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Travel

Moscow Winter Guide

Two years ago I went to Moscow to visit one of my best friends, Masha. She’s my Russian friend who I’d met during my exchange year in the US. With her, I had a chance to see Moscow from many different angles. I was amazed by Moscow, because it’s truly a unique city: very modern, yet full of history. It has similarities with big European cities, but also something typically Russian and unique. One thing is for sure, there are so many things to see in Moscow and I was overwhelmed by its beauty and the amazing history.

My trip took place during Christmas, so the entire city was decorated magnificently. Even though the temperature was -20 °C on some days, I didn’t mind. I probably always imagined visiting Russia in the winter, so I guess I was prepared. Even though Moscow is my favorite winter destination, I plan to return in the summer to see everything I missed. I wrote this guide with Masha’s help and I’m sharing my top places in Moscow, tips on how to get around, where to eat, etc.

The currency in Russia is the ruble. 1 EUR = 78 RUB and 1 USD = 68 RUB.

Getting to Moscow

This varies from country to country, but I’ve found that there are many cheap flights from different European cities. I flew with Air Serbia from Belgrade which cost me around 150 EUR, but I’ve now found a cheaper way to get from Serbia to Moscow and that is to take a bus or train to Budapest and then fly. From Budapest to Moscow there is a Wizz Air flight for which I found a ticket that costs only 50 EUR!

Getting Around Moscow

The metro is the fastest and the easiest way to get from point A to point B in Moscow. There is also public transport above ground which includes buses, trams, etc. We mainly used the metro and it got us to every destination quickly. The tickets for the metro are cheap and you can buy them at metro stations. You can buy a ticket for 1 ride or more and you can also buy a Troika card, a plastic card with which every ride costs less. This card can be used for all types of public transport and you can charge it on machines at metro stations.

A ticket for one ride costs 55 RUB or 36 RUB with Troika card.

What to See and Do in Moscow

Red Square

The Red Square is the main and the most famous square in Moscow. If you look around while standing on the square you’ll see every little thing that comes to mind when you think of Moscow. There’s the St. Basil’s Cathedral, which is famous in the whole world, because of its architecture and the vibrant colors which give it a unique look. There’s no place in Moscow with more history than the Red Square. Here you can see the historical Kremlin and Lenin’s mausoleum, the shopping mall GUM, the Historical Museum, etc.

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If you find yourself in Moscow during the holidays, you will also see the Christmas Market on the Red Square. In the winter, the whole square is decorated beautifully, ornaments and lights are everywhere. Moscow is a really shiny place this time of the year!

The Red Square is the most famous attraction in Moscow, so expect to see a lot of tourists here any time of year.

The Kremlin

The Kremlin is a huge historical complex in the centre of Moscow. It’s a true symbol of Russia and it consists of palaces and churches and it includes a few museums. The Moscow Kremlin is the place where Russian emperors used to be coronated. Masha and I decided to visit the Armory Chamber. In this chamber you can see precious items from tsars’ treasury, coronation dresses, gold and silverware made by Russian and European craftsmen, ceremonials armor, carriages and more. In the Armory Chamber there are more than 4000 items made in Russia, European and Eastern countries in the 4th to early 20th century. 

The exhibit is really breathtaking and you will definitely see something you find interesting, so I suggest you put this on your Moscow to do list, especially if you’re a history buff. If you end up liking to learn about Russian history, you can visit the State Historical Museum, which is also located on the Red Square, afterwards

The ticket for the Armory Chamber is 700 RUB and you can also get an audio guide to help you learn more about the exhibit.

GUM

GUM (Главный универсальный магазин – literal translation: Main Universal Store ) is a 120-year-old fancy department store in the heart of Moscow. Another symbol of Moscow, it’s not your typical mall even though you can find stores of many world-famous brands. You should check out GUM even if you don’t plan to shop because it really doesn’t look like modern malls. Instead, it’s located in this gorgeous building which is a true monument of architecture and it is always decorated beautifully. There is even a fountain in the middle of the mall. 

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In the winter, there is an ice skating ring in front of GUM where you can ice skate or watch a performance on ice. We watched a ballet on ice “Swan’s Lake”, for which the admission was free, while we were drinking mulled wine to keep ourselves warm.

Discover the Beautiful Metro Stations

There is no place on Earth where the public transport stations look like the ones in Moscow. When you think about a metro station, you probably picture an plain, modern, undecorated space. This is not at all true when it comes to Moscow. In Moscow, every metro station is like a unique work of art. Moscow metro stations are decorated with big chandeliers, mosaics, pictures and statues. Not only does the metro do a great job in connecting every neighborhood in Moscow, but its stations also look like a museum. If you don’t believe me, read this post. This is another reason why the metro should definitely be your main mode of transportation in Moscow.

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Try to avoid taking the metro during rush hour, because the crowds are insane during these hours.

