Moscow Travel Guide

Moscow Travel Guide

Moscow invariably hits the headlines for all the wrong reasons. And though the Russian capital isn’t particularly LGBTQ-friendly (Vladimir Putin’s annual shirtless photoshoot notwithstanding), we don’t think you should miss out on the most intriguing of Moscow points of interest because of it. Homosexuality is legal, although a vaguely-worded 2013 law prohibits the promotion of ‘non-traditional’ relationships. As such, gay travellers are advised against overt displays of their sexuality. That said, the vast majority of visits remain trouble-free, even for visitors who frequent the city’s less-than-secret gay bar and club scene.

The best hotels in Moscow

The historic exterior of the Hotel Metropol, facing the internationally-celebrated Bolshoi Theatre and close to many of the other main things to do in Moscow, is nothing compared to its sumptuous interiors. Its decor recalls the no-expense-spared philosophy of the grand imperial era that climaxed at the turn of the 1900s. Marble detailing, decorative plasterwork, and a breathtaking stained-glass roof enclosing the vast dining hall is the result. Though the hotel is large – with 365 rooms, there is a different bed for every day of the year – each room is uniquely shaped in the art deco style, ensuring a personal feel. The rooms at the Russo-Balt Hotel are also individually decorated, but in the earlier art nouveau style of swirling floral motifs, blown-glass chandeliers, and richly carved woods. Stand out features include a pillow menu and breakfasts which incorporate produce from the hotel’s private farm.

Rooms at the PR Myasnitsky Boutique Hotel have a more playful, contemporary look, combining bare brick with sleek pieces of modern furniture, all within the large public spaces of the nineteenth-century edifice. Each features a small fridge and capsule coffee machine. As a self-declared design hotel, rest assured that any stay at Akvarel Hotel will be an elegant one, with every detail considered from the moment you step across the threshold. The chic mid-century design flows effortlessly from the lobby bar and summer terrace to the rooms, each of which has been custom-styled with fanciful furnishings. A little further away, on the Third Ring Road in the Basmanny district, is the three-star Boutique Hotel Baumanskiy. The modern building features quirky in-room works of art and the offer of complimentary coffees at reception. The carpeted interiors give this stay a homely ambience, which marries well with breakfast – which is served in your room.

Photo: Crew

Photo: Crew

Moscow

Moscow

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Recommended hotels in Moscow
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Things to do in Moscow

While it may not have the clout of St Petersburg’s Hermitage, Moscow’s red-brick State Historical Museum is nonetheless a spectacular sight inside and out, and a must on any Moscow sightseeing tour. Constructed on the edge of Red Square in the Russian Revival style, it contains an astonishing 4.3 million objects, ranging from ancient tribal gold and medieval illuminated manuscripts to priceless works of art purchased by the Romanovs, the last Tsars of Russia. However, the titular home of Russian art is the Tretyakov Gallery, whose collection is the largest of its kind in the world. In addition to delicate religious icons close to a thousand years old, modern art fans will delight in Kandinsky’s Composition VII and Malevich’s Black Square, the latter of which predates Rothko’s more famous black-form paintings by more than 40 years. The only public collection of Russian art from the 1950s onwards, the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art is another important Moscow cultural institution. Situated in a fittingly modernist structure in Gorky Park, its rooftop also offers excellent views across the city.

Zaryadye Park | Photo: Mitya Ivanov

Zaryadye Park | Photo: Mitya Ivanov

The State Historical Museum contains an astonishing 4.3 million objects, ranging from ancient tribal gold and medieval illuminated manuscripts, to priceless works of art purchased by the last Tsars of Russia

With decoration that makes it more an imperial palace than a traditional Russian banya, Sanduny Baths have been the place to be seen relaxing since it opened in 1808. The oldest public bathhouse in Russia, Sanduny is more than just a spot to bathe. Tiered services include steam rooms, lounge spaces, and a spa, while visitors are also able to enjoy guided tours of the palatial structure every Tuesday afternoon. Don’t ignore the possibility of guided tours when it comes to evening entertainment either. The More Than Just Vodka Spirits Tour is just that, taking tourists on a whirlwind journey of regional delicacies (craft beers, nastoyka flavoured-vodkas, Georgian cheeses, and zakuska appetizers) while taking in some of the city’s most important sights along the way. But if there’s one evening of entertainment that’s not to be missed – if you manage to bag yourself a ticket – it’s ballet, opera, and theatre at the Bolshoi, a theatre that’s a byword for the best of the arts.

