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Moscow Unveiled – Explore Iconic Sights On A Red Square Morning In Russia

If you’re a member of generation X and beyond you’ll have grown up with the iconic Soviet images of Moscow’s Red Square in all it’s military chest puffery. But the breathtaking St.Basil’s Cathedral and it’s spires is what spiked my curiosity as a kid and was one of the iconic images that fueled my desire to travel. I was speaking with someone recently who was weighing up their options for some sightseeing potential in between connecting flights. It got me to thinking of my own Red Square morning in Russia and how well Moscow is suited for a quick dip in the bucket list.

A while back I spent a week working in Moscow and had a free morning to take in the sights. Admittedly I was pretty green, I had no real grasp of the layout in Moscow, we had a fixer so there was no imperative. But I did have one genius idea that I rue to this day. Why not take my old film camera and create some classic slides? Dumb idea. No, let me rephrase. Monumentally misdirected brain fart.

Sunset by Dmitry Terekhov

Moscow Unveiled – Explore Iconic Sights On A Red Square Morning In Russia

To qualify the last comment. I’ve lost quite a few of the slides when we did our last transcontinental move and the ones that remain are a royal pain to scan. But this post is not all scratched celluloid and poor photographic planning. You know when you first started travelling and expected or perhaps hoped, to see Big Ben from the sliding doors of Heathrow or find the Sistine Chapel next to the Colosseum? I woke up on my half-day off and followed the directions that Ivan… yes, Ivan the fixer, had rattled off the night before with some parting words.

It’s all good

He was understating a tad. Just a quick few stops on the Metro then boom. Red Square, St.Basils, Lenin’s Tomb and the Kremlin. All neatly packaged in a 1 square mile radius.

St Basil’s Cathedral

Entry: Guided English tours 1000 Rubles | Open Daily: 11am to 5pm, Closed first Weds of the month (when I was there) *Times vary check here for updates

I prefer the official name “Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat”, kinda catchy huh. St Basil’s was built as victory celebration by Ivan the Terrible in the mid 1500’s and is now a museum. It was closed when I was there but you can see from the images that I tended to ignore the Kremlin and had eyes only for St Basil’s and it didn’t disappoint. I love this building, I must have done three laps of it. It’s just insane. If you were to design this now it’d be career over.

Inspired by a bonfire reaching skyward, it is surprisingly unique in that I expected to find more examples of this type of Byzantine architecture around the city. I wandered the streets and kept a constant lookout and saw none. I found out later from ‘Ivan the Fixer’ that there isn’t any.

The Soviet Union secularized St Basil’s in 1929 and it has been a part of the State Historical Museum ever since [1]. It was included as part of UNESCO’s Kremlin World Heritage listing in 1990.

Red Square

As with St Basil’s, Red Square is included in the UNESCO World Heritage listing and is the hub of Moscow. The cities major arteries originate from here and being the site of the countries most significant landmarks, Red Square is the literal and symbolic center of Russia. An interesting fact, “Red” isn’t a patriotic thing, it comes from the Russian word “krasnaya”, meaning “red” and “beautiful”.

Red Square’s origins pre-date the 1500’s and was originally a tactical buffer for protecting the Kremlin. It has since morphed into a market area and public space and was even an intended landing strip for a young German pilot and his Cessna in 1987. He bottled it in the end… didn’t want to run down the tourists and landed on the road nearby instead.

Today Red Square is a vast cobblestone field that you can stand in the middle of and gawk at an insane historical checklist that surrounds you.

Panoramic by Sergey Kochkarev

The Kremlin

Entry: Range from 700 Rubles to 250 Rubles, Kids 16 & under Free | Check here for updates

Hours: 09.30 – 18.00 | Winter:10.00 – 17.00 | Closed 0n Thursdays
*The ticket office: Hours: 09.00 – 17.00 | Winter: 9.30 – 16.00 | Closed 0n Thursdays
The Kremlin is actually a generic reference for Russian citadels, the Moscow Kremlin has hijacked the word somewhat, being synonymous with the seat of power in Russia. The Kremlin’s history goes back thousands of years but the current architectural aesthetic owes itself largely to the Italian masters of the late 1400’s. This place is massive. Walking around it’s perimetre would chew up half a day alone and there are multiple sites of interest inside. If you’re a student of even recent Soviet/Russian history this will do it for you. Lenin took up residence here after the revolution, Stalin did the same and destroyed a bunch of stuff and Putin… mmm, put in a helipad.

The one thing I found with this entire “Red Square” experience is the level of complexity with opening times, ticketing and queuing is borderline nightmarish and certainly off-putting. There are separate admission prices for different areas and sites. There is a cue for admission that has more to do with security than tickets (only small backpacks allowed) and there are different cues for different tickets. You can by tickets inside as well as outside at vending machines and a ticket office. I would consider booking a tour through a private company as you can bundle experiences and speed up access. If you are organised enough, buy your tickets in advance online. I strongly recommend checking out this I super-helpful review that I found that goes into great depth on the Kremlin tour experience.

