Moscow – The Russian capital has been surrounded by a mystical magic for decades. For many, Moscow is the symbol of Russia’s strength, for others a place of longing, and still others would never dream of visiting the Russian capital. Why this is a mistake, we want to show you here, because there is a lot to discover in the city with its over 12 million inhabitants, which is so very different from the rest of the country. Therefore, we present you the most beautiful Moscow sights and the best places to visit in Moscow. But we also give you some practical tips for your visit to Moscow at the end.
What better place to start an exploration of Moscow’s sights than Red Square? It’s 500 meters long and 150 meters wide, and probably everyone has seen it in a documentary. Not only do the central military parades take place here on the occasion of Victory Day on May 9, but there is also a whole lot to discover. For example, there is the Lenin mausoleum. The leader of the October Revolution lies here on the Kremlin wall in one and can be “visited”. The walk through the oppressively solemn mausoleum makes many shudder, but is simply part of a visit to Moscow.
On the northwest side of the square there is the building you see in the photo. It is not a church, but the Historical Museum of Moscow. Here you can get an overview of Russian history, especially the exhibition on the Napoleon campaign of 1812 should not be missed. Right next to it is the Resurrection Gate, through which most tourists enter Red Square, and the Kazan Cathedral with its Russian gables and green and golden domes.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
But the Kazan Cathedral is not the only church on the square. St. Basil’s Cathedral symbolizes Russia like no other building and never ceases to amaze visitors to Red Square. It has stood here since the 16th century and can be traced back to Ivan the Great, who wanted to underpin Moscow’s claim to be the successor to the defunct Byzantine Empire and thus the “third Rome”. However, the oriental dome design was added only in the 17th century; before that, the church had golden domes. The church can be visited daily, in a small chapel is buried here also the namesake of the church, St. Basil.
On the east side of Red Square stands the probably most famous shopping center in Eastern Europe, the GUM. Over 1000 stores can be found here and in Soviet times the department store had a legendary reputation, because here you could buy everything that was often not available elsewhere in the country. Today you can not only buy luxury goods in the palace-like ambience, but also dine in quaint Soviet-style canteens, watch a movie in a cinema or enjoy the fantastic view and the hustle and bustle in one of Moscow’s most beautiful sights while having a coffee in one of the restaurants on the third floor.
The Kremlin is the control center of the Russian president and the political heart of Russia. But what many people don’t know: You can visit the Kremlin, there is an incredible amount to discover here on the west side of Red Square. Bill Clinton is said to have asked in 2000 in view of the splendor of the Kremlin “and this people wants loans from us?”, so fascinated was he by the complex. Bell towers, cathedrals and palaces await you on the 28-hectare site on the southwest side of Red Square. Especially the armory and the diamond fund should not be missed, here you can expect Fabergé eggs, jewelry, works of art and much more.
North of Red Square rises the majestic Bolshoi Theater, one of the most famous venues in the world. It was completed in its present neoclassical form in 1856 and is adorned by a quadriga depicting the Greek god Apollo in a sun chariot. The list of important Russian composers who performed their works here is long and rich from Tchaikovsky to Rubinstein and Rachmaninov. It was also here that the first performance of Battleship Potemkin took place (read more in our article about Odessa). Later it was mainly ballet performances for which the Bolshoi became famous. Today, there is room for about 25,000 guests, and you can experience the unique atmosphere at one of the numerous performances. Tickets are available on the website of the Bolshoi Theater.
Old and New Tretyakov Gallery
With over 100,000 exhibits, the Old Tretyakov Gallery in Samoskvoretschje south of the Moskva river has the world’s largest collection of Russian art and thus acts as a kind of Russian national gallery. The neo-Russian style building is worth seeing in itself, but inside you’ll find a colorful cross-section of Russian art. Medieval icons, city portraits, marine paintings and much more can be seen here. Emphasis is placed on the works of the so-called “Wanderers”, in which political and social themes are addressed, as well as on the works of Mikhail Vrubel.
