Explore Moscow in 7 days: A complete guide for tourists: Part 1

St Basil's Cathedral at Red Square, Moscow . Photo: iStock/yulenochekk

Russia is now in its busiest tourist season. The best time to be in the country is from May to October as it experiences warmer climate after a long winter layoff marked by extreme temperatures. Come summer, it is the peak time for tourist arrivals in the world's largest country.

Have a week to spare? Plan a visit to Moscow, the country's capital. Plan now if you intend to arrive in the summer months — June to August — when it is warm. Slightly later too, in the autumnal September and November too you can expect a pleasant weather but with a gentle reminder of approaching winter. Moscow city you see in summer or autumn is unlike the one you see as winter takes grip.

Moscow is a dream destination for many overseas tourists and often the first destination for many arriving in Russia. The mystique about the city adds to its charm. Even well-heeled, globe-trotting westerners, including Americans, are blown away by what the city has to offer. What is that makes Moscow fascinating? Visit Moscow. See to believe.

With proper planning tourists can visit must-see destinations in Moscow in a week's time if they start early and reach the ticketed places well before the entry commences. The entry time to prominent tourist centres is 9 to 10 am though in winter it could be an hour earlier.

Here we chart the must-visit places and a tentative day's itinerary which you may tweak as per your interest and convenience. Expect a hectic seven days though interspersed with ample rest breaks during the day. The tour plan provides for a fair mix of outdoor and indoor pursuits.

It will take the tourists to cultural and historical sites as well as other urban landmarks; popular entertainment avenues for all age groups; cool natural settings; affordable outings for food, drink and shopping; jaw-dropping views from vantage points; and above all an immersive walk on the historic Old Arbat and the busy Tverskaya Street (Ulitsa Tverskaya).

Go as per the plan though it may be difficult to stick to it sometimes. Ensure you don't miss out on the popular or must-see tourist sites listed below.

Travelling to intended destinations on metro trains may save money but if new to Moscow you are likely to get delayed as you may lose way locating the stations, ticket counters, platforms and exits. Moreover, more time will be lost as you try to reach the exact location. Opt for cabs if you have a busy itinerary on a week's stay in the city. It saves time and energy as long you evade traffic jams.

The plan is apt in case you extend the stay in the city for a few more days. Then, move one or two activities listed under a few of the days listed below to the extra days you get.

The Red Square in Moscow. Photo: iStock/oonal

Also, visit those zones in the Kremlin you left out on Day-1, visit a beautiful park again or tour a museum you couldn't attend. With additional days, you may consider prolonging your tour of the vast territories of the All-Russia Exhibition Centre (VDNKh) listed or watch a drama at the theatre mentioned under Day-3 below.

Arrival day
Those who arrive by early morning flights have a whole day for city tour as long as sleep deficit don't bother them. Many tourists are unlikely to get a full day for city tour the very day they land in Moscow.

If you come out of the airport by noon or a couple of hours later you may consider a cursory tour of Red Square — the prime tourist destination in the city — after checking into the hotel. Or try a city tour in a cab if you come out of the airport by only dusk. Moscow is enchanting at night, but a cab ride for a few hours at night may set you back by a few thousand roubles.

Still, we recommend a night tour for about three to four hours to have a glimpse of the prominent landmarks such as the Seven Sisters in the downtown. A professional guide engaged by your tour operator will help you take the right route and show the prominent buildings, monuments and streets. You will certainly come across the landmarks in the next days too as you criss-cross the city to visit tourist centres.

Do you intend to keep it unhurried on the very first night in Moscow? Then, just go for a stroll in the vicinity of your hotel rather than hailing the taxi for the night ride. Look for the sign супермаркет - it is the Russian word for SUPERMARKET - as you take the walk.

