Before leaving for Russia, I found a blog written by a family, who claimed that Moscow is not a city for children. Nothing could be more wrong, so I suppose that the people who had written it, had either not been there, or else they were part of a package tour, one of those rushed ones focusing mostly on Russian art and history, which – let’s face it – are not exactly child-friendly. We liked Moscow a lot, it is a beautiful city and there is a lot to do and see with kids. Five days were not enough to cover it all, but we left happy, dreaming of going back in the near future.
THESE ARE OUR TOP 10 TIPS OF WHAT YOU REALLY NEED TO DO AND SEE IN MOSCOW WITH CHILDREN:
1. Visit the Red Square
Any visit to Moscow must begin with what it is mostly famous for: the Red Square. If possible, try to reach it by the side where the Cathedral of Christ the Savior stands. Then walk along the Kremlin Walls past the eternal flame and enter the Red Square from there. On your right, you’ll see the Lenin Mausoleum, on your left the imposing GUM stores, behind you the ruby red building of the State Historical Museum, and in front of you St. Basil’s Cathedral.
Do not miss visiting the GUM stores (for beautiful architecture, and have lunch there) and St. Basil’s Cathedral. Its colorful spires look like ice cream cones: kids will have fun trying to guess what each spire would taste like. You can also see how it is inside; but it is definitely less spectacular. Still, its narrow passages connecting one room to the other will give you the impression of being in a maze.
2. Spend a morning (or afternoon) at the Moscow Planetarium
The Planetarium was my son’s favorite visit, and because he wanted to see it all, we “lost” one day. My advice is to see only the Lunarium, then head underground into the hangar and visit the Interaktorium Mars-Tefo. The Lunarium is completely interactive and children can conduct several several scientific experiments, like launching a meteor and see its impact on the ground, operating a giant robotic hand, or seeing how much they’d weigh on other planets. There are explaicative panels in English.
The Interaktorium Mars-Tefo, by contrast, allows you to see how a Mars research station will be like. Individual visits are not allowed and you need to join a guided tour, which must be booked in advance by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org (this is especially true if for English language tours). There are 3 programs to choose from: although we had not made any booking, they managed to organize a special visit for us in the afternoon, about the medicine in the future.
3. Visit Bunker 42
Bunker 42 is one of the secret bunkers that were built by Stalin to protect himself and his lethal bombs from a possible nuclear attack. The building was connected to the metro line, therefore 18 floors underground. This means walking down 18 floors, taking part in the guided tour, and then walking back up the 18 floors.
The visit “The Cold War” (in English) takes place three times a day, and the minimum age is 10 years old. Telephone reservations are required +7 (495) 500-05-53 but they are not strict about age. Inside you’ll see what life was like in this bunker, and two volunteers are given the chance to sit at a small desk, enter codes, turn keys, push the red button and launch a fake H bomb.
My son volunteered right away, and within a couple of minutes he had razed an imaginary city (bye bye New York)!
4. Visit the VDNKh
VDNKh stands for Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva and it was a large agricultural exhibition park, and then a park to honor the economic, scientific and technological achievements of the country. At the VDNKh there are several beautiful pavilions, representing all the former USSR republics; all closed. One thing you could do is to visit its attractions.
The brand new Cosmonautics and Aviation Center dedicated to the Cosmos and to the conquest of space. It is spectacular and contains plenty of spacecrafts. Within walking distance, find the brand new Moskvarium, a well-designed aquarium where you can admire killer whales and (bonus!) it is not too big. Both places are far from the park entrance.
Pro tip: there is a free shuttle van that leaves about 20 meters from the subway station, on the right. There is no sign, so just wait and see where the van stops.
5. Discover Zaryadye Park
Zaryadye Park is a short walk from St. Basil’s Cathedral and is a brand new park, a multi-million-dollar project of innovative architecture. The highlight is the suspension bridge, shaped as the letter U…. I think I’ve lost count of the times we’ve walked it back and forth. There are 4 miniature (and scented) climatic zones. If this is not enough for you, then you should visit the underground ice cave. Don’t worry if you don’t have warm clothes: you can rent woolen blankets to wear during the visit. I didn’t have time to visit the Underground Museum, but we were told it is an interesting underground archaeological museum.
