We’ve been to Moscow twice now but our first visit was as part of our around the world without flying trip. We spent a day and a half in Moscow sightseeing before we boarded our train from China. While we were there we wanted to make the most of our time in the city and cover the main Moscow tourist attractions. This list is based on the things we did on that trip. It’s a reasonable itinerary for one and a half to two days sightseeing in Moscow.
My list of things to do in Moscow
You can’t go to Moscow without visiting the Kremlin, can you? It’s one of those iconic places that everyone associates with the city it’s in. In the case of the Kremlin, I think it almost personifies Russia in its entirety. Although, actually there are other kremlins across Russia. That’s something I discovered while we were travelling in the country and it quite surprised me.
Anyway, I digress. Before we arrived in Moscow I must admit I found the information on getting tickets for the Kremlin a bit confusing. I suppose it’s because I think of the Kremlin as one place when in fact, it’s a complex of quite different buildings.
The word Kremlin actually means fortress. So you can think of the Moscow Kremlin as a kind of fortified city. Within the walls, you’ll find a small, self-contained city. The Russian president even has an office inside the Kremlin although he only works there, he doesn’t actually live there.
Inside the Kremlin
Of course, you can’t visit the presidential offices but you can get admission to many of the other buildings. Most tourists will want to visit the main museum complex but you can gain access to further buildings if you take a guided tour. If you’re only visiting for the day like us, then bear in mind that the Kremlin complex is huge. Best to limit yourself to the main attractions unless you’ve got more time to spare.
Once inside the red walls, you’ll be in Cathedral Square. Incredibly, there are five churches you can visit here. Actually, there are more but you can only visit the five. The main one that you see on all the photos is the Assumption Cathedral. However, you can also go inside the Archangel Michael Cathedral, Annunciation Cathedral, Church of the Deposition of the Robe of the Holy Virgin and the Church of the Twelve Apostles. So if you like visiting churches you’re going to love the Kremlin!
Ivan the Great Bell Tower
You should also make time to see the Ivan the Great Bell Tower and the Assumption Belfry which are nearby. The Assumption Belfry houses temporary exhibitions and you can climb the tower if you feel fit enough. However, you will need a separate ticket if you want to go in here and they are limited to prevent overcrowding. Also, unfortunately, you can’t buy them online so you just have to turn up and take your chances. It’s impressive from the outside though so do make sure you take a look anyway.
Another impressive museum within the Kremlin is the Armoury. Although it sounds as though it might be full of weapons and well, armoury, actually it’s a treasure trove of a collection. Here, you’ll find ceremonial carriages, coronation dresses, beautiful gifts from foreign visitors. This is also a great opportunity to get a close-up view of some of the famous Faberge eggs. A visit to the Armoury museum is highly recommended. You do also need a separate ticket for this museum but you can buy these online. However, there is no limit on the number of foreign visitors allowed to buy a ticket so you’ll have no trouble gaining access here.
Tickets & Opening Times
The Kremlin is open daily except for Thursdays when it is closed. In the summer months, it is open from 9.30 am to 6 pm. During the winter months, it has shorter opening hours from 10 am to 5 pm.
The Armoury Museum is open from 10 am – 6 pm. However, entry is controlled and organised into different time slots. Entry times are thus, 10 am, noon, 2.30 pm and 4.30 pm.
You can buy your entry tickets to the main Kremlin complex online in advance. Otherwise, the ticket office is open from 9.30 am. You’ll also find ticket machines here but they are only in Russian. I’m always reluctant to purchase in advance as our plans are quite changeable depending on how we feel each day. Also, we usually travel out of season so have fewer problems with buying tickets on the day. If you travel in the summer and are really keen to see the Kremlin and Armoury at a specific time then it’s well worth planning ahead.
If that all sounds overwhelming and you’d like a guided introduction then consider taking a small group introductory tour. These are good value and give you the opportunity to stay on and explore on your own afterwards. A 4-hour private tour will cost you more but does offer personal attention and a chance to get all your questions answered.
Red Square or Krasnaya Ploschad is the central and most famous square in Moscow. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site. One of the first in Russia to be included.
Throughout history, Red Square has served as a focal point for the community. During the Soviet era, large military displays took place here as a show of strength. It has also seen its share of protests. Famously, German pilot Matius Rust landed his small plane here in 1987. Later it became the venue for outdoor pop and rock concerts.
