Fun winter activities in Moscow
Spending the winter in Moscow, Russia, is nothing short of an absolutely amazing experience. With freezing cold temperatures and everything covered in white, crisp sparkling snow, what more you can ask from a city in winter?
Indoor and outdoor fun in Moscow!
Ok, so you might assume that people hibernate in temperatures below -20°C, it’s not the case in Moscow, a city that is alive all year round, come rain, come shine, come snow and lots of it! Muscovites, expats and travellers embrace the wintertime here; after all there are so many fun activities on offer, why wouldn’t you take the opportunity to experience it? Even if you must be covered from head to toe in woolly hats and scarves, there’s something quite wonderful about that too, it’s kind of like Christmas, but every day! So with the temperatures dropping so early this year, we have compiled a list of our top things to do/places to go in Moscow this winter. Enjoy!
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
- Ice Skating
Due to the freezing weather conditions, Moscow hosts some of the greatest ice rinks you’ll lay your eyes on, complete with pretty lights, music and cafés on route.
My personal favourite, Gorky Park, situated close to Park Kultury Metro, is a visual spectacle as much as anything. The ice covers the paths in the park, making it feel more like an adventure, as opposed to just skating in circles as you would at a regular ice rink. There are heated areas to keep warm, cafés where you can stop for a nice cup of tea or mulled wine, taking a break from the fun and excitement as well as having a moment to look at how much time and effort Moscow puts into ensuring the public are able to enjoy themselves. Each year, the rink gets more and more fabulous. As well as all decorative lighting that covers the trees to create this magical, twinkling effect, the under ice lighting is also as beautiful at night as you can only imagine. Every year the designers surpass their previous efforts making it more spectacular and dazzling each year.
As well as Gorky Park, I highly recommend the ice skating at ‘Red Square’ and ‘Hermitage Garden,’ mostly for the atmosphere and views.
- Moscow River Ice breaker Cruise
Although the Moscow River is under ice during the winter, there is still an opportunity to take a boat cruise. To see the city’s colossal buildings lined up along the embankment and lit up at night for more noble and magical views than this is a must. Most boats and regular cruises will be docked at this time but due to special mechanics, those few boats of the ‘Moscow River Icebreaker Cruise’ are able to navigate their way through the river whilst breaking the layers of ice. I’ve no idea how it all works, but it’s really cool and it certainly makes for a memorable experience. How many times have you cruised through ice?
- Ice Sculptures in Moscow
Believe me when I say this, you haven’t seen ice sculptures until you’ve seen them in Moscow! They really are out of this world, especially if ice is your thing. Sometimes in life, people’s raw talents take my breath away; this always happens when I go to look at the ice sculptures in Moscow. The time, creativity, enthusiasm and attention to detail put into each ice sculpture is just astonishing. There are many places that you can visit to view ice sculptures, my personal favourite being ‘The Gallery of Russian Ice Sculpture,” located in Krasnaya Presnaya. There, you’ll witness a wonderful display of sculptures created and perfected by Russian ice sculpting professionals, with an enhanced atmosphere including music and lighting. Coats are provided as they keep the temperatures at -10 °C to preserve the sculptures, but if I were you, I’d make sure I packed my woolly hat and gloves too. The best bit? You are allowed to take photographs and videos, which is always a bonus!
- Moscow Metro Tour
You probably wouldn’t think it but the Metro stations in Moscow are absolutely stunning and so unique, making the Metro Tour a complete must this winter! The theory behind it, as suggested by one of the main architects of the Soviet Subway, was along the lines that there were so many palaces for kings, so why not build palaces for people. Amazingly enough, when the Metro isn’t crowded (which isn’t very often), some of the stations certainly feel palace like…worlds away from the London Underground or the New York City Subway, for sure! The Moscow Metro tour aims to give you a unique opportunity to view some of the Metro stations inspired by Stalin’s era:
- Revolution Square – Sculptures of the Soviet people
• Kurskaya Station – Lobby, the Hall of Fame of the WWII
• Komsomolskaya – Mural mosaics of Russian victories
• Novoslobodskaya – Stained glass
You’ll be guided through the transfers so that by the end of the tour, you will be a Moscow Metro Maestro! The tour operates in English, so there’s no need to worry if you haven’t quite got your Russian up to scratch.
The best part of the tour, you say? You’ll learn some fun and interesting stories as you go, such as – ‘How many babies were born on the Metro’…brilliant facts that everyone should know! Prices are very reasonable at 950 rubles, which amounts to around £14/$23. Once you’ve mastered your way around, some other beautiful Metro Stations should be incorporated into your day too, to name a few:
- Mayakovskaya (opened 1938) is considered to be one of the most beautiful Metro stations in Moscow, as it is a fine example of pre WWII Stalinist Architecture.
• Prospekt Mira (opened 1952) features sculptures and an original clock over the two archways. Inside, opposite the escalator hall is a large smalt artwork, Mothers of the World, by A.Kuznetsov.
• Arbatskaya (opened 1953), whose main tunnel is elliptical in cross-section, which is an unusual departure from the standard circular design seen at other stations. Arbatskaya features low, square pylons with red marble as well as a high vaulted ceiling that is elaborately decorated with ornamental brackets, floral reliefs, and chandeliers.
