Tourists, foreigners, and Russians themselves flock to Moscow to see what makes this city pulse. Moscow is busy and fast-paced with its efficient subway system and 11 million people, but it is also steady and reliable with its cultural and historic relics that are still an integral part of the Russian consciousness. Moscow for the visitor can seem tantalizingly overwhelming. The city’s so large it can be difficult to determine what the best things to do in Moscow really are. So . . . in order to get a taste of what Moscow means to Russia, what should you see if you don’t know where to start?
CC BY-NC-SA Josh Simerman
The Moscow Kremlin is a must-see for visitors to Moscow and one of the best things to do in the Russian capital city. Once inside, you can visit Cathedral Square, whose historic cathedrals were worshiped in by the tsars and their families. Also on display are the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon, two immobile monuments to the grandeur of Russia past. Don’t forget the Amory Museum, either, which holds precious relics of Imperial stature, such as gold-gilt carriages and silver-threaded royal garments
Just outside the Kremlin is the famous Red Square. There you can watch the changing of the guard at the Eternal Flame or visit Lenin’s Tomb
(be prepared to stand in line for more than an hour for an “attraction” that is less impressive than it sounds). If St. Basil’s Cathedral is open, explore it—it is as beautiful on the inside as it is the outside. A final suggestion for Red Square: visit it in the quietude of the evening and experience it without the tourists. It’s magical!
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The State Tretrakov Gallery has the best collection of Russian art. The likenesses of Catherine the Great and Pushkin will confront you in its galleries. Larger-than-life social commentaries from the 19th century will make your skin prickle with their messages. Repin, Vrubel, Kandinsky, Chagall, and many more Russian artists are represented here—open any book on Russian art and most of the significant pieces will be hanging in the Tretyakov. However, a book can’t do these paintings justice!
CC BY-NC-ND tsnoom
This is the main souvenir
market of Moscow, and here is where you can find all things Russian at all prices. Folk crafts, jewelry, antiques, chess sets, and anything else “Russian” will tempt you in any variety and color. Getting there is easy, too—just look on any metro map and find the Izmaylovsky stop. Once you exit the subway, any passer-by can point you in the direction of the souvenir market.
CC BY AlphaTangoBravo/Adam Baker
Old Arbat Street is Moscow’s most famous thoroughfare. Old Arbat Street is tourist-oriented, and you’ll be able to find some not-so-unusual souvenirs here. You’ll have more than one artist, musician, or juggler vying for your attention, depending upon the season and the time of day. Old Arbat Street is completely pedestrian, which means it’s great for people watching.
CC BY-NC-SA Shay Haas
Moscow’s Victory Park memorializes the Great Patriotic War, otherwise known as World War II. This war took a huge toll on Russia, and elderly Russians are revered for having survived this difficult time. You’ll find WWII memorials all over Russia, but Victory Park is Moscow’s home for these monuments, sculptures, fountains, and obelisks.
CC BY-SA Ed Yourdon
Get a panoramic view of Moscow from Sparrow Hills. This vantage point allows you to get a good look at the expanse of the city. Perfect for photographs, a romantic moment, or jotting down thoughts in your travel journal.
GUM, just off of Red Square, is Moscow’s most famous shopping center. As the facade that faces into Red Square has maintained its 19th century appearance, it’s easy to pass it by if you don’t know it’s there. The variety of shops contained within are a testament to how far Russia has come since Soviet days. You’ll find all manner of boutique represented in GUM. If you just want to window shop, buy an ice cream from one of the vendors and browse at your leisure.
CC BY-NC-ND jaime.silva
While the Tretyakov Gallery houses Russia’s greatest art works, the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum holds a vast collection of foreign born artists’ masterpieces. If you like Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Renaissance art, you’ll enjoy the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum.
Boat Tour of Moscow
CC by AlphaTangoBravo/Adam Baker
Say goodbye to Moscow with a boat tour through the city. In summer, boat tours are pleasant and relaxing, and this alternative view of the city is charming. The towers of the Kremlin, as well as other significant architectural monuments, will peak over the treetops. Stand on the open-air deck and use your last roll of film to snap pictures of the buildings on the river’s banks.