Moscow in December is not for the faint of heart. Despite the fact that it's downright frigid, though, seeing the Russian capital's ornamental sites cloaked in snow is worth going in the colder months.
Whether you're eager to watch the famous ballet perform or more interested in admiring the incredible architecture of Saint Basil's Cathedral (and other landmarks), Moscow has something to offer just about everyone, as long as you bundle up.
The city's winter begins in November and lasts through February. In December, the weather is unusually cold and wet with snow. On average, Moscow sees .7 inches of snow during the whole month, but it isn't the type that clears up after a day or so. With temperatures lingering below freezing, the snow typically sticks around until the big springtime thaw.
The average temperature for this time of year is 23 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 degrees Celsius), although it could dip into the teens at times. Wind chill is a major factor to consider when traveling around Moscow, as it can make the city feel much colder than what it actually is. Winds in December average 12 miles per hour. The city is quite dark during this time of year, too, averaging just seven hours of sunlight per day.
What to Pack
Prepare for the freezing conditions simply by packing as warm as possible. Winter travel is tricky because warm clothes are so bulky and they weigh so much. Rest assured, though, you'll be happy you used your suitcase space on clunky boots and big coats rather than an abundance of cute sweaters when your toes are toasty and dry. Don't forget to bring:
- Long socks
- Hats, gloves, and scarves
- A high-quality coat
- A waterproof shell
- Wool base layers
- Waterproof boots
Even though Moscow doesn't celebrate Christmas until January, the city still feels festive throughout the month of December with plenty of winter performances and celebrations to ring in the season.
- The annual Winter Festival kicks off in the middle of December and continues until early January. Ice skating, winter markets, and amusement park rides are all part of the fun.
- "The Nutcracker" originated in Russia, so watching this world-famous ballet in Moscow is a major cultural experience. The Royal Moscow Ballet does the famed Tchaikovsky work justice with 32 dancers, 80 sumptuous costumes, and a visually stunning set.
- On December 31, New Year's Eve celebrations take over Red Square. Consider watching the fireworks display from another vantage point (such as Tverskaya Ulitsa or the Balchug Kempinski Hotel) if you can't handle standing for hours in the cold.
More Travel Tips
- Christmas in Russia takes place on January 7, but the time between Christmas and New Year's is usually a time of rest and vacation for Russian families, many of which jet off to warmer destinations.
- Head to Red Square to see the New Year's Tree and look for decorations at GUM, Arbat Street, and other well-known locations.
- Moscow's outdoor ice skating rinks provide the opportunity to enjoy one of Moscow's most popular cold-weather activities.
- A Moscow museum visit is the perfect way to escape the cold outside. You can easily spend hours in the Tretyakov Gallery, the State Armory Museum, or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
- Some businesses such as restaurants and family-owned stores may close or have reduced hours during the holiday period between Christmas and New Year's.
- While you might be tempted to imbibe the copious amounts of Russian vodka available, consume in moderation: Drunkenness causes heat loss.