Thinking of visiting Russia? When visiting such a famous city, one must, of course, visit the iconic landmarks first. Moscow has plenty of those, most of them in the center of the city, which is very well-planned for tourists. Once you’ve seen the sights that are on most travelers’ lists, it’s time to branch out and visit some of the lesser-known sites, and there are some fascinating places to see and things to do.
I know this list is long, but I just couldn’t help myself. You probably won’t have the time to see them all. But that’s okay. Just scroll through the list and choose what sounds the most interesting to you. Where possible, make sure to book in advance, as things can get crowded, especially during high season.
1. The Red Square, Kremlin, And Surroundings
Red Square (Krasnya Ploshad) is the heart and soul of Russia, and where much of the country’s history has unfolded. This is the most famous landmark in Moscow and indeed the whole country, it’s an absolute must-do! The square is always full of people and has a rather festive atmosphere!
Saint Basil’s Cathedral
This is the famous church with the rainbow-colored, onion-domed roof. The cathedral was commissioned in the 1500s by Ivan the Terrible and according to legend, the Tsar thought it was so beautiful, that he ordered that the architect’s eyes be cut out afterward, so he could never build anything more beautiful! He wasn’t called Ivan the Terrible for no reason!
The “love-it-or-hate-it” of tourist attractions in Russia. A glass sarcophagus containing the embalmed body of Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin. It may seem a bit bizarre to display the mummy of a person, but it has been there for almost half a century and the 2.5 million visitors who come each year, clearly feel the queuing and thorough body search are worth it, to be in Lenin’s presence.
Pro Tip: no photos and no loud talking are allowed inside the Mausoleum.
There is an Eternal Flame in honor of an unknown soldier on the left side of Red Square. The hourly changing of the guards is worth seeing.
The Kremlin is the official residence of the Russian president. You can see it from the outside, or you can take an excursion to one of the museums located inside. This is the biggest active fortress in Europe, and holds a week’s worth of attractions! Once behind the 7,332-feet of walls, there are five squares, four cathedrals, 20 towers, various museums, and the world’s largest bell and cannon to see. Worth a special mention is the Armory Chamber that houses a collection of the famous Faberge Eggs.
Pro Tip: You can only go inside the Kremlin if you are part of a tourist group.
2. Bolshoi Theatre
Bolshoi Theatre translates to “The Big Theatre” in Russian, and the building is home to both the Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera — among the oldest and most famous ballet and opera companies in the world.
Pro Tip: It’s hard to get an inexpensive ticket, so if you’re reading well in advance of going to Moscow then try buying tickets on the official website. Last-minute tickets cost around $250 per person. If this is out of your budget, about an hour before a performance, you can try buying a ticket at the entrance from a reseller. Most can speak enough English to negotiate the price.
Tour the Bolshoi Theatre: You can take a group guided tour of the Bolshoi Theatre which focuses on the history and architecture of the theatre and behind the scenes. There’s an English language tour that lasts 2 hours and costs around $300 for a group of up to six.
3. Luxury Shopping At GUM And TSUM
Russia’s main department store, GUM, has a stunning interior that is home to over 100 high-end boutiques, selling a variety of brands: from luxurious Dior to the more affordable Zara. Even if shopping is not on your Moscow to-do list GUM is still worth a visit; the glass-roofed arcade faces Red Square and offers a variety of classy eateries. TSUM, one of the biggest luxury malls in town, is right behind the Bolshoi and GUM. It’s an imposing building with lots of history, and worth a visit just for its design and its glass roof.
4. Christ The Savior Cathedral
This is one of Russia’s most visited cathedrals and is a newer addition to the gorgeous array of Muscovite cathedrals, but don’t let its young age fool you. After perestroika, in the early 90s, the revived Russian Orthodox Church was given permission to build a cathedral on this site. It did the location honors and built the largest temple of the Christian Orthodox Church. The façade is as grand as you’d expect, but it’s the inside that will mesmerize you, with its domes, gold, gorgeous paintings, and decor!
The cathedral is located just a few hundred feet away from the Kremlin and was the site of the infamous Pussy Riot protest against Putin back in 2012.
Pro Tip: Bring a shawl to cover your hair as is the local custom.
5. Gorky Park
Moscow’s premier green space, Gorky Park (Park Gor’kogo) is the city’s biggest and most famous park. There is entertainment on offer here for every taste, from outdoor dancing sessions to yoga classes, volleyball, ping-pong, rollerblading, and bike and boat rental in summer. In winter, half the park turns into a huge ice skating rink. Gorky Park is also home to an open-air movie theater and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. There is also Muzeon Art Park, a dynamic contemporary space with a unique collection of 700 sculptures. It is located right in front of Gorky Park.
6. Sparrow Hills Park
If you take a walk from Gorky Park, along the Moscow River embankment, you’ll end up in the city’s other legendary park, Sparrow Hills. Although the park doesn’t offer as many activities as its hip neighbor, it has a great panoramic view of the city
Pro Tip: You can take a free walking tour to all of the above attractions with an English-speaking guide.
