Behind The Iron Curtain – A Quick Guide of What To See in Moscow
How do you introduce the capital city of the largest country on the planet?! It seems like Moscow has a lot to live up to – and it’s doing a pretty good job! It’s on so many bucketlists – to step into the Red Square, to see those incredible onion domes with your own eyes, to share the space where years earlier major historical events were happening, and how you get to see the results of everything they were fighting for. Not forgetting the vodka, Rasputin, the ushanka (Russian hat), Matryoshka dolls and Vladimir Putin.
Red Square (Krásnaya plóshchaď)
I say Moscow, you say vodk-, Red Square. This infamous landmark of Europe’s largest city speaks volumes. Not only does the Russian word “krásnaya” mean “red” (so you can forget the link between brick colour or Communism), it also translates as “beautiful” and UNESCO has made it a world heritage site due to its historical importance. Probably worth going to then.
Admission fee: Free
Nearest Metro: Okhotny Ryad or Ploshchad Revolyutsii
The Lobnoye Mesto
If you’re like me and a bit of a weirdo, then there’s a couple of things you’ll wanna see here. The first is the Lobnoye Mesto (aka The Place of Skulls). It may just look like a boring old circular platform in front of St. Basil’s, but it becomes a whole lot more interesting when you learn that it was used for public executions. It was also used for showing the public who the next heir to the throne was on their fourteenth birthday, but anyway, YOU CAN STAND WHERE PEOPLE WERE KILLED!
Or so, this was what I believed when I was there. It turns out that apparently the whole execution thing is a myth and nobody was ever executed on the platform. Sorry.
The second place though is completely true, I promise!
Vladimir Lenin is thought of as the founder of the Soviet Union. One of the most significant political leaders of the 20th century, Lenin established peace with Germany and Russia ceased its participation in World War I.
The Mausoleum contains (and proudly displays) the embalmed body of the Bolshevik leader.
Strict rules to ensure proper respect as follow:
Guards will usher everyone along, you’re not allowed to stop in front of Lenin’s body. You must remove your hats and your hands from your pockets, and talking, smoking, cameras are also forbidden.
Admission fee: Free
Open: 10:00 – 13:00. Daily, except for Mondays and Fridays. The line for the Mausoleum can be very long so expect to wait, and allow time (~15-30 mins) for queuing.
The Resurrection Gate and the Iberian Chapel
This is Moscow’s most sacred site. So sacred in fact, that everyone from every walk of life, the Tsar down to the poorest peasant, would bow at the chapel whenever they entered the Red Square.
The Icons of the Iberian Virgin were often reported to have performed miracles such as curing the sick and stopping wars. The Virgin has always been depicted with a wound on her face. Why? I’ve got to stop asking so many questions! Well, during the time of iconoclasm (deliberate destruction or rejecting of religious icons and beliefs) an image of the Virgin Mary was attacked by a supporter and blood appeared on her face. So, now we know!
Patriarch Nikon heard of this miracle and not wanting to miss out, ordered an exact copy of the icon to be made and sent to Moscow immediately. After the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, the chapel was destroyed by the Communists, and to this day nobody knows what happened to the infamous icon.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
One you probably know! (But maybe you don’t know the creepy legend…)
This incredible cathedral was built in the middle of the 16th century. I would even put this landmark before the Red Square in terms of how well it’s known, based on just image alone. But did you know that the cathedral was originally painted white (to match the Kremlin) with gold domes until only ~200 years ago when the vibrant colours were added. Would it be as famous as it is now if they were never painted?
It was Ivan the Terrible who wanted the cathedral built, and the story goes that after the architect had finished, he was blinded so that he couldn’t replicate the design anywhere else! Bit extreme, but isn’t that what he was known for?!
Admission fee: 500 Ruble / 7 Euro. (Free on Sunday, during worship if you want to be sneaky!)
Open: 11:00 – 18:00 daily. It’s always closed the first Monday of the month so keep that in mind. I will say though, that the interior of the cathedral is relatively plain compared to the awesomeness of the outside.
Probably the coolest word around – The Kremlin. In case you’ve only heard about it in the news and aren’t sure what it is exactly, it’s the official residence of the Russian President. It is the largest medieval fortress in the world.
The Kremlin is bigger than you’d think, it houses four cathedrals, four palaces, an armory, museums and a number of towers.
If none of that did it for ya, it’ll probably look pretty damn cool to check-in there on your Facebook!
Admission fee: ~500 Ruble / 7 Euro.
Open: 10:00 – 17:00, daily except closed on Thursdays.
Nearest Metro: Alexandra
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
Only blocks away from Kremlin, this cathedral was originally built to honour the soldiers who died fighting against Napoleon in 1812. And then it got crazy and in 1931, Stalin had the building blown up with dynamite to make room for… Wait for it… The tallest skyscraper in the world! The Palace of the Soviets. This never happened though, so after being replaced with a swimming pool, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was built again in 1997.
Admission fee: Free
Open: 08:00 – 20:00, daily.
Nearest Metro: Kropotkinskaya
The Seven Sisters/Stalin’s Skyscrapers
There are seven buildings that look exactly the same, so really you only have to see one, haha. Talk about a Soviet style though! They are two hotels, two administrative buildings, two blocks of flats, and the Moscow State University.
- Moscow State University
- Hotel Ukraina
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- Leningradskaya Hotel
- Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Building
- Kudrinskaya Square Building
- Red Gates Administrative Building
There are 200 Metro stations in Moscow. So what? Well, 44 of them are listed as cultural heritage sites!! Remember a few minutes ago when I told you the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was demolished? The marble used in some of the stations actually comes from the cathedral remains!
The Metro is also the most frequent subway in the world. At peak times, there is a train every 1.5 minutes.
And here’s a useful tip if you’re not sure which way you’re heading on the train. If the voice over the announcement is a male then you are going into the city, and if the voice is female then you are leaving the city.
This is definitely one of my favourite visas to have in my passport!