Moscow has a long and fascinating history. Whether you are looking for Imperial glamour, religious tradition, Soviet memories or a picture of a Russia to come, Moscow has layers that when peeled away can show you all that and more. So how can you cram it all in in 48 hours? This is our guide on how to spend 2 days in Moscow in winter.
DAY ONE – Around Red Square
All today’s attractions are close at hand, however, there is still a whole lot of walking and standing to do so pop on your comfortable city break shoes. If it is snowy, boots are the way to go!
No It’s Not a Waxwork – Lenin’s Mausoleum
As if being in ex-soviet Russia wasn’t enough, this mausoleum is a dark tourist’s dream (to see some more, check out our blog post all about top dark tourist sights here). Vladimir Lenin was the leader of the Russian union, and Soviet union from 1917 until his death in 1924. A week after his passed away, he was first presented to the public. He has lain here for nearly 100 years (only being moved to protect him from the advancing German troops in the second world war).
Lenin’s face is pale and completed by his little red moustache. Every 18 months he gets a touch-up, keeping him looking fresh and ensuring the embalming lasts.
The museum is closed on Monday and Friday, closes at 1 o’clock in the afternoon on other days, and it is, for this reason, we suggest visiting it first.
The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed/Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat/Pokrovsky Cathedral….Oh, you Mean St Basil’s Cathedral!
This has to be the most iconic site in Moscow, and one of the most famous landmarks in Europe. You may know it by its most popular name, St Basil’s Cathedral. Candy-striped domes rise above Red Square, like a perfect fairy tale kingdom on a Christmas card. Construction began here in 1555. The famous domes had been in place since 1595 but these amazing onions only got their vivid paint job in the 18th century. It remained in use as nine separate churches until 1927, when the whole was deconsecrated. Thankfully it was saved from its planned demolition by a passionate architect, it was instead turned into a State museum.
After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1990, it was once again used for religious purposes but remains a lovely museum too. Entrance isn’t cheap at 700 rubles (a little under £9) but you’ll kick yourself if you skip it.
Oddly enough, I wasn’t expecting the inside to be either so big or so colourful. However, darting in and out of former chapels, over two public floors, reveals a lovely collection of paintings mosaics and artefacts. Each room has a new paint scheme, all intricate and some downright jazzy.
GUM for Lunch
No, we aren’t suggesting you go on a diet. GUM is actually the fanciest shopping centre in Moscow and happens to run along the side of Red Square.￼
This is a rather extravagant option for lunch, with eateries such as Busco Café with its stunning views over Red Square, and Beluga Caviar Bar nestled between designer boutiques seen on the swankiest shopping streets of the globe.
If you are after a more budget-friendly option then try Stolovaya No 57. This is a relic of the old Soviet worker’s canteen. Punters pick up a tray, load it with cold eats and then go to a counter for their hot food and drinks. You can just pint at what you want, have as little or as much you like and it shouldn’t cost the earth.
The Kremlin isn’t just one attraction but a large complex that has galleries, political buildings and churches. You could easily lose yourself for a whole day here, but as we only have two days in Moscow, here are some highlights:
The Tsar Cannon
This behemoth of a gun was designed to protect the Kremlin. It was the biggest cannon of its kind in the world and appears to have only been fired once. The giant cannon bells that sit in front of it are purely decorative as they are too big to fire, even by this giant.
The Tsar Bell
The USA may have its famous “crack in the bell” but the Tsar’s Bell, cast in 1735, definitely gives it a huge run for its money. This is the largest (heaviest) bell in the world, but due to its missing chunk, it is not counted in lists as it doesn’t function. Still, at just shy of 200 tons, its pretty impressive.
This plain section of ground is surrounded by three main churches, which were constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries. Each was designed by Italian architects, which can be seen from their classical style. The main churches are:
- Cathedral of the Dormition
- Church of the Archangel
- Church of the Annunciation
- Ivan Veliki bell tower
These old churches are both lovely to explore, and a great way to warm up those fingers. Most have brightly coloured frescoes dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.
A Little Culture for the Evening
Entertainment – Ballet
If you’re feeling rather highbrow, take in some ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre. There are few countries that consistently turn out world-leading ballet dancer as Russia does. There are also a few countries that have ballet tickets cheap enough for the many. At the Bolshoi, you may be lucky enough to get both! We recommend signing up to the newsletter and keeping your fingers firmly crossed for a great show during your visit.
For dinner, there are a fair few options around Red Square but for a fun experience, and a meal that won’t weigh you down, check out Wine and Crab. This is one of those “does what says n the tin” restaurant names. The menu is all based around crab in all its many forms. They also have a huge wine collection
Cheap and Cheerful
Entertainment – Retro Arcade
If your brows are a little further south this evening, or you’re after some silly fun, the Muzey Sovetskikh Igrovykh Avomatov (Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines) is open until 21:00.
On entry, you swap your ticket money for old Soviet coins and are let loose into a cool collection of old arcade games. Expect huge, metal, Soviet gems that are both wonderfully tactile and endlessly tricky. Elsewhere are puzzle games that give Tetris a run for its money, a crazy ball jumping game that had me in paroxysms of giggles, and a brilliant old school pinball machine.
