The morning we were going on our trip to Moscow my dad texted me saying that the little baby in my belly would now have been to both the US and Russia after this weekend – already a world traveler! And that’s exactly what we plan on doing, even now that we’re expanding our little explorers’ club.
Yes, I know that traveling with kids will be different from adventuring as a couple, and we’re not trying to be naive about it. But we think it’s very important that our kiddos will learn from a young age that our world is a magnificent place, with so many amazing places to see and wonderful people to meet. We can’t wait to show you the world, little one! So yes. In terms of our “babymoon” we now can cross both the USA and Russia off our list. Full disclosure: before the baby is born it has also been to the Azores Islands and Croatia. Yep.
As I said in an earlier post, I was very excited to finally set foot on my ancestral country since my grandfather’s father was born in Russia. And although there isn’t a lot we know about our Russian family history (translation between alphabets can be pretty damn difficult), I’ve always been very proud of my Russian name and background. And especially now that I’m about to be a mom, I value my ancestral background even more – both my Russian and my Indonesian roots.
In this post I’ll share what I think is the perfect Moscow itinerary for a first trip. We were meeting up with some of the friends we made on our trip to North Korea and luckily one of them is also pretty much a Moscow expert (I think it was his 95th visit!). So instead of spending a lot of time figuring out where to go and where to eat, he was our very own travel guide. Thank you so much for that, Mr Z. And now, you can make use of this knowledge as well! So here we go, from Russia with love ♡.
Hello Moscow! Confession: even though I have Russian roots, I don’t speak the language. Well, I can say a few words and short sentences and kinda know the Cyrillic alphabet. But that’s pretty much it. I might have to restart that Russian language course now that I quit my job… Anyway, even though I think you can manage fine with English, it is definitely helpful if you know some letters of the alphabet so you can make out some words on street and metro signs.
Speaking of the Moscow metro, please note that the metro stations in Moscow are among the most beautiful ones in the world. So take some time to explore some of them when you’re out and about. Although we did a lot of walking, you can easily try to navigate the city thanks to the extensive metro system. Definitely try to make a stop at the stations of Mayakovskaya, Elektrozavodskaya, Ploshchad Revolyutsii, Prospekt Mira, Komsomolskaya and Kiyevskaya.
The Perfect 4 Day Moscow Itinerary
5 p.m. Red Square
We arrived on a Friday afternoon, which I think is the perfect time to arrive to a new city. We checked into our amazing value-for-money hotel, the 4* Budapest Hotel, not far from the Kremlin and the Red Square. I highly recommend staying here if you’re planning a trip to Moscow. Since the weather was pretty nice we decided to walk to the Red Square for that first real Russia experience. The sun was setting beautifully over the wonderful buildings surrounding the square.
Fun fact: the Red Square wasn’t named after the colors of the bricks, or the blood shed on the square, or the links with communism. The Russian word krasnaya means both “red”, but also “beautiful” in Russian. And it sure is beautiful.
And of course, the world famous St. Basil’s Cathedral was an absolute stunner in that soft after sunset light.
7 p.m. Borsch and Dumplings
We walked along Tverskaja Oelitsa to the Tverskoy Boulevard where we had dinner in probably Moscow’s best Russian restaurant, Cafe Pushkin. It doesn’t get more Old World Russia than this. It’s simply fantastic. Since the restaurant was fully booked we headed next door to their tearoom for dinner. Yes, that’s right. You can order the entire dinner menu in the tearoom. Which we only knew about thanks to our wonderful friend/guide. I had a big bowl of borsch (which is the only Russian dish I can cook by the way) and a variety of super tasty Russian dumplings. They also do some kind of tasting platter, and the boys seemed to really dig that. Since you’re in an actual Russian tearoom, you simply have to order a dessert. Or two. Yes, I had two desserts. In my defense: the baby made me do it.
10 p.m. Rooftop Cocktails
After dinner we walked it all off by heading over to the Ararat Hotel rooftop bar for some drinks with a wonderful view over central Moscow. They have an amazing selection of cocktails, including some delicious virgin cocktails that made this mommy to be very happy.
