21 Reasons to Visit Moscow
Updated: Dec 7, 2020
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Moscow is an incredible city to visit and one of the main attractions in Russia. The country in general has been on my bucket list for years, so when I arrived in the Red Square I was like a child at Disneyland for the first time. There's so much to do in this city, and it's a big contrast from St Petersburg, which we visited beforehand (click here to read my tips on things to do in St Petersburg, and here for my hotel recommendation). Most of the main tourist attractions are going to be busy no matter what time you go to them, so try to plan ahead as much as possible and leave plenty of time to queue up and visit them. Before we get to my reasons to visit Moscow, here's some practical information about visiting the city:
Train From St Petersburg to Moscow
We took the overnight train from St Petersburg to Moscow, which brought us into the city by 6am. This saved us money on accommodation too, and we had a full day to explore. There are a lot of websites for booking train tickets, and some of them are not very clear. I used Russian Railways which gives you all the train options for the day you've selected, and shows you the price for the various classes. There are 3 classes to choose from. Third class is the cheapest but the least private. Both sides of the carriage are lined with bunk beds, so it's essentially a giant hostel room. If you're travelling on a budget or backpacking eastern Europe, this would be a good option. Second class has 2 bunk beds in it, 4 beds in total, so it's a little more private. First class has 2 beds, and you get some other perks such as a television, slippers, and breakfast items. They also wake you up in the morning with some fresh coffee. We went first class, simply because the train originated in Tallinn, so I didn't want to be waking people up in the middle of the night climbing into a bunk bed, and I didn't want to share with strangers either. Some trains also have a business class which provides you with a private bathroom as well. The prices vary depending on the train type and time of the day you travel, but for us, the first class option wasn't too much more than second class.
How To Get Around Moscow
Getting around Moscow is very easy with the metro system. It's considered the world's most beautiful metro, with it's over-the-top designs. There is an app you can download which helps a lot as some of the stations don't have English translations for the lines (a little confusing at times). All you need to do is type Moscow metro in the app store and it will pop up. You can either get the Troika card, which works like the Oyster card in London, or there is an option for 1, 2, or 3 day passes with unlimited rides, which we found to be a better and cheaper option. The Uber app wouldn't work for us, so we used Yandex instead. It works the same way as Uber and we never had a problem using it. It's a great choice if you're too tired to walk around the metro, or want to get to the airport more directly. I thought Yandex was very cheap, but afterwards learned that there are cheaper apps to use, so do some research beforehand.
Getting To and From Domodedovo Airport
If you need to get to and from Domodedovo Airport, there is a metro line that connects it to the centre. Or, you can use Yandex like we did which didn't cost much and was a lot comfier than lugging our bags up and down the stairs in the metro stations. Moscow has three airports to choose from, so pay attention to your tickets or you could end up heading in the wrong direction for your return flight.
Russian Tourist Visa
Getting your Russian Tourist Visa is a pain. Not only is it very expensive, it can take weeks to arrive depending on what option you pay for. As soon as you know for certain you're going to Russia, start your visa application process. There is an option to fast track it if you've left it to the last minute, but it's more expensive and there is no guarantee it will be accepted. The process and prices vary from country to country. I was in the UK at the time, so decided to use my British passport for my application. With all of the added documents you need to include it came out to just under £300 for a 20 day single entry visa. Make sure you know what kind of Visa you need, because if you apply for the wrong one you will probably be denied entry. There are many websites that can help you out with your application, so don't stress! Just head to Google and type in your needs.
How Expensive is Moscow?
First off, lets start with the currency. Please don't show up in Russia with Euros. Their currency is the Russian ruble. I ended up using my card for most of my time there so I wasn't carrying loads of cash around with me. So, how expensive is Moscow? I was surprised at how cheap eating out was, but the tourist attractions are ridiculously expensive. Hotel prices depend on what area you're in and the quality you want (like every other country). How much money you bring to Moscow would depend on what you intend to do in the city, so plan ahead and research the entry fees of the attractions you want to go in. That will give you an idea of how much you'll spend on activities, and then all you need to do is bring a bit extra for food and souvenirs.
We saw a lot in the 5 days we were in Moscow. And even though the weather decided not to cooperate and made it feel more like October than July/August, we had an amazing time in the city! There are quite a few free things to do and see in Moscow, so don't despair once you've researched the entry fees for the Kremlin and St Basil's Cathedral.
Reasons to Visit Moscow
Here are my top recommendations for reasons to visit Moscow, as well as some helpful tips that I wish I would have known before I visited the city:
1. St Basil's Cathedral
St Basil's Cathedral is an icon of Moscow, and certainly not to be missed. This is the main attraction in the Red Square, and is packed with people taking photos outside of it. If you go very early in the morning, you can get some great shots without the crowds! Entry isn't cheap, and during the summer months the queue to get in is long, but going inside the cathedral is definitely worth it. It was unlike any other cathedral I've been inside - and I've been in a lot of them. The cathedral is one of the main tourist attractions in Russia, so why wouldn't you go here?
