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Note: Because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I don’t currently recommend traveling to this destination. I stand with Ukraine.
Greetings Internet Stranger and welcome to a perfect one day in Moscow itinerary. In my few years as a world traveler, I’ve been to some exotic locales, from Rotorua, New Zealand to Cincinnati, Ohio. But perhaps no other city felt as exotic to me as Moscow, Russia.
Both my parents grew up in the United States during the Cold War, and I grew up hearing stories about them hiding under their desk during nuclear attack drills. So to experience a One Day in Moscow Itinerary walking around Red Square and seeing the Kremlin was mind-blowing.
But Red Square isn’t the only attraction in Moscow. On this One Day in Moscow Itinerary, we’re going to get on and off the beaten track. We’re going to feast on some delicious Russian snacks. And most of all, we’ll go to the ballet! (We’re going to watch the opera, but it will be at the ballet. All will be clear later.)
One Day in Moscow Itinerary
Where to Stay?
Moscow is a huge city, and there are about a billion hotels. It can be difficult to narrow down the options. If you’re looking to save money, I recommend Hotel Maroseyka 2/15. Keep in mind that I was enjoying my One Day in Moscow Itinerary during the World Cup, so prices were pretty high in the Russian capital. Maroseyka 2/15 was a great value, it was in a good location, and the room was clean and comfortable. I would definitely stay there even if I wasn’t on a budget.
One Day in Moscow Itinerary
What to Pack?
The weather in Russia can be rainy. So the two most important things you’ll need to bring are an umbrella and some rain boots. My favorite travel umbrella is the Repel Teflon Waterproof Umbrella. It is strong enough to stand up to the sometimes-quite-strong winds of Siberia.
For rain boots, I recommend the Asgard Rain Boots. They are comfy/cozy and keep my feet dry all day. Plus they’re cute enough that I can wear them out and about without feeling like some gauche American with gross feet.
Finally, if you’re not from Europe, you need a universal adapter if you’re going to plug in electronics. European electrical outlets don’t work with either American or UK plugs. I suggest the NEWVANGA travel adapter. It’s usable with any electrical outlet in the world, so you won’t need to keep buying new adapters. I always carry two with me, just in case something happens to one.
One Day in Moscow Itinerary
Morning: Behind the Icons Tour
I was in a slightly unfortunate situation in Moscow because I only had three nights and two full days in the city. Let me make it clear: this is not enough time to see Moscow. So I wanted to find a tour that would maximize my limited time. I also wanted to create a One Day in Moscow Itinerary to see the major attractions like Red Square as well as some more obscure attractions.
So that’s why I took the Total Moscow tour with Urban Adventures. On this One Day in Moscow Itinerary, I’d be able to see the most famous sights in Moscow, but also get a few hidden local secrets. Plus I’d be able to enjoy some tasty Russian foods sold by Russians who only speak Russian.
The Total Moscow tour is made up of three shorter tours. If you don’t have all day to spend on the tour, you can just take one or two of the individual tours. The morning tour is also called Behind the Icons because it teaches you the secrets behind some of Moscow’s most famous attractions. I’ll be happy to share some of the secrets with…
approximately top 5: One Day in Moscow Itinerary
1) pushkin square
OK, I know I promised you we’d visit Red Square today. But Pushkin Square is worth visiting, even if it isn’t as famous as Red Square. Even people who have problems with Russian politics, which is pretty much everybody, admit that Russian writers are some of the best in the world. Well, Alexander Pushkin, whose statue you can see above, is the Russian’s Russian writer. Some people even credit him with inventing the modern Russian language. He’s basically the Shakespeare of Russia. (I can hear some Russians out there mumbling that Shakespeare is the Pushkin of England.)
Pushkin lived and died in extremely romantic fashion. He was killed in a duel before he reached the age of 40. Pushkin is so famous in Russia that I’ve often had a hard time convincing people in Russia that he’s not especially well known in the United States. We read Tolstoy, we read Dostoevsky, but Pushkin? Nyet.
