An 860 year-old city, Moscow has many reminders of its imperial and Soviet past. The capital of Russia is a sprawling city with numerous museums, Soviet-era monoliths and post-Soviet kitsch.
In the course of its history the city has served as the capital of a progression of states, from the medieval Grand Duchy of Moscow and the subsequent Tsardom of Russia to the Soviet Union. Moscow is also the site of the Moscow Kremlin, an ancient fortress that is today the residence of the Russian president and of the executive branch of the Government of Russia. The Kremlin is also one of several World Heritage Sites in the city.
Pulsing with life, Moscow is a large city to explore. Not one of the most beautiful places I've been, but definitely one of the most high energy cities I've visited.
The Lenin Mausoleum really deserves a visit. No cameras, no bags, no mobile allowed. Check in your stuff and follow the path that takes you inside the semi-shaped square pyramid in front of the Kremin in Red Square. Decending down the black marble stairs and past the serious guards, to what evenually is an open square base with the body of the Vladimir Lenin on display. It is eerie looking at a body that secretly has been 'preserved' for future generations, but looks more like a wax work than a hundred year old body. - it is the story behind putting him on display that makes this a worthwhile attraction.
The diamond collection in the Armoury (no photography and videotaping) inside the Kremilin is worth a visit, though inside the grounds of the Kremlin isn't anything to wow about, the more interesting bits are actually outside its walls. Despite what some guide books say, you can take photos inside the Kremlin grounds only.
Red Square is impressive and St Basil Cathedral at one end is nice to look at from the outside, but not a great attraction inside, so save your RUBLES.
The life and blood of Moscovites are spend mostly on Old Arbat Street, this kitschy street full of souvenir vendors, tourist cafes, lousy restaurants, artists, etc. A tourist trap but also a nice place to walk and get away from the mad streets of Moscow, which are always buzzing with people and traffic.
Many claim Moscow is expensive, but personally I found it reasonable, to eat and drink and entertain. I read Moscow has more billionaires than any city in the world, and when your in Red Square imagining military marches and solutes from rulers, facing in the direction they would have, you actually are now staring at a shopping complex with high brand names and shopping.
The ultimate ride and visit to Moscow has to be the Moscow Metro. Make sure you have a Russian-English transit map as English only just won't do, there are no English signs inside. It is a cheap ride, but it is the interior of these stations that have all the oh-la-la factor. Read my Riding the Moscow Metro blog.
What can be an intimidating place really is just full of lots of energy. A 24 hour city with something to do at anytime (not sure about the winter), Moscow offers a taste into life of a modern Russia.
Video of Moscow, Russia 2012 © Joe Mendonca
Red Square - The heart of Moscow and the first destination for most visitors to the city. Surrounded by St. Basil's Cathedral, the State History Museum, Lenin's Mausoleum and one of the Kremlin's long brick walls. The cobbles that make up the square are black and not red; the name comes from another gloss of the Russian word "krasniy", meaning "beautiful".
Lenin Mausoleum - in the centre of the Red Square. Walk past the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin (who actually did not want any monuments to be built for him) and join the debate if it is still him. You must leave all cameras, phones and bags in the luggage office. Free admission.
St Basil Cathedral - in the south part of Red Square. Built in 1555-61. Inside is a museum, although it looks best from the outside, but if you have the time, take a peek inside.
The Kremlin - This gigantic site can not be missed. The Diamond collection in the Armoury is worth a visit on its own. There are several stunning churches that warrant a visit. Choose one or two to go inside, then enjoy the rest from the gardens.
Old Arbat Street - Walk down this kitschy street and don't forget to look at the small by-streets around the Arbat. They allow you to feel the "old Moscow spirit".
Bolshoi Theatre - Sit in front of the famed theater near the fountain, or catch a show inside if you can.
Tretyakov Gallery - One of the world's greatest museums, this is probably the one to choose if you only want to visit one museum in Moscow. In contrast to the worldwide collection of the Pushkin Museum, the Tretyakov is mostly a collection of Russian art. It has the best collection of Russian icons and many of the most famous pieces of modern Russian artists like Ilya Repin.