Where there is an Old Tretyakov Gallery, a New Tretyakov Gallery cannot be far away. The unspectacular building houses an all the more impressive collection that includes the most important Russian works of art of the 20th century. The style-defining representatives of the Russian avant-garde are represented here with works, as are Futurists and Cubists. Malevich’s legendary “Black Square” can be found here, as well as works by Marc Chagall and representatives of Socialist Realism, so there is a lot to see.
“I follow the Moskva, down to Gorky Park” – the line from the Scorpions’ song inevitably comes to mind for anyone who hears the name Gorky Park. But what is Gorky Park actually? It was established in 1928 and was the first amusement park in the Soviet Union. In 2013, the area was extensively renovated and transformed into an art and recreation park. In winter you should definitely take a ride on the huge ice rink, in summer you can relax in one of the cafes by the river. Otherwise, a lot of greenery and several exhibition buildings await you here, so if you want to relax from the hustle and bustle of the Russian capital, Gorky Park is the ideal place for it.
The Moscow metro is legendary and served the Soviet regime as an ideal propaganda tool to demonstrate the superiority of socialism to its own population every day on the way to work. Moscow’s metro stations are also called “Stalin’s subway cathedrals” and indeed they are in no way inferior to Moscow’s churches in terms of grandeur. A ride on the metro is an experience and we recommend you to just hop on and let yourself drift. The most beautiful station of all is probably Mayakovskaya metro, but the stations Kievskaya, Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya and the new station ZSKA are also worth seeing. If you are interested in the topic of socialist metro stations, we also recommend our article about the Kiev Metro.
Moscow is a world apart and often has little to do with the rest of the country. Nowhere else is this more evident than in Moscow City, Russia’s Manhattan. In the mid-1990s, work began here on Moscow’s modern business and banking center, which today exceeds all superlatives. Of the ten tallest buildings in Europe, eight (!) are located here, at least until the Varso Tower in Warsaw is completed. A walk through Moscow City is above all something for photography and architecture fans, with viewing platforms offering fabulous views over the city. The fact that Moscow City is not yet a mature neighborhood is also noticeable, in the evening here is (still) relatively little going on by Moscow standards.
We leave the center and head for the north of Moscow. Behind the cryptic acronym VDNKh hides the “Exhibition of National Economic Achievements of the Soviet Union”. However, this name does not really help with the description. The VDNKh is a kind of mini-Soviet Union, in which 16 union republics inform about themselves with artful buildings in the style of a world exhibition. The VDNKh looks a bit out of time, but that’s why it’s so charming. In the meantime, however, modern facilities such as an aquarium, a mini-Moscow and several museums have been set up here. Especially for children, the VDNKh is an exciting place where there is something to discover at every corner. A highlight is the monument “Worker and Kolkhoz Peasant”, which was presented at the World Exhibition in 1937.
New Maiden’s Monastery
Not far from Moscow’s Lushniki Stadium, southwest of the center, stands the New Maiden’s Monastery (also known as Novodevichy Monastery). A women’s monastery was built here in the 16th and 17th centuries, perhaps surpassed in magnificence in Russia only by Sergiyev Possad, which is a masterpiece of Moscow Baroque. Of the many churches and cathedrals, some are not accessible, but a visit to the monastery should be at the top of your visit agenda. The cemetery of the monastery is also worth a visit and resembles a pantheon of Russian celebrities: Khrushchev, Chekhov, Mayakovsky, Bulgakov, Eisenstein, Prokofiev, Yezlin, Rostopovich – they all found their final resting place here.
South of the center is the former tsar’s residence Kolomenskoye. In architectural history, the buildings erected here were a milestone, marking a departure from the Byzantine architectural forms that were common until the 16th century and were instrumental in the development of a “Russian style” in architecture. You can explore snow-white stone churches, old wooden churches and a picturesque wooden palace here. The most beautiful building, however, is the Ascension Cathedral, which commemorates the birth of Ivan the Terrible and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
Southeast of the center stands the Tsar’s residence Tsaritsyno. It dates back to Catherine the Great, who had a second residence built here next to Tsarskoye Selo near St. Petersburg. Due to a lack of money, Catherine’s monumental plans for a palace complex in the pseudo-Gothic style were not completed for a long time. It was not until 2006 that the mayor of Moscow ordered the project to be completed. The site covers 550 hectares, and in addition to museums, churches and a “miniature Russia”, Tsaritsyno also has perhaps the most beautiful park in Moscow with many bridges, ponds and barbecue areas.
