Visiting Moscow - What to See and Do
(Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport SVO, Russian Federation)
There is really no other city quite like Moscow
. Wandering around the remains of the mighty Soviet Union feels somewhat like browsing a museum attraction, just on a life-size scale. From the majesty of the Kremlin to the beauty of Red Square and its onion-domed churches, Moscow is a city of stark contrasts.
Outside of these few magical pockets of architectural beauty, the staid concrete identity of Stalin's Russia dominates. Looking at the Seven Sisters skyscrapers it is hard to imagine much life happening beneath the facade, but there certainly is. Head to Gorky Park to mingle with the residents or immerse yourself in Soviet propaganda inside the Muzeon Park of Arts.
Shopping is actually fun at the open-air Izmailovsky Market, where Russian dolls in a doll stand beside locally made vodka and caviar. Venture inside the grand halls of the GUM shopping mall and witness the wealth that is growing in the Russian capital for a lucky few. There is plenty of entertainment, dining and culture in Moscow, and all of it is unabashedly Russian at heart.
Ten things you must do in Moscow
- The iconic landmarks and attractions of Moscow, and Russia in general, are conveniently clustered around Red Square. From the towers of the Kremlin fortress to the surreal beauty of St. Basil's Cathedral, there are eye-poppers everywhere you turn. Be sure to visit Red Square at night, too, to enjoy another facade of this amazing collection of architecture.
- A mix between a Turkish bath and a Finnish sauna, the traditional Russian bathhouses known as 'banya' are a must for anyone visiting Moscow. The very best of these bathing options are the beautiful Sandunovsky Baths in the heart of the capital. These lovely marble baths have Greek sculptures and a steady presence of Russians beating themselves with birch sticks between jumps into ice baths and hot pools. It is fascinating, and totally relaxing.
- If there is just one park you visit in Moscow, make it the Kolomenskoye. Part park, religious heritage tour, festival venue and museum, it encompasses several acres along the river and is filled with historic churches and buildings dating from the 15th century. The grassy lawns are great for relaxing while checking out the heritage on display. Several major festivals are held in the park each summer, adding to the fun.
- The Moscow Circus is something of a legend in the global circus realm. It has a graceful ballet-like quality that most circuses lack, combining human acrobatics with amazing animal acts and tragic humour courtesy of the clowns. Visit on the weekend when there are three shows a day.
- Even a casual fan of art won't want to miss exploring the treasures on display at the Tretyakov Gallery, the world's premier repository of Russian artwork. Its collection spans the timeline, from 9th-century religious icons to avant-garde works of the 20th century. Give yourself a half day for this venue, and afterwards dine at the excellent Russian restaurant adjoining it.
- The iconic domes of St. Basil's Cathedral in Red Square are simply magical. This church is actually a collection of nine different churches and styles, fused together in an amazing symphony of architecture. Inside, the nine chapels are filled with priceless religious icons and rich décor.
- The massive open-air bazaar of Izmailovsky Park is like a Russian version of the classic flea market. At this bustling attraction you will find hundreds of vendors selling both predictable souvenirs alongside some cool second-hand finds. The sellers all speak some level of English and enjoy a good haggle.
- Gorky Park is a great place to hang out at any time of the year. In summer it is something of a local carnival, with street performers, trinket stalls and food vendors milling around the entrance area. In winter, the main paths are flooded, creating awesome ice skating rinks.
- Russians take their classical performing arts seriously, so you expect some quality talent in Moscow. Fans of the opera or ballet will certainly want to catch a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, where the opera tickets are generally cheaper and easier to secure than those for the ballet shows.
- Gamblers may want to try their luck at one of Moscow's glitzy casinos. The scenes in top venues like the Golden Palace and the Metelitsa Cherry Casino seem straight out of a James Bond flick. A dresscode is enforced and there aren't any penny slots, but just checking out the atmosphere can be worth a few hours of your night.