We anticipated loving Saint Petersburg, but we weren’t sure how much we were going to like Moscow based on what we’d heard before arriving. To our surprise, it turned out to be our favorite city out of the two! While Saint Petersburg can feel a bit like it caters to tourists, Moscow feels like a bustling cosmopolitan city– an intriguing mix of modern, Soviet, and old world European.
THE KREMLIN | RED SQUARE | SAINT BASIL’S CATHEDRAL
No trip to Moscow is complete without a visit to these iconic sites, conveniently all located right next to each other. Keep in mind the Kremlin is a group of buildings inside a red wall and there is only one entrance and one exit for visitors on opposite sides from each other. The entrance to the Kremlin is on the side opposite from the Red Square and Saint Basil’s Cathedral where the exit leads out to. I wasn’t able to get a good photo of the Red Square, unfortunately, as they were setting up a massive outdoor venue for a multi country military display.
The highlight of the Kremlin is the group of beautiful white chapels with gold domes, referred to as the architecture complex. Also consider getting separate tickets to see the Diamond Fond inside the Armory to see Russia’s crown jewels, one of the three biggest collections in the world including England and Iran.
GUM DEPARTMENT STORE
Just next to the Red Square, Gum is a beautiful and impressive department store built during the Soviet era. At that time, it was one of the few places in Russia with full shelves. Now it is full of designer stores, but it is definitely worth a visit just to see the architecture.
Try and check out the metro in Moscow, several of the central stations were built during the Imperial era are are absolutely stunning with massive columns, intricate moldings on the ceilings, and crystal chandeliers.
Dotted all around the city are 7 imposing and impressive beautiful art deco skyscrapers (possibly inspired by the Chrysler building in New York) called the Seven Sisters which add huge interest to the Moscow skyline. See how many you can spot when you visit.
Probably one of the most surprising things about Russia, is that most Russians don’t eat a lot of Russian food. Instead they will often be found eating Italian or even American food, but they also love Georgian cuisine and there are a ton of traditional Georgian restaurants worth trying.
When we were in Moscow local friends took us to their favorite Khachapuri which is a bit away from the city center. Try pkhali (a type of paste ball made of either beets or spinach), khinkali (delicious soup filled dumplings, with lamb being the most traditional), khachapuri (who doesn’t love cheese pie?? try both the closed version and the open one with a fried egg on top!), and chacha (Georgian vodka and goes down much smoother than it’s Russian counterpart).
For extremely well done, delicious, traditional Russian food in an old world Russian atmosphere, try Cafe Pushkin. It is an old fine dining establishment, with a dark and cozy feel with lots of intricate wood carvings and paneling in both the pharmacy level and the library level. We loved the plate of pickles, the veal wrapped in crispy pancake, the delicious salmon pelmeni (traditional dumplings), and the Pushkin desert.
Unfortunately, like the Mariinsky in Saint Petersburg, the Bolshoi was also on summer vacation so we were unable to catch a show. But it is definitely worth seeing, and the performing styles of the two companies is quite different so consider attending performances at both.
Don’t miss out on strolling through a few parks. As a local friend told us, the Russians take great national pride in their beautiful parks, and most of them are designed to feel like forests.
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Carina Covella is a writer and currently working on her forthcoming memoir, Love Dogs, detailing her six month transformational journey from Hollywood through India. Carina graduated from Barnard College, Columbia University cum laude with a degree in Art History. She also attended the Sorbonne in Paris and studied opera at the Manhattan School of Music through the university exchange programs. Until recently she lived in Mill Valley, California with her wonderful Welsh boyfriend Anthony in a house nestled in the trees, but now they’re off on a two year adventure around the world. When she’s not writing or traveling, she loves to cook for her friends and family.