Cathedrals, monasteries, palaces, museums, art galleries, theatres … There is so much to see in Moscow that it’s overwhelming.
I’ve been dozens of time in Russia’s capital and here are the 19 essential places I think every tourist should visit while in Moscow.
Disclaimer : this list is deliberatly “short”. Let’s be realistic, you probably don’t have weeks to spare (nor the will) to visit every single onion domes church and weird museums in the city.
The Red Square
Красная площадь – One of the most iconic square in the world and a UNESCO site. A 5 in 1 where you can see some of Moscow’s highlights : the Kremlin, Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s mausoleum, the State History museum and the GUM.
This is the central and main square of the city. Its name originally meant “beautiful square” (red & beautiful are same word in russian), nothing to do with the red of the Soviets. Back in the days the Kremlin was made of wood. It burnt plenty of times and in the 15th century it was rebuilt in red bricks.
Московский Кремль – Moscow’s Kremlin is by far the most famous in Russia (yes, there are quite a few Kremlins around the country). It’s a 28ha citadel/fortress surrounded by high walls next to the Moskva river. The very first foundations of today’s city.
Within its walls you will find 3 cathedrals, 2 churches, the Tsar’s bell and a few museums. Parts of the Kremlin are not open to visitors, there are governments offices. The State Duma is located elsewhere and Putin doesn’t live there.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
Храм Василия Блаженного – By far the most iconic onion dome church in the world, the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed by its full name was built in the mid 16th century by order of Ivan The Terrible to mark the conquest of the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan.
A local legend says that lovely Ivan blinded one of the architects so that he could not replicate such pretty church.
The State Historical museum
Государственный исторический музей – The State Historical museum is one of the best museum in the country in my opinion. It has an incredible collections of millions artifacts from every corner of Russia : traditional costums, paintings, manuscripts, jewelleries … from Siberian people to the Romanov disnaty.
If there’s one museum in Moscow you should see, this is it !
ГУМ – Located across the Red Square from the Kremlin, the GUM department store was built in the 19th century to host the street vendors from the square. Shops were replaced by offices under Stalin’s rule. Today the GUM is filled with trendy and luxury fashion brands.
A great place to see which Western brands truly left the country following the 2022 sanctions …
Кафе Пушкинъ – This prestige Café openned in 1999 and is named after the famous russian poet Alexandr Pushkin. It’s located in a baroque mansion built in the 18th century on Tverskoy boulevard which was back in the days the center of russian society elite.
Contrary to popular beliefs, a coffee at Kafe Pushkin is affordable. If you have the budget for it, you can of course get a meal there for about 50 to 100€ per person. They serve French-Russian cuisine (Note : as french myself, the desserts are overpriced, I’m telling you).
The 19th century interior is stunning and service very good. The library area is more impressive than the restaurant room in my opinion.
The Cathedral Mosque of Moscow
Московская соборная мечеть – Many forget or might not know that the second religion in Russia is Islam. The original mosque was built in 1904 by the Tatar community but this splendid building fully replaced the old one in 2015. This is one of the largest mosque in Europe (#1 is Shali’s in Chechnya). There are obvious influences of Kazan’s Kremlin and onion domes of Orthodox Christian churches in its architecture.
There’s a small museum of Islam and even a halal food shop on the spot.
The Bolshoi theatre
Большой театр – There is no better place to see a Tchaikovsky or Khachaturian ballet than the Bolshoi theatre ! Alright, maybe the Mariinsky in Saint Petersburg is an equally good place.
It was built on the foundations of the Petrovsky theatre at the beginning of the 19th century and today’s Bolshoi compagny is one of the most prominent ballet and opera compagnies in the world.
Don’t miss out the opportunity to see a beautiful ballet in a stunning interior.
Московский метро – Moscow’s metro is an underground museum. It has over 200 stations, each of them with a unique interior built around a theme. Stalin called it the “palaces of the people”. The most stunning metro in the world for sure.
Tours are organised to visit some of the prettiest and most popular stations but you can also visit it buy yourself for the price of a single metro ticket.
Check out my self guided tour guide around Moscow’s metro.
The Tretyakov gallery
Третьяковская галерея – The galllery was created in 1856 by Pavel Tretyakov in his family house. He gifted it to the city of Moscow some 30 years later. It hosts the world’s largest collection of russian paintings and icons.
A insane art collection where you can admire centuries of art by russian artists such as I. Shishkin, V. Vasnetsov, I. Levitan, A. Rublev, I. Aivazovsky (I’m a huge fan) and many others.
