Moscow is a Phenomenal City
Moscow is an incredible place; it is a vibrant city with a rich history and culture. It’s a gigantic city with 12 million inhabitants, 3 major international airports, 9 train stations which makes it the largest city on the European continent and one of the largest in the world. Moscow is an iconic city and the centre of politics, economics, and science in Russia.
I was fortunate to visit many cities around the world but if I want to give one city the title of “The City That Never Sleeps”, I will gladly give that title to Moscow. Furthermore, the city has numerous reasons to attract visitors to explore its magnificent beauty.
I visited Moscow 3 times in the last few years for 2, 2, and 4 days respectively. During my short visits, I managed to explore some interesting parts of Moscow and I would like to share my impressions about this great city in this blog.
Getting to Moscow
Reaching Moscow by air is fairly easy as there are 3 major airports in Moscow; many European, Asian, and Middle Eastern airlines have scheduled daily flights to Moscow airports. Furthermore, Moscow has railway connections with many European and Asian cities; you can travel from London to Moscow or even from Beijing to Moscow by train, if you wish.
Unless you are a citizen of one of the Visa exempted countries, you will most likely need a visa to Russia. Click here for more information about Russian visa policy.
Red Square and Kremlin
Red Square is the most remarkable landmark of Moscow and the whole Russia; It’s the symbol of power and strength and it’s one the most iconic spaces in the world. It’s the place which any Moscow visit must see first. It’s really hard to describe with words the powerful energy you feel when you stand in the Middle of Red Square.
Inside the Red Square, there is St. Basil’s Cathedral which is one of Russia’s most recognized landmarks. Furthermore, there are many significant sites surrounding the Red Square such as Lenin’s Mausoleum, eternal flame, GUM department store, Kazan Cathedral, Kremlin walls and towers.
I have to visit Red Square every time I am in Moscow; I can’t get enough of this place so every time I go there I end up exploring something new. Red Square is Moscow’s heart and Russia’s powerful icon.
Zaryadye park is a newly opened park in Moscow (opened in 2017) that is located next to Red Square. The park is beautiful, modern and spacious. The park is divided into 4 climate zones (forest, steppe, tundra, and floodplains) which represent the climate zones in Russia. You can have a panoramic view of Kremlin and St. Basil’s cathedral from the Amphitheatres. It was a beautiful summer evening when I visited it.
VDNKh stands for “The Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy”. It’s a gigantic entertainment complex that consists of a permanent trade show, pavilions, amusement park, cosmonaut museum, space ship, and even an aquarium. In the winter, VDNKh converts into a huge ice skating rink that is the biggest in Europe.
VDNKh is a gigantic site; it occupies 2.375 million square meters. You can easily spend the whole day walking around VDNKh going through different pavilions, museums, restaurants, fountains, and all the interesting sites there. It’s difficult to describe this place by words and I wouldn’t call it a park, it’s much more than that.
GUM stands for Main Department Store. However, it’s not like any other department store or shopping mall in Russia; This place is unique with its history and architecture. It’s beautifully decorated and when you are inside, you will not feel that you are inside another shopping mall. It’s located right next to Red Square and it’s a must visit.
You can find all the Russian gourmet products you dream of in this store in addition to Soviet style lemonade and ice-cream. A friend of mine told me that the taste of lemonade there is exactly the same as in the Soviet time so it was like a taste of childhood for him.
My favourite place inside GUM is definitely the Soviet style restaurant Stolovaya 57. “Stolovaya” means “canteen” in Russian and this canteen style restaurant will take you back in time to the Soviet era. Food there is really delicious, simple, and affordable (still more expensive than other Stolovayas in Russia) but the quality here is definitely higher. You might need to wait in a long line to get inside so try to get there early. I had Chicken Kiev with pasta and mushroom sauce, Olivier salad (Russian salad), and a delicious drink called Kompot.
When we attempted to visit Stolovaya 57 for the first time, the line was too long so we ended up coming early next day and luckily, we managed to get in. I tried Borsch soup in another canteen style restaurant in GUM and taste was good but the experience is nowhere near Stolovaya No. 57, it is the best place to be!
Sparrow Hills or “Vorobyovy Gory” in Russian is one of the highest points in Moscow. At the observation point, you can enjoy an absolutely amazing panoramic view of Moscow including Luzhniki stadium which hosted 1980 Moscow Olympic Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup final and Moscow skyscrapers. If you turn around, you will see the magnificent building of Moscow State University, one of Moscow’s seven sisters.
Balshoi Theatre is one of the most respected performance venues in the world. It’s a historic theatre and the largest in Moscow where they play the finest opera and ballet shows in the world. Guided tours are available in English language if you want to see the building from inside. Furthermore, if you have time, do your best to attend a ballet performance or opera show in Balshoi, it will be an unforgettable experience. However, a ticket to watch Swan Lake or Nutcracker ballet performances can be a little bit costly. If you want to get a cheaper ticket, use the official site. If you buy from an online agency, you will end up paying much more.
Legendary Hotel Sovietsky
Hotel Sovietsky is a vintage style hotel in Moscow. It was built on Stalin’s order and opened in 1952. I am interested in Soviet era architecture and history so I decided to spend a night in this hotel. The hotel offers a unique luxurious and historical atmosphere; there are large paintings of former Soviet leaders and diplomats decorating walls, glamorous chandeliers, gorgeous red carpets, endless corridors, vintage piano, and more. I felt that I am in the 1970s when I was staying there in that hotel. I particularly enjoyed having a light meal in the lobby while listening to beautiful musical piece played by a great pianist.
