Table of Contents
My Favorite 25 Things to do Moscow – Understand
Moscow is quintessential Russia – even more so than St. Petersburg; this is where all our ideas about Russia come together – foreigners and Russians alike. Moscow is a busy city and most of the Russian oil money ends up in Muscovite bank accounts and trickles down through the (rather small) service economy in Moscow.
Moscow is a ‘rough city’; the gray buildings, often cold weather, wide passageways and people who could care less by your visit. Surprisingly, it’s not likely that you will be bothered in Moscow by any police (or anyone) but you will also be completely ignored – people will simply walk ‘through you’.
The city has a decent number of sights (though many aren’t that exciting) and has decent cuisine and coffee to make your visit pleasant. The city center is largely modern (despite the omnipresent old apartment buildings).
My Favorite 25 Things to do Moscow – Get Around
Muscovites swear by their Metro, but I find it not so useful, as it is often 150-400 feet underground. It’s like another city. For shorter hops, you spend more time on the escalators than you do taking the (frequent) trains. It’s safe and rather clean, though.
I relied on Uber, which gets you all over Moscow for under $5 per ride. Traffic can be an issue, but it always flows thanks to aggressive and constantly honking drivers.
My Favorite 25 Things to do Moscow – Safety
Moscow is a safe city – a little less so than smaller Russian cities, but it is still safe. I did not take any safety precautions and never felt followed or caught up in a hairy situation. As with many police states, crime isn’t an issue, but avoid confrontation with officials. Always double-check if you can take pictures and be a little more careful with what you say to whom.
My Favorite 25 Things to do Moscow – Sights and Eat & Drink
I decided to combine sights and options for eating and drinking for this city since it is all about neighborhoods. Unless you are in one of the city neighborhoods below, Moscow will be a shocking mess of wide alleys and raging traffic. Once inside a neighborhood, it is much better, with an urban feel and pedestrian areas.
Gorky Park (Горького Парк)
In spring, summer or fall, a visit to Gorky Park should be mandatory.
It’s a calm, yet hip, atmosphere and also features the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art (Музей современного искусства Гараж). The museum is small and still costs $6 for just a few minutes of exhibitions.
Kitay Gorod (Китай-город)
Red Square (Красная площадь)
No Moscow visit is complete without heading to the Red Square. Yes, it is touristy, but there are so few non-Russian speaking tourists in Moscow that you won’t feel like you are in Siem Reap here. The Red Square is pretty, but you can visit it all in less than 2 hours, including the walk around the lower side of the Kremlin (Кремль).
There are tours that can get you into the Kremlin, as well as a number of museums. Likely the best tour is the one including St. Basil’s Cathedral (Храм Василия Блаженного), Red Square and into the Kremlin, which sells for 800 RUB and tours several times a day. If you go early and check out the times, you should be fine with a same-day ticket.
Some of the most acclaimed food in Moscow is done by Ugolek, which is actually inspired by the rather remote American Western theme. People kept raving about their burgers. I liked my burger but didn’t think it was amazing. Maybe it was just the wrong dish?
Tagansky (Таганский район)
Bunker 42 (Бункер 42)
This was one of the highlights of this visit. Bunker 42 is one of the fully-functional nuclear bunkers that the Soviet Union built as part of the deep underground metro system. It’s like an 18-floor high-rise, but built into the ground.
You will need to call ahead to make a reservation for an English-speaking tour. Payment is on site; the evening tour was 1,800 RUB ($30) at the time of writing. The guided one-hour tour takes you to one or more of the tunnels that housed a command center for long-range aviation (read bombers). It was staffed with 600 people for most of the Cold War and beyond.
There are different tours that give you insight into different segments of the tunnels. Our tour guide was dressed like a Russian army officer (he may well have been one), who presented a lot of facts in fluent English. However, it was a really creepy experience, as the museum is basically a Russian propaganda machine. The 10-minute ‘documentary’ was all about American imperialism and the simulated rocket launch later was shown targeting New York City (the original bunker was not used by missile command center).
To this day, I can’t tell if the tour guide was serious or not most of the time (he was actually joking some of the time). It was such a strange experience. I felt like an Eastern German border guard was about to discover my US passport and execute me. Again, this is a museum and not a military operation – it’s just such a creepy tour that I was a bit freaked out.
