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Moscow - Attractions

The awe-inspiring Kremlin


The Arbat, once the quarter of court artisans, is also a good place for a stroll, passing elegant buildings, Stalinist eyesores and a pedestrian precinct complete with buskers and souvenir-sellers.

Central Moscow

A visiting 19th-century French aristocrat, the Marquis de Custine, described the exterior of St Basil's Cathedral as 'a sort of irregular fruit bristling with excrescences, a cantaloupe melon with embroidered edges'. The exterior is so magical that the interior is a bit of an anticlimax. Nearby, you can still pay your respects at Lenin's tomb. Bordering Red Square, the magnificent GUM (State Department Store) was built in the 19th century to house 1000 shops. The hefty building north of Red Square is the stuff of nightmares and airport novels. It housed the KGB and the notorious Lubyanka prison.

A walk up the city's most famous thoroughfare, Tverskaya Ulitsa, reveals 19th-century palaces, 1930s apartment blocks and glimmers of colour bouncing off the domes of half-obscured churches. The Arbat, once the quarter of court artisans, is also a good place for a stroll, passing elegant buildings, Stalinist eyesores and a pedestrian precinct complete with buskers and souvenir-sellers. As much a fabulous museum as it is an underground transport system, Moscow's famous metro survives in all its constructivist glory, with more chandeliers than Buckingham Palace and enough marble to fit out the kitchens of the world. Forty-four of its stations have been designated as architectural landmarks.

Gorky Park

Stretching almost 3km (1.8mi) along the river, Gorky Park is full of that sometimes rare species, the happy Russian. Officially the 'Park of Culture', named after Maxim Gorky, it's the original Soviet park - part ornamental and educational, part funfair and amusement park, and a good place to escape the hubbub of the city.

In winter the ponds freeze and the paths are flooded to make a giant skating rink - you can rent skates if you take along some ID, such as a passport. But that's not all. Gorky Park has a small amusement park with two Western roller coasters and almost a dozen other terror-inducing attractions (aside from the Peter the Great statue).

Space buffs can shed a tear for the Buran, the Soviet space shuttle which never carried anyone into space. The park has a number of snack bars and, behind the amusement park, a 2000-seat German beer hall.


The Pushkin State Fine Arts Museum, in the southwest of the inner city, boasts a broad selection of European works from the Renaissance onward - mostly confiscated from private collections after the revolution. The Tretayakov Gallery, near Gorky Park, has the world's best collection of Russian icons and a fine collection of pre-revolutionary Russian art. The Central Artists' House, next to the new Tretyakov Gallery building, is one of the places you're most likely to find good contemporary art. Past shows have ranged from 19th-century sacred art to the works of Gilbert & George. There are also numerous literary museums, usually situated in the houses of famous writers, such as Tolstoy, Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Gogol and Lermontov.

Novodevichy Convent

The Novodevichy Convent (New Convent of the Maidens), a cluster of 16 sparkling domes behind turreted walls, has Moscow's (if not the world's) most prestigious cemetery: it's the resting place of Chekhov, Eisenstein, Gogol, Khrushchev, Kropotkin, Mayakovsky, Prokofiev, Stanislavsky and Shostakovich.

In Soviet times Novodevichy Cemetary was used for some very eminent people - notably Kruschev - whom the authorities judged unsuitable for the Kremlin wall. Other famous remains were reinterred here when their original cemeteries were destroyed under Stalin.

The convent itself was originally popular with noblewomen, who would often retire here, but it was also used as a prison for rebellious royals, including Peter the Great's half-sister and his first wife.

The Kremlin

The Kremlin is the stronghold of Russian political power. Here, Ivan the Terrible and Stalin orchestrated terrors, Napoleon watched Moscow burn, Lenin made the dictatorship of the proletariat, Khrushchev fought the Cold War, Gorbachev unleashed perestroika, and Yeltsin dreamt the New Russia.

The Kremlin occupies a roughly triangular plot of land covering little Borovitsky Hill on the north bank of the Moscow River, probably first settled in the 11th century. Today it's enclosed by high walls. Red Square lies outside the east wall. The Kutafya Tower, which forms the main visitors' entrance, stands away from the Kremlin's west wall.

Most visitors are surprised to see so many churches in what was, for decades, a den of militant atheism, but the Kremlin was once the centre of Russia's Church as well as its State. Start with Archangel Cathedral (the royal burial church), Assumption Cathedral (the burial church of religious leaders) and Annunciation Cathedral (icons, icons everywhere).

Ivan the Great Bell Tower is a famous Moscow landmark, visible from 30km (20mi) away, with the cracked Tsar Bell at its foot. The towers lining the Kremlin include the Tower of Secrets (the oldest) and the Gothic and Renaissance Saviour's Tower.

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