24 Hours in Moscow


st basils cathedral

I wasn’t very excited about my brief stop in Moscow as it was never a place that I’d felt the urge to visit. It did, however, offer really cheap flights to Taipei where I wanted to go first in Asia, so I decided to incorporate it into my itinerary and spend 24 hours there to see the major sites before heading off towards Asia.

I landed in Moscow and immediately I ran into problems. I’d originally planned to take the metro to my hostel but as soon as I got to the station and tried to compare my scribbled down notes with the Cyrillic signs I realised that I had no idea where to go.

russian hats

The only option left was to take a taxi.

Of course, sticking with my theme of doing stupid things whilst travelling, I managed to get into a completely dodgy taxi where I was charged over triple the price that a normal taxi would have cost me. It cost over £50 to get to my hostel.

I stepped out of the cab and tripped over falling flat on my face on the pavement as another car angrily beeped at me as it missed me by mere centimetres.

Fed up, I grabbed my things and marched into the hostel, ready to have a relaxing nap, only to find out that were overbooked and I had to go to a different hostel opposite. Of course they did.

I’d read online that my hostel was only a 5 minute walk from the Red Square and all the main attractions in Moscow. I don’t know why I thought this was a good idea, seeing as how I got ridiculously lost in Kiev, but I decided to not look at a map and assumed that as soon as I walked out of my hostel it would be obvious which way I’d have to go.

It wasn’t.

Like I did in Kiev, I walked in the exact opposite direction for several hours. This is becoming a theme for my trip. 

Once I’d realised my mistake I headed back the other way and realised that yes, all the attractions had just been a few minutes walk in the opposite direction to the one I had chosen.

st basils cathedral

The first place I visited was St Basil’s Cathedral, which marks the centre of Moscow. Prior to visiting Moscow, this iconic building was what I immediately thought of when I thought of Moscow. Having seen it so many times in both photos and on TV it was really bizarre seeing it in person. I love the colours and patterns on the onion-shaped domes.

st basils cathedral

Once I passed St Basil’s I soon found out that there was a parade going on that day and unfortunately this meant that much of the Red Square was closed off to visitors so I wasn’t able to see as much as I would have liked.

red square moscow hdr

As soon as I passed the security gates and entered the Red Square a group of 20 Russian teenagers squealed and ran up to me, taking photos of me on their phones whilst pointing and laughing. I walked briskly past them, patting my face to check I didn’t have anything stuck to me… I still have no idea why they took such an interest in me.

This was not a good start.

red square museum
kazan cathedral red square moscow

Once I exited the Red Square, I spent the remainder of my afternoon walking around the surrounding area and being amused by all of the market stalls with Russian memorabilia for sale.

russian dolls moscow red square

And that concluded my 24 hours in Moscow!

Overall, I left feeling unimpressed with Moscow, but I did only spend about 3 hours walking around the centre.

It was the first place on my trip where I didn’t leave saying “Wow! I can’t wait to return here!”. I just didn’t get the appeal of the city and couldn’t see what the big deal was. Is it just me? Is there more to Moscow that would have made my experience better?

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30 Comments

  1. Rachel
    October 1, 2011
    Reply

    I loved Moscow – but then I’ve been obsessed with Russia for years and had a much calmer start to my time there than you! I have to admit that it’s not nearly as nice as the rest of Russia (is it just me or does everything seem a lot greyer in Moscow?), but it was definitely interesting. Apparently they’re considering taking Lenin out soon as his family want him buried, so hopefully you’ll get to go back and see him some day – and have a much better trip!

    • October 2, 2011
      Reply

      I’d been to St Petersburg before and I enjoyed it SO much more than Moscow. Awww no, I have to see dead Lenin!

  2. Sarah
    October 2, 2011
    Reply

    Maybe some Russian vodka would’ve helped?

    I find that getting lost is always a bit more entertaining when there is vodka involved…

    • October 2, 2011
      Reply

      Hahahaha, I’ll bear that in mind for the next time I get lost :-)

  3. Stasia
    October 2, 2011
    Reply

    YES ITS JUST YOU!!!Of course moscow isnt for everybody (naive
    american backpackers)

    • October 2, 2011
      Reply

      *naive English backpacker.

      • Raymond @ Man On The Lam
        October 8, 2011
        Reply

        hee hee…nice! :)

  4. Jade Johnston
    October 3, 2011
    Reply

    oh no! Sounds aweful! I am really looking foeward to seeing Russia

    • October 12, 2011
      Reply

      I’m sure you’ll have a great time! I LOVED St Petersberg, but just found that Moscow was not for me.