The grey building in the background of Pushkin Square is also well known for writing. The sign says Izvestia, which means “news”. It was one of the two official newspapers during the Soviet period. The other newspaper was Pravda, which means truth. Our guide, whom I shall call Anna, said neither Pravda or Izvestia reported anything but what the Communist government wanted them to say. So Russians would say, “There is no news in the truth and there is no truth in the news.” When it comes to cynical black humor, I really think Russians take the cake.
“Huh?” you might be thinking. Or perhaps it’s more, “Bwuh?” Why am I showing you a McDonald’s? You can find Mickey Ds all over the world. Well, this isn’t just any McDonald’s, Internet Stranger! It’s the first McDonald’s in Moscow. It opened in 1990, and there were lines around the block to get in. People used to make money by selling their place on line to people who were desperate to taste their first Big Mac.
And those are not the only crazy facts about the First McDonald’s in Moscow! You needed an advanced degree to work here! Russians were concerned that you had to pay for your meal in US currency, so the restaurant put up signs saying you needed to pay in rubles! That sign is still in the McDonald’s! It was considered prestigious to have a friend who worked here!
Nowadays, McDonald’s is not so exciting, even in Moscow. And we’re not going to eat there. I have much better fast food in mind.
3) russian fast food
We had our morning snack in a small cafe with Soviet pictures on the walls. The specialty here is chebureki, a fried hot pocket filled with meat. (I use the term hot pocket loosely, as this is way tastier than a Hot Pocket TM.) If you are a vegetarian taking this tour, never fear! They have cheese and veggie chebureki available.
The chebureki comes from Crimean Tatar cuisine. There are many Tatar groups in Russia, and I still am not 100 percent sure what a Tatar is. But as far as I know, the Tatar are related to Turks, and many Tatars are Muslim, but live in Russia or other parts of the former USSR. I’ve been to Turkey, and I can see the chebureki and the Turkish burek are very similar.
I promised you Soviet decor, didn’t I? Well, these images come from everyone’s favorite Soviet comedy, Enjoy Your Bath. Seriously, every Russian I spoke to was obsessed with this movie, as well as older people I met from former Soviet countries like Lithuania.
It’s about a man who gets very drunk in Moscow. In fact he gets so drunk that he ends up in Leningrad. But because all Soviet apartments looked the same, he doesn’t realize he’s not in Moscow. So he ends up in what he thinks is his apartment, but it actually belongs to a lady in Leningrad. (Spoiler! They fall in love!) I need to watch this movie some day to find out why so many people are obsessed with it.
4) Statue of Yuriy Dolgorukiy
We have one more monument to see before we arrive at Red Square. This statue of Yuriy Dolgorukiy looks like just another Dude on a Horse Statue, but there’s a freaky story behind it. Yuriy Dolgorukiy was a prince who founded Moscow back in the 12th century. In the 1950s, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin wanted to erect a statue of him, and this is what he got. But apparently the statue wasn’t erect enough to suit Stalin.
You see, Stalin noticed that the horse Yuriy Dolgorukiy was sitting on was a female horse. This was simply not manly enough for Moscow’s great founder. So Stalin insisted that the horse be changed to a stallion.
So many questions! Why was Stalin looking to see if the metal horse was male or female? Whose job was it to change the gender of the horse statue? And how terrified were the people working on this statue that they were going to make a mistake and Stalin would have them all thrown into prison or worse?
5) red square
Finally we have arrived! The world famous Red Square! There are about a million different major attractions in Red Square, so the tour spends a lot of time here. When I visited Red Square, you had to go through a security checkpoint to get in. This didn’t take very long, and the guards were perfectly polite. But I wasn’t sure if that security was just because of the World Cup, or if it will stay that way forever, so be prepared.
