Some places are meant to be visited under a certain weather. Moscow is one of them; even though I suffered and complained about the extreme cold during my time there, looking back I’m glad I chose the winter to truly experience this wonderful city. Travelling during Christmas forces you to adjust your itinerary; days are shorter, you have to avoid back to back outdoors visits and reserve time for family commitments. I spent 3 days in Moscow with Elena (and her family!), and got to see all the highlights. You should be able to design a packed 2-day itinerary, if needed. I also highly recommend combining St. Petersburg into the same trip, like we did!
From Moscow’s international airports (you’ll land in Sheremetyevo or Domodedovo), there is fast rail connection to the city. Definitely take the train and then the metro to avoid the infamous Moscow traffic. After we left our bags at Elena’s parents’ home, we quickly headed to the Red Square. Krasnaya Pl, by its local name, is not only architecturally gorgeous, but also historically charged… it’s impossible not to get emotional the first time you set foot on it. Surrounding the square are the Kremlin’s brick walls, Lenin’s Mausoleum (containing his mummy but closed at the time), the State Museum, the Kazan Cathedral, the giant mall GUM… and the crown jewel: St. Basil’s Cathedral. Built in the mid-16th century, ordered by Ivan the Terrible, and officially called The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the Moat, it is one of the most recognizable buildings in the world. It’s the culmination of the uniquely Russian style, considered to be a mix of local, Byzantine and Italian influences… For me, its colorful towers and domes always made it look like an ice cream temple ;P
We took a break to warm up and recharge energies at GUM, an impressive department store, definitely worth a visit. It was too cold to attempt the Kremlin, and getting dark quickly, so we headed to the Armoury museum. This chamber, located on the south-west side of the Kremlin, contains an amazing collection of weapons, regalia, arts and relics. My favorites were the Faberge eggs and Empress Elisabeth’s sledge. When we got out, it was pitch dark, and walking back to the Red Square, we enjoyed some of the most beautiful night scenes I’ve seen in the world.
On our second day, after walking around Kitai Gorod and enjoying a traditional brunch in a family restaurant there, we made our way to the Kremlin. The Moscow Kremlin is a huge, triangular citadel that contains several palaces and cathedrals, and is the official residency of the President of the Russian Federation. The most important sites are the Cathedral of the Annunciation, Cathedral of the Dormition, Cathedral Archangel, Church of the Twelve Apostles (all around Cathedral Square, with classic golden domes and interesting iconostasis), the broken Tsar Bell (impressive, behind Ivan the Great Bell Tower), the Palace of Facets, and the Spasskaya tower (on the way out). It’s worth allocating 3 hours to this visit, including getting tickets and waiting in line to enter.
We devoted the rest of the day to checking out metro stations. The Moscow metro was built in the 30s, and far from reflecting the sober Soviet style, it’s the most extravagant transit system in the world. Stations have high ceilings, marble walls, bar-reliefs, mosaics, stained-glass windows, bronze statues… and feel more like palaces than anything else. The most famous ones are Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Mayakovskaya, Elektrozavodskaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsii, but there are many more that make it worth getting lost in the system. We emerged from the underground to an exquisite sighting: the Church of St Nicholas Khamovniki. Because of these two nights, the illuminated temples in the cold night are my fondest memory of Moscow.
On our last day, we began by visiting the Novodevichy Monastery, a charming complex, which was covered in snow and full of kids playing. We also checked out the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (too tacky imho), walked by the frozen river to the giant Peter the Great Statue and chilled in Gorky Park, where Muscovites were showing off their skating abilities. Before we even knew, it was time to get on the awesome metro again, and head back home.