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Welcome to Moscow


Moscow is the capital of the world's biggest country, situated in the centre of the European part of Russia. At the very heart of the city, and indeed the country, is the Kremlin, the Russian place of command for almost eight centuries, and the religious centre. Red Square and the exquisite, colourful domes of Saint Basil's Cathedral, and the jewelled, Fabergé Easter eggs of the Tsars are images that have long been associated with the Soviet Union in the minds of Westerners.

The city of Moscow is a fusion of both splendour and ugliness that is evident in the massive concrete slabs and high-rise apartments of the Stalinist era, and in the ornate churches, beautiful neo-classical houses, and the impressive architecture of the old city. Wide grey thoroughfares give way to narrow winding inner city streets, and golden church domes gleam between the looming skyscrapers. It attracts not only those eager to embrace new business and free enterprise, but also the poor from across the country, and the extremes of affluence and impoverishment are evident everywhere.

Since the fall of communism Moscow has been injected with a sense of urgency to change the face of the 'Mother City', embracing capitalism and shaking off the years of communist-imposed atheism, with flashy shop fronts housing western franchises, new restaurants and glossy hotels, and the restoration of lavish Orthodox churches. The once dreary streets are now a vibrant commotion of life with markets and eager vendors offering an assortment of goods that were unavailable during the Soviet years.

It is also a city of entertainment, with theatres and the renowned Moscow Circus, museums and art galleries. It boasts the world's largest and most efficient metro system with gleaming stations deep underground, astonishingly decorated in elegant marble, glittering chandeliers and gilded works of art and magnificent mosaics. It is the soul of the new Russia and an intriguing mix of history and politics, business and culture.

Information & Facts


Moscow has a continental climate, typified by exceedingly cold, long winters and hot summers. In mid-summer, during July and August, temperatures are pleasantly warm, with occasionally hot spells, and humidity tends to be high. Winters differ drastically, with only about six hours of daylight in the middle of the season and temperatures recorded at way below freezing point. Winter snows start in October and the snow blanket persists well into spring. Moscow has little rainfall, most of its precipitation falling as snow.

Eating Out

Eating out in Moscow is a warm and gratifying experience. There are ample Moscow restaurants serving traditional Russian cuisine such as caviare, beef stroganov and chicken kiev, as well as a many offering international or seafood menus. The best Moscow restaurants specialising in local fare can be found in the Garden Ring and Kitai, or near Poklonnaya Hill. There are excellent seafood restaurants in both Red Square and Kiev Station Square, while international cuisine is available from restaurants in Pushkinskaya and Tverskaya, and on Teatralny Proezd (city centre). While there are some Moscow restaurants that even stay open 24 hours a day, most establishments require reservations. Some restaurants add a service charge to the bill and if not, 10% gratuity is acceptable.

Getting Around

By far the easiest and most pleasant way to get around Moscow is on the underground metro. It is considered to be one of the finest transport systems in the world and many of the 150 stations are superbly decorated with sculptures, chandeliers and mosaics. It is inexpensive, very efficient, and easy to use, even considering all signage is in Russian, but it's still a good idea to have the destination written in Cyrillic characters to help identify the correct station. The metro runs until 1am and fares are standard regardless of the distance travelled, allowing unlimited transfers. Strips of tickets can be bought for numerous journeys and are valid on all forms of public transport. Overland transport is less efficient than the metro, but an extensive network of buses, trams and trolleybuses covers the areas not serviced by the metro until about 11pm. They can get unpleasantly crowded during rush hour. Tickets must be validated in machines immediately on boarding and are valid for one ride only. Alternatives to the bus are the passenger vans called 'marshrutka', which follow the bus routes and stop on request. There are also scores of official metered taxis and unofficial cars that can be flagged down on the street, but fares must be negotiated before entering the vehicle, especially as foreigners are likely to be overcharged. Although taxis are generally safe, tourists should be cautious and single women are advised to avoid them at night. Driving in the city is not recommended.

