Headed to Moscow for the FIFA World Cup? When you’ve had your fill of football, make the most of Moscow, with its world famous theatres, cutting edge art galleries and late night kitsch bars, with our guide below…
Sure it’s a bit of a tourist cliche but Red Square, familiar from Soviet era demonstrations of tank and soldier power, must be a starting point for any visit to Moscow. Make no mistake: visiting Moscow without seeing the Red Square is akin to travelling to Paris and not ticking off the Eiffel Tower.
Most travellers tend to stroll around the square in the day but the Red Square is even more spectacular by night, when it is best explored by horse drawn carriage.
It’s a quintessential experience to see a ballet performance while in Russia but, be warned: tickets to see the Bolshoi Ballet Company, based at the Bolshoi Theatre, will set you back around £300 if not more. However it’s worth it for the plush interior – particularly the pink and golden walls outside the Grand Circle – alone. If you fail to get a seat (tickets go on sale three months in advance, but are quickly snapped up), you can still see inside the refurbished auditorium on a tour – some in English.
The Kremlin's Armoury Tower in Moscow
Essential viewing is the Fortress of the Kremlin, seat of power for centuries, and the heart of Moscow. The basic ticket gives you access to the inner squares but it’s worth buying the extra ticket to the Armoury – a Russian tower full of jewel Faberge eggs, jewel encrusted crowns and bibles and gowns worn by empresses and tsars.
The Tretyakov Gallery
Another insight into Russian life can be found at the Tretyakov Gallery. The main building of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts offers great Old Masters, while its sister site showcases top class impressionists. What the Tretyakov Gallery really shows though is Russian life: expect to find scenes of native agricultural workers.
Gorky House Museum
It’s said that the socialist writer, Maxim Gorky, disliked the Art Nouveau home that the state assigned him but most visitors will admire the impressive curved staircase, decorated ceilings and stained glass. Even the door handles are worth a picture!
Open Wednesday to Sunday; free admission.
St Basil’s Cathedral
Originally constructed in the mid-16th century, Saint Basil’s Cathedral looms majestically near the Kremlin in Moscow and has stood watch over countless historical and political events in the country’s history. This crazy confusion of colours, patterns and shapes is the culmination of a style that is unique to Russian architecture.
St Basil’s Cathedral is open daily, except Tuesday.
Russian Orthodox Church
One of Russia’s most iconic not to mention eccentric sights, the UNESCO world heritage listed Russian Orthodox Church dates back to the 16th century, and was designed to resemble a bonfire, with its eclectic domes acting as flickering flames. Legend has it that, Tsar Ivan the Terrible, upon seeing St Basil’s for the first time, demanded that the architect’s eyes be cut out so he could never create anything so beautiful again.
GUM Department store
On the eastern side of the Red Square lies Moscow’s grand former state run shopping mall, GUM. Even if retail therapy isn’t your thing, a stroll through this cathedral to consumerism – whose airy glass roofed arcades host hundreds of luxury brands – to check out Moscow’s mega rich oligarchs shopping up a storm for their girlfriends is highly entertaining.
Visit Lenin’s Mausoleum in Red Square to see the embalmed body of the former communist leader, where he lies in state under fierce armed guards. No messing about is permitted here: visitors are expected to remain quiet and respectful when near the body, or risk the wrath of the stern security. Find the Mausoleum at the foot of the Kremlin wall; admission is free.
Touring the Metro system
Touring the Metro system is a must do not only for the opportunity to survey Russian dress – think full length furs during Arctic winters – but for the decoration and design. Kropoykinskaya, a station on the Sokolnicheskaya Line of the Moscow Metro, has a light simple design while Ploshchad Revolutsii has life sized bronze statues of heroic working class figures at every platform entrance. Meanwhile Mayakovskaya, has ceiling mosaics depicting Soviet scenes of aircraft and athletes.
Look to Lubyanka
There are few places in Russia which represent the repression of the Soviet era as much as Moscow’s Lubyanka Building.
Lubyanka is the popular name for the headquarters of the former KGB and its affiliated prison on Lubyanka Square in the Meshchansky District of Moscow. It is a large Neo-Baroque building with a facade of yellow brick designed by Alexander Ivanov in 1897 and subsequently extended by Aleksey Shchusev between 1940 and 1947.
The building was originally constructed as the headquarters of the All-Russia Insurance Company, which explains its beautiful parquet floors and pale green walls.
Go to Garage
Dasha Zhukova’s Garage Museum is a temple to cool. Designed by architect Rem Koolhaas, it’s a brilliant selection of the best names in contemporary art right now with pieces from Zhukova’s own private collection.
Drink up at Simachev
You can’t come to Moscow without consuming a few Vodka Martinis at a trendy bar like Simachev, to a soundtrack of funk and hip hop. The interior elates too: expect lots of neon lights and manga artwork.
Shop to it at Aizel
Aizel is Moscow’s answer to Dover Street Market, a concept store that stocks some of the best contemporary designer names. Alternatively try Tsum, a Russian Selfridges that’s a stone’s throw from Red Square and sells the widest selection of Russian and international fashion.
Dine at Cafe Pushkin
There’s more to eating out in Russia than a bowl of borscht (traditional beetroot soup). The food and drink scene in Moscow has changed exponentially over the past few years.
Located in the former home of an aristocrat, this Moscow institution serves up delicious stroganoff ( a staple if you’re visiting during the bitter winter months) together with old world charm and service.
When to go
Unless you want to experience the bitter chills of a sub zero Russian winter you should stick to the summer months between June and September when temperatures reach around the 20C mark