Bulgakov Museum and Patriarch Ponds

If you are a bookworm, a fan of Mikhail Bulgakov or his novel The Master and Margarita, this small museum is a must see. Otherwise, you probably won’t find it interesting. I was thrilled that I could visit this museum because I had read The Master and Margarita a few months earlier and was amazed by the novel. The museum is actually an apartment where Bulgakov once lived, his first address in Moscow. In the apartment 50 you can see his belongings and read about his life during USSR. In the halls of the building, the visitors of the museum wrote quotes and drew symbols from his novels. 

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The tickets are really cheap (50-150 RUB) and college students can go in for free. There are also a few different tours, in English and in Russian. 

If you visit the museum, take a walk to the Patriarch Ponds which are nearby. If you’ve read The Master and Margarita, you know that this is the place where the novel begins. Today, there is only one pond left, but it’s a nice park with monuments of Bulgakov and a famous Russian writer of fables Ivan Krylov. Also, you will have a chance to see the famous sign Don’t talk to strangers from Bulgakov’s novel.

This is a great Moscow neighborhood where you will also find many good restaurants and cafés.

Take a walk in Arbat

Arbat Street is one of the most popular streets in Moscow. It is a pedestrian zone with many stores and souvenir shops which makes it the Russian version of this type of street that is present in many European cities. In the past, this was an élite neighborhood where many famous people lived and many great writers walked. This is the street where the great poet Pushkin once lived with his family. Today, his apartment is a museum which you can pay a visit to.

Lomonosov University and Vorobyovy Gory

If you want to take a break from the busy streets, but still have a great view of Moscow, this is a great route for you. Vorobyovy Gory or Sparrow Hills is one of the highest points in Moscow. On top of the hill there is an observation point where you can see a panoramic view of the city of Moscow from a distance.

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On the opposite side is the oldest university in Russia – Lomonosov Moscow State University which you can walk to. The central building of the university is one of Stalin’s Seven Sisters, a group of 7 skyscrapers designed in the Stalinist style.
This is a great park zone to come to if you want to relax and walk for hours, which is what we did, or to come and see the view from the observatory if you don’t have more time.

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See a Ballet or an Opera

If you are an art lover, Moscow is definitely a place where you should see a ballet or an opera. Russian composers created an impressive amount of masterpieces you can see and hear in theatres.

The most famous theatre in Moscow is, of course, the Bolshoi Theatre. I suggest you come to take a look at this theatre even if you’re not seeing a show because this gorgeous building is a theater that is famous around the globe. Since the ticket prices for Bolshoi were too high when I was in Moscow, we decided to see a ballet in Stanyslavskogo Theatre, where the tickets were more affordable. The ballet was Snegurochka which I had never heard of before that, but it ended up being a great performance and a wonderful way to spend the evening. I also found out that Snegurochka is a famous character in Russian folk tales – the daughter of Father Frost.

The tickets for Bolshoi Theatre aren’t always expensive, so buy them in advance, as early as possible, and you will find affordable ones.

Look for Ice Sculptures in Victory Park

During the winter you can spend an afternoon looking at beautiful ice sculptures at one of the parks in Moscow. When I was in Moscow, I saw ice sculptures in a few places, but we went to Park Pobedy or Victory Park. There were many stunning (and huge) sculptures which we took a ton of pictures of. 

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This park also has a rich history – it’s a memorial to all the soldiers who fought in World War II. At this spot Napoleon waited in vain for Russians to hand him the keys of Moscow and there is also a Triumphal Gate nearby which is a symbol of Russia’s victory over Napoleon. There are many monuments in the park, such as the Victory Monument, as well as the Museum of the Great Patriotic War.

Buy Souvenirs at the Izmaylovo Market

In the city district called Izmaylovo there is a big market which is a great place to buy souvenirs at. Here you can find everything, from Russia key chains and matryoshkas to fur hats, vintage stuff and souvenirs with Putin’s face on them. I think I’ve never been on a trip where I got so many souvenirs for such a low price.

Close to the market is another cultural complex of the Kremlin – the fairytale-like Izmaylovo Kremlin which you may find interesting.

A few more ideas:

• Enjoy looking at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior 

• Admire the great art at The Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts

• Visit the most urban part of the city – Moskva City

• Relax in one of the beautiful parks, such as Gorky Park, if the weather is nice.

What to Eat and Where to Eat

My favorite dishes that I tasted in Russia are blini (the Russian version of the crêpe), caviar and Olivier Salad, which usually has peas, potatoes, carrots, onions, meat, pickles, and eggs all mixed with mayo. Also, make sure you try the borscht because you can’t say that you visited Russia without tasting this famous Russian soup, made from beetroot. 

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A great modern restaurant I went to is called Chips and a cake shop where I ate the biggest piece of cake ever is I love Cake. Still, my favorite place was Krosha Kartoshka, this fast food restaurant chain where you can eat a baked potato with a variety of different toppings.

When it comes to Russian cuisine, Masha suggests restaurants Ruski and Mary Vanna. She also says that next time I come to visit I have to try Georgian food.

I hope that this post was useful for you if you’re planning to visit Moscow and that you’ll have an opportunity to visit this amazing city very soon.

If you have suggestions for other activities, interesting places or good food in Moscow, leave a comment below.

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I’d like to use this opportunity to thank Masha for helping me write this post and for showing me the best of Moscow, of course!