Kids Attractions

It might seem like a daunting task finding attractions and activities that kids on holiday in Moscow will enjoy, but look a little closer at this fascinating and historic city and you'll find there are a few things that will spark interest for children. The Obraztov Puppet Theater features performances for children during the day, while animal lovers should head to the Moscow Cat Theater where domestic cats perform a multitude of acrobatic tricks. The Moscow Dolphinarium will delight with dolphins, whales, seals, and sea lions performing tricks, balancing balls and jumping through hoops, while older kids may take interest in the historic value of the Kremlin, but even younger children will delight in the sheer size of the Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell, which makes for a great attraction while out and about in the city. For something a little more soothing, enjoy a boat ride through the city where the kids can't run out of sight and the constantly changing architecture and landscape will show them a side of Moscow they'd never see.

Russian is the official language. Some people speak English, French or German.

The official currency is the Rouble (RUB), which is divided into 100 kopeks. Most major credit cards, like Visa and Mastercard are accepted in the larger hotels and at places that deal with foreign tourists. Currency can be changed at banks, currency exchange booths and hotels. Travellers cheques are difficult and expensive to cash, but if necessary it is advised to take them in US Dollars or Euro. ATMs are widely available in major cities. It is hard to get rubles outside Russia and travellers are advised to take good condition US dollars or Euro notes to change once there. It is illegal to pay for goods or services in hard currency, though it is often accepted.


Moscow's notorious nightlife features an amazing selection of bars, clubs, bowling alleys, billiards rooms, casinos and concert venues. The most popular party scenes can generally be found in and around Kitai Gorod, Arbat and Garden Ring. Bars like Piramida and Nightflight have prime spots near Red Square, the Hungry Duck has been popular for years and Propaganda is another renowned bar/club. Authentic jazz venues include the likes of Forte or the more upmarket Le Club, while Dolls is a classy Moscow strip club. For a full-on club night, Fabrique is the place to go, and Mio is also quite trendy. B2 and the Chinese Pilot are not to be missed for live music. Moscow's casinos include Carnival and Casino Desperado, and bowling alleys like Bi Ba Bo can also be good fun, as is the Onyx Billiard Room. Luzhniki Stadium hosts massive international music concerts, while Hermitage Garden is good for open-air performances and contemporary electronic concerts, and also has the Novaya Opera Theatre and an ice-skating ring.


Shopping in Moscow is surprisingly rewarding. This previously-deprived nation loves shopping and Moscow's city centre has numerous malls and upmarket boutiques, offering all the big name brands and some pricey local produce. The GUM building in Red Square hosts Hugo Boss, Dior and Calvin Klein. Tverskaya Ulitsa, running north from Red Square, is Moscow's most trendy shopping street. More modest, high-street fashions such as Benetton, Guess, Nike and Reebok, are available from Okhoktny Ryad, under Manezh Square. Izmailovskii Park has a market at the weekends, selling traditional Russian arts and crafts (such as nesting dolls) as souvenirs. Eliseev Gastronome was an 1880s palace and retains many of its original features, such as curling marble pillars and candelabras, but is now an exclusive supermarket where visitors mights find the finest Russian vodka or caviar; the Cheremushinsky Rynok market also sells fresh local produce. Warehouses in the suburbs sell cheap electronic goods, DVDs and software, as do vendors at the Gorbushkin Dvor market. Shops are generally open Monday to Saturday from 9am to 6pm; some larger retailers stay open till 8pm, many smaller shops are closed between 1pm and 3pm. Ensure that all necessary export permits are in order, and beware of purchasing illegally manufactured/pirated goods.


For the most part, Moscow attractions are testament to the city's turbulent past, but there are also a number of cultural and religious venues to enjoy in the city. Sightseeing in Moscow is best during the summer, from May until late August, when it is warmer and the days are longer. The foremost Moscow attractions are the Kremlin, a fortress dating back to the city's foundation in 1147, and the multicoloured domes of St Basil's Cathedral, both iconic Russian landmarks. Red Square is another must when sightseeing in Moscow. The Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre is home to Moscow's famed performance arts, while the Tretyakov Gallery exhibits traditional Russian masterpieces. Historic Moscow attractions include Poklonnaya Hill, which highlights Russia's military strength against both Napoleon and Hitler, and the Borodino Panorama Museum which has interesting artefacts and displays from the Napoleonic wars. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour commemorates the soldiers who died defending Russia in the early 19th century.