Pushkin Museum is dedicated to Western art and has one of the world's most significant Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections, along with some Old Masters. The Impressionists and Post-Impressionists were rather unfortunately relocated to an annex in 2007 across the street from the main building.
Novodevichy Convent - Both a convent and a fortress, Novodevichy was built in the early 1500s and has remained nearly intact since the 17th century, making it one of the best preserved historical complexes in Moscow. The adjacent Novodevichy Cemetery is one of Russia's most famous cemeteries. Famous people buried there include Anton Chekhov, Nickolai Gogol, Konstantine Stanislavski, Nikita Khrushchev, Raisa Gorbachev (the former President's wife), and Boris Yeltsin.
Church of the Ascension. Built to commemorate the birth of Ivan the Terrible, Kolomenskoye's Church of the Ascension upended the Byzantine style with its wooden conical tower, and proved to be a milestone in the history of Russian ecclesiastical architecture. Since 1994, it has enjoyed a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The Institute of Russian Realist Art (IRRA) - The heart of the collection is presented by paintings of Soviet and Russian masters of ??-XXI centuries Sergey Gerasimov, Arkady Plastov, Alexander Deineka, Yuri Pimenov, Gely Korzhev, Victor Popkov, Nikolay Andronov, brothers Alexey and Sergey Tkachev, Victor Ivanov. The paintings exposed at IRRA offer a unique opportunity to get acquainted with important stages of the history of Soviet society. Now IRRA's collection is considered to be one of the best in the world.
Ostankino Tower, - 540 meters tall, with an observation deck 340 meters above ground.
Other Sites, less essential sites, but very worthwhile if you have the time, include:
New Arbat Street - Located near Old Arbat Street, this street offers a contrast from the touristy pedestrian-only thoroughfare. New Arbat is where Moscow's rich are the most visible, as some of Moscow's most expensive restaurants and nightclubs are located here. The street is lavishly lit up at night and is always very lively.
Tverskaya Street - This street starts from the Kremlin itself and runs northwest in the direction of Tver and Saint Petersburg. For that reason the road was a very important thoroughfare in Tsarist Russia. It is now Moscow's most fashionable street, with several prestigious boutiques. It is also lined with cafes, restaurants, coffeehouses, a couple of theaters, and several hotels. Most of the street's architecture doesn't actually have much history to it, though along the way you will find Russia's first, and the world's busiest, McDonalds. Walk its length. From Red Square to Belorusski Train Station is about one hour and is a great way to see the most famous street in Moscow.
Gorky Park - Easily the most well known of Moscow's many parks, Gorky Park used to be packed with theme park rides, but after undergoing major changes in 2011, it became one of the trendiest places in the city. New cafes, places to stroll, a pétanque cafe, an open-air cinema theatre, free Wi-fi, contemporary public art projects, design fairs and a new cafe policy make Gorky Park one of the most popular places in Moscow. In winter it's a popular place to ice skate and it hosts an ice sculpture competition.
Victory Park - This massive memorial to WWII was built for the 50-year anniversary of V-E day in 1995. On weekends, it is very popular with newlyweds. The park now has its own metro station of the same name (Park Pobedy, on the Dark Blue line). There is also a museum to WWII worth visiting if you like military history.
Vorobyovy Gory - The best place for a view of Moscow from the ground. Near the main Moscow State University building, there is a popular lookout point where one can see much of the city on clear days. Metro: A walk from either metro Universitet or Vorobyovy Gory.
Christ the Savior Cathedral - This cathedral, the tallest Orthodox church in the world, was blown up on orders from Stalin in 1931, with the view of building the gargantuan Palace of the Soviets, to be crowned by a 100 meter high statue of Lenin. The project ran into engineering and geological difficulties (the area used to be a swamp), then the War intervened, and the place was ceded to a year-round open-air swimming pool. The pool was razed and the cathedral rebuilt only after the fall of the Soviet Union, in the mid-nineties. There is an extensive museum underneath the cathedral documenting its history (the original was started in 1839 and consecrated in 1883). Metro: Kropotkinskaya.
