Moscow can seem distant and mysterious; its image is often surrounded by crusty stereotypes. However, the capital of Russia is a fantastic destination that will leave a curious traveler with a myriad of unique memories and stories to tell. Moreover, the distance is easy to deal with when there is a direct flight from Hong Kong. Like any other trip, the journey to Moscow can be almost flawless if you do some planning and research ahead. Start with our list of top 10 things to do in Moscow to learn what this ancient city has to offer and how to make your vacation there simply unforgettable!
Get lost in the old streets of the historic city center
You probably won’t have any trouble finding the main landmarks, but some areas and little streets are often left behind by the guide books and “trip advisors”. Start with Varvarka street right next to a newly built Zaryadye Park near Kremlin. Dating back to at least 1434, Varvarka is one of the oldest streets in Moscow with a rich history and an overwhelming number of magnificent Orthodox churches. If you wish to explore religious art and architecture, skip The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and enter these cozy ancient churches instead. After Varvarka, head towards Kitay-Gorod and Kuznetskiy Most, which are areas to see the old merchant streets and the remaining old paved streets.
As a matter of fact, the central area would be one of the best to stay as it is right in the heart of Moscow and minutes away from Red Square. However, it is also the most expensive. If money is not an issue and you don’t feel like spending time on a long commute, check-in at Four Seasons Hotel Moscow–there is simply no hotel closer to the Kremlin and hardly anything with amenities and service as exemplary as this establishment. Check our review here.
Experience Russian banya (bathhouse)
In Japan there is onsen, in Finland, there is sauna and in Russia there is banya. In a way, it is most similar to the sauna. The Russian banya is basically a wooden cabin with hot steam heated with firewood. The ritual is as follows: spend a few minutes in a steam room until you sweat, get out and plunge into an ice-cold pool or even in snow. Have some herbal tea in between steam room sessions.
An authentic Russian “spa” goes back to the 10th century when it was first mentioned in the historical archives. In Russia, people believe that banya doesn’t only have obvious features like relaxation, but also gives you various health benefits. Moreover, it is one of Russia’s oldest traditions and a great way to spend time with friends. Check out Sanduny, one of Moscow’s oldest and most stunning bathhouses.
Visit one of the museum-estates
To see how the rich and famous of the imperial era used to live, visit one of the museum-estates. Ensemble Kuskovo is a fine example of such a landmark. What used to be the residence of the noble Sheremetyev family, became a museum-estate open to the public after the revolution of 1918. The gorgeous architectural park ensemble includes a palace, great lake, landscape garden, grotto, menagerie and a lot more enough for a whole day of wandering and picturing yourself waltzing around majestic interiors wearing puffy 18th-century dresses.
Explore Russian art
People in Moscow are proud of their cultural heritage and art is a big part of it. If you are passionate about art, visiting one of the numerous museums and galleries in Moscow is a must. Head to Tretyakov Gallery on Krymskiy Val to see the world-famous Russian avant-garde. With Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, and around 5,000 more works, this art museum is the best one to get acquainted with Russian art of the 20th–21st century.
Not keen on modern and contemporary art? Then head to the main State Tretyakov gallery on Lavrushinskiy lane. Founded by Pavel Tretyakov, businessman, collector, and philanthropist, the museum is largely based on his collection which he generously donated to the state. More than 190,000 art pieces include Orthodox icon collection, portraits, still life, landscapes and other art forms from the 12th to the 20th century. By the way, you might have seen some artworks from the State Tretyakov Gallery in the Macao Museum of Art in 2019 at a temporary exhibition.
Get to know Russian cuisine
Russian cuisine is pretty underrated and not that well-known internationally. However, the situation is changing, thanks, especially to some celebrity Russian chefs who managed to bring their restaurants into the list of The World’s Best 50 Restaurants. We are talking about Berezutskiy brothers from Twins Garden and Vladimir Mukhin from White Rabbit. Check those places out if you are interested in contemporary Russian culinary masterpieces made with locally sourced products. For traditional recipes and good breakfasts, head to Dr. Zhivago minutes away from the Red Square.
The most authentic Russian restaurant with some of the best food and gorgeous interior is Cafe Pushkin on Tverskoy Boulevard. Pushkin offers noble Imperian Russian cuisine in halls designed as rooms of an 18th–19th-century mansion with a large 3,000 book library and antiques.
If you find yourself starving while in the middle of a walk, Google “Teremok” to find one nearby. It’s a big street food chain with bliny–a Russian version of crepes served with a large selection of fillings, both savory and sweet. Now these will make a delicious snack especially while exploring the city. Pair it with sbiten (a hot drink based on honey and spices) or kvas (a cold beverage made from rye bread).
