Moscow, the capital of the Russian Federation, defies an easy definition. It is not just a city for many world over; this is natural as the name got intrinsically associated with major national and global events over the centuries. The city on the banks of Moskva River was witness to wars, revolution, coups, political intrigues, assassinations, terrorist attacks and even the dissolution of a superpower. It was one of the two pivots of the global order for most of the 20th century when the Cold War raged. And it was from Moscow, the Communist leaders rebuilt the largest country in the world. But Moscow survives and transforms for the better and today has everything for every tourist.
Moscow is likely to be the first destination as you visit Russia. The prime go-to tourist destinations in the city are the Moscow Kremlin, the oldest part of the city, and the adjacent Red Square. Both are in the very heart of the city and are on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List for their cultural and political significance as well as standout architecture.
First things first! Most tourists head to the Kremlin or the Red Square first considering their prominence. There are several other must-see tourist attractions nearby which you may visit in the subsequent days of your stay.
It is prudent to visit the Kremlin first as one full day is required to explore the monuments, churches and all the museums by discerning their collections in a leisurely manner. Earlier you arrive, more time will be at your disposal to cover the sprawling area. The ticket office opens at 9:30 am.
Here is a lowdown on the Moscow Kremlin which will help you to appreciate better all that you see. Note the attractions that have been listed and ensure you don't miss out or overlook them during your tour.
Location and significance
'Kremlin' means 'citadel'. There are a dozen kremlins across Russia, but the one in Moscow is paramount considering its political, religious and cultural significance in Russian history.
The Moscow Kremlin is on the Borovitsky Hill on the northern banks of Moskva River. It is to the west of the Red Square and encompasses 27 hectares that appear like an irregular triangle.
The offices of the Russian Government and the office of the President are within this fort. It was also the seat of the government of the erstwhile Soviet Union (1922–91). World over, it is synonymous with the government of the Russian Federation and previously of the Soviet Union.
Earlier, the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church too was within this complex famed for its red-bricked walls. The official residence of the head of the church — the Patriarch of Moscow and all Russia — too was here until 1983.
Tourists have access to parts of the Kremlin grounds, known formally as the Moscow Kremlin State Historical and Cultural Museum and Heritage Site. The site comprises palaces, museums, monuments, churches and the highest offices of the country.
For any tourist the highlight of the Kremlin tour is the visit to the Armoury Chamber and the Russian Diamond Fund — both are repositories of old royal treasures. Children too will definitely appreciate the splendid collections here. Separate tickets need to be bought for entry.
The major displays at the Armoury Chamber include royal dresses, ornaments, thrones, crowns, carriages, weapons, art work and the famed Faberge eggs — the ornate Easter eggs studded with jewels. The Russian Diamond Fund, one of the world’s great gem collections, comprises crown jewels — the star attraction being the Great Imperial Crown.
The Cathedral Square, which is at the centre of Kremlin, is named so for three cathedrals — Cathedral of the Dormition, Cathedral of the Archangel, and Cathedral of the Annunciation. These as well as the other religious structures — The Twelve Apostles Church and Patriarch's Palace — are outstanding examples of Russian church architecture.
It was at the Moscow Kremlin the elaborate coronation ceremonies of the Russian Emperor (Tsar) was held even when St Petersburg was Russia's capital from 1712 to 1918.
The Cathedral of the Dormition, also known as the Cathedral of the Assumption, was the venue for the coronation from 1547 to 1896. Here lies buried many Patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox Church and Moscow Metropolitans.
The Cathedral of the Archangel is the final resting place of several princes and the tsars. The Cathedral of the Annunciation was their private chapel.
Other attractions are Ivan the Great Bell Tower that stands tall on the edge of the Cathedral Square, the giant Tsar Bell at its foot and the Tsar Cannon nearby.
The 81-metre Bell Tower is the tallest structure in the Kremlin. (Note: Qutub Minar is 73 m high). Its observation deck offers panoramic views of the centre of Moscow as well as the Kremlin view from the top. (Children below 14 years are barred.) This tower too houses a museum.
The majestic five-domed Twelve Apostles Church is behind the Tsar Cannon. Spend ample time at the museum within the Twelve Apostles Church. The religious artefacts and icons on display will serve to heighten your piety.
The weapons seized from Napoleon during his disastrous Russian Campaign in 1812 are interesting displays on the Kremlin grounds. Note the sign 'N' on canons kept on stone podiums.
