Moscow See And Do
26 Ulitsa Prospekt Mira
Tel: 7 495 680 5880
"This doesn't feel like Moscow," is a common reaction to Russia's oldest botanical garden, founded by Peter the Great in 1706. Located in the center of the city, it's just off the eternally congested Sadovoye Koltso, or Garden Ring, which doesn't have a hint of garden about it. But the Aptekarsky Ogorod makes up for that with its winding paths, footbridges, playground, benches, and of course its trees (some are up to 300 years old), plants (among them tropical and subtropical plants in a greenhouse), and flowers (there's a spring tulip festival). And, it is incredibly, spotlessly clean. The garden is surrounded by restaurants, many, not surprisingly, with a lovely view. Admission about $2 before 6 pm and about $6 after. Aside from a discount for schoolchildren, students, and pensioners, it's one price for both Russians and foreigners.
Open 10 am to 10 pm daily, except for several weeks in April and for special events.
Khlynovsky Tupik Dom 4
Tel: 7 495 660 1158
Igor Markin, a businessman who got rich selling refrigerators and manufacturing parts for window blinds, was inspired by the 19th-century philanthropist Pavel Tretyakov's approach to collecting Russian artboth the breadth of the private collection that became the Tretyakov Gallery and the desire to show it to people. So he opened his own sizable collection of postwar Soviet and Russian art to the public, but that's where the comparisons stop. Markin purchased the first floor of an apartment building to house his museum and instead of hiring elderly women (who usually keep watch over museum exhibitions in Moscow museums), Markin brought in pretty young girls and handsome young men to sit at the front desk. He also called on his cyberfriends (he has a blog) to run the place. No one patrols the halls. It's fine to talk on your cell phone, laugh with your friends, and even touch the artwork, which includes everything from Ilya Kabakov installations to paintings by such Soviet non-conformists as Dmitry Krasnopevtsev and Erik Bulatov. Visitors can also read books from the museum's store at tables in the main hall. Art presentations and DJ parties are held on Friday evenings.
Open Tuesdays through Thursdays 11 am to 8 pm, Fridays 11 am to 11 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 8 pm.
1 Teatral'naya Ploschad
Tel: 7 495 692 0050
After a bad run in the 1990s, when it was overshadowed by St. Petersburg's Mariinsky Theater, the Bolshoi is fast regaining its status as one of the best opera and ballet theaters in the world. The final word hinges on the outcome of a dramatic restoration of the crumbling main buildingan 1825 masterpiece of Russian neoclassicism, reconstructed after an 1853 fire, featuring an eight-columned portico surmounted by Apollo's chariot. Until the grand reopening (currently scheduled for 2011), the theater's creative progress can be charted through performances at the State Kremlin Palace and at the new 900-seat stage next to the main building. The arrival of wunderkind choreographer Alexei Ratmansky in 2004 already gave new life to the ballet troupe, and in 2005, the Bolshoi premiered its first contemporary opera, Children of Rosental, with libretto commissioned from post-modernist novelist Vladimir Sorokin. Scalping was once a big problem in front of the main building, but there's no need to use those services: Ask your hotel for help obtaining tickets, or visit the ticket office to the left of the main building, near the new stage. Sometimes tickets are remarkably cheapas little as $7 for the new stage balcony. Credit cards are accepted.
Ulitsa Volkhonka Dom 15
Tel: 7 495 637 2847
Built in honor of Russia's victory over Napoleon in 1812, the original Cathedral of Christ the Savior was dynamited at Stalin's orders and slated for replacement by a Palace of Soviets to be topped by a huge statue of Lenin. That was never built, and the hole in the ground was turned into an open-air swimming pool where clandestine baptisms were reportedly held in Soviet times. In the 1990s, Moscow's powerful mayor, Yuri Luzhkov, rebuilt the cathedral, having it decorated in ornate marble, gilt, and pastel frescoesregarded as an excessive folly during the steep economic decline of the post-Soviet years. Now, however, it has grown into its role as Russia's main cathedral. In April 2007, President Boris Yeltsin's funeral was held therethe first Christian burial of a Russian leader since 1894and a month later President Putin attended the reunification ceremonies for the two branches of the Russian Orthodox Church that had been split by the Bolshevik Revolution. In the basement, there's a museum of the cathedral's history, as well as a good souvenir and icon shop. An observation deck near the dome offers spectacular Kremlin views and overlooks the Ostozhenka neighborhood around the cathedral, which is becoming Moscow's billionaire row.
