On January 23rd at 11.40 PM, I set off for the capital of the world’s biggest country – Moscow – although *only* for a 21-hour stopover. This was my first taste of Russia, but it definitely won’t be the last. I have many dreams of camping in the Siberian wilderness, visiting the world’s coldest city Yakutsk and travelling from one end of the enormous country to another on the Transsiberian Express.
When I got the opportunity to visit Moscow for some hours on the way to Azerbaijan, I didn’t hesitate! I actually love doing long stopovers and always take the opportunity to explore a new city for the same price as a short airport-only stopover. By doing this, I’ve seen Beijing, Oslo, Bergamo, Toronto and now Moscow!
This time I was lucky to have 21 hours from the time my plane from Copenhagen landed to the time where I had to catch the next one to Baku, Azerbaijan, meaning that I would have plenty of time to explore the city.
I arrived in Moscow at 4 AM, after only 2,5 hours flight, which wasn’t nearly as long as I had hoped! I had planned on sleeping on the plane, but I hadn’t checked how long (short) the flight actually was, so that night was extremely short for me. Still, I survived and made it to Moscow for a day of explorations in thick snow and -9 degrees weather!!
I waited for a few hours in the airport, before catching a train to the Belorusskaya Train Station. There, I spent another hour or so at Burger King, using their wifi and waiting for the sun to rise.
When it finally did, I headed into the city center – og rather I tried to get there. The metro system in Moscow is very confusing, especially if you don’t know Russian. I’ve never learned any Russian (well, apart from niet and vodka, of course), but I studied Ancient Greek for three years in high school, which actually helped as the alphabets are somewhat similar.
In some way, I finally managed to figure it out after a few wasted tickets, as I kept going in and out of the station in confusion.
The metro stations in Moscow are quite famous for their interior decorations, which are really beautiful. They change from station to station, and during my day there, I got to see quite a few of them. Paris could definitely learn something from Moscow here!
I ended up at the Revolution Square right in the heart of Moscow. Wanting to get to the famous Red Square, I walked through a cozy walking street with Christmas decorations (Russia is VERY into Christmas, even in January), and then I was there.
Standing on the Red Square was a weird sensation. It’s one of those bucket-list UNESCO places that thankfully don’t disappoint.
It must be Moscow’s most famous place and the Saint Basil’s Cathedral the most distinctive and recognizable building in Russia with its characteristic onion domes and shape of a bonfire rising into the sky.
The Red Square is bascially Moscow’s central city square that seperates the Kremlin, the official residence of Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, from the historic Kitai-gorod quarter. All Moscow’s major streets and highways originate from the square!
The square looked like a magical winter wonderland in January with a big amusement park decorated in Christmas lights and ornaments in its very center. With snow falling as well, I really did lose my heart to that place.
I couldn’t find a way to get inside the Kremlin, as there was security everywhere, so I figured it probably isn’t public space. I really wanted to meet Putin, but I guess that will have to wait for another (official) trip to Moscow, haha. Instead, I walked around the outside walls of the fortified complex to get a glimpse of as much as possible.
The Kremlin overloks the Moscow River, which was half frozen! The temperature that day was -9 degrees and it was bitterly cold, so it’s no wonder.
Located a few hundred meters to the Kremlin is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. It can easily be seen from the Kremlin, but it deserves a closer look.
The cathedral is actually the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world, built first in the 19th century. It was destroyed on the order of Joseph Stalin in 1931, but was later rebuilt after the dissolution of the Soviet Union during 1995-2000.
Two of the busiest streets in Moscow, Old Arbat Street and New Arbat Avenue, are located just a few blocks from the cathedral. Exhausted after no sleep and the long walk around the city center, I decided to get some food and hot chocolate at the café Coffee House on Old Arbat Street, while working on the blog.
It was wonderful to sit still and relax for a while, although I could feel my sleepy eyes trying to surrender, so eventually I had to give up and go outside in the cold again.
