Red Square is the heartbeat of Moscow, its buildings telling the story of Russia's past. The Kremlin stands along one side of the square. Inside, this ancient seat of the Tsars and now, President Medvedev, is studded with treasures. Here you'll find magnificent frosted churches, wedding-cake style, such as the Assumption Cathedral, Archangel’s and Annunciation Cathedrals. Russia's might is apparent on Ivan Square, where the Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon stand and the Arsenal is on Senatskaya Square. The palaces - the Residence of Russian Tsars and Patriarchs and Grand Kremlin Palace - are suitably awe-inspiring.
Probably the most famous site in Red Square is St Basil's Cathedral with its ornate onion domes and swirling colours, which comprises nine separate chapels.
The GUM, the shopping mall, is where you'll find expression of the new Russia. There are more than 150 shops and stalls, big Western brands and huge prices. For more affordable souvenirs such as matrioshka dolls, get to the Old Arbat or Ismailovo Market.
Cheap flights to Moscow are plentiful, British Airways alone flies there at least twice a day.
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When to fly to Moscow
July and August are the peak tourist season in Moscow. Those intending to visit during the summer months should search for cheap flights to Moscow far in advance.
Late spring and early autumn are good times to visit Moscow. The weather is typically mild, although still unpredictable. Late May and late August tend to be warm and sunny.
Winter has the fewest tourists. The snowscapes are breathtaking - so is the bitter cold.
Getting around Moscow
The cheapest and best way to get around Moscow is by metro. Purchase your ticket at one of the metro stations, which are decorated with artwork and sculptures. You can buy tickets for single or multiple trips. For areas that the metro doesn’t reach, take a tram or bus. Tram and bus tickets are cheapest at metro stations or kiosks, but you can also buy tickets from the driver. Make sure you validate your ticket when you board the bus.
Marshrutky (minibus shuttles that drive along bus routes) and taxis can be flagged down for short trips. It’s easy to get private cars confused with taxis, so make sure you agree on a fare ahead of time. If you’re going to the airport, or taking a long trip, you should call ahead for a taxi.
If you do rent your own car in Moscow, take note of the rules. Honking is only allowed in emergencies and your car must have seat belts, a first aid kit, a fire extinguisher and an emergency triangle or red light. If you can, avoid driving at night. Drunk driving happens often, despite being illegal.
Moscow insider information
- Cathedral Square is the centre of the Kremlin. There are three cathedrals: Cathedral of the Dormition where all the tsars were crowned, Cathedral of the Annunciation and Cathedral of the Archangel Michael where the Muscovite monarchs from 13th-17th century are interred. The Tsar Bell and Tsar Cannon are on Ivan Square, while the Grand Kremlin Palace, residence of the 19th-century Russian emperors, is on Palace Square.
- Red Square dates from the 15th century, “red” being an archaic word for beautiful, nothing to do with Communism. St Basil's Cathedral with its colourful onion domes is here and at the northern corner of the square stands the Kazan Cathedral. This fancy red-and-white building is a replica. It was rebuilt in 1993 to replace the original, which Stalin had destroyed in 1936 to clear Red Square for military parades. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is also a reconstruction. It was dynamited in 1931, but rebuilt in the 1990s.
- If only the Tube was like this … Mayakovskaya is one of the most lavish stations on the metro system, boasting marble and steel pillars and mosaics.
- Shop in GUM, the State Department Store, a gorgeous three-storey arcade built in the 1890s, which lines the eastern side of Red Square. Most of the usual Western suspects are here among its 150 shops, but there are Russian shops too selling local delicacies. For souvenirs such as matroishka dolls, fur hats, khokhloma (lacquered wood) and old propaganda posters, visit the Arbat or the Izmailovsky Flea Market.
- The Seven Sisters, seven towers to rival the skyscrapers in the US, were built during Stalin’s reign. They have a “wedding cake” style, which concentrates the eye to a central tower.
- No visit to Moscow is complete without a trip to Lenin’s mausoleum.