One of the most notable buildings in Red Square is GUM. This has nothing to do with chewing gum, and in fact you pronounce the name GOOM. GUM was the main department store in Moscow during the Soviet period. Its name translated to State Universal Store. I really think the Soviets could have taken some lessons in branding because that is a super boring name. GUM still operates in Red Square today, and they are apparently famous for their ice cream. I hope they have bubble gum flavored ice cream. It just makes sense, branding-wise.
The most beautiful sight in Red Square is the onion-domed St. Basil’s Cathedral. It was named for a 15th century Saint Basil. He was famous for being a holy fool, which I suppose means that he was so virtuous that his actions didn’t make sense to others. That sounds about right. I’ve often found that if you do what’s right, most people will think you’re crazy. That’s why I never do the right thing, so people will respect me. SMART!
Basil had such a reputation for virtue that even notoriously cranky Tsar Ivan the Terrible allowed Saint Basil to criticize him. Ivan the Terrible seems like the opposite of Saint Basil in that he was both clever and wicked. Russia seems to have a hard time avoiding leaders like that. In America we don’t have this problem because our politicians are not that clever.
One Day in Moscow Itinerary
Afternoon: Food Tour
All right, now that we’ve seen Red Square, it’s time for the off-the-beaten-track portion of the tour. We’re going to spend the afternoon of our One Day in Moscow Itinerary on the Urban Adventures food tour Eat Like a Russian. We’ll snack away on all the Russian treats you’ve ever heard of and some that you have never heard of. But first, we have to get to the food. And that means experiencing the most exciting attraction in all of Moscow…
24 hour treat: the moscow subway
The Moscow subway is the single greatest thing in all Russia. I love Russian culture, but next to the Moscow subway, War and Peace, Gordeeva and Grinkov, vodka, caviar…it’s all trash.
Allow me to explain. I come from New York City, which has one of the oldest metro systems in the world. We also currently have the least on time metro system in the world. It’s filthy, smelly, full of pizza rats, and it never runs on time. I love my city, and I hate the subway.
Do you want to know how on time the Moscow subway is? Do you see that timer above that says 1:55? That means the last train left 1 minute and 55 seconds ago. That’s right, the trains in Moscow are so on time, they don’t need to tell you when the last train is coming. They just tell you when the last train left because you know the next will arrive in two minutes. I am currently weeping with jealousy.
The subway is also spotless and full of beautiful art and chandeliers and whatnot. I mean sure, the art is all Soviet propaganda about the “friendship” between Russia and Ukraine or the Happy Soviet Workers, but still.
This statue above does have quite a poignant story. The young man who posed for the statue was killed in combat, and his daughter discovered that he was the model for his statue after his death. So at least she had somewhere in the city to visit that reminded her of her father, who was quite a dish, if that statue is accurate. I’m not made of stone.
Now that the subway ride is over it’s time to arrive at the Danilovsky market and get our snack on. The Danilovsky market is run by the Ginza Project, a company that apparently runs every restaurant in Russia. Anna told me that the Danilovsky market is a little bougie, but still a great place to find delicious Russian snacks. We ate so much on this tour that it would take forever for me to share it all. So I’ll just stick to the highlights as well as…
three fun facts: russian food
1) what are some russian savory snacks?
Any discussion of Russian snacks has to begin with caviar. I’m not exactly sure why fish eggs are such a big deal in Russia, except that the best stuff is available in Russian waters. Caviar is one of those love it or hate it foods, and I love it. I like anything salty and anything that tastes of the sea. But then I used to put salt in my bath as a kid because I thought it would turn me into a mermaid.
Of course on this food tour, there’s no fancy stuff like Osetra or Beluga caviar because that stuff costs a tsar’s ransom. Instead we had some less expensive, but still yummy, red caviar. Then a couple of guys came by collecting footage for a food show and asked to film us eating the caviar. So now I assume I am famous on Russian television. Hopefully not famous enough for anyone in the Russian government to read this blog! I like traveling to Russia and don’t want to get banned for making fun of basically everybody.