In my opinion, it’s a great starting point for exploring Moscow. Stand in Red Square and take a look around. You’ll see many of Moscow’s top attractions within walking distance. But pause a moment before you set off and absorb the atmosphere. The history hangs in the air here.
St Basil’s Cathedral
I kind of feel that I may be overusing the word iconic in this article but there are just so many unique sights in Moscow. Somehow iconic seems absolutely the right word for so many of them. Here’s another one. St Basil’s cathedral. I must admit the first time I stood in front of this cathedral I just wanted to look and look. It is truly a spectacular sight and quite unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. If anything, it is more beautiful close-up than in photos.
In front of the cathedral is a monument of Minin and Pozharsky. Of course, I had no idea who they were but apparently, they were princes of 17th century Russia who expelled an invading force and thus protected the country.
St Basil’s Cathedral is also known as the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed. In fact, it seems to have loads of different names but I’m sure we all think of it as St Basil’s. It’s another of Moscow’s UNESCO World Heritage sites and justly so.
Opening Hours and Tickets
The opening schedule for the cathedral is a bit complicated. Basically, it is open every day apart from the first Wednesday of the month when it is closed for cleaning. However, in August and the first few days of September, it is closed every Wednesday.
Opening times are just as complex. From November to April it is open from 11 am to 5 pm. Then from September to November, it opens earlier at 10 am. In May, it stays open until 6 pm. From June through most of August it opens at 10 am and closes at 7 pm. However, the last week of August has restricted opening hours from 10 am to 4 pm.
You do have to pay to go inside St Basil’s cathedral unless you are a child under 16 years old. For adults, tickets cost 500 Rubles or about £6. You can buy them online in advance or when you get to the cathedral.
Gum Department Store
The Gum department store is actually written as Gym as the Russian y sounds like u. So, really it’s the Gum department store but since I know it, I quite like to use the Russian spelling aswell. Especially as it’s actually an abbreviation. For “Main Universal Store” although obviously, it’s an abbreviation for the Russian words.
You can’t miss this building. It stands opposite Lenin’s tomb right next to St Basel’s cathedral. Right in the heart of Moscow. I’d say, that the Gym department store is another of those iconic buildings that we all think of when we think of Moscow. The building itself is stunning. Walk inside and look up at the glass ceilings. It’s kind of like walking in the park on a spring day with the cherry blossom trees.
Today, it feels more like an upmarket shopping mall than a department store. Inside you’ll find lots of high-end shops and it’s a really lovely place to wander around. During the Soviet era, the Gum department store was famous for its long queues. That’s because it was never short of supplies. Unlike most of the other shops in the city.
The store or at least its building is famous for more than just shopping. Stalin took over the building to use as his office and he actually had his wife’s body displayed here when she died.
Right in the centre of Moscow in Red Square, you can see the mausoleum where Vladimir Lenin’s embalmed body lies. In fact, you can even see the actual body for yourself if you wish. It has been on public display since 1924 when he died. Except for a short period during the Second World War when it was removed for protection.
It’s a popular tourist attraction and millions of people have visited it. For a while, between March 1953 until October 1961, Josef Stalin’s embalmed body shared the space. However, it was removed and buried elsewhere as part of the de-Stalinization carried out by Nikita Khrushchev.
Getting inside Lenin’s Tomb
Lenin’s tomb is open for visitors on Monday, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. It is open from 10 am to 1 pm. Entry is free although you will need to pay if you have bags to store. Security is tight and you and your bags will be scanned before you’re allowed in. You are not allowed to take photos inside and in fact, cameras are not allowed so need to be stored with your bags.
Moscow Hop on Hop off Bus
Call me lazy if you like but sometimes you just want to sit down and take a tour of the sights. After quite a few hectic days of travelling and sightseeing, we were happy to spot a Hop on Hop off bus near Red Square in Moscow.
If you travel to cities then I’m sure you’ll have come across this concept before. We do like to use them as a good way to orientate ourselves with the city. They’re particularly good for cities which are spread out. So if you want to get out and about beyond the central area of Moscow this is a great way to do it.
A one-day ticket will cost you around £15. For that, you get access to two different bus routes, a boat trip on the river and a walking tour. You can also listen to the onboard commentary in one of many languages and find out a bit more about the city.