• Kievskaya (opened 1954) is one of the most elaborate and extravagant Metro stations in Moscow. It was built to show the dedication of the friendship between the Russian and Ukrainian people, hence the name Kiev, the capital city of the Ukraine. Eighteen mosaics are situated on the pillars alone, some of which depict happier days in the soviet Ukraine and others, the revolution of 1917.
• Taganskaya (opened 1950), the theme of war is very evident here. The pillars of the archways are made from light coloured marble and decorated with panels using the Majolica-technique. On light blue backgrounds, images of Russia’s famous wars are depicted. If you are very detailed and intricate and if you look closely, you can see ships, knights in ancient armour and warriors of the twentieth century.
• Belloruskaya (opened 1952), its name chosen in appreciation of the Slavic brethren, Republic of Belorussia (Belarus). The Metro station is laden in light coloured marble and a distinct, white Russian emblem is shown in the flooring and then repeated again in the mosaic images of the vaulted ceiling. The ceiling is stunning and a must see highlight, so don’t forget to look up.
Visiting a banya whilst in Russia is another must, especially if you like spas, saunas, hammams, ice cold water and not to forget being beaten by branches! It might not sound like your average day out, but it promises to provide you with an unforgettable experience. So if you’re looking for a new, fun, relaxing (trust me, so relaxing) experience when in Russia, then you have to visit a banya.
The most well-known banya in Moscow is the Sanduny. It consists of private and public rooms, whereby you have the opportunity to go into the sauna and wear a rather attractive hat! After the sauna, the general practice is to jump into a bath of freezing cold water, known to be extremely beneficial for the circulatory system. If you don’t have the guts to jump in yourself, there will be a lovely lady on hand to assist you by throwing a large bucket of water over you…! The branches, of course, is an amazing experience, where you lay in the sauna whilst one of the spa assistants hits you with branches all over…am I selling this to you yet? Explaining that feeling over text is near enough impossible, it really is something you should try out yourself; don’t just take my word for it. There is also a beautiful area where you can relax and drink tea with your friends, partner etc…just luscious!
- Tsaritsyno Park & Museum
The historical estate of Tsaritsyno is Moscow’s largest museum reserve that stretches along the shore of the Tsaritsyno ponds. At the park you’ll see beautiful bridges, grottos, pavilions and gazeboes. As well as the park you can also visit the stunning museum, which regularly hosts various exhibitions.
Tsaritsyno is a series of tsar’s palaces and gardens built in so-called Russian gothic style. Don’t be surprised if the Grand Palace appears too new and fresh, it was never finished during Catharine the Great’s time, for whom it was meant to be a summer residence. The Palace stayed in ruins for hundreds of years until it was finally finished in 2007. We will probably never find out the reasons behind the mystery of why Catharine the Great abandoned this dreamy place, just leave it to your imagination.
Tsaritsyno is really beautiful in wintertime, when fresh and crispy snow covers the gardens and the trees are decorated with astonishing lighting.
Its history and beauty aside, Tsaritsyno offers another unforgettable and unique Russian winter experience – Russian Maslenitsa. It is a celebration of the end of winter, when the snow has not melted yet but daylight is already longer and the sun softer and brighter. Russians farewell the cold winter with blinis (pancakes) – the symbol of the sun, shashlyk (shish kebab) and medovukha – light honey ale. Usually it is comfortably warm at this time, however you can still engage in some popular winter activities, like sledges, snowmen building, snowball battles or other kinds of activities that can fill you with the spirit of a real Russian festivity. Lots of fun to be had by all ages!
- The Vodka Museum
During a long and cold Moscow winter, why not visit the Vodka Museum for some fun and light-hearted entertainment?! Whilst there you’ll hear tales of Peter the Great’s 18th century reign and how vodka influenced some very funny occasions throughout those times. Additionally, you’ll be able to see a large variety of different sized and shaped vodka bottles from throughout history to the present day, as well as learning about the traditional Russian cup, ‘Charka Cheporuha’.
During the tour you’ll be taken on a journey through time as you learn about the history of vodka all the way up to the current state of vodka production and consumption. You’ll also find out some interesting facts about the culture of drinking vodka, toasting rules, and learn a wide range of different Russian toasts…along with a cheeky complimentary shot!
After the tour you can organize a vodka tasting session and buy your favourite brands if you so wish. The whole museum is in Russian and English, it is a fairly small establishment and more than anything, it’s a really fun day out to be had with friends. The cost per ticket is 180 rubles, which you’ll find is less than a Starbucks coffee in Moscow…not bad!
- Tchaikovski Conservatory
Despite everything I have said here, winter in Moscow is not just snow, vodka and banya, it is a theatre season as well. During winter months, all theatres generously open their doors for art lovers. You might have already read in one of our previous blogs about the most famous Moscow theatre – the Bolshoi. Well, here I want to mention the Tchaikovski Conservatory – Russia’s largest conservatory and music school, named after the world-famous Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
The Tchaikovski Conservatory hosts distinctive concerts and the famous Tchaikovsky music competition, which is carried out every four years, where the most talented pianists, violinists, cellists and singers are awarded.
The building consists of five halls where live classical concerts are held. From time to time the conservatory holds free concerts, so make sure to look at the schedule in advance to enjoy one of the classical concerts and to have the opportunity to see the conservatory for free.
And for the composers of you, the Tchaikovsky music school offers intensive courses of individual lessons, lectures, master classes and performances, truly inspiring.
Wrapped up in your woollies yet?? Great, I’ll meet you at the Vodka Museum for that free shot!! ☺
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