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7 Places to Visit in Moscow

Moscow may not be at the top of your to-travel-to list, and honestly, without a work trip forcing my hand it probably wouldn't have been at the top of mine either. But the more time I spent in the city the more I grew to love its beauty. My whirlwind trip has me excited to read more about the cultural history and traditions and attempt to understand some of the misunderstood. I've rounded up my seven favorite spots to share today!

As a note - all of these spots are extremely accessible by the Moscow Metro system which was super cheap and incredibly reliable. Each ride is a flat charge - 38 Rubles while I was there (the exchange rate was about 65 Rubles to 1 dollar, so the rides were very affordable). The longest we ever waited for a train was maybe a little over a minute! I recommend getting a Troika card upon arriving in Moscow and reloading it as necessary!

1. Red Square

No Moscow trip would be complete without a visit to Red Square. On somewhat of a whim our group decided to venture down to Red Square one evening after work - the four returning colleagues tried to shield my view as we walked towards the fortress walls and shuffled me over to Voskresensky gate (Resurrection gate in English). As I turned around the view of the square was incredible. The Kremlin walls glowed red and the colorful domes of St. Basil's juxtaposed the night sky. Even though the history here is turbulent, there is a guttural feeling of weight and significance while standing in this spot.

I enjoyed the symmetrical brick designs of the State Historical Museum set directly across from the playful, brilliant domes of St. Basil's. The wall itself stole the show in my opinion - so iconic and simple, but incredibly rich in history and an imposing presence.

Photos from my first sight of Red Square. Top left: State Historical Museum. Top Right: St. Basil's Cathedral. Bottom: panoramic of the square including St. Basil's on the left, the Kremlin wall and the State Historical Museum on the right. 

Red Square feels entirely different during the day - festive and joyful with lots of tourists. I recommend walking through Alexander's gardens on the western wall of the Kremlin. I was impressed with the carefully manicured designs!

St. Basil's during the day on the left. Top right: view of the Kremlin wall from a bridge over the Mockva river. Bottom right: a few shots of the beautifully maintained Alexander gardens. 

2.  VDNKh

Literally, this acronym stands for the "Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy". Essentially it's a giant park with pavilions for each of the Soviet Republics. Originally opened in 1939, the idea was essentially a cultural center - allowing each republic to share items of cultural significance or economic exports.

The entrance features a commanding archway and a central pavilion which was built in the Stalinist Architecture style. The first day we visited VDNKh large areas of the installation were closed due to ongoing "City Day" celebrations (we found out later President Putin held an event there). My work buddies seemed disappointed that they couldn't show me the "Friendship of Nations" fountain - so we stopped by after work later in the week. They were right - the fountain is not to be missed! During the winter this whole area around the fountain is turned into a huge ice-skating rink, it can hold something like 4500 skaters!

VDNKh is also home to the Cosmonaut pavilion and the "Monument to the Conquerers of Space" I mentioned in my last post.

Upper left: entrance to VDNKh. Upper right: central pavilion. Lower right: Friendship of Nations fountain. Lower left: v. large statue of Lenin. 

3. Sparrow Hills

Moscow State University is situated on an area of land called "Sparrow Hills". The picturesque spot is elevated about 300 feet above the river and provides a gorgeous panoramic view of Moscow. The university itself is a site to see - home to one of the "Seven Sisters" and until 1990 the tallest building in Europe. Much like the gardens near Red Square, the grounds are beautifully maintained and the tall trees breathed a little life into this 100-degree-100-percent-humidity-houston-soaked-girl. After you are done soaking up the view, head down the steep walking trail and enjoy a peaceful walk along the river.

Top: the view from Sparrow Hills. Bottom right: you can see Luzhniki stadium, the site of the opening and closing ceremonies for the 1980 Summer Olympic games. 

4. Cathedral of Christ the Savior

Wow, wow, wow - this church is magnificent! The building itself has some interesting history. Fun fact - the original building, completed in 1883 was the site of the world premiere of Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture! After the 1917 Russian Revolution, state atheism took hold (state atheism, in general, is the idea that those seeking social success generally had to profess atheism and stay away from houses of worship) and in 1931 the cathedral was dynamited to make way for Stalin's proposed "Palace of the Soviets". Long story short, the palace was never completed due to various reasons (including WWII). The flooded foundation became the world's largest outdoor swimming pool for a period of time, but eventually, the site came full circle. The church was rebuilt and consecrated in 2000.

Cathedral of Christ the Savior, Moscow. 

5. Izmailovo 

Izmailovo market is the place to go for Russian souvenirs! Hundreds of vendors bring all of the standards - matryoshka dolls, handicrafts, leather items, vintage USSR artifacts, painted plates, etc. Even better than all these treasures is the yummy food - shashlik! It's similar to kebabs, but somehow even tastier - must be that Russian charcoal. I recommend the lamb, and a side of bread!

Left: entrance to Izmailovo market. Right: shashlik!

6. Detsky Mir

I showed you a couple photos from the Lego store inside Detsky Mir on my last post - but the real treat, the reason to trek through a crowded children's mall in the middle of Moscow is for the view from the roof! For around 100 Rubles you can step on the 7th story observation deck and see an incredible view!

Left: At the end of the road you can see another one of the "Seven Sisters". Right: soaking up this view!

7. Tsaritsyno Palace

With one evening left in Moscow, our group decided to take a 30-minute metro ride out to Tsaritsyno Palace. I was a little skeptical of venturing so far out of the center of town, but the grounds were more than worth the uncomfortably crowded metro! Empress Catherine the Great was enthralled with the landscape here (and I can see why!) - construction started on a palace in 1776, but in 1785 when it was near completion, Catherine decided the rooms were too dark and cramped, so it was torn down. Catherine approved new architecture plans in 1786, but her death in 1796 halted construction. The palace was left abandoned until 2005 (more than 200 years!). The complex as it stands today was finished in 2007!

Top: panorama of Tsaritsyno Palace. 


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