Top 10 Things To Do In Moscow

Moscow is a bustling and quickly changing city that offers tourists an array of choices. Whether you'd like to shop or walk on the historical Red Square, you won't be disappointed by what Moscow has to offer.

1. Red Square

Destination number one for all tourists to Moscow is the legendary Red Square. Despite popular believe, the square was not named after the Soviet Party's favorite color; it was actually named in the 17th century using an old, Russian word for "beautiful". Red Square has been the central square of Moscow since the 15th century.

Combined with a tour of The Kremlin, a trip to Red Square is an all day event. The area is packed with historical sites and points of interest. Begin your tour by walking through the recently re-built Resurrection Gate. This gate had been the entrance to Red Square since the 16th century, but it was demolished on Stalin's orders so that large Soviet tanks could easily roll down Red Square for Soviet parades and celebrations.

As you begin your stroll onto Red Square, you will immediately notice St. Basil's Cathedral, recognizable world-wide; the first time you see this colorful, Russian masterpiece, it seems unreal. The cathedral was built in the 16th century by the decree of Ivan the Terrible. The wonderfully ornate structure was restored in 2004. Visitors who choose to tour the inside of the cathedral are treated to a complex interior filled with nooks and crannies that are painted throughout with Russian Orthodox depictions.

Just in front of St. Basil's Cathedral is the notorious Lobnoye Mesto. It is a common misconception that this was used as an execution area; in fact, it was mostly used as a stage for reading the Tsars' edicts, giving religious ceremonies and making important public announcements. Executions were held on Red Square, but they usually took place on the hill behind St. Basil's Cathedral.

GUM Department Store is a graceful, arcade-type, shopping center the runs along the east-side of Red Square. GUM holds dozens of shops including many high-end, retailers such as Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton. If such boutiques are not in your price range, there are plenty of mid-range shops to choose from as well as several places to grab a quick bite or sip of coffee.

It seems that every year The Kremlin threatens to remove Lenin's body from the Lenin Mausoleum. Lenin, of course, is still lying mummified in his glass tomb, and though the line to see him gets shorter every year, it is well worth a visit. Visiting hours are short and change with the season, so check with your tour group or hotel in advance for the mausoleum's open hours.

2. The Kremlin

The Kremlin is the center of government in Russia. The term "Kremlin" roughly translates as "fortress" in English and every major city in Russia had one. The Moscow Kremlin is a giant fortress consisting of a brick wall surrounding the Kremlin grounds on which stand cathedrals, a palace, an armory, an arsenal and numerous government buildings.

Many of the Kremlin buildings are open to tourists. The Kremlin is vast and packed with interesting historical landmarks, museums and cathedrals. It would be wise to pay for a guided tour and budget an entire afternoon if you want to see all The Kremlin has to offer.

Kremlin Must Sees:

· Cathedral of the Assumption

This is the oldest church within the Kremlin walls where many of Russia's Tsars were crowned.

· Cathedral of the Annunciation

This church was once the private area of worship for Tsars and their families.

· Cathedral of St. Michael the Archangel

Completed in 1508, this cathedral holds the remains of several Russian leaders.

· Ivan the Great Bell Tower

Built in the 16th century, this bell tower rises to a height of 81 meters and is the highest point within the Kremlin walls. Interestingly, when Napoleon invaded Moscow, he ordered the bell tower to be destroyed, but the operation was unsuccessful.

· Church of the Deposition of the Robe

This church is the smallest of the Kremlin cathedrals; it served as a private house of worship for the Russian Orthodox Church's top patriarchs.

· The State Armory

Open to the public, Russia's oldest museum houses an impressive collection of state and royal treasures. The crown jewels of Russia are on display as well as countless other artifacts.

· The Tsar Bell and Cannon

Two landmarks that are popular with Kremlin visitors are the Tsar Bell and the Tsar Cannon. The massive bell which weighs over 200 tons was never rung. The Cannon was built to guard the Kremlin's Savior Gate but has never been fired.

3. The Bolshoi Theater

The world-famous Bolshoi Theater, meaning Big Theater, is Russia's largest and most famous theatre. With seating for over 2,000, the Bolshoi boasts a massive auditorium. The five-tiered auditorium is luxuriously decorated in the 19th century Russian neoclassicism style. The theatre, though always grand, began to show sings of aging and was therefore closed for much of the 2004 season. The Bolshoi has reopened in 2005 refurbished to its original standards.

No trip to Moscow would be complete without experiencing a show at the Bolshoi be it an opera or a ballet performance. Tickets can be secured through your travel agent, your hotel, or if you are brave and would like to save some money, you can purchase tickets at the on-site ticket kiosk. Be forewarned that foreigners are charged more than locals at all ticket kiosks. Also, scores of scalpers can be found outside of the theatre daily selling tickets for that evening's events.

4. The Moscow Metro

The Moscow Metro is unlike any other metro system in the world. Stalin believed that instead of providing decent housing for all of the citizens of the USSR, it was better to build less living accommodations and more "palaces of the people". These "palaces" were public buildings, monuments, and parks that were architecturally impressive and decorated top to bottom in pro-soviet images and were meant to serve as a matter of pride and enjoyment for the Soviet citizens. The metro is one of the finest examples of this theory.