10 a.m. See Lenin
We decided to skip breakfast at the hotel and we went for a quick to go style breakfast at one of the little cafes near the hotel. Lenin was waiting after all! Well, obviously he’s no longer actually waiting for people to come and see him, but his mausoleum is. Beware that you might have to wait in line and that it’s only open on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday from 10-13 o’clock in the morning.
Before you get to the actual mausoleum, you’ll walk past the outside Kremlin wall where you’ll see the graves of other high Soviet leaders, like the one pictured above (please note the plastic red flowers). And although the practice of maintaining someones dead body for decades and decades to come still is very strange to me, it also was very fascinating for some reason. Especially since we were with the same people we visited the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il mausoleum with in Pyongyang.
12 p.m. Lunch at Mu-Mu
You simply have to try lunch at this cafetaria-style fast food chain that is very popular in Russia. The food is simple yet delicious and it’s mostly traditional Russian dishes. And also: it’s pretty cheap. And you probably know what I like to say ⇒ Good food: good. Cheap good food: better.
1 p.m. Changing of the Guard Ceremony
Every hour you can watch the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier near the Kremlin entrance. Only the most promising cadets get to be part of this guard, and it’s always fascinating to watch young men strictly stick to a somewhat ridiculous choreography, and afterwards stand still for a whole hour.
2 p.m. Visit the Kremlin
First things first: Kremlin actually means fortress. Makes sense once you walk along the massive wall towards the entrance.
If you have more than 4 days in Moscow, I would suggest you plan at least a full or half day at the Kremlin to take in all the gorgeous cathedrals and museums. But if you’re shorter on time and you want to make the most out of your first acquaintance with Moscow, like us, you can perfectly fit in a quick scan of the Kremlin.
We decided to skip the museums and head straight to the many cathedrals, where I could easily picture young future tsars play hide and seek once upon a time. Did I mention I used to think (well, hope) that I was a descendant of Anastasia, the lost Russian princess?
4 p.m. Gorky Park and River Cruise
In the afternoon you can make your way to Gorky Park for some leisurely stroll, if the weather is on your side.
You should definitely do a boat cruise on the Moskva river. You can either go for a 90 minute or a 2,5 hour cruise and I recommend the longer one since you get to sit your butt down for a while after all that walking around.
The Flotilla cruises dock at the Gorky Park Pier and you can sit either inside or outside, depending on the weather. The food is good and the views along the river are wonderful, especially when you cruise along the Red Square and the Kremlin.
8 p.m. North Korean Dinner
You may or may not want to skip this part of the itinerary and go for a nice meal in one of Moscow’s many restaurants, but since the whole reason we all flew out to Moscow was to have a meal in a North Korean restaurant, I decided to add it here as well. Ever since our trip to North Korea in 2013 we have been having Korean BBQ reunions in wonderful Korean restaurants in Amsterdam and London, but a proper North Korean restaurant is pretty hard to find in (Western) Europe. Luckily, there is one operating near the embassy in Moscow, so we had to go there obviously. Yes. We are all crazy enough to fly out for a meal. Sorry not sorry.
After our dinner we walked over to the sincerely cool 42.5m high Yuri Gagarin statue. For those of you who don’t have a little brother that used to be obsessed with this dude (they share the same name): this fine gentleman was the first person to travel to space. Especially at night, Gagarin looks like he’s actually on his way back to space.
12 a.m. The Lucky Noodle
Okay, since I’m on team #preggolife, going clubbing after a full day of exploring was a bit too much for my tired feet, but the guys told me this is a very cool place if you want to experience some Moscow nightlife. The underground Mendeleev bar – yes, that’s right – is hidden behind a super tiny Chinese fast food restaurant called The Lucky Noodle (conveniently located across the Budapest Hotel).
10 a.m. Champagne Breakfast
No worries, this mommy to be skipped the unlimited champagne of the amazing breakfast buffet at the Hotel Metropol, but nonetheless this was an exceptional way to start another day of roaming around Moscow. It’s in a super fancy dining hall, complete with a glass ceiling, golden cherubs, and a shiny fountain. Oh, and I should mention the live harp music. How’s that for a Sunday morning?
