I see you, backpacker, lugging your big old bag off the Tran Siberian, whispering ‘spasiba’ as a sea of locals part for you to get to the exit. Only got a month to explore the whole of Russia? Found yourself in Moscow with no clue what to do? Well stop your Google searching, because here’s your itinerary on how to make the most of 3 days in Moscow.
Before you go…
First things first, check to see if you can find some inexpensive tickets for performances at the Bolshoi Theatre (literally translating as Big Theatre). Some performances (although worth it) are very expensive, especially performances at the ‘Historic Stage’. Other performances can start from 400 rubles, less than a fiver!
If you spot something that takes your fancy, book it! I’d recommend booking the show for your last day in Moscow, but of course this completely depends on pricing and what’s on.
You can follow this Moscow itinerary even if you haven’t been able to snap up a ticket. There are loads of things to see in Moscow without ever stepping into the iconic theatre.
Where to stay in Moscow?
- Godzillas Rooms is one of the best hostels in Moscow. The comfortable beds, friendly sociable common area and amazing staff make this hostel a great place to rest your head in between exploring the capital. You can choose from four bed rooms, twin or privates (prices start from £42.40 for a four person room). The rooms here are almost always fully booked in advance, especially in high season. If you can’t manage to get one here don’t worry, there are plenty of hostels to choose from in Moscow.
- ART Hostel is another perfect place to meet travellers from across the globe. The inexpensive hostel is clean and sociable with an artistic atmosphere (dorms start from £9). The location is within walking distance from the main tourist attractions, but far enough away for you to enjoy Moscow’s local scene.
- If you feel like staying somewhere fancy but not breaking the bank, book to stay at Strawberry Duck. This classy hostel has private rooms and dorms that’ll leave you questioning how this place is so cheap! Stay lavish for just £9. It’s slightly further away from the city centre than Art Hostel, but Moscow’s metro makes travelling around the city very easy.
- If you’re travelling in Moscow during the summer, Good News Hostel is worth having a look at. Inside, it has the feel of a cosy Russian dacha in the woods. The staff are welcoming and the outside area makes for a perfect spot to spend your summer evenings. Dorms start from £8.
3 days in Moscow itinerary: day one – get historical
Moscow has an unbelievably complex and rich history. It was set fire to in 1812 and subsequently rebuilt. Tsars, princesses, palaces and workhouses have passed through this city. It’s seen communism, dictatorship and democracy. Decadence, famines and Faberge eggs!
Stop at one of Moscow’s many yummy pastry shops for breakfast. Dotted throughout the city, Khleb Nasushchnyy is a great spot to eat a sweet pastry and drink a cup of coffee, although not as cheap as traditional Russian pastry shops (a full meal comes to around 700 Rubles/ £8.50). It’s got a warm atmosphere and a good selection of sweet treats.
Start your journey around the capital with a trip to Red Square, the heart of Moscow. Many events that have affected the whole of Russia have taken place here. Walk through the Resurrection Gate and the Iberian Chapel. To your right you’ll spy Lenin’s Mausoleum, famed for housing Lenin’s preserved body. Behind that you’ll see the Kremlin Wall (which creepily also has a bunch of VIP dead bodies built under it and into its structure, including the author Maxim Gorky) and the Kremlin Palace. This imposing palace was originally built for Russia’s Tsars, but is now the official residence of Vladimir Putin.
In front of you is Google’s poster boy for Russia, Saint Basil’s Cathedral. With its onion domes, bright colours and red brick, it’s an imaginative mix of Eastern and Western architecture. In front of the cathedral you’ll find a statue of two guys having an important-looking chat. This is a monument to Minin and Pozharsky, the unlikely heroic duo of a prince and a butcher, who gathered a volunteer army to expel Polish-Lithuanian rule in 1612.
Walk behind Saint Basil’s Cathedral to get a good view across Moscow. From here you can see a muddle of architectural styles that somehow fit together. At one point (pre 1800s), Russia’s high classes were obsessed with French culture, and there are still romantic pastel buildings standing that have a clear French influence. You can also spy some harsh looking communist block buildings, with their intimidating classic gold spires erupting out of high towers. Then there are shiny glass skyscrapers, capturing Russia’s modern capitalist economy.
All the buildings around the Red Square (including the State Historical Museum and the Kazan Cathedral) are worth having a look around. The interiors of each building are beautifully decorated and there are English-speaking tours you can sign up for. Tickets for Saint Basil’s Cathedral cost 500 Rubles/£6.
