17 Fantastic Things To Do On a Trip To Moscow
It’s the capital of Russia and if that weren’t reason enough to go, it’s a city that’s nearly impossible to get bored of. Moscow is absolutely brimming with culture and history and the museums alone are enough to overwhelm even the most serious of intellectuals. From famous streets and markets to a prestigious theater and collection of spas, Moscow has got you covered for entertainment and relaxation. And, beneath the surface of it all, lies some pretty quirky hangouts and unusual counter culture. If you are planning your next trip to Moscow, here are 17 fantastic things you should do.
1. Sanduny Bath House (banya)
Russian banya visits are a huge part of the country’s culture. Locals make sure that this tradition fits into their schedules, especially people over the age of 40, who try to get there at least once a week. The baths typically consist of saunas of varying degrees and pools of cold water to cool off in. Make sure to grab the birch branches to give yourself a good beating if you want the full effect. This particular bath is the oldest and most famous in the city and has private banya rooms for hire that can be reserved for you. Russians love banya and believe it has a powerful physiological effect, increasing the blood supply to skin, muscles and joints, increasing oxygen levels and purging impurities. It is an invigorating and unforgettable experience, unique to Russia.
2. Gorky Park
Moscow has a whole lot of parks but this one may be the most popular since it offers a whole lineup of activities. Visitors can catch a movie at the open-air theater, lounge around on outdoor bean bags, use the free WIFI, pop into a café and enjoy culture at the renowned Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. Those who are feeling like a more active afternoon can rent bicycles or boats. Gorky really embodies a sense of community as it is open 24 hours a day and has no admission. Visitors have access to free audio guides and there is plenty of play equipment for families to stay occupied.
3. Cold War Bunker
If you want to explore Moscow’s underground more safely than urban exploring, check out this former bunker. It was built in response to a series of nuclear tests by the Soviet Union and was once used by Stalin himself. The bunker is located close to the Kremlin and was finished being built in 1956. Despite its original function, the bunker was used mostly as an airstrike command base. Now, the bunker functions as a means to look back on history through tours of its walls and museum.
4. Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
The space race is one of the defining moments of the Cold War. Russia was victorious in being the very first to send a human into space. Russians are, quite rightly, very proud of the achievement.
You can’t miss the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, a titanium triangle supporting a rocket near the main entrance to the All-Russian Exhibition Center. Erected in 1964, it celebrates Soviet achievements in space. Underneath the monument, is the Museum of Cosmonautics that includes famous exhibits as the stuffed space dogs, Belka and Strelka, together with the nose-section of the rocket they traveled in.
5. The Kremlin
This is a must-do while visiting Moscow and definitely deserves to be on the beaten path. Located right near the Red Square, it can be found in the center of the city and functions as the residence of the Russian president. It’s a pretty elaborate building as it’s made up of four cathedrals, four palaces and a handful of towers. The Kremlin also holds the Armory Palace which is one of the oldest museums in Moscow.
6. The Moscow Metro
The Metro was created as complex of monumental structures featuring designs of the very best Soviet architects. The stations, most built between 1930 and 1960 are underground palaces, featuring exquisite frescoes, statues, mosaics and stained glass. There is something of interest for anyone interested in the arts – architecture, sculpture, mosaics and stone, and anyone interested in Russian history of the 20th century – it’s all here, the highs and the lows… With 300 kilometres and 177 stations it carries more people each day than either London or Paris.
7. Mendeleev Bar
Want to participate in the underground culture of Moscow? If so, head to this speakeasy-style bar which is located under the Lucky Noodles restaurant. It’s essentially a cocktail bar that offers live music and a vintage feel.
Known as the Versailles of Moscow, Kuskovo was the summer estate of the Sheremetev family, built after the land was gifted to them in 1715 by Peter The Great. Despite being looted by French troops in 1812, the main palace comprising of 26 rooms, and rest of the estate have been beautifully preserved and is, we think one of the finest examples of original imperial style. The complex is made up of an Orangery, Hermitage, unique grotto and Dutch house – with three rooms completely tiled in Delft.
9. Lenin’s Mausoleum
Located in the Red Square, this tourist attraction is quite interesting, as long as you aren’t squeamish. Since his death in 1924, Lenin’s embalmed body has been on display almost every day. Respect is taken pretty seriously here as there are guards who enforce a no talking or camera rule. It may be a little creepy but it seems pretty cool to say that you saw the actual body of a famous, historic figure.