Buy the essentials you need tonight or for the next few days. Noticed the word Аптек - pronounced artek -  on some shops? It is the Russian for pharmacy or druggist. The word столовая which reads STOLOVAYA is seen at eateries with canteen-like ambience. Get in here for traditional Russian food at very affordable rates. Other essential Russian words include кафе (pronounced: kafe) for cafe, ресторан (restorán) for restaurant, Отель (otel') for (hotel), Городской туалет (gorodskoi tualet) for public/city toilet, сад (sad) for garden, Полиция (politsiya) for police, гостиница (gostinitsa) for inn, hostel or guesthouse.

If possible continue the stroll all mornings in different directions before setting out for the day's outing.  

The Seven Sisters and the Federation Tower
Preferably, ensure that you see the Seven Sisters during the night ride. They refer to the seven skyscrapers built on the orders of Joseph Stalin soon after the World War II victory in order to portray the might of the USSR. These Stalinist-style buildings with Russian Baroqe and Gothic features were built secretly from 1947 to 1953 and were the tallest buildings in Europe then.

View of Hotel Leningradskaya, a Stalin's skyscraper in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Shutterstock/Leonid Andronov

The Seven Sisters are: Hotel Leningradskaya, Red Gates Administrative Building, Kudrinskaya Square Building, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building, Hotel Ukraina (the present-day Radisson Collection Hotel) and the Moscow State University Main Building — the latter is the tallest of the group and held the record for the tallest building in Europe till 1990.

And those clutch of glistening skyscrapers in contemporary style seen is part of the Moscow International Business Centre (MIBC) which is also known as Moscow-City. As you are in the downtown they are seen to the west at the Krasnopresnenskaya Embankment on the left bank of the Moskva River. The tallest building in Moscow — the 101-story 374-metre Vostok or East Tower of the Federation Tower complex —  is in this modern commercial centre.

Now, it is the second-tallest skyscraper in Europe and Russia. The 87-story, 462 m Lakhta Center in St Petersburg is the tallest skyscraper in Europe and Russia.  

PANORAMA360 — the highest observation deck in Europe — is on the 89th floor of Vostok tower. Arrive here for a sweeping view of the mega-city.

Another notable building on the river-side stretch in this area is the White House (Belui Dome in Russian). The official workplace of the Russian Prime Minister is in this Federal Government Building. It was previously known as the House of Soviets of Russia. The building hit the headlines globally as it was beseiged during the infamous failed 1991 August Coup against the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Got local currency?
Don't forget to get enough of the local currency, Rouble, from the forex counter at the airport even if the currency conversion rate is a tad expensive. Or else you may lose time locating a forex agency or bank in the city. Forget changing your dollars in banks own your own as you may face language issues, delays and sometimes demand for documents you are unlikely to possess.

Beware! The Rouble has been volatile all through the year 2022 on account of the geopolitical tensions and the economic sanctions against Russia. Your estimates on currency conversion may go awry in a matter of days with the Rouble slumping against major global currrencies. For instance USD 1 fetched around Rouble 59 or 60 in September 2022.

By mid-April 2023, the exchange value of 1 USD in Russian Ruble had breached the 81 mark. A weak Rouble is good for tourists, but a sharp rebound in a matter of days should not surprise overseas visitors in Russia.  

Day 1
Destinations: Moscow Kremlin. Red Square. Lenin's Mausoleum and St Basil's Cathedral at Red Square. GUM (pronounced goom) — the largest department store in Russia — located northeast of Red Square. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Lenin's Mausoleum, the resting place of Vladimir Lenin in the center of Red Square, Moscow, Russia. Photo: Shutterstock/Marco Rubino

All these destinations, except the last one, are next to each other and are in the very heart of Moscow. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a couple of kilometers southwest of the Kremlin.

Moscow Kremlin and Red Square
The prime go-to tourist destinations in the city are the Moscow Kremlin, which is the oldest part of the city, and the adjacent Red Square. Both are on the UNESCO’s World Heritage List for their cultural and political significance as well as standout architecture.

Most tourists head to the Kremlin or Red Square first considering their prominence. While at Red Square pay homage to great communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin at his mausoleum. Next to it, close to the Kremlin wall, is the grave of his comrade Joseph Stalin and several other leaders of the Soviet Union.

