Moscow is a city where the past and the future live side by side. Here you will find everything from medieval fortresses and Soviet monoliths to glass skyscrapers and innovation centres. Moscow’s spirit mirrors its uncontainable size. Muscovites, the city’s approximately 12 million residents, are always on the run, so be ready to keep pace with their energy. It can be overwhelming, but in Moscow, that is not a bad thing.
9 a.m. Marvel at the Metro
Navigate the labyrinth of the Moscow metro, a living, breathing work of art crisscrossing the metropolis. Expect marble arches and pillars, gilded mosaics, and sparkling chandeliers. Each station is unique. Some of the most beautiful stations are Kievskaya and Prospekt Mira (brown line), Mayakovskaya (dark green line), Ploschad Revolutsii, Arbatskaya and Elektrozavodskaya (dark blue line). Getting lost on the metro is a rite of passage. Be prepared to be inundated by confusing directions in the Russian alphabet that features familiar letters and false friends. Ahead of the World Cup, though, most trains have introduced route maps and announcements in English.
Three stations take you to Red Square, but Ploschad Revolutsii is ideal. Why? Its platforms have numerous bronze statues of soldiers with their dogs. Locals often stop by to rub the dogs’ noses as they make a wish. You can too.
9.45 a.m. Explore Red Square
If you had only one minute in Moscow and you spent it turning around 360° at the Red Square, you could confidently state that you have seen a lot of the city. Red Square is a great place for a stroll, and to see the red-bricked towers and the eastern wall of the Moscow Kremlin, Vladimir Lenin’s mausoleum, the State Historical Museum, GUM (pronounced Goom), the largest department store in Russia, and the psychedelically colourful domes of the St. Basil’s Cathedral. Queue early outside Lenin’s mausoleum for a spooky date with the man behind the Russian Revolution, who has rested in this tomb, preserved in chemicals for almost 100 years (open 10 a.m.-1 p.m.; closed Mon and Fri).
The postcard-perfect St Basil’s Cathedral was built in the 16th century to commemorate Tsar Ivan the Terrible’s victory over the Khanate of Kazan and the transformation of Moscow into a major centre of power. Drop in for a quick visit or keep walking south towards the Moskva River and the Bolshoi Moskvaretskii Bridge for spectacular views of the Kremlin and the Red Square.
Another structure that will catch your eye is the golden-domed and white-walled Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, just southwest of the Kremlin. Unlike St. Basil’s, this Cathedral did not survive the communist persecution of religion. The original was destroyed in 1931 and the area was converted to an open-air swimming pool, the largest in the world. The fall of communism brought with it religious freedom and the Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1990s. If you turn around, you will see one of the ‘Seven Sisters,’ the Stalinist monoliths that command Moscow’s skyline (cathedral open Mon 1 p.m.-5 p.m.; Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-5 p.m.).
11.45 a.m. Shop at GUM, Eat at Stolovaya 57
Head back to Red Square and GUM. Much like Russia, the store has undergone many changes. Built in Imperial times as a massive trading centre, GUM’s Soviet-era badge of honour was being relatively better stocked than other stores. Today, it’s a glittering mall that houses Hermès and Louis Vuitton. Even if you don’t shop, the long, arched galleries and concave glass roof make it an architectural delight. Next, make your way to the third floor for Stolovaya No. 57 (Canteen No. 57), a Soviet-style restaurant with local dishes and a laid-back vibe. Try the syrniki (roughly translated as cheesecakes), buckwheat with mushroom sauce, or meat cutlets. Go local: pair your meal with cranberry compote.
2 p.m. Head to Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin, the seat of the Russian Government, was built in the 15th century. It has cathedrals, museums, and unique objects from imperial Russia. Start with the Armoury Chamber, a treasure trove of Fabergé eggs (jewelled eggs), imperial dresses, and gifts presented to the Tsars. Don’t miss the Diamond Fund inside the Armoury and marvel the crown of Tsarina Catherine the Great.
Take a stroll around Cathedral Square to admire the many golden domes that mushroom from Orthodox cathedrals. Look out for the 19-foot-high bronze Tsar Bell for great photo ops. The nearby Tsar Cannon is also worth a look. Wrap up in the Kremlin Garden and see if you can spot ‘Cosmos’, the lone oak tree that was planted by Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, two days after his extraordinary flight in April 1961 (check www.kreml.ru for timings; guided tours available).
