Lonely Planet's top 10 Moscow attractions
At the Armoury, Moscow's golden, gem-strewn treasures are all lined with fur. (Jonathon Smith/LPI)
Russia’s capital is experiencing a burst of creative energy. Factories and warehouses are now edgy art galleries. Foodies flock to a variety of bars, and night owls enjoy a dynamic nightlife. Moscow’s history cannot be ignored, and it has always been a haven for history buffs, with the red-brick towers of the Kremlin occupying the founding site of Moscow and the churches and monuments remembering fallen heroes and victorious battles.
From artistry and history to recreation and procreation, Moscow is definitely a cauldron of creativity. Here are the top ten quintessential Moscow experiences.
This is the domain of officialdom, which visitors will perceive immediately. The atmosphere is befitting Russia's authoritarian image: the powerful Kremlin walls, the stately buildings and the proliferation of police emphasise the idea that this regime takes itself seriously (as have all regimes that have ruled from the Kremlin). Nonetheless, this is the area where visitors to Moscow spend most of their time, and rightly so. The historical significance and architectural magnificence of this 1-sq-km space is truly awe inspiring.
2. Assumption Cathedral
With its five golden helmet domes and four semicircular gables facing the square, the Assumption Cathedral (Uspensky sobor) was the focal church of prerevolutionary Russia, and the burial place of most of the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church from the 1320s to 1700. A striking 1660s fresco of the Virgin Mary faces Sobornaya pl, above the door once used for royal processions. If you have limited time in the Kremlin, come straight here. The visitors' entrance is at the western end.
The Armoury dates back to 1511, when it was founded under Vasily III to manufacture and store weapons, imperial arms and regalia for the royal court. Later it also produced jewellery, icon frames and embroidery. During the reign of Peter the Great all craftspeople, goldsmiths and silversmiths were sent to St Petersburg, and the armoury became a mere museum storing the royal treasures. Despite the disasters that have befallen this collection throughout the centuries, the Armoury still contains plenty of treasures for ogling, and remains a highlight of any visit to the Kremlin.
4. Terem Palace
The 16th- and 17th-Century Terem Palace (Teremnoy dvorets) is the most splendid of the Kremlin palaces. Made of stone and built by Vasily III, the palace's living quarters include a dining room, living room, study, bedroom and small chapel. Catch a glimpse of its cluster of 11 golden domes and chequered roof behind and above the Church of the Deposition of the Robe.
5. Diamond Fund Exhibition
If the Armoury has not sated your lust for diamonds, there are more in the separate Diamond Fund Exhibition in the same building. The collection, mainly precious stones and jewellery garnered by tsars and empresses, includes such weighty beasts as the 190-carat diamond given to Catherine the Great by her lover Grigory Orlov. The displays of unmounted diamonds are stunning, revealing the real beauty of these gems.
6. The State Museum
The State History Museum has an enormous collection covering the whole Russian empire from the time of the Stone Age. The building, dating from the late 19th Century, is itself an attraction - each room is in the style of a different period or region, some with highly decorated walls echoing old Russian churches. Reopened in 1997, each year sees the addition of a few more Galleries.
7. Bolshoi Theatre
Theatre Square anchors ul Petrovka with its three grand theatres surrounding a wide plaza and flowing fountain. The centrepiece, of course, is the world-renowned Bolshoi Theatre. The present pink-and-white beauty was built in 1824, replacing the Petrovka Theatre that previously stood on this site. This historic theatre saw the premier of Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake in 1877 and The Nutcracker in 1919.
8. Ice Sculpture Gallery
Ice sculpture has a long history in Russia, but it is not usually a year-round attraction. Until now. Cool off in the first-ever year-round Ice Sculpture Gallery, which is housed in a refrigerated winter-wonderland tent at the west end of Krasnaya Presnya Park. The changing exhibit is small but spectacular - the frozen masterpieces enhanced by colourful lights and dreamy music. Sculptures have depicted elaborate scenes from Russian fairytales, which changes on a biannual basis. The admission price includes a special down vest and warm fuzzy foot-covers to protect you from the -10°C climate.