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.

Between the Lenin's Mausoleum and the Kremlin wall are the graves of national leaders including Joseph Stalin. Note the name of Stalin engraved on the tombstone in Russian as Ста́лин.

Note: There is no public entry to the Kremlin museums on Thursday. GUM is open on all days from 10 am to 10 pm. The Red Square is open round the clock, all days of the week; but the entry to the Lenin’s Mausoleum is only for three hours (10 am to 1 pm) on all days except Monday, Friday and national holidays. So plan your Red Square visit in the morning and return by evening if you wish another stroll.

How much time to spend: You may earmark half a day, at least, or minimum 4 hours for the Kremlin tour. A whole day is required for a comprehensive tour. Visit Red Square and St Basil's Cathedral in the afternoon. Evening is apt for visiting GUM, but take lunch at one of the restaurants at this magnificent edifice. Don't miss the ice-cream kiosks near the fountain.

Activity for evening/late evening: A boat cruise on the Moskva River. The tickets are sold on the lawns leading to Park Zaryadye which is opposite Red Square. Subsequently, as you return to your hotel late in the evening, let the cab take a detour for you to see the landmarks shimmering under the night sky. Do this if you avoided night tour on the arrival day.

Panorama of Moskva River and Kremlin Embankment, Moscow, Russia. View of tourist boats and ships on river. Photo: Shutterstock/Viacheslav Lopatin

In winter consider avoiding/minimising late-night trips, especially in sub-zero temperatures, if you are not from the cold climes.

For more on Moscow Kremlin and tickets click here:

For more on Red Square, GUM and other tourist centres near Kremlin, read this article:

Nearest metro stations:
For Kremlin: Biblioteka Imeni Lenina (on Sokolnicheskaya Line). Other nearby metro stations: Kitaya-Gorod, Ploschad Revolyutsii, Okhotny Ryad and Teatralnaya.

For Red Square and GUM: Okhotny Ryad, Teatralnaya and Ploschad Revulyutsii.

For Park Zaryadye and St Basil's Cathedral: Okhotny Ryad, Teatralnaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsii and Kitay-Gorod.

For The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour: Kropotkinskaya

Day 2
Destinations/Activities: Gorky Park and a few stations of the Moscow Metro tour. A ride or two on the metro train.

Gorky Park
After breakfast head to the Gorky Park, which is formally known as the Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure. It is the first park developed in Moscow soon after the establishment of the Soviet Union with the avowed purpose of leisure and holding cultural activities.

This 220-hectare park on the banks of the Moskva River is the first choice to unwind for many Moscow residents though the city has several other green lungs.

The most popular park in Moscow is named after legendary Russian writer and communist ideologue Maxim Gorky (1868–1936).  

A whole day could be spent at the park as there are different avenues for recreation, physical exercises, events and sports. Astronomical observatory, museums, gardens, lagoons, monuments, public baths, etc are among the top attractions.

Cruise on a small ship from the Pushkinskaya dock. The apt selfie spots are the landmark 24 m entrance gate and the Pushkinskiy Bridge. Have a sweeping view of the city from the observation deck on the roof of the main entrance. Try skating at the ice rink if you are arriving in winter.  

Check out this website before visiting the park.

Note: The entrance to the park is free, but tickets are required to visit museums and a few zones of the sprawling area as well as for entertainment facilities. The park is open daily.

Nearest metro stations: Oktiabrskaya and Park Kultury on the Red Line.

The other prominent parks in Moscow include Zaryadye (opposite Red Square), Alexander Garden (runs parallel to the westen wall of the Kremlin), Tsaritsyno, Kolomenskoye, Sokolniki, Ostankino, Izmailovsky and VDNKh.)

Visit one of the restaurants at the Gorky Park before you commence the tour of a few grand stations of the Moscow Metro.

