Moscow. The capital of Russia. The biggest city in Europe. Red Square, Stalin’s Seven Sisters, politics and history everywhere. There is a whole lot to see and do in Moscow (pronounced “Moskva” in Russian) that you might not even be sure where to start with a city like this! Have no fear, this is the list you need: here are 25 things you must see in Moscow!
1) Red Square
Synonymous with both Moscow and Russia itself, Red Square should be the first place you go when you get to the city. The square has been a trade hub since the 1500s, as well as a center point for proclamations, ceremonies, and concerts. Most of Moscow’s most famous attractions (see below!) are located around Red Square, so it’s a great place to get oriented as well. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1990.
2) St. Basil’s Cathedral
One of the most iconic symbols of Russia is St. Basil’s Cathedral and its colorful onion domes. The official name of the cathedral is the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, and it was built in 1555-1561 to commemorate the victory of Kazan over the Tatars on the orders of Tsar Ivan the Terrible. Ivan the Terrible supposedly had the builders of St. Basil’s blinded so that they couldn’t create anything as beautiful for anyone else. The cathedral is actually made up of about 10 small churches arranged around a central one, and is full of beautiful altars and wall paintings. You absolutely can’t miss a trip to St. Basil’s in Moscow.
3) Lenin’s Mausoleum
Vladimir Lenin, head of the Soviet Union, died in 1924. His body was preserved and has been on display in Red Square ever since! You can go and see waxy Lenin today, and the graves of many other important Soviet leaders (Stalin, Brezhnev, and more) outside along the wall of the Kremlin. The Mausoleum is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 10:00am-1:00pm and is free to visit. The lines can be huge though (especially with tour groups in the summer), so get there early unless you’re happy waiting!
4) The Kremlin
The center of Russian politics, the former residence of the tsars, and the official residence of the Russian President—the Moscow Kremlin is one place you must visit. The word “kremlin” (кремль) in Russian means citadel or fortress, but of course the big one in Moscow is the most famous. The complex is huge—there’s so much to see! There are two main tourist tickets available: one for the Armory, and one for the Cathedral complex. The Armory is an amazing museum full of priceless imperial objects—including the famous Faberge eggs. The Cathedral ticket gets you in to the Assumption Cathedral, Annunciation Cathedral, Archangel Cathedral (where Russian emperors were crowned), and the Patriarch’s Palace. Both attractions are must-sees when in Moscow!
GUM, the fancy department store located right on Red Square, was built at the end of the 19th-century. Today it’s where people go to shop till they drop—and where hordes of tourists will go to walk around and take photos of the big fountain.
6) State Historical Museum
Also located on Red Square, this giant red building is hard to miss. It’s absolutely full of Russian history, from ancient, pre-historic artifacts all the way up to the tsars. The building itself is something to marvel at inside—it was designed to hold the museum collections. The museum was founded in 1872.
7) Moscow Metro
Far more than just a public transportation system, the Moscow Metro is a work of art in and of itself. Some stations are beautifully ornate—and the best thing? You can buy one Metro ride and visit as many underground stations as you like! Some of the best ones are Kommsomolskaya, Kievskaya, and Ploschad Revolutzii. Check out my full post on the Moscow Metro here!
8) Changing of the Guard
The Changing of the Guard takes place every hour at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, located in the Alexander Gardens (Alexanderskij Sad). While not as impressive as some of the more famous ceremonies (like in London), it’s definitely worth seeing, if only for the high kicks!
9) Alexander Gardens
These gardens are situated right along the wall of the Kremlin, stretching nearly the entire length of the fortress. There are several different statues, memorials, and landmarks in the garden. Don’t miss the ruined grotto, built to celebrate the victory over Napoleon—the rocks of the grotto are from buildings destroyed during the French occupation of Moscow!
10) Bolshoi Theater
One of the most impressive names in the world of theater and ballet, the Bolshoi is an institution and no visit to Moscow would be complete without seeing it. If you have your heart set on seeing a show, try to book ahead. Tickets often sell out far in advance!
11) Cathedral of Christ the Savior
The tallest Orthodox church in the world, this is one spectacular place you can’t miss on a visit to Moscow. The original church on this site was destroyed on Stalin’s orders in 1931, in order to build a giant building that was never created. The site became a huge swimming pool, and after the fall of the Soviet Union, this church was built. In 2000, this new church was consecrated. The rock band Pussy Riot performed here in 2012, which resulted in several band members being arrested and jailed.
12) Tretyakov Gallery
One of the most notable museums of Russian art in the world, art lovers simply must the Tretyakov. The museum has so much to see, but you can’t miss the icons (some done by the famous medieval painter, Andrei Rublev), and the works by artist Ilya Repin.
13) Gorky Park
One of Moscow’s many delightful parks, you can’t miss a visit to Gorky Park for one reason: the Muzeon open-air museum that houses old Soviet (and socialist realist) statues. You can see a plethora of Lenin statues, along with statues of other Soviet leaders. The memorial to the victims is quite poignant. Gorky Park also gives you a great view of the giant statue of Peter the Great on the river.