The downtown stations are filled with valuable artworks such as murals, statues and mosaics as well as crystal chandeliers and marble archways and benches. Each station was designed by a prominent Soviet architect or artist. It is said that much of the marble used in the metro systems were lifted from churches that the soviet government demolished. In fact, the famous, and now re-build Cathedral of Christ the Savior (number 10 on the list) provided marble and decorative elements for several of the stations.

Most recommended stations for a Metro Tour:

· Kropotkinskaya

· Ploschad Rovolutsii

· Komsomolskaya

· Mayakovskaya

· Novoslobodskaya

· Novokusnetskaya

· Belorusskaya

· Kievskaya

· Arbatskaya

· Park Kultury

5. The Old Arbat

The historical Old Arbat is one of few pedestrian streets in Moscow. Until recent years, it has long been considered on of the cultural centers of Russia. The street boasts some of the country's most famous artists, composers, musicians, artists and writers as its former residents. For example, Pushkin, Russian most celebrated writer, and his wife's first home was located on the Arbat. His home is now a museum which is open daily to visitors.

Now, the street is no longer home to Russia's intellegencia, but rather a tourist destination. Though the street has in recent years become heavily commercialized, it has still managed to hold on to much of its original charm. Most tourists come to shop for souvenirs and art which are sold by street vendors up and down the lane. You can find a bounty of souvenirs for sale on the Arbat including, nestling dolls, paintings, icons, hand-painted boxes, fur hats, scarves and much more. Also, there are dozens of cafes and restaurants full of foreign tourists.

6. Moscow State University

The 36-story, main building of Moscow State University is the largest of Stalin's "seven sisters", seven gothic skyscrapers built in the early 1950s. It stands on Vorobyovy Gory, which means Sparrow Hills, at one of the highest points in the Moscow metro area. Though technically tourists are not permitted inside the building, it is still worth a visit to see one of the most impressive buildings in the city.

Perhaps as impressive as the building itself, the terrace to the front of the campus overlooks the entire city of Moscow. From this vantage point nearly all of Moscow's landmarks are visible. Come on a Saturday to see scores of brides and grooms posing with family for pictures.

7. Moscow River Boat Excursion

The Moscow River flows through the center of the city past many of Moscow's greatest buildings and views. River boat excursions are an inexpensive and delightful way to see the Moscow sites. In the warmer months, tourists can catch a boat for about $6. In two hours you can get great views of the Kremlin, Gorky Park, Vorobevy Hills, Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow State University and more. Bring you camera.

8. Izmailovo Park

Izmailovo Park is a favorite among foreign tourists to Moscow. The main attraction is a huge open-air market selling traditional, hand-painted, Russian souvenirs, cold-war memorabilia, antiques and art. Haggling is expected and can become quite a game for a perspective buyer as stall-holders try to lure you away from their competition by promising you lower prices and deals. Most of the market stalls are open only on the weekends.

To escape the busting market, be sure to visit the Izmailovo Royal Estate, which is just a short walk away. The estate was a childhood get away for Tsar Peter the Great and his family. Many of the 17th century structures still stand today, such as the Ceremonial Gate and the Cathedral of the Intercession.

9. Novodevichy Convent

The "New Maidens Convent" was established in 1524 and has served Moscow as a convent and, at times, as a fortress. The convent is situated in a quiet, yet central neighborhood in Moscow and is now a popular place for both locals and tourists. A beautifully-maintained, and tranquil park surround Novodevichy Convent, providing the locals with an escape from the heavily urbanized Moscow. The convent, it's cathedral and cemetery are open to visitors and boasts a highly-ornate Cathedral built in 1525 that features a solid-gold, hand-carved iconostasis.

Visitors flock to the convent's cemeteries where many important Russian and Soviet historical figures, artists, authors and architects are buried. Russia's most infamous Tsar, Peter the Great, banished his sister to the convent when she refused to abdicate the thrown to him. Her grave, as well as his wife's, are located in the Old Cemetery. Two of the most famous Russian writers, Chekhov and Gogol, are both buried in the New Cemetery along with the likes of; Stanislavsky, founder of the Moscow Art Theater; the world renowned composer Shostokovich; and Nikita Khrushchev, Soviet Primer from 1953-1964.

10. The Cathedral of Christ the Savior

This new cathedral has a long history. The original was built in the mid 19th century as the largest church in Russia, serving as a symbol for the Russian Orthodox Church's influence and power over the country. Stalin had the church destroyed in 1933 to make way for his great vision the "House of Soviets", which was to be an enormous construction housing government and soviet party offices. The original plan included an astronomical 100-meter-high (328 feet) statue of Lenin topping the skyscraper. The building was never build due to architectural problems; so instead, a massive, heated, public, swimming pool was built for the citizens of Moscow to enjoy year round.

Moscow's mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, raised money and had the Cathedral rebuild in the 1990s. It now stands in the center of the city, on the Moscow River's left bank. The massive golden dome is visible from all over the city center. The Cathedral is heavily decorated with white marble and bronze statues and reliefs. Though it is Moscow's newest major landmark, it is quickly becoming a favorite tourist destination.

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