This hotel felt like being in a mansion and staying there was like a trip back in time. It was a great idea to stay there but I guess I should have stayed for longer than 1 night. If you book in advance, you can get a standard room for about 70 USD and that’s what I did but you can stay in the luxury “Stalin Apartment” for a more luxury and authentic experience. Rooms are beautifully decorated and comfortable. If you want to see a cool video about Hotel Sovietsky, click here to view a video about this hotel by one of my favourite vloggers (Bald and Bankrupt).
Metro Stations in Moscow
Metro stations in Moscow are like underground art galleries. I don’t think there is any city in the world where you can find so many gorgeous looking metro stations like in Moscow; each metro station has a unique design that indicates the era of its design.
There are 17 lines and 220 stations in Moscow metro today. Moscow Metro serves more than 9 million people everyday. It’s one of the most functional metro systems I’ve ever seen. In rush hour, there are trains every 20 seconds and it operates from 5 am to 2 am.
Metro Moscow is cheap and easy to use; 1 way ticket costs around 0.75 USD and you can use it for an unlimited distance so you can spend the entire day hopping from one station to another for less than 1 USD, if you wish.
My favourite stations are; Komsomolskaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsi, Mayakovskaya and CSKA.
Red Arrow Train
If you are in Moscow and want to visit St. Petersburg which is Russia’s cultural capital and it’s 2nd largest city, the easiest way to do so is to take the high-speed train which is called “Sapsan”. However, if you want to have a unique travel experience and to travel between Russia’s two capitals in a fancy and comfortable way then I highly recommend the retro Red Arrow train or as it’s called “Красная Стрела” in Russian.
Red Arrow train is a luxury overnight sleeper train that connects Moscow and St. Petersburg; the train leaves Moscow to St. Petersburg (and vice versa) 5 minutes before midnight and arrives next morning at 7.55 am. I love Russian trains (click here if you want to read my blog about Trans-Siberian Railway) so I was keen to book a VIP cabin; I planned for it very well so I purchased the ticket 4 months in advance. It can be very difficult to find a ticket for a VIP cabin on this train during summer months unless you buy it many months in advance. I bought my ticket using Russian Railway website.
VIP cabin accommodates up to 2 persons and features a private washroom with shower, a closet, 2 wide and comfortable seat beds, air-condition, TV, and more… Once the train left the platform, the Provodnitsa (carriage attendant) visited me in the cabin to take the order for tomorrow’s breakfast and asked about time to serve breakfast. I ordered pancakes with caviar and Russian style fish salad. To be honest, I expected the food to taste much better but I wasn’t surprised as I read many other reviews complaining about the quality of the food. However, I still believe that it was the most luxurious train ride I’ve ever had in my life and I recommend it if you are willing to spend a bit more. The price of the VIP cabin ticket from Moscow to St. Petersburg was around 150 USD.
Moscow is a magnificent big city. It is the centre of everything Russian and it is the real Russia. You have to visit Moscow if you want to understand the deep and mysterious Russian soul.
I must admit that Moscow is a city that I didn’t like in the beginning. First time I visited Moscow, I arrived from St. Petersrburg (which is my favourite city in the world), I was already thrilled by the beauty of the Northern capital of Russia -St. Petersburg- and I found Moscow incredibly huge and a bit arrogant; I was overwhelmed by Moscow’s crazy traffic and busy metro and I didn’t like how everyone is in a rush. However, in my second trip, I slowly started to understand Moscow and then I realized that Moscow is a city which you need to give yourself some time to understand.
Moscow is definitely the most expensive city in Russia and prices in some restaurants and shops can be on the same level with some other European capitals. However, there are many other things in Moscow which are affordable and even cheap such as transportation (metro and taxis). For taxi, I recommend using Yandex Taxi App.
You will find more people speaking English in Moscow than in other Russian cities as it’s a large and cosmopolitan metropolitan but it still useful to know some Russian phrases and at least to learn how to read Cyrillic letters, it will make life much easier.
I have many friends living in Moscow or who are originally from Moscow. I would say, Muskovites aren’t famous of being the friendliest people in Russia but let me tell you something, once they get to know you and once they realize that they can trust you, you will become a lifetime friend and they will be there for you whenever you need anything! The culture in Russia is different and you need to understand that cultural difference in order to accept Russian people more. Smiling to strangers is considered rude in Russia so they don’t smile but they will definitely laugh with you when they get to know you. They will tell you what they think and that might sound harsh for some people but they will not be fake with you just to please you. If you understand that, you will start enjoying your visit there.
Restaurants, cafes, bars, and clubs in Moscow are fantastic. I would say, there are many world class venues for food, drinks, or nightlife. I personally tried fine dining in a restaurant called “White Rabbit” and it was an amazing experience. However, it’s very hard to find a table in the evening so you need to book in advance.
Another remarkable places in Moscow which worth visiting that are not covered by this blog are Gorky Park, Arbat Street, Izmailovo Kremlin.
That’s all I can say about Moscow for now! If you have any questions, please leave me a comment and please share this blog if you like it.