But I wouldn’t let tiredness or coldness stop me from seeing the sights I wanted to see. I walked to Tverskaya Street and caught a metro to Novodevichy Convent, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 7 km from the city center.
The Novodevichy Convent is the most famous cloister of Moscow, as it has remained almost intact since the 17th century. Unfortunately, it was under reconstruction when I was there, so I didn’t get to fully see it. But the trip out there was definitely still worth it, as the associated park was beautiful and full of happy locals skiing and playing in the snow. If it wasn’t so cold, I would’ve hung out there some more!
The last sight of the day was the Church of the Ascension at Kolomenskoye, a former royal estate located 13 km from the city center. I was debating whether or not to head out there, as I was so exhausted and my feet were hurting like crazy. But I decided to suck it up – the place is a UNESCO World Heritage Site after all.
And boy was I glad I went there! It was actually my favourite place in all of Moscow.
To get there, I had to catch a metro and then walk for about 1,5 km, most of it through a beautiful snow-covered park, where people were ice skating, tobogganing and skiing!
When I first caught sight of the church, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The church, which was built in 1532 to celebrate the birth of the prince who later became Tsar Ivan IV (‘the Terrible’), is one of the earliest examples of a traditional wooden tent-roofed church built in ecclesiastical style. It looked so much more beautiful than in the photos. And the view – it was simply mesmerizing. The church is located on a high hill, so there’s a magnificent view over the steeps banks of the Moscow River and the city in the distance.
After exploring the church, I decided to walk down to the river and on the way, I met a lovely elderly couple who wanted to talk to me to practice their English! They told me that their daughter works in an office and is therefore very good at English, but they had forgotten most of the English that they learned in school because of lack of practice. But in my opinion, they were much better than the majority of the locals I’d spoken to that day.
The couple were a great representation of the Russian people. I was only there for a day, but it was enough to give me the impression that Russians in general are very kind and helpful people. I didn’t get stared at, I was offered help when I looked confused (metro, go home…) and they were happy to help when I approached them. I felt very safe in Moscow as a solo female traveller!
After spending some time by the river watching the golden sunset, I caught a metro back to Belorusskaya Train Station and then a train to the airport. I still had over 7 hours to wait for my next flight to Baku, but I couldn’t find anywhere decent or safe (in terms of luggage) to sleep. So I waited it out the entire evening, before finally being able to board at 00.30 AM. I crashed as soon as I sat down in my seat!
Exploring Moscow was a great experience, and it gave me a good first taste of the enormous country. I can wholeheartedly recommend going there, but do go for longer than I did. I WILL without a doubt be going back to Moscow, not least because I dream of taking the Transsiberian Express across Russia someday.
- Getting to Moscow from the Sheremetyevo International Aiport isn’t as easy as it should be, as you have to change transportation form, unless you decide to take a taxi. The Airport Express train runs often, I’m not sure how often, but it left within 15 minutes of me getting there both to and from the city. The train terminates at Bellorusskaya Train Station, from where you can catch a metro to the city center. The metro isn’t located in the same building, but it’s easy to find once you go outside the train station – just look for a giant M.
- The metro system is confusing, as it’s mostly in Cyrillic, so consider getting yourself a dictionary before going! There are maps of the metros at the station, which helps as you can then find your destination and which colour line it’s on, and if you need to change metros at some point. The stations are bigger than usual, and they can be confusing to navigate through. Always look at the number of the metro line and there’s also a display on the wall behind the trains (see it in between trains), where it says where it’s heading.
- To get from the city center to Novodevichy Convent, catch a metro to Sportivnaya and walk north on the Oktyabrya Street until you reach it. It isn’t far from the station.
- To get from the city center to the Church of the Ascension, catch a metro to Kolomenskaya and walk 1 km south to an enormous park, where you’ll see signs pointing towards the church. It’s impossible to miss from there. Do yourself a favor and GO to the church, it’s absolutely amazing!