Travelers who enjoy bundling up for a snowy climate will appreciate all that Moscow has to offer, come winter. This ornamental Russian city shows its vibrant cultural heritage when temperatures plummet and the snow starts falling on Red Square. Unlike other cities, whose residents scurry away to hibernate in December, the people of Moscow embrace their sub-zero climate in style. They don their furs and ushanka hats (traditional hats with earflaps) to peruse Christmas markets, dine out at restaurants, and attend the opera.
In winter, Moscow's scenery looks awe-inspiring under a dusting of snow. There's something undeniably charming about seeing historic sites like the colorful, tented rooftops of Saint Basil's Cathedral capped with a layer of icy frost. The food here is warm and comforting, and the cultural winter events are not to be missed. Plus, it's cheaper to visit Moscow during the winter and it's far less crowded with tourists.
Moscow is not where you go to get a suntan over the holidays. In fact, the Moscow winter is enough to chill any hearty tourist to the bone—but that's all part of the fun. The average high for December, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is 27 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 2.7 degrees Celsius); for January, it's 23 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 5 degrees Celsius); and for February, it's 26 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 3.3 degrees Celsius). Take these average temperatures with a grain of salt, however, as it certainly isn't abnormal for the air to dip into the teens.
The Moscow cold is often accompanied by generous amounts of ice and snow deposited by frequent winter storms. The city goes unfazed by these storms—cars still drive around and people in boots trod through the snowpack. You'll see thick icicles growing on roof overhangs, so be sure not to linger underneath them while you're out touring the area's magnificent cathedrals.
Lastly, don't be surprised if your flights in or out get canceled or delayed. This can be one of the drawbacks to traveling in the winter, in general.
|Average High||Average Low||Average Snowfall|
|December||27 F (minus 2.7 C)||19 F (minus 7.2 C)||2.2 inches|
|January||23 F (minus 5 C)||14 F (minus 10 C)||1.6 inches|
|February||26 F (minus 3.3 C)||15 F (minus 9.4 C)||1.4 inches|
What to Pack
Stuffing your suitcase with bulky (and heavy) winter clothing can be frustrating and expensive, which tends to deter Moscow winter travel altogether. A trip to the city between early December and late February requires enough accessories to cover the extremities: wooly hats, cold-weather socks, knit scarves, and a good pair of gloves. Also pack a coat that falls below the hips, weatherproof boots, and ski pants, if you have them. Remember, fashion is second only to avoiding hypothermia in this polar city.
The Moscow winter calendar is brimming with cultural events for travelers to attend each winter. Many events take place during the Christmas holiday; then, the city caps off the winter with a farewell festival, come February.
- The annual Russian Winter Festival, which spans an entire month starting mid-December, takes place in several locations throughout the city. Head to Izmailovo Park or Revolution Square to see everything from over-the-top ice sculptures to traditional dance performances. Watch the professional ice skaters and visit food trucks that serve traditional fare.
- Moscow's New Year’s Eve celebration is one of the city's biggest events of the year. Tens of thousands of people spend it in Kremlin—Moscow's central complex—watching the Kremlin tower strike midnight, while fireworks crack in the background. Others attend the Christmas tree light show at Red Square.
- Christmas in Russia falls on January 7, and the week between New Year’s Eve and Christmas Day is a time for Russians to relax. Families focus on spending time together at home, preparing traditional foods like ukha (fish soup) and sauerkraut. Tourists can use this uncrowded time wisely by seeking out the city's culinary gems. Make sure to check the hours of operations on restaurants, shops, and other businesses before visiting them during this week. While much of the city's businesses might be closed, you might get special treatment at the places that stay open.
- Maslenitsa, Russia’s farewell-to-winter festival, occurs in late February or early March. This pagan celebration is marked by games, contests, and cultural traditions. It’s held in the Red Square area every year and draws crowds of Muscovites and visitors alike.
Winter Travel Tips
- In order to obtain a Russian travel visa, you'll need to be invited by a relative or friend who is a citizen or a hosting tour company.
- Traveling to Moscow in the winter helps you avoid the summer crowds; however, flight delays due to weather are common. Plan an extra day on either end of your trip in case you get held up.
- If you plan to visit a Russian banya, a Slavic steam bathhouse, take note that most people bathe in the buff. However, most bathhouses are separated by sex.
- Plan alternating indoor and outdoor activities so that you don't get too cold. A visit to the Tretyakov Gallery, the State Armory Museum, or the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts provides a nice respite from the frigid temperatures.