Moscow is an opulent, cosmopolitan city that could easily borrow New York’s nickname as the city that never sleeps. The rush of people is relentless. And whether you’re in search of a glitzy nightclub, Michelin-starred restaurant or modest drinking hole, you won’t have to look far. Moscow’s storied history is on full display—from extravagant subways that hark back to the Soviet era to the famed Red Square that dominates the city center.
As the capital of Russia, Moscow is the political, economic and cultural hub of the country. It’s home to the country’s largest banks and company headquarters. Primary industries include energy production, software development and textile manufacturing.
Getting to and from the airport
Three major airports serve Moscow. Sheremetyevo International is 18 miles northwest of the city center, Domodedovo is 26 miles south of the city center and Vnukovo International is 17 miles southwest of the city center. If you’re driving at night, taxis from each airport to the city center take about 45 minutes, but that can double in heavy traffic. All three airports are served by Aeroexpress trains that connect to centrally located metro stations. Travel time is 35-45 minutes, depending on the airport. A one-way fare is 470 rubles (US$6 using the exchange rate US$1 = 77.52 RUB).
Getting around Moscow
The metro can be confusing because there are few English signs, but with some planning it’s possible to navigate. And many of the stations are works of art, so it’s worth taking the metro just to have a look. It’s open from 5:20 a.m. to 1 a.m. A single fare is 28 RUB (US$0.36).
You can hail cabs on the street or have your hotel call one for you. There are no meters, so you’ll have to negotiate the price of a fare. If you’re traveling within central Moscow, you shouldn’t pay more than 200 RUB (US$2.57).
Where to stay
If you’re looking for luxury and upscale hotel options, try the St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya (Street Nikolskaya 12, Moscow 109012; Ph: 7-495-967-7776), Radisson Blu Belorusskaya Hotel Moscow (26a 3rd Street of Jamskogo Polja, Moscow 125124; Ph: 7-495-660-4900), Doubletree by Hilton Moscow Marina (Bld. 1, 39 Leningradskoe Shosse, Moscow 12521; Ph: 7-495-212-2020) or Marriott Moscow Grand (26/1 Tverskaya St., Moscow 125009; Ph: 7-495-937-0000). Midscale and economy options include Hampton by Hilton Moscow Strogino (20 Kulakova St. Moscow 123592; Ph: 7-499-745-0600) and Ibis Moscow Dynamo (Leningradsky Prospect 37, Moscow 125167; Ph: 7-495-139-0304).
Things to see and do
Visitors must experience the weight of history you feel in Red Square, one of Russia’s most famous landmarks. Cobblestones pave the way to the Kremlin, Lenin’s Tomb, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Russian State Historical Museum. Plus, the official residence of the Russian president sits on Red Square. You can enter the square free of charge, but to get a sense of the historical significance, consider joining a walking tour. Some private tour operators offer pick-up and drop-off services at hotels. Be sure to experience the square in the evening when it’s lit up against the night sky. It’s a spectacular scene.
Bordering the southern end of Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral looks like it’s straight out of the pages of a fairy tale. Built on the orders of Ivan the Terrible in 1555, the cathedral commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan from the final battle of the Russo-Kazan Wars. It’s built from brick and has nine separate chapels, each capped with a uniquely shaped and colored dome. It’s open for tours from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day except Tuesday; admission is 250 RUB (US$3.22).
The Tretyakov Gallery holds a vast collection of Russian art that spans thousands of years. It was founded by Russian merchant Paval Tretyakov, who donated his art collection to the city of Moscow in 1892. The gallery now houses more than 130,000 works. It’s open Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Admission is 400 RUB (US$5.15).
Enjoy the great outdoors with a visit to the Aptekarskiy Ogorod Botanical Garden. The garden was founded by Peter the Great in 1706 for the purpose of growing medicinal plants. In the Shadow Garden you’ll find over 150 species of shade-tolerant flowers, as well as collections of ferns and peonies. And the Palm House contains trees over 200 years old. The garden is open daily from 10 a.m.; closing time depends on the time of year. Admission is 100 RUB (US$1.29).
An evening at the Bolshoi Theatre is captivating. It’s the second-biggest opera house in Europe and a grand example of Russian classical architecture. The majestic, six-tier auditorium is awe-inspiring. A range of Russian and foreign ballets and operas grace the stage each year. You’ll find the schedule on the Bolshoi’s website.
Where to eat
To get a sense of what Russia looked like in the 19th century, drop by Café Pushkin and soak up the pre-revolution atmosphere in a building designed to look like a Russian aristocrat’s home in 1825. The service at this five-star restaurant is impeccable—guests are treated like royalty. Be sure to order the blinchiki—a popular dish of Russian pancakes and black caviar. There’s normally a line out the door, so book ahead of time. Find it at 26A Tverskoy Blvd.; Ph: 7-495-739-0033.
The dishes at Buono display a mastery of Italian cuisine that’s unsurpassed, and you can’t beat the restaurant’s view of Moscow from the 29th and 30th floors of a skyscraper. People clamor for a table by the window. Find it at 2/1 Kutuzovsky Ave., Building 1 (Hotel Radisson Royal); Ph 7-495-229-8308.
Galereya (Gallery Café) is located in a 19th century mansion, and the décor alone is a reason to pay a visit to the restaurant. Rotating works from local artists line the walls. The chef adds a contemporary flair to traditional cuisine. Find it at 27 Petrovka St.; Ph: 7-495-937-4504.
Varvary was made famous by founding chef Anatoly Komm’s application of “molecular gastronomy” to traditional Russian cuisine. The restaurant made the list of San Pellegrino’s World’s 50 Best Restaurants in 2011, so expect to be wowed. The nine-course tasting menu is perfection. Find it at 8a, Strastnoi Blvd., Ph: 7-495-229-2800.