Services are held Mondays through Fridays at 8 am and 5 pm; Saturdays at 9 am (in the basement church) and 5 pm; Sundays at 10 am; the eve of major feast days at 5 pm; major feast days at 9 am. All except the 9 am Saturday services are held in the main cathedral. Tours are available daily 9 am to 6 pm; tickets can be purchased near the entrance to the cathedral's lower level on Soimonovsky Proyezd. Keep in mind, the cathedral has a two-tier pricing system and charges foreigners more.
Stemming in part from the Russian tradition of balagan (clowning and tomfoolery), the circus is a national art form. Moscow has two: The Big Moscow State Circus on Prospekt Vernadskogo (near Moscow State University, and usually referred to as "the New Circus") presents a Vegas-style show mixed with old-school circus numbers. Although children pack the audience, the showgirls' rather revealing costumes are not exactly G-rated. The New Circus is also a bit of a haul from the center of Moscow, and its late–Soviet era facilities lack charm. Named after Russia's most famous clown, the late Yuri Nikulin, Nikulin's Circus ("the Old Circus") is more traditional, with somewhat less risqué costumes, and it has better, centrally located facilities. The show includes slapstick and acrobatics, as well as performances by bears, horses, monkeys, and dogs. There is a bit of banter and verbal shtick at both circuses, but it's accompanied by equally expressive, amusing gestures, so Russian-language skills are not required to enjoy the show. Buy your tickets in advance, especially if you plan to attend on a weekend or holiday. Tickets to the Old Circus range from about $13 to just under $85, depending on the seat location and exchange rate; the New Circus is cheaper, with tickets running from under $10 to about $50.
19A Obraztsova Ulitsa
Tel: 7 495 645 0520
There were some snickers when Dasha Zhukova, the It girl companion of billionaire Roman Abramovich known more for her interest in fashion than in serious art, announced plans to open the Moscow equivalent of the Tate Modern. But Zhukova has since proven her commitment with her Garage Center for Contemporary Culture. The center, which occupies an industrial-chic Constructivist bus depot on the grounds of Moscow's Lubavitcher Jewish community center, opened with a splash in 2008 with parties peopled by the international art jet set and a retrospective of conceptual artist Ilya Kabakov's works. Since then, exhibitions have ranged from the modern art collection of French businessman François Pinault to the edgy video creations of Russia's AES+F group, which addresses post-9/11 clash-of-civilizations angst. There's a stellar bookstore full of coffee-table volumes at very reasonable prices, and a café that is equally surprising: tasty, trendy, and supremely affordable, despite the gilt-colored couches and armchairs. —Sophia Kishkovsky
Open Mondays through Thursdays 11 am to 9 pm, Fridays through Sundays 11 am to 10 pm. Opening hours may vary due to special events.
Ulitsa Malaya Nikitskaya Dom 6/2
Tel: 7 495 290 0535
Maksim Gorky's plays, novels, and short stories did much to glorify the proletariat before the Russian Revolution, but after a falling out with Lenin, he moved to Italy for most of the 1920s. He returned to the Soviet Union in 1928, where he became one of the founders of Soviet socialist realist literature. Upon his return, he was given this pink-trimmed Art Nouveau mansion, built by renowned architect Fyodor Shekhtel before the revolution, which wouldn't have looked out of place in the South of France. It is a bit grimmer these days (time has taken its toll) but still stunning inside, with wood paneling, an incredible carved balustrade on the grand staircase, and huge rooms displaying Gorky's effects, such as his library and fascinating photos.
Open Wednesdays through Sundays 11 am to 6 pm, except for the last Thursday of every month. Last entry at 5:30 pm; free admission.
