Russia’s capital, home to some 12 million people, has a vibe that's decidedly more businesslike than the gentler, imperial-centric ambience of St. Petersburg; river cruises arrive from the latter at Moscow's North River Terminal. Built in 1937, the facility is some distance from the city center, although shuttles are provided for independent exploration as well as for daily excursions. At the top of almost everyone's must-see list is Red Square, where the walled Kremlin complex and the elaborately spiraled onion domes of St. Basil's Cathedral are instantly recognizable. And yet modern Moscow just might surprise you as giant skyscrapers now soar above the formerly low-rise city and Stalinist Gothic "Seven Sisters" towers no longer dominate the skyline.
What We Love
The Street Scene: Apart from its famous architecture, Moscow also has appealing neighborhoods — some just minutes on foot from Red Square — that pulse with everyday Russian life. On certain café-lined streets you can easily feel as if you're in Paris. Even the coffee and pastries seem similar, until your ears pick up distinctly Russian words in the conversations all around you.
The Metro: The city's underground stations, many of which date to 1935, really are quite something, decorated the way a palace might be with elaborate vaulted ceilings, detailed bas-reliefs, and sparkling chandeliers. The stations are also some of the world's deepest and feature escalators that are the longest — and amongst the fastest at getting riders back to street level.
Best Known For
Red Square: Stand in the middle facing the Kremlin and survey 360 degrees past its walls, Lenin’s Tomb, the Moscow River, the multi-colored St. Basil’s Cathedral with its clustered onion domes, and the GUM Department Store. The last landmark, opened in 1893, has gone decidedly upmarket compared to the Soviet-regime days, when its aisles were stocked with little you would have wanted to buy.
The Bolshoi: Plan ahead a bit and secure tickets to an opera or ballet at the Bolshoi Theatre — now that’s something genuinely Russian.
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Who It's Best For
Those Fascinated by Russia: Moscow is for anyone who wants to experience the power of the city and understand the tremendous influence it has on Russia, Europe, and the rest of the world. It offers a wow factor on many different levels.
Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Traffic Can Snarl: If you plan to explore on you own, be aware that buses and taxis can become mired in the city center. Ask your local guide for instructions and opt for the Metro — there's a station not far from the riverboat terminal and trains come very frequently.
Theodore W. Scull is a New York-based contributor to ShermansCruise who has written several books on crossings.