Moscow – enigmatic, complex and absorbing. Here is a city looking to the future but resolutely engaged with the past. A place where marching boots still echo in Red Square, and imposing monuments tell the story of the rise and fall of imperialism. Where once feared buildings astound with their might and utilitarian splendour, and cultural powerhouses such as Tretyakov and the Bolshoi reveal an immersive depth of tradition and heritage few capitals can match.
Journey to Moscow on the enigmatic Mother Volga, and begin to unearth the vibrant cultural tapestry of this unfathomable city, long shrouded in secrecy. Experience the indomitable Russian capital with Scenic and benefit from our immersive Scenic Freechoice excursions and Scenic Enrich experiences, designed to reveal the closely-guarded secrets and heritage of this captivating destination.
Here, we explore 18 of Moscow’s most fascinating and enriching cultural highlights, inspiring your interest and curiosity in one of the world’s most striking capitals.
1. Red Square
A cradle of history, tradition and culture in the very heart of Moscow, this sprawling plaza is bordered by some of Russia’s most iconic buildings. Home to Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin: Red Square has, through all periods in Russia’s turbulent history, been an enduring symbol of the country’s might and power. The square has played a key role in some of Russia’s defining moments, from the death of Vladimir Lenin to the October Revolution, and became the first site in the USSR to be granted World Heritage status, in 1990.
2. The Kremlin
Of all Moscow’s imposing landmarks, the Kremlin is most enigmatic and infamous. A vast complex in the heart of the capital, the Kremlin is a historic fortress whose earliest foundations were laid in the 13th century, and added to by successive grand dukes, tsars and Soviet dictators. The Kremlin’s impressive fortified walls and towers were designed by Italian masters in the 15th century, and include Spasskaya Tower, Ivan the Great Bell Tower, and the stunning Cathedral of the Dormition, where Russia’s tsars were crowned. Today, the Kremlin serves as the seat of the Russian parliament, and its grounds and museums are open to the public.
3. Saint Basil’s Cathedral
Moscow’s most recognisable building is Saint Basil’s Cathedral, whose colourful spires and domes are said to have been inspired by the mosques of the Byzantine Empire. Built in the 16th century, Saint Basil’s was originally named the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, and was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to celebrate Russia’s defeat of the Khanate of Kazan. The church now serves as a museum, and boasts a staggering collection of Old Masters, hung alongside some of the world’s most intricate and colourful mosaics and tapestries.
4. Lenin’s Mausoleum
Lenin’s Mausoleum is a vast granite tomb located on the edge of Red Square, which serves as the resting place of the former Soviet leader. Vladimir Lenin’s preserved body has been on public display in the mausoleum since shortly after his death in 1924, with the government funding the ongoing preservation work of the ex-communist leader’s body. Lenin’s Mausoleum was designed by Soviet architect Alexey Shchusev, who is believed to have been inspired by the ancient Step Pyramid of Saqqara when developing Lenin’s final resting place, as well as the Tomb of Cyrus the Great.
5. Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics
The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics documents Russia’s history of space exploration, from its earliest endeavours to the successful space flight of Yuri Gagarin, who became the first human to journey into outer space, completing an orbit of the Earth in 1961. This fascinating museum is yours to discover during a special Scenic Enrich experience, in which you’ll learn about the history and intricacies of space flight from a real Russian cosmonaut, and learn more about the country’s fascination with space and cosmonautics
6. State Tretyakov Gallery
Housing the finest depository of Russian art in the world, the Tretyakov Gallery is Moscow’s foremost national art centre, and was first established in 1856 by wealthy Russian merchant Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov. Tretyakov began acquiring works by Russian artists in the early 19th century, and by 1892, had amassed a collection of over 2,000 original works, which were later exhibited to the public. Today, the Tretyakov Gallery collection contains over 130,000 exhibits from some of the country’s most prolific artists, including Andrei Rublev, Kazimir Malevich, and Wassily Kandinsky. For art lovers, this is a must-visit.
7. Museum of the Great Patriotic War
Designed by renowned Soviet architect Anatoly Polyansky shortly before his death in 1993, the Museum of the Great Patriotic War is a vast heritage centre whose diverse exhibits document Russia’s involvement in the WWII, referred to as ‘The Great Patriotic War’ by the Soviets. The museum covers several floors, the most poignant of which is the Hall of Glory, a vast marble space where the names of 11,800 soldiers who received the Hero of the Soviet Union medal are listed. Other exhibits include numerous artefacts and relics of the war, from major battle dioramas to uniforms, weapons and munitions.
8. ‘Kostroma’ The Russian National Show
The Russian National Show, or Kostroma, is a newly-devised Russian folk ballet which celebrates the country’s rich culture, customs, milestones and traditions. Enthralling and immersive, the dance plunges audiences into the past, capturing Russian life from the time of the tsars to the hardships of the USSR. The performance is a vibrant showcase of traditional Russian music and dance, performed by up to 50 highly-skilled performers. Kostroma is performed at Moscow’s folk theatre, and you’ll enjoy a front-row seat when you travel with Scenic.
9. GUM Department Store
Few department stores can best Moscow’s GUM in beauty and heritage. Standing on the edge of Red Square in the bustling Kitai-gorod district, GUM was the State Department Store of the Soviet Union, where consumers of any class, gender or ethnicity could buy simple consumables. The GUM was one of the only department stores in the USSR which did not suffer shortages, meaning that by the 1950s and 60s, the queues to enter the store would often extend across the entire length of Red Square. Today, the GUM is used as a privatised shopping arcade, but has retained its original Soviet-era architecture.
