With its roots dating back to the 12th century, the city of Moscow is steeped in rich history, and has also been a crucial part of how Russia has developed since. The capital city is the economic and political centre of the country, as well as being one of the most iconic and intriguing places on the planet.
Moscow has seen a rapid rise in tourism over the last few years; visitor numbers increased from 12 million during 2010 to 21 million in 2017, with the number of foreign visitors increasing by 40% over the same period. Given the wide range of sights and activities that the city offers, it’s not surprising that more and more people are planning a visit here – Moscow offers the very best in fascinating history, performing arts, stunning architecture and a vibrant food and nightlife scene.
With this in mind, here are the top Moscow tourist attractions that every visitor to the city should explore. Whether you’re into food, culture, history, or art, there’s something to suit every taste in this list!
1. Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Located directly opposite the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, this art museum offers access to the largest collection of European art in the city. Housing more than 500,000 pieces, it was founded in 1912, originally intended as an educational institution. The museum plays host to many renowned artists including Botticelli, Veronese and Rembrandt. There is also an impressive collection of artefacts dating back to ancient Egyptian times, including tombstones, weapons, jewellery and even two mummies.
The museum also offers access to an awe-inspiring collection of impressionist, post-Impressionist and modernist artworks, located in its Gallery of European and American Art of the 19th-20th Century, right next door. There’s also the Museum of Private Collections, home to whole collections given by various individuals over the years and also worth a look.
2. State Historical Museum
The State History Museum is one of the best Moscow points of interest for anyone interested in learning more about Russia’s history. The building, dating back to the 19th century, was originally the Principal Medicine Store, before the museum was founded by Aleksey Uvarov and Ivan Zabelin in 1872. The structure is a sight to behold in itself, with every room styled according to a specific period in time, and some offering beautifully detailed, highly-decorated walls reminiscent of the country’s old churches.
The museum is home to a huge collection of truly impressive relics and artefacts, dating back as far as the Stone Age. Today, you can see tools used by prehistoric tribes, art pieces from the collection of the Romanov dynasty and Russia’s most volumous coin collection, along with plenty of other fascinating pieces.
3. Gorky Park
Named after the writer Maxim Gorky, and officially known as the Park of Culture, Gorky Park is one of the most pleasant Moscow attractions to take in some fresh air and escape the city for a while. After entering through the fun and flashy entrance, you’re greeted by landscaped gardens, a huge water fountain, and an amusement park.
Stretching out over 3 kilometres next to the river, there’s plenty to keep you entertained here. You can visit the statue of Peter the Great, take a ride on a traditional carousel, ride the roller coasters, or just chill out in one of the trendy cafes or restaurants dotted around. The park also offers seasonal activities, with an outdoor cinema in the summer, and a huge ice rink during the winter months.
The centre of political power in Russia, the Kremlin is undoubtedly one of the best known and therefore most-visited tourist attractions in Moscow. It was once the seat for the Orthodox Church, and has seen its fair share of tsars, presidents and dictators over the course of its history, dating back to its construction during the late 15th century.
One of the most impressive sights housed in the tall walls of the compound is the Great Bell Tower of Ivan the Great. Standing at 81 metres high, it’s the tallest structure within the Kremlin and as a result offers great views of the city below. If you want to score the best views of the Kremlin as a whole, you’d better venture over the river to Sofiyskaya nab.
5. Moscow Museum of Modern Art
If it’s modern art you’re after, make sure you pay a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, founded in 1999. The building itself dates back to the 18th century, when it was actually home to a merchant, having been designed by Matvei Kazakov – the Kremlin’s architect. Inside the museum you’ll find artworks spanning the 20th and 21st centuries, from both Russian and foreign artists.
The beautiful building plays host to pieces by avant-garde artists like Kandinsky and Malevich, as well as an interesting collection of art by ‘nonconformists’ from the 1950s and 60s, whose work was deemed inappropriate by the Soviet authorities. There’s also a rather sweet sculpture-filled garden in the courtyard, perfect to explore on a sunny day.
6. Red Square
Right outside the Kremlin’s walls sits the world-famous Red Square. This area of around 400 by 150 metres is the very centre of the city, and its cobblestoned floor and stunning views of sights like St Basil’s Cathedral makes it one of the prime Moscow tourist attractions for fantastic photo opportunities as well as just taking in the fascinating surroundings.
In the square is the platform named the Place of Skulls, which was once used to make proclamations and read out decrees, though most recently was the spot for the band Pussy Riot’s infamous 2011 video extract. If you’re planning to visit the square, keep in mind that it is closed to visitors fairly regularly for events or rehearsals, so check beforehand wherever possible.