The conclusion of our overview of the most beautiful sights of Moscow is Sergiyev Possad north of the city. In the 14th century, a monastery was founded here, which was repeatedly expanded over time and is home to Orthodox cathedrals from several centuries. Six centuries of Russian architecture can be marveled at here. It is therefore no wonder that UNESCO has declared the area a World Heritage Site. In the adjoining museum, you can also see icons, gold and silver work, traditional costumes and much more.
Practical tips Moscow
To visit the sights of Moscow, you will of course need a roof over your head. And you will also want to eat something, which is why we would like to introduce you to a few restaurants here. And you can book the most beautiful tours through Moscow directly here.
Food and Drink
- Mari Vanna, Spiridonjewskij Pereulok 10. Ring the bell, please! Ring number 10, because that’s the only way to get into this private apartment from the Soviet era, where classic Russian home cooking is served. Cult!
- Kroshka Kartoshka. Kroshka Kartoshka is a nationwide chain that serves delicious baked potatoes in every imaginable variety. In addition, there are also soups and desserts and all this at very reasonable prices by Moscow standards.
- Bar Strelka, Bersenevskaya Nab. 14. Under the Patriarchy Bridge is this hip hangout with great views of the Moskva River and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior on the other bank. Popular especially with young Muscovites and open late on weekends.
- Danilovskaya*: The ugly concrete block on the edge of the Danilov Monastery houses a real cult accommodation. You can probably only sleep under the portrait of Patriarch Alexei or take a bath in the banya in this monastery hotel.
- Hotel Ukraina*: Stalin had the “seven sisters” built in the late 1940s and early 1950s, iconic candy-striped buildings that look something like Warsaw’s Palace of Culture. At the Ukraina, part of the Radisson chain, you can stay in one of the Stalin cathedrals; the property is one of the best-known Soviet-era hotels. In addition to a cool bar with a view over the city, there is also a pier for excursion boats right outside the door.
- Icon Hostel*: The relatively new hostel is one of the few hostels in the world that are housed in a skyscraper. A good view is of course guaranteed here, and the Icon is also cheaper than the Hotel Ukraina. However, you should book in time, because it is often sold out.
- Classic City Tour*: Available in English and many other languages, this full-day tour takes you to the absolute highlights of Moscow’s sights and includes admission to the Kremlin Museums.
- Rooftopp Tour*: Moscow is growing more and more into the sky. But to see the city from above, you first have to know the right spots. With these experts you will get to know the city from a new perspective and come to many a place that you would never have found otherwise.
- Kremlin Tour*: It’s easy to get lost in the vast Kremlin complex. This three-hour tour (English and other languages available) will take you to the most beautiful places of the Kremlin and will also take you through the legendary armory.
- Cruise on the Moskva river*: Similar to the rooftop tour, a trip on the Moskva River will give you a completely new view of the city. In three and a half hours you can cruise on the water in a comfortable glass boat and learn everything about the most beautiful sights of Moscow in German.
Book tips for the places to visit in Moscow
You want to see the Moscow sights and are planning a vacation in the Russian capital? Then we recommend the Lonely Planet guide Moscow. It not only contains a lot of practical information, but also describes the most beautiful places to visit in Moscow, restaurants and hotels and contains many exciting background articles.
And if you are interested in architecture and history, we recommend this volume that shows how communist rule shaped the face of the city.
- Zubovich, Katherine (Author)
If, on the other hand, you can’t make the trip to Moscow yourself or would like to reminisce after your Moscow vacation, then this coffee table book is ideal.