17 things and places you should not miss while in Moscow

Thinking of visiting Moscow but not sure what is there to do in Moscow? Check out these 17 things that you must do or visit while in Moscow!

Overview of Moscow city, with Kremlin not far away
A view of Moscow, with the Kremlin and its cathedral in view. Just so much things to do and see in Moscow.

Moscow is an exciting place to be, with a sophisticated history evident in its well preserved architectures and monuments. To really maximize your trip in Moscow, two days in the city is probably not enough. In fact, you will need to be prepared for a tight schedule if you are spending only 4 days or less. 

A week is a pace more comfortable if you intend to visit the museums and flea markets, stroll along the streets, chill at the cafe to people watch and really immerse yourself in the city’s atmosphere. This post shall introduce to you 17 things to do if it is your first time in Moscow!

Tips: Open your google map and pin all the places you read in this article. This will help you decide where you want to go and plan the best route for your itinerary later on

Tours
Museums
Cathedrals
Street and Sightseeing
Shopping

Tours

1. Join a free walking tour in Red Square

For us, it is always a good idea to start the trip with a free walking tour. Walking tours are good ways to get to know people if you are a solo traveller. I love it because it helps to orientate us to the key places of interests and give us some historical understanding of the city.

Moscow walking tour
A walking tour is a quick and efficient way to orientate yourself to the destination. Ask your guide to point you to places for food and drinks!

Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer free walking tours. We booked with MoscowFreeTours while we were there, and the tour was comprehensive and well-structured. They also offer paid walking tours packages if you like their services.

2. Do your own Metro-tour

Moscow Metro railway subway @amarriedtraveller
Visiting the Moscow metro is not just about getting a ride, but is also an historical tour.

The metro is a comprehensive underground railway system built by the Soviet Union. In each station, you will find interesting monuments, sculptures, paintings and architecture that reveals some aspect of the Soviet Union’s glory, its controversy and its propaganda.

Moscow metro propaganda

Moscow-metro-4

The promise of a good life was often a propaganda used during the Soviet Union to motivate and inspire its people.

Moscow metro sculptures @amarriedtraveller
People stroking the sculptures as a sign of good luck. Sculptures often depicted men and women in their various roles as farmers, herders, hunters, soldier or engineers in the times of the Soviet Union. The men and women are often youthful and well-built to inspire a generation of people

For the self-tour, we found this website, Moscow 360, that provided a comprehensive guide about which stations to visit and what to look out for when you are there. You can do some modification to your tour, just as how we did so that we did not have to exit the stations.

Moscow metro propoganda @amarriedtraveller
Originally an image of Stalin depicted as a saint, but was removed by the people and replaced with this image after the fall of the Soviet Union.

Below are some guides to help you with the metro tour.

Avoid peak period – You will often see other tourists wandering around the station while you are there. Try to avoid the peak period as you might face annoyed passengers trying to rush to or get off from work.

Recognize the colors – All the metro lines are colour coded to ease your planning. The names of the stations can be quite long and hard to grasp, so just for your convenience, below are the stations that you should visit on your metro tour.

Tips: You can quickly save these station on your google map for easy reference. Also, download and print the official English metro map here

  • Station 1: Ploschad Revolyutsii (Transit station between Blue/Green/Red line)
  • Station 2: Kurskaya (Blue – transit to Brown)
  • Station 3: Komsomolskaya (Brown)
  • Station 4: Novoslobodskaya (Brown)
  • Station 5: Belorusskaya (Brown line transit to Green)
  • Station 6: Mayakovskaya (Green)

Museums

You will probably not be able to cover all the museums during your trip. The museums in Moscow are huge, and depending on your interests, you might want to pick a couple to visit. Below are some museums that you can consider during your trip in Moscow.

Tips: Some museums have machines that you can purchase tickets using your credit cards. This will help you skip the long queue at the ticket booths. Overseas student pass are generally not accepted in Central Moscow, but can be helpful if you are travelling along the Golden Ring of Moscow

3. Lenin’s Mausoleum 

The resting place of Vladimir Lenin, the founding father of the Soviet Union. There are contraversies about whether the body is a wax replica or Lenin’s genuine corpse. You can visit the place to catch a glimpse of his body at rest to make your own judgement.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 1 pm.
  • Closed on: Monday, Friday and Sunday
Lenin-Mausoleum Red Square Moscow @amarriedtraveller
Entrance to the Mausoleum

4. State Historical Museum

Historical museum with artifacts dating back to the prehistoric tribes, and paintings collected by the Romanov Dynasty. Good place if you are a fan of history. Strongly encourage you to buy the English audio guide to really understand what is at display.

