• Spike

Moscow - Russia

I visited Moscow after Saint Petersburg, taking the high speed train between the two, which only took 4 hours. There were considerable differences between the two cities, whereas Saint Petersburg is a much calmer relaxed city, Moscow was more hustle and bustle.

To say which city I preferred is not simple as they are very different, but if I was pushed to say which I found to be more beautiful, I'd actually say Moscow. Usually I hear of people thinking Saint Petersburg is more beautiful, but there's something about Red Square and the nearby streets when they're lit up after dark that is an amazing sight!


I would be a little more cautious when walking around Moscow compared to Saint Petersburg. Always verify the taxi price before getting in, and be aware of tourist scams. The centre of the city felt safe even late at night, and the locals were still friendly, although not quite as relaxed as in Saint Petersburg.

Moscow is big. Bigger than Saint Petersburg, so your best mode of transport will be using the metro. If you're super lucky you'll end up in a metro train which is an art gallery, and displays paintings inside the train. I'm sad to say that I wasn't fortunate enough to find this train.


One problem I did have in Moscow was getting to the airport for my flight home. There were engineering works on the trains, so they only ran every few hours, even though the website claimed they were more frequent. I was considering taking a taxi or bus instead, but when I asked some locals about doing so, they advised against it. Traffic can be a nightmare in Moscow and they advised that the train would still be the best option, even if it meant not getting to the airport until 3 hours later.

Once at the airport the queues were crazy for the check-in, so I attempted the self check-in, but most of the machines wouldn't work, so this also took some time before finally being able to check-in on a working kiosk.

Due to all these delays, and originally planning to have been at the airport 3-4 hours before my flight, I only just made it. I was the last person onboard after running through the terminal to get there on time. So my advice is, get to the airport long before your flight!



St Basils Cathedral

The most iconic building in Russia and one of the most iconic buildings in the world is the beautiful St Basils Cathedral. Situated on Red Square, where you'll find many other popular sights, but in my opinion this still stands out against them all. There's something about the multi coloured domes against the Moscow skyline that I found quite spectacular. It was here that I found it hard to believe I was actually in Russia. It always seemed so far from other tourist destinations, I had to pinch myself to make sure I was there and wasn't dreaming.

The cathedral was built by order of Ivan the Terrible, and apparently after the architect completed it, Ivan blinded him so that he could never produce anything more beautiful. Whether or not this story is true or not, it certainly adds a bitter sweet feeling to St Basils Cathedral.



The Kremlin

The historic fortress that sits on Red Square is probably the largest sight you'll see in Moscow. The official residence of the President, although he doesn't actually live there. It's been rebuilt many times since it was first constructed in 1147 out of wood, before Ivan III the Great ordered it to be made from stone, which is the Kremlin you'll recognise today.

This place is huge, and there's quite a lot to see. The first problem I had was finding where the entrance was. Even though I had a pre-booked ticket, I was then told I still had to visit the ticket office to exchange it to another ticket. I also needed my passport, so make sure you have yours if you plan to visit the Kremlin. After a lengthy queue I finally had a ticket I could use to enter the Kremlin, and had to go through security. The security here is thorough, so make sure you don't try to take too much in with you. I had my pockets full, and it was a nightmare emptying them and explaining each item, before I was finally allowed in.


Once inside you can pay for tickets to visit the various museums, but there's also quite a lot to see simply on the grounds. The Assumption Cathedral, Ivan the Great Bell Tower Complex, the Grand Kremlin Palace, the Armoury Chamber and Diamond Fund. There is also the Tsar Cannon, which is a huge artillery cannon, and the Tsar Bell. The Tsar Bell is the largest bell in the world. An incident with a fire and water being poured over the bell caused it to crack and for a slab to break off from it, which can now be seen propped next to it.

Something you'll hear a lot of whilst in the grounds will be the sound of whistles. The guards patrolling the area will blow a whistle at anyone walking where they shouldn't be. Even if it's just on the grass, or towards more restricted areas. This can sometimes be funny to watch, as often the tourists will be in a world of their own and have no idea they have a guard blowing a whistle at them until they are doing so right in their face.



