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A city guide to Moscow

Russia's official capital city and The Third Rome

Russia's official capital and headquarter's of the Russian government, Moscow is considered the political and religious heart of the country. The city has the highest density of billionaires, is the world’s most populated inland city and boasts six out of Europe’s ten tallest buildings. 

Moscow continues to be a major tourist destination in Europe that is growing hugely year on year, increasing from 12.8 million visitors in 2010 to around 23.5 millions visitors in 2018. The city is home to over 11 million people and has naturally grown around the River Moskva.

St Basil's Cathedral Moscow, Russia

History of Moscow

Moscow has endured a long, tumultuous history and has been shown on countless occasions to be a survivor of great misfortune. Despite this, the city has also enjoyed times of great prosperity, even where little seemed possible.

Early beginnings: 12th century

The first official mention of Moscow dates back to 1147 as a meeting place between Yuri Dolgorukiy (A Rurikid Prince and later Grand Prince of Kiev) and Sviatoslav Olgovich (Prince of Novgorod). This small town was fortified in 1156 with a timber fence and moat, which was then burnt to the ground by The Golden Horde shortly after. In 1260 the town was inherited by Daniel (son of Alexander Nevsky) at a young age with his uncle Yaroslav of Tver acting as caretaker, eventually resulting in a power struggle between principalities with Daniel becoming ruler with his brother Dmitri's (Grand Prince of Vladimir) help.

The making of the Grand Duchy: 13th - 16th centuries

Daniel ruled as Grand Duke of Moscow until 1303, under which time the city became incredibly prosperous. The first monastery was built in 1282, now known as the Danilov monastery.

In 1380, Dmitry Donskoy of Moscow defeated the Mongols at the Battle of Kulikovo with a united Russian army, liberating Moscow from Mongol domination. In 1462, Ivan III (Ivan the Great) became Grand Prince of Moscow (then part of the state of Muscovy) enlarging Moscow's territory by conquering the much larger principality of Novgorod. In 1480, Ivan III succeeded in breaking Russia free from Mongol control entirely and the Moscow Kremlin (originally built in the 14th century) underwent reconstruction shortly after.

The beginnings of the Russian Empire: 17th - 20th century

In 1712, Moscow ceased to become Russia's capital (aside from a brief 4 year period) with Peter the Great moving the government to St. Petersburg, leaving Moscow to fall into decline until 1750 when the population expanded almost ten times over from 130,000 to 1.8 million by 1915. When Russia was invaded by Napoleon in 1812, a fire devastated the city with an estimated three quarters of the city being razed to the ground.

Soviet era and beyond: 1917 - 1991

In 1918, Lenin moved the capital from St. Petersburg to Moscow out of fear of a possible invasion, with the Bolsheviks moving the seat of government back to Moscow in the same year. During the next few decades to Soviet Union was established with Moscow as its capital, a move that of course paved the road to its role as a world capital and a global actor in the Cold War era.

After the collapse of the USSR in 1991, Moscow became the capital of the Russian Federation, developing into the city we see today with Western influences in retail and lifestyle.

What to do in Moscow

Moscow is packed full of things to do from museums and art gallery visits to incredible sightseeing and boat tours.

Kremlin and Red Square

History buffs will enjoy exploring traditional Moscow. The capital’s status as the political, financial and strategic centre, first of the Tsardom and then the Soviet Union, has left its traces on many corners of the city. No trip to Moscow is complete without visiting the world famous Kremlin and Red Square, these sites are home to a rich political and military history and you will often find commemorative military parades taking place in Red Square.

Looking to book a tour of the Kremlin or Red Square? See our full list of Moscow tours.

Moscow Museum of Modern Art

A contemporary art museum looking at art works from the first few decades of the 20th century, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art explores artistic trends and movements in Russia, specifying Russia's role in the development of world culture.

Sightseeing and walking tours

There is more to Moscow than relics from times gone by; there are the skyscrapers, the residences of the wealthiest people on the planet and modern and fresh entertainment complexes located next to tiny bohemian art galleries. Art and culture thrive in contemporary Moscow, but again the old mixes effortlessly with the new. Moscow represents traditional Russia, and yet the city’s diverse and vibrant culture and makes for a true, authentic experience.

Climate in Moscow

Each season brings a special flair to the city, but it should be noted that the late summer can get very warm with temperatures averaging in the mid-twenties and possibly climbing up to over 30°C. May and June are likely to see more mild temperatures and therefore attract the most travellers. However, you should also consider a trip during the cold months, when the city is transformed into a winter wonderland. The warm beverages, hearty food and cultural activities happen aplenty in Moscow during this time of the year and let the magic of the Russian winter come alive.