Tsaritsyno Museum | Photo: Aleksandr Sydorov

Tsaritsyno Museum | Photo: Aleksandr Sydorov

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Recommended experiences in Moscow
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Zhivopisny Bridge | Photo: Alexander Smagin

Zhivopisny Bridge | Photo: Alexander Smagin

What to see in Moscow

Gorky Park is to Moscow is what Central Park is to New York: a green space that’s much more than just a green space. An integral part of the city’s social life, the summer months see the park act as the location for all manner of activities, from family picnics to Segway rides, while in the winter months it’s transformed into a huge ice rink. For a more ethereal experience, consider Golosov Ravine instead, where tales of yeti-like sightings date back centuries. Even if you’re not lucky enough to encounter Bigfoot yourself, the ravine boasts a series of natural springs held sacred by both Russian Orthodox traditions and new-age pagans. The latter honour two giant energy-laden rocks known as Diviy and (less-dramatically) Gus. Nearby Sokol also harks back to an early time, with tree-lined streets dotted with dachas – the simple country cottages that have been a part of Russian life for centuries – built in the early twentieth century as an experiment in Garden City design.

With a history that reaches back to 1524, Novodevichy Convent ranks as one of the best Moscow things to do. Far from a simple nunnery, Novodevichy was soon incorporated into the city’s medieval walls and includes four intricately-designed cathedrals, as well as a cemetery containing the mortal remains of many of Tsar Peter the Great’s family. One of the more unusual public artworks you might come across in Moscow is the intriguing 2001 piece Children are the Victims of Adult Vices by sculptor Mihail Chemiakin, a modern fable in bronze. The piece warns against the risks children are perceived to face, brought to life in a semi-circle of ghoulish fantasy figures. Equally fantastical is the towering sculpture of Peter the Great that has sat at the western tip of Bolotny Ostrov (Bog Island) on the Moskva River since 1997. Soaring 322 feet into the air, the statue is worth a stop just to say you’ve seen one of the world’s most hated pieces of art for yourself!

Saint Basils Cathedral | Photo: Nikolay Vorobyev

Saint Basils Cathedral | Photo: Nikolay Vorobyev

Where to eat in Moscow

Muscovite cuisine has come a long way since the early 1990s when mile-long queues formed on the opening of the city’s first McDonald’s. Today, the only reason you’ll find yourself asking what to do in Moscow for food is due to the incredible choice now available to visitors. Recently anointed as one of the world’s top 50 restaurants, White Rabbit would undoubtedly hold a Michelin star or two if the feted rating system stretched as far as Moscow. Its dramatic glass-domed Alice in Wonderland interior is the setting for authentic Russian cuisine – such as black bread, borsch, and catfish pie – with a modernist twist. While the menu at Severyane may look simple by comparison, it hides some true delights. An evangelist for local ingredients, chef Georgy Troyan (named Moscow’s top young chef in 2015) bakes all the bread from scratch in house and many of the dishes in the kitchen’s traditional Russian oven. Boasting a Sicilian-inspired menu, Semifreddo is probably Russia’s finest Italian restaurant, offering diners such classics as calf’s head salad, and spaghetti allo scoglio, among a menu strong on seafood.

Photo: Monika Grabkowska

Photo: Monika Grabkowska

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White Rabbit’s dramatic glass-domed Alice in Wonderland interior is the setting for authentic Russian cuisine with a modernist twist

LavkaLavka offers a more casual take on authentic Russian flavours while celebrating the rich variety of local ingredients. It champions a farm-to-table philosophy and a menu of favourites which changes not only with the seasons but also the day of the week, dependent upon what produce is ready for picking. The open kitchen of Syrovarnya continues the contemporary and casual trend. It’s popular with the city’s residents thanks to its fashionable interior of polished concrete and shabby-chic elegance, to say nothing of its fresh takes on much-loved traditional dishes. Margarita Bistro turns its attention to simple European fare, such as grilled fish, and pasta salads, and is a particular favourite for a late breakfast.