Moscow Metro ride and tour of stations
The Moscow Metro, also known as the People’s Palace, is an unavoidable destination for tourists arriving in the city. At least a dozen stations on various lines of the nearly century-old public transport system are must-see places and many more are worth a visit for their spectacular architecture, beautiful designs and exquisite art.

A scene at a metro station. Photo: iStock/tomasworks

Non-peak hours are the best time to explore. Reach the station before 8 am, between 11 am and 4 pm, or after 9 pm to enjoy the architecture, art, designs and lights without being shoved aside by the milling crowd. Buy a ticket and go past the turnstiles as most of the attractions are on the platform or on the transfer corridors.

How to spot the metro station? The red letter “M” is found outside metro stations. Though dozens of stations on the network will impress you for the grandeur, beauty and art, we suggest you to visit at least four to six or even a dozen.

Komsomolskaya, Novoslobodskaya, Kievskaya, Kurskaya, Park Pobedy, Prospekt Mira, Ploshchad Revolyutsii, Arbatskaya, Mayakovskaya, Elektrozavodskaya, Aviamotornaya and Krasnopresnenskaya are among the dozen stations you should explore.

Download the Yandex Moscow — Metro Map to plan a ride on the metro trains.

Read this article on Top-12 Magnificent Stations of the Moscow Metro

Click here to know how to take a ride on the Moscow Metro:

Activity for evening: Circus
Circus is often associated with Russia and it still holds its charm through out the country. All major Russian cities have their own troupes with permananent bases. Moscow is the base of the Old Moscow Circus and the Great Moscow State Circus. The former is now famed as the Nikulin Moscow Circus and the latter is popular as the new Bolshoi circus.  

1. Nikulin Moscow Circus is at the Tsvetnoy Boulevard in centre of the city. The showtimes are 14.30 and 19.00 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

The duration of the performance is 2 hours 20 minutes. You may book the tickets online on the circus website itself but show the printout at the entrance. Choose the date and time of the performance and also the seat.

Ticket price ranges from 1,500 to 4,000/5,000 RUB. You can also buy tickets directly from the box office at the location. ALERT: Buy tickets from resellers and other online platforms only as a last resort.  

Nearest metro station: Tsvetnoy Bulvar on Grey Line (Line 9).

2. The Great Moscow State Circus is located at Vernadsky Prospekt, near Sparrow Hills, near the Universitet metro station. The performance are held mostly on weekends at 13.00 and 17.00 hours.

The show prices range from 600 to 4,000 RUB. Backstage tours are held for groups often at 11 pm on the show days. The ticket price is 1,500 RUB per person.  

You may buy the tickets directly from the counters either at the circus building or at the GUM Department store at Red Square.

They are sold daily from 10:30 to 19:30 at the box office at the location and from 11:00 to 20:00 at GUM. Or else you may request your travel agent to buy tickets from authorised sales agents listed on the circus website.

Nearest metro station: Universitet (Line 1).
Bus routes: 67k or 130.
Trolleybus route: 49.
Minibus route: 751м from Profsoyuznaya metro station to Universitet metro station. 130 or 130м from Filyovskiy park metro station to bus stop near the Universitet metro station.

Activity for late evening: Dinner at a high-rise hotel offering a panoramic view of the city.  

City Space Bar & Restaurant which is close to the city centre on Garden Ring is a good choice for food and drink at a dizzying height. It is on the 34th floor of the five-star Swissotel Krasnye Holmy Moscow. The rates are not prohibitive. Check the menu here.

Nearest metro station: Paveletskaya

Other hotels/bars offering a great view of the city/landmarks are below. The rates here may put off the budget traveller.
1. The Sixty on the 62nd floor of the Federation Tower at the Moscow International Business Center. 
2. Grand-Café Dr Zhivago is another hotel popular with tourists. It is on the ground floor of five-star National Hotel located opposite Red Square at the corner of Mokhovaya and Tverskaya streets.

