If Russia is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” as Churchill famously said, then Moscow presents an intriguing starting point for cultural discovery. See the city’s most iconic sights (as well as some under-the-radar secrets) with a savvy local expert, both above ground and below.
Glamorous, grand, gorgeous and sometimes maddening, Moscow is Russia’s principal city. Founded in 1156, it was the capital of the medieval nation. Moscow lost its status as capital to St. Petersburg under Peter the Great, but it never lost its significance to Russia, and it has reestablished its dominance over the nation’s culture, politics and economy during the past century.
Moscow city tour
It can be difficult to get a handle on this vibrant and sprawling capital, which amazes visitors with its stunning contrasts. A panoramic tour with a knowledgeable local guide will introduce you to the most famous sights: the Kremlin, Bolshoi Theatre, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and Tverskaya Street, which are all close together in the heart of the historic city. Sparrow Hill, on the right bank of the Moscow River, gives you a fabulous view of the city below, as well as of the Moscow State University. A bit farther afield, you’ll see such landmarks as the New Maiden Convent, Bow Hill and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Step off your motorcoach for a short walking tour of Red Square, the historic heart of the nation; it has, over the centuries, been the site of national celebrations, coronations, executions, hand-to-hand battles and May Day parades glorifying Communist might. These days you are more likely to find huge rock concerts or large-scale fashion shows held on the square itself, but the mystique of the space remains intact, and any visitor can sense echoes of its tumultuous history. You’ll notice many restaurants in this busy neighborhood; choose one to experience a typical Moscow lunch with the locals—your knowledgeable guide will happily recommend venues, as well as dishes you should be sure to try.
Tour of the metro and Arbat Street
It may be the most famous subway system in the world because of its lavishly decorated 1950s stations, which have marble walls, chandeliers, mosaics paying tribute to Soviet icons and bronze fittings. The Moscow Metro has developed into a huge network since it was begun in 1935, with 11 lines and approximately 170 stations, and it’s growing all the time. Nine million people use it every day; it’s the fastest and easiest way to get around this sometimes chaotic city, whose traffic jams are just as terrible as any other major city. Let an expert show you how to use this system, so you will feel confident using it when you explore on your own. One of the handsomest stations, Arbatskaya, is convenient to Arbat Street, which is also on your itinerary today. First mentioned in Moscow’s records in the 15th century, Arbat Street is now a pedestrian shopping area lined with handsome buildings where many famous writers (including Tolstoy) once lived. Novelists, poets and dissidents frequented it during the Soviet era, and its cafés and bars remain popular. These days it’s a great place to watch street performers and shop for souvenirs.