  • Opening hours: Daily, 10 am to 7 pm
State historical museum Moscow Redsquare @amarriedtraveller
You can spend around 3 to 4 hours here if you are into the historical stuff, but if you are the kind that browse through the displays, 2 hours is more than enough.

Stuff-in-museum-1

Stuff-in-Museum

For non-history lovers, keep a lookout for interesting stuff to keep yourself entertained!

5. Kremlin & the Armory Chamber

Behind the Kremlin walls houses various cathedrals, the Armory chamber and the President’s office. You can either buy a ticket to the main Kremlin square, where you can walk around the Kremlin square and access the cathedrals, or purchase the ticket that gives you access to the Armory Chamber as well.

Kremlin, President house
The President House within the Kremlin. They say whether the flag is flying suggests if Putin is in the house. Though everyone always see it flying.

The Armory Chamber houses treasures collected by the leaders of Russia, including art pieces, carriages, jewelries, the famous Faberge eggs, thrones (including the famous twin throne) and gifts from Sweden, Britian etc to the Czars. The following website might give you a better understanding about the Kremlin, what you will see and how to go about buying the tickets.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm
  • Closed on: Tuesday

Walking-within-Kremlin

Kremlin-Cathedrals

Within the Kremlin there is the cathedral squares mostly ordered to build by Ivan the Great (III), where you will see at least up to 6 ancient cathedrals and churches parked around each other

6. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

A collection of European art pieces in Moscow, you can probably spend a whole day walking through the art museum.

  • Opening hours: 11 am to 8 pm
  • Closed on: Monday
the pushkin museum of Fine arts
Image sourced from weheart.moscow

7. The State Tretyakov Gallery

If you have only time to visit one art museum, I will recommend this.

The first depository of Russian fine arts, the Tretyakov Gallery was started by Moscow merchant Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov. The merchant acquired by Russian artists during his time, which eventually led to the opening of a museum to display the finest work from Russia.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 6 pm
  • Closed on: Monday
StateTreyakovGallery
Image sourced from Wikipedia

 

Cathedrals

8. Saint Basil’s Cathedral 

Aside from the cathedrals in the Cathedral Square within the Kremlin (Assumption Cathedral, Church of Laying our Lady’s Holy Robe, Annunciation Cathedral etc), the other cathedral worth visiting is definitely the Saint’s Basil Cathedral in Red Square.

It was built by Ivan the terrible between the 1555 to 1561, to commemorate the capturing of Kazan and Astrakhan. You will notice that the interior is slightly different from the other cathedrals, with 8 side churches around a core, instead of a central opening to a main cathedral.

  • Opening hours: 10 am to 5 pm
  • Closed on: Tuesday
Saint-Basil's-Cathedral Red Square Moscow @amarriedtraveller
Saint-Basil's-Cathedral-1

The iconic Cathedral stands tall in the middle of Red Square

 

Streets and sight seeing

9. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Tomb of the unknown soldier
Witness the change of guards parade, which happens every hourly if you can.

Also located around the Red Square is the Tomb of the unknown soldier. The tomb is guarded by royal guards, and there will be a change of guard parade every hour. You can try to catch the change of guard and take photos as the guards march into their post with their escorts.

10. Zaryadye Park 

The space where the park is currently located has been under contestation by developers to build fancy hotels, restaurants, and apartments, until Valdimir Putin finally declared a park to be built on the space for the general public.

Zaryadye-park1 Moscow @amarriedtraveller
The house of the early Romanov families can be seen here, right behind that concrete structure between the two cathedrals. Can you see the insignia?

This amazing small space was once homes to the reach Romanov families, a Jewish enclave, earmarked by Stalin to be the site for the 8th Stalinist building and was a monolith hotel with 3000 rooms, before it was finally demolished and became Zaryadye park.

Zaryadye-park view
The view from Zaryadye park. The Rossiya Hotel built during the Soviet Union stretched across this whole image and was a grand building that was demolished only in 2006.

One key highlight of the park is the angular floating bridge that hangs over the canal, where you can walk on to take panoramic views of the Red Square and its surrounding.

11. Arbat Street

Arbat street is a long pedestrian walking street lined with restaurants and bars. You will see street artists singing and performing as you walk.

Grab a drink along the bars and enjoy a relax evening people watching. There are many souvenirs shops along the street, though the things there are pricer than what you can get if you head out of Moscow central.