  5. Ian [EagerExistence]
    October 3, 2011
    Reply

    Come on now Lauren! You shouldn’t be judging a destination so quickly! You need to give it a few days to explore, soak up the culture, meet the people. Although, I feel this way about Barcelona. 4 days, and I just don’t see how its everyone’s favourite city in Spain. I think I have to go back and try again to see what’s so magical.

    • October 12, 2011
      Reply

      I know… I can’t help it! I decide if I like a place pretty much within a few hours. Maybe one day I’ll go back and give it another chance.

      And I LOVE Barcelona!

      • Alex B
        January 19, 2015
        Reply

        It’s totally fair to judge a city by your first impression of it! I do it allll the time (both abroad and in my own country).

        • March 21, 2015
          Reply

          I do it all the time, too, but know I probably shouldn’t!

  6. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler
    October 4, 2011
    Reply

    I love those Russian hats. What an interesting place to visit.

    • October 12, 2011
      Reply

      I love the hats too — I bought one the last time I was in Russia!

  7. NLM
    November 1, 2011
    Reply

    Sorry you had a bad time–some days are just like that wherever you are. And the hat’s a keeper anyway.

  8. Nikolay
    November 11, 2011
    Reply

    Lauren,

    Feel free to contact me next time you’re going to visit Moscow if you’re looking for an unforgettable journey. )

  9. Leanne
    December 29, 2011
    Reply

    I loooove Moscow!

    I think there are a few reasons why you didn’t enjoy your time there. Well, first, 24 hours is not a whole lot of time to explore Moscow. There’s SO MUCH to see and impossible to see the majority of it in a day. Also, I’m sure you just wanted to relax for a bit and if you’re new to Russia and do not speak Russian… then that’s probably not going to happen.

    In my experience, I found very little English speaking Russians and over all, they wern’t very helpful and often glared at me, lol. And yeah, taxis (both official and unofficial taxis) over charge foreigners. You have to basically fight with them to get a good price… but It’s hard to do that if you don’t speak Russian.

    So I can see how the trip was super frustrating and not really enjoyed.

    If you knew a little Russian or had a friend to help you around, I am POSITIVE you would have enjoyed yourself so much more!

    Moscow is certainly my #1 city thus far. I even love it more than Vienna! Then again, I knew a little Russian, spent the weekend there with my Russian friends, and got to see much of the city.

  10. January 31, 2012
    Reply

    Hmmm, maybe go back again on a relaxed journey?

  11. February 26, 2014
    Reply

    We spent a week in Moscow back in March of 2013. We found a great apartment on Tverskaya Street just 150 meters from Red Square. People asked us why in the world would we go to Moscow in March (we found an airfare error and jumped on it), but in hindsight I wouldn’t want it any other way. Red Square, the National Historical Museum, St. Basil’s, Novodevichy Convent, etc, were incredibly beautiful in the snow (plus, I imagine all the dirt and grime is covered in the winter also). I probably won’t go back to Moscow, but definitely recommend it to all my friends, but only in the winter. If/when I return to Russia, I think it will be to Saint Petersburg, but that is a city I want to visit in the summer.

    • March 5, 2014
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Terry!

  12. August 13, 2015
    Reply

    Your post made me laugh! I have been to both Moscow and St Petersburg and enjoyed both. Much preferred Moscow as we were lucky to stay with friends who’d been living there for a couple of years and they knew good local restaurants to visit and gave us lots of advice. Dead Lenin was also a highlight!
    St Petersburg, while beautiful, seemed more like a museum than a living city to me. We had a guide and were very carefully steered to all the main attractions and away from “real” Russian life. I find it a fascinating country but it’s not exactly relaxing to travel in.
    I’ve just discovered your blog, so look forward to reading more.

    • November 26, 2015
      Reply

      Thanks, Sandy! Happy you enjoyed my post! I can’t believe it’s been four years since I visited Moscow.

  13. Boten
    December 2, 2015
    Reply

    Had the same experience today. 16h connection used for doing a selfie in the red square . the impression from the city is exactly the same as yours. I won’t come back .
    The red square area is impressing , the snow is nice and there’s kind of Christmas atmosphere , but I felt this city is just a mix of bad things I’ve seen in other cities – big brand empty shops with poor people outside as in Beijing , traffic as Bangkok , prices as London , neglected as East Berlin , Heavy guarded as Jerusalem , cold as Kiev .

