In winter, when the pavements seem designed to fell tourists, you finally understand fur coats and want to cry for the guard outside the Kremlin, Moscow can seem as welcoming as a slap in the face…
Wrap up warm and forsake the high heels (God knows how the locals do it), though, and you’ll soon realise the benefits of a chilly season visit: shorter queues, thinner crowds and more than enough excuse for a warming vodka. Just remember to carry your passport with you for the random ID checks.
Red Square at night
When the sun goes down and the lights come on, vast Red Square comes into its own. The cobbles shimmer in the lamplight beaming from the Kremlin walls, St Basil’s Cathedral becomes a fairytale illumination and GUM, Moscow’s first Soviet department store, is lit up like Harrod’s at Christmas. Come again in the morning for a glimpse of waxy Lenin in his Mausoleum – in summer the queues stretch round the entire square but in winter, providing you check your bag in first, you’ll be through in no time.
Watch your step
Still the seat of government, the Kremlin is fascinating in itself – a city within a city full of gold-domed cathedrals, important buildings and Fabergé eggs – but add an element of challenge to your visit by trying to make it through without rebuke. It’s a bit like Operation when the patient buzzes – one false move and you get a sharp toot of a policeman’s whistle. With the signs written in Russian and, in winter, road markings covered in snow it’s trickier than it sounds.
Just outside the Kremlin wall you’ll find World War II memorial, the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier in Alexandrovsky Garden. See the changing of the guard here every hour (from 10am to 3pm in winter) for an impressive display of high-kick marching and über-seriousness.
Don’t rush the commute
Due to the lack of reasonably priced, central accommodation (a problem currently being addressed) you’re likely to take the Metro at some point. This is easier said than done given that the station names are in another alphabet, the escalators are high-speed and at peak times you’re in danger of being trampled in the stampede. Brave being lost/squashed, though, and you’ll find stations aptly dubbed the ‘people’s palaces’. Where on the tube you’d see insurance adverts and hanging wires you get bronze statues and shimmering mosaics. Recommended stops include Ploshad Revolutsii and Komsomolskaya stations.
Worth a look
Live the dream
Many of the five-star hotels in Moscow will let you in to have a look around. If you need to warm up, grab a coffee in the bar. Hotel Metropol near the Kremlin is a good one to try. Once the Second House of the Soviets, where key government officials lived and held meetings, it was renovated in 1991 but maintains an air of old-school opulence.
In a country not short on creative genius, it comes as little surprise that the capital places great emphasis on the arts. The Bolshoi (nearly destroyed by Lenin as a symbol of elitism, but cherished by Stalin) is currently being repaired but opposite you’ll find another home to ballet and opera – simply titled the Bolshoi New Stage. You can buy tickets at the box office (usually on the day during winter but this depends on what’s showing) and if you have any smart clothes dress up – everyone else does. For theatre, try the Chekhov Moscow Art Theatre which occasionally features performances in English. The Tretyakov Gallery displays pre-revolutionary Russian art while the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts has an impressive collection of French Impressionist art.
For a look at the absurd extravagance of Soviet times head to the All-Russia Exhibition Centre, formerly a showcase of the country’s success. Today the looming statue of the Worker And Collective Farm Girl welcome you to little more than a trade centre, with the grand pavilions and glittering fountains a front for the retail of kitchen supplies.
•Amy Adams travelled to Moscow with Global Village (0870-442 4848; www.globalvillage-travel.com) on their Super Trans-sib. Prices start at £1370.•