25 Best Things to Do in Moscow

Moscow Kremlin and St Basil cathedral at dusk

 vladimir zakharov / Getty Images

If it's your first time visiting Moscow, it's normal to feel overwhelmed. The Russian capital has over 800 years of history and a population of nearly 13 million residents spread across a giant spider-web-shaped city, so finding your bearings takes some time. The sprawling metropolis includes major attractions you've probably heard of, like the Kremlin or St. Basil's Church, but there's so much more to be discovered in Moscow. From the era when tsars ruled to the post-Soviet capital of today, Moscow has always had an air of mystery to it. Pull back the veil and you're sure to be surprised at just how much is hiding beneath the surface.

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Explore the Kremlin

The Kremlin buildings along the water

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Moscow, Russia, 103132
Phone +7 495 697-03-49

First-time visitors must tour the Moscow Kremlin.  The heart of the historic district of the city and the long-time seat of government, the Kremlin contains palaces, churches, museums, and even a larger-than-life cannon, all of which can be viewed while touring the grounds. There is a lot to see just within the Kremlin walls, but the most important attraction is the Armory Chamber, which houses royal regalia, gowns, golden carriages, and other items that date back to the days of the tsardom in Russia.

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Visit Novodevichy Convent

Novodevichy Monastery at dusk with snow, Moscow
Sir Francis Canker Photography / Getty Images
Novodevichy Passage, 1, Moskva, Russia, 119435
Phone +7 499 246-85-26

The Novodevichy Convent is a UNESCO World Heritage site and the most well-known cloister in all of Moscow. In a city where many ancient religious buildings were torn down after the revolution, the Novodevichy Convent is one of the surviving churches that's remained practically untouched for centuries. On the convent's grounds are the Novodevichy cemetery and necropolis, which have been the burial place for Russia's elite since the 16th century. Visitors can see the final resting places of the key figures in Russian history, from political leaders like Khrushchev and Yeltsin to artistic heroes like Chekhov and Gogol.

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Meet Stalin's Seven Sisters

Russia,Moscow, Lomonosov University statue of Lomonosov in foreground
John Lamb / Getty Images

Moscow's Seven Sisters of Stalinist Architecture remember the mid-century leader's need for Russia to illustrate its size and might. These skyscrapers are an integral part of Moscow's skyline and are placed throughout the city, easily recognizable by their domineering presence. The seven are buildings are the Hotel Ukraina, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Apartments, the Kudrinskaya Square Building, the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel, the main building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the main building of Moscow State University, and the Red Gates Administrative Building.

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Get a Sparrow's-Eye View

View with cable car from Sparrow Hill
scaliger / Getty Images
Vorob'yevy Gory, Moscow, Russia, 119192

For the best view in Moscow, take a trip to the summit of Sparrow Hills. Located on the outer rings of the city and right along the riverbank, it's one of the tallest points in Moscow and offers unbeatable views. Nearby landmarks include the Novodevichy Convent, the Olympic Luzhniki Stadium, and Moscow University, which is one of the Seven Sisters. You can hike up when the weather is nice or use the cable car for an easier ride, just make sure you have your camera to capture the views.

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Ride the Metro

Elektrozavodskaya Moscow Metro Station , Russia
Chan Srithaweeporn / Getty Images

In most cities, the metro is a means for seeing attractions but not an actual attraction itself. That's not the case in Moscow. The Moscow metro is an incredible network of underground rails connected by architecturally splendid stations all designed around a theme or style. The design of the Moscow metro stations was overseen by Stalin and they were meant to be "palaces of the people" with ornate architecture, large chandeliers, and artistic sculptures for the people to enjoy on their daily commutes. Several stations are tourist landmarks in and of themselves, especially Komsomolskaya, Kiyevskaya, and Mayakovskaya.