Dinner – Burger Heroes
The easiest solution is to grab dinner at Burger Heroes, the burger joint that is attached. It is said that it has some of Moscow’s best burgers, but if that isn’t your thing, don’t skip it entirely. Inside, for around 50p you can get a sweet soda drink from a hulking grey Gazirovka machine, unchanged from the 1960s￼. Back in the day, a kopek would get you plain soda water, and three would add in some lemonade syrup. People would use a communal glass, and then wash it on the kind of upwards shooting tap seen in bars. How very eco-friendly!
Dinner – Lepim I Vadim
Another excellent choice for a cheap but interesting dinner is Lepim i Varim. This means sculpt and cook, and that is because they are famous for their pelmeni (dumplings). I love a dumpling, but here, everyone is an enthusiast. From the lowly pork pelmeni to the fancy Angus beef or crab variety, the menu is stuffed (dumpling pun) with options. They even have a pear, apple, ricotta and cinnamon choice to finish off your meal with a sweet farewell.
Day Two – Exploring More of Moscow
Take in the View – Ostankino Television Tower
Taking a trip up the Ostankino TV Tower will give you an unrivalled view of Moscow. The lift that ascends 334m doesn’t give you much of an impression of the view awaiting you. I mean, this viewing deck is higher than the one at The Shard! However, as soon as those doors slide open you will find yourself rushing towards the windows.
If you’re feeling brave, take a stroll along the glass floor, the best way to see just how high up you are.￼
Don’t forget to bring your ID to get in!
Nice on Ice – Gorky Park
In the lazy summer days, Gorky Park is a splendid place through which to stroll. During the bitter winter weather, we contest that it is even nicer. This is because when the temperature plummets, Gorky Park is home to the most amazing outdoor ice rink.
Coming from London, we have been subject to big rectangles of ice, and which escape round and round and round until the Zamboni is booked in ready for the next session. Not so in Russia!
Gorky Park ice rink is huge. I wouldn’t call it a rink really, it’s more of an ice village. 18 000 m2 On your way around the course you’ll encounter food outlets, hot serving lovely hot drinks, A full restaurant and even a car dealership. I think we were on the ice for almost 3 hours all told.
In a giant, round, utterly Communist building is a trendy hipster hotspot, the Danilovsky market. This is a surprisingly eclectic mix of delicacies, produce and prepared dishes.
At Danilovsky Market you can start with an Indian curry, move on to Lebanese hummus, add piles of dumplings and finish with a lovely slice of borek. It makes a change from the traditional fair served across the country. We dined on fresh prawns drenched in garlic and lemon juice, tried crazy green soft drinks and finished with yummy freshly baked pastries. It’s not just dinner it’s a destination. Oh, and keep your eyes peeled for the huge pomegranates. You’ll pay a small fortune for a small bottle of juice but they are very impressive.￼
Where to Stay in Moscow
If you only have two days in Moscow you won’t want to spend time travelling in and out of the centre so we recommend picking accommodation near Red Square.
If you really want to splash some cash, in a spot with an impressive Moscow history, head for the Metropol Hotel. The Metropol Hall Restaurant looks like a ballroom with a gorgeous glass dome and marble fountain. Every morning it serves what is well-reputed as Moscow’s best breakfast, and to the lovely tinkling of a live harpist no less!
Bedroom On a Budget – Sputnik Hostel and Personal Space
Sputnik Hostel is great for both backpackers and flashpackers. It is just ten minutes walk from the big sights and they have all the most important stuff:
- Free WiFi
- Dorms with lockers
- Private double rooms
- Luggage storage
Plus, it has a very chic urban aesthetic.
Getting Around Moscow
Moscow’s Metro is cheap and easy to navigate. A single trip will cost less than £1. Buy your tickets from a machine (in Russian and English) or from the KACCA booth. You are issued with contactless cards that will beep you through the barriers.
It is worth knowing that changing between lines can involve many stairs. Something to consider if you have reduced mobility or a huge suitcase.
The other thing to note is that Moscow’s stations are beautiful! From baroque style paintings to Soviet realist sculptures and everything in between. Keep your eyes peeled and camera ready. There are even tours that take you to the best stations but you may want another day to enjoy this.
For some destinations, like the TV Tower, you will need to take local overground trains. These are easy to navigate, with signs in English as well as Cyrillic. If you are feeling adventurous, you can take these further afield…all the way to St Petersburg if you are really aiming for a crazy day trip.
Flagging down a taxi is pretty uncommon these days in Moscow. Instead, most people use a mobile app like Yandex Taxi. This comes with all the convenience of waiting in a nice warm building until your car arrives and knowing that there are some safety features to the app. Finally, you won’t be scammed…which is nice.
What to Pack for a Moscow City Break
We always think it is helpful to have a guidebook. Whether you are using the maps, reading about each attraction in-depth or ploughing through the history section at lunch, they are a handy addition to every day bag. Lonely Planet has great coverage in Russia so they would be our pick for Moscow.
As you will be in and out of buildings on a fairly regular basis, it is time to ace your layering game! Huge jumpers may seem logical but it is pretty unpleasant to be sitting in a church or metro train quietly perspiring.
Final Thoughts on How to Spend Two Days in Moscow (in Winter)
At first glance, Moscow in winter can seem a slightly forbidding place, not helped by the media’s portrayal of Russia. However, you will soon discover that both the people and the buildings are wonderfully warm and welcoming.