Only have one day to see Moscow? No problem! It’s possible to take in many of the city sites and local hot spots with just a day to spare. And because our itinerary below is accessible entirely on foot, you don’t have to worry about cabs or public transit. (Or from May to October, you can rent a city bike and explore all these places on your own two wheels.) To make sure you have the perfect Russia adventure, here’s our guide to spending an epic 24 hours in Moscow.
Start your day with breakfast at Conversation Café on Bolshaya Nikitskaya, where they serve fresh salads with seasonal veggies, eggs made your way, and delicious coffee — everything you need for a perfect start to the day. The café has a great modern Moscow spirit with big airy windows, and the food really is tasty (something that can be admittedly tough to find among local Moscow spots). Our favourite spot to sit is at the high chairs and bar tables (as we say in Russia, “sit high, look far”). We confess this isn’t a place for every day, as the average bill is a bit pricey, but if you’re only in Moscow for one day, indulge! Address: Bolshaya Nikitskaya 23/14/9 (ул. Большая Никитская 23/14/9).
Head to Patriarshie Ponds (or as locals call it, Patriki) and walk off your breakfast. Get lost several times in the laneways of this amazing district full of charismatic cafés and beautiful people. In summer, grab a seat on one of the benches alongside locals and watch the swans on the pond; in winter months, bring along some skates so you can glide along the frozen rink. (If you come at night, note that in the evenings, the Patriarshie district turns into a party zone. Many of the spots are quite pricey and sophisticated, so come dressed in your night-out best!)
Next up, head to the Ryabushinsky Mansion (also known as Gorky’s Museum). This historic 1906 house is a wonderful example of art-nouveau architecture, and will remind you of work done by Gaudi — totally atypical for Russia. Best of all, it’s free of charge to go inside. Once you enter, you will be asked to put on shoe covers and to sign their book with your name and country. Then you’re free to explore this two-floor property with chandeliers shaped like turtles, charming twisted stairs, and a hidden chapel. You’ll need about 40 minutes to explore. Note that the museum is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the last Thursday of every month. Address: Malaya Nikitskaya st, 6 (ул. Малая Никитская, 6).
Time to eat again! And for lunch, we recommend trying some Georgian food. From Ryabushinsky Mansion, take a pleasant 10 to 15-minute walk along Tverskoy Boulevard (in summertime, it’s lovely and green, and if you’re here in December, you’ll see lots of Christmas lights along the way) to reach one of our favourite Georgian restaurants, Khachapuri. They have delicious food and a new approach to Georgian cuisine. Here you won’t find traditional carpets on walls or clay pots. Instead, it’s a very modern place but with authentic Georgian hospitality and food.
This cuisine is perfect for meat lovers, with shashlik (a type of Shish kebab), as well as khinkali (big dumplings you eat with your hands) and many thick soups. For veggie lovers, there’s a variety of super-tasty khachapuri (pastry fresh from the oven and made with local cheese). Address: Bolshoy Gnezdnikovsky pereulok, 10.
Spend the afternoon wandering around the must-visit centre of the city: Red Square. It’s a legendary spot, and overwhelms visitors with its history, beauty, and scale. The square is surrounded by one of the Kremlin walls, the iconic St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the State Historical Museum, and the GUM department store. It is equally beautiful in summer or winter, by day or by night, and in winter months there is a skating rink and Christmas market on the square. While you’re exploring, be sure sure to take a picture of St. Basil Cathedral (it really is worth snapping a photo of), then visit GUM department store and buy Soviet-inspired ice-cream and soda with nostalgic flavours for those who remember the USSR days.
If you still have energy left, take Nikolskaya Street to Moscow’s main children’s store Children’s World, which claims to be the biggest toy store in Europe. It’s beautiful inside, with lights, a massive clock, and many massive images of cartoon characters. Head to the roof (entrance from the food court) to get a nice view of downtown Moscow. Also, near the roof entrance is a museum of soviet toys — it’s interesting to compare what Russian children play with today, and what they played with in Soviet times.
For dinner, taste a mix of Russian Ukrainian and Jewish cuisine in a great local place called Odessa Mama. The owners have managed to create a great casual atmosphere, while serving up great food inspired by the seaside city of Odessa. Their combo of seafood and homemade Jewish dishes make this place a special spot to dine. (We also recommend their alcoholic shots in varying berry flavours. They’re tasty and sweet, so be careful — it’s easy to have one too many!) And because this local hangout can get a bit noisy in the evening, it’s a good place to start for an even noisier night out in the neighbourhood! Address: Krivokolenny lanestreet 5/10 (Кривоколенный переулок 5/10).
Don’t have time for a full 24 hours in Moscow? No worries, we’ve got the speedy version for a shorter layover.
If you’re in Moscow in the morning or early afternoon, go directly to the main attraction of Red Square. Yes, it’s touristy, and yes, it’s in every guidebook, but the square still amazes us every time, and you can’t come to Moscow without seeing it. Spend some time exploring, then grab a traditional Russian meal at Varenichnaya on Kamergersky Street (Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 5/6, building 5 (ул. Большая Дмитровка 5/6, стр.5)). Order varenik, which is a kind of dumpling, usually stuffed with potatoes or cabbage. They can come in sweet flavours as well, typically with cherry jam or tvorog (Russian-style cottage cheese). You’ll likely need about three hours within the city to see the sites.
If your layover has you in Moscow in the evening, go to Gorky Park and spend some time exploring this amazing spot that’s absolutely loved by locals (you’ll need about two hours). In warm weather, wander around this large green zone along the Moscow river embankment. Check out the huge fountain at the entrance, listen to live piano performances in the evenings, or watch the many other activities going on, from salsa classes to yoga classes to urban festivals. You can also rent a bike there to get around. In cold months, you can take the Radisson boat starting from the Gorky Park embankment. It is great in any season, but in winter you can sit in their restaurant with huge windows and can enjoy all the main sights of Moscow while staying warm.
There are numerous places nearby for dinner or a snack, no matter whether you prefer street food or a proper meal. Wok and Sandwiches has drinks to-go for those who want to have a dinner on the grass. Or for something more sophisticated, head to Vremena Goda Restaurant. If you’re up for a casual meal, cafés like 8 Oz. and Le Pain Quotidien are good picks.
Note that because Moscow is a big city and often has bad traffic, you’ll need a minimum of six hours in order to get from the airport to downtown and back, while still having time to see the sites. A taxi from the airport can take up to an hour and a half (and shouldn’t cost more than 2,000 rubles — make sure you don’t get overcharged). If you’re travelling during peak hours (8am to 10am and 5pm to 7pm), your best bet is to take the Aeroexpress. It travels without stops to and from the airport (also, don’t forget that in Moscow there are three airports — make sure you go back to the right one!). From Domodedovo (DME), take the Aeroexpress tometro Paveletskaya; from Sheremetyevo (SVO), take the Aeroexpress to metro Belorusskaya; and from Vnukovo (VKO), take the Aeroexpress to metro Kievskaya. From all these stations, take the metro to get to city centre.
Local tip: Buy your ticket from their website and it will be cheaper. Also, add in some time in case you get lost in the underground. Many signs are in Russian only, but there are signs on the floor that always have directions in English. Alternately, you can download app Yandex for a map of the Moscow metro. It is available in English and has handy information on where to change the line, and how much time it will take you to get from one stop to another.
Lastly (but most importantly) note that even for a short layover, you’ll need to obtain a visa beforehand. This should be a 24-hour visa or a tourist visa. Check the website of the Russian embassy in your country to see what’s required.
Our local guides are true Moscow experts. Take a Moscow tour with them to see this city from a unique perspective.