Moscow is one of those cities which instantly makes you feel alive and surprises you at every turn. I first visited the capital of Russia in September 2017 and returned again the same month in 2018 as I loved it so much! Whilst St Petersburg is an incredibly beautiful city, I firmly believe no visit to Russia can truly be complete unless you have seen it’s glittering jewel of the city called Moscow.
Although you can fly into Moscow directly, each time I have taken the high-speed Sapsan train from St Petersburg to Moscow. The journey takes about 3 hours and the benefit is you get to view the beautiful & unspoilt Russian countryside on the way. As soon as I stepped outside the Moscow train station I instantly felt what can only be described as a physically “electric” vibe. Moscow is alive and buzzing with energy and I knew it was going to be an experience like nowhere else in the world! Let’s take a look at my top 5 must-see experiences which I enjoyed and would recommend to any traveller in Moscow!
There is absolutely no feeling that quite compares to the experience of standing in the middle of the Red Square, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I remember visiting there on my first evening, so the first time I saw this historic place was when it was all lit up. This is the time when Red Square is at it’s finest with the red stars glowing atop the Kremlin and State Historical Museum. The GUM department store is also lit up with stunning lights all over its exterior and St Basil’s at the other end of the square beckoning you to come closer!
During the day it is a different but no less magical experience. You will be able to view the Kremlin where President of the Russian Federation works, see Lenin’s mausoleum and view the impressive Spassky clocktower, with its bells regularly chiming. Kazan Cathedral has been recently restored and regularly holds religious services. There are always locals and tourists walking around the square and plenty of tour groups meet here so it’s a very safe area and provides a myriad of photo opportunities.
UNDERGROUND ART GALLERY IN THE MOSCOW METRO
Only a couple of hours after I first arrived in Moscow, I was able to explore the stunning Moscow metro stations with my tour group. Stalin had a vision that the stations of the metro should be decorated to resemble the “palaces of the People”. The Metro here is decorated in the traditional Soviet style, with each station showcasing a unique perspective and story. The decorations and symbols were designed to showcase the achievements of the Soviet Union.
With around 7 million people travelling on the metro through Moscow daily, this transportation system is one of the busiest in the world. Wandering through the stations you can expect to find with chandeliers, marble, statues of heroes and mosaic artworks so detailed, that it’s hard to believe you’re not in a museum!
Some of the most beautifully decorated stations are:
Ploshchad Revolyutssi Station (Revolution Square station)
This is one of the most popular metro stations and the closest to Red Square. There are over 70 bronze statues depicting a cross section of the population from peasants to workers, soldiers and artists.
With a concept of emulating an underground crypt, the beautiful Novoslobodskaya Station is decorated with stained glass panels. Built in 1952, the Soviet artist Pavel Korin designed all 32 glass panels which are incredibly vibrant and definitely works of art!
Definitely one of my favourites and one of the prettiest metro stops, Komsomolskaya looks like the interior of a palace! Decorated with mosaics and in a baroque style, it was built in 1952 to honour military leaders of the Soviet Union.
Related: City Guide to St Petersburg, Russia
One of the most decadent and artistically designed department stores I’ve ever seen, GUM is world famous for its stunning architecture, dining options and shopping. Although there are quite a few department stores in Moscow, this is my favourite and it’s ideally placed next to Red Square. Try to visit here in the evening as well so you can view the outside all lit up with fairy lights, it’s a magical experience!
One of the things I adore about visiting GUM is the fact they regularly update their interior decorations to match the seasons. Russia is also world-renowned for their high-quality ice cream and GUM has plenty of little ice cream stands to serve up this dessert as you’re wandering around! With plenty of designer shops, cafes & restaurants, it’s a great place to stop by for an hour or two between tours.
If you used to be a ballet dancer like myself or simply adore culture, then a visit to see the ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre is an unmissable experience! The premier Ballet theatre company, the Bolshoi is very popular with both the locals and tourists. In 2017 I booked in to see “Etudes” and it was an enchanting experience.
