Moscow has powered its growth from a feudal town strategically located for trading on the headwaters of the Volga to a militarily significant location that Russia used as a base for defeating the Mongols. It became the capital of Russia, no matter who was ruling -- be it a Mongol khan, a Romanov czar or a Communist dictator.
Moscow, in short, is a city that is a place unto itself, a cultural, political and entertainment capital. Red Square, with the Kremlin and its forbidding medieval towers, the soldiers guarding Lenin’s Mausoleum and the colorful, onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral rising above it all, is Moscow’s heart. It’s also a good place to start a tour of a sprawling city that is made a little simpler to navigate thanks the fact that it is formed by a series of concentric circles and divided into six districts, or okrugs.
Adjacent to the Kremlin is Kitai-Gorod, a neighborhood that is a dense collection of churches, old merchants' courtyards, and administrative buildings overlooking the Moscow River. Most historical buildings are within the Boulevard Ring, an area historically known as the "Bely Gorod," or "White Town," because of the white stone walls that originally encircled it.
Beyond the Boulevard Ring is the Garden Ring, and most hotels lie within this ring.
Despite these fairly well-defined neighborhoods, Moscow is something of a mishmash, a city that grew on its own, with no real central planning. Drab Soviet housing complexes give way to bright, golden domes. Round a corner and there’s yet another statue of Lenin. The city grew organically and that means that it is a city that works for people.
Among other things, it is the place to party; having a population of 12 million means it’s got the numbers it take to maintain a big selection of nightspots that will keep almost anyone -- jazz aficionado, hard-core clubber or anyone who wants to explore the world’s great nightspots -- happy.
You’ll have earned a drink after sightseeing in Moscow; it’s got many attractions. First, there’s orthodox Moscow -- Russian rulers built cathedrals, churches, monasteries and convents to cement Moscow’s position of spiritual capital of Russia. Then there are its museums, some devoted to writers (Alexander Pushkin is one). Others are devoted to art and history (for a glimpse of imperial life, don’t miss the Palace of the Romanov Boyars).
It’s a cultural capital as well, and taking in a performance at Moscow’s Bolshoi Theatre, home to one of the most important ballet and opera companies in the world, is a must.
The hallmark of a great city is a good subway, and Moscow has the world’s largest. Its Metro is fast, clean, and efficient. It’s also a site unto itself, filled as it is with art focused on glorifying the people.
Moscow has three major airports, Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo. Most international flights and major airline carriers arrive in Sheremetyevo or Domodedovo.