Moscow enjoyed the status of capital for most of Russia’s history, except for a relatively brief period (about two hundred years), when the Tsar and the government relocated to St Petersburg. But the Bolsheviks moved the capital back to Moscow in 1918, and today it’s an extremely diverse city. It can easily take a couple of weeks to see all of its sights, but if you've only got a weekend to explore, here's how to have two perfect days in Moscow.

Exterior of St Basil's Cathedral at Red Square on a sunny autumn morning.
 St Basil's Cathedral in Red Square is a Russian icon © yulenochekk / Getty Images

Day one

Morning

Start your weekend in Moscow by acquainting yourself with top-notch Russian cuisine at Grand Cafe Dr Zhivago. Located on the first floor of the historical hotel National and overlooking the Kremlin, it’s definitely one of the best breakfast spots in the city. Try millet porridge with crawfish, pearl barley porridge with oxtail or traditional cottage cheese with raisins and candied fruit.

Set aside at least half a day for Russian capital’s major attractions: the Red Square and the Kremlin. To reach the Kremlin, cross the street from Dr Zhivago and walk through the Alexander Garden to the main entrance at the Kutafya Tower. Check out all the cathedrals, including Archangel cathedral with all the tsars’ tombs and Uspensky cathedral with medieval icons. Pause to look at the famous Tsar Bell and climb Ivan the Great Bell Tower to enjoy some great views.

Zaryadye - a landscape and architectural park. Many people stroll over concrete walkways surrounding a rounded building in parkland.
Zaryadye Park has incredible architecture, and boasts fauna from every part of Russia © BestPhotoPlus / Shutterstock

Afternoon 

Exit and walk to the Red Square through the Alexander Garden, where, if lucky, you can see the change of guard. If you’re feeling hungry, stop by the food court at Okhotny Ryad shopping complex to pick up a snack.

The Red square is dominated by four buildings of equal historical importance: the Kremlin's most famous Spasskaya (Saviour) Tower, with a clock and fourteen bells that chime national anthem four times a day (6am, noon, 6pm, midnight), St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow's best-known symbol with its multi-colored domes, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the resting place of the leader of the 1917 October revolution, and GUM, Moscow's oldest department store, topped with a glass roof, designed by one of Russia's most celebrated architects, Vladimir Shukhov. 

A guide to shopping in Moscow

Right behind the St Basil’s it is the relatively new Zaryadye Park, designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, famous for its work on the High Line in New York City. Zaryadye showcases flora from all the climate zones of Russia, which is the largest country in the world. The floating bridge at the edge of the park is one of the biggest selfie magnets in Moscow, providing spectacular views of the river and the city skyline as the background. 

Another Zaryadye attraction is a glass pavilion that hosts restaurant Voskhod (Sunrise) – a perfect spot for your lunch or early dinner. Voskhod focuses on dishes from all fifteen former Soviet Union republics and its inside looks like a Soviet-made spaceship with great views of the Moscow river. Try Azeri home-made pasta or trout from Lake Sevan in Armenia.

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Evening 

After all that walking and exploring you need some quality downtime and what better way to spend it than relaxing for a couple of hours at the famous Sanduny traditional Russian hot bath. Make sure to get a massage with birch sticks!

You might still have time to go to Winzavod Center – a creative cluster with galleries housed at a former wine factory. Galleries like XL, pop/off/art and Ovcharenko always have something on, most likely a cutting-edge Russian contemporary art exhibition. Finish the evening hanging out at one of the best Moscow bars – try socialites’ paradise Noor Electro, co-joined with one of Moscow’s avant-garde theatres or Powerhouse Moscow, located in a 19th-century mansion, which is famous for live indie and jazz band performances. Both serve great food, too. 

Young people sit on a bench looking at a large painting on the wall. It's by Russian artist Alexander Ivanov, called 'The appearance of Christ to the People' and is displayed in the Tretyakov gallery
'The Appearance of Christ to the People', in the Tretyakov gallery © volkova natalia / Shutterstock

Day two

Morning

Power up for a busy day ahead at one of Moscow’s trendiest coffee/breakfast spots,  Nude. Located in the upscale, well-heeled neighborhood of Patriarch’s Ponds, Nude offers a wide range of breakfast dishes, including scrambled eggs, toast, porridge and banana bread. Book ahead as it might be busy on a weekend morning.

After checking out the Patriarch's Ponds, which features prominently in Mikhail Bulgakov’s perennial novel The Master and Margarita, devote the rest of the morning and early afternoon to exploring Moscow’s best museums. Depending on your tastes, pick one of the following: Tretyakov Gallery for traditional Russian art, from medieval icons to the early 20th century; New Tretyakov for 20th century and contemporary art as well as great temporary exhibitions; Pushkin Museum for one of the greatest collections of Impressionist and post-Impressionist art in the world; and the Garage Museum for some eye-opening modern-art exhibitions. 

A blurred train travelling at speed through a station with a tiled wall and a station guide.
Moscow Metro is a labyrinth worthy of exploration in its own right © Sergei Fadeichev / TASS via Getty Images

Afternoon

Whichever museum or gallery you choose, be sure to go to LavkaLavka for lunch, certainly one of the best places to try new Russian cuisine, which is a contemporary reading of centuries-old recipes. It’s one of the few places to try polugar, which is, allegedly, what Russians called vodka in the 19th century. 

When you talk about Russian culture, literary giants usually pop into mind: the likes of Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky and Anton Chekhov. There are plenty of literary museums in Moscow, but if you had to pick one, visit Tolstoy Estate Museum, located just opposite the headquarters of Yandex, the Russian equivalent of Google. Every little detail has been restored just the way it looked when Tolstoy lived here in the 1880s–90s. 

Evening

Leave some time for exploring the Moscow Metro: every station is an architectural masterpiece in its own right. Our favorites include Mayakovskaya, Komsomolskaya and Kievskaya. Later, unwind at one of dozens of Moscow’s craft beer places. Try Jawsspot, named after one of the leading breweries in Russia, Jaws from the Urals region, which also serves decent pizza and salads.  

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