Thanks to its fascinating history, modern Moscow is a unique blend of old and new, with its European and Asian influences. The city was supposedly founded by a medieval prince on his way to a feast. Sounds promising, right? Discover it for yourself with this short guide.
While renting a car is fairly cheap, driving around Moscow can be tricky as it often is the case when you decide to get behind the wheel in another country. Above ground, buses and trolley cars are the most reliable and cost effective way to travel, especially if you need to get to the outskirts of the city. And the plus? The Moscow metro is famous for its impressive Soviet architecture and many stations look more like vast underground Baroque palaces than transport hubs. Kiyevskaya station, for example, is full of paintings surrounded by ornate guilt frames and illuminated by chandeliers. Bus and metro tickets start at 40 rubles for one ride.
The wide Moscow River flows straight right through the city, and during the warmer months cruises begin from any pier. Sitting out on the open-air deck is a great way to see the city. For a historical trip, start at the dramatically curving Kievsky Bridge and take in the city’s landmarks, before finishing at the Novospassky Monastery, a tranquil spot surrounded by gardens that see few visitors. It’s lined with golden Orthodox icons, as well as some fascinating frescos that illustrate the Romanov’s claim to the imperial throne.
What to see
The symbolic and literal center of the city, Red Square is just a short walk from Teatralnaya or Ploshchad’ Revolyutsii metro stations. The square isn’t actually red, the name coming instead from the Russian word krasnyi which meant 'beautiful' in Old Russian but evolved to mean ‘red’ in the 17th century. The square is overlooked by the colorful domed towers of St. Basil’s Cathedral, so beautiful Ivan the Terrible is rumored to have had its architect blinded, stopping him from ever creating something that spectacular again. The square is surrounded by famous attractions, including Lenin’s Mausoleum, where the embalmed body of Russia’s first communist leader is on permanent display.
Gorky Park is another popular location for tourists and locals, and is an easy walk from Park Kultury or Oktyabrskaya metro stations. One section is geared toward entertaining children, with fair rides, horseback riding and an immense ice-skating rink in winter. During the summer, sun-seekers can laze on the sandy beach overlooking the river. The other half of the park combines the old Golitsynskiy and Neskuchniy Gardens, with formal planted boulevards, secluded bridges and fountains.
Where to eat
With anything from French brasseries to Chinese and Italian restaurants, choosing somewhere to eat in Moscow can be a tough decision. To sample excellent Russian food that's also affordable: go to Varenichnaya No 1. Lined with old Soviet books and featuring a black and white TV that plays old movies while you eat, the venue itself is like stepping back in time to the USSR. While here, be sure to try the delicious pelmeni and vareniki dumplings, said to be some of the best in Moscow.
For more information on where to eat, as well as restaurant reviews, have a look at expat.ru, a website created by English-speaking expats and Russians.