Red Square is one of Russia’s iconic landmarks with thousands of visitors flocking to see the famous site on a daily basis. Located in the center of the city, it is 330 meters long and 70 meters wide. Buildings of different styles from the 15th to 20th century coexist in a single composition, forming a unified architectural ensemble, so beautiful in its diversity.
If you’re planning a visit to Moscow, here are 10 unique things to see at the Red Square:
1. St Basils Cathedral (also known as The Cathedral of Intercession)
St Basils Cathedral is Russia’s most recognized church. Ordered by Tsar Ivan the Terrible to celebrate the conquest of the Kazan Khanate, the cathedral was built between between 1555 and 1561 and legend has it that Ivan the Terrible ordered that the architects be blinded after they completed work on this beautiful cathedral so that they could not replicate or surpass it elsewhere. Up until the 19th century, the church walls were white and its domes were gold before being painted into the bright colours its mostly recognized for today. The cathedral has 9 domes which represent 9 individual chapels. The site became a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1990 and is open to the public from 10 am to 6 pm and tickets can be purchased in the ticket office or online for 500 RUB (Price in June 2019).
2. State Historical Museum
One of the buildings that attract tourists the most is the State Museum of Russian History, built between 1875 and 1881, according to neo-Russian style canons and inaugurated by Tsar Alexander III.
In its interior you will find prehistoric relics that occupied the territory of present-day Russia, and also invaluable works of art acquired by members of the Romanov dynasty. The total number of objects in the museum’s collection is of the order of millions.
An equestrian statue of Marshal Zhukov, one of the most outstanding commanders of the Second World War (who died in 1974) can be found in front of the rear façade of the museum, in Manezhnaya Square.
3. The GUM
Pronounced as ”GOOM”, The Glavny Universalny Magazin (GUM) is a famous shopping mall that was built in the 19th century. Known as the ”trading rows”, since the times of Ivan the Terrible, shops were arranged in three levels and covered with a glass roof resting on a curved steel framework (designed by engineer Vladimir Shukhov, renowned for designing the famous Shukhov Radio Tower – a broadcasting tower built in the period 1920–1922 in Moscow). Today the mall has over 100 stores, mostly known for carrying well-known western brand names like Gucci, Max Mara, Louis Vuitton, Dior and more. While at the GUM, try the Soviet era Ice Cream made with the same recipe from 1914. Prices start at 100 RUB (about 1,50 USD). Entry is free and the shopping mall is open from 10:00 AM to 10:00 PM, Monday through Sunday.
4. Lenin Mausoleum
If you’re note familiar with Vladimir Lenin, he was the first leader of the USSR and the government that took over Russia in 1917 where he served as head of government of Soviet Russia from 1917 to 1922 and of the Soviet Union from 1922 to 1924. You can visit the Lenin Mausoleum (right across from the GUM) to learn about him and you will also find his resting place where his remains were interred into a granite mausoleum.
Note: Entry is free and there is always a long queue so be prepared to wait and also note that photography inside the building is prohibited. The museum is open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10:00 to 1:00 PM. (Closed Monday, Friday and Sunday).
5. The Cathedral Square
There are five churches in the Cathedral Square, which you can visit during your Red Square tour:
• Assumption Cathedral (also known as Dormition Cathedral): where the Tsars were crowned.
• Cathedral of the Archangel (also known as Archangel Michael Cathedral): the place of coronation and funeral processions of all Russian Tsars. Also the venue for the inauguration ceremony of the President of Russia.
• Cathedral of Annunciation: a Russian Orthodox church dedicated to the Annunciation of the Theotokos.
• Church of the Deposition of the Robe of Holy Virgin
• Church of Twelve Apostles (part of the Patriarch Palace)
These churches are not the only ones behind the Moscow Kremlin Walls. There are other private churches which belong to the Presidential and Administrative part of the Kremlin and can not be visited. Admission into Cathedral Square is free but going inside the churches costs 700 RUB (price in June 2019) and tickets can be purchased HERE, but If you’d like a private tour of the churches, I’d recommend this tour that I went on:
6. Tsar Bell
The Tsar-Bell, an enormous bell (said to be the largest in the world), that weighs 216 tons and has a diameter of 6.6 meters. It was formed out of bronze sometime between 1733 and 1735, and in 1737 it was broken during a fire.
7. The Kremlin
The word Kremlin means “citadel”.
Located on the eastern border of the Red Square, The Kremlin is the largest fortress in Europe and the oldest in Russia. Within the Moscow Kremlin (27 hectares), there are five palaces, four cathedrals, and an enclosing wall. The Kremlin is also the workplace of the President of Russia and he has a home but doesn’t reside there full time. A large part of the Kremlin is accessible to tourists. Two types of tickets are available:
• Access to the exterior grounds of the Kremlin and the cathedrals square
• Access the museum in the Armory.
I recommend buying tickets online HERE to avoid long queues.
8. Kremlin Armoury Chamber
The Kremlin Armoury Museum is home to a collection of items, which were preserved for centuries in the royal treasury and in the Patriarch’s sacristy. These include personal belongings of Russian tsars, valuable gifts from foreign embassies as well as household and decorative items made by Armoury craftsmen.
You will also find the Diamond Fund, one of the most important diamond exhibitions in the world comparable to the British Crown Jewels. With over 4,000 items from different time periods and cultures, this is one place to visit if you’re interested in history. The museum is open everyday (except Thursdays and public holidays) from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m and tickets can be purchased online or outside the building before entry for 1000 RUB (Price in June 2019).
9. The Kremlin Wall
The Kremlin Wall is a defensive wall that surrounds the Moscow Kremlin, recognizable by the characteristic notches and its towers. The original walls were likely a simple wooden fence with guard towers built in 1156. The Kremlin is flanked by 19 towers with a 20th, the Koutafia Tower, not part of its walls. Most famous walls of the Kremlin are Necropolis in which other military & former Soviet presidents such as Stalin, Chernenko, Brezhnev or Yuri Andropov are buried, as well as Russian celebrities, such as the astronaut Yuri Gagarin. Nikolakaya Tower is another popular tower, It was built in 1491 by an Italian architect, Pietro Antonio Solari. It was named after Nikolaevsky (Nikolsky) Greek Monastery.
10. The Great Bell of Ivan the Great
The Ivan the Great Bell Tower was laid down in 1505 by an Italian architect nicknamed Bon Fryazin. It was in that year that Ivan III died, the first Russian tsar who consolidated all the Russian principalities and desisted from paying tribute to the Golden Horde. After that he declared himself the Tsar of All Russia. It was for this reason that Ivan III was subsequently called Ivan the Great, and the bell tower was also given his name.
The bell is 81 metres (266 ft), it is the tallest tower and structure of Kremlin. It was designed as a detached building after the fashion of Italian campaniles. The Ivan the Great Bell Tower contains 34 bells. The most ancient of them, the ”Bear”, was cast in 1501. One of the four large bells called ”Uspenskiy” weighs 65 tons. The bell ”Reut” was cast by the most famous craftsman Andrey Chokhov in 1622. This craftsman also cast the Tsar Cannon, which is a monument of the Moscow Kremlin. You can hear the bell ringing on Russian Orthodox holidays. Today the bell tower’s observation gallery is used as an exhibition venue and guests can visit Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower and its museum for 350 RUB (price in June 2019), unfortunately tickets cannot be purchased online and they are only available at the venue. There are sessions at 10:15AM, 11:15AM, 1:00PM, 2:00PM, 3:00PM, and 4:00PM.
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Suggested Reading: Everything you need to know before visiting Russia