Dazzling, majestic, endlessly romantic and supremely foreign in the best possible way, visiting Moscow at Christmastime is a once in a lifetime experience, and a winter wonderland waiting to be explored.
We arrived to Moscow around 5pm in 12 degree weather, during an intense snowfall. After taking a harrowing taxi and dropping our bags off at The Veily Hotel, we put on pretty much every item of clothing we packed, and headed into the night for the Christmas market. We had a perfectly located hotel, right next to Red Square. The walk took us through a fairytale snow covered park, along the walls of the Kremlin, past sculptures of bears fighting wolves, and stampeding horses.
Russian Christmas decorations and festivities are jaw droppingly spectacular. A glittering, frosty, winter wonderland, everywhere you look in Moscow is a delight. St. Basil’s cathedral and the twinkling GUM department store form the backdrop of the Christmas market held in Red Square, and the sight is heart stopping. My first glimpse of St. Basil’s Cathedral made me gasp, a puff of frigid air dissipating into the night. I still get chills thinking about my first sight of it in the distance, huge flakes of snow falling silently, as the live band broke into a Russian folk song, so familiar and yet supremely foreign, I nearly teared up with the sheer rush of feeling that overcame me. We were in RUSSIA!
We arrived to the Christmas market, and ran around enjoying the electric ambiance as long as we could tolerate the frigid temps. We grabbed two gluweins and joined in the Russian dancing. We strolled the stalls filled with matryoshka dolls and fur hats. We marveled at the Kremlin, and the endless snow, and the lights.
Everything in Russia is more. More grand, more towering, more majestic, more take-your-breath-away frigid than most other places. The monuments are a marvel. The train stations are endless. The carousals in the Christmas markets are two story. We were in awe the entire trip.
Must See Favorites:
The Metropol: Iconic hotel, next to the Bolshoi. Order a stranger in Moscow and enjoy in the grand lobby. This mother of all cocktails is encrusted with ice, served with sugared blackberries, and a mini silver goblet filled with chocolates. I have been dreaming of this baby since Brad sent pictures from the grand lobby in Moscow last December. Thought I would die with jealousy. Filled with twinkling Xmas lights and gold gilded everything, a tuxedo-ed piano player adds to the ambiance. During our second visit, a grand gala was taking place and we had the added bonus of people watching as couples swept out of the ballroom, wearing ballgowns and adorned in glittering jewels and furs.
Transportation: Many places in Moscow are walkable, or you can take the train which is surprisingly easy to navigate and very cheap. They also have Uber.
St. Basil’s Cathedral: Awe inspiring on so many levels. Built in the 16th century by order of Ivan the Terrible. We visited mostly at night, and the atmosphere was electric.
The Kremlin: The armory and diamond treasury are captivating and transporting. Like stepping into a Tolstoy novel. We purchased tickets day of. Be prepared to walk quite a ways to access the armory.
The Christmas Market and surrounding streets, particularly Nikolskaya St: Absolutely breathtaking. The markets are open quite late, and as our taxi driver told me: “Moscow is a 24- hour city. She never sleeps.” Shopping at the Xmas Markets: Stroll the stalls full of handmade Matryoshka dolls, colorful scarves, fur hats and other unique items.
Cathedral of Christ the Savior – took my breath away incredible. Ornate. Incredibly moving experience. Flickering candles, Russians with heads bent in prayer. Sweeping, majestic high arched ceilings with paintings of angels in heaven.
The Bolshoi: Stop at this beloved ballet venue, on the way to the Metropol for drinks and some Soviet glamour! Particularly gorgeous in the evening.
Lenin’s Tomb: Gazing at the 5’5 Lenin’s perfectly preserved body in an open coffin under bulletproof glass is a truly bizarre experience and lesson in Russian culture. You spend less then five minutes viewing the body, as the que moves very quickly. Armed guards are stationed every 15 feet or so along the walk, and they are vigilant. You are not allowed to carry backpacks, use cellphones or cameras. Speaking is prohibited. I had my hand in my pockets because the tomb was freezing, and at one point a very scary guard walked up to me and gently murmured in Russian that I must remove my hands from my pockets. WHAT? DONE. Time to get out of here! Located steps from the Kremlin wall, the mausoleum is open on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays from 10am to 1pm. The entrance is free.
Train Stations: Moscow has some ornate and epic train stations. My favorite – Ploshchad Revolyutsii was flanked by bronze sculptures. Tickets cost less than one euro.
Where to stay:
Veliy OTel’ Mokhovaya Moscow: Perfect location, steps away from the Kremlin and Red Square, through a gorgeous snow covered park. Right next to Taras Bulba, a fabulously fun Ukrainian restaurant with singing and dancing.
Next blog post: Favorite Moscow eats!