My other favorite savory snack was salo, basically “bacon fat”. I highly approve of focusing on the fattiest part of the bacon even though my “doctor” does not. Anna told me that some people took the tour who refused to eat the caviar or the salo, and I don’t understand that. It’s fine to be a picky eater, but then don’t take a food tour in a foreign country if you don’t want to expand your horizons and try the local treats!
2) what about russian drinks?
There’s no vodka on this tour, if that’s what you’re wondering. But how do you feel about Soviet bread soda? Yup, I’m talking about kvas. I’d first heard about kvas on The Americans because all the Soviets on that show are obsessed with it. The taste is hard to describe. It’s sweet, but not sugary sweet, and lightly fermented, but not enough to get you a buzz. It’s sort of like the Coca-Cola of the Soviet Union.
The other drink on the tour is called mors. It’s kind of like juice, except you make it by boiling fruit and adding sugar. My mors was made with a tart, local, yellow fruit called sea buckthorn. These babies like the cold, so they’re also popular in Scandinavian cuisine. Don’t worry that the berries are naturally kind of sour. There’s so much sugar in the mors that it’s much less sour than lemonade.
3) what are some influences on russian food?
Settle down there! Because it’s time for the sit-down part of the food tour. Just like English food has been influenced by former colonies like India and Jamaica, Russian food has been influenced by former Russian colonies in Central Asia. So a lot of the tastiest food in Russia comes from places in the Caucasus like Georgia and Armenia and neighboring areas like Uzbekistan. (I can hear some angry Russophile out there getting ready to type me an email, so I’ll add that parts of the Caucasus are still part of Russia.)
One of these dishes is chudu, the flatbread you see pictured above. The chudu were stuffed with a savory pumpkin filling and painted with oil on top. This has the double bonus of preventing the flatbread from sticking to the pan and making the flatbread taste more delicious.
The main dish on the food tour was this gorgeous lamb plov from Uzbekistan. If you’ve had any pilaf dish before, it’s very similar. It’s scrumptious but very rich, so I’ll be impressed if you can eat the whole thing.
For dessert, I got to snack on one of my very favorite treats in the whole wide world, cherry pie. I think of cherry pie as being very American because Warrant even wrote a song about it. Yes, I feel very confident that song is actually about a dessert. But do Russians also love cherry pie? I feel like if we’d known about this sooner, the entire Cold War could have been avoided.
One Day in Moscow Itinerary
Evening: Bolshoi Ballet
After that food tour, there’s no way you’re going to be able to eat dinner. So why not end the One Day in Moscow Itinerary by taking in a show? And since we’re in Moscow, we simply can’t pass up the chance to visit the Bolshoi Ballet. If you’re anything like me, you’re unaware that the Bolshoi doesn’t only put on ballets. So when I was in Moscow, I was surprised that the only show I had the chance to see was a Very Russian Opera, Boris Godunov. But it’s better to see an opera at the Bolshoi Ballet than see nothing at the Bolshoi Ballet, as my grandmother always used to say.
Boris Godunov was another of those clever but evil Russian leaders who came to a bad end. In the program for the show, the director of the Bolshoi pointed out that Russian artists have often chosen to perform Boris Godunov during times of corrupt leadership. I’m sure I can’t imagine to whom he was referring! But I was mostly excited to see the show because I love Rocky and Bullwinkle, so I assumed the whole thing would be an homage to legendary spy Boris Badenov.
But whether or not you’re able to see the ballet at the Bolshoi or are forced to settle for Politically Relevant Opera, I’m sure you’ll love the evening in such a gorgeous and historic theater.
That’s a Perfect One Day in Moscow Itinerary!
What would you do with a One Day in Moscow Itinerary? Why are Russians obsessed with Pushkin and Enjoy Your Bath? And could cherry pie have ended the Cold War? Please leave your thoughts below!
Note: If you want to know how I put my travel itineraries together, just click here. Keep in mind that while each article is about how to spend 24 hours in a place, that doesn’t mean you should ONLY have a One Day in Moscow Itinerary. If you have time for another One Day in Moscow Itinerary, try this one.