tower is one of the tallest structures in Europe. Visitors come to take in the view from the city’s highest observation decks, including an open-air platform that’s open only during the summer, or dine at the revolving restaurant.
Lenin’s Mausoleum is the current resting place of Vladimir Lenin, the former leader of the Soviet Union. Lenin’s embalmed body has been on display since he passed away in 1924 and his tomb has been visited by millions. Located near Red Square in the center of Moscow, the tomb is a small granite building that features elements derived from ancient mausoleums such as the Step Pyramid in Egypt and the Tomb of Cyrus the Great in Iran. Although a bit morbid, a visit to Lenin’s Mausoleum is considered a must for visitors to Moscow.
An architectural landmark and one of Russia’s most prestigious venues, the Bolshoi Theatre is home to the world-famous Bolshoi ballet and opera companies. With a legacy dating back to the late 18th century, the theater hosts regular performances of classics such asLa Traviata,*Carmen,Swan Lake, andThe Nutcracker*.
More Things to Do in Moscow
Once a Soviet-era amusement park, Gorky Park (Park Gorkogo) has reinvented itself in recent years as one of Moscow’s most popular public green spaces. More than 300 acres (120 hectares) of parkland stretch along the Moskva River, featuring walking trails, botanical gardens, and recreational areas.
Moscow’s Kazan Cathedral (Kazansky Kafedralny Sobor) was built between 1633 and 1636 to celebrate Russia’s liberation from Polish invaders in 1612, the end of the Time of Troubles. Prince Dmitry Pozharsky often prayed to a holy icon of Our Lady of Kazan, to which he attributed his success in removing Polish occupiers. Kazan Cathedral housed the icon for two centuries.
In 1936, the church was intentionally demolished as part of a greater plan to remodel Red Square to host military parades for the Soviet Union. Using measurements and photographs of the original church, the All-Russian Society for Historic Preservation and Cultural Organization built a replica of the cathedral in 1993.
Services are held within the cathedral twice each Sunday, as well as for vespers on Monday evening.
Just west of the Kremlin, the Alexander Garden (Alexandrovsky Sad) was laid out between 1819 and 1823 in an effort by Tsar Alexander I to rebuild Moscow after the end of the Napoleonic Wars. One of the first urban public parks in Moscow, it was built on the site of the riverbed of the Neglinnaya River, which was channeled underground.
The garden actually includes three separate gardens, which stretch all along the western wall of the Kremlin, but the Upper Garden is of most interest to visitors. It includes the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which contains the remains of a soldier killed in World War II. A faux ruined grotto was built underneath the Middle Arsenal Tower in 1841, and a large granite obelisk was erected in 1914 to celebrate the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty. While it was originally engraved with the names of the Romanov tsars, the Bolsheviks re-carved it with names of socialist and communist philosophers and political leaders.
In the Middle Garden stands the Kutafiya Tower, the most prominent feature of the garden. This is also where you will find ticket booths for the Kremlin. The Lower Garden was the last to be laid out and stretches to the road to the Borovitskaya Tower, one of two entrances to the Kremlin.
Tverskaya Street (Ulitsa Tverskaya) is Moscow’s version of Main Street, running uphill from near the north end of Red Square out toward St Petersburg. The street existed as early as the 12th century and connected Moscow with the cities of Tver and Novgorod. It was the center of Moscow’s social life in the 17th and 18th centuries and was often used by the Russian tsars as a promenade through the city to their residence in the Kremlin. By the end of the 19th century, grand residences had been largely replaced by commercial buildings in a mix of styles, and during the Stalin era, many churches and historical buildings were torn down to widen the street and to make room for large apartment blocks and government buildings.
Today, Tverskaya Street is the most expensive shopping street in all of Russia, and in 2008, it was the third most expensive street in the world for real estate. In addition to being a high-end shopping mecca, it is a center of nightlife, culture and entertainment. On or near the street, you can find the Yermolova Theater, the Museum of Traditional Russian Art, the Moscow Contemporary Art Museum, the Moscow Town Hall and monuments to Pushkin and the founder of Moscow, Prince Yuri Dolgoruky.
Located on parklands overlooking the Moskva River, Kolomenskoye is an open-air museum that brims with architectural gems. Just south of Moscow, the 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site once served as a summer residence for the Grand Dukes of Moscow and Russian Tsars.
With its red and white towers and gleaming gold domes rising up from the banks of the Moskva River, the Novodevichy complex paints a striking picture. Built in the 16th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the convent where Peter the Great imprisoned his sister Sophia. Its cemetery houses notable Russian figures.
Showcasing more than 170,000 works from the 11th to the 20th century, the Tretyakov Gallery is a glorious tribute to Russian art. From medieval icons to Soviet-era masterpieces, it’s the world’s most comprehensive collection of Russian art.