10. Bolshoi Theatre
Grand and palatial, the Bolshoi Theatre is one of Moscow’s most beautiful landmarks – an imperial gem far-removed from the brutal socialist building schemes of the USSR. Built in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Bolshoi is home to the Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera, which are among the oldest and most prestigious ballet and opera companies in the world. The theatre’s façade is a stunning example of neoclassical architecture, which adds to the grandeur of the building. Whether you stay to watch the ballet or the opera or neither, a visit to the Bolshoi is essential during a tour of the Russian capital.
11. The Kremlin Armoury
Step into the oldest and most prestigious museum in Moscow, The Kremlin Armoury. Originally built to house the weapons, jewellery and regalia of the tsars, the Armoury was remodelled by imperial architect Konstantin Ton in the 19th century, shortly before the Bolshevik Revolution. After the revolution, the Armoury became home to the Russian Diamond Fund, and now boasts a collection of stunning artefacts, including the ivory throne of Ivan the Terrible, Jérémie Pauzié’s Imperial Crown of Russia, the Orloff Diamond, and a collection of 10 Fabregé eggs. The Armoury lies within the fortified walls of the Kremlin, and is an unmissable highlight of the city.
12. Novodevichy Convent
There are a few finer sights in Moscow than the golden spires of the Novodevichy Convent, reflecting on the glassy surface of the Moskva River. This World Heritage Site is the city’s most spectacular Russian Orthodox Convent, characterised by its Byzantine-influenced domes and white cathedral walls. The earliest known building within the complex is the Cathedral of Our Lady of Smolensk, which was commissioned and built by Vasili III, Grand Prince of Moscow, in 1524. Novodevichy appears on several occasions in the works of Tolstoy, who was inspired by the beauty of the cathedral, as well as the adjacent necropolis and cemetery.
13. Kolomenskoye Royal Estate
Venture to the outskirts of eastern Moscow, and you’ll find Kolomenskoye, a royal estate on the ancient road to Kolomna. This historic estate sits on the site of a former village, which found favour among the grand princes of Muscovy for its position on the steep banks of the Moskva. Here, a white Ascension church was built in 1532 to commemorate the future heir to the throne, Ivan the Terrible. The church, known as the ‘White Column’, alone makes Kolomenskoye worth a visit. With its pure white stonework and octagonal spire, its considered a masterpiece of Russian architecture, and was inducted onto the World Heritage list in 1994 for its outstanding design value.
14. State Historical Museum
Built in the late 19th century in a neo-Russian style which came to characterise Moscow’s architecture, the State Historical Museum documents Russian history of the prehistoric to the contemporary, providing a fascinating timeline of this proud nation. The museum, which is located between Red Square and Manege Square, is brimming with historic artefacts and exhibits, including an ancient longboat excavated from the banks of the Volga River. The museum boasts no fewer than 11 exhibition halls housing some 4.3 million artefacts, including a vast collection of coins, ceramics, manuscripts and wood carvings which tell the story of Russian folklore and peasant life.
15. Tsaritsyno Park
One of the finest landscaped parks in Moscow is Tsaritsyno, a reserve founded by Catherine the Great in the 18th century. Though dominated by a vast neo-Gothic palace, it’s the extensively preserved and generously maintained grounds which impress. Dotted throughout the site is a wonderful collection of pavilions, arbours, decorative bridges, grottos and pergolas, all of which were restored during a year of refurbishment in 2005. An afternoon spent exploring the grounds in search of these charming monuments is time well spent, especially for those partial to a sunlit picnic.
16. Fallen Monument Park
Moscow’s Fallen Monument Park is a strange yet fascinating place, where statues and relics from Russia’s Soviet and Imperial past were transferred after the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1991. Statues, sculptures and busts depicting former Soviet leaders were hauled from the city and dumped in the park, where they have now been properly erected and restored. Lenin, Stalin, Kalinin, Sverdlov and more all appear in the park, and more statues continue to arrive after being found in former Soviet propaganda factories. Today, the park houses over 700 statues and monuments, making it Russia’s largest open-air sculpture museum.
Once one of the most infamous buildings in the world, Lubyanka is the name given to the former headquarters of the KGB, the notorious security arm of the Soviet Union. An imposing Neo-Baroque building with a distinct yellow brick façade, Lubyanka was originally built as the headquarters for the All-Russia Insurance Company, and is renowned for its Baroque details and beautiful parquet flooring. After being seized by the Bolsheviks in 1917, it became the headquarters of the secret police, and was later augmented by the aforementioned Soviet architect Shchusev in the 1940s. Perhaps the most famous inmate held and interrogated in Lubyanka was Sidney Reilly, a British ‘super-spy’ who is said to have inspired Ian Fleming’s fictional James Bond.
18. Miniature Moscow
In 1977, 300 Soviet workers were tasked with recreating a miniature version of Moscow to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution – and their 400-foot to-scale model can still be enjoyed in the capital today. The diorama is a representation of how Moscow may have looked during the Soviet years of the 1970s, though experts have since cast doubt on the accuracy of the model, claiming that it is in fact a piece of Soviet propaganda.
Propaganda or not, the model is a charming and highly-detailed reconstruction of the city, and features an elaborate lighting system which adds depth and realism. The model is currently on display in the lobby of the Hotel Ukraina, in the heart of Moscow.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this cultural odyssey through Russia’s alluring capital. If you’d like to experience the highlights of Moscow for yourself, take a look at our collection of luxury river cruises on the Volga or call us today on 0808 159 2420 for more information.