Moscow is a sprawling, exciting and cosmopolitan city that attracts visitors from all over the world. With its exquisite mixture of European and Asian influences, rich historic past and colorful and awe-inspiring architecture, splendid sights and vibrant nightlife, the Russian capital is one of Europe’s most enigmatic destinations.
Tsarist architecture, must-see churches, glamorous shopping opportunities and a visual and cultural experience you won’t forget, all contribute to making Moscow a great tourism destination. Tourists are consistently seduced by the magnificence of this city and its irresistible and intriguing culture and at Bonzah we’re convinced that it is the perfect destination for curious travelers. Here’s a breakdown of the most exciting and unmissable attractions while in town!
US citizens require a Russian tourist visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. It takes between 4 working days and 6 weeks to get your Russian visa although those travelling to Russia for touristic reasons can usually get their visa much faster, sometimes within the same day. Its cost will depend on the kind of visa you require. That said, make sure to sort this out well in advance of your trip to avoid last minute stress.
Explore the Red Square and the Iconic Sites Around It
The Red Square is Moscow’s most famous square. It’s located in the heart of the city and it’s surrounded by some of Russia’s most impressive and iconic buildings such as St. Basil’s Cathedral or the Kremlin. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is one of the city’s must-see attractions and it’s a symbol of the city’s impressive past.
Take your time to admire the magnificent buildings around it. St Basil’s Cathedral with its multi-colored domes is located on one corner and the State Historical Museum is at another, not to mention the impressive Kremlin. A Russian symbol itself, the Red Square is a buzzing hub of social activity. Festivals, celebrations and markets are usually held there, an ice-skating rink is set up in winter and a Christmas market is organized there every year as well.
Drenched in history, this huge square is home to incredible sights and it’s not to be missed. It hosted from the Tsar’s coronations to rock concerts and Soviet military parades!
The Kremlin is the base of the Russian government, the official workplace of the President of Russia and it was home of the tsars. Inside the impressive area enclosed by the Kremlin Wall there are several cathedrals and palaces, some of which are open to the public. There are two different tickets that you can purchase: one for the exterior grounds of the Kremlin and the Cathedral Square and another one for the Kremlin Armory.
No visit to Moscow would be complete without exploring the magnificent buildings and churches within the Kremlin. The Alexander Garden that spreads along the walls is a highlight of Moscow center. It’s famous for its architectural monuments, incredibly beautiful flower beds and history. The Eternal Flame to honour the fallen heroes of the WWII glows in front of the Kremlin Kutafya Tower is one of its highlights.
The Kremlin is the historic heart of Moscow. Tsars lived here before they moved to St. Petersburg and it is now a government building; thus, not all of it can be visited. With so much to see and admire, visitors are advised not to rush. Wander around the ground and sit in Tanitsky Garden to soak up its special atmosphere. Make sure you visit Cathedral Square and the three historic cathedrals used by the Tsars and their families: the Assumption Cathedral, the Annunciation Cathedral and the Cathedral of the Archangel are stunning and there are beautiful frescoes inside and see the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon. Remember that the Kremlin is the oldest part of Moscow and dates back to the beginning of the XIV century.
From April to October, try to visit it around noon so that you can witness the change of guards at Sobornaya square in the centre of the fortress. It’s a picturesque ceremony that includes men in historical attire and a few dozen horses performing a sophisticated choreographic dance.
Saviour Gate Tower is the official exit onto Red Square. It has been used for processions since the days of the Tsars and it dates from 1491. Look up at the impressively huge clock and its 3-metre-long hands! You’ll listen to its melodic chime every 15 minutes across Red Square!
The great bell tower of Ivan the Terrible is another highlight of the Kremlin. There’s a tour offered where the audio guide will tell you about its architecture and history and you’ll see the authentic fragments of the white stone decor of the Kremlin buildings. Its two golden domes make it the Kremlin’s tallest structure and it’s a visible landmark in Moscow still today. You can climb up the 140 steps of the tower and enjoy a splendid view of Sobornaya square, the Church of Christ the Saviour and the skyscrapers in the background.
Other must-see places within the Kremlin are: Uspenski Cathedral (which hosted coronations and the burial of Russian patriarchs and tsars) and the Faceted Chamber (the tsars’ ceremonial throne room).