Arbat street
Arbat street is a good place to relax and chill in the evenings, at any of the restaurants and bars.

12. Tverskaya Street

This is a street recommend by many online. We did not manage to walk the street due to our tight schedule. It holds multiple historical buildings with unique architectural designs from the 19th to 20th century.

Moscovery provides you with a great overview of what to expect at Tverskaya if you decided to pay the street visit.

Street-of-Moscow

13. Watch a play at Bolshoi Theatre

Swan lake is probably the most famous ballet in Russia, and Bolshoi is probably one of the most famous and historical theatre in Moscow.

Bolshoi Theatre
We didn’t catch a play here due to the cost. Decided to catch Swan Lake at the Comedy theatre in Saint’s Petersburg instead.

Catch a play, ballet or opera in Bolshoi Theatre, just to get inside and view the majestic auditorium. Do note that the price for plays in Bolshoi Theatre can be quite costly though.

Where to shop

Prices in most of the flea market in Russia is relatively fair and not exorbitant. Surprisingly, during our trip there, most shoppers were Russian, even at souvenir shops around tourist hotspots.

People do not smile much, but you’ll realize that the store owners are friendly and helpful once you greet them. Ask all the questions you want about the history of the antiques or about their products, and they will gladly respond without demanding you to make a purchase.

Tips: You can request for a bargain, but discounts usually range between 10 – 20%

14. GUM

Also known as the State Departmental Store during the Soviet Union period, GUM used to hold thousands of vendors selling daily products and necessities. Today, it has turned into a high-end retail outlet populated by big and luxurious brand.

GUM, Moscow State Departmental Store
Catch the lighting of GUM after the sun set.

While not exactly a place to shop for us, it is still worth a visit just because of its history. Who knows, some of you might want to visit these shops to check and compare the prices of luxurious products.

GUM, Moscow state departmental store @amarriedtraveller
Speak of eco-friendly architecture. Think the Soviet has gotten it right years ago with its glass ceiling to maximize lighting.

15. Discount-Center Of Ordzhonikidze 11

There are multiple factory outlets for brands such as Nike and Adidas around Moscow. We headed to the Discount-Centre of Ordzhonikidze 11, near Leninskiy Prospekt metro station as the Married Girl wanted to get a Russia World Cup jersey with her Russian name printed.

The outlet has some brands and you can get some of the sales item at discounted rate. Brands include Oasis, Karen Millen, Columbia, Samsonite, Quicksilver, Roxy, Tommy Hilfiger, GAS, Fred Perry and others.

16. Izmailovsky market 

This place feels a little like Disney land upon our arrival. The main entrance brings you into a Kremlin, looking something like a castle. Within the main square are food stalls and some museums and craft-shops, such as the Vodka Museum, Bread Museum or Weapons Museum. The museums are not worth visiting as they are relatively small and targeted at tourists.

Head out of the main square to the flea market. From the main square, you will connect to the second level of the flea market. This is where you can find antiques, from religious paintings and sculptures to vine recorders, Soviet union badges and coins. The lower level of the flea markets sell more touristy products, such as Matryoshka doll, Farberge eggs and apparels made of animal furs.

The prices here are not the lowest, but fair compared to Moscow central. The quality of some products are really great and you may not be able to find them back at central Moscow. We saw a series of finely hand-painted Matryoshka dolls, which we could not find elsewhere. However, expect the prices to be a little more premium for these products. You can expect a bargain of around 10% to 20% for some items.

  • Opening hours: Weekends

17. Levsha Flea Market (Novopodrezkovo station)

This place is a wonder, with loads of antiques, glasswares, soviet union badges, coins, tech gadgets to paintings and sculptures  from the 19th and 20th century. Walk the place and take your time to look at the products as they can be stacked in a mess within some stores.

However, if you are not interested in antiques and decors, you might not find this place enjoyable. We found the place totally worth it and bought some antiques at a discount as compared to elsewhere.

Levsha market Moscow @amarriedtraveller
Not much information on this market online, but all you need to do is find Novopodrezkovo Train Station on Google Map, and you will see the market.

This is not an easy place to find on Google Map. But if you search for Novopodrezkovo station, you will see Barakholka “Levsha”, which is the flea market itself. It is a little further out of the city, and will take you approximately 45 minutes of car ride to get to the spot. Alternatively, you will need to take the metro to Komosoml’skaya and transit to a train from Leningrad Station to Novopodrezkovo station.