Tel: 7 495 203 8604
The Kremlin's distinctive red-brick walls and 18 towers date back to the late 15th century, and for centuries its Ivan the Great bell tower was the tallest structure in Moscow. The massive stars atop the five tallest towersthe smallest weighs a tonwere introduced in 1937 to replace the czarist double-headed eagle. Inside is a complex of cathedrals, palaces, and government offices, including that of President Dimitry Medvedev, so expect tight security. Sights include the Patriarch's Palace and the State Kremlin Palace, as well as the Diamond Fund and Armory museums, the latter filled with Fabergé eggs, coronation robes, and a collection of armor and weaponry. Don't miss the Kremlin cathedrals: The czars were crowned among the beautiful frescoes of the Assumption (Uspensky) Cathedral and the tiny Church of the Deposition of the Robe (Rizopolozheniya) is especially lovely. For a taste of czarist pageantry, time your visit to see the cavalry-ceremony reenactment in Cathedral Square (Sobornaya Ploschad). It's held at noon on the first three Saturdays of the month, from late April to October; to get in you must buy a combined ticket to all the cathedrals (about $14) and because lines are long, it's best to arrive well before noon. In summertime, buy ice cream from a vendor in the Tainitsky garden behind the cathedrals and enjoy the rose garden.
The Kremlin is open Fridays through Wednesdays 10 am to 5 pm; the Armory is only open for guided excursions at 10 am and 12, 2:30, and 4:30 pm. Tickets to the Kremlin and the Armory can be purchased at kiosks by the Kutafyev Tower, where tourists enter the Kremlin, in Aleksandrovsky Sad, the park below it at the Kremlin wall. Ticket offices open at 9:30 am and close at 4 pm.
Tel: 7 495 623 5527
Lenin's embalmed bodyor, some contend, a wax likenesshas lain in this eerie pyramid-shaped mausoleum since his death in 1924 (except for a brief removal during World War II). Although the lines are nothing compared to the hours-long waits of Soviet times, periodic rumors that Lenin will be removed and buried for good have led to an upswing in visits both by tourists and some remaining Communist true believers. Make sure to arrive early (the line usually closes at 12:30 pm). While admission is officially free, tour guides milling about have special arrangements with the policefor anywhere from $10 to $40, they can get you to the head of the line. Once there, don't tarry in front of his body (the police will shoo you on) and don't expect to capture the moment on film (visitors must check cameras as well as large bags). It's an eerie experience to be in the dusky, chilly mausoleum where Lenin's body lies on a podium, but in a strange way, it's worth seeing to understand the weight of history and what it comes to. Among those buried behind the mausoleum are Josef Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev, the writer Maksim Gorky, and John Reed, an American journalist who supported the Bolshevik Revolution.
Open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays 10 am to 1 pm, except when Red Square is closed. The mausoleum is also closed periodically, and Lenin's body is subject to maintenance.
Ulitsa Bolshaya Nikitskaya Dom 13
Tel: 7 495 629 9401
The Moscow Conservatory, one of the largest and most famous music schools in the world, can be an amazing concert bargain. While tickets to concerts by visiting Russian stars like Anna Netrebko and Dmitry Khvorostovsky in Bolshoi Zal (Great Hall) go for hundreds of dollars, chamber concerts in the Rakhmaninovsky Zal (Rakhmaninov Hall) and even symphony concerts in the Bolshoi Zal can set you back just a few dollars. Seats are often still available minutes before a performance. The Great Hall, which opened in 1901, is better known for its acoustics and organ than for its grandeur. There has been talk for years of the conservatory's dismal shape (you might want to avoid sitting on or directly below the balcony, parts of which are already cordoned off). The latest reports have a major renovation starting in 2009. Tickets can be purchased in the Great Hall's foyer, immediately as you enter, or at the advance counter in the rear. Scalpers tend to be much tamer here than at the Bolshoi Theaterrather than professionals, they're usually destitute music lovers who've come upon an extra ticket, so you buy much gratitude along with your ticket.
Most concerts start at 7 pm.
