As one of the most vibrant European capitals, Moscow is a powerful mix of history and edginess, full of world-famous sites and attractions. Russia’s capital has been in existence for more than 800 years and has enough to keep visitors busy for months. Here’s the ultimate first-timer’s list of things to do in Moscow, from Europe’s oldest fortress and grandiose cathedrals to lively green spaces and futuristic skyscrapers.
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Soak up the archetypal image of Russia’s capital with the glistening rainbow domes of St Basil’s cathedral. The onion-shaped domes were designed to make the building look like the shape of a flame on a bonfire. The cathedral was commissioned in the 1500s by Ivan the Terrible and according to legend, the Tsar thought it so beautiful he ordered that the architect be blinded so that he would never surpass this creation.
The biggest active fortress in Europe, Moscow’s Kremlin offers a week’s worth of attractions. Once you get behind the 2,235 metre-long kremlin walls, there are five squares to wander around, various buildings to explore, 20 towers to learn the names of, and the world’s largest bell and cannon to see.
An attraction in its own right, the State Historical Museum, sheltered in a neo-Russian style building, was founded in 1872 by Ivan Zabelin and Aleksey Uvarov. What once was the Principal Medicine Store now houses an impressive collection, which includes relics of prehistoric tribes that once inhabited the territory of present-day Russia, the country’s largest coin collection, as well as 6th-century manuscripts and artworks collected by the Romanov dynasty among other treasures.
One of Russia’s most visited cathedrals, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a truly remarkable site. The grandiose cathedral was built in the 1990s where a 19th-century church of the same name once stood, prior to being demolished in 1931 by the Soviet authorities. For 50 years the place had been home to the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool, until the country’s new government decided to rebuild the sacred place. Designed to look like its predecessor, the modern building also contains the icon Christ Not Painted by Hand by Sorokin, which miraculously survived the demolition of the original cathedral.
Moscow’s ultimate love-it-or-hate-it landmark, Lenin’s Mausoleum houses a glass sarcophagus with the embalmed body of the legendary Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin. First opened to the public in August 1924, the Mausoleum attracts around 2.5 million visitors every year, who don’t mind standing in line and going through a thorough body search to get into the illustrious building.
Dominating the skyline of Moscow’s famous Theatre Square, this Russian institution attracts visitors from all four corners of the globe. The building that stands on the square today was established in 1856 and is considered an emblem of Russia thanks to the dramatic innovation and contribution to the creative arts that has occurred inside its walls. Having hosted some of the finest performers in all of history, the Bolshoi Theater is where you can watch the best of today’s theatre, opera, and, of course, ballet companies. Tickets are highly sought after and tend to sell out months in advance so many simply come to admire the building’s breathtaking exterior.
Moscow’s premier green space, Gorky Park, offers entertainment for every taste: outdoor dancing sessions, yoga and fitness classes all summer, as well as beach volleyball and ping-pong, rollerblading, skateboarding and cycling opportunities, along with segway and boat-rentals. In winter, half of the park turns into one of the city’s biggest skating rinks. The park is also home to an open-air movie theatre and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.
Built between 1900 and 1905, Tretyakov Gallery started as the private collection of the Tretyakov brothers, who were 19th-century philanthropists. Designed by Viktor Vasnetsov, the gallery is a home to one of the largest collections of Russian art in the world. Here you can see icons including Rublev’s Trinity, and pre-revolutionary masterpieces such as Girl with Peaches by Valentin Serov, Demon by Mikhail Vrubel and Rooks have Come Back by Alexei Savrasov.
For budget travelers, an excursion on the Moscow metro is the ideal way to soak up the best of the city, without breaking the bank. As each station’s ornate decoration is specially designed to reflect the station’s individual characteristics, a ride on the metro showcases the city’s wonderful diversity. Intricate mosaics, gleaming chandeliers, marble, and statues, are just some of the sights to see, as well as illustrations from Dostoevsky novels in the station named in the infamous author’s honor. The metro provides a compelling insight into Socialist history, with the numerous Soviet monuments adorning its interiors. As one of the world’s deepest metro lines, with 196 stations and over 300km of track, there need be no end to your underground adventures.
Russia’s main department store, GUM’s stunning interior houses a variety of high-end boutiques. Built between 1890 and 1893 and known as the Upper Trading Rows until the 1920s, the legendary store is now home to over 200 boutiques selling a variety of brands: from luxurious Dior to the more affordable Zara. Even if shopping is not on your to-do list, the GUM is still worth a visit; the glass-roofed arcade faces Red Square and offers a variety of classy eateries.
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