18 must-do things to do in Moscow

Visiting Moscow: what are the best things to see and do in Russia’s capital?

Whatever the season, whatever the time of day, Moscow is a dream of art, history and majesty. Russia’s immense capital boasts countless monuments and important sites to visit. Remnants of the Soviet state are scattered all around the city, monuments remind us of fallen heroes and victorious battles, while museums attempt to analyze and synthesize the past.

Moscow never ceases to inspire, confuse, disgust or enchant, but it will always surprise you. If its gigantism frightens you, you’ve come to the right place: we’ve put together a list of the best things to do in Moscow, whatever the length of your stay (a weekend, 3-4 days or more). So…Davaï!

When isthe best time to visit Moscow?

1. The Moscow metro

Station de métro, Moscou

Photo credit: Flickr – Thomas Huston

A strange first idea for a visit to the capital? Not really… This metro system is like no other in Europe. Stalin called the stations « people’s palaces », and Moscow’s metro stations do indeed resemble palaces. Every time you use this means of transport, you’ll be enchanted. Look up and marvel at the whimsical chandeliers, magnificent wall ornaments and marble pillars. There’s something special about every station. Not-to-be-missed stations include Mayakovskaya, Prospekt Mira, Arbatskaya, Kievskaya, Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Belorusskaya…

It’s worth noting that the Moscow metro is buried deep beneath the surface. Sometimes you can’t even see the end of the escalator, especially at Park Pobedy station, where the world’s longest escalator measures 126 meters. Nine million people use the Moscow metro every day.

2. The Kremlin

Kremlin, Moscou

The pinnacle of Russian political power and once the center of the Orthodox Church, the Kremlin is not only the heart of Moscow, but of the entire country.

From here, autocratic tsars, Communist dictators and modern-day presidents have done their best (or worst) for Russia. Covering Borovitsky Hill on the north bank of the Moskva River, the Kremlin is surrounded by high walls 2.25 km long, with Red Square on the outside of the wall. You’ll have a fine view of the complex from Sofiyskaya, on the other side of the river.

Before entering, leave your belongings under the Kutafya tower. The ticket office is located near the Alexandrovsky Garden. The entrance ticket (350 rubles) includes visits to the five church-museums and the Patriarch’s Palace, but not to the Palace of Armor or the DiamondFund Museum and temporary exhibitions (paid for separately). You can also book your visit to the Kremlin online.

3. Red Square and Basil the Blessed Cathedral

Place Rouge, Cathédrale de Basile-le-Bienheureux, Moscou

Red Square is one of the most famous squares in the world, and the focal point of the Russian capital. Its name does not derive from the color of the surrounding red bricks, nor from the link between this color and communism. In ancient Russian, the square was once called krasny, meaning both « red » and « beautiful ». In fact, it’s from here that you can visit the Kremlin.

But the famous, huge square is even better known for its colorful basilica, the Basilica of Basil the Blessed. This mad confusion of colors, patterns and shapes is the culmination of a style that is unique to Russian architecture. It was to celebrate the capture of the Kazan fortress by Russian troops that Tsar Ivan the Terrible (Ivan IV) ordered its construction. This historic church was officially called the Church of the Intercession. Created between 1555 and 1561, this masterpiece has become the ultimate symbol of Russia. Legend has it that Ivan blinded the architects so that they could never build anything comparable. This is a myth, as records show that they were employed a quarter of a century later (four years after Ivan IV’s death) to add a further chapel to the structure. Entrance to the cathedral costs 250 roubles.

Still on Red Square, you can see Lenin’s Mausoleum. Located at the western corner of the square, near the Alexander Garden, the former Russian leader lies embalmed in a mausoleum bearing his name. Photography is not permitted, and guards ensure that tourists remain respectful and silent. It is open to the public free of charge every day from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m., except Mondays and Fridays. Joseph Stalin was also laid to rest here, but was later moved to the small cemetery reserved for Communist leaders, just behind the mausoleum.

4. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts

It is Moscow’s leading museum of foreign art, exhibiting a wide selection of European works, including masterpieces of ancient civilizations, the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age.

Art lovers will love the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, with its first-rate paintings and sculptures. The 640,000-piece collection includes works by Gauguin, Van Gogh, Cézanne and Picasso. It is the richest collection after the Hermitage in St. Petersburg. Admission is 300 rubles, and you can book a pick-up tour of the museum at your hotel for added convenience.

5. Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Cathédrale du Christ Saint-Sauveur, Moscou

Just in time to celebrate Moscow’s 850th anniversary, the gigantic Cathedral of Christ the Savior was completed in 1997. First built between 1839 and 1883, it was demolished in 1931 by Stalin, who planned to build a Palace of Soviets topped by a 100 m statue of Lenin. The project never came to fruition, and until the present church was built, it housed the largest open-air swimming pool in the world. The cathedral was consecrated on August 19, 2000. The interior features superb frescoes depicting scenes from Emperor Napoleon I’s War of 1812.

