A first-timers travel guide to Moscow

FUTURISTIC MEGACITY AND LIVING MUSEUM IN ONE

DID YOU KNOW?

  • With a population of around 12.5 million, Moscow is the largest city in Europe and the northernmost megacity in the world
  • Moscow was founded in 1147 and has been the centre of Russia’s political power for 680 years, first as the capital of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, then during the ascension of the Tsardom, who established the Russian Empire in 1721. After the fall of the Tsars, it became the capital of the Soviet Union, and since 1991 has served as the capital of the Russian Federation
  • Moscow has more resident billionaires than any other city on earth

IS MOSCOW SAFE FOR TOURISTS?

Russia, and Moscow in particular, is still weighed down by out-of-date assumptions from the global community. While we all know Moscow is steeped in centuries of fascinating history, full of elegant architecture and world class attractions, many foreigners tend to view Moscow with trepidation thanks to myths and misconceptions.

Sure, a city run for decades by a secretive, oppressive regime only to emerge as a prominent player in global capitalism is battling some serious growing pains that are far too complex to get into here, but how does all this affect the average tourist?

Since the decline of the Soviet era, Russia has worked hard to shed its closed-off image and become an international tourist destination. The incredible history and attractions have always been there, and now modern Moscow is packed with international class hotels, world-recognised restaurants and continually improving tourist infrastructure.

Many visitors still express concerns over safety. Like any large city, crime exists in Moscow, and crowded areas like markets and walking streets can attract pickpockets and scam artists. However, there’s little evidence of violent crimes specifically directed towards foreign visitors, so with your usual ‘city smarts’ you should be as safe in as any other big European city.

IS MOSCOW SAFE FOR TOURISTS?

Russia, and Moscow in particular, is still weighed down by out-of-date assumptions from the global community. While we all know Moscow is steeped in centuries of fascinating history, full of elegant architecture and world class attractions, many foreigners tend to view Moscow with trepidation thanks to myths and misconceptions.

Sure, a city run for decades by a secretive, oppressive regime only to emerge as a prominent player in global capitalism is battling some serious growing pains that are far too complex to get into here, but how does all this affect the average tourist?

Since the decline of the Soviet era, Russia has worked hard to shed its closed-off image and become an international tourist destination. The incredible history and attractions have always been there, and now modern Moscow is packed with international class hotels, world-recognised restaurants and continually improving tourist infrastructure.

Many visitors still express concerns over safety. Like any large city, crime exists in Moscow, and crowded areas like markets and walking streets can attract pickpockets and scam artists. However, there’s little evidence of violent crimes specifically directed towards foreign visitors, so with your usual ‘city smarts’ you should be as safe in as any other big European city.

GETTING ACQUAINTED

If you’re a first-time visitor to Moscow, just a few days’ visit is guaranteed to leave you in awe.

The million miles an hour metropolis, whose city streets reflect a blend of Imperial decadence, Soviet austerity and vibrant, contemporary energy will entertain, enthral and inspire.

Make no mistake, Moscow is a massive city that can appear endlessly chaotic to overwhelmed first-time visitors. Some instantly revel in the unpredictability, while others take a few days to comfortably adjust to a pace of life and a culture they’re thoroughly unused to.

THE RUSSIAMOTO EXPERIENCE

If you sign up to a motorcycle tour of Russia with RussiaMoto, your first day starts with a tour guide meet and greet, who’ll give you a run down on Russian customs, rules and other advice to make your interactions with the locals a much more pleasant experience.

MOSCOW CITY TOUR ATTRACTIONS

The second day on the RussiaMoto tour is devoted to a guided city tour visiting Moscow’s must-see highlights.

  • Starting with the magnificent Red Square, home of St. Basil’s Cathedral’s rainbow hued onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, and mighty Kremlin, an incredible museum as well the highest office in Russia, were dozens of world-altering decisions were made
  • We’ll also experience a little of the wealthy side of modern Moscow with a gawk at the luxury shop fronts of GUM department store
  • No visit to Moscow is complete without a ride on the Moscow Metro, where some of the underground stations are so ornately decorated, they’re more like miniature palatial halls than everyday commuter stops
  • You’ll also stroll down Arbat Street, a one kilometre long, pedestrian-only cobblestoned stretch of ancient road. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’ architecture and atmosphere are so beautifully preserved it’s an experience all the same, as you’re regaled by street performers and tempted into cosy little cafes and pretty little stores selling souvenirs and antiques.

If you’re planning to stay in Moscow a little longer, we highly recommend an evening cruise along the Neiva River, an opera or ballet performance at the world-renowned Bolshoi Theatre and a wander through the sprawling, eco-friendly greenery of Gorky Park, a creative youth hangout that’s now home to the amazing open air Muzeon, Moscow’s foremost open air gallery of contemporary art and sculpture.

For the best bargains on souvenirs, arts, crafts, vodka and more, head to the Izmailovsky Flea Markets on the city’s eastern outskirts. It’s set in the grounds of the Izaailovo Kremlin, a curious modern miniature reproduction based on several much older regional Kremlins, with a somewhat tacky, but enjoyably whimsical atmosphere.

WHAT ABOUT MOTORCYCLE TOURING IN MOSCOW?

Today, Moscow ranks as one of the most traffic congested cities in the world. As Moscow’s middle class grew, so did the number of cars on the road and the rise of car-centric culture.

The Russian government has announced ambitious plans to tackle congestion, including the M11 motorway between Russia and St Petersburg which opened in late 2019. According to officials it has already reduced the number of accidents along the extremely busy route at least three-fold and is set to continue to bring down accident numbers and ease congestion, combined with other rules that will restrict heavy vehicle traffic.

Needless to say, city riding in Moscow requires razor sharp concentration. The monstrous size of the city is a source of confusion in itself, combined with local motorists notorious for their impatient attitudes.

Luckily, our latest RussiaMoto tour limits time spent riding in Moscow to an absolute minimum. On our first day of riding, we depart Moscow as early as possible to avoid the peak hour scramble (Moscow has the dubious honour of the world’s longest morning rush hour, stretching from 6:30am to 10am).

We avoid main arteries into the city’s commercial zones, sticking to secondary roads as much as possible. The traffic lightens considerably and becomes far more orderly once we leave the outskirts of the city, and at least until we reach St Petersburg, the rest of the riding on our Russian motorcycle adventure tour is on mostly surprisingly lightly used and incredibly scenic rural backroads.

If you’re number one priority visiting Russia for the first time is to ride, you absolutely must spend some time learning about the history and culture of Moscow before setting out for the countryside.

An exciting metropolis that offers something for absolutely everyone, mind blowing Moscow is  an experience not to be missed.

Written by: Fiona Davies (extreme pillion rider and adventure travel writer)

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