Since the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Russia has started opening their borders to international visitors and although there is still uncertainty regarding travel to Russia. Here’s the ultimate first-timer’s list of things to do in Moscow.
If you to know about solo female safety tips in Moscow and how many days you need in Moscow? Are you wondering if Moscow is a great destination for people of color? This blog aims to answer your questions based on my travel experience to Russia.
What is there to do in Moscow in 2 days
If you can spend more time in the city, you definitely should but I also believe 48 hours is enough to get a glimpse of the vibrant and expressive side of Russia’s capital city. Moscow’s is the largest European city with so much to see and do, the city center is teeming with sights: theaters, museums, restaurants and beautiful city squares. But because of that planning a short trip to Moscow can be quite overwhelming. So after extensive planning, here’s how I spent 48 hours visiting some of my favourite sights and spots in the city.
Things to do in Moscow
Tip: Make sure you have your comfortable shoes on, we have a lot of walking to do.
Day 1 in Moscow
8 AM – Walk through Alexander Gardens
Alexander Gardens is one of the first public parks in Moscow where you will find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier – a monument dedicated to Soviet soldiers fallen in World War II, in the center burns the eternal flame, guarded by the Honor Guard of the Presidential Regiment. Entry is free and most people come out on the hour to see the security guards changing shifts.
9 AM – Visit The Red Square
With so much to do and see in the Red Square, I’d suggest researching and making a list of things to see then spending at least 2 – 4 hours exploring Moscow’s most iconic landmark.
10 amazing Things to do at the Red Square
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.
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.
1 PM – See the floating bridge at Zarydaye Park
Open in 2017, Zardaye Park is considered as one of the best public parks in the world. One of the main attractions of the park is the floating bridge over the Moskva River in the shape of a “V”. The panoramic views from there are unparalleled and its functional and impressive architecture.
2 PM – Try the famous Soviet-era Ice Cream
You can have lunch at one of the many restaurants inside GUM – (most restaurants are on the third floor). Alternatively have food at the Okhotny Ryad Shopping Center, an underground shopping mall on several levels located below Alexander’s Gardens.
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.
3 PM – Snap some Instagram shots at Art Play District
Art Play District also known as Viz Zavod (“wine factory” in English), is one of Moscow’s trendiest neighborhoods where you will find art galleries, street art, craft breweries. Head to Moscow Contemporary Art Centre, where you will find work an art cluster helping to foment the city’s artistic renaissance with established artists and young up-and-comers.
5 PM – Watch the sunset in VDNH Park
Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva (VDNH) is a Park located next to the Museum of Cosmonautics.
7PM – Dinner at Khachapuri
Actually spelled as Хачапури, this is a Georgian restaurant and probably one of the best places for food in Moscow. I didn’t want to try a lot of Georgian food as after I leave Russia, I’m heading to Georgia but I had the famous khachapuri famous (cheese filled bread with egg) and a strawberry milk cocktail. I loved the ambiance and how the restaurant gives you a book with images so you can know what you are getting. The meal and cocktail cost €7.
8 PM – Watch the Ballet
The world renowned Bolshoi Theater is a classic venue for ballet and other performances. Tours of the theatre are available HERE if you can’t watch a show. It’s very popular and expensive so its best to prebook ticket months in advance, alternatively visit The State Palace of the Kremlin that was built in 1961 and is the main headquarters of the Ballet of the Kremlin- one of the most important ballet companies in Russia.
Tip: Don’t purchase tickets from men walking around the Red Square. Most tickets are fake.
10PM – Drinks on the famous Nikolskaya Street
After 11 PM, all stores in Russia stop selling alcohol but you can visit one of the many bars and clubs. Nightlife in Moscow is amazing. I was amazed to see streets full of people at 3 AM on a Monday evening
Day 2 in Moscow
6 AM – Start your day the Russian way
Head to the famous Dr. Zhivago restaurant for a classic Russian breakfast of raw egg and caviar. The restaurant is open 24/7 and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s very popular and I highly recommend making a reservation.
8AM – Go on a Metro Tour of Moscow
A trip to Moscow would be incomplete without a metro tour. While most people use the metro to get from point A to B, the Moscow metro is more than just transportation, it’s an experience.
Facts about the Moscow Metro:
- The Moscow Metro is the largest metro in Europe and the 5th busiest in the world (after the subways of Beijing, Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai).
- The Moscow Metro was opened on 15 May 1935 at 7.00am and has only been closed once on the 16th of October 1941.
- The metro has over 200 stations and over 10 million passengers use it every week.
- The average operating speed of trains is 41.61 km/h.
- All the trains heading out of the city center have a female announcer while all the trains heading into the city have male announcers.
- The interval between the trains is only 90 seconds and the trains have a 99% punctuality rate.
Moscow Metro Map
Click HERE for an interactive map
The Best Moscow Metro Stations to visit
Start at Komsomolskaya Station also known as “Gates of Moscow” because it’s located under three of the most busy Moscow railway terminals. The station has an ancient temple type architecture with mosaic panels on the ceiling, elegant bronze chandeliers, marble arcades and monumental mosaics made from smalt. You will also find a statue of the leader of the Russian Revolution, Vladimir Lenin.
