Moscow can be cold, in both senses of the word, but the grandeur of the city's architecture, with the kremlin at the centre, is bound to warm even the most hardened visitor's heart. Here's how to spend 24 hours in the Russian capital.
There’s no better starting point for a Muscovite adventure than Ismailovo Market. This market, housed within the walls of an 'ancient' kremlin – built in 2001, but modelled on sketches from the 14th–17th centuries – is a short metro ride away from the centre, a10-minute walk from Partizanskaya Station. Name it, and it's probably here; you can buy everything from second-hand furniture to lace, matryoshka dolls, vintage cameras, fur hats and ex-Soviet military hardware. The market also has a food area, where multiple vendors cook shashlik over open fires. Do as the locals do and have a meaty breakfast, washed down with vodka.
There are a number of small museums in and around the market, too, that arouse curiosity. There's the Museum of Russian Toys, where you can design your own Russian toy or matryoshka doll; the Museum of Moscow Animation; the Museum of Bread; and, close to the main entrance, the Museum of the History of Russian Vodka, an exposition of Russian vodka's 500-year history. Browse a collection that includes more than 1,000 varieties of the aperitif, vodka recipes from the 18th century, exhibitions on vodka's role throughout Russian history and information about the distillation and production processes. Then reward yourself with a shot of the good stuff and know that an understanding of vodka will bring you closer to an understanding of Russian culture.
Drag yourself away from the kitsch and fascinating to go and see the real thing: the Moscow Kremlin. The late 15th-century fortified complex stands high on Borovitskiy Hill above the Moscow River. Once the home of princes and tsars, today it is the residence of the President, so you’ll be restricted to the grounds, cathedrals and museums. The highlight is the Ivan the Great Bell tower said to mark the exact centre of Moscow. Until the Russian Revolution it was the tallest structure in the city at 881 metres. The Tsar Bell, weighing in at almost 202 tonnes, stands on a pedestal next to the tower.
Time your departure so you can swing by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall in the Alexander Garden for the changing of the guard, which happens on the hour every hour between 8am and 8pm. The inscription on the tomb reads: "Your name is unknown, your deeds immortal." You might see some newlyweds lurking – this is a popular spot for wedding photographs.
It’s a short stroll to Red Square, originally designed as Moscow’s main marketplace and the scene of military parades – and more recently big-name music concerts. Join the queue to saunter through the somewhat macabre site of Lenin's Mausoleum and admire the sheer scale and beauty of the GUM department store building. Back in 1953, the GUM was one of the few stores not plagued by shortages of consumer goods – the queues stretched across the square. It is now home to high-fashion brands. Think of it as the Harrods of Moscow.
Impossible to ignore, the iconic, multi-coloured Cathedral of Saint Basil in the square may bring to mind a lollipop (or Ismailovo Market), but it is also the most recognisable building in Russia. The jury is out on whether it is a fairytale structure or an eye-popping oddity.
On your way to the Kitay-gorod metro station, stop at one of the kiosks crowding the entrance to choose a snack-lunch, ranging from sasiski (hot dogs) to blinis (crepes) or pelmeni (dumplings stuffed with ground meat). Alternatively, look for the red and yellow logo on the Kroshka Kartoshka carts for potatoes packed with anything from pickles to lox.
Keep your eyes open and trained on the windows while on your journey to Metro Oktyabrskaya: a trip on the Moscow metro is a tour through an underground exhibition of Soviet realist art. Each station has a unique design, with halls finished with marble, chandeliers, glittering mosaics and stained-glass windows. Some even feature busts of Soviet leaders or propagandist icons containing overtly symbolic messages.
From Metro Oktyabrskaya find the lesser-known sightseeing gem, the Muzeon Park of Arts. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 a number of statues were toppled in the ensuing chaos, including a huge semblance of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the KGB’s predecessor. The unwanted relics were laid to rest here. Founded in 1992, the park has been accumulating monuments for over 20 years, and today its collection comprises more than 700 sculptures, including a vast array of Lenins, a few Marxs, and a couple of Brezhnevs and Stalins, as well as hundreds of contemporary artworks.
It’s a short metro ride to Metro Arbatskaya for a stroll down Old Arbat street, one of the oldest streets in Moscow. Craftsmen, members of the aristocracy, poets, thinkers, musicians and actors have all passed through Arbat at some point. The atmospheric pedestrian street is alive with street musicians, portrait-painters, booksellers, souvenir stores and cafes.
For quality Russian food, try Café Pushkin near Tverskaya metro in a faux 19th-century townhouse. The façades are fake but the food is authentic. The meat pies and dumplings are moutwateringly good and the sturgeon (with head on) is recommended. Alternatively, dine at Grand Cafe Dr Zhyvago in the Hotel National opposite the Kremlin and try the Mulligan of Goose. Both restaurants recreate Russia from pre-Soviet days, including the staff attire and fare.
The rest of the evening
Spend the rest of the evening at the Bolshoi Theatre, the renowned ballet and opera company and one of the city’s major landmarks. Whether or not you’re a theatre buff, the atmosphere is worth paying for. Alternatively, for an after-dinner drink, head to the rooftop bar above the Ritz-Carlton for a tipple with the view over the Kremlin and Red Square right up to St Basil's. Hang out late with the beautiful people on a point in the Moscow River at Gypsy on Bersenevskaya.