6. Cruise the Moskova river
A mini cruise on the Moskova river allows you to see the city from a different angle, and passes by the imposing monument dedicated to Peter the Great… a tall statue that reminded us of some great navigator, although we couldn’t think of any Russian name. A little voice kept whispering “it’s Christopher Columbus!” Well, the little voice was right: this statue was built for the 500 anniversary of the discovery of America. The Russians didn’t succeed in selling the statue to America, so they skillfully recycled it to celebrate the 300 years of the first Russian fleet.
The cruise we took was a cheap one which left from the pier near Zaryadye Park. A more luxurious alternative (and at least 4 times more expensive) is the Radisson cruise. Choose your level of comfort and budget, but keep in mind that the river is the same for all.
7. Spend a few hours at Gorki Park
We spent a couple of pleasant hours in Gorki Park, a wonderful city park. We walked around, rented bicycles and went for a ride, and we got cheated by those people who put an owl on your arm, or in the case of our son on his head, and then let you take some fun pictures. The amount of money they ask for, is for a single picture to be taken with your camera, not for the entire “session”.
On our bike ride we stopped by a pond and we found black swans. Many Russian children fed them straight from their little hands and none of them got bitten. We were impressed!
8. Enjoy some of the most beautiful metro stations in the world
The world-famous Moscow Metro is renown for its amazing stations, which often look like a museum or the hall of a posh hotel. With children, it is a real must. The most spectacular, in our opinion, are located along the Circle Line. Buy a ticket (children up to 7 years old travel for free) and get off as many times as you wish.
Our family favorite was Ploshchad Revolyutsii. Act like the locals: look for the statue of the soldier with the dog, stroke the dog’s muzzle and then touch the soldier’s face and gun. People say it brings good luck. If your children are small, you need to lift them.Other notable stops are Kievskaya, Arbatskaya, Elektrozavodskaya and Taganskaya.
9. Dream of the FIFA World Cup at the Luzhniki and Spartak Stadiums
udding footballers will not want to miss the stadiums where the World Cup games were played. The one where the opening and closing ceremony was held is the Luzhniki Stadium, which is old and cannot be visited inside, but our little boy was nevertheless not disappointed. More beautiful, but in the suburbs (indeed, almost out of town) is the Otkrytie Arena, also known as Spartak Stadium. This stadium is open to the public, as well as its Hall of Fame, but check the opening times, because there are only 4 possible time slots. It is closed on Monday.
10. Try to find Stalin’s 7 sisters
Challenge your kids to find the 7 sisters, those huge skyscrapers built by Stalin… my son after one day was feeling a little sad: he had seen a couple of castles but no skyscrapers. We (adults) had seen a couple of skyscrapers and no castles. The reason is simple: The 7 sisters look like huge castles. At the end we found 6, but we had no time to travel out to see the seventh. It was the Moscow State University, which is open to the public. If you want to take a look at two of these sisters, you can visit the Ukraine Hotel and the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel.
THESE ARE THE 4 PLACES YOU SHOULD AVOID WITH CHILDREN:
1. The Kremlin
The Kremlin is an amazing sight; we had visited it pre-kids. When we returned 12 years later, and in August, we found long queues to buy tickets so we decided to give it a miss and not waste two hours or more. With children in tow, it is better to spend time in another way.
2. The Lenin Mausoleum
What I said about the Kremlin, applies to the Lenin Mausoleum, too: too many people waiting in line. Once again we decided (this time reluctantly) not to visit it. If we had to choose to between the two, we would choose the mausoleum.
3. Moscow Zoo
Moscow Zoo, founded in 1864, is huge. We heard rumors that animals are neglected and sad, in addition they are supposed to be kept in small cages. Seen from the outside it looks so neglected that our son did not want to visit it.
4. Arbat Street
In our memories the pedestrian Arbat Street ( at least in 2005)was a place full of life, luxury shopping, entertainment, delicious restaurants and trendy bars. In 2018 it looked full of souvenir shops made in China, sad and empty places… we also found many (not so good) street artists.
Our trip in Russia continues … to Astrakhan and Kalmykia! Follow us!