Head to Novoslobodskaya Station
This was my favorite station, it reminded me of the inside of a cathedral. The station has 32 stained-glass panels, which were all designed by the famous Soviet artist Pavel Korin. The glass panels shows people from different professions including a musician, an agronomist and, of course, an architect. The remaining 26 panels contain intricate geometric patterns and stars.
The station was named after the nearby Belorussky Rail Terminal, from which westward trains towards Belarus and western Europe departures. When’s arrived from the airport I actually took the aeroexpress to Belorusskaya then I took the metro into the city.
During the airstrikes of World War II the Moscow subway, as well as the subways in some other cities, became bomb-proof shelters. Half a million people found shelter underground. Women and children slept in the carriages of trains that were parked overnight next to the platforms.
Visit Revolution Square Station
There are 76 bronze figures depicting Soviet heroes on the platform of Revolution Square station. The statue of Krasnoarmeets (Red Army soldier) periodically “loses” his gun: in average weapons are lost 3-4 times a year. The shoulder with with a dog is favorite among locals especially students as it’s believed that – if you rub the nose of the you will get good luck. As a result, a dog’s nose always shines.
The handrails of the Moscow metro escalators move faster than the escalator stairs.
See the marvelous Mayakovskaya Station
This was the most beautiful station in my opinion. It is also the deepest station in Moscow and was a popular place where leaders often had meetings underground due to safety concerns. On the anniversary of the October Revolution on October 6, 1941, a meeting of the Moscow Soviet was held at the Mayakovskaya station; Joseph Stalin made a speech and announced the inevitable defeat of the fascist bloc. The station was constructed by using modern techniques of the time. Instead of heavy pillars, there are high, slender columns made of aircraft steel that create the feeling of a large hall.
How to see the Moscow Metro:
Buy a metro ticket for 50 RUB at any station or buy a Troika Card and pay 38 RUB per trip then get the metro app and use it to find the stations. Alternatively, book a tour but most of them have 20+ people so I would recommend booking one with Oleg, an amazing Moscow native. He was my tour guide and I really enjoyed his tour. Book it HERE
The Best Moscow Metro Routes:
1 hour: Komsomolskaya (ring) – Novoslobodskaya – Belorusskaya – Revolution Square – Mayakovskaya
2 hours: Teatralnaya – Novoslobodskaya – Paveletskaya (get on the ring line) – Taganskaya (ring) – Komsomolskaya (ring) – Kievskaya (ring) – Park Kultury
Suggested Reading: Everything you need to know before visiting Russia for the first time
10 AM – Go for a tasting at the Vodka Museum
I went to the Vodka Museum located inside the Izmailovsky Market (bazaar) to learn more about Russia’s vodka history. Unfortunately, there are no guided tours and all the signs are in Russian but this shouldn’t discourage you to visit. The price for admission and a tasting was 200 RUB per person and each person gets to choose 3 shots. The Museum is on one floor and you can easily walk through it in 30 minutes then sit down in a replica of a Soviet-era bar to enjoy your tasting.
1 PM – Admire views from Stalin’s Seven Sisters Rooftops
Amongst the tallest buildings in Europe, you’ll find the Moscow skyline, also known as Stalin’s Seven Sisters. From mystical stories, city’s legends and how to see the Moscow Skyline for free.
What is “Stalin’s Seven Sisters”?
Stalin’s Seven Sisters are seven towering skyscrapers in Moscow. The buildings were the vision of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who had plans to make Moscow the “best city in the world in terms of architecture and comfort” after most buildings in the city were destroyed during World War II.
History Fact: Russia and its Western allies in World War II both tend to regard themselves as the country that defeated Hitler. Learn more.
With an increase of people in Russia’s capital city, the construction of the Seven Sisters was ideology-driven. Ornate facades, opulent interiors, huge columned porticos, spires and rich sculptured décor were intended to demonstrate the wealth of Russia – a place where people were incredibly privileged to live.
Where are Stalin’s Seven Sisters
Moscow State University, Sparrow Hills (Address: 1, Vorobyovy Gory Street)
Standing at a cloud-slicing 240 meters, this is the tallest of the Seven Sisters. Construction began in 1949 and the building was completed in 1953. The building has 36 floors and was able to house about 30,000 students, making it the largest building in Europe upon its inauguration on 1 September 1953 until 1990. Today the building is still used for student accommodation and offices. The university is right across Luzniki stadium (where the 2018 FIFA World Cup final was hosted).