Garden of Fallen Monuments - Where many infamous statues in Moscow were placed after the Soviet collapse. See Dzherzinsky, Stalin, Brezhnev, and others. Adjacent to the New Tretyakov Museum, which houses 20th century art. After the Pushkin Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery, this is worth seeing. Metro: Oktyabrskaya.
Russian State Library - One of the largest libraries in the world. Anyone (Russian or foreign) over 18 can view electronic media for free. Previously received a copy of every book, musical score, & map published in the USSR, it now only receives a copy of every Russian book. The military reading room receives over 15,000 readers a year.
Bunker-42 - Decomissioned cold war era soviet underground military nuclear bunker.
The city is named after the river. In 1156, Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy of Rostov ordered the construction of a wooden wall, the Kremlin, which had to be rebuilt multiple times, to surround the emerging city. After the sacking of 1237-1238, when the Mongols burned the city to the ground and killed its inhabitants, Moscow recovered and became the capital of the independent principality in 1327. Its favorable position on the headwaters of the Volga River contributed to steady expansion. Moscow developed into a stable and prosperous principality, known as Grand Duchy of Moscow, for many years and attracted a large number of refugees from across Russia.
Under Ivan I of Moscow the city replaced Tver as a political center of Vladimir-Suzdal and became the sole collector of taxes for the Mongol-Tatar rulers. By paying high tribute, Ivan won an important concession from the Khan. Moscow's opposition against foreign domination grew. In 1380, prince Dmitry Donskoy of Moscow led a united Russian army to an important victory over the Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo. The battle, however, was not decisive and only two years later Moscow was sacked by khan Tokhtamysh. Ivan III, in 1480, finally broke the Russians free from Tatar control, allowing Moscow to become the center of power in Russia. Under Ivan III the city became the capital of an empire that would eventually encompass all of present-day Russia and other lands.
In 1571, the Crimean Tatars attacked and sacked Moscow, burning everything but the Kremlin.
The 17th century was rich in popular risings, such as the liberation of Moscow from the Polish-Lithuanian invaders (1612), the Salt Riot (1648), the Copper Riot (1662), and the Moscow Uprising of 1682. The plague epidemics ravaged Moscow in 1570-1571, 1592 and 1654-1656. The city ceased to be Russia's capital in 1712, after the founding of Saint Petersburg by Peter the Great near the Baltic coast in 1703. The Plague of 1771 was the last massive outbreak of plague in central Russia, claiming up to 100,000 lives in Moscow alone. During the French invasion of Russia in 1812, the Muscovites burned the city and evacuated, as Napoleon's forces were approaching on 14 September. Napoleon's Grande Armée, plagued by hunger, cold and poor supply lines, was forced to retreat and was nearly annihilated by the devastating Russian winter and sporadic attacks by Russian military forces.
In January 1905, the institution of the City Governor, or Mayor, was officially introduced in Moscow, and Alexander Adrianov became Moscow's first official mayor. Following the Russian Revolution of 1917, on 12 March 1918 Moscow became the capital of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and of the Soviet Union less than five years later. During World War II, after the German invasion of the USSR, the Soviet State Defense Committee and the General Staff of the Red Army was located in Moscow.
In 1941, sixteen divisions of the national volunteers (more than 160,000 people), twenty-five battalions (18,500 people) and four engineering regiments were formed among the Muscovites. That November, the German Army Group Center was stopped at the outskirts of the city and then driven off in the Battle of Moscow. Many factories were evacuated, together with most of the government, and from 20 October the city was declared to be under siege. Its remaining inhabitants built and supervised antitank defenses, while the city was subjected to air bombing. Joseph Stalin refused to leave Moscow, meaning the general staff and the council of people's commissars remained in the city as well. Despite the siege and the bombings, the construction of Moscow's metro system continued through the war, and by the end of the war several new metro lines were opened.
In 1980, it hosted the Summer Olympic Games, which were boycotted by the United States and several other Western countries due to the Soviet Union's involvement in Afghanistan in late 1979. In 1991, Moscow was the scene of the failed coup attempt by the government members opposed to the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev. When the USSR ceased to exist in the same year, Moscow still continued to be the capital of Russia.