Moscow Cool

From a day spent exploring intricate architecture to a night at the opera, enjoy the best of Moscow like a local.

There are plenty of eye-popping sights to ogle, from fur-draped models in Lamborghinis to diamond-studded cooking utensils. But if you look past the flashy cars and designer bling, you’ll be charmed by Moscow’s dreamy onion-domed architecture, Russian traditions that pre-date the tsars and a glimpse of a hip city breaking from its shackles.

Shining Tsars

Centuries of tsarist rule followed by a show of communist-party strength left Moscow with a legacy of historical icons that are too grand to miss. The Kremlin is so much more than the lofty offices on Borovitsky Hill from where current President Dmitry Medvedev is modernising the country. It’s a showcase of World Heritage-listed palaces and domed cathedrals. The Kremlin’s impressive armoury houses opulent state treasures, including delicate Fabergé eggs, jewel-studded thrones and royal regalia.

Most people are aware of Red Square (beneath the east wall of the Kremlin) for its displays of tanks and military parades in days gone by. Now, you have to fight the crowds for a happy snap in front of St Basil’s Cathedral and its multicoloured domes. While you’re there, buy an ice-cream from GUM. Admire the department store’s architecture and explore its expensive luxury boutiques. Art enthusiasts must also visit The State Tretyakov Gallery, which houses an impressive collection of more than 150,000 works created by generations of Russian artists, some occupying entire walls.

Travelling around Moscow is easy. Just take the Moscow Metro for 28 roubles for one ride.  The railway system opened in 1935 and features some of the world’s most ostentatious underground stations (with marble stonework, chandeliers and stained glass), which have to be seen to be believed.

Chowing Down

Check out Moscow’s most lavish and trendy restaurants — some top local favourites are actually affordable.

One: Dine like a tsar on blinchiki (Russian crepes) with black caviar, borscht (beetroot soup), pelmeni (dumplings) and Tsar’s Sturgeon (baked fish with potatoes, vegetables and caviar sauce) at Cafe Pushkin. The five-star restaurant, open 24 hours a day, is decked out like a 19th-century Russian aristocrat’s home.

Two: The modest exterior of Vanil is usurped by the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour across the street. But the guests who arrive in black luxury sedans with bodyguards in tow certainly make this place impressive — as does the menu, which is a fusion of French, Russian and Japanese dishes.

Bed, Bars and Beyond

There are plenty of luxury hotels in Moscow, and their bars are as important as the beds.

One: Sing along with the locals at the Troubadour Karaoke Bar in the Radisson Royal Hotel before bedding down. The building is the former Hotel Ukraina and is adorned with 20th-century Russian artworks, frescoes and murals.

Two: City Space Bar at the Swissôtel Krasnye Holmy Moscow is the spot for sky-high city views and White Russian cocktails. The hotel’s beds are pretty comfy, too.

Three: Opened less than five years ago, The Ritz-Carlton Moscow is the benchmark for five-star luxury. The rooftop O2 Lounge is where the beautiful people hang out.

Four: Set in a 19th-century building, the Golden Apple Boutique Hotel has technicoloured guest floors. Equally colourful cocktails are served in the hotel’s funky bar, along with hookah pipes and board games. 

Five: Budget travellers should check out the well-located Petrovka Loft Hotel. It’s housed in a Stalin-era building, formerly a Soviet communal apartment block.

Culture Shock

Make like a local and explore Moscow’s arty and cultural side.

Opera: The historic Bolshoi Theatre reopened in October 2011 after extensive renovations.

The Big Top: The Great Moscow State Circus dazzles with acrobats, jugglers and gamboling clowns.

Dive In: “An authentic Russian experience is swimming in the heated outdoor pool at Chayka Sports complex when it’s minus 25 degrees Celcius and snowing,” says Sandeep Walia, general manager of the Ritz-Carlton Moscow.

Historical: World Heritage-listed Novodevichy Convent (Ulitsa Khamovnichesky Val) is a fairyland at night, its façade stunningly reflected on the lake.

Market Day: Victory Park’s (Kutuzovsky Prospekt) extensive gardens and fountains make for a tranquil escape. The park alsohas several museums and monuments dedicated to war.

On a Moscow Mission

Don’t leave the city without crossing off these activites from your itinerary.

One: Visit Izmailovsky Market (Izmailovsky Park Metro Station) for crafts, trinkets and memorabilia. “It’s an amazing place. It’s where all the old soviet-style artists hang out. When you first enter it seems a bit touristy, but venture deeper into the market and it becomes more interesting. I go there to photograph a lot,” says Glen Ballis, executive chef at Nedalniy Vostok.

Two: Starting near the Kievskaya Metro Station, cruise the mighty Moskva River. A river tour through the centre of the city is an easy and enjoyable way to photograph some of Moscow’s main sights. 

Three: Relax in a banya (sauna) at Sanduny Banya among lavish tsarist interiors. “It’s the best place to restore the balance. The Russian tradition is to buy the oak leaves and beat yourself until you can’t stand it any longer,” says Sandeep Walia of Ritz-Carlton Moscow.

Epicentre of Cool

Rozalia Alpert is the owner of luxury concept store Cara&Co. Cara&Co is located in Winzavod, also known as the Moscow Centre for Contemporary Art, in a former industrial area popularly known as Moscow’s SoHo. Alpert divides her time between Moscow and Sydney, home of the only other Cara&Co store in the world.

What’s Moscow’s SoHo like?

The best comparison would be Gare Saint-Lazare in Paris or SoHo in New York. A few metres away from a rough railway station environment is the best of fashion.

Why is it hip?

Beauty and the Beast comes to mind — luxury is often best emphasised by the rough and ugly. We were the first in this area to open a luxury shop, but we had a great following. When we started, the police were arresting prostitutes next door to us; now the area is home to some of the best shops and theatres in Moscow.

What kind of crowd hangs out here?

People from all walks of life including students, lawyers and Bentley-driven rich wives.

What’s the drawcard?

Winzavod has the best galleries in Russia. My favourite is Aidan Gallery. It’s definitely worth visiting.

Christina Pfeiffer - Published in Voyeur February 2012
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 10,562,099
Time Zone UTC +3/+4
Languages Russian (official), Swiss, English
Currency Russian Rouble
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