Moscow is the capital of Russia, the vibrant and electric heart of this amazing country, and the starting point of most Transsiberian trips.
Moscow was founded in 1147 by Yury Dolgoruky, a general that stopped on the Moskva river on his way to Vladimir. In the XIV century, it became the capital of the Great Moscow Principality and of all Russian Lands, and the center of the Orthodox Church (from here Moscow’s desire to be the “Third Rome”). Subject to the Golden Horde, to which it had to pay tributes, in the late ‘400s Moscow managed to free itself from the Mongol domination and to extend its control until the Urals. Ivan the Terrible extended Moscow’s power to the Volga region and was crowned as the first Russian Tzar, marking the beginning of the Russian Empire. In 1712 Peter the Great moved the capital to Saint Petersburg, till Moscow became once again the capital of Russia and of the whole USSR with the Bolshevik Revolution, which profundly changed the face of Moscow.
Why you should stop here
Should I even answer this question? I guess not. Moving on.
How to get around
Easy: Metro. It has 12 lines, it’s open from 5:30 Am to 1:00 AM and is one of the world’s deepest, its deepest section reaching 74 meters underground at the Park Pobedy station. It is also famous for its beautiful architecture and decor (among the most interesting stations: Komsomolskaya, Kievskaya, Arbatskaya, Mayakovskaya etc.). Here is a map.
Another easy way to get around is by taxi. Gipsy taxi are very cheap, but you have to negotiate before getting into the taxi (always a half of what they say first), and pay attention that they are taking you to the correct destination. Don’t worry, in general they are safe, but it is better to keep an eye open at night, you never know…
What to see
The Kremlin. It is the center of Russian politics, but also of Russian life. The whole city of Moscow, as you can easily see from a map, was build around the Kremlin. Its red walls and multiple towers, with the Ivan the Great Bell Tower, are the main attraction of the city. It is surely worth spending a half day walking inside its walls, visiting the four main churches and the huge Armery Museum with the impressive Diamond Fund. The main entrance for visitors is located on the side of the Alexandrovsky gardens, through the Kutafya tower. It is open every day except Thursday.
Red Square, GUM and Saint Basil’s Cathedral. The most famous place in Moscow is definitely the Red Square. Its name derives from the ancient Russian word “krasnaya” that meant beautiful, and that now took the significance of red – and not, as many think, from the Communist period. A breathtaking view will open in front of you as you cross the arches of the Historical Museum, from Manezhii Square. On the right, the red walls of the Kremlin, with the beautiful recently restored Tower of Ivan the Great and Lenin’s mausoleum in front of the walls. On the left, the GUM (Glavnyi Universally Magazine, literally “main universal store”), a historical department store and now one of the most chic shopping malls in Moscow. In front of you, you will see the Cathedral of Saint Basil, with its colorful onions-tops and its bizarre interior.
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The new white Church was inagurated in 2000, after the Bolsheviks demolished the previous one to build a statue of Lenin that later turned into a public swimmingpool. You can visit the interior for free, or attend a two-three hours mass on Sundays.
Gorky Park. It is the most fascinating park inside the city, and is delimited by the Moscow river on the left, going from Varabyovy Gory to the New Tretyakov Gallery up North. Every season different events take place in the park: skiing and ice-skating platforms are installed in the winter, while in the summer the park holds a beach and is the perfect place to sunbathe or have an ice-cream by the river.
Bolshoi Teatr. How can you visit Moscow without going to the most famous theater in the world? Tickets can be really expensive, but it is definitively worth it! Choose the show that suits you the most, and try some tricks to get a discount (heads up: students holding a Russian student card can get tickets for 100 Rubles at the 7PM show, just need to buy they from the ticket office which opens at 4PM on the same day of the show).
Eat, Drink & Sleep
There are many cheap hostels in Moscow, and for 10-15 euro you can get one in the center. Anyway, since Moscow is very big, you will have to move around by public transports in any case, so you do not need to stay in the exact center of the city, you just need a hostel near a metro station. The inner part of the Koltso (the round metro) is considered to be the center of the city.
We suggest you to read the reviews of the hostels before booking, since in many Russian hostels you’ll find Russian people living there for months, so if you are looking for foreigners-friendly places, this is not the case.
Moscow is a very cosmopolitan city, and you will find plenty of places to eat, enough for any taste and from all around the world. Where to go depends on your budget.
- Every shopping mall has a floor entirely dedicated to fast foods and restaurants – generally the last floor. Go there if you want a quick and cheap lunch, with a lot of choice. In the case of the Oxotnii Ryad mall (near the Red Square), it is situated in the lowest floor, at the end of the corridor.
- Nice and cheap places, for those who want a real Soviet experience, are the “Stalovaya”, the canteens from the Soviet period, where you will find soups, meat, rice and sweets at cheap prices. One of them is in the GUM, last floor on the right, it is called “Stalovaya 41”.
- An excellent kitchen is the Georgian one. You will find tons of Georgian restaurants around the city. One of them is “Kachapuri”, cheap, friendly and super tasty!
Well, Moscow is full of places to party. Other than the tons of bars in the around the city center, a very cool area is called Kranyi Oktryabr (=Red October), which is on an island on the Moskva River, very close to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. You’ll find loads of bars and clubs there. Our personal fave: Gipsy. Don’t miss out on it!