7 p.m. Catch ballet at Bolshoi
Finish your day with a ballet or opera performance at Bolshoi Theatre, one of the strongholds of Russian theatrical excellence since the 19th century. If you are lucky, you might be able to catch Tchaikovsky’s masterpiece Swan Lake on the stage where it premiered in 1877. Performances sell out so book in advance, and arrive early to enjoy the neoclassical building. Russians take theatres seriously so wear your best outfit.
10 a.m. Visit Tretyakov Gallery
The extraordinary entrance to Tretyakov Gallery will raise your expectations. And with good reason because Tretyakov is Moscow’s most definitive collection of fine arts spanning almost a millennium. You can explore 12th-century icons and mosaics or get lost in the brushstrokes of 19th- and 20th-century Russian heavyweights such as Ivan Shishkin and Ilya Repin. The new wing, New Tretyakov, showcases artists from the Soviet period (open Tue-Sun 10 a.m.-6 p.m.; closed Mon).
1 p.m. Go to Gorky Park
Soak up some summer sun in one of Moscow’s most dynamic open spaces: Park Gorky, a hipster paradise that underwent a major makeover from a Soviet relic to the centre of cultural life. Grab some food on the go or sit down for a meal at Grill Bar Zharovnya or La Boule. Wander through the open-air sculpture museum, Muzeon, the home of countless statues and symbols from the Soviet times. Muzeon runs next to the Moscow River and offers a great view of the almost 322-foot-high statue of Tsar Peter the Great.
7 p.m. Dine at White Rabbit
If there is just one place where you must dine in Moscow, it’s White Rabbit. The restaurant, which has been featured among the top 50 in the world, owes its success to chef Vladimir Mukhin, whose culinary prowess was featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table. White Rabbit serves Russian food with innovative twists; think sea urchin caviar and beetroot hummus. Quite fittingly, there is also rabbit on the menu. Did I mention the restaurant’s glass dome offers spectacular views of Moscow City?
10 a.m. Shop Cold War Memorabilia
If the Moscow Kremlin is stately then the Izmailovo Kremlin has a bit of a Disneyland feel to it. This cultural centre built in 2007 is oddly colourful and pleasingly bright. Izmailovo is also a great place for a stroll before bargain-hunting at Vernisazh, a flea market with stalls selling Cold War memorabilia. You will find stamps, banknotes, pins, propaganda posters, and even steel mugs from the Soviet times. Score great deals on matryoshkas, Russian nesting dolls; khokhloma, hand-painted wooden handicrafts; and Baltic amber jewellery. Don’t miss contemporary twists to traditional Russian gifts: Donald Trump nesting dolls and music boxes shaped like Orthodox cathedrals. For a market of its popularity, Vernisazh prices are a steal and you can haggle without hesitation. Saturdays and Sundays are the best days to visit.
1 p.m. Make the Most of Moscow
By now, you have probably got the sense that there is more to see in Moscow than time to see it. So pick what you crave most. Want more of Orthodox churches? Head to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Novodevichy Convent, which was once used by the women of the Tsar’s family. Still looking for souvenirs and gifts? Make your way to Stari Arbat (Old Arbat), a historical cobblestone street with a kilometre of shops and restaurants. Want to delve deeper into Russian history? Visit the State Historical Museum on the Red Square. A Cold War buff? The Bunker 42 Museum located 18 floors below Taganskaya metro was a strategic command centre and an anti-nuclear shelter. A fan of Russian literature? Check out the Gogol House and the Bulgakov Museum. Want another serving of art? Try the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts or the Garage Museum.
8 p.m. Savour the Last Supper
Close your stay in Moscow with a nice meal. Café Pushkin boasts antique interiors, delicious Russian dishes, and a five-star service. Even if you don’t eat here, grab a cup of the Pushkin chai, a signature Earl Grey blend with citrusy overtones. For casual fare, go to Varenichnaya (multiple locations), which has an extensive menu of Russian dishes and a decor straight out of a Soviet poster. Mari Vanna (multiple locations) is another Russian chain you cannot go wrong with.
Moscow is also a great place to try the food from other Soviet states. Khachapuri is where you should try the namesake khachapuri, Georgian stuffed-cheese bread. For authentic Uzbek plov (like the Indian pulao), make a reservation at Uzbekistan. Want to keep enjoying the outdoors? Bar Strelka is a trendy spot with great views, excellent food, and a dance floor to keep the night going (10 Bolshoi Gnezdnikovskiy Pereulok, 10).
To explore more of Russia, see our FIFA World Cup 2018 guide to the country here.
Aanchal Anand is a travel addict who has been to over 50 countries across 5 continents. When she isn't travelling, she is typically coaxing her two cats off the laptop keyboard so she can get some writing done.