I just returned from a trip to Moscow with my family, including a 4-year old and a 8-year old and wanted to share some tips on what to do and to avoid when traveling to this city with children.
1. The city is gorgeous in the winter and especially around New Year’s – all covered in snow and beautifully illuminated. A large open-air ice skating rink opens right in Red Square in front of the GUM department store, generally from the end of November to the beginning of March, and is very popular with children and adults alike. Just adjacent to the Kremlin walls, the Alexander Park with its sculptures of characters from Russian fairy tales is also worth a visit.
2. Moscow’s new Sheremetievo terminal has a small playroom where children can play while you are waiting for your flight. You only need to show your boarding pass.
3. If the budget allows, a Club Room at the Ritz Carlton is a great (and ultimately money-saving) option. This room category includes free access to the hotel’s Club Lounge. Located on the 11th floor, it offers splendid views over Red Square and the Kremlin and includes food presentations throughout the day: breakfast, light lunch, afternoon tea, and light dinner, as well as 24-hour snacks and refreshments. Having the quick and free access to food and drinks is an invaluable convenience when traveling with children, especially in an expensive city like Moscow. For a lower-cost option, several room categories at the Marriott Royal Aurora Hotel (Executive Room and above) also offer access to the Executive Lounge where complimentary snacks, appetizers, and soft drinks are served throughout the day.
4. Moscow’s Museum of Cosmonautics (often referred to as the Space Museum) is guaranteed to impress boys of all ages. It is part of a larger complex also including the Monument to the Conquerors of Space (some 350 feet high and covered with titanium) and the Cosmonaut Alley which is lined with busts of cosmonauts and rocket engineers including Gagarin, Tereshkova, and Korolyov. The museum is actually located at the base of the Monument. It re-opened in 2009 after years of renovation and now has 2 additional floors and exhibits which focus not only on Soviet and Russian space exploration but also on international space projects. Exhibits we especially liked were the space suits (and how they were developed and improved through the years), the capsule in which Gagarin flew into space (frighteningly small and claustrophobic), the models of the space stations (in some of which you can actually walk and see the equipment), and the first satellite Sputnik. The museum’s exhibition floors and common areas are all stroller-accessible with ramps and an elevator and there is a café where one can also buy canned ‘space food’. Meeting with a Russian astronaut to take you around the museum can be arranged in advance at an additional cost.
5. Kremlin’s Armory Museum – one of Moscow’s highlights, can also be lots of fun for children. Boys are impressed by the weapons and armor from Russia, Western Europe, and the Orient, while girls are enchanted by the carriages and ceremonial dresses once worn by queens and princesses (including Catherine the Great herself). Having a guide who can communicate the wealth of in information in a child – friendly was is also of great importance.
6. Moscow’s immense subway system is rightfully considered one of the city’s ‘must-sees’ but, as we found out, might not be such a positive experience with young children. The rushing crowds are truly overwhelming and there is quite a bit of walking involved, especially when switching from one metro line to another, which is tiring for little legs. Most of the subway stations are not stroller (or wheelchair) accessible either.
7. Make a brief stop at the former House of the Romanov Boyars. Located just a short walk from Red Square, this small museum is often overlooked but a visit there is totally worth it. This is where the Romanov family lived for centuries before Mikhail Romanov was elected a tsar and the whole family moved to the Kremlin. The house only has two levels and the interiors have been beautifully re-created with frescoes, leather tapestries, tiled stoves, and wood paneling. The lower level was occupied by the men’s rooms and the upper level is where the women spent most of their time reading, weaving, and embroidering.
8. Take a stroll along the Old (Stary) Arbat Street. It is one of the few pedestrian-only streets in Moscow’s center where you can finally let go of your kids’ hands and watch them run around and enjoy the street artists and performers and the colorful displays of the shops selling souvenirs and Russian handicrafts.
9. See a circus performance. One of Moscow’s popular circus venues is the Grand Moscow Circus (often referred to as the New Circus), which is more high-tech (with interchangeable arenas) and focuses on acrobatics. We went the Old Circus, which is named after the famous Russian clown and comedian Yuri Nikulin. This is a traditional one-ring circus which is much smaller (so good seats are harder to obtain) and focuses more on clown acts (in the tradition of Nikulin who was the circus’ director for many years) and animal tricks. The performance on that evening was completely sold out. It certainly had an old-fashioned and somewhat nostalgic feel to it (as if going back in time) but the kids thoroughly enjoyed it.
10. Moscow has a small but charming Museum of Ice Sculptures where characters from Russian fairytales are skillfully cut from ice blocks and displayed. The mastery and attention to detail of these sculptures is truly amazing. There is also a section where ice-carving demonstrations and master classes are held throughout the day (advance booking is required). The temperature in the ice-sculpture room is kept below freezing and visitors are given cloaks to keep warm.
11. One of my personal favorite museums in Moscow – the Tolstoy house-museum, went down surprisingly well with my 8-year old daughter. You do not have to be a Tolstoy fan to enjoy a tour of his family’s wooden house which has been perfectly preserved in its original state and is packed with authentic personal items. It rally takes you back in time and offers an intriguing insight into the life of Russia petty bourgeoisie before the 1917 revolution. Peeking into the rooms of Tolstoy’s children, my daughter (who has a vivid imagination anyway) seemed to get immersed into the details of their everyday lives and my 4-year old son thoroughly enjoyed rolling in the snow which covered the large estate yard, so the visit was not entirely lost on him either.
Call 800.633.1008 or 813.251.5355