Moscow in One Day
Many of my dear clients come to visit Moscow just for one day. The most popular reason for it is that they are actually traveling elsewhere, and Moscow is just a transitional point, but they do not want to miss the opportunity to explore this famous city, even if very quickly. Specifically for cases like this I came up with a quick program that can be completed in several hours, yet includes pretty much all the landmarks that you can see in any top 10 of Moscow’s biggest tourist attractions.
In fact, most of them are located so closely that you won’t even need a car, we can just walk from one stop to another - it’s not really that challenging. However, if you don’t feel like it, then we can surely use a car.
1. The Red Square
First place we should start with is probably the most famous one – the Red Square, the heart of the city, from which you can actually see the next few destinations, but let’s talk about the square itself. It has a very rich history that dates back to the days of Ivan the Terrible, a well-known Russian tsar (well known for how terrible he was) who lived in early XVI century. The square was originally a marketplace; a very big marketplace, medieval analogue of today’s biggest trade centers, and there was still enough room to use it as a place for all kinds of royal ceremonies. Even by today’s standards it a very wide area paved with reddish stone, but it’s not why it’s called red. There’s nothing strange about it, because it wasn’t, in fact, that red back then, as it was paved a few times. The name comes from archaic Russian word that means “red” and “beautiful” at the same time (Russian people clearly have a soft spot for color red), so it is the “beautiful square” for that matter, but it’s probably too late to change it now. Also, nowadays that word actually does only mean “red” in Russian, so even some Russian people (uneducated ones, I would guess) think that it’s red because it looks red. Anyway, walking around it will take us about half an hour, after which can go straight to…
“GUM” is, in a way, a continuation of medieval practice to use the Red Square as a trading place, because “GUM” is an enormous mall (“GUM” is short for “main universal store” in Russian, and should be pronounced “goom”). Building it was the idea of Queen Catherine II herself (XVIII century), but, well, not all your plans go smoothly even when you’re a monarch, so they never finished it during her lifetime. But the idea never died, so it was built, burned down (by accident), reconstructed, almost demolished (on purpose), and reconstructed again so many times that you could write a book about it, which is why I won’t be laying heavy on the details in this article. Enough to say that GUM the way we know it today was reconstructed the last time in 1950’s. As you can guess, architecturally it is quite distinctive from other malls anywhere in the world, because all the architects had always been faithful to historical origins, and never tried to make it look “more modern”. Even looking at it from the outside is quite an exciting experience (which is a part of walking around the Red Square), but it is just as magnificent on the inside. Frankly, there’s nothing really that special about what you can actually buy there (this is where GUM is pretty much like any other huge mall), but in terms of architecture and design, it’s quite amazing what they did there. Exploring GUM takes approximately 15 minutes, and our next place to go, If you don’t mind, will be…
3. Lenin’s Tomb
Guess where it is. Precisely, on the Red Square! It’s a place called Lenin’s Mausoleum. If you do not know who Lenin is, then, first of all, shame on you, and second of all, he was the leader of The Great October Social Revolution of 1917. The title of this revolution is quite self-descriptive: In 1917 Lenin, his comrades Bolsheviks, and (this is an important part) half a million people peacefully picketing in Petrograd (Russia’s capital city ‘til 1918) had overthrown the monarchy and established social state. So he’s quite memorable. This is why when he died in 1924, his body was preserved and put in Mausoleum, which was built specifically for that purpose, for people to be able to see Lenin’s body that is lying in a glass sarcophagus. It takes about 1 hour (there is usually a long line of people). Stalin, for that matter, was also embalmed and put in Mausoleum (also after he died), but later, when Khrushchev, who was much milder than Stalin, came to power (given that being milder than Stalin is like being softer than diamonds), Russians felt like they had enough of praising Stalin, so his body was removed. Not too far though, it was cremated and put into the Kremlin Wall. That brings us to the next destination, which is…
4. Kremlin’s Grounds and Cathedrals
First of all, let’s clarify what Kremlin actually is, especially given that Kremlin is a lot of things. Originally, Kremlin is a defensive architectural assemble that consists of tall and long walls and lots of towers that are even taller. The word “kremlin” was actually used to describe central fortified complexes in many historic Russian cities, so the one we’re talking about should technically be called “the Moscow Kremlin”, but it’s a default meaning of “kremlin” now, unless you actually specify that you imply Novgorod Kremlin, Kazan Kremlin, etc. Built in XV century, it takes 27.7 hectares (0.277 km2) and is located… bingo, right next to the Red Square.