Novodevichy Proyezd Dom
Tel: 7 499 246 5607
Staying sane in rough-and-tumble Moscow means knowing where to find the city's oases. Novodevichy Monastery is one of them. Despite the name, it's actually a convent (the same word is used for both in Russian), located on the southern edge of central Moscow, near the Moskva River. Founded in the 16th century, this is where Peter the Great incarcerated his wife and sister. In the 1920s, it was shut down and became a branch of the State History Museum, but it now functions in both capacities. It's worth visiting just to walk around the grounds and take in the turreted walls, cathedrals, and huge bell tower. (Remember: The nuns speak very quietly, so you should, too.) The museum exhibits religious art, and an exceptionally orderly souvenir shop is run in the basement of one of the cathedrals. Around the corner from the monastery gate, there's an entrance to the Novodevichy Cemetery, where Anton Chekhov, Nikolay Gogol, Nikita Khrushchev, and most recently Boris Yeltsin and Mstislav Rostropovich are all buried. The tombs themselves are a sight to behold: Military commanders' feature sculpted tanks or missiles; departed ballerinas' are carved out in pensive tutued poses. A large duck pond just outside another wall of the monastery is the perfect place for reflection.
The museum is open Wednesdays through Sundays 10 am to 5:30 pm; the ticket offices close at 5 pm. Closed Tuesdays and the last Monday of every month.
Prospekt Andropova Dom 39
Tel: 7 499 615 2768
St. Petersburg may be where palace lovers flock, but Moscow has a few royal residences worth visiting as well. When the czars still lived in Moscow, Kolomenskoye was their country estate, and they continued to use it once they moved to St. Petersburg (Catherine the Great was known to pop by). Now Moscow has grown up around it, so it's no longer on the outskirts but surrounded by a neighborhood of unattractive housing blocs. But it has become a favorite of Yuri Luzhkov, Moscow's pasha-like mayor, so the buildings and grounds are very well maintained. It includes a 16th-century church, a lovely park, and an outdoor museum of wooden buildings transported here from around Russia, among them a house Peter the Great used in Arkhangelsk. Luzhkov also took a liking to Tsaritsyno, a palace complex commissioned by Catherine the Great but never completed. Muscovites loved the Moorish-Gothic ruins as they were, but Luzhkov decided Tsaritsyno's palaces and buildingsmany of which never had roofsneeded to be "finished." The project has turned out to be a big hit among Muscovites, but the bane of preservationists. Also worth a visit are Kuskovo and Ostankino, estates on opposite ends of Moscow that once belonged to the noble Sheremetyev family; the pink confections now host chamber concerts.
Tsaritsyno is open Wednesdays through Fridays 11 am to 5 pm and Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 7 pm, November 1 through April 3; Wednesdays through Fridays 11 am to 6 pm and Saturdays and Sundays 11 am to 7 pm, April 4 through October 31. Ticket sales end 30 minutes before museum closes.
Kuskovo is open Wednesdays through Sundays 10 am to 4 pm (ticket office until 3 pm), November through March; Wednesdays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm (ticket office until 5 pm), April through October. Closed the last Wednesday of every month.
Ostankino is open Wednesdays through Sundays 11 am to 7 pm, mid-May through late September, except when humidity exceeds 80 percent. (Guided tours only from noon to 4:30 pm; individuals may enter 4:30 to 7 pm.)
Ploshchad Revolutsii or Okhotny Ryad Metro
The site of extravagant military parades during the Soviet era, this may be the most famous square in the world. The Kremlin walls and Lenin's tomb stand on one side, on another stands GUM, Russia's largest department store. Onion-domed St. Basil's Cathedral stands at the square's southern end. The square's name is not an allusion to communism, but in fact dates back to the 17th century: The adjective krasnaya originally meant "beautiful," but the word's meaning gradually changed to "red." At night floodlights illuminate the square and the red stars atop the Kremlin towers are lit from inside. Concerts are held on an extension of Red Square called Vasilyevsky Spusk behind St. Basil'swhich, along with the reconstruction of an adjacent building that the Kremlin plans to turn into an auction house, elite hotel, and apartmentsmakes preservationists fear for the cathedral's future. (The vibrations from rock music and construction work are thought to endanger the cathedral's foundation.) Vasilyevsky Spusk is also the site of an increasingly popular celebration of Maslenitsa, or Pancake Week, a kind of Russian Mardi Gras celebrated before Lent in February or March, depending on the date of Easter. In winter, and usually through Maslenitsa, Bosco di Ciliegi, the luxury retailer known for its Russian Olympic Team uniforms, organizes a charming skating rink on Red Square (rental skates are available).