14) Pushkin Café
If you want to feel like one of Russia’s 19th-century elite, look no further than the renown Pushkin Café! The wood paneling, ornate interior, and impeccably dressed staff make you feel like you’re experiencing the Russia of days gone by. There’s a very affordable set course menu for lunch (620 rubles for a starter and a main, 930 rubles including a glass of wine), since the restaurant itself can be quite expensive. I had the best borscht of my life here! And I’ve eaten a lot of borscht, so that means something! I walked in for lunch without a problem, but you might want to make a reservation—especially in the evening.
15) Patriarch’s Ponds
Immortalized in Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, Master and Margarita, Patriarch’s Ponds is a pleasant park in central Moscow. Although the book begins with a tram accident near the pond, even though there were never any regular trams near the pond. Even though it’ nowhere near as large as Gorky Park, it’s still worth a stroll, especially for fans of Russian literature.
16) Sparrow Hills
One of the absolute best viewpoints of the city, Sparrow Hills is one place you can’t miss on a trip to Moscow. You can see the large Luzhniki sports stadium, the Novodevichy Convent, and even as far as the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the Ivan the Terrible Bell Tower in the Kremlin! Best of all? It’s absolutely free to visit!
17) Park Pobeduy (Victory Park)
Another of Moscow’s impressive parks, Victory Park commemorates the Great Patriotic War (World War II to Russians) and the sacrifices made for victory. The main feature is the central obelisk, which has the names of the various Soviet cities that suffered during the war. There are 1,418 fountains, which each symbolize one day of the war. If you visit the Metro station with the same name, you can go on the longest escalator in the world!
18) Museum of the Great Patriotic War
Located in Park Pobeduy, the Museum of the Great Patriotic War is one museum you must visit in Moscow. The museum is full of information and artifacts about all parts of World War II, with so much there that it almost feels overwhelming. The recreated building and road to Berlin were definitely my favorite parts of the museum. Don’t miss the very impressive movie/light display in the Victory Hall. There are lots of panels with English throughout the museum.
19) Lubyanka Building
Synonymous with the KGB and the secret police, today the Lubyanka building isn’t the notorious prison it once was during Soviet times (particularly during Stalin’s Great Terror of 1937-38). But it houses one branch of the modern-day equivalent to the KGB (the FSB) today. You can see the Solovetski Memorial, a stone brought from the Solovetskij Islands (in the far north of Russia) where the labor/prison Gulag camp system began, to commemorate the victims of political repression.
20) Gulag History Museum
Another excellent museum in Moscow is the Gulag History Museum. The Gulag was the prison camp system that spread across the entire Soviet Union and resulted in the deaths of millions of people. For those who don’t know much about this part of Russian history, I strongly recommend a visit. They have translations in English throughout much of the museum. The museum changed locations recently, and is now located at 1st Samotechny Lane, #9, just north of the Tsvetnoi Bul’var Metro station.
21) Moscow Statue University (MGU)
One of Stalin’s “Seven Sisters” skyscrapers across Moscow, Lomonosov Moscow State University is definitely impressive. It’s even one of the tallest educational buildings in the world, and the star on the top weighs 12 tons! As a regular and active university, so be aware you might not be able to go into the building itself. The university isn’t far from Sparrow Hills, so it’s easy to combine a visit to both.
22) Novodevichy Convent
One of Moscow’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the Novodevichy Convent, which has remained intact since the 17th century. The convent grounds are nice for a stroll, but the showstopper is the Smolensky Cathedral, dating to the mid-1500s. The convent is famous for the notable royal women who have lived there (or been imprisoned there), and the convent was shut during the Soviet era. Nuns returned to the convent in 1994. There’s a small admission fee for visitors.
23) Novodevichy Cemetery
Not far from Novodivechy Convent is the cemetery of the same name. Here you’ll find the graves of some of Russia’s most important figures: the first president, Boris Yeltsin, the writers Chexov and Mayakovsky, the composer Shostakovich, the movie director Sergei Eisenstein, Stalin’s wife Nadezhda, and more. There’s a map of the cemetery at the entrance, but it’s only in Russian. It’s free to visit.
24) Worker and Kolkhoz Woman Statue (VDNKh)
This giant statue slightly outside of central Moscow is socialist realism at its finest. The statue has a man and a woman holding a hammer and sickle above their heads. Vera Mukhina designed the statue for the World Fair in Paris in 1937. The statue is 78 feet high! You can take the Metro to the ВДНХ (VDNKh) station, where you can find the Monument to the Conquerers of Space and the Cosmonaut Museum nearby.
25) Izmailovskij Kremlin
If you want touristy kitsch, look no further! Izmailovskij Kremlin is one place you can’t miss in Moscow if only for it’s colorful, gaudy exterior, it’s massive souvenir market (be ready to haggle!), and the excellent History of Vodka Museum (which has one of the largest collections of vodka I’ve ever seen). It’s easy to get to from the Izmailovo Metro station (head left out of the station).
Have you visited Moscow? What other places would you add to the list?! Let me know in the comments below!