The area includes five palaces, four cathedrals, the enclosing Kremlin Wall (the one that contains Stalin’s ashes, as well as other famous people’s ashes), and that’s not even a half of what there is to see in Kremlin, so don’t be surprised that this part of the tour takes the most time, around 1.5 hours (I’m good with timing, so don’t worry). There are also two gardens, Russian Diamond Fund, the Tsar Bell (a really big bell) and the Tsar Cannon (you guessed it, a huge cannon)… see, I’m not even describing these things, just listing them makes this article longer than I expected it to be (which, as I said, never happens in terms of guiding the tour, I never lose track of time so don’t worry about it), and, to be fair, it’s beyond me to describe all that grandeur anyway, so just come and see it yourself. And when you’re done seeing, we can go and...
5. Have a Lunch
If you are an experienced traveler, you should not be surprised that am giving this delightful activity it’s special place in this list. Not only will you probably be glad to eat something after walking around for 3 hours, but trying another country’s kitchen is a very significant part of the experience. Also, if you are here for 3-4 hours, then we really won’t have much time left anyway, and you’ve got to try some Russian food. If you can stay here a bit longer, 8-10 hours maybe, then it’s just a nice break from physical activities without breaking the exploration. If you want to know my opinion, the absolute best place to go is Café Pushkin – traditional Russian kitchen cooked by the best chefs, who keep the balance between being faithful to original recipes and creativity (tasty, tasty creativity). Café’s design is wonderful, it has the atmosphere of XIX century and service is top notch. However, if you don’t like fancy restaurants we can always go to a local café or a Ukrainian restaurant that will have food that is just as tasty, without the excessive luxury. There you can try famous Ukrainian and Russian foods including borsch, pelmeni, vareniki, etc. After we had a good meal, and are ready for new exciting adventures, let’s go and see what is…
6. The Ceremony of Changing Guards (at the Tomb of Unknown Soldier)
The Tomb of Unknown Soldier is a memorial dedicated to basically all the fallen soldiers in WWII, but the reason it is called that is because, sadly, not all bodies could be identified, and all these guys, clearly, also deserved a monument. Ceremony of changing guards, however, was not always the part of what was going on. Originally, it was always taking place at the Mausoleum, but only until 1993, and only four years later relocated to where it happens now. Russians call it “The Number One Sentry.” The ceremony itself never served a practical purpose though (other than to literally change the guards). It’s not that they just change, it the way they do it. This ceremony lasts about 2-3 minutes every hour from 8 am to 8 pm, regardless of weather conditions. Some people enjoy the level of guards’ discipline and military choreography (if this word is appropriate), and some, to be fair, like it simply for how hilarious they think it looks, but in any case it is worth witnessing, and it takes only 15 minutes. Also, during the warm months (from the end of April to the end of October) on Saturdays, we can go see the change of the guards of the Presidential Regiment, which will last for 25-30 minutes. This is a very impressive sight, more impressive than the similar event in Buckingham Palace (as many of my clients have said, who witnessed both of these ceremonies). And after that we can go and explore…
7. Moscow Metro System
If you’ve never heard of it, throw away any expectations and prejudice. Moscow’s subway isn’t like any other. The design and size of the stations are breathtaking: they are basically underground palaces, each being outstandingly beautiful and unique. Incrustations, sculptures, mosaics, carvings, lights… truly a must-see. It is almost just as epic as the Kremlin itself, which is why it takes almost just as much time to explore it properly – 1.5 hours. After doing the Moscow Metro tour, we can go up again and see…
8. Novodevichy Convent
Delightful and peaceful place… near Kremlin. It was built in 1524 and was commonly visited by the royal family. Actually, it was somewhat a part of the Kremlin, because it also had a defensive purpose. It has a rich history, like when Napoleon tried to blow it up in 1812, or when Soviets were turning it to all kinds of things from Museum Of Women Emancipation to Moscow Theological Institute. Area of the monastery is absolutely lovely: gardens, ponds, pathways, and great view on the city. The tour of Novodevichy convent and cemetery can take us about 1-2 hours.
I feel like I need to stop myself again. First of all, there are just way too much historical and impressive things to see in Moscow, and second of all, I like to tweak the program specifically for every client: we will talk a bit about what kinds of things you would like to see; whether you want to partake in some local traditional activities, or of you want to just look at stuff, and so on. This will give me ideas where should I take you during this tour. For example, some people would, without a glimpse of doubt, prefer spending time in St. Basil Cathedral than in Lenin’s tomb… you get the point. Also, program depends on weather, traffic, time of the day (night Moscow is stunning, by the way), but I’m going to do my best to show you as much as I can for you to keep the best memories about this glorious city.
About Me in Short
My name's Arthur Lookyanov, I'm a private tour guide, personal driver and photographer in Moscow, Russia. I work in my business and run my website Moscow-Driver.com from 2002. Read more about me and my services, check out testimonials of my former business and travel clients from all over the World, hit me up on Twitter or other social websites. I hope that you will like my photos as well.
See you in Moscow!