2. Tour the Red Square
Apart from St Basil's Cathedral, the Red Square is home to many other interesting sights! The walls of the Kremlin are shown in this photo, but you can also catch a glimpse of Lenin's Mausoleum, the State Historical Museum, Resurrection Gate, and GUM. We woke up very early in the morning to get here before the large crowds, and were chased around by a massive truck cleaning the square. On the bright side, the few people that were there moved out of the way so we could get some nice photos.
3. Lenin's Mausoleum
Yes! You can actually see Lenin's body on display 4 days of the week. It's only open 10am-1pm though, and since it's free, the queue to get in is enormous. It took us about an hour to get inside, and we spent less than 5 minutes there. There's no time to stop either for photos or to take a closer look. Lenin's Mausoleum is a very surreal experience, with guards lining the entire route and watching your every move. Check before visiting what days it's open as sometimes they change .
4. The Eternal Flame
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was moved from Leningrad to Moscow, and sits just outside of the Kremlin walls. You'll pass by the Eternal Flame if you're walking from the Red Square to the ticket office of the Kremlin. There are many monuments around Moscow but this is a unique one.
5. Nikolovskaya Street
Nikolovskaya Street was by far my favourite street in Moscow. It opens out into the Red Square and runs along the side of GUM. There are many great shops and restaurants on this street, a couple of which we sampled. In the evening, these low-hanging lights are beautiful to walk under. Arbat Street is another main street in Moscow filled with various souvenir shops and restaurants, as well as a Cinnabon!
6. GUM Department Store
GUM is a famous, luxury department store/shopping centre in Moscow. It's incredibly beautiful inside, and there are lots of opportunities to sample some of its famous ice cream too. The shops are very expensive, but most people are walking around, taking it all in anyways so don't feel like you need to blow your budget in one of the shops to enjoy yourself. As long as you don't start shopping, this is one of the best things to do in Moscow on a budget.
See? I told you the inside was stunning. It's one of the best things to do in Moscow when it's raining too, which we found out after we rushed inside to get out of a sudden storm. The ground floor has a lot of restaurants and cafes to choose from as well if you fancy something to eat.
7. Ivan the Great Bell Tower: Views of the Kremlin
One of the main reasons to visit Moscow is to go inside the Kremlin. Buying a ticket to the Kremlin can be quite stressful if you buy one on the day (like we did). First of all, the queue is huge. Secondly, there are several variations of tickets for you to purchase, each with their own separate ticket boxes and queues. The armoury is very popular, but costs just as much as the ticket to Cathedral Square, so we opted to skip that and save some money. The Cathedral Square ticket allows you to enter the various cathedrals within the Kremlin. Getting into Ivan the Great's Bell Tower means getting an additional ticket, which is surprisingly very cheap. The tickets are only available 45 minutes before entry, and you can only buy them on the day. They are also very limited. We only had 6 people on our tour, including ourselves. Luckily, we made it to the front of the queue at the exact time they were available to purchase, so we got a pair of tickets. It's a very unique experience in Moscow, and the views from the top are incredible.
8. Iberian Gate and Chapel (Resurrection Gate)
The Iberian Gate is the main entrance to the Red Square, and traditionally you're supposed to stop at the chapel before entering the square or Kremlin. It sits between the city hall and State Historical Museum. The gate that now stands is a replica of the original 16th century gate, which was torn down in the 1930's to allow large vehicles to enter the square for military parades. Visiting this gate is one of the top things to do in Moscow, and is free - bonus!
Eliseevsky is a very famous grocery store in Moscow, and was once where the nobility shopped for foreign imports. This is probably one of the more unusual things to do in Moscow, as you wouldn't normally put a grocery store on an itinerary, but it's very cool nonetheless.
10. Zaryadye Park
Zaryadye Park is a newly built park in Moscow located right behind the Red Square, and offers some amazing views of the city. You can also find some less crowded points of interest here such as the Old English Yard and Romanov Boyar Residence.
11. Novodevichy Cemetery and Convent
Walking around a cemetery? Really? Hear me out. Novodevichy Cemetery is the most famous cemetery in Moscow, and many important Russian figures are buried here with elaborate headstones. There's a fee to enter, and it's a little confusing to navigate without a map, but there is an option of doing a walking tour too. The convent is located next to it, and the lake in front of it was the inspiration to Swan Lake! Unfortunately there was scaffolding around it when we visited so we weren't able to get any nice photos.
12. Bunker 42/Stalin's Bunker
Bunker 42 (aka Stalin's Bunker) is a phenomenal experience and 5 minutes from the closest metro station, so it's easy to get to. The bunker was designed by Stalin, but he died before its completion. It was a very active command post and was fully equipped with everything needed for a nuclear attack. Above ground, it posed as a military library so no one knew its actual purpose. The bunker sits very close to one of the metro lines, so they built a secret tunnel connecting the bunker to the metro! It sits 18 floors underground, and even has its own restaurant which I would recommend trying out for the unique Soviet inspired cocktails and food.