6. Bolshoi Theatre

Théâtre Bolchoï, Moscou

The Bolshoi is Russia’s national theater and one of the largest theaters in the world. Even for those who aren’t fans of ballet, theater or opera, the Bolshoi’s electrifying atmosphere is guaranteed to captivate every member of the audience.

If you don’t book your tickets online, the best way is to go directly to the theater box office in Moscow. Be quick though, as tickets sell out fast (more info at www.bolshoi.ru).

7. Bunker-42 or Cold War Museum

Bunker-42, Musée de la Guerre Froide, Moscou

Photo credit: Flickr – Kate Brady

On a quiet street near Taganskaya Square stands a neoclassical building. It is, in fact, the gateway to a secret communications center during the Cold War, the Tagansky Bunker (or Bunker 42). Operated during the Cold War, the facility was designed to serve as a communications headquarters in the event of a nuclear attack by the United States. As such, the building was just an empty shell, serving as the entrance to the 7,000 m² bunker located 60 m underground.

Today, it’s home to the Cold War Museum. An elevator takes you 18 floors down, where a 20-minute film on the history of the Cold War awaits, followed by a guided tour of the four underground « blocks », which are dark, damp (and a little scary). Through a locked door, visitors can hear the rumble of trains, this facility being at the same underground depth as the Taganskaya metro station. The museum tends to expand thanks to research into the activities that took place here. This may be your only opportunity to explore a secret Cold War command center.

8. Gorky Park

It’s not just the place where Martin Cruz Smith sets his novel. Gorky Park is also the ideal place to grab an ice cream, walk along the Moskova River and watch the locals at work, or have a picnic, a drink and a stroll. You can get to the main entrance (photo) from the Park koultoury metro station.

Inside, you can rent a bike, and in winter, the ponds are frozen over, becoming a giant ice rink on which to skate. Rides, a Ferris wheel and a model of the Buran ship are the « attractions » of the park, which is also ideal for children.

9. The Astronautical Memorial Museum

Musée mémorial de l'astronautique, Moscou

Photo credit: Flickr – Mike Norton

This unique monument was built in 1964 to honor Russia’s space program, and stands 110 meters high. The Astronautical Memorial Museum is made entirely of titanium and is inclined at 77°, symbolizing a rocket (and its plume) on its way to space.

At its base, you can visit the Cosmonaut Museum (or Astronaut Memorial Museum), where the Russian history of space exploration is described and told. On display are a replica of the first satellite (Sputnik), the original spacesuits and other gadgets used to train Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space. The museum provides a fascinating insight into Russia’s role in the space race.

These two sites (which are in fact one and the same) are located near the All-Russian Exhibition Center (VDNKh).

10. Winzavod contemporary art center

Centre d'art Winzavod, Moscou

Photo credit: Flickr – Oleg N

Tucked away behind the Kurskaya metro station, Winzavod is a very fashionable gallery.

Once a wine factory, the center now houses three large exhibition halls, artists’ studios, Moscow’s most renowned art galleries and photo galleries. In these art galleries, you’ll find mostly works by Russian artists, and it remains the best place to get a feel for Moscow’s art scene.

11. Kitaï Gorod

What else is there to do in Moscow, apart from its famous monuments? Head for the Kitai Gorod district. Located right next to Red Square, this is the city’s oldest district. While luxury boutiques have gradually moved in, Kitai Gorod still retains some traces of its Moscow authenticity.

Such is the case of Varvarka Street, home to several churches with typical architecture and the Boyar Palace Museum of Decorative Arts. If you’d like to discover some of the city’s typically opulent dwellings, head a little further along Nikolskaya Street: while modern establishments have taken up residence here, the few survivors of Soviet urbanism will transport you back in time.

12. Arbat Street

Rue Arbat, Moscou

Photo credit: Flickr – appaIoosa

Visiting Moscow also means passing through its famous streets. Located to the west of the city center, Arbat Street is renowned for its souvenir stores selling matryoshkas at low prices. While there’s nothing exceptional about this street, it does have a lively rhythm: day and night, Arbat St. comes alive with a friendly atmosphere.

All around, you’ll discover the chic, bohemian imprint of Moscow. Continue your stroll through the adjacent streets and discover the sumptuous architecture of the same mansions that, over the years, have been home to some of Moscow’s greatest names, from poets to writers.

As you can see, Arbat’s charm lies not just in its pedestrian street, but in the little nuggets hidden all around it. And it’s with a view to exploring this wealth of history that you can visit the area on a fly boat cruise. After visiting Arbat Street and the surrounding area, climb aboard for a 3-hour cruise! Along the Moskva River, discover Moscow as you’ve never seen it before…

13. Moscow underground

It’s a rather unsuspected facet of Moscow, and yet… Beyond its sumptuous symbols, Moscow is also home to incredible artistic potential. Discreet yet deeply rooted, arty Moscow defies the city’s history, indulging in veritable works of art here and there.