You will get a beautiful view of the Kremlin at this Soviet-themed restaurant serving Russian cuisine. The prices are reasonable considering the location. Dinner for two costs about 5,000 RUB.

Reserve your seats. Follow the dress code. Breakfast buffet at the National Hotel costs 3,600 RUB. Alexandrovsky Bar and Beluga restaurant too are in the same hotel. 

3. O2 Lounge at The Carlton, a 5-star luxury hotel in the very heart of Moscow. It is located on Tverskaya Street, close to Red Square. O2 Lounge is a rooftop restaurant. Here you get a close, panoramic view of the Moscow Kremlin.

4. The restaurant at the Ostankino Tower. (See below)

Day 3
Destinations: State Historical Museum. Ostankino TV Tower. All-Russia Exhibition Centre (VDNKh or VDNH). Museum of Cosmonautics.

Russian astronaut spacesuits in Museum of Cosmonautics, which were specially developed for space vehicle missions. Photo: Shutterstock/Gilmanshin

State Historical Museum
Again you head to Red Square. Today visit the State Historical Museum. It is that striking red building located on one end of Red Square and opposite the St Basil’s Cathedral. Russian history buffs should definitely visit the museum. The building was designed in the Russian revivalist style and built in the late 19th century.

Ostankino Tower
By noon head to the northern part of Moscow to climb the Ostankino Tower. It is 15 km from the city centre, i.e., Red Square. Since its opening in 1967 it has been the main television and radio broadcasting centre in Russia. The concrete tower was built in the Ostankino district to mark the 50th anniversary of the October Revolution.

At 540 m (1,770 ft) it is the tallest structure in Europe even today and a major Moscow landmark of immense political significance.

From the observation deck at 337 m tourists get an amazing 360-degree view of Mosow and its outlying areas. The express elevator takes not even a minute to reach here. If you are scared of heights, try the lower deck at 85 m.

Guided tour and interactive audio-guide are available. The tower houses a souvenir shop, restaurant, interactive multimedia complex and museum.

Ticket price for higher deck: Adults: 1,200 RUB on weekdays; 1,400 RUB on weekends. Children: 800 on weekdays and 900 RUB on weekends.  

You may buy ticket online in advance or from the counter at the site. For tickets and rules check the websites here and here:

Note: As the tower is a high-security zone ID document is required for entry. Entry is barred for children under 6 years, women in late stages of pregnancy and some categories of physically challenged persons.

All-Russia Exhibition Centre (VDNKh)
Up next, the All-Russia Exhibition Centre. It is a sprawling permanent exhibition centre located 1.5 km northeast of Ostankino Tower and about 12 km from the city centre.

Fans of the erstwhile Soviet Union may love this facility where 'Achievements of National Economy' are on display. A whole day is required for a detailed tour as the site spans 3 square kilometer and has 400 buildings. It is dubbed the “Soviet Disneyland” for the myriad entertainment avenues.

The famous sculpture of 'Worker and Kolkhoz Woman' and the Cosmonauts Alley featuring the statues of space explorers are outside the main entrance of the VDNKh.  

The Exhibition Centre is popularly denoted by the English acronym VDNKh or VDNH coined from its formal name Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva which means Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy. VDNKh is pronounced vɛ dɛ ɛn kha. The Russian acronym ВДНХ also can be spotted.

Check website before visit. For tickets, check here.

Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics (Space Museum)

The Soviet Union has been a pioneer in space exploration. The exhibits at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics recount the space exploits of the former superpower. They include personal belongings of cosmonauts, remains of rockets and space equipment as well as archival documents on major space projects.

The museum is located in the 'Conquerors of Space' monument on the VDNKh campus itself. The towering monument is striking for its stylobate —  a continuous horizontal masonry that supports a colonnade. The aforementioned Cosmonauts Alley links the museum to the  VDNKh metro station.

The Space Museum is closed on Monday. It is open from 10 to 19:00 on Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Sun; The vist time on Thursday and Saturday is from 10 to 21:00 hours.