  • Opening hours: Weekends

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Planning a trip to Russia? Tips you need before heading to Moscow

Thinking of going Russia? Tips to help you plan your trip to Moscow

Moscow is a place rich in its history. It is an architecture wonderland with intricate sculptures decorating the pillars and walls of every building. Witness the gandiosity of the empires dating back from the 15th century and listen to stories about the rise and fall of the Soviet Union. Hunt for ancient treasures or talk to the streets of craftsmen and artists, displaying their work of creativity along Izmailovsky market. There are just so much to take in when you are in Moscow.

But before you start packing your bags, there are some things that you might need to know. Read on and begin making your plans for your trip!

Before you go: Visa requirement
Data plans
Where to stay
Getting in and around
Car rental
Money changer
The people

You can check out my other post about the things you should do and places to visit while in Moscow, if you are already familiar with these tips!

Soviet Union history and landmark. Moscow metro
Reminder of Russia’s past, evidently everywhere in the metro

Before you go: Visa requirement

Passport @amarriedtraveller

You will probably require a tourist visa to enter Russia. Depending on where you are coming from, the fees will differ.

For fellow Singaporeans, fees are generally higher if you require it to be processed within 4 days. There is also a Russian Visa Application Centre service charge of $42 (including GST) for each visa application. You can apply for your visa via the VFS.Global website.

As visa application generally takes 7 to 28 days, make sure you do this early to prevent any issues with your travel. 

Data plans

Buying a data plan will definitely ease your travel. You can source for information about where to go, eat, read up on the historical sites, make hotel or transport bookings and communicate with the locals using google translate (though in Moscow, it might not be necessary as most people do speak some English).

Dataplans and SIM cards @amarriedtraveller

You can get the data plan at the airport. The cheapest one is currently offered by Megafon (while we were there). It costs us around 1000 rubles for 14 days, giving us unlimited data usage for key applications such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram. There was also 10gb for normal internet surfing. MTS on the other hand, cost 1500 rubles for 30 days with 7gb of data and unlimited data for the key applications. Both telcos offer free talk time and messages.

Aside from Megafon and MTS, there are also other telcos at the airport that you can explore. The staff will help you activate the card, but make sure that the data is connected before you leave the airport.

Where to stay

If you google the map of Moscow, you will realize that central Moscow is outlined in the shape of an egg that is sunny-side up. Red Square is the central of Moscow, and is right smack in the centre of the egg yolk.

Map of Moscow central
Can you visualize the sunny-side up? Red Square is right in the centre and staying in the central will cost you more.

Finding hotels around the road that forms the outline of the “yolk” is probably going to cost you lesser than living right within Red Square. We stayed at capsule hostels around Arbat street, as indicated in the starred places within the map (above).

Our choice of stay was at Capsule Hostel and Jedi Hostel. Both capsule hostels are quite worth its price, and are near to the SMOLENSKAYA metro (Blue line). Thought we will just give you a brief overview of our two accommodations.

Capsule Hostel

View of Capsule Hostel Moscow
Image sourced from Booking.com

Located right beside the Singapore Embassy (place to be if you want to feel really safe?), Capsule hostel is an apartment with three rooms. There are around 30 capsules across the 3 rooms, with a common area, kitchen area and 2 toilets. The capsules are stacked, and it may be difficult accessing the higher capsules due to the way the steps are designed. Also, you can’t do it without the capsules creaking.

The capsules are generally smaller in size but still reasonably comfortable without us feeling claustrophobic. For those who are concern about the toilets, both the capsules and toilets are well-kept and clean. We didn’t really have any complaints. You might find some long-term guests hanging around the common area, probably a good space if you like to meet new people. You can make yourself some coffee or tea in the kitchen, but the cleanliness of that space is alright.

Jedi Hostel

Jedi hostel
Image sourced from Booking.com

Located diagonally opposite Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and also one of the 7 Sisters with the Stalinist architecture, you might be able to get a beautiful view from your room if you are lucky.

There is a living, dining and a small kitchen area where you can make your drinks or cook a meal. The whole hostel is clean and well-kept. The capsules are generally spacious, with between 4 to 8 capsules in each room. We got the room with only 4 capsules. The steps to the higher capsules are also broad and easy to access. The bathrooms are well kept, and because there were 3 dry and 3 wet toilets, we didn’t have to wait to use the bathroom throughout our stay. A place I will recommend if you are planning for a hostel stay in Moscow.