12 p.m. Izmailovsky Market
After stuffing your face it is time for some retail therapy. Well, I suggest you skip the ridiculously expensive stores in downtown Moscow and take a metro out to Izmailovsky Market.
Here you can find some proper (Soviet) Russian goods, both authentic and tourist souvenirs. Don’t forget to climb up the stairs of the wooden structure to find the actual flea market, where golden oldies are selling some amazing stuff from way back when.
And I also suggest you wander around the buildings because it was originally built as a wedding complex, and the design was inspired by Russian fairytales. Oh, and if you feel like you can eat again: have some shashlik. Just follow your nose (and the smoke)!
2 p.m. VDNKh
This might have been the highlight of our trip for me. Originally planned as an Agricultural Exhibition in the 1930s, it was actually opened in the 1950s as the Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy (VDNKh). Apparently, the territory of VDNKh is greater than that of Monaco and it has around 400 buildings. What?!
So yes: it is huge. In hindsight, that bike rental shop at the entrance should have been a clue. There are pavilions dedicated to various industries and to different countries and/or regions within the Soviet Union.
You could easily spend days here, but walking around for a few hours will also give you a great idea of what VDNKh is all about. Just make sure you see the Vostok Rocket, and check out some of the pavilions.
And also, on your walk from the metro to the VDNKh grounds you will pass the impressive Space Monument. It is not to be missed, but then again, you probably won’t miss it because it is massive.
5 p.m. Ducks and Noodles
Our friend/guide organized a nice little get together with some of his Russian friends at a fantastic Shanghai style restaurant called Mandarin, Ducks and Noodles. Besides the lovely atmosphere and really amazing food, it was very nice to meet some Moscow locals and discuss everything from traveling the world to world politics.
8 p.m. Sunset Cocktails
We went back to the rooftop of the Ararat Hotel for some sunset cocktails and an outstanding view over Moscow. You could also opt for the rooftop bar at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel if you feel like a different view.
10 a.m. Russian Breakfast
On our final day we went big for breakfast yet again, so we went back to Cafe Pushkin and this time we were able to sit in the main restaurant. If you want a traditional Russian breakfast go for the syrniks and some rye pancakes with salmon. I decided on a fantastic fluffy porridge, and fried quail eggs with brie and tomatoes (YUM!). They also do amazing fresh juices from Mr. Apothecary if you feel like upping your vitamin intake a bit.
12 p.m. Shopping at Gum
Since it was raining we decided to head back to the Red Square for a last look at the beautiful buildings and some browsing at the famous Gum (ГУМ) shopping mall. You can find a Gum in many former Soviet cities (we saw one in Minsk, Belarus for example) but this is definitely the most beautiful one.
I suggest you don’t do any actual shopping here, but you can marvel at the gorgeous ceiling of the arcade and buy a delicious pre-scooped ice-cream at one of the kiosks. Eating ice-cream on the Red Square on a cold and rainy day seems like a pretty good end to our jam-packed 72 hours in Moscow!
When people ask me how our Moscow trip was, the first thing that comes to mind is that it is so much more beautiful than I’d expected. I always thought St. Petersburg was the pretty one and Moscow just was the more modern one (read: boring, big, ugly, concrete buildings). WRONG. So incredibly wrong. Moscow has a lot of beautiful historical buildings, some in that distinctive red color, others in soft pastel shades. LOVE!
I also liked the vibe in the city, and it’s so easy to navigate thanks to the very efficient metro system. For me Moscow was the perfect 4 day babymoon (probably because we did a lot of eating…). That said, because of the “hassle” (read: costs) of getting a Russian visa, I would suggest doing a combo trip of both Moscow and St. Petersburg and spend 4 days or so in each city. That way you get to experience both and according to the husband, who has visited our friends in St. Petersburg a few times, both cities are very much worth a visit so you should’t have to pick just one.
What are your plans for the summer? We are off on our island-hopping trip to the often overlooked Azores Islands. Stay tuned for updates on that adventure!