Tourists with children should try to visit the Museum of Cosmonautics as well as the Moscow Planetarium and Moscow Zoo. The planetarium and zoo are located next to each other in the centre of the city. Plan the visit for another day.

The highlight of the planetarium is the largest dome-screen in Europe on which a multitude of stars can be seen.

Activity for evening: Watch a ballet, opera or concert at the Bolshoi Theatre.

The State Academic Bolshoi Theatre of Russia is popularly referred to as the Bolshoi Theatre. It is renowned world over for its ballet and opera performances.

True to its name Bolshoi, which means big or grand, the ballet shows here are adjudged one of the best of its kind in the world and called Bolshoi Ballet. Founded in 1776, Bolshoi Theatre is one of the oldest ballet companies in the world and a Moscow landmark.

Swan Lake, one among the classic ballets, is its greatest production. The historic two-century-old theatre is located on Teatranalaya Ploshchad (Theatre Square) in the centre of Moscow.

Book tickets for the show on the website  or buy from the counter at the theatre. In order to book online, create personal account here.

As you finalise your Moscow journey dates, book the show you want to watch at the Bolshoi. Advance booking often commences three months before.

Ticket prices range from a lowly 200 to a few thousand roubles. The highest price is often 5,000 to 6,000 RUB.

Identity card is a must to buy personalised ticket, i.e., one with name embossed on it. Take a printout if you have an e-ticket.

First show often starts at 12 noon and the latest starts at 19.00. Different ballet, opera or concerts are held at different time slots at the venues named Historic Stage, New Stage, Chamber Stage and Beethoven Hall.  

There is no dress code as such but entry will be barred if you arrive in dress inappropriate for the splendid occasion in a majestic setting. So avoid too casual attire like shorts, T-shirt or slipper. Children below 6 years are not admitted but different shows have different age restrictions too. Note the minimum age marked on posters and tickets.

Individual and group visits to explore the theatre too can be booked. Individual tours are held on Thursday from 11:00 to 11:30 am. Get your e-tickets and arrive at the entrance № 12 before the Historic building of the theatre. Group visits booked by organisations are allowed on all weekdays from 10:00 to 16:00. One tour lasts one-and-a-half hours. A single ticket costs 1,500 RUB.

If you want to watch dramas, visit Maly Theatre, which is next to the Bolshoi Theatre, on the same street.  

The erstwhile Central Children’s Theatre, now renamed the Russian Academic Youth Theatre (RAMT), is also here. In Soviet times this theatre was famous for top-notch plays for children. 

Nearest metro/monorail stations
For Bolshoi Theatre: Teatralnaya metro station

For Ostankino Tower: 1. Teletsentr station of the Moscow Monorail. (Walk for 10 to 15 minutes to reach the tower)

2. From VDNKh metro station take trolleybus 36 or 73 to Akademik Korolev Street. Then walk for a few minutes.

1. VDNKh metro station (Line 6/Orange Line) between Botanical Garden and Alekseevskaya  stations. It is only 7 minutes walk to the main entrance.
2. Botanical Garden station: Walk towards the Leonovskaya grove for the entrance. Just 13 minutes walk.
3. Monorail: Alight at Exhibition Center stop. Then 4 minutes walk to the main entrance.
4. Tram: Alight at VDNKh stop. Tram route Nos. 11, 17, 25.

5. Bus: Alight at VDNKh stop: Bus route Nos. 15, 33, 56, 76, 93, 136, 154, 172, 195, 244, 803, P12, T13, T36, T73.
6. Taxi bays/call desks within VDNKh territory.

For Museum of Cosmonautics: VDNKh metro station (Line 6/Orange Line)

For Moscow Planetarium: Barrikadnaya metro station (Line 7/Purple Line). Krasnopresnenskaya metro station is also nearby. One of the Seven Sisters is across the Barrikadnaya Street.

For Moscow Zoo: Krasnopresnenskaya metro station (Line 5/Brown Line).  

Read part 2 of the story here

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