Gum

A huge department store situated on Red Square. It's an interesting department store to walk around, with several levels, although the shops inside are quite pricey. It's a beautiful building when lit up at night, and it seems to fit in nicely amongst the other famous sights on Red Square. Even if you don't plan to buy anything inside, it's worth a quick look inside, although there are usually security checks before entering.



State Historical Museum

The large crimson building on Red Square is now the State Historical Museum. It was originally the first pharmacy in Russia, and later a University before finally becoming the museum it is today.

I didn't go inside as my time was limited and there was so much else I wanted to see, but if you have time it may be worth exploring. There are items dating back to the 6th century, and maybe even further. There's also a library inside storing many ancient manuscripts and the largest coin collection in Russia.



Bolshoi Theatre

Bolshoi means big in Russian, so it roughly translated to big, or large theatre. The Bolshoi Theatre is one of the foremost ballet companies in the world. The exterior of the building is an impressive sight and worth admiring from the outside at least. There are guided tours of the interior, but I think that if you really want to experience the theatre, watching a ballet is the best way to do so.

I was torn between booking a seat, but the ballets were very expensive and if I was to do so I'd have rather seen "Swan Lake", as at least I may have recognised some of the music. Unfortunately there were no performances on the days I was in Moscow, and I think I'd rather have had company to attend such a show. So I decided to pass. But if I return to Russia, then watching a ballet will be on my list of things to do.



Sparrow Hills

If you want a good view of the city, then Sparrow Hills is a good place to do so. It's a bit of a trek outside of the centre, but if you have the time then it offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of the busy city. There's a viewing platform here which give you fantastic panoramic views of the city.

Nearby is the magnificent Moscow State University building, one of the seven sisters of Moscow.



Seven Sisters

Whilst in Moscow, you'll no doubt notice some of these skyscrapers. At the time of construction they were the tallest buildings in Europe, Moscow State University being so until 1997. There are as the name suggests, seven in total, which are: Hotel Ukraina, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Apartments, the Kudrinskaya Square Building, the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Moscow State University, and the Red Gates Administrative Building.

If you visit Sparrow Hills, then you'll come across Moscow State University, but I'm certain you'll see some of the others against the cities skyline as you explore the city.



Nikolskaya Street and Kuznetskiy Most

The start of this street is found by Red Square. It's one of the most prominent pedestrianised streets in Moscow, filled with shops, restaurants and bars.

What makes this street extra special are the thousands of bright lights in the sky above. After dark it looks simply magical with the many lights overhead as you walk beneath them.

There is another street nearby which also features similar lights, "Kuznetskiy Most", which is also quite beautiful, but I thought "Nikolskaya Street" was slightly more impressive.



Izmailovo Kremlin

The Kremlin in Red Square is not the only Kremlin in Moscow. Kremlin actually means a type of fortress, so there are many in Russia.

It's a fairly new addition to the city, having been built in 2007 as a cultural centre. With it's multitude of colours and olden style, it has a real fairytale feel to it. There are several small museums here for you to explore, devoted to subjects such as Russian folk art, vodka and bread.

It's a little way out of the centre, but if you have time I'd suggest visiting here to see something a little bit different which won't be as overcrowded with tourists.



Izmaylovskiy Bazar

Next to the Izmailovo Kremlin is the best market in Moscow for souvenirs. You'll find good and poor quality items here, but you'll certainly pick up a bargain if you take your time and haggle for a good price. Many of the items here you'll get for half the price you would in souvenir shops in the city centre. It's here that I picked up several Matroska dolls for a very good price, I think I'd have paid more than double, possibly triple if I'd have bought them elsewhere.

When I first tried looking for the market I came across what appeared to be a jumble sale with second hand goods, which was not Izmaylovskiy Bazar. But what you should be looking for is a large market area with many stalls selling new items, many of which are handcrafted.



Izmailovsky Park

Not too far from Izmailovo Kremlin you'll find this huge park. It's easy to get lost here, so try to make sure you keep track of where you entered if you plan to go back the same way. There's a lot to see here, a round pond, ferris wheel, playgrounds and sports grounds, shooting galleries, cinemas and a skate park.