Moscow's oldest theatre, the Bolshoi, dates from 1824 and is Russia's most famous theatre, with its world-renowned opera and ballet companies in residence. Completely rebuilt after a fire in 1856, the grand building is a masterpiece of Russian neoclassicism, including an eight-columned entrance porch topped by a horse-drawn chariot of Apollo, patron of the arts. The glittering five-tiered interior is richly adorned with red velvet furnishings, gold decoration and chandeliers, and the size of the auditorium makes it the largest theatre in the world. The Bolshoi Theatre has hosted some of the world's most celebrated premieres and performers, including Swan Lake, Spartacus, and concerts by Richard Wagner, and an evening performance at the Bolshoi Opera and Ballet Theatre constitutes one of Moscow's best nights out.

The battle of Borodino is regarded as the bloodiest of the Napoleonic wars, seeing over 70,000 casualties in a single day, an event which saw Napoleon brand the Russians as being 'invincible'. The Borodino Panorama Museum was inaugurated in 1960 and serves as an exhibit of artefacts and displays from the Napoleonic wars, from their beginnings to inevitable conclusion. The panorama referred to in the name is, incidentally, not an outdoor view but a 360º painting depicting a crucial moment in the battle itself.

After Napoleon retreated from Russia, Tsar Alexander I declared that a cathedral be built in remembrance to the soldiers who had died defending mother Russia. Decades later the cathedral was demolished by Stalin (who found the monument abhorrent), only to be built again on the same site between 1990 and 2000 as a duplicate of the original cathedral. It is currently the largest Orthodox Church in the world. The contemporary Russian artwork, statues and memorials to the Russian Tsars, as well as a small indoor museum are well worth a look.

Consisting of a circuit of historic cities northeast of Moscow, the Golden Ring (sometimes called the Golden Circle), is a popular tourist route for holidays in Russia. The cities are popular for their distinctive architecture (recognizable for the uniquely-Russian onion-shaped domes and colourful ornamentation), and their tradition of handmade craftsmanship, offering tourists a good opportunity to buy beautiful Russian souvenirs.

The official list of towns in the Golden Ring include Ivanovo, Kostroma, Pereslavl Zalessky, Rostov Veliky, Sergiev Posad, Suzdal, Vladimir, and Yaroslavl. They are all spaced close enough to each other (and to Moscow and St Petersburg) to reach on horseback within 24 hours, making them ideal for a driving tour. The cities are fairly similar, so it is not necessary to visit them all, and most travelers see only four to six.

One city that should not be missed, however, is Sergiev Posad, the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and home to the stunning Sergiev Posad Monastery. Suzdal is another highlight on any Golden Ring tour, home of the St.Euthymius Monastery and the enormous Spaso-Evfimiev Monastery, which houses 10 museums and is nearly as impressive as the famous Kremlin in Moscow.

Moscow's Metro stations together amount to the most beautiful public transport facility in the world. Visitors to Moscow should not miss taking a ride on this glorious underground rail system, and exploring the stations. Each one has its own distinct aesthetic identity, variously adorned with Realist artworks, chandeliers, ornate pillars and marble floors. Moscow's metro caters to two and half billion passenger rides per year, making it the second most used underground metro system in the world. Despite this, the stations are more akin to palaces or 5-star hotel lobbies rather than functional spaces. The depth of the elevators is also astounding.

Poklonnaya, literally meaning 'bow down', lies in the west part of Moscow and was historically a spot for Western visitors of the city to pay homage before entering the city. Today it is a beacon to Russia's military strength, having withstood invasions by both Napoleon and Hitler. Atop the hill is Victory Park which provides a scenic walk and contains a memorial Mosque and Synagogue for victims of the war and an open air museum dedicated to the victory over Napoleon.

Red Square is a dramatic open cobbled space in the centre of Moscow, originally the city's market place that served as a public gathering place to celebrate festivals, listen to government announcements or to witness executions, especially common during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. The Soviet state turned it into a memorial cemetery, and constructed Lenin's Mausoleum to one side - a crystal casket containing the preserved body of the founder of the Soviet Union that is still open to public viewing today.

