No matter the season in which you visit the Russian capital, Moscow is bound to captivate you whether the Christmas lights shine on the ice rink at the Red Square or you’re basking under the sun at the evergreen Gorky park.

In a city as large as this one with a history known around the globe, some guidance on what to see and do is needed to elevate your Russian experience. Before visiting, I too read guides, spoke with other travellers and asked the locals for advice. So, here’s all I discovered first-hand.

Take in the Red Square

One of the first things you will automatically be drawn to when in Moscow is, of course, the Red Square. On my first day there, I had no plans of visiting it just yet, I simply wandered the streets admiring the enormous, impressive architecture. Sooner or later though, I accidentally stumbled on it and was in awe of its size and what surrounds it. At the heart of Moscow and the core of its history, it all starts with the Red Square.

The name of the Red Square has nothing to do with the country’s communist past as many assume. Actually, the Russian word for ‘red’ means ‘beautiful’ so, in fact, it is the ‘beautiful square’. Many other cities in Russia have a Red Square. Cool huh?

Admire St Basil’s Cathedral

At first glance, your eyes don’t know where to focus at the Square but chances are, they’ll fall on St Basil’s Cathedral first. Its vibrant colours stick out first, topped with round domes and intricate details decorating it. Stand there, take it all in, photograph it, stare at it and visit it. The Cathedral’s actual name is not the one it goes by, as I learned from a free tour I took, but the Cathedral of the Intersection of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. It’s a long name however so nobody really uses that.

Feel fancy at GUM

Beautifully surrounding the Square is shopping mall GUM, that’s hard to miss due to its sheer size. You’ll know it when you see it. It’s home to some of the most exclusive (and expensive) brands worldwide and the locals joke that because its stores are so pricey there are more people that work there than there are shopping from there. Think Cartier, Dior and Jimmy Choo.

Photos by Eleni Philippou

Nonetheless, GUM is a treat for your eyes. Stunning décor, colourful flowers and cute cafes. Something that everyone can buy there and is a sort of cultural experience is its ice cream. Served in a waffle cup with ice cream reaching the very bottom, its recipe has not changed since the Soviet times and is hugely popular amongst the locals. The flavours are many but the most iconic one is crème brûlée.

gum ice cream

Photo by Eleni Philippou

Fun fact: It’s pronounced the department store ‘goom’ and not ‘gam’.

Learn about the Kremlin

The Kremlin, a fortified complex, is where it all began and is the core of not only Moscow but the whole country as well. From there, tsars, dictators and present-day presidents have ruled Russia and back in the day, the Kremlin is from where Moscow began. The capital city was initially inside the Kremlin before expanding to the beast it is today.

You can enter it, after a security check, and visit the golden cathedral, the palaces and the museums. Visiting Lenin’s Mausoleum (aka where Lenin’s preserved body lays in a glass sarcophagus) is often associated with the Kremlin as it’s situated right by its wall yet to enter it you have to go through the Nikolskaya Tower in the Alexander Garden.

While there don’t forget to watch the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. From there you can walk through the gardens and around the Kremlin which will take about half an hour.

Fun fact: If you’re wondering were Stalin’s remains are, they used to be part of the Mausoleum but were remove and are now in a grave along the Kremlin Wall.

Visit the iconic Bolshoi Theatre

Known as amongst the best in the world, catching a performance by the Bolshoi ballet or at the theatre is a unique experience. Tickets should be booked months in advance though and quickly run out. If you haven’t got time for a performance, visiting the theatre is another option. The theatre organises guided tours in English every Monday, Wednesday and Friday though it’s best to confirm the dates and times through their official website.

Go on a free walking tour

Alternatively, to learn more about Moscow, its sights and its tales, go on a city tour. These don’t have to cost much. Actually, some of them don’t cost anything at all. There are numerous free walking tours to choose from. Sign up, meet with your guide who will most likely be holding a colourful umbrella and explore the city with other travellers. There are dozens of themes to choose from as well; Moscow by night, a history tour, an architecture tour, a communism tour and my personal favourite; the metro tour. These might not all be 100% free but a quick Google search will help you the best one for you.

Go underground

The Moscow metro stations are amongst the most beautiful in the world, each one dressed in unique colours and décor, some with mosaics and tinted glasses. Going with a guide will enable to get all of the inside information about how they were built such as how Stalin used the English to build the metro system then arrested them for knowing too much. Communist elements, paintings and hidden corners are all things to explore at the metro.

Photos by Eleni Philippou

And if you can’t attend a tour, don’t worry. I toured the metro on my own. I simply looked up which stations are worth visiting and made my way. The day ticket is cheap and will allow you to go to as many stops as you want.

Highlighted stations:

  • Belorruskaya Station
  • Mayakovskaya Station
  • Novoslobodskaya Station
  • Kievskaya Station
  • Komsomolskaya Station
  • Bolshoi Theatre

Photos by Eleni Philippou

Eat at Café Pushkin

The culinary experience in Moscow is beyond this world. Anything you can imagine probably exists at all price ranges from pop up restaurants, to traditional eateries and vintage iconic establishments such as Café Pushkin.

Locals and foreigners have been loving this establishment for years for its delicious food, impeccable service and of course its old-era charm. Open since 1999 in a baroque-style mansion, Café Pushkin runs from dawn until midnight serving up hot and cold dishes, serving businessmen, tourists and everyone in between. The menu is rich, slightly gourmet and more of on the expensive side but every ruble will be well-spent.

Its interior oozes vintage style and the staff is dressed is French-inspired uniform. There are two areas to sit at. At the Pharmacy area, you can go as you are but in the Library area on the top floor, a more elegant dress code is to be followed. If you’re not sure, ask your hotel to call and clarify the etiquette.

cafe pushkin moscow

Photo by Eleni Philippou

Connect with nature at Gorky Park

Near the centre of Moscow is Gorky Park, a green haven to escape the crowds. Here you can lounge on the grass, join practical skills workshops, dine by the lake and visit the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art. These are but a few of the activities to enjoy there but are bound to be a delight.