“It seems that the more places I see and experience, the bigger I realize the world to be. The more I become aware of, the more I realize how relatively little I know of it, how many places I have yet to get to, how much more there is to learn. Maybe that’s enlightenment enough – to know that there is no final resting place of the mind, no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom, at least for me, means realizing how small and unwise I am, and how far I have yet to go.”
– Anthony Bourdain
Things to do in Moscow and What to Eat in Moscow
- Visit the Kremlin
Kremlin is a term used for a fortress, and most large Russian cities have one. I can’t help but giggle every time I hear the word, because to me it sounds like “gremlin” to which my silly mind conjures up this mental image:
The Red Square is right outside the Kremlin walls, which houses St. Basil’s Church, the landmark of Moscow. We visited in June so the weather was pretty bipolar, but we got lucky one evening when the sun hit the building and lighting danced in golden hues, casting perfect shadows on the swirled domes against an ominous sky.
In the past few years, Chinese tourism has greatly increased to Russia. On this particular day, they all seemed to be here taking a million photos inside the square.
So how did the Red Square receive its name? My guess was because so much blood was shed on the grounds, or because it was a symbol of communism. Some also think it received its name because the walls surrounding the church are red. These are all great guesses, but the real reason is quite simple. The word “red” in Russian is красный (krasnyy) which at the time also meant “beautiful” (now the word for “beautiful” is красивая (crecivaya), so it literally translates to “The Beautiful Square”. To this day in Russia, red is a symbol of power and prosperity.
This is how I feel about seeing a bucket list landmark!
2) Take a Free City Walking Tour
Our free walking tour group consisted of approximately 40 people from over 10 countries all over the world including Mauritius, an island that I had never heard of before! We have done many free city walking tours on our travels, and this group was the most diverse and interesting. We met people who were originally from their home country but live as expatriates elsewhere because they are going to school, teaching, or studying something interesting. It is a different demographic of people who choose to come to Russia on their holiday as it isn’t the most common destination. Can you spot Sasha in the crowd? (He’s so hard to find.) 😉 Even with all the Eastern European countries present, he was still the tallest in the group.
As part of the tour, we made a quick stop for ice cream that apparently still uses the same recipe from Soviet days. The ice cream stop is inside the G.U.M. (short for Gosudarstvenny Universalny Magazin), Russia’s most famous shopping mall. The architecture is stunning. The most popular flavor is black currant, a Russian favorite.
3) Take the Metro
All I can say is I’m glad I’m traveling with Sasha, because holy maze of a metro system in Moscow! I don’t know how foreign tourists get around here because nothing is in English, the underground system is quite literally a maze and there is little to no signage except for a few that say “way out” with an arrow that just points to another corner that connects to another set of stairs that goes to another metro station that leads to the deepest, darkest bowels of Moscow! I just hold on to Sasha’s hand and hope for the best.
Despite the difficulty of finding your way around the underground system, the metro stations in Moscow are some of the most beautiful in the whole world. Some of the trains are even decorated in beautiful paintings.
And the mosaics are stunning. It feels like you’re in a museum!
One thing I must warn you about is that the trains are ear-piercingly loud. So loud that I had to wear earplugs every time we rode.
If you want a good workout, speed walk up and down the escalator. Russia has the deepest undergrounds in the world, which means loooong escalators. We got into pretty good shape by running up and down those electric stairs several times a day! Thighs. of. steel.
Escalator etiquette in Russia: stand to the right, walk on the left. Always hold the handrail because the escalator can stop suddenly at any time, and you would go flying if you’re not holding on to the side.
4) Go for a Walk Along the Moscow River and Admire all the Pretty Golden-Topped Buildings
Moscow is filled with gold-plated opulence, dotting the angry sky with sights so beautiful, it’s as if they are saying, “just in case you don’t know, we’re rich!”
(Click on each photo to enlarge it.)
What’s up with that giant grey ship statue in the background?
I’ll tell you what’s up with the giant grey ship statue in the background. This statue of Peter The Great, created by a Georgian sculptor, has been voted one of the ugliest buildings in the world by many travel publications. It is ironic that there is a tribute to him in Moscow since he loathed Moscow and moved the capital to St. Petersburg! The statue was originally made for another country honoring Christopher Columbus, but when he gifted it to them, they said they didn’t want it, so he gave it to Moscow instead and claimed that it was Peter the Great instead of Christopher Columbus.
5) Visit the Museum of Modern Art and Take a Walk Along the Park
(Hover over photos for description or click on each one to enlarge it.)
This museum features artwork from the 18th century to late 1990’s through the Soviet Era. Lots of pieces had strong symbolism of communism. This was my favorite painting of the entire collection. Titled “Adam and Eve”, I loved the symbolism of breaking the church and flying into free love and biting into the apple of enlightenment rather than what many considered to be brainwashing of religion. There was so much to observe and analyze in this painting.
The walk to get there was really fun, too! This park is filled with sculptures, eateries, and an area for sports including a sand volleyball court!
6) Eat Georgian Food!
Georgian (the country, not the state) food is to Russia what Mexican food is to California or what Japanese food is to Hawai’i. Never in my life had I heard of such a cuisine prior to visiting Russia, and now it is one of my new favorite cultural genres of food! My favorite Georgian restaurant in Moscow was called Khachapuri. Khachapuri is a cheese-filled bread using leavened bread so it’s light and fluffy. You will enter a serious food coma after eating this dish, but you will be filled with so much happiness.
7) Visit the Izmailovo Market
This eclectic market is a cross between a flea market, farmers market, antique market and souvenir market all in one! It is quite touristy, but well worth it! It’s fun just to walk through all the stalls and see the Matryoshka dolls. As with all markets, my tip is to walk through all the stalls before you purchase something. This will help you avoid impulse purchases as well as understand your bargaining power and pricing before you buy. Remember that you can negotiate!
* TIP: Watch your bags as this can be a prime spot for pickpocketing
Try on some fun hats…
Take a picture with a bear. Because you’re in Russia. And because bears are cute.
Take a photo with a giant life-sized Matryoshka doll
Buy some local produce or just people watch (we saw at least five weddings simultaneously occurring on the grounds!)
Take a photo in front of cool doors and feel like a prince/princess
Rest your feet from all the walking, and sit down for a bite to eat from one of the delicious food stalls all selling the same exact thing (kebab plate).
One more with the Matryoshka dolls just for good measure 🙂
No matter what time of year you visit Moscow, there is plenty to do and see!