With an ambience hovering somewhere between New York wine bar and London gastropub, Fahrenheit is more than your average drinking hole, surprising many who visit with its somewhat avant-garde approach to flavour combinations; this includes baked cottage cheese with raspberry sauce and beaver lardons with crab-apple syrup, for starters. Offering a deliberate departure from the everyday, the Strelka Institute’s Bar Strelka has fresh salads and an awesome view across the River Moskva from its terrace. Specialising in Uzbek cuisine, Uzbekistan transports diners to the far-flung corners of the Russian Empire. Sensual almost beyond belief, this is a veritable paradise of rugs, deep sofas, and arched windows, together with roving belly-dancers, and dishes loaded with spices.

Photo: Artem Maltsev

Photo: Artem Maltsev

Shopping in Moscow

One of Moscow’s more creative fashion stores, Outlaw is the brainchild of two young Russian designers who aren’t afraid to cause a stir. Among the trainers and hoodies of the post-punk menswear collection, you’ll find chunky boots and military-style vests, as well as some very cool shades. Concept store SVMoscow has an impressively eclectic, if slightly more street-ready, menswear collection that includes designers Balenciaga, Vetements, and Greg Lauren. Joyously unstuffy, Belief is a store that lies on the cool side of nerdy, with a wonderful range of printed tees from the likes of Undercover and Human-Made, making it one of the best places to head to for impossible-to-find Japanese designer brands.

Brandishing a plethora of exclusive products from Virgil Abloh, Demna Gvaslia, and Heron Preston, KM20 (on Kuznetsky Most 20) mixes celebrated designers with up-and-coming stars for a shopping experience in the city like no other. Perhaps more to type is Izmailovsky Market, Moscow’s main flea-cum-crafts market. Amid the detritus of second-hand household goods, there is plenty to attract the eye, from Soviet memorabilia and satirical Russian dolls painted in the form of presidents past and present, to food stalls and genuine antiques. It’s well worth a visit for the atmosphere of hard bargaining alone. For craftsmanship at its very finest, head to Gourji Boutique, a store selling top-end souvenirs, such as cufflinks, fountain pens, and leather goods, each of which ties to key events in Russian history.

Photo: Christelle Bourgeois

Photo: Christelle Bourgeois

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Located on the thirty-fourth floor of the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy, City Space Bar boasts mixologists of international repute, who whip up drinks you won’t find anywhere else

Photo: Alexander Popov

Photo: Alexander Popov

Moscow nightlife

While Moscow may not be the most open destination when it comes to attitudes to homosexuality, you’d never know it on entering Nashe Café. The welcoming atmosphere and nightly drag series make it a clear winner with this gay Moscow guide. If anything, the ambience of Kitaysky Lyotchk Dzhao-Da (Chinese Pilot Jao Da) is even more homely, with a youthful crowd appreciative of the laid-back vibes, good bar prices, and regular live music, which can range from Afro beats to French synth pop and on to home-grown punk. For a more adult feel and tantalizing cocktail menu, head instead to City Space Bar. Located on the thirty-fourth floor of the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy, this bar boasts mixologists of international repute, who whip up drinks you won’t find anywhere else, although it’s the city views that are sure to hold your attention the longest.

Unassuming it may be, but Noor Electro is one of the chicest places in the city to grab a drink. A stone’s throw from the wonders of Red Square, Noor Electro is high-end without appearing superior, and cool without resorting to gimmicks. They know what they do well, and they just get on doing it well, long into the night. Nor can the atmosphere be faulted at Mono Bar, a club known first and foremost for its dancefloor full of electronica and live DJ sets. It’s at its best when the clock ticks over to ‘tomorrow’, and when the day of the week begins with ‘F’ and ends in ‘riday’. Open every day of the week, Propaganda hosts a dedicated gay night on Sundays, though the music is top-notch any day you stop by and the food in the café surprisingly decent to boot.

Photo: Felipe Ponce

Photo: Felipe Ponce

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