3 Days in Moscow
The Heat is On
Alexia Brue learns never to cross the Mistress of the Steam
Eight Perfect Days in Russia: St. Petersburg and Moscow
Some places are heaven for the independent traveler. And some, well, aren't. For our series "Iconic Itineraries," we picked six destinations that are must-sees but whose massive tourism infrastructures are so geared toward groups that having an authentic, unique trip can feel next to impossible. Not to worry: Working with the world's leading travel specialists, we've created step-by-step trips that let you see the best each place has to offer, but on your terms. Each of our highly detailed itineraries has been vetted and perfected by a Condé Nast Traveler editor, and each can be bought as is with just one phone call or customized at will. So here is:
Moscow 127031, Russia
Tel: 7 495 937 4544
This hot spot is a creation of Arkady Novikovthe king of the Moscow restaurant scene. Photographic exhibitions give the venue a creative edgeits full name is actually Art-café Galereyabut people are mostly looking at each other. Moscow's beautiful people come here to see and be seen and block the road outside with their Mercedes and BMWs. If your face doesn't fittoo old, too fat, too lacking in Dolce & Gabbanayou won't get in here. Galereya is not gourmet, but everything, from the tuna tartare to the mashed potatoes, is superb.
Carré Blanc, Russia
Moscow 127473, Russia
Tel: 7 495 258 4403
This expensive, classy eatery, established by French expats, is among the city's best (then president Putin hosted a New Year's party here). Its name is inspired by Malevich's work and by the restaurant's square white plates. The excellent food is classic French: Try the scallops glazed in balsamic vinegar to start, and veal fillet in a sauce of shallot confit and orange zest with stuffed mushroom gratin. The 700-bottle wine list is encyclopedic. Elegant and candlelit, the dining room is perfect for a dateparticularly since oysters are delivered from France four times a week. Although this practice is unusual for Moscow, you may order dishes in half portions if you wish to taste a selection. If you're trying to conserve rubles, tapas and sherry at the bar or a simpler meal in the bistro area are slightly cheaper than eating in the main dining room.
Open daily noon to midnight.
Café Pushkin, Russia
Moscow 125009, Russia
Tel: 7 495 739 0033
The Pushkin Café is open and buzzing, 24/7. By day, the well-to-do and middle-aged lunch on caviar and blini. When they have gone to bed, night owls come here looking for dinner at 1 am; still later, exhausted clubbers stop in for breakfast. Given the prerevolutionary decor, including French windows, high ceilings, and shelves of ancient books, you may feel a bit like a character in a Russian novel yourself. The waiters, who tend to sport impressive sideburns, offer prompt service, and the Russian menu is high-priced but hearty.
Bosco Bar and Bosco Café, Russia
Moscow 103012, Russia
Tel: 7 495 627 3703 (bar), Tel: 7 495 620 3102 (café)
Named after a fashion label and luxury importer and designed by Andrea Stramigioli and Sean Dix (an Italian architect and American designer known for their retail designs), Bosco Bar has a 1970s psychedelic feel, with bright splashes of color and funky plastic furniture. It's a bit pricey, but so is all of Moscow, and you're paying for the location: right on Red Square. Come to Bosco Bar for a lunch of celery cream soup and arugula with Gorgonzola, or a Caesar salad (a new Moscow standard), or better yet, grab drinks, a sandwich, or a scoop of designer ice cream (flavors include tomato-basil) just before dusk to watch the sun set over St. Basil's Cathedral. For a more formal meal, follow GUM's facade away from St. Basil's and dine at the more formal Bosco Café, where the waiters wear jackets and bow ties and the decor is in cream-colored linens. The Italian menu includes carpaccio and risotto, as well as some Russian specialties such as beef Stroganoff. Desserts include chocolate torte with raspberry sauce and grapefruit yogurt parfait, and they make a killer Irish coffee. Lenin, of course, would have despised this place, so while you sip your costly cocktail, enjoy the view of his tomb and muse on the twists and turns of history. Both Bosco Bar and Bosco Café have summertime outdoor seating area that opens directly onto the square.
Open daily 10 am to 11 pm.
See + Do
Lenin's Mausoleum, Russia
Moscow 101000, Russia
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.
See + Do
Moscow 101000, Russia
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.
See + Do
Red Square (Krasnaya Ploshchad), Russia
Moscow 101000, Russia
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).
Hotel Baltschug Kempinski, Russia
Moscow 115035, Russia
Tel: 7 495 230 6500
A pioneer in the 1990s, the Baltschug (located in the Zamoskvorechya district), was among the first Western-managed hotels to open in Moscow, but lost its way when even flashier, more centrally located competitors like the Park Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton opened. Now it's on a comeback. Thanks to a top-to-bottom upgrade, finished in July 2008, the old Art Decostyle furniture and wine-colored furnishings were jettisoned and managing director Gianni van Daalen commissioned reproductions of Kazimir Malevich's paintings to hang throughout the hotel. The revamped rooms are done up in shades of beige, blue, or rose; some are classic in style, others are more contemporary; all 230 are spacious (350 to 1,100 square feet). They also include the usual menu of luxury amenities (Frette linens, pillow menu, bath butler, plasma TVs). What didn't change are the great views of the Kremlin and St. Basil's Cathedral. Deluxe rooms are equipped with telescopes for a closer peek at the landmarks, and the corner Kremlin Suite and Princess Suite have especially fine panoramas. Some superior rooms (the hotel's least expensive accommodations) overlook the pipes and industrial buildings of the Mosenergo power plantwhich isn't quite as oppressive as it sounds. It also didn't hurt when GQ Bar, Moscow's trendiest restaurant, opened next door in 2007. But dining at the Restaurant Baltschug is almost a bargain by Moscow standardsa dinner prix fixe starts at $70. There's also a Japanese restaurant; Café Kranzler, which resembles an airport lounge but has a pretty river view from its summer terrace and even prettier pastries; a bar with a cigar sommelier and hundreds of vodkas on the menu; and breakfast (not included in the room rate) includes red caviar and Champagne. The health club has an indoor pool, solarium, juice bar, and massage facilities, and the newly renovated Baltschug Beauty Center offers a range of facials and body treatments with Sensai and La Biosthetique products.