Moscow's streets are so congested that a tour bus risks never reaching the sights. For a more stress-free form of sightseeing, board one of the riverboats that run daily during the warm-weather months (the exact dates change annually, depending on the weather, but they usually operate from April to October). The boats aren't hugemore like water shuttles than Circle Line ferriesand offer tantalizing views of the Kremlin, the Cathedral of Christ, and, depending on which direction you go, the Novospassky Monastery (which was turned into a Soviet prison), the Novodevichy Monastery, and the Stalin-era spire of Moscow State University. The schedules change but the most central, easiest-to-find docks remain the same: In front of a theater called Teatr Estrady (across the footbridge from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior); in front of the Kievsky train station (under the observation deck); in front of the Ukraina Hotel (along the embankment past the Kievsky train station); and by Krymsky Most (a bridge near Park Kultury). Tickets are approximately $10 for adults. The full ride is about one and a half hours; you can disembark at any point en route, but you'll have to purchase another full-price ticket to board the boat again. A company called Vodnoe Taxi (Water Taxi) offers boats for private tours, starting at about $110 an hour (7-495-542-7882; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.vodnoetaxi.ru).
Ulitsa Neglinnaya Dom 14
Tel: 7 495 625 4631
Russians are passionate about their steam baths, and believe them to be a cure for almost any ailment. The 19th-century Sandunovskiye Bani (Sanduny for short) are the place to experience this firsthand. The experience is not for the faint of heart (literallyRussians also believe the steam baths can kill you, so don't enter if you have a bad heart): The steamy heart of the banya is hotter than an oven and steamier than a jungle. Even some Russians can't make it much past the door, but they try and try again. Like baths anywhere in the world, the Russian banya has its traditionssome women still bring homemade potions to use in the shower after a soak, for example. If you haven't brought your own, the banya sells fancy creams as well as felt hats emblazoned with the Sanduny logo (Russians, both men and women, cover their hair in the banya to protect it from the heat). There's also a restaurant that serves Russian, Uzbek, and Chinese food.
The men's baths are divided into the luxurious "higher class" (about $65 for two hours), the quaintly old-fashioned "second higher class" (about $50 for two hours), and the most basic "first class" (about $40 for two hours). The women's baths have two sections: "higher class" (about $60 for three hours) and "first class" (about $40 for two hours). Extra services (such as manicures, pedicures, and tanning) and towels cost extra. Children under 7 are not permitted. Sanduny has become aware of its attraction to foreigners and now accepts credit cards and has installed signs in English.
Open 8 am to 10 pm; the ticket office closes at 8 pm.
Located directly across the street from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is one of Russia's top museums. As part of a grand expansion plan endorsed by President Dmitry Medvedev and intended to turn the neighborhood into a "museum city" within the city, the museum has moved its greatest hits—including works by Monet, Cézanne, Gauguin, Matisse, Rodin, and Picasso—from the stately neoclassical main building to an adjacent mansion descriptively named the Gallery of Art of the Countries of Europe and America of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Now the Pushkin Museum, as it's known for short (not to be confused with the Pushkin Museum devoted to the Russian poet located several blocks away), has more space in the main building to display special exhibitions and its fine collection of Dutch and Italian art, ancient Egyptian pieces, and plaster casts of classical statues. Many paintings in the museum's collection have a tragic pedigree: Some were in private collections until they were nationalized after the Revolution; others were seized by Soviet troops in Europe during World War II. The museum's third building houses the Museum of Private Collections, which exhibits touring shows and a permanent collection of works donated to the museum. Note that halls in the Pushkin and other state museums, including the Tretyakov Gallery, are patrolled by vigilant, grossly underpaid elderly women who raise a huge fuss if cell phones are used and object to any behavior they deem inappropriate, such as laughing too loud or standing too close to the art. They melt, however, at the sight of adorable children, so don't worry about bringing your offspring along.
Main Building open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 7 pm (extended until 9 pm on Thursdays, except in the summer).