Enter Putin’s workplace
You won’t be able to avoid the Red Square even if you wanted to. While the main square of Moscow, with its churches, museums and red-bricked Kremlin Walls, is great to walk around, do not miss the opportunity to enter the Kremlin and see what’s hidden within its walls. Kremlin is the heart of Moscow, its oldest part–the current red brick ensemble was built in the 15th century–and the place where the city was founded. Apart from its historical, cultural and architectural value, it is also a residence of the Russian President. Hence, you need to get a ticket and go through security to get inside. Obviously, Putin’s cabinet is off-limits, but you can still admire the armory chamber, monuments of Cathedral Square, “Ivan the Great” bell tower complex and a lot more. Take a guided tour to learn more about Kremlin’s dramatic history and secrets of the past.
Spend an afternoon in Gorky Park and Neskuchny Garden
Winter or summer, this place is a popular one to hang out among Muscovites. What used to be a Soviet amusement park with paid entrance and old-school rides was turned into a modern public space with all kinds of activities. There is still a reminiscence of what it used to be, thanks to some of the architecture like the monumental entrance gate, soviet sculptures, and a big fountain. On the other hand, there is also Garage Museum of Contemporary Art and modern amenities such as sports equipment rentals, ping-pong tables, and an open-air cinema. If the weather is warm, seize the day by laying on the grass or picnicking. Besides, Gorky Park often becomes a platform for sports, cultural and music events, so check their website before heading there. Gorky Park flows into Neskuchniy Garden, a peaceful park full of lush greenery and quiet paths.
During the cold months (November–March), a significant part of the park turns into a large ice rink with various ice paths, mulled wine kiosks and good music. Unlike conventional ice rinks such as the one at Rockefeller plaza or Vienna Ice Dream, Gorky Park space is a combination of rinks and paths covered with ice. So it would definitely not get boring exploring all the routes. You can rent ice skates right there or bring your own. Either way, don’t forget some warm woolen socks!
Take a Moscow metro tour
Even if you plan to use your feet and Uber to get around the city, going underground in Moscow is essential. Whether you decide to take a guided tour or go by yourself, you will be stunned by the beauty of the Moscow metro. An amount equal to MOP $7 will give you access to one of the most peculiar and beautiful architectural museums in the world. Built in 1947, Ploschad Revolutsii station has 76 unique bronze statues dedicated to showcasing the events of the Russian Revolution. Other awe-inspiring stations are Novoslobodskaya with colorful stain glass, Neoclassicism-style Mayakovskaya, Stalinist Empire-style Komsomolskaya, and others. You can check for metro stations not to miss here.
Watch a ballet or opera at Bolshoi Theatre
Russia is the homeland of some of the most famous composers such as Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Rakhmaninov. Luckily, the classical music scene is still going strong in Moscow, with various theaters and concert halls. Among them is the one and only Bolshoi Theatre, which besides its impressive repertoire of opera and ballet, Bolshoi offers stunning architecture and dazzling interiors. Bear in mind that you should book tickets for performances at the Bolshoi around a month in advance to get a better price and avoid disappointment. If you wish to enjoy such classics like “The Nutcracker” or “Swan Lake”, you would need to plan the visit way ahead.
Go on a day trip to the Golden Ring Towns
With its rich history and culture, Moscow has a lot to offer and there are never enough days within one journey to see all of its multifaceted beauty. However, if you have around a week in the city, we strongly recommend taking a day trip to one of the ancient towns of the Golden Ring of Russia. Kremlins, churches, monasteries, local craft shops, and authentic architecture that date all the way back to the 11th century–these are some of the wonders you can find in towns like Suzdal, Vladimir, Yaroslavl, and other so-called open-air museums. A couple of hours by train will take you to the picturesque towns full of UNESCO heritage sites where you can learn more about Russian routes and the foundations of its statehood.
How to get there
The fastest and the most convenient way to get to Moscow is with Aeroflot direct 10-hour flight from Hong Kong International Airport. The roundtrip will cost you around MOP $4,000–4,800 depending on when you book it. With the HZMB (The Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau bridge) it is an easy task to get to the airport from Macau. The buses between Macau and Hong Kong bridge terminals run every five to 15 minutes during the day and every half an hour at night. Another option is the Cotai Water Jet ferry that goes directly to the airport. However, there are only three ferries a day (check the schedule here).
Depending on your citizenship, you might need a visa to enter Russia. Click here to see if you do. If that’s the case, just follow the instructions on the consulate website and apply at the Visa Application Centre in Hong Kong. You would need to schedule an appointment for that, so we recommend taking care of the visa process in advance.