Moscow might not be at the top of most travelers' winter vacation lists—especially considering the city's bitterly cold temperatures. And while the typical forecast includes below-freezing highs and a constant mantle of snow, a January visit to this historic city is unique and unlike visiting at any other time of year.
In film and literature, Russia is often portrayed during the winter, so visiting in January also comes with a romantic sense of nostalgia. Experience for yourself the snow-covered buildings, the ubiquitous cozy fur hats, and the hearty food and drink that will warm you up even on the coldest of days.
Moscow Weather in January
Moscow's bitterly-cold winter is usually accompanied by ice and snow. The city's many winter storms can affect both air and car travel in the area, so be prepared.
- Average high: 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-4 degrees Celsius)
- Average low: 16 degrees Fahrenheit (-6 degrees Celsius)
With an average of 12 days of precipitation across the month of January, you're more likely than not to get a taste of fresh snowfall in Moscow. If that snowfall turns into a blizzard, like the record-breaking storm in January 2019, think twice before riding in a car. Not only will street closures mean extra heavy traffic, but the icy roads are also ripe for accidents.
Still, despite the biting temperatures and potential logistical challenges of moving around the city, Moscow looks stunning covered in a thick blanket of glittering snow. Enjoy sites in ways that you can't see them in the warmer months, such as the snow-capped domes of St. Basel's Cathedral or the completely frozen Moskva River.
One very rare hazard: The long spells of cold temperatures can create long dangerous icicles that are thick and heavy. A few deaths from falling icicles happen every year in Russia, so keep an out for what's hanging above you.
What to Pack
Packing for winter weather is always a challenge, given that winter attire is cumbersome, but it's a must for a winter visit to Moscow. If you're traveling to Moscow in the winter, pack as if you're going skiing. Include lots of layers and plenty of warm-weather accessories to cover your hands, head, and even your face, as well as sturdy, waterproof footwear that offers excellent traction and warmth. Ideally, pack an insulating coat that falls below the hip.
Since you'll be outdoors sightseeing and walking from place to place, pack much warmer than you would for similar temperatures at home.
January Events in Moscow
Moscow’s winter event lineup includes special events that travelers can’t experience any other time of year, plus a variety of important national holidays.
- New Year’s Eve in Moscow is one of the most significant events of the year. Though some people head to Red Square to await the fireworks display, others opt for ringing in the holiday while attending private parties or events. It can be freezing in Red Square, and you won't easily be able to leave before the fireworks display, so plan your visit accordingly should you decide to take part in this celebration.
- January 1 is New Year's Day in Moscow. Some Russians may also celebrate an alternative New Year (Stary Novy God, or Old New Year) on January 14.
- While many parts of the world are already wrapping up their holiday celebrations, January 7 is Christmas in Russia, which is celebrated by many Orthodox Christians throughout the country.
- Sviatki, Russian Christmastide, starts after Russian Christmas and runs through January 19. One tradition is to take a plunge in an icy river or lake on the final day of Sviatki.
- Check out the Russian Winter Festival, which serves to turn the cold weather into an opportunity for fun. Gaze at the elaborately crafted ice sculptures or take a ride on a traditional Russian troika, a sleigh pulled by three horses.
January Travel Tips
- The New Year's Trees around Moscow should stay up at least until Orthodox Christmas, so be sure to enjoy their seasonal beauty.
- Other Moscow winter activities include ice skating, enjoying snowman “parades” where thousands of snowmen crowd walkways, and taking an icebreaker cruise along the frozen-over river, where the boat literally breaks up the ice as it passes.
- One way to beat the cold is to spend time in Moscow's famous museums, such as the Tretyakov Gallery, the State Armory Museum, or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts.
- Riding the metro is a great way to explore the city while escaping the cold up above. Carry a map written in English and Russian for ease of travel, as navigating the metro can be complicated if you aren't familiar with the city.
- Russian can be a difficult language for foreign visitors to master, but even attempting to speak just a few words will go a long way when it comes to connecting with the locals.