Moscow, the capital of Russia, is among the megacities in the world. Apart from its political significance nationally and globally, Moscow is a prime industrial base, a sought-after education hub and a scientific centre renowned for pathbreaking achievements. As a tourist destination too Moscow has grown in prominence. Moscow is the first destination for many Russia-bound tourists. Its USP, though less bandied about, is varied attractions that could thrill tourists with myriad tastes and different resources. Moreover, the largest city of Europe scores high in terms of safety as well as affordable transport and accommodation options.
The city boasts of historic sites, splendid architecture, imposing monuments, graceful religious icons, magnificent metro stations, legendary ballet theatres, sprawling parks, inestimable cultural treasures in museums, galleries showcasing historical and modern artworks, broad avenues flanked by buildings of exquisite design and, above all, ample avenues for shopping, river cruise, food, drink and partying. Thus Moscow won't let anyone down; it is the right place for children, couples, families and solo travellers.
The prime go-to tourist destinations in the city are the Moscow Kremlin, the oldest part of the city, and the adjacent Red Square. Both are at the core and are on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List for their cultural and political significance as well as standout architecture.
Most tourists head to the Kremlin or the Red Square first considering their prominence. Click here to know about the attractions at the Moscow Kremlin.
The following list of must-see tourist attractions, including Red Square and Lenin’s Mausoleum, which are in the vicinity of the Kremlin, will help you plan well the Moscow tour and appreciate them better.
1. Red Square and Lenin’s Mausoleum
A standout element of European cities is the public square. No other public square is as famous as the one in the heart of Moscow. The famed Red Square lies in front of the eastern wall of the Kremlin. It has been the venue of nationally significant major events, public ceremonies, celebrations, parades, burials and even executions. It was once a market place for the earliest residents of the oldest part of the present-day megacity.
The State Historical Museum and the fascinating St Basil's Cathedral are to its north and south, respectively. The spectacular edifice housing the department store GUM, pronounced 'goom', faces the Red Square from the east.
All roads of Moscow originate from this central plaza. The large bronze plaque denoting the 'kilometre zero' of the Russian highway network is seen at the northern end of the Red Square. It is right in front of the Iberian Gate and the blue-domed Iveron Chapel before it. The Iberian Gate is called the Resurrection Gate and is located between the Moscow City Hall and the State Historical Museum.
The statue in front of the State Historical Museum is of Marshal Zhukov, the legendary Soviet general who led the Red Army to several decisive victories in the World War II. He is famed as the 'man who never lost a battle'. In the monument he is shown astride a horse.
The Kazan Cathedral stands at the northwest corner. It had its origins in the 17th century, but was razed by the Communists in the 1930s. What you see is the one reconstructed in the early 1990s soon after the fall of the Soviet Union.
Lenin’s Mausoleum is at the western edge of the Red Square, close to the Kremlin wall. The embalmed body of the great revolutionary leader, who passed away in January 1924, is on display here.
The Red Square is open round the clock, all days of the week; but the entry to the Lenin’s Mausoleum is only for three hours (10 am to 1 pm) on all days except Monday, Friday and national holidays. So plan your Red Square visit in the morning and return by evening if you wish another stroll.
The entry is free to the tomb. Photography is prohibited. Expect long queues before entry. Once inside the dark and solemn space, people file past the casket; step aside if you want to gaze at the maverick hero to your heart's content. Mind the steps in the dark as you near the hallowed spot!
Between the Mausoleum and the Kremlin wall are the graves of national leaders including Joseph Stalin. The thick fort wall was used to bury prominent people soon after the Russian Revolution; hence the name the Kremlin Wall Necropolis. The practice, which began with the mass burial of Bolshevik revolutionaries at the Red Square, has been discontinued.
A moat stood between the Kremlin wall and the Red Square till 1812.
Watch that circular stone platform on Red Square as you approach Saint Basil's Cathedral. It is the Lobnoye Mesto. The edicts of the Tsar were read out from here. The Palm Sunday procession from the Saint Basil's Cathedral ended here. The Tsar and the Orthodox Church Patriach participated in the procession. It is said executions were held on Lobnoye Mesto, but historians vouch they were mostly held at Vasilevsky Spusk behind St Basil's Cathedral. ('Spusk' means 'slope'; here it refers to the area going down towards the banks of the Moskva from the Cathedral.)
