During any season, at any hour of the day, Moscow thrills visitors with its artistry, history and majesty.
Kremlin & Red Square
The very founding site of the city (and arguably, the country), the Kremlin and Red Square are still at the heart of Moscow – historically, geographically and spiritually. Feel the weight of this significance as you wander within the walls of the ancient fortress, marvel at the mind-boggling magnificence of St Basil's Cathedral and pay your respects to the revered leader of a now-defunct state. Moscow will move you. It will tantalise your senses, soothe your spirit and boggle your mind – and it all starts right here at the Kremlin and Red Square.
The remains of the Soviet state are scattered all around the city. Monuments remember fallen heroes and victorious battles, while museums attempt to analyse and synthesise the past. See Lenin and Stalin – off their pedestals – at the whimsical Art Muzeon. Step into the socialist-realist fantasy at VDNKh. Descend into the depths of the Soviet system at Bunker-42 Cold War Museum. Ride the museum-like metro and remember the millions who suffered at the Gulag History Museum. Nowadays, retro clubs and cafes give their guests a taste of the Soviet experience. You can even try your hand at Soviet-era arcade games.
What is more thrilling than watching a ballerina defy gravity, leaping across the stage at the glittering Bolshoi Theatre? Or feeling the force of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture, just a few blocks away from where it premiered more than a century ago? Or oohing and aahing as circus performers soar under the big tent? The classical performing arts in Moscow are still among the best in the world. Nowadays, even the most traditional theatres are experimenting with innovative arrangements, reviving lost favourites and hosting world premieres. Whether you appreciate the classics or prefer the contemporary, the capital's performing arts will impress.
Orthodoxy & Architecture
At nearly every turn in Moscow, you'll see golden domes peeking out over the rooftops and hear church bells peeling through the streets, which are dotted with some 600 churches – many of which are glittering after recent renovations. There are colourful hidden gems, historic fortresses and gargantuan cathedrals. The exteriors are adorned with stone carvings and glittering domes; interiors are packed with ancient icons, swirling incense and faithful worshippers. For more than a millennium, Orthodoxy has helped to define the Russian nation, a significance that is palpable in these atmospheric spiritual places.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Moscow.
On the northern side of Sobornaya pl, with five golden helmet domes and four semicircular gables, the Assumption Cathedral is the focal church of pre-revolutionary Russia and the burial place of most of the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church from the 1320s to 1700. A striking 1660s fresco of the Virgin Mary faces Sobornaya pl, above the door once used for royal processions. If you have limited time, come straight here. The visitors' entrance is at the western end.
The Armoury dates to 1511, when it was founded under Vasily III to manufacture and store weapons, imperial arms and regalia for the royal court. Later it also produced jewellery, icon frames and embroidery. To this day, the Armoury contains plenty of treasures for ogling, and remains a highlight of any visit to the Kremlin. If possible, buy your time-specific ticket to the Armoury when you buy your ticket to the Kremlin.
This is Moscow’s premier foreign-art museum, split over three branches and showing off a broad selection of European works, including masterpieces from ancient civilisations, the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age. To see the incredible collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, visit the 19th & 20th Century Art Gallery. The Museum of Private Collections shows off complete collections donated by private individuals.
At the southern end of Red Square stands the icon of Russia: St Basil’s Cathedral. This crazy confusion of colours, patterns and shapes is the culmination of a style that is unique to Russian architecture. In 1552 Ivan the Terrible captured the Tatar stronghold of Kazan on the Feast of Intercession. He commissioned this landmark church, officially the Intercession Cathedral, to commemorate the victory. Created from 1555 to 1561, this masterpiece would become the ultimate symbol of Russia.
Moscow's answer to London's South Bank, Krymskaya Nab (Crimea Embankment) features wave-shaped street architecture with Scandinavian-style wooden elements, beautiful flower beds and a moody fountain, which ejects water randomly from many holes in the ground to the excitement of children and adults alike. It has merged with the Art Muzeon park and its motley collection of Soviet stone idols (Stalin, Sverdlov and a selection of Lenins and Brezhnevs) that were ripped from their pedestals in the post-1991 wave of anti-Soviet feeling.
The apex of Russian political power and once the centre of the Orthodox Church, the Kremlin is the kernel of not only Moscow, but of the whole country. From here, autocratic tsars, communist dictators and modern-day presidents have done their best – and worst – for Russia. Covering Borovitsky Hill on the Moscow River's north bank, it's enclosed by high walls 2.25km long (Red Square's outside the east wall). The best views of the complex are from Sofiyskaya nab across the river.
Although Vladimir Ilych requested that he be buried beside his mum in St Petersburg, he still lies in state at the foot of the Kremlin wall, receiving visitors who come to pay their respects. Line up at the western corner of the square (near the entrance to Alexander Garden) to see the embalmed leader, who has been here since 1924. Note that photography is not allowed and stern guards ensure that all visitors remain respectful and silent.
Set amidst 4 sq km of picturesque parkland, on a bluff above a bend in the Moscow River, Kolomenskoe is an ancient royal country seat and a Unesco World Heritage Site. Shortly after its founding in the 14th century, the village became a favourite destination for the princes of Moscow. The royal estate is now an eclectic mix of churches and gates, as well as other buildings that were added to the complex over the years.
Moscow's main city escape isn't your conventional expanse of nature preserved inside an urban jungle. It's not a fun fair either, though it used to be one. Its official name says it all – Maxim Gorky's Central Park of Culture and Leisure. That's exactly what it provides: culture and leisure in all shapes and forms. Designed in the 1920s by avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov as a piece of communist utopia, these days it showcases the enlightened transformation Moscow has recently undergone.