When it comes to Moscow, one simple phrase comes to mind – “always in flux”. You never know whether you will see the same city or it will reveal a completely unknown face after couple of years of your absense. I guess this is the case with a lot of historically rich cities in developing countries. Yet Moscow is not only a rich city with tormented history, it evolves in a very special way, taking bits and pieces from other cultures. They have historical center, where you can immerse yourself into quite and cozy medieval Russia, at the same time you can witness grandiose sights of Kremlin right next to it and experience the powerful empire, that the country once was. They constantly look up to Europe and America and relentlessly bring in best practice, sometimes even copying foreign creations, thus Moscow is a weird mix of European narrow streets with high style restaurants and vast New York style creative spaces with organic burger joints, graffiti and hipsterish barber shops.
1. Visit the Red Square and Kremlin
No one in their right mind would miss out on the opportunity to see the Red Square. It is one the most unique and astonishing heritage sights in the world, that offers breathtaking views, insight into Russian history and culture and a liberating walk in a huge open space. The amount of history concentrated on this tiny bit of land is overwhelming – it has seen fights and fires, tortures and executions, tsars and presidents, revolutions and parades. It is truly the most fascinating place where history, beauty and power are closely intertwined.
St. Basil Cathedral on the Red Square
2. Walk old Moscow streets
Narrow cobble streets of Kitay Gorod area – the oldest and untouched part of Moscow – are still widely popular with filmmakers of historical movies. The area is eerily quiet, it feels like the time has stopped here, though sometimes you would notice random loved up couples hiding in the corners, and old, wrinkled ladies or, how Russians call them “babushkas”, carrying grocery bags. The contrast with the roaring tourist crowds of Red Square is startling. Kitay Gorod is exactly what the locals refer to as the soul of Moscow – it does not get more heartfelt than here.
Kitay Gorod Streets
3. Explore Soviet Architecture at VDNKH and do the Seven Sisters tour
This unique architectural style is not perceived fondly in the post Soviet countries. The Seven Sisters as well as VDNKH pavilions were built to impress and convey power message rather than to be admired and beloved, yet a lot of westerners find them strangely interesting and even attractive. You’ve probably never seen anything like this before and unlikely to see it anywhere else in the world. For the Seven Sisters tour check out detailed itinerary here.
Moscow State University Building
4. Spend the day underground
Moscow subway does not offer 24 hours service, but it is the most beautiful and reliable subway in the world. The trains come every 2 minutes and for that short period of time, waiting on the platform, you get to enjoy some incredible architecture and state of art lighting work. For some picture inspiration go to this photo gallery.
5. Visit Tretyakov Gallery and Pushkin Museum
Two main museums of Moscow would probably be too much to fit in one trip, let alone one day, so I would suggest choosing just one of them: Tretyakov Gallery has extensive collection of Russian art, whilst Pushkin museum collection hosts some very well known international artists. Both are incredibly easy to navigate, and since they are not major world museums like Hermitage or Louvre, there are no crazy tourist queues.
6. Ride a bike on the boulevards and embankments
I hear a lot of locals complaining about how it is impossible to ride a bike in Moscow. Well, they probably haven’t tried riding in New York. Moscow is actually one of the best cities for bike owners. The wide lanes and pedestrian only boulevards make the city perfect for exploring on bike. The bike share system was set up in 2012 and right now covers even remote residential areas. I myself witnessed the system being set up in my area recently, mind you, I live 40 min subway ride from the city center – “cheers to Moscow government!!”
The view from Krymskaya Embankment
7. Go to Gorky Park and visit Garage Museum
When in summer and 86 degrees outside, you would not find a real muscovite anywhere else but in the park. Some choose natural parks like Tsaritsino or Kolomenskoye, but the young and trendy go to Gorky Park, that has become a hot gathering spot for all the hipsters, yuppies, designers, writers, yoga lovers and all alike. Garage Museum is located inside the Gorky Park. Some pieces of its collection rival Chelsea galleries in New York. It opened its doors this year and has since become the meeting point for modern art lovers.
The under the bridge lane on the way to Gorky Park
8. Walk around creative spaces: Winzavod, Arma, Artplay, Flacon
Moscow was always looking up to the west cities in terms of youth urban culture. The scale and historical setup of the city are too spread out and the lifestyle is too laid back, so it is unusual for people to start creating truly authentic art. There are no areas like Bushwick or Shoreditch and gentrification is not something people are worried about, whereas in New York and London gentrification was exactly what pushed artists to flee to those remote parts of the city and establish creative communites there. Instead, the hipster culture was implanted onto the russian soil by people who often traveled abroad, meaning that, unlike real artists, those people had money. In an attempt to create similar to the western cities artistic look and feel they refurbished old factory buildings. On the outside those buildings look authentic but you can almost sense that something is off – when graffiti and murals are done by invited artists on designated walls it takes away the spirit of rebellion, you see people who dress like they are creative types but in reality they work 9-5 jobs at investment banks. It feels like they skipped the period of drug addicted and drunk poor artists debaucheries and went straight to becoming gentrified posh Williamsburg.
Weekend gathering near Artplay center
9. Go to Tsaritsino and Kolomenskoye parks
Unlike other European cities Moscow is actually green and Russians love their parks. Everyone here puts great deal of emphasis on doing one or more nature walks during the week. The typical family gatherings are held in the parks, either in the tree lined alleys, where people stroll back and forth all day long, or in the vast open meadows, where they sit down, chat, read, eat and try to catch the fleeting Russian summer sun. The two parks, Tsaritsino and Kolomenskoye, are among the biggest and greenest in the central Moscow. Apart from nature escape they also offer some bits of culture and history, since they used to be royal estates.
“Tsaritsino from helicopter-1” Photo by Marina Lystseva – http://album.foto.ru/photo/218655/
Tsaritsino Park fields
10. Eat at Stolovaya №57 and Teremok for traditional Soviet and Russian food
Foreign cultures are often perceived through food, and Russian culture is not an exception to this rule. While you can definitely try some high scale Russian cuisine at historical Pushkin restaurant,don’t be afraid to go for the full experience at cheap fast food chains. Stolovaya 57 is a deli style spot with authentic nostalgic soviet atmosphere. People come here mainly for the overall soviet experience, because the food leaves a lot to be desired. Teremok, on the other hand, is a fast food chain, scattered across the city, along with numerous Mcdonald’s and Burger Kings, yet they serve delicious traditional pancakes with different fillings – all at a very reasonable price.