The tour lasts about an hour, and you see some amazing rooms during this time. This photo shows one of the command centres, and they even let me launch a missile (for fun of course). In my opinion, this is one of the best places to visit in Moscow, outside of the main attractions.
13. Bolshoi Theatre
If you're looking to get a ticket to one of the performances at the world famous Bolshoi Theatre, I'd recommend getting them a few months in advance when they're first released, that's when they're at their cheapest. If you can't get a ticket, it's only a short walk from the Red Square, so go take a look at the outside of it instead!
14. The Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovichin Kolomenskoye
The Palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovichin Kolomenskoye or the Wooden Palace is a 17th century palace considered to be the best surviving example of Russian wooden architecture. It's a little bit outside of the city centre, but very easily accessible by Moscow's metro. There's an option to go inside the palace as well but we arrived as it was closing so were unable to. Although this isn't one of Moscow's top attractions, it's another unique and off the beaten track thing to do in the city if you want to avoid the crowds for a little while.
15. Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve
If you visit the wooden palace, Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve is only a short ride on the metro from there. It's an enormous park, with many lovely buildings to look at, but my favourite was the enormous palace on top of the hill. It was founded by Catherine the Great in the late 18th century, and now stands as a museum. We were told that the best time to visit Russia was in the summer to catch the good weather, but it rained a lot of the time we were in Moscow. Especially when we were in this park - we had to take cover in the trees!
16. VDNKh/All-Russian Exhibition Centre
VDNKh or the All-Russian Exhibition Centre is considered a Stalinist theme park, and it was designed to show off the socialist economy and lifestyle. There are many impressive things to see here, and many of the structures are enormous. There's a metro stop right outside of the entrance for easy access. Best of all, it's something free to do in Moscow! When we visited their was an exhibition on so it was very crowded but the atmosphere was amazing.
17. Cafe Pushkin
Cafe Pushkin is a beautifully themed restaurant, and a great choice if you're looking to rest your feet for a while. We stopped for a quick drink, so were seated at the bar, but the food looked incredible. It's a good spot to shield yourself if it starts to rain too.
18. Sparrow Hills
The closest metro station to Sparrow Hills is located at the bottom of the hill, but it's a nice walk to the top through the forest, although very steep. The viewpoint is packed with tourists, unless you get there early. From here, you can see the newer part of Moscow with its skyscrapers too. If you're looking for something interesting to do, there are walking tours that take you around the Stalinist skyscrapers.
Across the road from the viewpoint lies Moscow State University, which is a beautiful building. There's also an observation deck at the top that you can go up to. This is another top thing to do in Moscow, and I would say it's probably easier to take a Yandex here than public transportation. There's also a food stall nearby selling corn on the cob which I had to try. In fact they're all over the city and are very popular with locals and tourists.
19. Gorky Park
Gorky Park as been totally reinvented and is now home to many different art installation and activities. This was located right across the road from our hotel (more information at the bottom of this blog), so was the first stop on our itinerary. Even on a rainy day it's lovely to walk around.
There's even a part of the park that's dedicated to the communist regime, with statues and busts of various past leaders. The park runs along the Moscow River, which is lovely to walk along if you have the time.
20. Izmailovo Kremlin and Museum
Izmailovo Kremlin was one of my favourite things to see in Moscow. It's another spot you need to get the metro to, but is 100% worth the trip. It looks like something out of a fairy tale, and is home to the Vodka Museum and some other interesting museums as well. We bought the combo ticket for all three museums through Tiqets which made entry very simple. There's also a large market here, where they sell everything you could ever need in a souvenir. There are lots of stalls selling antiques and other Russian secondhand items too. The stalls only take cash, so come prepared! If you don't have cash on hand, there is an ATM in the hotel across the road that you can use.
Wondering what to eat in Russia? Dumplings! I think we had dumplings every day. But you can't travel to Russia without giving them a try. There are lots of different options, so you won't get bored eating them. Most traditional restaurants will have these on their menu, as well as other delicious dishes.
Where To Stay in Moscow
In terms of accommodation, we stayed at Hotel Yakimanka 38 which was perfectly located next to Gorky Park, and right along a metro line. It took us less than 15 minutes to get to the Red Square, and there were lots of nice cafes and restaurants in the area too. It's also very budget friendly and has different themed rooms which are really fun, as well as en suite bathrooms. You can read about my stay at the hotel here.
Price range: €40 +
Moscow is a beautiful destination full of culture and history, perhaps most well known for its Russian architecture prominently on display throughout the city. There are more than 21 reasons to visit Moscow, but these were my favourite and I hope they help you plan your trip to the Russian capital.
Don't forget to check out my tips on what to do in St Petersburg if you're planning to visit there as well. And follow me on my travels on Instagram for further photos of the attractions I mentioned in this post!