Weather in Moscow

 

Where to eat and drink in Moscow

If you are into food, then Moscow is certainly the place to be. No matter if you wish to try traditional Russian meals such as Borscht (Russian beetroot soup) or blini (Russian pancakes) with chocolate on the go, or if a fashionable Sushi restaurant is more to your taste – be assured that you will find the ideal place to dine out in Moscow. Moreover, Muscovites love their bars – there are coffee bars, wine bars and beer bars to choose from. We have included a list of our top 3 favourite places to eat and drink in Moscow below:

For drinks:

1) Noor

Noor is a classic cocktail bar located a short walk away from Red Square. The bar offers an extensive selection of cocktails from carefully created classics to hot cocktails that are the perfect remedy for those cold winter months. The building is shared with the Stanislavksy Electrotheatre which is a modern performing arts theatre and cinema.

2) Timeless Lounge

The Timeless Lounge exudes comfort and sophistication. This luxury bar is located in the heart of Moscow and is host to an array of Jazz and hip-hop musicians. The bar has an impressive menu including cocktails, shisha and an assortment of teas.

3) Strelka Bar

Strelka Bar is an informal space with urban decor combining Art Deco, Italian and Scandi styles. The rooftop bar offers exceptional views of the Moscow River and is a perfect place to sit back and relax with friends.

For food:

1) LavkaLavka

A self-proclaimed food-to-table restaurant specialising in serving traditional Russian cuisine for the modern pallete. You will find many of your Russian favourites here including dumplings, borsch and game dishes.

2) Wine & Crab

Exactly as you would expect, Wine & Crab serves an extensive selection of crab (11 different species to be exact!) in different ways. Perfect for lovers of seafood, this restaurant caters to those looking for a more unusual culinary experience.

3) Tkemali

Tkemali serve a delicious selection of Georgian inspired dishes using the freshest local ingredients. The restaurant has a refreshingly modern interior that blends traditional Georgian elements with the modern dining experience. Tkemali also has an impressive selection of food dishes suitable for vegetarians.

How to get to Moscow

The city is Russia’s main air traffic hub and can be reached by three major airports: Sheremetyevo International Airport, Domodedovo International Airport and Vnukovo International Airport. All of these are located a little off the city centre, but they are served by various means of transport. An easy option are the quick and relatively cheap Aeroexpress trains and the airports are also connected to the city, and in some instances to one another, via shuttle buses and local transport.

Moscow is just as accessible by land, because also serves a major railroad hub and is well-connected to many Eastern European and the major Russian cities. It is the western-most stop of the Trans-Siberian Railway that connects the capital with Vladivostok on the Pacific and also with Beijing. St. Petersburg is connected via a high-speed train and the journey can be as short as four hours.

Why you should visit Moscow

All in all a trip to Moscow should be a no-brainer. With flights leaving from several London airports as well as Manchester it is the most accessible Russian city when travelling from the UK. However, a trip to Moscow is more than just a city-break in one of the world’s most exciting capitals. Despite being so easy to reach, it offers a cultural experience refreshingly different from the big European capitals. Steeped in history Moscow represents the future: Russia the way it wants to be, the way it will be: diverse, colourful, modern, but with a sense of culture and tradition.

Moscow commonly asked questions

Here, we have included some of the most commonly asked questions we get asked by people looking to travel to Moscow:

Is Moscow safe?

Yes, despite being one of the most populated cities in Europe, Moscow has a relatively low crime rate when compared with other major capitals including London and Paris, although travellers should always be vigilant around high-density areas including airports, bus and train stations.

What is the best way to travel to Moscow?

Moscow is an internationally connected city that can be reached by air or train by many major airlines or train routes. Travelling by air is often more expensive, but will often take less time than going by train. Direct trains go between Moscow and St. Petersburg, therefore it is also possible to travel to St. Petersburg by ferry and then take the train to Moscow.

Please see our Moscow - St. Petersburg trains page for more information.

Is Moscow train station near the city center?

Red Square is approximately 45 minutes away from the train station on foot, however there are metro lines located just outside the train stations (Komsomol'skaya) that will take you directly into the heart of the city.

Is Moscow expensive?

Moscow has been classed as the most expensive city in the world in recent times, however after the recent devaluation of the Russian Ruble prices have become much more reasonable. How much you spend largely depends on what you are looking to do, you can expect to pay between 200 to 700 rubles for most museums in the city which works out to around £9 in British Pound Sterling. Food a drink will vary depending on the restaurant, however Moscow typically falls within the same price range that you would expect to pay in other European capital cities such as London or Paris.