Sightseeing time: 2 ,5 to 3 hours.
Best times: Wednesday through Sunday mornings, when exhibits are open and crowds are thinner than in the afternoon.
This tour covers several centuries of Moscow 's history, taking in some major sights and some lesser-known ones. It starts with the obvious, becomes more subtle, and ends with a peek into the Ukrainian Quarter, a neighborhood few tourists explore. The city's design has been too haphazard for the tour to be chronological, but it provides a sense of how the eras blend to make modern Moscow . The walk turns sharply uphill about halfway through, so save some energy, and be well-shod.
The first five stops along the tour take you through the neighborhood of Kitai-Gorod , with its showcase of Russian architecture from the 15th to 17th centuries. Start at Red Square , taking a moment to get your bearings from the peak of this sloped plaza. Then head down toward the beckoning cupolas of St. Basil's Cathedral . The oldest building on this tour, this 16th-century cathedral has come to symbolize Russia to the rest of the world, but it was almost torn down by Stalin as an anachronistic eyesore. Legend has it that a favorite architect rescued the cathedral by threatening to take his own life on its stairs. Climbing its labyrinthine stairwells and corridors, note how cramped and cool it feels inside, compared to its vivid, abundantly designed exterior.
When leaving the cathedral, turn right, away from the Kremlin, down Varvarka Street . This is one of the few sections of Moscow preserved as it was in centuries past, a sort of accidental architectural museum. English Courtyard (Angliisky Podvorye) , this wooden-roofed building is one of the oldest civilian structures in Moscow, a 16th-century merchant's center granted to English traders by Ivan the Terrible to boost trade between the countries. It's now dwarfed by the hotel next door. The small exhibit inside is worth a visit in order to see the building's interior and artifacts (and everything is labeled in English as well as Russian
Continue up the path, noting the yellow-and-white (and no longer functioning) Church of St. Maxim the Blessed. The next few buildings were once part of the Znamensky Monastery. The strange four-story building is the Museum of the Romanov Boyars(nobles) The only original part of this building is the basement; the rest was added later to re-create conditions of 16th-century Moscow . The building was once part of a vast mini-city that stretched down to the Moscow River . The thick walls, small windows, and rugged conditions were typical of the day, even for aristocratic families such as this one.
Head to the building next door is St. George's Church . It was built in two different eras, the 16th and 18th centuries, and its two parts remain different colors as if to draw attention to the church's split personality.
Head up the stairs to Varvarka proper, and continue down the hill. You should emerge in front of Cyril and Methodius Monument. Perched in the middle of Slavic Square , this monument portrays the two 9th-century monks credited with inventing the Cyrillic alphabet, used in Russia and many Slavic countries to this day.
Up the hill behind the monument stretch the leafy slopes of Novaya Ploshchad ( New Square ), crisscrossed by shaded paths lined with benches, take a break
At the top of Novaya Ploshchad, the square opens onto a neo-Gothic, mustard-colored building, the Polytechnical Museum . Built in the 1870s to promote science and technology during Russia 's industrial boom, the museum now houses (rather outdated) collections of clocks, rockets, early movie cameras, typewriters, and other technological innovations over the past century
Head to the plaza on the opposite side of the museum from Novaya Ploshchad, and look across it at the building that no Russian feels indifferent towards – Lubyanka . The Bolshevik secret police seized this granite and sandstone building from an insurance company in 1918, and its residents have spied on Russians ever since. Its six-story stone facade takes on a sinister feel when you imagine the persecutions and interrogations that have gone on here. Now it's the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, once led by President Putin.
The bare patch in the grass across from Lubyanka is the site where a monument to Soviet secret police founder Felix Dzerzhinsky stood for decades before democracy protesters tore it down in 1991.In the little green space between Lubyanka and the Polytechnical Museum, note the small stone and plaque, that is monument to Victims of Soviet Repressions A lonely slab of stone from the Solovetsky Islands, an Arctic prison camp for enemies of the Soviet regime, honors the millions of people repressed by the Soviet government. The stone was brought here and placed across from Lubyanka during the soul-searching days after the Soviet collapse.
Head back into the capitalist rush of modern Moscow by crossing over to Myasnitskaya Ulitsa, to the right of Lubyanka. Take the street (which translates as " Crooked Knee Lane ") past the 18th- and 19th-century mansions now housing offices and apartments, until you reach two churches clustered together, they are Church of the Archangel Gabriel & Church of St. Theodore Stratilites The twisting gold dome of the Church of the Archangel Gabriel is the most noticeable of its nontraditional quasi-Gothic architectural features.
After you'll emerge onto Chistoprudny Bulvar , a boulevard with a stretch of green space running down its center. Enter the park and head right, until you reach Chistiye Prudy. This area was referred to as "Dirty Ponds" in the days when it housed a meat market, whose refuse ran into the murky pools. The 19th-century city government cleaned it up and rechristened it "Clean Ponds," or Chistiye Prudy. Only one pond remains; it's a mecca for skaters and toddlers on sleds in winter, and for rental boats in summer.