24 Hours in Moscow
Finding history and renewal in Russia’s European heartland
Perched on a hill overlooking a bend in the Moskva River, the citadel known commonly as The Kremlin — a site continuously inhabited since the second century B.C. — exudes a sense of rigid permanence. The city surrounding the fortress, however, couldn’t be more dynamic. Historically a crossroads between Europe and Asia, Moscow’s character was forged via hundreds of years of extremes: destruction and rebuilding, political oppression and revolution, war and peace.
Now Europe’s second-most populous city, Moscow is again on the rise — literally in the case of its budding skyline, more figuratively in the sense of its place in the world. Bristling with energy, steeped in its own history, and fiercely proud of its own Russian-ness, the city can simultaneously take you back in time while providing a glimpse into its promising future.
8:00 a.m.Established in 1905,the Metropolhas in turns served as a hub for international diplomats and foreign spies, a bullet-riddled fortress for beleaguered Tsarist troops, a backdrop for fiery political rallies (some helmed by Lenin himself), and an early seat of the Soviet government. Preserved by the Bolsheviks to serve as a luxurious “front door” for foreign visitors to the new Russia, the Metropol serves as a rare example of Tsarist-era aesthetics and opulence that survived Soviet purges of all things bourgeoisie. Guests and non-guests alike can enjoy an excellent breakfast of egg dishes, cured fish, fresh fruit and traditional porridge under the ornate stained-glass ceiling of the hotel’s great hall.
If hotel dining doesn’t suit you — or if you simply need a second cup of hot tea on a brisk Moscow morning — take a short stroll through the charming streets of the city’s Tverskoy District to Cafe Pushkin (and don’t miss Moscow’s famed Bolshoi Theatre along the way). Open 24 hours a day and housed in a space renovated to resemble the home of a 19th-century Russian aristocrat, the “café” is actually a top-tier restaurant serving traditional Russian fare such as caviar and blinchiki (Russian pancakes), as well as several decidedly bourgeoise variations of “breakfast champagne.”
9:00 a.m.A few-minutes walk away, Patriarch's Ponds anchors the tony neighborhood of the same name, popular with locals and expats alike. Find a bench and relax for a moment in this quiet, green refuge tucked away amid the frenetic city center.
From Patriarch’s Ponds, make your way east toward Tverskaya Street, one of Moscow’s main thoroughfares, taking a moment to pass by the monument at Pushkin Square honoring Russia’s most celebrated poet. The route south along Tverskaya toward Red Square is dotted with bookstores, boutiques and other souvenir-shopping opportunities. Detour through Yeliseyevsky Market, an 18th-century mansion turned grocery store where shoppers browse for Russian delicacies beneath gilded ceilings, high stained-glass windows, and ostentatious chandeliers.
11 a.m.At the bottom of Tverskaya Street you’ll run into Moscow’s true historic center, where the vast openness of Red Square _runs up against the imposing high walls of The Kremlin which in turn stands in sharp contrast to the whimsically-colored onion domes ofSt Basil Cathedral. The historically-inclined can see the preserved body of revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin in Red Square or take a tour of the Armoury Chamber museum inside the Kremlin walls, home to the world’s largest single collection of jewel-encrusted Fabergé eggs (among many other imperial treasures).
Those seeking opulence for themselves can find it on the opposite side of Red Square in a soaring late-19th-century gallery building (known as GUM after the Russian department store), where luxury shops and beautiful late-Tsarist-era architecture abound.
12:30 p.m.Rest your now-weary legs by sinking into one of the plush red chairs atGrand Café Dr. Zhivagowhile sampling a traditional Russian luncheon of pickled vegetables, crisp salads, boiled dumplings, and a range of hot and cold soups. Borscht — that ubiquitous Russian comfort food — is on offer, but locals might nudge you toward the more adventurous solyanka, a sour soup served here with fish or beef.
2:00 p.m.Once properly fortified with a cup of tea or “coffee in Soviet style” (that is, served alongside a smattering of sugary confections), walk off your lunch inZaryadye Park, Moscow’s first new green space in 50 years. Opened late last year, the 14-hectare site just opposite Red Square was home to a largely Jewish neighborhood prior to the 1917 revolution, after which it was partially demolished to make way for a massive, 3,000-room hotel. The hotel was likewise razed in 2006, and the site is now home to curvaceous green slopes and towering birch trees, a concert hall, and a sweeping horseshoe-shaped bridge overhanging the Moskva River that’s quickly become the city’s most popular selfie destination.
3:00 p.m.Cross the bridge behind St. Basil’s toBolotny Islandand turn right on the Sofiskaya Embankment road, which offers picturesque views of the Kremlin and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior across the river as you make your way south toRed October, a massive red-brick complex that once churned out candy and chocolate for the Krasny Oktyabr’ confection company.
The site is now home to something unique to Moscow: an arty, bohemian mélange of galleries and studios, event spaces, a startup community, educational establishments, cafés, and restaurants that’s often compared to London’s Shoreditch or New York’s Tribeca. Get your art fix at the Lumiere Brothers Center for Photographyor the Red October Gallery, which focus on contemporary Russian photography and visual art (respectively). Plan ahead and you might even catch a workshop or lecture with a prominent Russian artist or entrepreneur.
4:30 p.m.As you make your way back toward the city center, grab a seat on the rooftop at Strelka Bar for a tea, coffee or aperitif. An extension of the nearby Strelka Institute — a nonprofit media, architecture and design school — the bar is typically buzzing with hip, young Muscovites and sits directly across the river from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. Feel free to linger here. When the sun dips low behind the Cathedral’s bulbous golden domes, you’ll be glad you did.
6:30 p.m.After crossing the bridge from Bolotny Island to the foot of the cathedral opposite (and taking the requisite pictures along the way), make your way toward Hermitage Garden. It’s a lovely four-kilometer walk, but getting there via Metro or car service is easy — just be sure to use a reputable car-hailing service.
Home to multiple theaters and a bandshell that regularly host plays, operas and outdoor concerts, Hermitage Garden is a cultural attraction in its own right. Weather permitting, grab a patio seat at Veranda 32.05, a trendy restaurant and cocktail spot tucked away in the gardens’ quiet center. If a day of dining on Russian standbys has you feeling lukewarm toward the excellent beef stroganoff or another round of caviar, tuck instead into a mahi-mahi bathed in spicy herbs or a duck burger with onion confit — dishes reflecting Moscow’s cosmopolitan charm.
9 p.m.Russian fashion designer Denis Simachevis known for blending modern trends with Soviet-legacy aesthetics, and his eponymous bar on Pereulok Stoleshnikov is no different, bedecked with quirky antique furniture, manga murals, more disco balls than common sense might require, and regular dance parties. For a somewhat quieter evening,Noor Baron Tverskaya serves some of the best cocktails in a cocktail-crazed city amid a stylish, retro-modern setting until 3:00 a.m.
If you’re still feeling peckish at this late hour, bring your day full circle by stopping at nearby Café Pushkin once more on the way home; it’s open 24 hours, and for good reason. If there’s one thing you should know about drinking in Moscow, it’s that it’s never too late for one last round of champagne and caviar.