One of several churches standing on Cathedral Square inside Moscow’s Kremlin, the Cathedral of the Archangel was the main burial place for Russian tsars for centuries until the capital was temporarily moved to St. Petersburg. Built in the early 16th century, it represented the culmination of a grand building project initiated by Ivan the Great. Built in a style unique from the other Kremlin cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Archangel features Italian Renaissance design elements, as well as five domes representing Jesus and the four evangelists.
While many of the cathedral’s treasures are now displayed in the Kremlin Armory Museum, the 17th century iconostasis remains, as do many 16th and 17th century wall frescoes, painted by more than 100 different artists. The oldest icon in the cathedral, which depicts Archangel Michael in full armor, dates back to the 14th century. Visitors can see more than 40 tombs inside the cathedral, with those of the Grand Dukes and their families lining the southern wall and the vaults of the Romanovs standing in the center of the building.
Opened in 2004, the Gulag History Museum is the only museum in Russia devoted to Joseph Stalin’s legacy of terror in the early to mid-20th century. Founded by a former labor camp prisoner, it tells the stories of the creation of the first labor camps in 1918, the formation of the Gulag system in the 1930s, the expulsion of Germans from the Volga region and the mass deportations in the 1940s. To give visitors a small sense of what the camps may have been like, the museum features a reconstruction of some aspects of the camps, including a barracks, a punishment cell, an investigator’s office and a guard’s watchtower.
Visitors will also learn of the personal stories of gulag victims, with exhibits displaying documents, letters and memoirs of those sent to the camps by Stalin, as well as a collection of art by former gulag prisoners. Contemporary artists have also contributed pieces of art with their interpretation of the labor camps.
The grand epicenter of the Kremlin and the official residence of the Russian president, Moscow’s Cathedral Square (or Sobornaya Square) takes its name from the trio of magnificent cathedrals that stand watch over the plaza—the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Cathedral of the Archangel, and the Cathedral of the Annunciation.
The Pushkin Museum (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts) is the largest European art museum in Moscow, with over 560,000 works of art. Opened in 1912, it actually has no connection to Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian poet – it was simply renamed in his honor in 1937 to mark the centenary of his death.
The museum includes an impressive collection of Dutch and Flemish masterpieces from the 17th century, including several works by Rembrandt, as well as Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by painters such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso. The latter are now housed in a new Gallery of European & American Art of the 19th and 20th centuries next door to the main museum building. Many of the museum’s paintings were obtained in the 1920s and 1930s when private estates were nationalized; other works were taken from the History Museum, the Kremlin Museum, the Hermitage and other museums in St Petersburg.
The Pushkin Museum is also home to an Ancient Civilizations exhibit featuring ancient Egyptian artifacts and a Treasures of Troy collection that includes pieces dating back to 2500 BC.
One of several churches in Cathedral Square inside of Moscow’s Kremlin, the Assumption Cathedral(Dormition Cathedral) is arguably the most important. Constructed between 1475 and 1479 at the request of Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow, it is regarded as the mother church of Muscovite Russia.
It was long the place of coronation for the Romanov tsars, and it was the burial place for Moscow metropolitans and patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. Designed by an Italian architect, the cathedral was built with five domes and became a model for other churches throughout Russia with its colorful frescoes that dominate the interior and its impressive iconostasis that dates back to 1547. The tsars often added icons to the iconostasis from the cities they conquered, and the oldest of those, from the 12th century, was brought to Moscow from Veliky Novgorod after it was captured in 1561. Near the south entrance to the cathedral, you can see the throne of Tsar Ivan IV.
Located in the town of Sergiev Posad, the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius (Svyato-Troitskaya Sergieva Lavra) is the most important monastery in Russia and the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church. Founded in 1345, the monastery originally centered on a wooden church surrounded by several buildings and became the model for more than 400 similar cloisters throughout Russia. After the first church burned down, a stone cathedral was built, dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
It still stands today, housing relics of St. Sergius and works by some of the greatest iconic painters in Russia. Over the centuries, additional buildings were added to the monastery complex, including the Church of the Holy Spirit, the Assumption Cathedral, the Church of John the Baptist’s Nativity, a royal palace and a patriarch’s palace. Once the richest monastery in Russia, it was closed after the Russian Revolution and many relics were lost or destroyed. It was returned to the Russian Orthodox Church in 1945 and was restored throughout the 1960s and 1970s. The monastery was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1993.
The Kubinka Tank Museum is the largest museum in the world of armored vehicles. Located just outside of Moscow, it houses more than 300 tanks and vehicles from throughout the 20th century. One of the most unique vehicles on display is the German super-heavy tank prototype known as the Panzer VIII Maus—one of just two made and the only one still in existence.
Other exhibits include the Troyanov heavy tank and a Karl-Gerat self-propelled artillery, as well as single and limited edition prototypes from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and Cold War era tanks that were war trophies from the Middle East, Africa, Vietnam and Latin America. The vehicles are displayed throughout seven hangars, including four for Soviet and Russian armor alone, divided into heavy, medium, light and wheeled vehicles hangars. In 2000, all of the old vehicles were repainted in their original manner by Russian historical specialists.
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