A day in Moscow – sightseeing must-sees include Lenin’s embalmed body and enjoying an ice cream in historic GUM department store

One day in Moscow – first stop on the Trans-Mongolia train journey across Russia

We left St Petersburg on the 13.10 train direct to Moscow.

Signage on train carriage from St Petersburg to Moscow on a Russian train
Our train carriage or ьагон to Moscow

A speedy journey of four hours, covering 700 km, had us arriving with traditional Russian accuracy on time at 17.25. Snow covered the Moscow streets as we emerged from our cocoon of luxury on the train. We’d been surprised to find a sandwich and snacks were included and sharing a six berth compartment with just one other passenger was lovely.

I’d found a vegetarian canteen style cafe on Google maps, called Jagannath, near the hotel. We headed there for dinner and I got organised, planning our single day in Moscow, over a bowl of chickpea curry and a tasty chapati.

I’m very keen on the Russian canteen style of dining. I get to try so many more dishes and it’s great to see the food first. My mum, who’s my travelling companion on this two week train journey to Mongolia, doesn’t eat much so she enjoys being able to have just a bowl of soup or a salad, while I wolf down a main, some sides and bread, plus a beer or two.

One day in Moscow sightseeing itinerary

Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum, Moscow Kremlin, GUM Department Store and St Basil’s Cathedral

We took the metro to Red Square to start our day of Moscow sights.

Map of Metro line in Moscow on the platform
Moscow Metro

Using the Moscow metro

Using the Moscow metro is dead easy, even without speaking a word of Russian. I headed straight for the Kacca or cashdesk to hand over my rubles, holding up two fingers to indicate I’d like two tickets. Unlike the St Petersburg metro where you get given a metal token, the Moscow metro is a little more sophisticated and we got barcoded credit card sized cards.

As usual the lines are far, far below the surface and we spent as long on the escalator descending as we did on the actual train. All the signage is in the Latin alphabet as well as Cyrillic, so it’s super easy to find your way. Everyone is quite polite and respectful (probably not so much at rush hour!) and my mum was surprised to always be offered a seat in a busy carriage.

Lenin’s Mausoleum

I don’t know why but I was overexcited to see Lenin’s wax model-like embalmed body, so we headed there first. It’s free to enter but only open a few hours a day and on certain days of the week.

The body of the first head of the Soviet state and founder of the Communist Party is housed in an unimposing red granite building in the centre of Red Square, underneath the Kremlin walls and opposite the entrance to historic department store GUM. Apparently Lenin himself specially requested he be buried but the government alleged they received over 10,000 telegrams from common people requesting his body be preserved.

We joined the queue at the end of the square to go through airport style security scanners as is the norm for most tourist attractions in Russia. Once through, we walked past the Kremlin Wall necropolis, home to the tombs of communist-era dignitaries, and into the hushed red building. Over ten guards lined the walkways inside, making sure the line kept moving as we shuffled past Lenin lying in a dark suit and neatly combed moustache

Of course no photos are allowed but I can tell you he looked very impressive and perfectly preserved. No doubt due to his yearly chemical bath, when at the same time his suit is washed and ironed.

GUM department store

This mammoth shopping arcade in a stunning building runs the full length of Red Square. GUM, written as ГУМ in Russian, is an abbreviation for State Department Store, and is the main department store in many Russian cities. The one in Moscow however is infamous, with its glass roof being unique at the time of its conception, and housing over 1,200 stores by the time of the Russian Revolution. Stalin briefly had his offices here in the twenties.

There’s plenty of classy boutiques inside as well as ‘Historic Toilets’, which you can pay around £2.50 to use. They are exact replicas of pre-revolutionary era lavish facilities and are apparently kept spotless.

We roamed around the Gastronomy #1 shop (for some reason, Russians love putting ‘#1’ after business names), which is a bit like Harrods food hall in London. Saying that, I’ve never actually been to Harrods, so it’s what I imagine Harrods food hall to be like. There were beautiful displays, from caviar to fruit and veg to jars of honey. We bought a sticky bun each from the bakery section, although I did linger for a while in front of the vast chocolate section.

On each floor there’s an ice cream stall, selling what’s apparently the best ice-cream in Russia.  The Soviet state had national standards for ice cream, which decreed there should be no chemicals and contain natural ingredients only.

St Basil’s Cathedral

St Basil’s is another multicoloured Orthodox Cathedral, similar to Church of our Saviour on the Spilled Blood, that so impressed us in St Petersburg. Apparently that church was built specifically in the Moscow style to try to reduce the European influence on the architecture there.

The Cathedral of the Intercession of the Virgin by the moat, to give St Basil’s its full name, is located at the foot of Red Square. The location next to a bridge across the Moskva River was said to have annoyed Stalin, as it reduces access to the square. Although it impeded chances to have large state displays and parades, for some reason it wasn’t pulled down and destroyed like so many other religious buildings.

The Cathedral was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and inside there are nine chapels, each richly decorated and dedicated to different saints.

Moscow Kremlin

A Kremlin is a fortified complex and there are several to be found across Russia. The Moscow Kremlin is surrounded by high red walls interspaced by impressive turreted towers, and contains several beautiful churches and cathedrals as well as state governmental buildings.

Entrance to the complex costs 800 rubles, with a separate ticket needed for the Armoury, which contains all the state treasures and jewels.

Inside the main attraction is Cathedral Square, which was used for the coronations and funeral processions for all of the Russians tsars. Today it’s the site for the inauguration of the President of Russia. We spent a few hours wandering in and out of numerous cathedrals and chapels, each more stunning than the previous one.

Walking the Moskva Embankment

We finished our Red Square odyssey with a walk along the Moskva River. To the west we had a great view of Christ the Saviour Cathedral, the main cathedral in Moscow and site of the infamous Pussy Riot protest against Putin in 2012. While ahead of us to the east, lay Zaryadye Park built on the former site of the 3,000-room Rossiya Hotel, which was demolished in 2006, itself built on the site of old merchants’ houses and a Jewish ghetto.

Traditional Russian dumplings at Varenichnaya №1

We had a couple of hours before catching our night train to Kazan, so there was plenty of time for some traditional Russian dumplings in a Soviet-era apartment themed restaurant. Varenichnaya №1 is a chain of diner-style restaurants in Moscow, focusing on Pelmemi and Varenniki. These are dumplings stuffed with meat, vegetables or sweet fruit.

Of course I wanted to try the dumplings but I’m pleased to say I also had a healthy salad with them!

Next stop is Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan.

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