NOTE: The Red Square originally meant the Beautiful Square, nothing else! Red Square is known as Krasnaya Ploshchad in Russian. Nineteenth- century English books too referred to the public place as Beautiful Square, but by the turn of the century, it came to be known as the Red Square as "krasnaya" means either “red” or “beautiful.”
2. St Basil's Cathedral
Next up is the 16-century St Basil's Cathedral at the southern part of the Red Square. The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed is popularly called as St Basil's Cathedral. It was built to commemorate the subjugation of Tatars by Ivan the Terrible – the first tsar of all Russia.
Designed like a bonfire flame, it is famed for its resplendent towers and domes. In terms of allure, nothing surpasses the beauty of its onion domes and nine towers of varying heights. The different colours, grooves and patterns on the domes and towers lend a magical aura to the skyline. Later, even as you unwind in the nearby Park Zaryadye or take a boat ride on the river, you will be tempted to cast frequent glances at this most popular church in the whole of Russia.
The Cathedral comprises nine chapels with splendid icons and wooden floors, some even centuries-old. Icons and other religious articles and souvenirs are sold here.
Sunday services are held, though St Basil's Cathedral has ceased to be a church after it was declared a museum. This potent cultural icon is also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site comprising Red Square and Kremlin.
The striking bronze statue in front of the St Basil's Cathedral is the Monument to Minin and Pozharsky. It was erected in 1812 in honour of the leaders of a volunteer army which drove out Polish invaders from Moscow in 1612.
Now, it is time for shopping, refreshment and entertainment. Move to the east of the Red Square: you enter the portals of a different world altogether at the high-end department store GUM. Be here by noon or evening after the Red Square visit. If hungry, head straight to the restaurants, cafes or the top-floor canteen named Stolavaya No. 57. The latter is the apt place to try typical Russian dishes, though other foods too are available.
The magnificent architecture of the six-story building with long passageways, 242-metre facade and glass canopies will impress you.
Don't forget to buy the GUM ice-cream from the kiosks on the ground-floor near the fountain. It costs only 100 Roubles.
Cinema buffs may check out the shows at the three halls.
Definitely go to the luxurious toilets which are touted to be historical! Find out why? Yes, you need to pay here.
GUM is open from 10 am to 10 pm. The luxury supermarket on the ground-floor is open round-the-clock.
NOTE: GUM is the acronym for Glavny Universalny Magazin, meaning 'Main Universal Store'. Earlier it was known as the State Department Store. GUM is found in various cities of Russia. The one in Moscow originated at the edge of the centuries-old trading quarters Kitay-Gorod in the late 19th century.
4. Park Zaryadye
Park Zaryadye is on the hillock overlooking the Kremlin and the Red Square. Arrive here by evening after the daylong visit to Kremlin or straight from the Red Square. Free the children here; let them play and run around amidst the green expanse of trees, shrubs and grass.
Zaryadye is not just a park or recreation zone. It has an educational purpose too. Here the different natural habitats of the vast country are recreated with appropriate microclimates.
The park also has greenhouse, ice cave, thematic walking routes, amphitheatres, concert halls, exhibition centres, souvenir shops, old churches, the earliest home of the Romanovs and cafes.
An early 16th-century building here served as the court of English merchants based here during the middle ages. The white building known as the Old English Court houses a museum.
The 140-metre-long hanging bridge at the park is the vantage point to scan the skyline over a large part of central Moscow. Below flows the Moskva River. The best time for river cruise is in the evening. The pier to board the boats is on the embankment named Nizhnaya Moskvoretskaya Embankment.
One of the seven skyscrapers built by Joseph Stalin after the Second World War is seen to the south. The one you see from Park Zaryadye or from the vicinity of the Red Square and the Kremlin is called the Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building.
The seven skyscrapers are popularly called Seven Sisters or Stalin's high-rises (Stalinskie Vysotki).
The Zaryadye area is historically significant as the second oldest trading settlement in Moscow was here. It existed for centuries until the late 19th century.