When you’ve built up an appetite, you can duck into the famous GUM Department Store to people-watch and fill your belly for a reasonable price at Festival Café. Or, take a short walk to Cafe Yulina Kukhnya for somewhere a little cosier. You’ll be greeted with tables of sweet flower arrangements and chicken ornaments. I recommend trying the borsht, a traditional Russian beetroot soup, to warm you, with a pot of tea or glint wine (Russian mulled wine). The café also offers cakes, treats and delicious homemade lemonades if it’s unusually warm outside.
Take the metro
After eating your fill, jump on the metro for a wonderfully weird public transport experience. Moscow’s metro is essentially an underground art gallery. You could spend a whole day exploring the beautifully designed different metro stops, just beware of some odd looks from local Muscovites trying to get from A to B if you find yourself staring at the ceilings for too long!
A single journey on the metro is less than one Ruble. You can hop on at Okhotnyy ryad (??????? ???), located near Red Square. I recommend checking out the gold and yellow covered Komsomolskaya Station (??????????????). Belorusskaya station (????????????) has a very Russian statue of two men and a woman proudly holding a Russian flag, dressed in winter gear and brandishing guns, while Prospekt Mira (????????? ?????) is full of marble and chandeliers. There are many more beautiful metro stops you can discover for yourself.
If you prefer to spend most of your time above ground, take metro line 1 from Okhotnyy ryad (??????? ???) to Kropotkinskaya (??????????????) for the Tolstoy House Museum. Leo Tolstoy was a famous Russian author, known for his chunky novels like War and Peace and Anna Karenina. If you’re interested in reading some Tolstoy but don’t want to break your back with a massive paperback, track down a copy of Hadji Murat, a great read and lighter book choice.
Even if you’re not hugely into literature, the Tolstoy House Museum is still worth a look around. After immersing yourself in the buzz of the city, the Tolstoy House Museum will take you out into the Russian countryside without ever having to leave Moscow. The museum is open daily from 10am to 6pm, although keep in mind that Russian holidays and celebrations fall on different days to other European countries, so make sure to check that the museum is open beforehand. The museum is situated inside the house Leo Tolstoy once used to live. Tickets cost roughly 200 Rubles (£2.40) per person.
Pick up an audio guide in English for 150 Rubles (£1.80) from the kiosk. The guide tours you around the house, telling you about Tolstoy’s life and work and taking you back to the 19th century. Much of the furniture, the ornaments and decorations are still preserved from the time Tolstoy and his family lived in the house, and you feel as if they might return any second. Take a walk around the garden the house backs on to before you leave.
Dinner and Gorky Park
Opposite the museum is a great spot for dinner, called Les Z’amis de Jean-Jacques. This cute French-style bistro offers Russian-French fusion food. They have menus in French and Russian but the majority of the staff speak English if you’re still getting to grips with Russian pronunciation! The restaurant has a beautiful terrace and the pasta dishes and wine are delicious.
You can also check out these places that are near the Tolstoy house:
- 15 Kitchen + Bar, for a trendy spot to eat seafood, European or Central European dishes.
- Or Mizandari, for heart-warming Georgian food and tasty soups.
If the Russian weather hasn’t chewed off your nose yet, take an evening walk around Gorky Park (named after the guy buried in the wall), open from 9am to 9pm, before heading back to your hostel.
3 days in Moscow itinerary: day two – flea markets and fun
Fill your belly with some warming food for breakfast, as the flea market will mean walking around outside for a while. Coffee Piu does tasty Kasha (Russian oatmeal porridge), freshly made cakes and has a warm homely atmosphere. After letting your food settle, travel to the nearest metro stop and journey to Partizanskaya (????????????) to get to the market.
Izmaylovsky Market is a flea market like no other. Open from 9am-6pm on the weekends, it’s like a cartoon of medieval Moscow brought to life, (you’ll have to go to see what I mean). The market is located near the second Kremlin. The prices for items here are not particularly cheap, but it’s the experience that makes it more worth the trip more than what’s on sale. Feast your eyes on babushka Russian dolls, bearskins and ornamental knives. Check out the old-timey Soviet Russian ornaments and antiques. In among the rugs and toy town Chinese-style buildings there are also nice spots to grab a beer and a snack.
Arbat Street and Dinner
Afterwards, hop on metro line three from Partizanskaya (????????????) to Smolenskaya (??????????) to explore Moscow’s famous Arbat Street. The pedestrian street is one of the oldest in Moscow. Artists often display their work here and there are busking bands that play on the street. Just off Arbat Street there’s a graffiti covered memorial wall, commemorating the Soviet Russian rock singer Viktor Tsoi, who played in the band Kino. If you like listening to the music of the country you’re in, I recommend searching them on YouTube.