The Kremlin Armoury deserves a special mention. It dates from the early 1500s when it was founded under Vasily III to manufacture and store weapons, imperial arms and regalia for the royal court. Today, it has plenty of treasures that are definitely worth admiring. The tour starts upstairs where the first two rooms are home to gold and silver objects from the XII and XVII centuries. In Room 2 you’ll find the renowned Easter eggs made by St Petersburg jeweller Fabergé, including the Grand Siberian Railway egg, with a gold train, a platinum locomotive and ruby headlamp that was created to commemorate the Moscow-Vladivostok line. The following rooms display weapons and armour, including the helmet of Prince Yaroslav, the chain mail of Boris Godunov and the sabres of Minin and Pozharsky.,
Downstairs get ready to fall in love with the coronation dresses of XVIII empresses, an impressive pair of boots worn by Peter the Great. You can also see the joint coronation throne of boy tsars Peter the Great and his half-brother Ivan V and the 800-diamond throne of Tsar Alexey. The tour will end in Room 9, which houses royal sledges and carriages.
Lenin was a Bolshevik revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union and he’s seen as a hero of Socialism and workers’ rights. After his death, his body was preserved and placed on display as a way to personify Soviet values and traditions and as a way to commemorate this historic figure.
His Mausoleum _ located steps away from the Kremlin wall in the Red Square_ is only open on Saturday, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays in the morning. Inside the place visitors are expected to stick to very strict rules so make sure you follow them. Lenin’s Mausoleum houses a glass sarcophagus containing his embalmed body.
Although this is quite a controversial attraction in Moscow, history buffs can’t miss paying their respects to this important leader while in the city.
St Basil’s Cathedral
St Basil’s Cathedral is an iconic structure in Moscow and one of the most eye-catching and most popular cultural symbols of Russia. With its colorful domes and intricate design, St Basil’s Cathedral is not only a sight to behold but a fascinating one as well. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Orthodox Christian services are held here weekly and travelers are allowed to visit the nine chapel. s located inside.
It’s definitely one of the must-see attractions in Moscow. This architectural masterpiece is made of 11 churches in total, each one located in one of the cathedral’s domes. It was built by Tsar Ivan the Terrible in the XVI century to celebrate the capture of the cities Astrakhan and Kazan. Its shape resembles a bonfire that rises up to the sky although the complex represents ten different sanctuaries. It started with a simple building on the grave of Saint Basil and it was expanded over time. Located at the southern end of the Red Square, it’s one of the most famous and recognizable buildings not only in Moscow and Russia but also all around the world.
The tall, tent-roofed tower in the centre houses the Church of the Intercession of the Mother of God. The four biggest domes top four octagonal-tower chapels: the Church of the Holy Trinity, the Church of the Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem, the Church of Sts Cyprian and Justina and the Church of the Icon of St Nicholas the Miracle Worker. Finally, there are four smaller chapels in between.The Church of St Vasily the Blessed, the NE chapel on the 1st floor, contains the canopy-covered crypt of the saint.
The interior is equally outstanding. Each church is exquisitely decorated with beautiful mural paintings and ancient wooden iconostasis.
Visit the State Historical Museum
Established by the orders of Emperor Alexander II, the State Historical Museum is one of the five largest museums in the world. It’s also on the Red Square, just opposite St Basil’s Cathedral. It was built to commemorate national history and trace the development of Russia. It’s got an impressive collection of over 4.5 million items.
If you want to learn more about Russia’s history, the best place to go is the State Historical Museum. Its collections range from the Mongol invasions and the very first tsars that ruled the country to the Bolshevik revolution. Even though you won’t be able to see it all in a single visit, if you allow around three or four hours to explore it you’ll take in a lot of it. Some of the highlights of the museum are: the Tsar period collection, the excavated longboat from Volga River and the Psalter Manuscripts. It also includes relics from prehistoric tribes, the country’s largest coin collection and artworks collected by the Romanov dynasty amongst other treasures such as funerary masks from Russia’s Altai region and the death mask of Peter the Great.
The second floor is dedicated to the Imperial period. The exhibits here include displays of personal items of the royals, decoration from the palace interiors,furniture and various documents and works of art. There are specific rooms dedicated to the rules of various tsars. Exhibits are presented mostly chronologically across almost 40 rooms that focus on different regions or eras.
Don’t Miss Moscow’s Metro Stations
Moscow’s metro stations are exquisite, extravagant, outstanding and absolutely out of this world. Exquisitely designed with the idea of “palaces for the people” in mind, the old metro stations of the Russian capital have nothing to do with the regular, dull and boring ones that we find at home. They are beautifully decorated with grand chandeliers, frescoes and even sculptures that delight locals and fascinate tourists as they rush to take the underground.