*There are allocated session times for many venues due to their capacity restrictions.

Kremlin by night Mark Pegrum

Kremlin by day Holger Zscheyge

Lenin’s Mausoleum

Entry: Free | Open Times: 10:00am – 13:00pm, Tues – Thurs & Saturday

Lenin, the Russian communist revolutionary, died on January 21, 1924 and within a week the first incarnation of his tomb was in place in front of the Kremlin, opposite the Gum Galleries in Red Square. It has been a divisive issue as to whether to continue it’s up keep or bury his body. They even put Stalin’s body in there for a few years before the de-Stalinization period of Brezhnev’s rule in the 1960’s. More than 10 million people visited the mausoleum up until the early seventies and it’s still very popular. Expect waits of up to 45 minutes in a cue that snakes its way down the hill.

Lenin’s Tomb  Brandon Atkinson

State Historical Museum

Entry: 700 Rubles, Kids 12 and under free
Opening hours:
1 Sep – 31 May 10am – 6pm / 10am – 9pm on Fri/Sat | Closed Tuesday
1 June – 31 August:10am – 9pm

State Historical Museum is the largest national museum of Russia. This 140 year old museum houses worldwide antiquites in themed sections. I didn’t have time to go in but reviews are positive despite the lack of English signage and poor functioning audio guide.

*If you found this post useful why not keep heading east? Try our post on the magical Japanese city of Kyoto – Kyoto – 7 Easy strolls you will never forget, or maybe a dose of sun Exploring Morocco’s Salt Trail from Marrakech to Zagora .

Map of Moscow's Iconic Sights

Getting Around Moscow

Tickets: Single to Multiple trip tickets – up to 60 trips | Cost: 1 trip 55 Rubles, greater discounts for multiples.
*Purchase tickets at vending machines which have an English option. Just wave the ticket over the sensor on top of the barrier.

I found the Metro underground train system to be by far the best way to get around and a pretty cool experience, kind of like being in Gotham City. For those that haven’t been to Gotham City think period Paris shopping centre with a Tim Burton twist.

First off, the green “M” sign is an entrance, the red “M” is an exit. It’s a little daunting at first as many stations don’t have English destination translations but you’ll quickly learn to recognise the names in the cyrillic alphabet. The arriving trains are labelled with the final destination. Check the official site here you can figure out your journey using this page. If you reference this site you’ll get a terrific step by step guide to the Moscow Metro including the best stations to stop for corresponding sites.

Getting To And From Moscow Airports

Train

Return Tickets: 840 Ruples | Time: 35-45 minutes
Moscow has 3 international airports – Domodedovo (DME), Sheremetyevo (SVO) and Vnukovo (VKO). They are all 30 – 40 km’s from Moscow city centre and are all serviced by the Aeroexpress which does the journey from all of them in around 35-45 minutes (Domodedovo is the farthest). You can purchase tickets at the Aeropress Website and scan the receipt QR code from your device or from a print out. There’s also vending machines and ticket booths on site. You’ll need to swap over to the Metro to get to “Red Square” station (Okhotny Ryad), or jump in a taxi.

Taxi

Cost: Approx. 2000 Ruples | Time: 1 – 2 Hours
The easiest option although the traffic is the problem here. I was surprised at how long it took and given the context of this post, I’d be catching the train.

Moscow Unveiled - Explore Iconic Sights For a Red Square Morning In Russia

When To Go To Moscow

I’ve you’re not from a cold climate I’d seriously consider your timing. I went during the winter thaw (which was a bit muddy), around early April and man, it was still reeeeally cold, -8°C average in January! The upside is the spectacular images you’ll get in the height of winter with the snowfall and the city is well connected with heated pedestrian tunnels that making getting around on foot pretty easy. But maybe save yourself the pain and try some sunshine. July & August are warmest, it can get to 30 degrees celsius, January is the coldest.

Where to Stay in Moscow

I stayed slightly further out near the “Department of Ministry” building but if I’m just in Moscow for a short time to check out Red Square and co, I would be staying closer to the action. We use Airbnb whenever the opportunity pops up and at a glance there seems like there is a lot of listings in Moscow. We run our own place in Port Douglas, Australia so know the system pretty well and for us it’s the most user-friendly of the private holiday rental apps. If you are planning to stay for longer than 2 nights, click here to set up an Airbnb account (and get a $55 discount on your first booking), it can be a roll of the dice in terms of what you get but you’ll likely get way more bang for your buck.

If you’re more comfortable (get it😉) going with hotels, below is an accomodation banner for you to check out some hotel options through Agoda or use the Hotels Combined search engine, which is preset to search the Moscow area.

Credits

Whilst many of the images are our own we did get some help from the some talented individuals, we like to give credit when it’s due! If you click their links under the images you will see some fantastic portfolios of passionate travellers and photographers. All images were obtains under the Creative Commons Licensing Agreements

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