There are lots of restaurants, cafes and bars you can explore on and near Arbat. Check out –
- Obed Bufet Novy Arbat. This buffet hall has an enormous range of great dishes to choose from. Very cheap for the quality of food, but the huge selection can be overwhelming!
- Lucky Bastards is a small, fun bar with a good selection of beers.
- Jeffery’s Coffee Arbat is a late opening café with board games and great playlists. It feels as if you’ve stepped in to someone’s living room, is really cheap and has a warm and friendly atmosphere.
- Rhythm Blues Café is a good spot to get a drink. The bar is famous for its live music, and although the quality of musicians can vary, it’s worth checking out.
- Cafe-Bar I.I. Bartels is a lovely, relaxed hipster-haven to get a coffee in.
You could easily hang around Arbat all night. However, if you want to explore more of Moscow’s nightlife, you should check out some of the following:
- Get yourself down to GIPSY for a proper Russian clubbing experience. The prices aren’t cheap (beers can be £7, eek), but they’re worth it at least once.
- If your budget can’t stretch to GIPSY, head over to Vermel Club, a comfy place where you can play board games in the day and dance through the night. There’s a concert hall that shows live music ar the weekends, but there’s no promising the dance floor will be packed.
- If you’re interested in somewhere a bit trendier, check out Nauka i Iskusstvo for delicious pizza, live music and table tennis. Check online beforehand as opening times and events can vary.
- You can head to Powerhouse to see for yourself how Russia does hipster (the answer, very well). Powerhouse attracts a young creative crowd. Live music and DJ sets are played on the weekends and they have a wall projector that creates a vibrant atmosphere.
3 days in Moscow itinerary: day three – artsy day
Start today slowly (you’ll need to if you experienced your first Russian night out last night). Head over to Uilliam’s for bagels, yogurts, smoked salmon and spinach (two hearty courses should come to around 700 rubles/ £8.50). Or, if you’d prefer a quick cheap bite at a very Russian pastry shop, try Pekarnya.
After breakfast, make your way to one of Moscow’s many art galleries. I’d recommend journeying to The Moscow Museum of Modern Art. The gallery is open from 12pm to 9pm and the tickets cost 100 Rubles (£1.20). The gallery mostly showcases work by political Russian artists. When I went in 2017 there was an exhibition of Alexey Morozov’s work, which included a collection of beautifully carved bronze figurines riding segways. I can guarantee you’ll leave the gallery a bit baffled, but it’s an experience that will stick with you.
Close by to The Moscow Museum of Modern Art is a beautiful Russian Orthodox church, painted white with gold roofs. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is stunning inside – the roofs, walls and floors are covered in beautiful designs. Just be aware before entering that people are required to dress ‘modestly’ (usually not an issue in the stuff-on-as-many-layers-as-you-can Russian climate) and that women may be asked to cover their heads.
You can also choose from Moscow’s other art galleries, such as the Art Gallery of the European and American Countries of the XIX-XX Centuries, which shows amazing work by famous impressionists, although ticket prices are a bit more expensive at around 500 Rubles (£6). Doors open at 11am.
When you’ve had enough of staring at walls, make your way over to Artplay, near Kurskaya (????????) station. This area is a hub for Moscow’s creatives – there are often stalls open, interactive galleries going on and sometimes music events. However, this is all completely dependent on the day. Either way, Artplay is always worth walking around for its colourful buildings and interesting graffiti.
One place you must pop into while in Artplay is Fruits&Veges. You’ll spot the colourful little shack for its ‘vegan food’ sign outside and the strange rocket shaped extension coming out of the roof. Inside you’ll find steps that lead you down to the café’s counter. All the food is delicious and I recommend grabbing a cup of milky masala chai to go with your grub. The cosy space is perfect for reading a book or having lazy chats with friends.
Artplay bars and Sparrow Hills
If you’ve still got some energy after Artplay, you could also take a trip up to Sparrow Hill to get a final view across the city, where you can take a chance to sit back and reminiscence about all the things you’ve seen and experienced over the incredible past three days in Moscow.
Dinner and Bolshoi Theatre
If you manage to secure a cheap ticket to the Bolshoi Theatre, here are some suggestions for cheap places to grab dinner or a drink near the venue:
- Tkemali serves delicious Georgian food
- Grechka Lab has tasty, healthy options for really reasonable prices
So that brings an end to your three days in Moscow. As packed-in as this itinerary might seem, Moscow still has so much more to see. I’m curious to know what gems you discover during your trip in Russia’s capital. Let us know in the comments below!
Check out our hostels in Moscow for a cheap place to stay.
About the author:
Mira Mookerjee is a London born freelance writer. Her hobbies include fearing from her life on cheap flights, starting beefy books she probably won’t finish and talking about herself in the third person.