Today Park Zaryadye is one of the green lungs of Moscow. It was developed on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the second decade of the 21st century as an urban renewal project. It came up on the site where the landmark Hotel Rossiya stood. Rossiya was once the largest hotel in the world.
Park Zaryadye made it to the Time magazine list of 'best places in the world' in 2018, a year after its opening.
5. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is to the southwest of the Kremlin. At 103 m it is the third tallest Orthodox Christian Church in the world. The first one here was built in the 19th century but was demolished by the Communists. The current one with a big golden dome was rebuilt in the 1990s. You can't miss it during the boat ride – the Cathedral is on the northern bank of the Moskva River, near the Patriarshy Bridge, which is a 'steel pedestrian box girder bridge'.
6. River cruise
A popular activity for tourists is cruising along the Moskva River. The views of the Kremlin and the St Basil's Cathedral from the boat are marvellous. Another perch to enjoy the skyline and the river is the Bolshoy Boskvoretsky Bridge – the one nearest to the Kremlin. The bridge is at the narrowest point of the Moskva River.
The boat ride will help you realise the layout of the fort complex. The ticket prices depend on the boat size and services offered. Decide what will you have during the cruise: lunch or dinner? The night views of the city from the river are enchanting.
Many opt for night cruise after visiting Kremlin, Red Square and the above-mentioned attractions nearby.
NOTE: It was on the Bolshoy Boskvoretsky Bridge top Russian opposition politician and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was shot dead in 2017. In 1987 German teen aviator Mathias Rust created a flutter by landing his light aircraft on the bridge after intruding into the Cold War-era Soviet airspace.)
7. Nearby streets and Kitay-Gorod
If you have enough time and energy left for the day, explore the streets around the Red Square or else conclude the day's activity for much-needed rest.
One you should not miss is the Ulitsa Varvarka (Varvarka Street) – one of the oldest streets in Moscow. A short walk here is highly recommended for the medieval ambience. The medieval-era buildings here include the Chambers of the Romanov Boyars – the oldest abode of the Romanov Dynasty. The museum here gives a peek into the lifestyle of the Russian elite in the 16th and 17th centuries. Significantly, no other street in Moscow has as many churches as this beautiful one. The street extends from near St Basil's Cathedral and goes behind Park Zaryadye.
Walk further and you are at the heart of Kitay-Gorod – the site of the oldest and elite trading settlement in Moscow that extended from the periphery of the Red Square and from the northern bank of the Moskva River. One of the two surviving parts of the medieval defensive wall around the trading quarters is behind the Metropol Hotel on Revolution Square (Ploshchad Revolyutsii). The aforementioned Iberian Gate is the only surviving gate of the Kitai-Gorod wall. Today, true to its past, Kitay-Gorod has evolved as the foremost commercial and financial hub of the Russian capital. A stroll or car ride through its main streets – Varvarka, Ilyinka, and Nikolskaya – will help you see up close elegant architecture, at least.
Kitay-Gorod metro station is convenient for visiting Varvarka Street and Kitay-Gorod if you are arriving here straight away.
Teverskaya Street, Lubyanka Street, Kuznetsky Most (Blacksmith's Bridge) and Arabat Street are other touristy avenues in the centre of Moscow. The latter, one of the oldest streets, can never be skipped. May consider another day for street exploration and shopping there.
A day won't be enough to savour the sights and soak in the ambience at the touristy spots around the Kremlin at leisure. Moreover, the allure of the historic and vibrant venues is such that you may have to reserve a second day on your tour programme to come back, gaze and freeze the images in your heart for ever. Those who are short of time may cover Kremlin in half a day and the rest of the attractions nearby in the other half and return to their pad late at night after the boat cruise.
Plan your trip wisely.
Nearest metro stations
Red Square and GUM: Okhotny Ryad, Teatralnaya and Ploschad Revulyutsii.
Park Zaryadye: Okhotny Ryad, Teatralnaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsii and Kitay-Gorod.
St Basil's Cathedral: Okhotny Ryad, Teatralnaya, Ploschad Revolyutsii' and Kitay-Gorod.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: Kropotkinskaya.