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Pay Your Respects to Lenin

Sygma via Getty Images / Getty Images
Krasnaya ploshad, Moskva, Russia, 109012

Visiting Lenin's tomb is a free activity that you can do if you have the time. You'll enter the eerily lit interior, circle the embalmed form of Lenin, and then exit in the sunlight, perhaps a little bewildered. This experience will initiate you into the world of Russian political culture—a culture that is hardly dead and buried, despite the strides made in the past couple of decades.

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Walk the Red Square in the Evening

Red Square, Moscow, Russia at evening time
Mint Images / Getty Images
Krasnaya ploshchad', Moskva, Russia, 109012

The Red Square is the epicenter of Moscow—both literally and metaphorically. You can't visit the city without spending time in this iconic plaza, but try to dedicate at least one late evening or night to experience it without the hoards of people. If you want to see it in its less-crowded splendor, after dark is one of the best times for visiting. Though it probably won't be completely free of tourists, the size and grandeur of this important landmark will become more apparent when you take it all in.

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Pass the Time at Patriarch's Ponds

Patriarch Ponds
Litvinov_Serge / Getty Images
Patriarch Ponds, Moscow, Russia, 123001

The infamous setting to the introductory scene in The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov, Patriarch's Ponds is nearby Bulgakov's house-museum. Visit to honor the Russian writer or escape a scorching summer day by the cool water. During the winter, Patriarch's Ponds transforms into a romantic skating rink. Take a walk around the waters and grab a bite in one of the surrounding bistros for a pleasant afternoon in one of Moscow's most charming neighborhoods.

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Visit the Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Russia, Moscow, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Westend61 / Getty Images
ulitsa Volkhonka, 15, Moskva, Russia, 119019
Phone +7 495 637-12-76

Visit the rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior for a glimpse into Russian history. One of the tallest Orthodox cathedrals in the world, it was originally built in the 19th century to be the grandest church in Russia but was then demolished in 1931 by Joseph Stalin in his quest to secularize the country. The current building was modeled off of the original cathedral and only finished in 2000. The Byzantine architecture is impressive from the outside, but the majesty of the painted frescoes and elaborate altars on the inside are even more spectacular.

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Step Back in Time on Old Arbat Street

The Arbat Street
penboy / Getty Images
Arbat St, 33, Moskva, Russia, 119002

When people say "The Arbat," they're referring to the neighborhood around Old Arbat Street—not to be confused with New Arbat Street. This pedestrian district is a part of Moscow's historic core and maintains the look and feel of Old Moscow, with street vendors, old shops, and classic eateries. It was also the stomping grounds for famous writers like Pushkin and Tolstoy, and you can even visit the former's old house-turned-museum. Since this is a prime tourist destination in Moscow, it's also a hotspot for pickpockets, so be sure to keep your valuables close.

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Marvel at St. Basil's Cathedral

Exterior of St Basil's Cathedral

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Krasnaya ploshad, Moskva, Russia, 109012
Phone +7 495 698-33-04

The colorful onion-shaped domes of St. Basil's Cathedral are perhaps the most recognizable symbol of Russian architecture. Located in the Red Square, it was originally commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 1500s (the legend says that he blinded the architects after it was done so they could never again create something so beautiful). It was nearly destroyed by Stalin in the 20th century, but in the end, he decided to keep the building and turn it into a state-run museum, which is still its main function today.

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Take in History at Victory Park

World War II memorial, Moscow, Victory Park
Sergey Alimov / Getty Images
пл. Победы, 3, Moskva, Russia, 119590
Phone +7 499 148-83-00

Victory Park is, essentially, a massive war memorial celebrating Russia's victory in the Great Patriotic War, known outside of the former-Soviet Union as World War II. The area is more of an open-air museum than a park, filled with monuments, war artifacts, and statues. Fountains—over 1,400 of them—symbolize each day of Russia's participation in this international conflict. Apart from an Orthodox church, there are also a memorial mosque and a memorial synagogue at the park to commemorate persecuted Muslims and Jews.