You can plan your day on the bus however you like but we like to take a full ride around first. As we go, we note anywhere that looks interesting and then we ride around again but this time getting off at various stops. It’s not an alternative to planning but it can be a good way to get an overall look at the city. Also, it’s very easy on the feet!
Statue of Peter the Great
In 2010 there were rumours that the Peter the Great Statue in Moscow might be removed. A lot of people were very excited at this prospect apparently. However, it was still there in 2014 and as far as I know, it remains on the banks of the Moskva River.
So, why would people be eagerly anticipating its removal? I was a bit bemused by this as I found the statue rather impressive. In fact, I quite liked it. I’m sure I’m not alone but the statue is certainly controversial.
In 2008 it was voted the tenth ugliest building in the world. Then in 2010, it made it onto the ugliest statues list. Gosh, that seems rather extreme. I’m sure there are far worse buildings than this.
I think it may have more to do with the Moscow locals’ feelings towards Peter the Great than the actual statue. Apparently, he didn’t like Moscow very much and worse, he moved the capital to St Petersburg. Now, I think I understand why Muscovites aren’t keen on having a huge statue of him in their city.
Of course, you should probably go take a look and make up your own mind. We came across it while walking along the river. It makes a lovely walk and you’ll also find the Sculpture park nearby.
We were in Moscow in late March and I really don’t think we saw Gorky Park at its best. It’s a huge park with large, open walkways and I’m sure it’s a lovely place to walk either in winter when snow covers the ground or in summer when the flowers bloom. However, with the snow thawing into pools of water and creating muddy lawns, the Gorky Park we saw was rather dismal. Don’t let that put you off though. In summer it’s a great open space which attracts Muscovite families and tourists alike. Also, it has undergone substantial refurbishment since we were last there. I’m looking forward to visiting again to see what they’ve done with the place.
Fallen Monument Park
This open-air sculpture gallery is like a graveyard for abandoned statues. In fact, it contains a whole array of statues which were removed from various parks and public spaces in Russia following the downfall of Communism. For example, there are numerous statues of Lenin and Stalin here.
It’s a fascinating place. We came across it quite by accident while walking along the river but we spent quite some time exploring it. The statues come in all shapes and sizes. Some modern, some more traditional. Definitely worth a look.
Now I’m no stranger to taking the metro as we like to take public transport whenever we can. However, the Moscow metro is worth a look even if you’re not normally keen on this type of transportation. While some of the stations are just like any other underground train station, others are quite spectacular.
Throughout the metro system, you’ll find stations with ornate decor. Carved arches. Mosaics. Coloured tiles. Wall art and engravings. Patterned ceilings and walls. In some stations, the domed ceilings and sweeping arches wouldn’t look out of place in a grand palace. I think it’s the variety of designs that makes it quite so impressive.
We used the metro a lot and so we looked out for interesting stations as we travelled around. If you’d rather plan a route to see the more impressive stations then here are a few to get you started. Mayakovskaya station has the arches that I was so amazed by earlier. If you’re visiting Red Square then you’re likely to use Ploshchad Revolyutsii Station. The dark-coloured tiles look really luxurious and there are literally dozens of statues to admire throughout the station. Look up at Teatralnaya Station to see the crisscrossed white ceiling with ornate wreaths. Komsomolskaya Station was really close to our hotel and it’s a beautiful station. The yellow and white ceiling reminds me of the grand palaces of Europe and it even has chandeliers.
Take a sightseeing tour on the Moscow Metro
Did you know that you can actually take a guided tour of the Moscow Metro? If you’re reluctant to venture underground on your own or if you just want to find out more about this amazing network, then a tour might be the answer. This private tour will even pick you up at your hotel and you’ll find out all about the stunning architecture and artwork on the Moscow metro.
An overview of sightseeing in Moscow
As you can see there’s plenty to keep you busy in Moscow. Actually, there’s lots more to see as well but I focused on the sights that we managed to fit into our two days in the city. We wanted to see the iconic sights of the city and the things which make Moscow unique. Also, we mainly stayed in the city centre area since our time was so limited. For me, sightseeing in Moscow was exotic and very different from European cities. I really enjoyed the time we spent there and would love to return and see more.