Things to see & do in Moscow

Russia’s iconic capital Moscow is founded on a turbulent history of revolution and conflicting ideologies. It’s a city of striking contradictions, where old Lada cars look out of place on streets lined with luxury bars, and opulent shopping malls rub shoulders with crumbling housing blocks. Moscow has experienced many changes since the fall of the Soviet Union and the arrival of international tourism. Capitalism has left its mark and, yes, you’ll even glimpse the inescapable yellow arches of a McDonald’s peeking out from behind the russet facade of the Red Square.

Despite its high concentration of oligarchs, poverty is still very much an issue in the capital. But forget the Cold War stereotypes; local people can be very friendly, and the slightest smattering of Russian will get you far. Tours usually allow for some free time to explore the city independently but, if the trip starts in Moscow but barely lingers there, you may want to arrive a few days earlier to take it all in.

Cultural Highlights of Moscow

Kremlin and Red Square

Moscow’s Red Square derives its name from the Russian word for ‘beautiful’, rather than the red brick of the formidable fortress walls. The squat vault housing Lenin’s Mausoleum, where the former Soviet leader’s embalmed body is on display to the public, is the only inconspicuous building here. In contrast, directly opposite the tomb, is the lavish three-storey GUM department store, stocked to the rafters with international, high-fashion brands. After visiting the gingerbread house-like State History Museum and the marshmallow swirls of St Basil’s Cathedral, you’ll have time to explore the imposing citadel of the Kremlin. Its great Armoury is home to some of the country’s most remarkable treasures, from entire coaches made of gold to a diamond throne. A trio of three magnificent cathedrals, Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower and the enormous, broken Tsar Bell complete this city within a city.

Art and architecture

Word has it that much of Moscow’s art is concealed in private collections, but you’ll find some of it hidden away in the most unexpected places. To see it, skip the taxi and the congested city streets and brave the busy underground world of Moscow’s metro. Your reward will be a series of spectacular station halls, adorned with crystal chandeliers, marble columns and elaborate frescos. Above ground, stop to see the jumbled collection of Soviet-era relics in the Fallen Monument Park, followed by a walk around leafy Gorky Park on the banks of the Moskva River. Browsing the fine art exhibitions at the Tretyakov Gallery or enjoying an evening at the historic Bolshoi Theatre are both popular ways to spend any free time in the city.

Fairytale churches

The gleaming golden domes of Moscow’s churches are visible across the city skyline, although none are as impressive as those of the Christ the Saviour Cathedral. Unlike St Basil’s, which is now a museum, the cathedral remains a working church. You will find its glimmering interiors bustling with activity, under the gaze of the gilded icons which hang from every wall. Visitors should dress conservatively; women are expected to cover their heads, long skirts or trousers should be worn and men may not be allowed to enter if wearing shorts.

Bite-sized history

It’s a misconception that Russian food is bland; there’s much more on the menu than caviar, cabbage and borscht. Food holds a special place in the heart and memories of many Russians, and Russian cuisine borrows dishes from many former Soviet countries. Try kebabs from the Caucasus, Georgian cheese pies or delicious rice dishes from Uzbekistan. If knocking back doubles of vodka doesn’t tempt you, try some kvass. This popular, low alcohol drink is made from fermented rye bread. It’s an old recipe that dates back to the Middle Ages, when it is said to have been consumed more than water.

Our top Russia Vacation

Moscow to St Petersburg vacation in Russia

Moscow to St Petersburg vacation in Russia

Fascinating history and architecture

From US $1479 to US $1849 8 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2020: 15 Feb, 14 Mar, 21 Mar, 28 Mar, 4 Apr, 11 Apr, 18 Apr, 25 Apr, 16 May, 23 May, 30 May, 20 Jun, 4 Jul, 11 Jul, 25 Jul, 1 Aug, 8 Aug, 15 Aug, 22 Aug, 29 Aug, 12 Sep, 19 Sep, 26 Sep, 3 Oct, 10 Oct, 17 Oct, 24 Oct, 12 Dec, 19 Dec
2021: 13 Feb, 27 Feb, 13 Mar, 20 Mar, 27 Mar, 3 Apr, 10 Apr, 17 Apr, 24 Apr, 15 May, 22 May, 29 May, 5 Jun, 12 Jun, 19 Jun, 3 Jul, 10 Jul, 17 Jul, 24 Jul, 31 Jul, 7 Aug, 14 Aug, 21 Aug, 28 Aug ...
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Russia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Safety in Moscow

As with any large city, visitors should be aware of pick pockets, especially on the underground. Be sure to keep valuables out of sight, especially your passport, which you will be required to carry with you at all times. If traveling to or from Moscow on an overnight train, store any valuable items in a compartment under the bed or seat while sleeping.

Scams targeting tourists are also a concern, although these can be avoided by only booking transfers with a licensed taxi company or choosing one of our small group vacations, where your group leader is on hand to take care of all the details.

Practicalities

None of our tours are based solely in Moscow; instead you’ll get to visit the city as part of a larger exploration of Russia, alongside other great cities like St Petersburg and Novgorod. Small group tours based in western Russia tend to run for 8-9 days, with 2-3 days spent in the capital. You may also want to visit Moscow as part of a longer tour, by way of the Trans Siberian Express or the Trans Mongolian Railway. These trips can also be tailor made to offer the best experience for you.

Trips tend to run from March to October, but there is the option to experience a Christmas in Russia. Moscow is magical in the winter months, but be sure to come prepared for temperatures as low as -15°C. Summer heatwaves, when temperatures can soar to 30°C, aren’t uncommon, whereas spring and autumn tend to be cooler and less crowded. The best time to visit if you want to make the most of the daylight hours is between April and May, when the evenings are lighter.
Written by Bryony Cottam
Photo credits: [Page banner: Alvesgaspar] [Intro: pxhere] [Kremlin and Red Square: Jorge Láscar] [Practicalities: Mos.ru]
Convert currencies