Find the birch trees planted by Yuri Gagarin, the first person to fly in space, in the luscious garden.
Lower down, close to the southern walls, is the helipad for the President.
Count the towers rising from the Kremlin wall: there are 19 and all but two have names. The odd one, the 20th, stands outside the west wall and is called the Kutafya Tower. The main public entrance is through this short tower; the other is the Borovitskaya Tower.
The exit from the Kremlin is through the Kutafiya and Spasskaya Tower gates.
The Spasskaya Tower, which faces the Red Square, stands out as it features the clock — the Kremlin Clock or Kremlin Chimes — that shows the official Moscow Time. Outside Russia it is referred to as the Moscow Clock Tower.
Also note the five stars on five towers.
The walls encircle the complex for 1.5 miles and are up to 21 feet thick. The height ranges from 16 to 62 ft.
The Grand Kremlin Palace, Kremlin State Palace as well as the Presidential and administrative buildings have splendid architecture. As entry is barred here, with exceptions, these stately edifices could be appreciated from the outside.
The President of Russia holds official receptions at the Grand Kremlin Palace. Here private visits by groups are allowed, but only after due permission from the authorities and payment of the required fees which is reportedly steep.
The Kremlin State Palace or the Kremlin Palace of Congresses is the first of the buildings that you pass by as you enter the complex. It is the youngest building in the Moscow Kremlin. It was a hive of activity in the Soviet times soon after its construction in 1961. The congresses of Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) used to be held here; but today it is the ultimate venue to stage "concerts, fashion shows, cinema premieres, ballets, operas, forums, circus representations" etc. The Kremlin Ballet Theatre is based here.
You are unlikely to miss a prominent three-storied yellow building with the Russian flag atop a dome in the northern part of the Kremlin grounds. It is the Senate Palace. The Office of the President of the Russian Federation is here. Obviously, it is a no-go area for tourists. As you visit the Red Square this triangular building is seen close just in line with the Kremlin wall.
The Senate Palace became the seat of the Soviet government in the wake of the Russian Revolution as Vladimir Lenin shifted the capital from Petrograd, the present-day St Petersburg, to Moscow in early 1918. Both Lenin and his successor Joseph Stalin worked and stayed here. The President of Russia no longer resides in Kremlin.
Duration and ticket
You may earmark half a day, at least, or 4 hours for exploring the Kremlin grounds, Armoury Chamber and the Cathedral Square churches. But more time and another ticket are needed to visit the Diamond Fund, which is a separate section of the Armoury Chamber.
As you plan your Moscow trip, mark one day for a comprehensive Kremlin tour. Note: A food stall is on the Kremlin grounds, but only quick bites are possible. The stall has limited stock of food and beverages.
The Kremlin museum tickets could be bought online http://tickets.kreml.ru/en/ or directly from the counter at the Alexander Gardens (Alexandrovsky Sad) — three gardens abutting the western Kremlin wall and extending for 865 m. (These gardens came up in early 19th century at the site where the Neglinnaya River flowed. This tributary of the Moskva now flows in the tunnels under Samotechnaya Street!)
Entry is free for children under the age of 16, but they should have the Free-Entry ticket issued only from the booth.
The ticket for entry to the Diamond Fund is available within the Armory Chamber and the general counter outside.
Tour companies offer guided tours.
Ticket price (as of September 2022):
1. The Armory Chamber - 1,000 RUB. (1,300 RUB with audio guide.)
2. Diamond Fund - 500 RUB
3. Cathedral Square - 700 RUB (300 RUB for any one of the churches)
4. Ivan the Great’s Bell Tower and its museum - 300 RUB (unavailable online.)
5. Temporary exhibitions - 500 RUB
The entire Kremlin tour may cost over 2,000 RUB.
There is no public entry to the Kremlin museums on Thursday.
Photography is banned inside the Armoury Chamber and the Russian Diamond Fund.
Across Russia, women should cover their heads and men should remove hats or any cloth wrapped on head while inside Orthodox churches. While entering the churches in Kremlin please do so.
Nearest Moscow Metro station: Biblioteka Imeni Lenina (on Sokolnicheskaya Line).
Other nearby metro stations: Kitaya-Gorod, Ploschad Revolyutsii, Okhotny Ryad and Teatralnaya.
(1 RUB = 1.34074 INR)