The communist government destroyed several ancient buildings around Red Square, including the Resurrection Gate and chapel, to make space for and to allow easy tank access to the demonstrations and military parades that frequented the area. The current Resurrection Gate and chapel are replicas that were built in the 1990s. Its most impressive parade involved the gathering of thousands of Russian soldiers ready to march to war against the Nazis in 1941, the rumble of tanks a demonstration of Soviet might during the Cold War.

The word 'red' doesn't apply to the colour of the brickwork, neither is it a reference to communism. The meaning of the word 'krasny' originally meant 'beautiful' in Old Russian, referring to St Basil's Cathedral at the southern end, but over the centuries the word changed to mean 'red' too, thus the square's present name. St Basil's Cathedral is the city's most well known building and is crowned by the bulbous multicoloured domes that have made it an instantly recognisable landmark.

St Basil's Cathedral with its multicoloured domes is the most famous image of Russia, standing on the edge of Moscow's Red Square, a striking design that was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate his victorious military campaign against the Tartar Mongols at Kazan in 1552. Legend has it that Ivan was so overwhelmed by its beauty that he had the architect blinded to prevent him from creating anything to rival it.

St Basil's Cathedral comprises a central chapel surrounded by eight red brick tower-like chapels, each crowned with a different coloured and uniquely patterned onion-shaped dome. The church escaped demolition many times during the city's turbulent history and with the beginning of the Soviet regime the cathedral was closed and later turned into a museum. The interior is a dimly lit maze of corridors and delicately decorated chapels, one of them housing a priceless 16th-century screen decorated with icons that shields the inner sanctuary. In comparison to the exquisite exterior, the interior can seem disappointing.

The oldest part of Moscow dating back to the city's foundation in 1147, and situated at the very heart of the city on top of a hill, the Kremlin is a fortress surrounded by a thick red wall interspersed with 20 towers. The complex consists of a number of glittering, golden-domed churches and palaces, museums, residences, offices, assembly halls and monuments. It was the royal regime during the Tsarist rule and from 1918, the seat of the Communist government.

Cathedral Square is the religious centre of Moscow and the historic heart of the Kremlin, and is home to numerous churches. The attractive Annunciation Cathedral was set aside for the private use of royalty and contains beautifully painted murals and icons on the interior walls. The throne of Ivan the Terrible can be found in the Cathedral of the Assumption, which was used for the coronation of tsars; most of the leaders of the Russian Orthodox Church were buried here and their tombs line the walls of the spacious, richly coloured interior. The Belfry of Ivan the Great is the tallest structure within the walls and a visible city landmark. At its foot lies the world's biggest bell, broken in a fall from its bell tower in 1701, and nearby is the world's largest cannon, the Tsar Cannon.

Also within the Kremlin is the Armoury Palace, the richest and oldest museum housing a staggering collection of treasures gathered over the years by the church and Russian state, including jewel-studded coronation capes, thrones encrusted with diamonds, royal coaches and sleighs and the renowned jewelled Fabergé Easter eggs, each containing an exquisitely detailed miniature object of precious metal inside. The Diamond Fund Exhibition in the same building contains the 180-carat diamond given to Catherine the Great by Count Orlov.

The Tretyakov Gallery houses some of the great masterpieces of traditional Russian art from before the Revolution and has the world's finest collection of Russian icons from the 11th to the 17th centuries. The gallery's collection of paintings, graphics and sculptures covers Russian art from the 18th to the 20th century. The gallery was named after its founder, Pavel Tretyakov, an art collector who donated about 2,000 works of art from his private collection to the city of Moscow, forming the basis of the collection to which state acquisitions were later added. He also donated his own house, which became the original site of the art gallery. Two separate buildings at different locations house the works selected for display.

Located 120 miles (200km) from Moscow, Yasnaya Polyana is the estate where Lev Tokstoy was born in 1828. In 1921, the property became a memorial to the celebrated author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, and contains a museum with his personal effects and library of nearly 22,000 volumes. Nearly a century later, the museum is still run by Tolstoy's descendants.

Tolstoy spent 60 years living at Yasnaya Polyana with his family, and each of his 13 children were born there (although four died at young ages). He founded a working farm and children's school on the estate, and is still buried in an area called the Forest of the Old Order (so called because it was forbidden to cut down trees there).

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