Any traveler to Russia will tell you that Russian influence—at least over visitors to the country’s capital—is a very real thing: you’ll fall under the spell of Moscow the minute you set foot in this endlessly fascinating and dynamic destination. Curiosity about Russia has increased as political intrigue has grown, which might explain why Moscow was the 14th most trending search term in the past year, according to our Promotions ranking.
The global fascination has as much to do with the recent and spectacular 2018 FIFA World Cup (Moscow’s Luzhniki Stadium in the city’s 145-hectare Olympic complex hosted the pivotal final matches) as with the Kremlin’s global ambitions.
Accessing all this excitement has never been easier as the curious and opportunistic can all fly into Moscow with ease: the city ranks #3 for Airport Connectivity, up one spot over last year.
Once you’re on the ground, the recently renovated Moscow subway is increasingly the envy of many Western capitals, as much for its improved efficiency and reach as for its regally art-stuffed stations.
Whatever brings you to the city, you’re in for an experience at stark odds with the West’s continuously dismaying news about Russia. Moscow is what Travel + Leisure calls a “revolution of creativity” that gives it an atmosphere of young, free-thinking exuberance that has touched every aspect of city life, from its art and food scene to quirky, only-in-Russia shared workspaces—Ziferblat provides a dynamic scene of food, art and music and charges by the minute: three rubles for 60 seconds to start. The first so-called “post-Soviet generation” of Muscovites have traveled the world, returning with suitcases full of ideas that they’re unpacking to huge effect in their always-proud city, sanctions be damned.
But you need to be schooled in the classics to appreciate the contemporary. Moscow ranks #9 in our Place category, which includes Neighborhoods & Landmarks and Parks & Outdoor Activities.
The Russian capital will climb the Top 10 in this vital category soon, powered by the aggressive (and divisive) four-year-old My Street program. Costing more than US$3 billion according to local sources, My Street is narrowing Stalin’s tank avenues (and Moscow’s car-centric roads) into more walkable experiences.
Parks are also suddenly on the drawing board, with Zaryadye, the city’s first major park opening since the end of World War II, last year cutting the ribbon on almost 20 green acres beside the Kremlin. With a museum, concert hall and subterranean food hall, this multi-level space is very intentionally designed to be a gathering place in the bosom of Mother Russia.
Moscow is a city of symbols and icons, and of course you’ll take in Red Square and the Kremlin, two of the city’s UNESCO heritage sites.
Moscow is #9 in the world for Programming, which includes Culture, so you’d best get to the Bolshoi, a bastion of classic ballet and Russian intrigue.
Moscow ranks first in the world for Product, which includes Museums. The Tretyakov Gallery and Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts are necessary pilgrimages to understand Russia’s contribution to world culture. There are wonderful detours to be made to the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines or the Museum of Cosmonautics, where you can admire Soviet accomplishments in the cosmos through 85,000 pieces of space-related stuff, including the taxidermied remains of Belka and Strelka, famed canine cosmonauts. But once you’ve paid your respects, make a beeline to Gorky Park, home to the new $27-million Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, masterminded by entrepreneur Ilya Oskolkov-Tsentsiper, bankrolled by philanthropist Dasha Zhukova (wife of billionaire Roman Abramovich) and designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. It sits in an enormous former Soviet restaurant reclad in a plastic that reflects the clouds and refurbished greenery of an entirely spectacular park.
The area has become a gathering place for immersing yourself in both Moscow’s nature and its culture. One of the museum’s young curators remarked that it’s one of the only places in Russia where you feel you belong to some international context but can still speak Russian. All Moscow pride—no Gorky Park Cold War sweats here. Other places to take in the modern art vibe of Moscow include the ARTPLAY Design Center, a unique mash-up of art and architecture across the street from the sprawling WINZAVOD Centre for Contemporary Art, a 215,000 square foot cultural center divided into seven buildings housing the city’s leading galleries, artists’ studios, designers and photographers, cafés, creative showrooms, children’s studios, bookstores and a multitude of activities.
As with art, so with appetite. Moscow offers everything from the chic Selfie to imperially inspired classics to stolovayas—working-class canteens popular in Soviet times—to traditional Russian pubs awash in vodka and beer, called rumochnayas. But in endlessly dynamic Moscow, there’s also LavkaLavka, a farmer-fueled place that says it offers “the new Russian cuisine.” That means the seasonal and the reimagined traditional things like “Tartar from halibut with a fresh vegetable marrow from Kuban farmers and crab from Yevgeny Romanov; The heart of a deer from Irina Bogomolnaya (Krasnoyarsk Region) with puree of celery and white onion.” Or so Google Translate would have us believe. Local, authentic, new—all in one mouthful.
Novelist Boris Fishman wrote in Travel + Leisure that there’s a saying around today’s Moscow: “Things have never been better, things have never been worse.” For travelers, things are pretty good.