We visited Moscow in Summer and discovered a cosmopolitan vibrant European city that wasn’t over run with crowds like Paris and Rome. We’ve put together a list of the best things we experienced in Moscow with some time saving tips to help you make the most of your visit to this fascinating city. The culture, history and architecture in Moscow exceeded our expectations !
What we loved about Moscow.
Moscow is very walkable; all the major world class sights are located near each other. The iconic St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the Gum Department Store are all at Red Square.
The Summer festival was in full swing in July. Red Square and the pedestrianised shopping streets were lit up with colourful decorations, amazing lighting and themed seating areas. The city had a great vibe, with bands playing on many street corners at night.
The architecture highlights the history of Moscow; the old grand architecture contrasts with the newer communist style architecture.
What to see at Red Square
1 St Basil’s Cathedral
Visit the iconic cathedral built in 1552 on Red Square that is Russia’s best known church. The cathedral is connected by passageways; as it was originally built as nine small churches. In 1990, it became part of a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Buy tickets at the ticket machines (usually faster) or ticket office to go inside the cathedral. Photography is allowed inside the cathedral, but be aware that there is no photography inside the Kremlin.
2 Lenin’s Mausoleum
Vladimir Lenin’s body has been on display in Red square for 93 years. It’s fascinating to view the “wax like” appearance of the revolutionary leader’s embalmed body. Be prepared to line up for an hour and pass through metal detectors before you walk down the dimly lit stairs into Lenin’s silent tomb. Visitors snake slowly past Lenin’s body, and no one can stop or take photos. Stalin’s grave was next to Lenin inside the tomb for many years before being moved outside to Red Square.
Entry is free. It is open from 9am to 12pm, three to four days per week. Arrive early in Summer. (We arrived 20 minutes before opening and queued for an hour).
The famous Kremlin is a fortified complex overlooking Red Square and the Moskva River. Even though a large part of the Kremlin is closed to the public, it’s a must see when you visit Moscow. It was the residence of Russian tsars and communist leaders, now it’s the office for the president of Russia.
Plan to spend a few hours inside the Kremlin; there’s 800 years of history in the fortress ! We spent about five hours in the Kremlin looking inside the cathedrals, walking around the grounds and visiting the museums. The treasures inside the Armoury Chamber were the highlight of our visit. It’s a good idea to have a meal before you visit, there isn’t anywhere to buy food or drinks inside the Kremlin.
Buy tickets online two weeks ahead or at the ticket office in Alexander Gardens (use the ticket machine, it’s faster than the queues).
What to see in the Kremlin
The Armoury Chamber
The self guided audio tour of the Russian treasures takes about one and a half hours. The museum collections are based on the precious items that have been preserved for centuries in the Tsars’ treasury including historic gold and silverware, State Regalia, Coronation dresses and carriages.
Tickets to the Armoury Chamber are purchased separately to the entrance tickets for the Kremlin. Purchase tickets at the ticket office, online or at the Armoury (they are for a set 2 hour time period). More information about the Armoury Chamber here
Visit the four cathedrals inside the Kremlin.
Guided tour of the Bell Tower.
Buy tickets at the Armoury ticket office for great views of the many domes in the Kremlin and Moscow.
Watch the Ceremonial Mounted and Foot Guards Parade
The half hour parade is at Cathedral Square at midday on Saturdays in Summer and is worth seeing if you plan your visit ahead.
4 Visit the Gum department store
Built in 1890, the GUM department store is an impressive shopping centre full of designer stores, a Caviar bar and an upmarket grocery store.
It’s worth a visit while you’re at Red Square. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many designer stores under one roof, it’s great window shopping !
5 Okhotny Ryad Underground Shopping Centre
If you’re looking for mid priced shopping and a supermarket, there is an underground shopping centre with a food court next to Red Square. Look for the glass domes and enter near the horse statues in Alexander Garden, close to the ticket offices for the Kremlin. It’s easy to miss !
Other Moscow Sights
Spend an hour or two hopping on and off the metro to discover railway platforms that look more like the interiors of a museum or palace. Head to the brown line to see some of the best stations, including Komsomolskaya.
Its so cheap to discover the metro on your own! Buy a card for 50 rubbles (one dollar) at the ticket machine. (English instructions are an option). The ticket is valid for unlimited stations as long as you don’t exit the underground and go back up to the street. It’s tricky finding some stations, as some don’t have English translations. Follow the colour coded signs if you get lost!
Take a guided tour of Bunker 42, the first secret nuclear Soviet bunker in Russia that was fully operational in the Cuban missile crisis. The museum, video presentation and tunnels are eighteen stories below ground. A must see for history lovers! It was really interesting to watch the Russian videos about the Cold War. We walked through one of the underground tunnels in central Moscow that was unknown to the public for many years.
Moskva River cruise
If you have time, it’s worth seeing some of the major landmarks on a river cruise. There’s a range of boats available for all budgets. Some of the boats stop at Gorky Park, which is nice for a walk (only if you have enough time).
Round trip cruises leave in front of the cathedral of Christ the Saviour throughout the day and in the evening in Summer.
Rooftop drinks overlooking the Kremlin
Have a drink on the 12th floor roof top bar at the Ritz Carlton and enjoy beautiful views of Red Square and the Kremlin at night.
Walking streets with shops, restaurants and cafes
The pedestrianized streets in central Moscow had Summer themed decorations everywhere. Head to Arbat street with its many cafes, restaurants and shops. Nikolskaya Street is also worth a visit. We really liked the Georgian food and in particular the Pelmeni dumplings.
Where to Stay in Moscow
The location of the National Hotel is perfect. It’s across the road from Red Square; you can see the queue for Lenin’s Masoleum from breakfast. The rooms are a bit dated, the beds are comfortable and the views of Red Square from breakfast are amazing. Check prices and availability here.
Getting access to cash was quite tricky when we visited Moscow in 2016.
The largest amount of cash we could withdraw was $300 at the National Hotel. The ATMs in the street would only issue about $150 to foreign visitors
For a good orientation, understanding and history of Moscow, we recommend booking a walking tour. Our guide had some great tips for food as well.
Our visit to St Petersburg in July was very crowded compared to Moscow. (It is quite easy to get a visa for a 3 day visit to St Petersburg). It was worth completing the extensive paper work needed for our visit to Moscow. It seems to keep some of the crowds away !
I would love to go back and visit Moscow in Winter. We didn’t have time to visit the Cosmonaut Museum or see a ballet performance at the Bolshoi Theatre. We experienced Russian ballet in St Petersburg. The performance of Swan Lake was outstanding at the beautiful historic Mikhailovsky Theatre. I’d love to hear about your experiences of Moscow and any other questions you have about travelling to Moscow in the comments below.