Spend a perfect day in Moscow walking through history, discovering the city’s medieval foundations and modern flare and everything in between. The Russian capital’s founding site – the majestic Kremlin and the ceremonial Red Square – is still the geographic and spiritual heart of Moscow, making it the ideal place to start your day.

Further on, witness the grandiosity of imperial Russia at the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and contemplate the remains of Soviet Russia at the Art Muzeon sculpture garden. Your day culminates with a chance to experience the energy and artistry of the here and now. This is the Moscow where urban hipsters ride bikes along the Moscow River and dance tango in Gorky Park; where artists and designers are creating contemporary culture out of industrial blight at the former Red October chocolate factory; and where the city is transforming into a dynamic, cosmopolitan capital of the 21st century.

Water Tower, Great Kremlin Palace and the Annunciation Cathedral.  Image by Pete Seaward / Lonely Planet

Morning

Arrive early at Red Square to beat the crowds, and prepare to be awestruck. The vast cobblestone plaza is surrounded by historical monuments and architectural marvels. Take a tour around the square, paying your respects at Lenin's Mausoleum, window-shopping at the State Department Store GUM, and ogling the iconic St Basil's Cathedral. Wander through the blooms of Alexander Garden and catch the ceremonial changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Devote the rest of the morning to exploring the Kremlin, the ultimate symbol of the Russian state. Surprisingly, the noteworthy buildings inside the fortified complex are actually churches, most of them built by Ivan the Great in the 15th century. Study the colourful murals in the Assumption Cathedral; search for the tomb of Ivan the Terrible in the Archangel Cathedral; and admire the amazing iconostasis in the Annunciation Cathedral.

Leisure time in Gorky Park. Image by Alexander Baranov / CC BY 2.0

Afternoon

Stroll past the gargantuan Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, which dominates the skyline southwest of the Kremlin. Stalin destroyed the original 19th-century church that was built here to commemorate the victory over Napoleon. This opulent replacement was built in 1997 in honour of Moscow's 850th birthday. From the cathedral, a pedestrian bridge crosses the Moscow River, offering a panorama of the Kremlin towers and the cathedral itself.

Continuing south along Krymskaya naberezhnaya, you’ll come to one of Moscow’s coolest pedestrian-friendly streetscapes. The gargantuan statue of Peter the Great is out of place among the flowerbeds, fountains and street art adorning the river embankment along this stretch. For a blast from the past, stroll through Art Muzeon. This moody sculpture park is a collection of Soviet statues that were ripped from their pedestals in the post-1991 wave of anti-Soviet feeling. These discredited icons have now been joined by contemporary works, ranging from the playful to the provocative.

Across the street, Gorky Park is Moscow hipster central, where you can while away the rest of the day; your main challenge will be deciding which options for 'culture and leisure' to pursue. There is a 16km riverside path that’s ideal for cycling or inline skating (both bikes and skates are available for rental). There are table-tennis tournaments and dance lessons, as well as inviting sundecks at Olive Beach. Alternatively, there’s always something enticing and innovative going on at the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.

Bar Strelka at the Red October complex beside Moscow River. Image by Pete Seaward / Lonely Planet

Evening

You could be forgiven for staying at Gorky Park to spend the evening eating, drinking and dancing under the stars. But for a glimpse of Moscow’s hottest spot after sunset, backtrack to the former Red October chocolate factory, now a post-industrial centre for art, design and nightlife. The centrepiece of the complex is the Strelka Institute for Architecture, Media & Design, which often hosts exhibitions, films and concerts. Spend some time browsing the boutiques and galleries before heading to the local hidden favourite Produkty for modern Italian fare.

As the sun sets, make your way to Gipsy, an eclectic, ironic venue for sipping cocktails and observing the locals. You can spend the evening hopping from one rooftop bar to another, taking in the marvellous city views and the electric atmosphere of modern Moscow.

This article was first published in July 2010 and last updated in August 2015.

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