The interior of the theatre is mesmerising with a massive chandelier and the quality of the ballet performances are second to none. As ballet is so entrenched in Russian culture, I found a lot of the locals were also attending the performance. One day I hope to return to see either The Nutcracker or Swan Lake, as music in these ballets is by the famous Russian composer, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.
ST BASIL’S CATHEDRAL
I’m saving the very best until last! St Basil’s Cathedral is by far my most treasured memory of my time in Moscow and all of Russia to date. In fact, when I first stepped on to Red Square and turned towards this magnificent Cathedral, I had tears well up in my eyes. Seriously, there is no feeling like seeing St Basil’s Cathedral in real life and experiencing the emotions that spring from within.
No matter what time of the day you witness this iconic Russian landmark, you are guaranteed to have your breath taken away. And you are also going to want to take photos too! Out of all the Russian Orthodox Churches, I have visited this is the most memorable, with its colourful onion domes, unique design and frescoes.
During my second visit to Moscow (which was my first visit to Russia as an independent traveller) I was able to take a tour of the inside of St Basil’s. The Cathedral dates back to 1555 and was built by Ivan the Terrible. If you’re interested in history & artefacts, the Russian Orthodox religion or curious about Russian culture then I certainly recommend this tour. Even learning about the story of Saint Vasily (Basil) the Blessed (whom the Cathedral was named after) is so intriguing and brings a whole new layer to the tour experience. Tickets can be purchased at a ticket window to the left of the Cathedral entrance for 500 rubles.
WHERE TO STAY
During my visit to Moscow in 2017, I stayed at the Hilton Leningradskaya. It’s a few stops out from Red Square, but I really enjoyed my experience. The quality of the accommodation, service from staff and hotel dining options were great. When I return to Moscow again, this is the hotel I would choose to stay at as an affordable option.
My Dream Hotel
Situated just outside of the main gate to Red Square, the Four Seasons Moscow is such an opulent hotel that it makes it onto my wish list. I enjoyed cocktails at the hotel’s Moskoyovka Bar which overlooks the Red Square entrance and they have an amazing selection of drinks here. The Hotel is in a prime location and is so extravagantly designed that I dream about staying here one day!
WHERE TO EAT
If you’re interested in traditional Russian cuisine in a family-friendly restaurant setting, then this is the place to visit! Varenychna is a chain of restaurants very affordably priced and I found one wandering down Nikolskaya Street next to Red Square. Try the pelmeni with meat which are the softest, yummiest dumplings I’ve ever had! I visited here once on my first Moscow trip and came back twice on my second visit!
An Italian grand café located in GUM with a balcony overlooking the red square, Café Bosco is a must see whether you’re after breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, drinks or a cup of coffee. There’s a phenomenal selection of wine, fine desserts and their ice cream is well loved. Even if you aren’t able to sit down for a meal, try one of their ice cream cones at one of their stalls throughout GUM.
This place is on my wishlist and I’m hoping I can manage this on my third visit! Café Pushkin is world renowned for its menu, service stunningly opulent interior. If you’d like to visit for dinner then please try to book, there is always a line of people waiting for a table during the evening – I’ll be booking in advance for my visit.
Also, if you’re after a takeaway option then there’s also their Patisserie with fine cakes and pastries. Located in a Baroque style building on Tversky Boulevard, Café Pushkin has a well-earned reputation worldwide for fine dining in a romantic setting.
Moscow is not for the faint hearted – it’s a bustling world city that will open your eyes to the beauty of Russia and ensure you leave cast within its spell. I remember watching the sunrise on my last morning there last year from my hotel room and wishing I could stay just a day or two longer. If you’re going to visit the Russian capital, my main tip would be to try to immerse yourself in discovering as much as you can of this country’s culture. From the main landmarks to religious sites, testing out the local cuisine and experiencing their offerings of the fine arts from music to ballet… There is so much inspiration to be found in Moscow and you will also find your heart opens to this incredible country as well.
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Our Top Places To Stay In Moscow, Russia
- Four Seasons Moscow
- Hilton Leningradskaya
- Lotte Hotel Moscow
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