The Russian capital Moscow is an urban city of extremes. From beautiful churches with colourful towers to the more plain Soviet architecture. From centuries-old history to one of the largest metro networks in the world. In a city with nearly 13 million people it is not always easy to find the best sights. In this blog we help you find the 10 big must-sees of Moscow!
#1 The Red Square
The center of Moscow is of course the famous Red Square. You must have seen it so many times in news programs. It is the standard backdrop for every news reporter. You can’t visit Moscow without seeing the huge square. Consider visiting the Mausoleum of Lenin there as well. You can still see the body of the former leader there.
#2 Saint Basil’s Cathedral
Russia’s most famous cathedral is located right on Red Square. With all its colours and onion domes, the church is a beautiful sight! The structure is also unique. The architect of Tsar Ivan the Terrible tried to create something very different back in the sixteenth century. So he did not opt for the traditional cross shape for the church. He even designed one without a monumental central facade. Instead, the Saint Basil’s Cathedral is equally beautiful to see from all sides. Walk around it to see for yourself and don’t forget to take a look inside!
#3 The Moscow Kremlin
Another famous place on the Red Square! The Kremlin is the political center of Moscow and Russia. The walled Kremlin is actually a city in a city. If you buy tickets to visit the Kremlin, you should therefore make sure to have enough time to visit all the sights. There are several museums, palaces and churches. The highlight is the Armory museum with its amazing jewelery collection. The famous eggs from Fabergé can be found here! Other highlights are the Uspensky Cathedral (or Cathedral of the Assumption) and the other cathedrals around the same square.
#4 Department store GUM
Opposite the Kremlin at the Red Square is the oldest department store in Russia. GUM is an abbreviation of what would translate into Universal Main Store. The department store was built at the end of the nineteenth century as a city in a city. The facade is almost 250 meters wide and the department store has three floors. Even after the end of the tsars in 1917 it remained a department store for the people of Moscow. But in the late 1920s, Lenin turned the monumental building into his office. It wasn’t until 1953 that it returned to its former role as a public department store again. And it still is today.
#5 Kazan Cathedral
Besides the famous Saint Basil’s Cathedral with its colourful onion domes, there’s second cathedral on the Red Square. The Kazan Cathedral is a bit crammed into a corner of the square right across Saint Basil’s. No matter how beautiful this church is, it’s clear that the bigger Saint Basil’s steals the show. When in the Soviet era the Red Square had to be cleared of churches, the Kazan was torn down. And it’s famous competitor? The Saint Basil’s was saved from destruction. In the 90s, the Kazan was the first church to be rebuilt after the Soviet era.
#6 The underground palaces of the Moscow metro
The metro is not just an easy way to get around Moscow. It is one of the highlights of the city! Not because the metro runs every 80 seconds during rush hour. Not because there are more than 200 metro stations. It’s about its unique architecture. Many subway stations are built as underground palaces. Stalin had these palaces built for the people in Soviet times. Including chandeliers, art and all of that. Some stations have a specific theme, others seem to be ready to host a ball. So if you will be using the underground anyway, make sure to make some extra stops every now and then.
Tip: read this blog about the most beautiful metro stations in the city, including practical tips for the metro and a map!
#7 A free walking tour in Moscow
There is no nicer way for me to explore a city on a free walking tour. I like being guided by a local who knows every corner of the city. The concept of a free walking tour means that you decide afterwards what you think the tour is worth. That is the amount you give your guide as a tip. So of course I also followed a free walking tour in Moscow. This is how I learned about city life, fables and history.
#8 Novodevichy monastery
This monastery is just outside the center (but it’s easy to reach by metro). Unlike many other monasteries and churches, this one survived the Soviet era without any major damages. But the history of the monastery goes back much further. Back in the old days it was the place for women to withdraw from the world. Not always voluntarily though. Tsar Peter the Great locked up his first wife here to marry his second wife Catherine I. He also prisoned his half-sister Sofia here. She was his regent when he was still a child, but she was also big rival for the Tsar throne.
Tip: make sure to visit the cemetery at the monastery as well. Many famous Russians are buried here, including the writer Chekhov and politicians like Boris Yeltsin and Nikita Khrushchev.
#9 Gorky Park
Gorky Park is the largest park in Moscow. You might think of a lush green urban jungle hearing that, but that’s not what Gorky Park is about. It’s more like a fairground with merry-go-rounds and a ferris wheel. During the winter months, there usually is a large ice rink in the park.
#10 Bolsjoi Theater
The most famous ballets and operas in Moscow were staged in the Bolshoi Theater. The Bolshoi Ballet is still the largest ballet in the world with hundreds of dancers. Even without a ticket for a performance, it is worth to head over and enjoy the monument from the outside. It is so beautiful it’s even on the Russian note of 100 rubles.