All you need to know before travelling to Moscow

The Russian capital is filled with adventure

By Neeta Lal

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Views of Saint Petersburg. Church of the Savior on Blood in summer
Views of Saint Petersburg. Church of the Savior on Blood in summer

Published: Thu 4 Apr 2024, 7:16 PM

A captivating cocktail of old world charm and a dash of cosmopolitanism, Moscow is a dream travel destination. Onion-domed cathedrals, art galleries, world class theatres, opera and lush parks make it an open air museum with Instagram-worthy photo ops around every corner. Among the city’s 10,000 cultural venues nestle 400 museums, 900 parks, libraries, cinema halls, film studios and concert halls.

Dive right in. Flag off your city tour at the Red Square, the pivot around which Moscow flows. Glamorous street performers, souvenir kiosks, buzzy restaurants and throngs of tourists create a vibe that’s tough to capture on camera, yet radiate enough kinetic energy to power a ship.

The Square’s architectural ensemble is also packed with unusual relics and monuments like Lenin's Mausoleum, St. Basil's Cathedral, State Historical Museum, the Kazan Cathedral and the Kremlin, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and also the Presidential residence.

Step inside the Kremlin’s innards (after braving a serpentine queue, of course) to view historical gems such as the Armory Chamber and the Diamond Fund. Both showcase ancient Russian regalia, the tsars’ ceremonial dresses and eye-popping gold and silverware of Russian, European and Eastern masters.

Moscow's stately museums and art galleries offer an insight into the city’s vibrant art scene and glorious antiquity. The Gorky House Museum is a powerhouse showcase of Russian classical art while the Nikolai Roerich Museum and Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts are a treat for history buffs. The Tretyakov Gallery is also worth exploring.

The Russian Academy of Arts on 21, Prechistenka Street, a beautiful historical building, is home to the eponymous Zurab Tsereteli Art Gallery, a tribute to the genius of one of Russia's most celebrated and controversial artists — Zurab Konstatinovich Tsereteli. Among its mindboggling collection are luminous oils, sculptures, murals and gigantic installations that defy imagination, all crafted by the nonagenarian maestro.

Tsereteli is currently President of the Russian Academy of Arts and is credited with single-handedly transforming Moscow's skyline with his prolific and prodigious output. The mammoth $20 million, 150-foot nautical bronze statue of Peter the Great jetting up from an island in the Moscow river is the most representative work of the Modernism-inspired artist.

The atrium of the 10,000-square feet gallery is peppered with titanic sculptures of historical figures, Presidents, heads of states, kings and queens and mythological Gods and Goddesses. A supersize interactive sculpture called `The Apple' allows visitors to walk through it. “It traces the history of human passions from the Fall," the guide explains as I amble into its cavernous interiors awash with murals.

For lovers of modern art though, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art offers the perfect showcase of Russian and global art from the 20th and 21st centuries. Interestingly, while the museum is now a significant destination on Russia’s cultural landscape, it started out with a handful of art pieces from Zurab Tsereteli's private collection in 2000. Its repertoire has now expanded to over 10,000 exhibits.

Much of that credit goes to the dynamic leadership of Vasili Tsereteli, MMOMA’s current Executive Director and Zurab’s grandson. An alumnus of the Parsons School of Design, New York, the 45-year-old has worked single-mindedly to help MMOMA build a fine collection of art that has helped it grow from one to six venues across the city.

While Moscow’s cultural attractions weave an enchanting tapestry for visitors, exploring its spectacular nether world is like stumbling upon an Alibaba’s cave of glittering treasures. For this, I take a tour on the Moscow Metro, one of the world’s most beautiful and unique subway systems and it turns out to be a double delight. Not only do I learn how to navigate the complex transport system like a Muscovite, but I also end up getting a lesson on the city fraught with history.

Each metro station is an architectural marvel embellished with breathtaking frescoes and murals, some even listed as cultural heritage sites. While the art work at the ‘Komsomolskaya’ station graphically depicts the Russians’ struggle for independence, the Kievskaya station stands out for its remarkable 18 pillars crafted from smalt. The Novokuznetskaya station, inaugurated during the Second World War, seems like a ride back in time to a sepia-tinted era capturing Russia’s struggles during the war and post-war years.

I save the best for last though. On the penultimate day of my week-long sojourn, I watch a scintillating performance at the Bolshoi Theatre, one of the world’s greatest visual spectacles. Not only are the performances a rare treat, but the building’s classical architecture, glamorous interiors and top-notch acoustics create an alchemy of soaring sound and motion, a cultural immersion like no other.

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