A guide to Moscow

As Europe’s largest city, Moscow is covered by many books, blogs and magazines. There is a lot to discover in this fascinating city. I will narrow it down to one article that recommends the best ways to spend a couple of days here.

Moscow Kremlin

Start with the metro

The Moscow metro is not just the fastest way to get around the city - it is also one of the major tourist sights here. The most famous stations look like underground palaces. Built during the Soviet era, they have statues, paintings, mosaics and decorations glorifying what was then the USSR. My favourite stations are Komsomolskaya (Комсомольская) for its beautiful ceilings and Ploshchad Revolutsii (Площадь Революции) with its statues. Take a look at the statues of the dogs: many passengers briefly pet them. Other recommended metro stations are Mayakovskaya, Belorusskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Taganskaya and Kievskaya (Маяковская, Белорусская, Новослободская, Таганская and Киевская in Russian).

Signs on the metro are also in English. You can travel here by buying a public transport card called the Troika (Тройка) at the vending machines on the stations. They work in English and accept cash and card. The Troika can also be used on buses and trams. Coming from one of the major airports - Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo or Vnukovo - you can get to one of the metro stations by using the reliable Aeroexpress train service to the city.

Head to Red Square and the Kremlin (Красная Площадь)

When you don’t have much time, Red Square is a must. Here you can see the world-famous Kremlin and instantly recognisable St. Basil’s cathedral. Across from the Kremlin is the main department store GUM (ГУМ). Don’t worry if you can’t make it into the Kremlin and St. Basil’s cathedral. Apart from the churches inside you are not allowed to see much inside the Kremlin walls. St. Basil’s cathedral has a less interesting interior compared to other churches in Russia. Instead, take your time walking around outside the Kremlin, especially in December and January when there are Christmas decorations everywhere. Nearby sights are the busy Nikolskaya Street, the Bolshoi Theatre, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the views over the Moskva river from the new Zaryadye Park’s viewing platform (Парк Зарядье). Arbat street is famous too, but it’s only worth a visit when looking for souvenirs.

When you have a couple of days, I’d recommend visiting the areas around VDNKh, Park Pobedy or Novodevichy Monastery depending on your preferences.

Check out the Cosmonaut Museum and exhibitions around VDNKh (ВДНХ)

For Soviet history take the metro to the station VDNKh. Close to the metro and park entrance is the Museum of Cosmonautics, with an extensive collection of items from Russia’s space history, topped by a monument to space travel. From the metro and the museum you can see a big arch. That is the main entrance of the VDNKh, which is the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy. This is a large area with extraordinary buildings that opened in 1939. Some buildings - dedicated to countries or industries of the former USSR - have shops and exhibitions inside, like the Armenian and Belarusian buildings. Others are closed off for visitors. In 2018, the Cosmonautics and Aviation Centre was added to the VDNKh, which is strange considering there was already a museum about cosmonauts in the area. I preferred the collection of the Museum of Cosmonautics, and would only recommend visiting the Cosmonautics and Aviation Centre as well if you are really into the subject.

Learn about Russia’s war history in Park Pobedy (Парк Победы)

Literally meaning Victory Park, Park Pobedy was built to commemorate the Great Patriotic War. This is the Russian name for the Second World War. When you exit the Park Pobedy metro station you can already see the 141.8 meter tall obelisk - 10 centimetres for every day in the war. Next to the obelisk is the Central Museum of the Great Patriotic War. It is a large museum with dioramas and exhibitions about the war. Close to the museum is the Open-air Exhibition of Military Equipment, where a lot of military artefacts are displayed including tanks, planes and canons. Walking back to the metro you can see the Triumphal Arch, commemorating Russia’s victory over Napoleon's army in 1812.

Enjoy the Novodevichy Monastery (Новодевичий Монастырь) and the views at Sparrow Hills (Воробьёвы Горы)

I expect that the Novodevichy Monastery will be one of the most beautiful buildings in Moscow soon. Unfortunately the whole site was being renovated when I visited in March 2019, meaning a lot of it was covered in scaffolding. I read that at least some of the renovations will be finished in the fourth quarter of 2019, by which time visitors can hopefully admire its walls, domes and towers again. Next to the monastery is the Novodevichy Cemetery, where famous figures in Russian politics, history and culture - including Gogol, Chekhov, Khrushchev and Yeltsin - are buried.

The closest metro station to Novodevichy Monastery is Sportivnaya (Спортивная), which is just one stop away from Vorobyovy Gory (Воробьёвы Горы) or Sparrow Hills. The Vorobyovy Gory viewing platform has nice views over the city. This is a park with a promenade along the Moskva river, close to the Moscow University building and leading you all the way into Gorky Park if you walk far enough.

Travel further

Moscow has many train stations (воксал). There are different stations for different destinations and directions: for example, trains to Kazan usually leave from Kazansky station and trains to Kiev leave from Kievsky station. Make sure you are at the right station when you travel onwards or explore cities around Moscow. In “how to arrange transport in Russia”  you can read how to travel further.