Moscow, a new millenium metropolis nowhere as elegant as St Petersburg but with verve, colour and drama.
Not exactly a pretty capital city but one of great contrasts and constant change, Moscow contains a collection of stunning, iconic buildings at its heart - a record of Russia's amazing, turbulent history from medieval times through Tsarist excess to communist simplicity and back to excess again.
Moscow's cultural treasures are spectacular, diverse and unique, while the confusing, capitalist chaos and new neon life gives Moscow a potent and exciting dynamic.
The metro/subway is sensational, especially if you've had the displeasure of London's dingy system..
St Basil's Cathedral, a technicolour triumph, finished in 1561, Red Square.
Rumour has it that Ivan the Terrible blinded his architect after finishing St Basil's Cathedral. It's a dazzling beauty, though St Petersburg's Church of Spilled Blood is similarly kaleidoscopic but has a more interesting interior. Decoration inside is minimal - more like a small castle than a church - apart from some colourful frescos; no cameras are allowed.
Moscow State Historical Museum, just off Red Square.
Top Moscow Sights (remember to take student cards if you have them!):
Red Square (aka Krasnaya Ploschad) is the indubitable must see both day and night, the core of the city, a World Heritage Site and a monument of Russian history, this massive pedestrian square encompasses amazing buildings such as St Basil's Cathedral (photo above), Lenin's tomb (long queues, no cameras or large bags, missable), the Kremlin walls, the ancient but modern GUM department store (photo) and Kazan Cathedral. The Moscow State Historical Museum (above) is adjacent too.
The Kremlin, bordering Red Square, offers a mass of spectacular, historic structures that have been central to Russian politics for hundreds of years, including goverment offices, palaces and cathedrals. Many can only be seen from the outside but the popular inside jobs are the State Armoury (a bit of a misnomer since it's actually a museum of national treasures, including some awesome jewellry), Patriarch's Palace, Kremlin Palace, various cathedrals and Ivan's Bell Tower. All open to the public for a fee, but no cameras, electronic kit (e.g. phones) or large bags permitted. Do walk around this astonishing place.
The Moscow Metro (subway, underground) and its elaborate, artistic stations is a wonderful, low-cost tourist sight - particularly the circle line - but try to avoid the rush hour and consider taking ear-plugs as this is probably the noisiest metro on the planet. Tickets are easy to buy even without speaking Russian. Photo.
The Bolshoi Theatre is a stunning space hosting amazing ballet shows in a lively Russian environment and at a fair price, but book online well in advance and don't hesitate to take a pocket camera even if the signs forbid them. Local Russians will be snapping away...
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a magnificent old building newly rebuilt, busy but free to enter and packed with glitter, though, as usual, no cameras, phones, bags. Photo at top, the gold dome in middle distance. Try to go there during a Mass to hear the choir.
Novodevichy Convent is a gorgeous classic Russian religious structure situated near the Moscow River, built mostly in the 16th century it also encloses a cemetary that plays host to some of Russia's most noble 'criminals' and famous musicians, including Shostakovich and Prokoviev. The convent interior is not interesting apart from Our Lady of Smolensk Cathedral. Photo at the bottom of this page.
Moscow's Kremlin complex surrounded by the Red Wall of Russia.
The 1508 Archangel Cathedral in the Kremlin, burial place for all Moscow's rulers till 1690.
The huge, bloody and briefly anti-religion Kremlin complex includes some stunning churches.
Best: April, May (still very cool but dry and sunny, averaging 2C-10C), June (getting humid, fair chance of rain, averaging 12C-22C), October (high humidity, possibility of snow, averaging 2C-8C).
OK: July, August are usually warm, with long daylight hours, but will be crowded and can be brutally hot, with high humidity and 1:2 chance of rain. If you go in midsummer check accommodation has air-conditioning.
Worst: November-March if you're cold-sensitive as these months will be well below zero and days are short and dark but the snow shrouded scenery is gorgeous - try February?; early spring in March OK but slushy.