Moscow is considered to be one of the most expensive cities in the world, but thankfully you don’t have to be a Rockefeller to explore the city and to see some of its most iconic sites. All you have to do is take a walk. And even if all you have is 2 days in town, this will give you a good introduction to Moscow.
The Old Arbat
Start your exploration on the Old Arbat Street. To get to the beginning of the street you need to take Metro (subway) to Smolenskaya station. The station itself looks like a museum exhibit and provides a perfect start to our “Historic Moscow” walk.
Once you emerge from the station veer left and you are on Arbat. As the name suggests, the Old Arbat Street is one of the oldest streets in Moscow. This cobbled thoroughfare adorned with multi-colored facades of historic buildings, old-style street lamps and a multitude of souvenir stalls is a favourite walking place of Muscovites and tourists alike.
At the start of the street there is a lovely turquoise mansion with a bronze statue at the front depicting Russia’s most famous poet Alexander Pushkin and his beautiful wife Natalia Goncharova. The newly-wed couple indeed lived on Arbat for a few months after they got married. Until Pushkin gambled away a substantial part of the family’s fortune and the couple had to return to St Petersburg.
Further down the street there is a more modern installation – a graffiti-covered wall commemorating Victor Tsoi – a soviet rock musician who died in a car accident. The wall started as a single inscription on 15 August 1990: “Victor Tsoi died today” and later many more inscriptions have been added.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior
At the end of the Old Arbat Street you have two choices: continue straight ahead to the Red Square or turn right onto Gogolevskiy Blvd for a detour to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The cathedral is advertised as one of the most important historic landmarks in Moscow, though it is better known as the site of the controversial performance and consequent arrest of the balaclava-clad members of the punk group Pussy Riot.
To reach the cathedral follow Gogolevskiy Blvd towards the Moscow River until you see its golden domes and white facade. The cathedral can be visited for free providing you are properly dressed.
By now you will probably be quite tired of all the walking and the good news is, the best piroshky (pies) in Moscow are sold from a small stand right behind the cathedral, at the beginning of the Patriarshiy Bridge. There are a few benches around and you can easily find a quiet spot to sit down and enjoy the views of the Moscow River and the old city around it.
Having rested, start following the river along Prechistenskaya naberezhnaya (embankment walk) towards the Red Square until you reach Bolshoy Kamennyi Bridge. Once there, walk under the bridge, cross the road, turn left and follow the red Kremlin wall to the entrance into Manezhnaya Square. And here you are – at the iconic Red Square – the historic heart of Moscow.
There are lots of things to do at the Red Square. You can check out Saint Basil’s Cathedral commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, see Lenin’s body in the mausoleum, have an exceptionally overpriced cup of coffee and absorb the spectacular views.
The State Department Store, GUM, located right here at the Red Square provides a glimpse at the luxurious side of Moscow. The building, complete with architecturally stunning hallways, arched ceiling and indoor fountains houses some of the most expensive brands in the world. The majority of Moscow population views GUM as more of a museum rather than an actual department store.
A fitting end to the day’s explorations would be a short walk down Varvarka Street – the oldest street in Moscow. The first mention of the street dates back to the XIV Century when victorious Dmitry Donskoy rode into Moscow after defeating the Golden Horde at the Battle of Kulikovo (1380). Dmitry Donskoy was one of the most accomplished Moscow princes – the first white-walled Kremlin was also built during his reign.
Varvarka Street is also famous for housing more churches than any other street in the capital. But it is not all churches off course. At the beginning of the street (Varvarka, 4) is one of the oldest secular buildings in Moscow – the Old English Embassy. It was presented to a group of English merchants in 1553 by Ivan the Terrible – the first all-Russian Tsar. During his reign Russian empire was borne out of a collection of medieval states.
A few meters down the street is another historic building – the Palace of the Romanov Boyars, built in XVI-XVII Centuries. Even before their rise to the throne in 1613, Romanovs have long been prominent Moscow aristocrats and this area was their domain. The family fortunes first soared when the family founders’ daughter Anastasia married the Tsar of the Rurik dynasty – Ivan the Terrible in 1547.
Currently the building houses a museum dedicated to the lifestyle of Moscow’s medieval nobility.
Moscow has a very comprehensive Metro network with an inner circle line that intersects all 12 suburban lines. To get from any station to any other station, first catch a train to the station of the inner circle line that is located on your suburban line, then catch a train along the circle line until you get to the intersection with the suburban line where your destination station is located and catch the third train from the city circle line to your destination. Some of the lines naturally intersect in the middle and you may only need to change trains once, instead of going via the inner circle line.