Hotel Ukraina (Address: Block 1, 2/1, Kutuzovsky Avenue)
At 206 meters tall with 34 levels. Hotel Ukarina was built in 1953 and completed in 1957 where it was the largest hotel in Europe with the capacity of 1 630 people. In 2004 an observatory deck was opened and the hotel was purchased by Radisson Hotels in 2007 and major renovations were done to modernize the hotel which reopneed with a new name – ”Radisson Royal Hotel”. Erwin Restaurant inside Royal Radisson has amazing seafood.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (Address: Smolenskaya-Sennaya Pl., 32/34)
Construction for the ministry of foreign affairs building began in 1948 and the building was completed in 1953. At 172 meters high, these government offices were supposed to have 40 stories but ended up with 27 and a spire made with steel framing was added by Stalin’s personal orders.
The Leninsgradksaya Hotel – (Address: 21/40 Kalanchyovskaya Street)
Listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having one of the largest chandeliers in the world. The 28-story building has an impressive ‘Gotham City’ feel to it. After major renovations, the hotel was purchased in 2018 by Hilton Hotels and, reopened with 273 guest rooms.
The Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, (Address: Kotelnicheskaya Nab., 1/15)
Where the Moskva River meets the Yauza River stands the 176 meter high Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building. Today this is an elite residential area with apartments worth millions of euros.
Kudrinskaya Square Building, (Address: Kudrinskaya Pl., 1)
Contructed between 1948 and 1954, the building was intended to house apartments for Soviet cultural leaders. But the 160 meter building ended up being used as a residential and commercial building by all people with restaurants, shops and cafes.
Red Gates Administrative Building – (Address: 21, Sadovaya-Spasskaya Street)
The is the smallest of the Seven Sisters stands at 133 meters with 24 levels. The building was constructed with its frame tilted to one side to compensate for the frozen soil below. When the soil thawed, the building settled down but not enough to make it perfectly upright.
Each building had its own underground bunker which could provide shelter to all residents in case of a surprise attack.
How to see Stalin’s Seven Sisters
Best Stalin’s Seven Sisters Tour
I went on a guided tour and I highly recommend this option as the tour guide will know the quickest ways to get to the buildings and you will learn more and meet other people. Here are some options:
I also did a 2.5 hour FREE tour which stops at the following places:
- The old KGB building
- The Children’s world store
- House of Terror
- Stalin’s Empire
- Soviet Moscow
- Soviet architecture
- Stalin’s skyscrapers
Sign up: www.freetour.com
As a gesture of goodwill, Stalin sanctioned the erection of similar skyscrapers in the capitals of other countries in the USSR. Clones of the Sisters can be found in Warsaw (the Palace of Culture and Science), Prague (Hotel International), Bucharest (House of the Free Press), and Kiev (Hotel Ukraine).
5 PM – Sunset Boat Cruise
Seeing the historic city of Moscow by boat is on the must-do list of most visitors. The 140km long-river flows into the Caspian Sea through the Smolensk and Moscow Oblasts, passing through central Moscow.
These short river cruises available at different price points and times, allow you to take in many of the highlights of the city— the Ustyinsky Bridge, the St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Moscow Kremlin, the Christ the Savior Cathedral, the Krymskiy Bridge, Sparrow Hills, Gorky Park, and the Novospassky Bridge, before returning to your port of origin —as you float along the famous Moskva River.
Is it safe to travel to Moscow
Moscow’s city center, as well as the suburbs, are relatively safe; malls, business districts, and tourist areas have a high police presence.
I shared a detailed guide for Solo Female Travel in Russia – with dress codes, best apps and safety tips.
I believe Moscow is safe to visit and being cautious and practicing good personal security is going to make you less likely to fall prey to crime.
How to save money in Moscow?
Sign up for a FREE walking tour of Moscow available daily at 10:45 AM: https://moscowfreetour.com I did this 2-hour tour on my first day and I think it’s a great introduction to the city. The guide was amazing and I learned a lot then decided which places I loved and went to visit again.
Sign up for a FREE Stalin’s Seven Sisters Tour: HERE
Find a MTC shop and buy a local sim card. It cost me 700 RUB (USD $10) for 20 gigs of data and unlimited calls and text.
Buy a Troika card and use it on the metro. Rides with the card cost 38 RUB and 55 RUB per ride without the card. At the end of your trip, return your card to any station and receive 50 RUB. The Moscow Metro operates from 5am to 1am everyday and there are trains every 2 minutes and its clean and safe.
Alternatively, use the Hop on and off bus. Buy a package HERE and pick it up when you arrive at the airport.
Taxis: There are different taxi companies at different price points. I recommend downloading the Yandex Taxi app and adding your card details. Then just type in where you are going on the app. Average taxi rides around the city cost 300 – 700 RUB. Most drivers don’t speak English so it will be easier to just type in your destination and pay by card. You will be able to rate the driver after every trip and the driver also rates you. The better your ratings are the cheaper your rides costs so keep this in mind.
Get Insurance before traveling to Russia
Use travel insurance while visiting Russia so you are covered for theft and medical expenses. There are a lot of adventurous activities to do in Russia, and it’s best to have peace of mind while swimming, hiking and trying some of the best food in the world.
Find out why I recommend World Nomads, check out my World Nomads Insurance review.