    • June 3, 2017
      Reply

      Thanks for sharing your perspective, Boten! I’d like to revisit Moscow one day to see if my opinions have changed, but it’s been six years since I was last there, so I guess I’m not making a huge effort right now!

  14. Emma
    May 16, 2016
    Reply

    Is it just you? If it’s anything like my experiences there, then yes and no, lol.

    I’m a graduate of my uni’s Russian Studies program, and the first two trips I took to Russia, I have to admit I was miserable for the first 3 days or so after I got there. And that’s with knowing the language (and the cyrillic on the metro signs), so without would be understandably harder.

    In my experience, Russia (and in particular, Moscow) can feel like a very unwelcoming place to arrive in, especially if you’re alone. People don’t smile at you in shops or on the street, speech and mannerisms can feel startlingly brusque if you’re not used to it, the weather can be harsh, even the smells all around you can be new and disorienting (a mix of indoor-smoking and iron and stone from the ubiquitous stairways). I think all those factors can subconsciously cause your mood to do some swan dives in the first few days, even if in your conscious mind you’re excited to be there.

    As you noted with the hostel, there’s also sometimes a weird mix of impossibly complex bureaucracy and surprisingly huge margin of error, which can seriously make anyone visiting (and all the more so people who have to live there with it year-round) feel extremely frustrated and helpless.

    On top of all that, there’s a strange mix of affluence and desolation pretty much all around you, both of which can feel hostile and off-putting when you’re looking for somewhere to settle in and combat jet-lag, homesickness, anxieties, or anything else you’re dealing with.

    To be fair, a lot of people also simply hate Moscow. People who are from Russia, but from somewhere far away from the capital, often also find it cold and uninteresting. So it could be that you’re just not a fan, which is obviously fine too.

    If you do go back though, having a longer time to hang out and explore could help. I sometimes have a hard time recommending what to do and see in Moscow, because honestly my favourite thing to do there is just to exist and spend time. In the summer it’s nice to get a snack from a cafe or grocery store and sit in one of the parks or by the river, or walk down the winding streets and happen upon a walled monastery with a little door in it that takes into into another world of incense and candles. Or use Moscow as a base, and take local electric trains to nearby sites with views of the countryside along the way. In the winter, take shelter in a cafe like Cafe Margarita (my favourite spot in Moscow, if not the world) where you can cuddle a cup of tea and listen to a trio of violins and a piano; or take the glorious metro system to the Izmaylovsky Market, and trudge through the snow among rows upon rows of vendors and old folks gathered around a fire playing chess.

    It’s a daunting place, and to some people it’s not necessarily worth it. To me, even though when I first arrived I would have gladly accepted the first ticket someone had offered me out of there, I ended up finding a lot that I liked – but more importantly, I felt like for me it just took time to start feeling okay there.

    • May 20, 2016
      Reply

      Thank you so much for leaving such a helpful comment, Emma!

  15. Anna
    January 3, 2017
    Reply

    After spending two months studying in Moscow I am so sad you had such a horrible experience in my favorite city. Obviously, like Emma said already, Moscow is not for everyone. I urge you to revisit Moscow, and Russia in general, because they have modernized (and Anglicized) a lot in the past few years.

    My favorite spots include Tsaritsyno Park (just a 5 minute walk from the Tsaritsyno station on the green metro line), Zurab Tseretali Musuem (the famous Georgian-Russian artist), and Strelka Bar (which overlooks the Moscow River and has great nighttime views of the city).

    As for the metro, I have found the Moscow metro to be the easiest, most efficient metro I have ever used (NYC, Boston, Chicago, DC, and St. Petersburg included). The Moscow trains are typically now labeled both in Russian and in English. Also, most young Russians nowadays speak somewhat rudimentary English if you should ever need any assistance.

    Like I said, Moscow may not have left you wanting more, but I encourage you to spend a little more time there if you are looking for a place steeped in history, full of culture, and teeming with amazingly hospitable people.

  16. Aleksey
    February 2, 2018
    Reply

    So sad to hear negative about my country. Your bad experience could happen in any place (I travel a lot, I know), don’t apply it to whole country. I live in beautiful Saint-Petersburg and invite you to show this place if you want. Travel with local friends and you avoid negative situations. Write me on email or instagram @filatov.aleksey (here you can see photos of my city) . Hope to be friends), hope to improve your meaning about Russia.

    • February 5, 2018
      Reply

      I love St Petersburg! :-)

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