We’ve made three trips to Russia since November and really have only been able to experience a little taste of what Moscow has to offer. On the list of things to do in Moscow – Red Square, The Kremlin…and shopping. 

Things to do in Moscow

It was a Sunday when we first went exploring in Moscow and church services were taking place when we arrived at Red Square. The sun had just begun to rise (10am in November) as we entered through Resurrection Gate, a pair of archways torn down during Stalin’s time but rebuilt in 1996. It was a gorgeous site. Really.

The bells at Kazan Cathedral were ringing, the smell of incense wafting out of the cathedral windows and the sun coming over the horizon, right behind St. Basil’s Cathedral. (Did you notice how I mentioned the windows were open in WINTER? In Russia it might be bitter cold outside, but it’s a blazing 90 degrees EVERYWHERE you go inside. There are no temperature settings, it’s simply an on and off switch. You regulate the temperature with the windows.)

I would have loved to have gone into Kazan Cathedral to simply experience it and say a few prayers but alas, there are rules. Really more of a dress code and my jeans, Marmot down coat and Anne Taylor hat weren’t going to cut it. If you plan to attend a Russian Orthodox service be mindful of the dress code:

  • Shirts and Blouses with sleeves
  • A head scarf in the church at all times for all women.
  • If women wear pants to church,they should be dress pants (not jeans, leggings, etc.)
  • Mens shirtsshould have collars and be buttoned to the collar (the actual collar buttonmay be left undone, but two or three buttons undone is inappropriate). 
  • Other things to note: Men should s
  • No Shorts or Short Skirts
  • Stand on the right side facing the Alter. Women stand on the left side facing the Alter.

On this specific day, November 6, 2011, the city was preparing for a big celebration – The October Revolution also known as the Bolshevik Revolution– the following day. We weren’t going to be able to see the celebration since we were leaving for Siberia that night but we were able to see the area decked out in ceremonial flags and decorations. Given that it was still pretty early in the day there were very few people in/around the area, which made it extremely nice since we kinda had the Square to ourselves.

We made our way into The Kremlin, visited the Memorial of the Unknown Solider and headed up the steps to look into doing a guided tour and visit Lenin’s Mausoleum. I always find you can get so much more out of a place when you do a tour with people who really know the historical background and can share that knowledge with you. You can also have a guided tour of Red Square as there are several guides outside Resurrection Gate and many of them speak excellent English. Alas,Wells Fargo is to blame for us not being able to do a tour OR any shopping that day. (I’m still bitter!)

Apparently, Wells Fargo was having a system outage that day so our debit/credit cards wouldn’t work ANYWHERE! Given the outage and the fact we tried to use our cards in Russia, our accounts/cards were essentially frozen. I can’t even express my frustration, especially since we had notified Wells Fargo a few days prior to let them know we would be traveling in the country and it any activity wouldn’t be fraudulent. (Since it was Sunday, we couldn’t find a BancoMat to exchange the cash we had brought with us.)

Regardless, we didn’t have rubles to purchase tickets or do any shopping at the underground mall outside the area – Okhotny Ryad. We were able to hit Okhotny Ryad on our second trip and there are some great shops here. The Husband and I found the second floor is essentially the shoe floor. If you need boots, they’ve got you covered. 

You can also find most of your “tourist” items in Okhotny Ryad to purchase here such as stacking dolls, Faberge eggs, etc. However, I highly suggest visiting the Izmailovo flea market right outside Red Square, before Resurrection Gate. Note, this area will be less expensive but communication may be a bit harder. Make sure to have your translations guide or apps handy. 

I had wanted to visit the State Department Store, GUM (pronounced goom), located directly opposite Lennin’s Mausoleum, on the eastern side of the square. This is Russia’s most famous shopping mall. In the Soviet Union, the top floor was home to Section 100, a secret clothing store only open to the highest echelons of the party. The Husband wanted nothing to do with it and it was totally taken off the list since the folks we were with informed us it was one, if not the most expensive places to shop in Moscow. Drat! I even tried to use the whole history buff thing to get to go. Alas, I’ll have to wait…  

What are a few of your other favorite things to do in Moscow?

Elaine Schoch

Elaine Schoch (pronounced the German way – Shock) is an award-winning travel writer, wine judge, certified by the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) Level 2. She is the editor and founder of Carpe Travel, a mom to two, a wife to one and in-between it all, working to become a Certified Wine Specialist (CSW).