10. Novodevichy Cemetery
Visiting this cemetery isn’t a morbid experience; in fact, it’s quite beautiful. Put into use during the late 1800s, this plot of land now holds some of Russia’s most prominent deceased. Some gravestones that you may come across during a stroll here are Anton Chekov, Nikolai Gogol, Sergey Askakov, Boris Yeltsin, and Aleksey Tolstoy. There are also graves for many famous cosmonauts like Pavel Belyayev and Gherman Titov.
11. St. Basil’s Cathedral
You’ll know it as soon as you see it. This colorful cathedral is one of the world’s top attractions and can easily be recognized. It’s one of the top things to see in Moscow. Located in Red Square the cathedral dates back to the 16th century and although the exterior is stunning, the interior is plain by contrast, so skip it if you don’t have much time.
12. Dinner at Grand Cafe Dr Zhivago
Owned by one of the most successful restaurateurs of Moscow, Alexander Rapport, this fashionable all-Russian restaurant is wildly popular with visitors and hopes to give Café Pushkin a run for its money. All the favorite Russian dishes are represented here and the dumplings (pelmeny) are some of the best in town.
13. Tretyakov Gallery
This museum is full of one of the best collections of Russian fine art in the world. It holds artwork from the 11th century to the 20th century and has so much to display that it is split up between two buildings. The collection actually started as a personal one and grew to what it is today, around 130,000 exhibits. Some visitors claim that this museum is their number one recommendation and should be seen over some of the city’s others. The amount of museum options in Moscow can be absolutely overwhelming so if you have to choose just one to visit, let it be this charming place. If you are more interested in contemporary art you should visit the Garage Museum.
14. Patriarshiye Prudy
This charming area will give you a chance to wander around outside and get a break from bustling city life. It used to contain a marsh and a goat farm but towards the end of the 1600s, a home for the head of the Russian Orthodox Church was built here. The surrounding marsh and farm were removed and a couple of ponds for fish were put in their place. Only one pond is actually left but the site is still beautiful, attracting poets and artists for years. Even the famous Russian author, Mikhail Bulgakov, used this scene as the backdrop for one of his stories. A sculpture of his characters can actually be seen on site and a museum stands in the area that talks about his life and work. Take some time to stroll around and admire the beauty while stopping off at restaurants and bars for a break.
15. Red Square
There is a whole lot going on in the Red Square as it is the center of the city and one of the world’s most famous public squares. It’s a great point to wander around, especially if you plan on taking iconic photos of Moscow during your visit. Bordering the square, perfectly situated for photos is St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the State Historical Museum. The square has a significant history as it used to be the center of merchant activities. The “red” in its name isn’t due to an association with communism or the bricks that surrounds it. Instead, the name comes from a Russian word that means beautiful as well as red. Growing in importance over the years, it was used for government ceremonies as well as the main marketplace.
16. Red October
In Soviet times Red October (a complex of buildings opposite the Kremlin) was the site of the factory of the Red October chocolate factory, Red Brick and turn of the 20th century industrial. Now the former factory is occupied by art galleries, restaurants, clubs, small hotels, cafes and interesting boutiques.
17. Eat Street Food
Half the fun of exploring a new culture is trying the food right? In Moscow, you will have a whole lot of options for dining and palate exploration. The best places to try are the street stalls and kiosks which serve traditional Russian snacks, usually for cheap prices. Try the kebobs, meat pies, and sausages but be careful about which kiosk you choose. Sometimes, visitors can get sick from eating at kiosks that didn’t prepare the food properly. Look out for some safer bets such as these chains like Kroshka-Kartoshka which sells baked potatoes and Teremok which offers Russian-style crepes. If you want to frequent some of the brick and mortar restaurants, you will have a ton of options. There is everything from traditional Russian food to Asian, American and European. Take your pick. And, don’t forget to make a stop at Danilovsky Market which is full of dried fruit, exotic fresh fruits, nuts, cheese and meats.
Moscow is the center of Russian culture and a place that should be visited with plenty of time to explore; you can see a sample Moscow itinerary here. You should allow a couple of days to check out the major tourist attractions but don’t forget to allow yourself time to wander the more quirky destinations. You don’t want your trip to be exactly the same as every other tourist so make sure to get out there and explore. Taste the food at the street stalls, take your iconic photos and don’t forget to actually stop moving, take a deep breath and just enjoy the views.
Greg Tepper, Founder of Exeter International has been recognized as the expert in deluxe travel to Russia by Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure and is a Wendy Perrin Wow Trusted Travel Expert. Let our team plan your trip to Russia and make it extraordinary. Get in touch.