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View Russian Masterpieces

Visitors Looking at Paintings in Tretyakov Gallery
Franz-Marc Frei / Getty Images
Lavrushinsky Ln, 10, Moskva, Russia, 119017
Phone +7 499 230-77-88

The Tretyakov Gallery is the foremost museum of Russian art in the world, housing priceless works dating as far back as the Byzantine Empire to contemporary masterpieces. Enter the fairytale building and view portraits of historical figures, famous landscape scenes, and illustrations of cultural life in Russia through the centuries. Highlights include the likes of centuries-old Byzantine religious paintings and pieces by Kandinsky.

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Go Big at the Bolshoi Theater

View of Bolshoi theatre at night, Moscow, Russia
Yevgen Timashov / Getty Images
Theatre Square, 1, Moskva, Russia, 125009
Phone +7 495 455-55-55

If you're a fan of ballet or opera, the Bolshoi Theater isn't just the most renowned venue in Russia, but one of the most celebrated in the world. The name literally translates to "big theater," to distinguish it from the Maly Theater—or "small theater"—also in Moscow. The imposing facade and elaborate interior all date back to Imperial Russia, as does the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy. If you can snag tickets to a show, it's sure to be one of the most memorable parts of your time in Moscow.

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Mull Over Modern Art

Modern art on display in Moscow, Russia
Oleg Nikishin / Getty Images
Gogolevsky Blvd, 10, Moskva, Russia, 119019
Phone +7 495 231-36-60

Artists have been attracted to Moscow's art scene for centuries, from the icon painters who decorated the cathedrals of ancient Muscovy to painters like Kandinsky, who changed the art world with his abstract “musical” works. Artists in Moscow continue to push the envelope with innovative artistic endeavors that shock and wow, which is all on display at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art. While there is a focus on avant-garde Russian artists, the museum also displays established 20th and 21st-century artists from around the world.

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Space Out at the Museum of Cosmonautics

View of the model of the rocket Vostok-1

Massimo Borchi / Atlantide Phototravel / Getty Images

Prospekt Mira, 111, Moskva, Russia, 129223
Phone +7 499 750-23-00

Since the days of the Space Race during the Cold War, space exploration has been an important part of Russian and Soviet history. The country is supremely proud of its space travel achievements, not least of which was sending the first human being outside of Earth's atmosphere. There are over 85,000 items on display at the Museum of Cosmonautics, including Yuri Gagarin's original space capsule, astronaut suits, and moon rovers. While the museum once focused on Soviet accomplishments, a major renovation in 2009 expanded the display to include the feats of American, Chinese, European, and other international space programs.

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Improve Your Spirits

Pouring vodka into glasses
invizbk / Getty Images
Izmaylovskoye Shosse, 73ж, Moskva, Russia, 105187
Phone +7 903 118-81-89

Learn all about the national drink of Russia at the History of Vodka Museum. Dive into its history and find out why it became the beverage of choice for Russians both rich and poor. It's a small museum inside the charming Izmailovo Kremlin cultural center and easy to walk through when you're short on time. It's ideal for a pitstop on a cold winter's day when you need some indoor heating and a shot of artisan vodka to stave off the chill outside.

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Treat Yourself to Russian Tea

Samovar tea kettle
camptoloma / Getty Images

Russian tea culture differs from Western tea-drinking practices. For starters, the samovar takes center stage, a traditional kettle that originated in Russia and then spread through Eastern Europe and the Middle East. A strong pot of tea concentrate called zavarka is brewed on the samovar and each person serves themself as much as they want, controlling how strong their own tea is. First-rate hotels and fancy tea rooms often prepare the drink in a samovar, so definitely take the opportunity to enjoy it whenever you see one.

