Flanked by the imposing buildings of the Kremlin, the stepped granite blocks of Lenin’s Mausoleum and the fanciful onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow's Red Square is nothing short of legendary, but only a taste of what the Russian capital has to offer.
Manicured gardens and parks, brutalist monuments, quirky museums, open-air cinemas and glitzy boutiques co-exist in this storied city, which burst into the 21st century with a slew of restaurant openings and grand urban schemes.
Visitors have never had it so easy, with a raft of digital innovations designed to facilitate and enhance the tourist experience.
One such is the RUSSPASS, a new e-service that allows users not only to plan and book attractions in Moscow and across Russia, but also to create bespoke itineraries to suit every type of interest and budget. The RUSSPASS app is available in English and Spanish and allows tourists to buy e-tickets and to top up the balance of a Moscow transport card.
Beyond caviar and ballet
Moscow’s burgeoning gastronomic scene has been causing a stir locally and internationally. Published for the first time in 2021, the Michelin Moscow Guide awarded its prestigious stars to no fewer than nine of the city’s restaurants. A total of 69 restaurants were recommended, with three of them awarded ‘green stars’ for sustainability. Fifteen restaurants received the ‘Bib Gourmand’, which acknowledges excellent cooking at affordable prices.
Time-honoured haunts for blinis and caviar include the baroque Café Pushkin and the formidable soviet-themed Dr Zhivago, while the glass-domed White Rabbit, whose chef starred in Netflix's 'Chef's Table', continues to dazzle with creative twists on classic dishes. Also creating a stir is Twins Garden, which focuses on wildly inventive vegetable dishes and home-grown produce.
As the country emerges from the pandemic, music, theatre and exhibitions are also back on the agenda. A performance from the matchless Bolshoi Ballet has been a hot ticket since the 18th century, but the Bolshoi Theatre is just one of more than 700 Moscow cultural centers.
These include world-renowned palaces of art such as the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, a remarkable collection bringing together masterpieces from every major Western movement as well as Egyptian antiquities.
Lesser-known but equally fascinating galleries lie all over the city. An offshoot of the Tretyakov Gallery, the New Tretyakov Gallery also focuses on modern Russian artists, and features works by Kandinsky, Chagall and Popova, among many others.
Moscow's wealth of parks and curious architecture make it a great place for children. The fairytale colours of buildings such as St Basil's Cathedral are every match for the architectural whimsy at Dream Island, a huge indoor theme park where cartoon characters wander through the crowds.
The shiplike Northern River Terminal, built in the 1930s in a Stalinist style, is also a favourite, and has recently undergone dramatic renovation. It now includes a wealth of children’s playgrounds, heating swimming pools and a winter ice rink.
Other ways to keep the little ones entertained include catching a movie at the Khudozhestvenny cinema or a trip on the Moskva River cable car. This vertiginous ride has panoramic views over the city, taking in the Moscow river, the Ostankino TV and radio tower and the skyscrapers of the business district.
These and other activities for children and families are laid out in the official city tourist portal, discovermoscow.com. Here you’ll find information on every type of attraction, from which animals can be petted at the VDNH city farm to the best street food snacks and where they can be found.
It’s a huge and colourful resource, covering the most obscure museums and secret parks, with suggestions for different days of the week and a blog-style news section. On a practical level it lays bare the transport system, COVID-19 protocols, Wi-Fi possibilities and where to hire bikes and scooters.
Rising to current challenges with innovation
Not only its attractions, but also Moscow’s enormous efforts to face the health crisis in practical and forward-thinking ways have been acknowledged on the international stage. In 2021 it has been nominated for both World’s Leading City Destination and Europe’s Leading City Destination at the World Travel Awards.”
The authorities’ support for the travel industry in troubled times has seen dozens of online events and international tourism conferences, as well as the launch of the Moscow Travel Hub, a collaborative platform to promote the creation and development of new products and services.
The spring of 2021 saw the Moscow Travel Hack, an extensive hackathon in which finalists were offered financial support for the implementation of their products, at a time when digital tourism solutions have never been so integral.
Digital tourists can use discovermoscow.com to take a virtual trip to the ballet or opera and even watch cooking or fashion shows. Together with the wealth of detail and endless images of the site, even armchair travellers can experience the wonders of Russia’s greatest metropolis.