Moscow is one of Europe’s most enigmatic destinations, with a fascinating history and colorful, awe-inspiring architecture that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Moscow may be one of the most populous cities in the world with over 11 million people, but that hasn’t changed its strong cultural and social traditions. Take an early morning stroll through the cobbled streets of Red Square or the banks of the Moskva River, and it’s hard to tell which century you are in.
Glamorous boutiques, must-see churches and tsarist architecture blend together for a visual experience you won’t forget. For ideas on what to see and do while visiting Russia, here is our list of top Moscow tourist attractions.
The Kremlin is undoubtedly the most recognizable structure in Moscow which is a 15th-century fortified complex that covers an area of 275,000 square meters surrounded by walls built in the 1400s. The Grand Kremlin Palace – which has over 700 rooms – once housed the Tsar family and is now the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation, although most state heads choose to reside elsewhere.
Many other buildings are also included in the massive complex, some of which are open to the public and can be visited regularly. Along with three cathedrals (one where the Czars were once crowned) and a number of towers, the Kremlin is also home to the Armory Building, a museum containing everything from the imperial carriages and royal crown to the ivory throne of ‘Ivan the Terrible and Fabergé Eggs.
2. Bolshoi Theater
To the largest and one of the oldest ballet and opera companies in the world, the Bolshoi Theater is home. Although the theater has undergone several major renovations over the past century – including a recent one in 2011 to restore some of the Imperial architectural details – it still retains all of its neoclassical grandeur.
Inside, red velvet, a three-tier crystal chandelier, and gilded moldings give the place a grand Byzantine-Renassain feel like no other.
Watching a performance by the resident ballet and opera troupes is a treat, as the theater often features a number of classical performances, such as Tchaikovsky’s Mazeppa and Rachmaninoff’s Francesca da Rimini, both premiered here.
An architectural marvel is Moscow’s oldest and most upscale shopping center. GUM (short for Glávnyj Universálnyj Magazín or “Main Universal Store”) was built in the late 1800s in Russian Revival style to feature a beautiful mix of a steel skeleton and 20,000 glass panels forming a roof vaulted.
It was a unique construction at the time, as the glass had to be strong enough to withstand the snowy Russian winters. The building is equally impressive on the outside, with all three levels covered in marble and granite.
Although GUM is no longer the largest shopping center in Moscow, it remains by far the most beautiful. Home to brands like Gucci and Manolo Blahnik, it may not be the ideal destination for most budget-conscious visitors, but the beauty of the building itself is worth seeing.
There are also excellent dining options on the third floor, including a Soviet-style canteen that serves traditional Russian cuisine and a stand selling hand-made ice cream using an original 1954 recipe originally approved by the Soviet government.
4. Lenin’s Mausoleum
The Lenin Mausoleum, the last resting place of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin, takes center stage in Red Square. His body has been in the mausoleum since his death in 1924 – and although the original plan called for him to be buried after a short period of public display for mourning, the plan quickly changed.
After more than 100,000 people visited the tomb over a six-week period, it was decided that a new sarcophagus and more permanent exhibition space could actually preserve Lenin’s body for much longer than expected – and the Lenin’s mausoleum was built. Over the years, the mausoleum and its marble stairs also became the main location from where Soviet leaders watched the parades and events taking place in Red Square.
Lenin’s balmy body can still be seen today, lying in a bullet-proof glass sarcophagus as if he were sleeping. While a visit to the mausoleum is certainly unusual, it has become a must-see for history buffs looking to understand how Lenin’s legacy really changed the nation. Be prepared to wait, however, there are usually lines to enter.