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Dig into Traditional Cuisine at Cafe Pushkin

Cafe Pushkin

 Cafe Pushkin

Tverskoy Blvd, 26А, Moskva, Russia, 125009
Phone +7 495 739-00-33

Russian food is comforting and delightful, with hearty meats, light dill-seasoned salads, stick-to-your-ribs dumplings, and more. Authentic Russian cuisine is usually served with dense black bread and generous amounts of butter or sour cream to accompany every part of the meal. While you can enjoy traditional food at many places around the city, Cafe Pushkin is a landmark in itself. The ornate and historic cafe is like stepping inside a place where Tolstoy or Chekhov may have penned their works (in fact, it's named for another famous Russian writer). The restaurant is one of the highest-rated in the city, albeit a bit expensive. But if you feel like splurging on a meal, there's nowhere more iconic to do so.

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Kiss Winter Goodbye During Maslenitsa

Maslenitsa Celebrated In Russia
Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images
Theatre Square, 1, Moskva, Russia, 125009

The Maslenitsa farewell-to-winter festival takes the pent-up energy from the long, cold winter and expends it in a thrilling festival of games, food, drink, and Russian traditions. It's the Orthodox version of Mardi Gras or Carnival, although since the calendar is different the dates can differ drastically. Stack your plate high with Russian pancakes called bliny and enjoy this pre-Lenten feast with traditional activities that include sleigh rides and burning the Maslenitsa effigy.

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Go Ice Skating

Open ice skating rink nearby Russian Orthodox Church, Moscow
Boris SV / Getty Images

Russians love ice sports, ice skating included. Ice rinks spring up around Moscow for the winter season, and they are regularly enjoyed by everyone. The most famous is the one erected in front of GUM every year, but Patriarch's Ponds also serves as a rink when the ice becomes thick enough. There are dozens across the city in the wintertime, although the biggest can be found at the central Gorky Park—a massive rink that takes about 15 minutes to skate around the entire perimeter!

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​Weather the Cold at the Winter Festival

Winter festival in Moscow. Russia
Elena Liseykina / Getty Images

The Moscow Winter Festival is a celebration of the coldest season of the year, typically lasting from mid-December through mid-January and overlapping with Russian Christmas and Russian New Year. Ice sculptures, games, and other associated events make this festival an anticipated occasion for locals and visitors of all ages. Take a troika ride on a horse-drawn carriage, warm up with fresh-baked pastries, or learn all about Ded Moroz, the Russian version of Santa Claus.

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Go Shopping at GUM

Facade of GUM department store, Red Square, Moscow, Russia
John Anthony Rizzo / Getty Images
Krasnaya ploshad, 3, Moskva, Russia, 109012
Phone +7 495 788-43-43

GUM was the state department store during the Soviet era, the place where residents could buy anything and everything. After the fall of the Soviet Union, the chain was privatized and the most famous GUM store—the one in Moscow—turned into a shopping mall of luxury goods. Facing the Red Square, GUM is still a Moscow institution for its high-end shopping and Italian-inspired architecture. Whether you want to make a purchase or just duck out of the cold weather, GUM is a place you can't miss on your trip.

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Pick Up Souvenirs at Izmailovo Market

Matryoshka Dolls, Moscow

neiljs / Flickr / CC

Serebryano-Vinogradnyy Proyezd, 73Жс5, Moskva, Russia, 105122
Phone +7 903 575-70-17

Izmailovo Market is where dozens of vendors sell traditional Russian items like matryoshka dolls, khokhloma art, fur hats, shot glasses, paintings, embroidery, and more. You can shop to your heart's content and snag souvenirs, gifts, and conversation pieces. This fun bazaar is located inside the Izmailovo Kremlin, which feels like a small enchanting Russian town of yesteryear nestled inside busy Moscow.

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Be a Bookworm

Books by Russian authors on shelf
Goroda / Getty Images

Moscow's giant bookstore, Dom Knigi, is a great location for picking up Russian-language souvenirs. Here you can find best-selling English-language books translated into Russian, Russian-language classics, dictionaries, language guides, and more. Whether you're fluent in Russian or just interested in foreign tongues, Dom Knigi is a book lover's dream.

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25 Best Things to Do in Moscow