Note that while there is an elevator, it is not used, and you are required to walk up and down 18 stories. I was up there faster than anyone in that group after this tour.
This Israeli restaurant makes you wish you could beam yourself to the Tel Aviv summer and drown in smooth hummus. The food is good and original, but it’s not stellar. It’s all very quick and, given the low standards of Russian friendliness, also very friendly.
Tverskoy (featuring the major road Tverskaya) is the area closest to the city center. As it radiates out, things get cheaper and more hip.
Beer Market (Бирмаркет)
If you are looking for a low-key bar with a good IPA selection, come here – but NEVER touch the food.
Lao Lee is authentic Vietnamese food (including great pho) in the Tverskoy neighborhood. The atmosphere is understated and prices are low. Great find!
Patriarshiye Ponds (Патрики)
In summer, the many outdoor cafes and restaurants make this one of the best urban areas in Moscow.
It’s all iced over in winter, though.
Double B (Даблби)
Double B is a local coffee chain that comes with fresh, bright colors. I liked their coffee a lot and the staff were usually cheerful. The downside is that there is no WiFi, so bring your own Internet.
Molon Lave (Молон Лаве)
If you are craving good Greek food, then this place is great. It’s rather expensive and attitudes are snobby, but hey, it’s all about the food.
Basmanny (район Басманный)
This was likely my favorite coffee in Russia (besides Akademia Coffee in Novosibirsk). It’s a small shop with just a few improvised seating arrangements, but it makes up for it with no-attitude, friendly staff, good soundtracks, fast WiFi and excellent coffee and snacks. What a find.
Right next to Surf Coffee is Ramen Club, which does exactly what it set out to – serve good ramen in Moscow.
Filial Cafe (Филиал)
Filial looks like a historic Vienna coffee shop and has an excellent chef who comes up with a creative three-course lunch menu (incl. drinks) for just 350 RUB. It’s a great deal for great food.
Hachapuri is a Georgian food mini-chain in Moscow. As with other Russian cities, good food usually means Georgian (as if the world would only eat food from Georgia). The food is great here, but not cheap. The staff come with serious attitude and no smiles or friendly words are wasted on customers. Good thing you don’t need to tip in Russia at all 🙂
Clean Ponds (Чистые пруды)
Similar to Patriarshiye Ponds, this is a small urban oasis in busy Moscow.
Around Clean Ponds, you can find GlavPivMag for an incredible selection of beers on tap and in bottles from all over Russia and the world.
Chaynaya vysota (Чайная высота)
If you want to try some of the world’s most exotic ice creams and teas, then head over to Chaynaya vysota, which is very hidden in a bookshop.
Ask around if you can’t find it. Don’t be afraid, even though Russians are just not that friendly to anyone and most people will simply ignore you and walk by.
This former factory has been remodeled and is now home to the new media stars of Moscow. It kinda looks cool, but it was all very deserted on a Tuesday and I wasn’t hungry enough to try any of the restaurants or coffee shops.
Yakimanka (район Якиманка)
This neighborhood does not appeal much at first glance, but has its share of good places for your stomach.
Vai Me! (Вай мэ!)
Vai Me was the first Georgian food place I found that was eatery style rather than fine dining. You order up front at the counter and collect your food yourself. The food is fresh and great and much cheaper than in a slower full-service restaurant.
Double B (Даблби)
I liked the Double B here a lot, despite a rather failed interaction with the staff. There are some lazy seating areas near the window and the cortado I got was superb.
Marukame Udon is now a global chain and while the store in Honolulu is still my favorite, this store is pretty decent too.
If you are stuck around the Kievskaya neighborhood (it’s where the Vnukovo Aeroexpress departs), you can try the Coffeemania chain flagship store (great, but expensive desserts).
You may also want to try this Hachapuri location, too.
Tsaritsyno Park (Музей-заповедник Царицыно)
If you are in Moscow in summer, try to plan a tour to the Tsaritsyno Park, located to the south of the city. It’s close to Domodedovo Airport and might give you something to do before heading to the city after an early morning arrival.