Mosco has a fast and efficient underground system and stations are open almost all day. You can purchase tickets at every station or use Visa and Mastercard contactless payments on the turnstiles. There are also ticket machines available both in Russian and English.
Amongst the must-see stations that you can’t miss are: Arbatskaya station, Park Kultury station, Teatralnaya station, Mayakovskaya station or Komsomolskaya Station.
Enjoy Opera or Ballet at Bolshoi Theatre
For many travelers to Moscow, watching a performance at the prestigious Bolshoi theatre is a goal to tick off of their bucket list. It’s one of the largest and most respected opera houses in the world and one of the largest performance halls in Europe. Despite it’s always possible to visit it in a guided tour, nothing equals the experience of watching a performance here. Tickets can be purchased online and they are sold two or three months in advance.
It was most recently renewed in 2011 to restore some of the imperial architectural details. Inside, red velvet, a three-tiered crystal chandelier, and gilt moldings, give the place a Byzantine-Renaissance grandiose feel that is stunning.
The VDNKH and Museum of Cosmonautics
The VDNKh is an impressive all-Russian exhibition centre that contains around 400 buildings and is said to cover an area larger than Monaco. It now serves as an open-air museum of Soviet architecture. It has an iconic fountain at its entrance, the park complex is home to a number of shopping pavilions, museums, several eateries, a massive oceanarium, a horse-riding rink and a Russian space shuttle.
The VDNKh is a unique venue and it’s definitely worth visiting. There’s plenty to see and do and you can easily spend a whole day here visiting its different exhibition halls.
The Museum of Cosmonautics is one of the most favourite exhibitions to explore, especially if you’re a space fan yourself or if you’re travelling with your family. It’s absolutely stunning! The Museum is easy to find as it is located in the base of the huge Monument to the Conquerors of Space.
Before entering the museum, take your time to explore the Cosmonaut Alley, a parkland surrounding the museum. There’s a stone solar system, busts of people involved in the Soviet space program and a statue of the director who oversaw the first missions into orbit.
The museum offers visitors a splendid opportunity to learn more about the Soviet space program, Sputnik, the first man in space Yuri Gagarin, the first woman in space Valentina Tereshkova and all the people that participated in these programs. There are artifacts such as space suits, gadgets, engineering tools, Yuri Gagarin’s space capsule and there’s also a section of the Mir space section you can board.
There are also moon fragments, a Soviet spacesuit and a rocket propulsion unit from the 1960s.
Explore Moscow’s Remarkable Art Museums
Even if you aren’t an art fan, your visit to Moscow will be incomplete if you don’t visit the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin State Museum.
The State Tretyakov Gallery is the main national art museum and it is home to the largest collection of Russian fine art in the world. There are more than 180,000 outstanding exhibits here including amazing Russian icons and sculptures. Exhibits are organized in two separate buildings: the Old Building and the New Building. A few must-see pieces are The Apotheosis of War, The Unequal Marriage and Beauty. Amongst the icons you can appreciate Rublev’s Trinity, Demon and The Rooks Have Come Back.
Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts hosts the best collection of European masterpieces from eras such as the Italian Renaissance of the Dutch Golden Age. There are not only paintings but also an impressive sculpture collection. It comprises three branches; the main building contains masterpieces by Tiepolo, Botticelli, Rembrandt and Veronese. The Gallery of European and American Art stores an incredible collection of impressionist and post impressionist paintings. Get ready to see paintings by Van Gogh, Monet or even Cezanne! The Museum of Private Collections shows off complete collections donated by private individuals.The exhibits devoted to the Ancient Civilization contain an excellent collection, complete with ancient Egyptian jewellery, weaponry, tombstones and ritual items. Another room houses the impressive Treasures of Troy, with excavated items dating to 2500 BC.
Follow Catherine the Great Steps at Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve
Located in the SE of Moscow, Tsaritsyno Palace was the exotic summer home that Catherine the Great started in the mid 1770s but never finished. For hundreds of years it was more than a shell until the Russian government decided to finish it in 2007. Built in a combination of architectural styles, exhibits inside are devoted to the history of Tsaritsyno and the life of Catherine the Great.
The grounds are extensive and include other lovely buildings such as the working Church of Our Lady Lifegiving Spring, greenhouses with tropical plants and nice bridges, the Small Palace, the cavalier buildings, a wooded park in English style that leads to the Upper Tsaritsyn Sky Pond where you can hire rowing boats in the summer and the Tsaritsyno Palace complex.