7. Moscow Metro
While the metro may seem like an odd choice for a must-see recommendation, Moscow’s system really is something you have to check out. The beautiful architecture has lead to these stations being referred to as the “underground palaces of Moscow”, and make them a good spot to visit and take in the sights and sounds, as well as a few Instagram-worthy photos.
Majakhovskaya is often hailed as the most stunning of all the city’s stations, although Revolution Square and Novoslobodskaya are also popular thanks to the intriguing monuments to view, dating back to the 1930s. Whichever station you’re passing through, you’re likely to be impressed given the wide array of statues, paintings, mosaics and other artworks that each one houses.
8. St. Basil’s Cathedral
As one of the most instantly-recognisable structures in the world at the heart of Moscow, Russia tourist attractions don’t get much more iconic than this. The red walls and colourful onion-shaped domes remain one of the biggest draws for those planning a visit to the city.
The cathedral was built by Ivan the Terrible during the mid-16th century, as a celebration following the capture of the Tatar stronghold of Kazan. The structure is home to nine individual chapels, with the first eight designed to each represent a win over Kazan. The ninth was built later, in order to cover the resting place of the cathedral’s namesake – Basil the Blessed.
9. Lenin’s Mausoleum
Another attraction sitting within the Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum is an interesting attraction, and one that is definitely worth adding to your itinerary considering it’s a fairly quick visit. In a spot near to the Kremlin wall, with a cute little garden next to it, lies Lenin’s final resting place, where his embalmed body is viewable to the public.
There’s no stopping as you walk around the mausoleum, so you can be in and out in as little as ten minutes. It’s free of charge to enter, though. Keep in mind that it is only open on a few days a week, and usually just in the morning. It’s also forbidden to take photos here.
10. Bolshoi Theatre
Founded in 1776, the Bolshoi theatre is one of the oldest in the world, and is one of the most essential Moscow attractions for those looking to experience world-class performing arts. The majestic white building has undergone several renovations over its lifetime, including after it was hit by a fire in 1853. The theatre’s main stage has recently undergone a large-scale renovation, during which time it was closed. It’s now in use again, making it the perfect time to pay a visit to experience a truly memorable ballet or opera performance.
11. G.U.M. Department Store
This department store was founded during the Soviet era and has since become a destination for a luxury shopping experience. Whether you’re coming here with a purchase in mind, or just want to roam around the fancy shops for a while and marvel at the changing decorations, its worth popping by.
The department store is home to expensive brands like Chanel, Gucci and Armani, and there are plenty of restaurants serving a variety of cuisine too, including two self-service eateries, ideal if you’re in a hurry. The popular ice-cream carts dotted all around the store are definitely worth a try, too.
12. Arbat Street
Arbat Street is worthy of a visit; just make sure you don’t end up confusing it with New Arbat street – a much less interesting spot. Old Arbat, as it is also known, is a pedestrianised street stretching out for one kilometre in the historic heart of the city. The street is enveloped in some of the best Moscow points of interest, with historic sights being within strolling distance and the Cathedral of the Christ the Saviour sitting around 15 minutes away.
The area was seen as one of the most prestigious addresses back in the 18th century, though today it is one of the best spots to come for dinner given the large variety of restaurants on offer here. It’s also a great shopping area to visit if you’re looking for some souvenirs to take home, including the very popular matryoshka.
If you’re after something a bit different while you’re visiting Moscow, why not visit the city’s Planetarium? First opened to the public in 1929, the complex is now a fascinating experience and is one of the largest planetariums in the world. It offers a wide range of different interactive exhibits and intriguing technologies, as well as educational events.
The planetarium’s Star Hall is the largest in Europe, and offers shows in many different languages under its silver roof. There is also a chance to visit the new 4D theatre experience, as well as a fun interactive area that allows children and adults alike to carry out their own experiments.
14. State Tretyakov Gallery
The art gallery is home to the most impressive collection of Russian icons in the world, as well as a wide range of fantastic pre-revolutionary pieces from the country. Built in 1905, the gallery was originally formed as a private collection for the 19th century industrialists and siblings Sergei and Pavel Tretyakov. The brothers were somewhat rebellious during their time thanks to them turning their backs on more traditional and conservative styles, in favour of making art that spoke of the social problems experienced by many.
15. Cathedral of Christ the Savior
After visiting the Tretyakov Gallery, you can take a short stroll over to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, as it’s based right in the heart of the city, also close to the Kremlin. It is the biggest Orthodox church on the planet and is another of the Moscow tourist attractions that doesn’t cost anything to explore. When you see it you might be surprised to learn that the cathedral is not very old at all; in fact it was rebuilt in 2000 after the original structure was demolished under orders from Stalin.
As the most crucial of all the churches in Russia, there’s a dress code to abide, with men not permitted entry wearing shorts and women sometimes having to cover their hair. You can view the cathedral in around half an hour, making it an easy addition to your list of Moscow tourist attractions to visit.