Note : there are 2 different builings : The Tretyakov gallery which is the original one and New Tretyakov located elsewhere. If you wish to see a particular painting, make sure you’re at the right place.
ВДНХ – “the Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy” is a +200ha Soviet park to show off the industrial, spacial, agricultural and more achievments of the USSR. There are also plenty of pavillions representing the Soviet republics..
At the top of the giant main entrance arch you can see the statue of The worker and Kolkhoz woman holding a sheaf of wheat, inside the park look for the iconic fountain of the Friendship of Peoples with sculptures of 16 girls wearing national costumes.
There are also a Space museum etc and the park offers plenty of exhibitions and events all year around (check the VDNKh’s website).
Note : some pavillions are great inside and out with museums, restaurants, shops like the Armenian one, others are good just from the outside.
The Izmailovsky Kremlin
Измайловский кремль – Izmailovo Kremlin is a cutural complex, a 21st century replica a of 14th to 17th centuries Moscow historical wooden buildings. There are plenty of entertainments in Izmailovo : dozens of small museums including one about vodka’s history, cafés and food stalls selling russian pastries made from old recipes …
There are also two markets within the walls (9am to 5pm)
#1 the Izmailovsky Vernisazh where to buy traditional russian crafs like Gzhel porcelain, Khokhloma wodden furnitures or Palekh laquer boxes.
#2 The Izmailovsky flea market for overpriced matryoshka dolls, Central Asian and Caucasian rugs, Soviet posters or just about anything you want as a souvenir.
Don’t be surprised if you see a wedding. there is a registry office within the Kremlin.
Новодевичий женский монастырь – The Novodevichy Convent is a fortified religious complex dating from the 16th century. It is a UNESCO sight with 14 buildings wich 8 of them are cathedrals.
The women of the Tsar’s family and Moscow’s aristocracy took the veil in the convent and the cemetery within its walls is the burial place of many political and noble figures of those days.
Новодевичье кладбище – This is the Moscow equivalent of Le Père Lachaise in Paris or Highgate cemetery in London.
Located right next to the Novodevichy convent, the cemetery is the final resting place of many famous political leaders, musicians and writters such as Gorbatchev, Krutchev, Yelstin, Chekhov, Shostakovitch, Prokofiev, Gogol …
There are some 26 000 burials on 7.5ha. Many carved stonegraves, mausoleums and scuptures.
Улица Арбат – Arbat street is located in the historical center of Moscow. Back in the 15th century, the street was full of merchants and craftsmens. In the 18th century the russian elite used to live there and in 1812 it was almost fully burnt by Napoelon.
Today it’s a 1 kilometer pedestrian street filled with restaurants, museums, souvenir shops and street artists.
Note : Do not mistaken Old Arbat street (Stary Arbart) and Novy Arbat which is a modern avenue nearby.
The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Кафедральный собор Храма Христа Спасителя – One of the tallest Christian Orthodox church in the world standing at 103 meters. This is the most important cathederal in the city and the seat of the Patriarch of Moscow and all Rus’.
It’s architecture is inspired by the Hagia Sophia cathedral (today Grand Mosque) in Istanbul.
Stalin ordered its destruction with explosives in 1931. He planned on building a huge “Palace of the Soviets” instead (he ambitionned to be the tallest building in the world) but the project was never completed due to WWII.
Khruchtchev turned the empty place into a swimming pool and finally after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the governement deciced to rebuilt the cathedral in 2000.
There is an exhibition inside with pictures of the demolition etc and there is an awesome panoramic view of Moscow from the domes.
Бункер-42 – The 1951 bunker was a 7000m ²secret military complex hidden 65 meters deep in a regular looking building in the very center of Moscow. A couple of thousands of people used to work there.
Today it’s a really unique museum about the Cold War and you can even have food at the Bunker’s restaurant.
Мавзолей В.И. Ленина – The body of the Bolshevik Revolution’s leader and founder of the USSR is on display on Moscow’s main square since 1930. Stalin used to be next to is comrade but has obviously been removed long ago.
Царицыно – Tsaritsyno was founded by Catherine the Great as her Moscow countryside house, but never finished in her lifetime. In fact its contrcution ended only in 2007, according to the initial plans.
The palace was designed by Russian architects in a Pseudo-Gothic style in a 400ha park. This is the only one in Europe built in this style. It is truely splendid !
Today it’s a museum and Nature Reserve with grand & small palaces, three orangeries, an opera house, a Cavalry building and a Bread House.
Note : it’s located in the very south of Moscow but it’s easily accessible by metro from the city center.
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