While street art can be found just about anywhere you wander, a number of disused warehouses now serve as artistic hubs where talent can express itself freely. These include Winzavod, Art Play and Octobre Rouge.

A former chocolate factory facing the Kremlin, the Red October complex portrays a cultural heart far removed from the totalitarianism associated with the country. Winzavod and Art Play, for their part, have given a second life to disused factories, creating equally creative and inspiring hubs. Bars and cafés, restaurants, art galleries, design boutiques and even hotels and youth hostels have taken pride of place. The stroll is well worth the detour, especially as street art is omnipresent: you’ll discover real walls of expression where the talent of certain artists may catch your eye!

14. Kolomenskoye Palace

Palais Kolomenskoye, Moscou

It’s the Moscow curiosity par excellence. If you’re not pressed for time, head for Kolomenskoye Park and its wonders. A little out of the way, it’s well worth the detour! Whimsical and extravagant, it houses the wooden palace of Tsar Alexis, with its unique architecture, as well as a number of churches (including Ascension Church, the city’s oldest) and an open-air museum whose buildings were constructed using wood from all over the world. Although the palace is a replica (the ruins of the original are located 1 kilometer from the site), it nevertheless manages to leave those who encounter it speechless. For the record, the Palace was even considered the 8th Wonder of the World, worthy of a fairy tale!

15. Izmailovo Kremlin

Izmaïlovo, Kremlin

Still in the offbeat spirit and a little removed from the center, the Izmaylovo Kremlin promises a discovery that’s… original, to say the least! Typically Russian, it’s in fact an unusual place housing a fake Kremlin and a myriad of booths, museums and other wooden sites. A bit like a Russian Las Vegas, Izmaylovo brings together a culture of extravagance where kitsch reigns supreme! The flea market, meanwhile, is another must-see in this curious place that’s well worth the detour: this is where you’ll find souvenirs.

16. Pushkin café

It’s THE must-visit Moscow café. Sung about by Gilbert Bécaud, the Pushkin café is the stuff of legend, and for good reason: although the singer hummed its name, the place didn’t actually exist. So, given the unexpected success of this famous address, the Café Pouchkine was born!

A sure favorite, the café is a magical, magnificent place, and every visitor is unanimous. Renowned for its delicious hot chocolates, Pushkin also serves local dishes such as borscht (meat, cabbage and beet soup) and other culinary specialties. But be warned: while the café is well worth a visit, its prices reflect the reputation of the place: high!

17. Moscow nightlife

Vie nocturne à Moscou

What to do in Moscow after dark? Forget the bitter cold and the rather frigid preconceptions: Moscow promises above all memorable nights out! Untiring and never short of ideas, the city never sleeps and reveals Moscow’s free-spirited youth, exempt from communism. Luxury nightclubs, bars, jazz clubs, casinos and even all-in-one venues paint the picture of a cosmopolitan nightlife where there’s something for everyone! To find out more, read our article on the best places to go out in Moscow.

For those who prefer live entertainment to dance-floor shows, consider the city’s ballets, theaters and opera houses, which are packed with world-class performances.

18. Other things to see and do in Moscow

Moscow is a real adventure, so you’ll always find something to keep you busy. So to complete our guide, here are a few more ideas of things to do here in Moscow if you still have time to spare:

How to get to Moscow

Before planning any trip to Moscow, you need to find out about visas. Just read our article on how to obtain a visa for Russia.

As Moscow is a very important city, it is connected by numerous airports with all types of airlines (low-cost, classic). From Paris, for example, the flight is direct and takes around 3h30. Whatever your departure city, our partner and flight comparator Skyscanner will offer you the latest deals to find your flight at the best price.

Getting around Moscow

Moscow’s traffic patterns speak for themselves: it’s a very congested city, so the car won’t be your best ally! Like most Muscovites, if you want to travel with complete mobility, take the city’s metro and do the rest on foot.

To avoid buying a ticket every time you travel, and to benefit from access to all Moscow’s other public transport services (bus, trolleybus and tramway), consider the Troika card: rechargeable throughout your stay, it can be purchased at any metro station and costs 50 rubles. This sum can be reclaimed as long as you return your Troika card before your return to France! And if you have any money left over, it can be reimbursed as well. The card allows you to travel on the metro for 35 rubles per journey (instead of 50 rubles for a single ticket).

Good to know : Moscow’s transport maps are not translated into Latin! So it’s a good idea to use mobile applications such as City Map to find your way around. Bonus on this article: the « translated » metro map !

Where to stay in Moscow?

Moscow is an expensive city to live in. You can read our article to find out where to stay in Moscow: it will guide you in choosing the right place for your stay. In terms of pied-à-terre, the city is rich in hotels, but you can also opt for Airbnb accommodation (from a single room to an entire apartment) or a youth hostel. If you opt for a hotel or apartment, visit our hotel comparator: you’ll be able to search on a map of the city, so you can sleep as close as possible to the best places to visit.

Map of hotels and accommodation – Moscow,ru