Gallery open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 7 pm (extended until 9 pm on Thursdays, except in the summer).
Museum of Private Collections open Wednesdays through Sundays noon to 7 pm.
Ticket offices close an hour before the museum.
Tretyakov Gallery, Main Building
10 Lavrushinsky Pereulok
Tel: 7 499 230 7788
In 1882, private collector Pavel Tretyakov created this gallery—the country's main repository of Russian art—by presciently donating his collection to the state. (Other private collections were forcibly nationalized, and some of those ended up here, too.) The museum now owns over 130,000 works of painting, sculpture, and graphics. Tretyakov favored works of the Peredvizhniki (or Itinerants), artists such as Ilya Repin and Vasily Perov whose realist paintings often contained controversial social commentary. The museum's main building is a neo–Russian-style structure with red gingerbread and dashes of Art Nouveau, across the river from the Kremlin. The masterpieces here range from Andrei Rublev's sublime 15th-century Old Testament Trinity icon to Repin's classic 19th-century portrait of Leo Tolstoy. A Russian Orthodox church, located within the gallery, houses another prized Russian icon: the 12th-century Vladimir Mother of God. Special exhibitions are held in the Engineer Wing, next door to the main building, and in an elegant hall on Maly Tolmachevsky Pereulok behind it. Twentieth-century art is displayed in a vast (and to some eyes very ugly) late-Soviet building on nearby Krymsky Val. The permanent exhibition there includes avant-garde paintings by Malevich, socialist realist depictions of Stalin, and Nonconformist works by underground artists, including Sots art, the unofficial Soviet counterpart to Pop art. Outside, in the Park of Arts, statues of Stalin, Brezhnev, and other Soviet leaders that were taken down after the collapse of communism are displayed alongside a monument to Stalin's Terror. Plans to tear down the building on Krymsky Val have been circulating for years, and have also led to protests; so far, everything is still standing.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 7:30 pm (the ticket office and entrance close at 6:30 pm).
Ulitsa Lva Tolstogo Dom 21
Tel: 7 499 246 9444
It's no secret that Russia reveres its writers, and Moscow is full of museums devoted to its most famous authors. In fact, there's an entire genre called house-museumshouses or apartments where venerated cultural figures lived that have been turned into literary shrines. These places are both sacred and, well, homey, windows into the lives of the writers and of another era. For those who can't make the seven-hour trek to Yasnaya Polyana, Leo Tolstoy's legendary estate near Tula, his Moscow house is a worthy alternative. Located on a side street in the center of Moscow, near the Park Kultury metro station, the charming wooden house and grounds look like they're straight out of the countryside. Tolstoy and his huge brood (he had 13 children; 10 of them lived here) called this house home from 1882 to 1901 and it feels like they never left. The house-museum, which has a collection of 6,000 items that belonged to the family, is set up to resemble their home as it appeared in the 1890s, including Tolstoy's study. Concerts and other events are held at the museum.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 4 pm; call ahead, as closing time varies by season. Closed the last Friday of each month.
1 4th Syromyatnichesky Pereulok, Stroyenie 6
Tel: 7 495 917 4646
Russia's economic boom may not have lasted long enough to see its planned skyscrapers to completion, but it did finance an architectural trend that has left its mark on Moscow's art scene: industrial spaces transformed into galleries. There are a number to choose from in the Russian capital, but the trailblazer has been Winzavod, opened in 2007. A former brewery and wine factory, Winzavod is now home to Moscow's most influential art dealers, such as Marat Guelman Gallery, Aidan, Regina, and XL (galleries that promoted contemporary art in Russia and Russian contemporary art abroad before the country spawned a billionaire-infested art scene) as well as Proun, which specializes in 20th-century Russian avant-garde art. The complex, which also houses boutiques, is located a short and once scary walk from Kursky Vokzal, which was Moscow's most unsightly railroad station but has been gradually upgraded, inside and out, in recent years. Now the neighborhood is a textbook example of gentrification, with a shopping mall in front of the spruced-up train station, trendy art space behind it, and shrinking (if still glaring) strips of seediness in between.
Winzavod open 11 am to 9 pm (most galleries open 12 pm to 8 pm) Tuesdays through Sundays.