Getting in and getting around

There are three main airports where you might enter Moscow, depending on the airline of your choice. Domodedovo is located to the south of Moscow Central, Shemeretyevo is located to the north and Vnukovo is located to the southwest.

Getting in

There are the Aeroexpress train services that connects the airport to the metro services, where you can transit to whereever you are staying in Moscow central. The cost for the Aeroexpress is 500 rubles and a metro ticket cost 55 rubles, regardless of the station you exit. There are also tickets for family of 4 that will cost you 950 rubles for 4 pax.

Aeroexpress in Moscow to get you to the metro
Imaged sourced from Aeroexpress.

That said, if you have 2 pax or more, you may consider calling Uber, which will cost you between 900 to 1100 rubles. The journey for both the train and the car will be between 45 mins to 1 hour. Try not to get the cab from the airport, as the taxi from the airport will cost you significantly more, costing anything between 1700 to 2500 rubles.

Getting around

Once you are in Moscow central, you can easily get around using the metro system. The metro system covers most of the city center, and there is a good chance that you will be able to find a metro near you wherever you are. Rather than repeating content available online, this site that I came across provides you with a good overview of the metro services and how to use it.

Moscow Metro, easy to get around. @amarriedtraveller
The metro is an efficient system that connects to almost everywhere around Moscow central.

Within Moscow central, if you are travelling with 3 pax or more, I will suggest that you go with Uber instead. Depending on where you are going, the prices can be comparative or even cheaper than the metro. It will also save you time from having to walk to the metro stations. Below is a snapshot of the costs of our Uber ride during our stay in Moscow.

Moscow Uber expenses
Snapshot of the cost of our Uber ride in Moscow. The cost of those above 600 rubles were for distance equivalent to the airport, and the 1000 rubles was to get us to the airport itself. You can calculate the exchange rate of the credit card from here too.

To get to other cities in Russia, there are multiple ways, including bus, trains or plane. The most commonly used services would be the train. You can read up more about the various transport services from this guide that I found.

Car rental

Driving in Russia can be quite a madness. If you have taken the taxi or the Uber, you will know what I mean. I will not recommend driving in Moscow central as the metro is convenient and Uber is readily available. That said, the drive outside of Moscow central can be really enjoyable, with straight clear roads and nice sceneries. You can try driving the Golden Ring of Russia if you are planning a road trip.

If you intend to drive while you are in Moscow, you will need an international driving permit. This can be applied through the AA Singapore’s website for Singaporeans.  Do note that most car rentals in Russia require at least 2 years of driving experience.

While most car rentals require a deposit prior to the collection of the car, we managed to skip that with Rentmotors. We filled up the form on the website, and the booking was confirmed. Deposit of 10,000 rubles through credit card was only collected the day we got the car.

While the reviews of Rentmotors online is not entirely positive, mostly due to the attitude of the staff, we had no complaints. Other than looking slightly impatient, all the staff we met spoke English and answered all our queries. Also, the price was significantly cheaper than the other rental agencies that we found online. The car was also in good condition, and the collection point was in central Moscow. That said, do make a thorough check, and make sure that the spare tyre is in the car boot.

Money changer

Russian rubles @amarriedtraveller
The official currency of Russia is rubles.

It is always good to bring some rubles over to Russia as the exchange rates at the airport are usually not attractive. Once you are out of the airpot and in the city, the rates are generally better. While in Moscow, banks are the places where you can get your money changed.

While not easily available in Singapore, you can still get rubles at some of the money changers in Chinatown and The Arcade. The rates were competitive to what we’ve got in Moscow.

You can change slightly more rubles if you would like to, but do note that you might have problem changing them back to your own currency once you leave Russia. My advice is to change enough rubles for a couple of days, and bring US dollars to change while you travel.

Lastly, you can consider using your credit cards in Russia as the exchange rate from the cards were not that far off from what the banks offered.

The people

Russia bear greeting amarriedtraveller
Stay friendly and say hello!

Modern media definitely does not do justice to the people of Russia. While western media often portray Russian as fierce, unfriendly, angry-looking mobs, the people we met in Russia were kind and pleasant.

While it is true that most people do not smile much, you will almost always find a response when asking for help or greeting the shop-owners. The shop owners were  actually very helpful and took the time to answer our queries, regardless of whether we were buying stuff.

As long as you keep an open mind, be geniune, do not take matters personally, throw in a couple of jokes as you engage in conversations and recognize that there will always be some cultural differences wherever you travel, you will definitely enjoy yourself in Russia.

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