“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
I am updating a post that I wrote in June of 2017 when I visited Russia for the first time. After our wedding, Sasha and I returned to Moscow this past October 2018 to visit his grandparents who were unable to attend our ceremony in Greece. In a way I felt like I was coming to our second home. The night lights, pelmeni and cathedrals all looked familiar and wrapped me up in a warm embrace. My husband is from St. Petersburg and has family in Moscow, so it’s a treat for me to be able to return to Russia on my multi-entry three-year visa.
I was pleasantly surprised to see how many improvements Moscow had made since the 2018 World Cup. In a city of nearly 12 million people, life seemed to be buzzing and happening in Moscow. The streets were immaculate, new parks had been built, and the city had more of an international feel; all these changes in only one year! Or perhaps I was just seeing Moscow with new eyes.
One of the relatively new initiatives that the city has implemented is art along the walls of streets to encourage young people to visit museums. There is a QR code and an app where you can scan it and learn more about the city and what you’re seeing! Here’s an example:
Below I will list 12 great things to do in Moscow to give you a good sense of the city, whether you’re a first-timer to Moscow or a returning visitor.
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1) Visit the Kremlin and Saint Basil’s Cathedral
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 home to the colorful onion-looking multi-domed cathedral called Saint Basil’s Church, which is the landmark of Moscow.
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.
We learned a surprising fact on our free walking tour: the designer of the Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral is not actually from Russia! In the mid 1500’s, Ivan The Terrible wanted to decorate his city with new, beautiful buildings with the latest designs to reflect its grandeur. So he sent his servants to none other than Italy to hire the best architects of the Renaissance era to design buildings for the Kremlin complex in Moscow’s city center. If you take a look at the above photos, the whale tail-looking design on the top of the wall is the same design you’ll see in structures in Milano, Italy.
This is how I felt about seeing a bucket list landmark!
Be sure to see it at night as well!
2) Visit Yeliseev’s Food Hall (Yeliseevskiy Gastronom)
Located on Tverskaya Ulica, this is perhaps one of the most lavish and beautiful grocery stores in the world! They are open 24 hours and carry interesting products, both from Russia and imported from other countries. We tried pine nut milk, which was tasty and had the consistency of soy milk with an oat milk flavor.
RELATED: 12 FOODS YOU MUST TRY IN RUSSIA
3) Take a Free City Walking Tour
Our guide said that the most romantic spot in Moscow is at the Pushkin Statue. So if you want to impress a date, you’ll meet them here!
There are several companies offering free walking tours. In 2017 our group consisted of 40 people, and this time we were only five! It seems that there is an over-saturation of tours offered in many different languages.
This is Russia’s most famous shopping mall, and the architecture is stunning. Be sure to try ice cream that supposedly still uses a recipe from the soviet era; the most popular flavor is black currant, a Russian favorite.
Here are some of the beautiful domes of Moscow. 🙂
5) 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. There are even metro tours! As if the stations aren’t already crowded enough!
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.
6) Walk in Sokolniki Park
This park is gorgeous any time of year, but especially during Fall when the leaves turn colors! There’s also a farmers market selling food for takeaway. Our favorite stall was the honey! This man and his family have been making honey for over 40 years and have flavors ranging from lime ginger to hazelnut!
7) Enjoy an International Culinary Experience at Central Market
The concept of international food stations all under one roof is starting to catch on, and I hope it continues to spread globally because I think it’s one of the coolest foodie experiences you can have! Central Market is located about a 20-minute walk from the Kremlin along a beautiful park foot path covered with trees and pop-up art. There are over 20 different food stalls to choose from in this market, including Thai, Vietnamese, Georgian, Mexican and Asian.
We had Peking duck at Duck It, dumplings at Gilo Dumplings, Thai iced coffee, and pistachio baklava.
There’s even a swing at one of the indoor food stalls! How cute is that?
Here’s how the interior looks with a green plant ceiling!
8) Walk Along the Moscow River and Admire all the Pretty Gold Domed 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!”
What’s up with that 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…classy. Nice move.
9) Visit the Museum of Modern Art and Take a Walk Along Gorky 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!
10) Visit The State Tretyakov Gallery
This gallery features Russian painters’ works from the 15th through the 19th centuries. My favorite painting was titled “Spanish Beggar Girl”. This one was captivating!
11) 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.
Another notable Georgian Restaurant was Kafe Mizandari in a very hipster-feeling part of Moscow.
12) 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!
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
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).
Alas, prior to meeting my Russian husband, I never thought that Moscow would be a destination I would ever visit, let alone be excited to continue coming back to! But it has indeed carved a little home in my heart, so if home is where you have family and happy memories, I’ve got a little piece of home in Moscow and I feel honored to have it as part of the puzzle of my multinational heart.
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