There are often festivals, concerts and exhibitions at the park, on top of firework displays and dance parties.

The main reason I chose to visit the park was to find the painted trees. A local artist Yevgenia Khlynina has been painting on trees in this park, and you can explore the park looking for them. One of the most famous pieces of hers is the "Hedgehog in the Fog" from a famous soviet cartoon.



Gorky Park

The most famous park in Moscow is named after the writer Maxim Gorky. There's lots to do and see in the park with sports facilities and exhibitions. During the summer months there are often open air concerts and an open air cinema. There are many statues and sculptures in the park, including a small sculpture park area which features many interesting pieces.

The one problem I encountered here was visiting on 2nd August. This is Paratroopers Day, when Russia celebrates it's airborne forces. The parks are filled with military men in blue berets drinking heavily, looking for fights and jumping into fountains naked. They were everywhere, and it seemed that most of the men were not paratroopers, but simply wanted to celebrate such a holiday by buying a cheap blue beret as an excuse to drink heavily.

I was with a language exchange partner of mine, Sasha, and even she felt uncomfortable, so we didn't spend too long in the park. We survived unscathed, and it was interesting to witness. So my advice is don't visit the parks on 2nd August if you're in Russia.



Peter the Great Statue

A huge monument dedicated to Peter the Great located on the Moskva River. It's a fairly recent addition to the city, being constructed in 2008, and it has even been voted one of the ugliest statues in the world.

Apparently Peter the Great hated Moscow and so moved the Russian capital to Saint Petersburg, so why would Moscow be praising him?

Personally I didn't think the statue was all that bad. I'm not sure it was in the best location, and it may have been a little too big, but I've seen worse statues on my travels.



Lenin's Mausoleum

A sight I didn't get to see due to it only being open on certain days and at certain times. If you really want to see it, then I suggest checking the opening times before your visit.

The embalmed body of "Vladimir Ilych Lenin" lays in a stepped pyramid on Red Square. Frozen in time since 1924, Lenin had wished to be buried, however the Russian people would not have it and insisted on his body being preserved, which it still is to this day.



Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy (VDNKh)

An area of Moscow I simply didn't have the time to see. Further north of the city centre is a large exhibition centre with monuments and museums showcasing Russian achievements. There are two beautiful fountains, a soviet computer game museum and an aquarium. But perhaps one of the biggest museums here is the Museum of Cosmonautics which contains many Soviet space exhibits and models.



Arbat Street

One of the oldest and busiest streets in Moscow, and the most famous pedestrian street in the city. There are several shops including many dedicated to souvenirs, but although these will have a good range of goods, they will be quite expensive . You may see street performers and buskers, and there are often poets reciting famous works, if not their own works.

It's within walking distance from the Kremlin, which should only take around 10 minutes.

There are actually two streets with this name, Old Arbat Street and New Arbat Street. Old Arbat Street is where you'll find the pedestrianised area, New Arbat Street is a separate street which runs alongside a main road, filled with many bars and restaurants.



Children are the Victims of Adult Vices

Located in the gardens of Bolotnaya Ploshchad are an unusual series of statues. There are two blindfolded children playing, whilst surrounded by 13 negative influences.

Drug Addiction, Prostitution, Theft, Alcoholism, Ignorance, Irresponsible science, Indifference, Propaganda of Violence, Sadism, For Those Without Memory, Child Labour, Povery and War. I really liked this art installation, but I've heard that it often scares many of the local children.



Metro Stations

The best way to get around the city is by using the metro, and the metro is a tourist attraction in itself.

Although I obviously didn't visit every metro station, I believe that every single one is unique in a beautiful way. Many of the stations I passed through were impressive, quirky or stunningly beautiful. You'll more than likely pass through many of them on the way to other sights, but I'd recommend the following: Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Mayakovskaya, Teatralnaya, Arbatskaya, Prospekt Mira and Ploschad Revolutsii (be sure to pet the dog statue for good luck).

There are of course many others for you to explore, but these are the ones I considered to be the most impressive.


Be sure to check out my guide on Saint Petersburg here.

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