At 21 I made the decision to jump into something totally different so after finishing university, I moved to Moscow, Russia to teach English. I didn't know anyone in the entire country but ended up falling in love with Russia's capital city; so much so, I stayed for five years! After years of exploring the city for fun and work (I just published a Moscow guidebook), here are the must-have experiences for your Moscow visit:
1. Try local favorites like blini or pelmeni
If you're on a budget, try Cheburechnaya (multiple locations), a cool Soviet-era throwback. The main dish is, of course, chebureki (a deep fried pastry with meat or cheese filling) but the cafe also offers a range of other Russian classics. If you have some extra money to spend, try Cafe Pushkin (Tverskoy bulvar 26A – metro Pushkinskaya, Tverskaya). Although it's called a cafe, Cafe Pushkin is really more of a luxury restaurant. The restaurant has been decorated to look a noble per-Revolution estate house and the food is so good it might well have been prepared by someone's ultra-talented servant. Classic Russian food and, of course, vodka is served.
2. Visit the Red Square at night
Red Square is classic Moscow at any time, but it's best at night. With the GUM department store, Saint Basil's Cathedral, and the Kremlin walls lit up late at night, you'll skip the giant crowds that appear during the day and get a perfect memory. Trust me: you + Red Square at 4 AM = magic.
3. Ride the Ferris Wheel at VDNKh
Known lovingly as “Soviet Disneyland”, VDNKh (short for Exhibition of Achievements of the People's Economy in Russian) is a sprawling testament to the achievements of the USSR's states, and now a curious mix of slowly decaying Soviet buildings and shiny new office spaces. It began in 1939 as a dedication to the achievements of the collectivization attempts and morphed into an ongoing Soviet-style World Fair. Today you can still ride a rickety, open-air Ferris Wheel and get a full view of the park and Moscow itself for just about $10.
4. Visit the Kremlin and Armoury
While nearly every Russian city has a kremlin (Russian for fortress), Moscow's Kremlin is what everyone thinks of and any visit to Moscow isn't complete without an excursion into Russia's political and spiritual center. Be sure to also visit the Armoury, located inside the Kremlin walls, which contains all the wealth and the splendor of the Russian tsars.
Want even more information? Check out my Moscow guidebook.
Want even more information? Check out my Moscow guidebook.
5. Grab drinks with a view at O2
You can't get much closer to a sky-high view of Red Square O2 without scaling the Kremlin walls (Ritz Carleton, Tverskaya 3 – metro Okhotny Ryad). Keep an eye out for the rich and famous – most visiting celebrities make time for at least one drink on the rooftop bar. The bar is open year round, but really only worth a visit in the warmer months when the terrace is open.
6. Wander down Old Arbat with the rest of Moscow
Arbat street is not only the oldest remaining street in Moscow but it was also the first pedestrian street to be created in the Soviet Union. Today the street is filled with caricaturists, musicians, souvenir peddlers, and – on nice days – what seems like most of Moscow's teenaged popular kids. Arbat is the perfect place to visit on a nice day to get a feel of Moscow's artsier side.
7. Warm up with some hot chocolate and dessert at Stolovaya no 57
Located on the third floor of the GUM department store on Red Square,Stolovaya no 57 is a Soviet- style stolovaya (cafeteria) where you can sample different Russian dishes for prices decidedly lower than the rest of GUM. Make sure to grab a table by the window to get a great view of Red Square and the Kremlin walls.
8. Party all night at some of Moscow's craziest clubs
Like the popular song said “Moscow never sleeps” - and it's true! Stay up all night (or at least until the metro opens at 5:30 AM) at one of Moscow's many all-night clubs. If you want a classic, techno-thumping Moscow experience, try Propaganda (Bolshoi Zlatoustinsky pereulok – metro Kitai-Gorod;) or Che (Nikolskaya 10/2 – metro Lubyanka;). If you like live music, head to Krizis Zhanra (ulitsa Pokrovka 16/16, bldg 1 – metro Chistye Prudy), always filled to the brim with young locals and expats alike.
9. Have a beer (or three) with the local football hooligans in Kruzhka
For an 'everyman' experience, Kruzhka (Locations throughout the city) can't be beat. Easily identified by the orange sign outside the entrance, Kruzhka (Russian for ‘mug’) is well-loved among students and football hooligans – often one and the same. The bars are always dark but much improved after the smoking ban enacted in 2014. For cheap beer and greasy appetizers, Kruzhka is hard to beat.
10. Stroll through the Tsaritsyno Estate with an ice cream
Located south of Moscow's center, Tsaritsyno Estate (ulitsa Yunosti, 2 – metro Tsaritsyno) is known for its time as the almost-home of Catherine the Great. (Almost-home because a first estate was built that she didn't like. The second version was almost done when she died.) Muscovites love Tsaritsyno, especially after recent renovations, and there's nothing better than strolling the bucolic grounds with an ice cream cone.
11. Ride the metro – just for fun
It's impossible to talk about Moscow without mentioning the over-the-top opulence of its metro system. Not only is the metro an amazingly convenient way to travel around the city, but some of the stations are grander than anything you've ever seen. Highlights include Ploschad Revolutsii, Komsomolskaya, and Vorobyovy Gory.
12. Barter for souvenirs at the Izmailovo Market
Izmailovo Market (Izmailovskoye shosse 73 – metro Partizanskaya) is a sprawling mass of booths filled with everything a traveler could want. The first area is filled with souvenirs: from matryoshki (nesting dolls) to fur hats to scarves to chess sets and more, you'll find it all. Beyond that Izmailovo turns into more of a flea market with older Russians selling massive booths full of antiques and Soviet kitsch.
Polly Barks is a travel writer and ESL teacher who went from living abroad for five years in one of the biggest, most dynamic cities in the world (Moscow, Russia) to coming back to the USA with a Russian husband. While it was their choice to make the move to the States, being stuck back in 'normal' life seemed like a drag. She created the siteLet's Love Local to combat at-home-blues and provide offbeat, affordable travel ideas.