7. River Cruising
One of the best ways to experience Moscow, and see all the famous landmarks, but from a different angle, is from the Moscow River. Take a river cruise. Avoid the tourist crowds. There are little nameless old boats that do the cruise, but if you are looking for a more luxurious experience take the Radisson Blu cruise and enjoy the sights with some good food and a glass of wine.
8. Metro Hopping
Inaugurated in the 1930s, the Moscow Metro system is one of the oldest and most beautiful in the world. Started in Stalinist times, each station is a work of art in its own right. I’d recommend touring the stations between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. This way, you’ll be able to properly see it without the crowds. Ideally, I’d recommend taking a tour with a knowledgeable guide with GuruWalk, who will tell you stories of forgotten stations and how the history of the country is interconnected with the metro development. If going by yourself, then I definitely recommend checking out: Mayakovskaya, Ploschad Revolutsii, Kievskaya, Kropotkinskaya, Kurskaya, and Novoslobodskaya stations.
Visit the free Moscow Metro Museum: For real train enthusiasts, located in the southern vestibule of Sportivnaya station is a small free museum. Here you can take a peek into the driver’s cabin, see a collection of metro tokens from different cities, and see different models of a turnstile, traffic lights, escalator, and more.
9. Moscow State University View
In his effort to create a grander Moscow, Stalin had seven skyscrapers built in different parts of town; they’re called the Seven Sisters. The largest of these buildings and the one with the best view is the main building of the Moscow State University. Although this is a little outside the city center, the view is more than worth it.
10. Izmailovsky Market
Mostly known for the city’s largest flea market, the district of Izmaylovo is home to a maze of shops where you can get just about anything, from artisan crafts to traditional fur hats, handcrafted jewelry, fascinating Soviet memorabilia, and antiquities. It’s also one of Moscow’s largest green spaces. There are often no price tags, so be prepared to haggle a bit. Head to one of the market cafes for a warming mulled wine before continuing your shopping spree.
The History of Vodka Museum is found here, and the museum’s restaurant is the perfect place to sample various brands of the national drink.
Once you’ve covered the more touristy spots, Moscow still has plenty to offer, and the places below will also be full of locals! So for some local vibes, I would strongly recommend the spots below!
11. Moscow City
With a completely different vibe, Moscow City (also referred to as Moscow International Business Center) is like a mini Dubai, with lots of impressive tall glass buildings. Here is where you’ll find the best rooftops in towns, like Ruski Restaurant, the highest restaurant both in Moscow City and in Europe. Moscow City is great for crowd-free shopping and the best panoramic views of the city.
12. Tretyakov Gallery
Tretyakov Gallery started as the private collection of the Tretyakov brothers, who were 19th-century philanthropists. They gave their private collection to the government after their deaths. If there is just one museum you visit in Moscow, I recommend this one!
13. Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve
Tsaritsyno was a residence of Catherine the Great more than two centuries ago. It became derelict during the Soviet era but has now been fully renovated. With its opulently decorated buildings, gardens, meadows, and forests, Tsaritsyno Park is the perfect place for a green respite in Moscow.
A 10-minute metro ride from the city center is Kolomenskoe Museum-Reserve, where you can get an idea of what Russia looked like 200 years ago. You’ll find ancient churches (one dating back to the 16th century), the oldest garden in Moscow, and the wonderful fairytale wooden palace of Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich, father of Peter the Great.
15. Ostankino TV Tower
Built in 1967, Ostankino TV Tower was the tallest free-standing construction in the world at the time, it’s still the 8th tallest building in the world and the highest in Europe. It’s also the best observation deck, with a glass floor and 360-degree views. The speedy elevators take you 1,105 feet in next to no time.
Pro Tip: You need to book in advance; entrance is based on specific ticket times and the capacity is limited and only a certain number of tourists are allowed per day. Don’t forget your passport, you’ll need it to get through security.
16. Zaryadye Park
Zaryadye is a newly opened, landscaped urban park so new you won’t find it in a lot of tour guides. The park is near Red Square and is divided into four climatic zones: forest, steppe, tundra, and floodplains, depicting the variety of climatic zones in Russia.
These last three suggestions are a little quirky, but all are really worth checking out.
17. Museum Of Soviet Arcade Games
Release your inner child playing on 66 arcade machines from the Soviet era! What a great way to spend a couple of hours when tired of visiting museums and palaces. The staff speaks excellent English and are happy to explain how the games work.
18. Moscow Rooftop Tour
Take a 1-hour private Moscow rooftop tour with an experienced roofer. I can just about guarantee none of your friends will be able to say they’ve done it! For your comfort, I recommend wearing comfortable shoes. Take your camera, there are some amazing photo opportunities out there!
19. Sanduny Banya
This classical Russian bathhouse opened its doors in 1808 and is famous for combining traditional Russian banya services with luxurious interiors and service. If you enjoy spas and saunas, then you should experience a Russian bathhouse at least once in your life! Go with an open mind and hire a specialist to steam you as it’s meant to be done — by being beaten repeatedly with a besom (a leafy branch)! This is said to improve circulation, but is best done by a professional!
So there you have my list of things to do in Moscow. I could have gone on and on and on, but I didn’t want to try your patience! There are so many things to do in this vibrant city that you’ll definitely need to allocate several days for exploring.
Here are some other reasons to visit Moscow and Russia: