A Vacation in Russia: What to See and Where to Eat in Moscow and Saint Petersburg
Ah, Russia! Not a day goes by where I don’t think about my trip between Moscow and Saint Petersburg from this past summer. Although a bit of time has passed, this enchanting land definitely enchanted me. We were there for two weeks, after a few ups and downs obtaining the visa and a desire to go that grew from day to day. I’ve always been fascinated with Russia (which probably has something to do with my degree in history)…et voilà, I ended up deciding to make this dream of visiting the country come true along with my friend Vale. We had fun, saw some breathtaking sights and we ate delicious things. Naturally this guide doesn’t include everything, but it does however feature my favourites. Here’s what to see and where to eat in Moscow and Saint Petersburg!
WHAT TO SEE IN MOSCOW
* THE RED SQUARE, THE KREMLIN, THE CHURCH OF SAINT BASIL AND MAUSOLEUM OF LENIN. You’ll find all of Moscow here: in this square as beautiful as it is large you will find, within a small radius, the Kremlin, the Church of Saint Basil and Lenin’s mausoleum. Immerse yourself in the Soviet world, so magical and distant from everything without skipping any of the attractions: to visit everything you will need at least one full day, but it’ll be worth it! If you’re feeling inspired, take a trip to the great Gum department stores that overlook the square: a paradise for luxury shopping!
* THE CATHEDRAL OF CHRIST THE SAVIOR. On the bank of the Moscow River, not far from the Kremlin, is this really magnificent Orthodox Church. Take a picture of it from the bridge you cross to get there and enjoy the mystical atmosphere as soon as you enter into its orbit.
* VIEW ON SKYSCRAPERS FROM THE NOVODEVICI MONASTERY. From the Novodevici Monastery, a UNESCO heritage sight perched atop the Hill of Sparrows, you’ll enjoy an incredible view: from here you can admire the “Seven Sisters” (the Stalinist skyscrapers of the 50s), the Trade Center, and several other monuments and churches. Inside there is also the cemetery that houses several “big names” in Russia, from Anton Čechov to Mikhail Bulgakov and Nikolaj Gogol’.
* A WALK IN GORKIJ PARK. No trip is complete without a walk through the green heart of Moscow, a huge park also cited by the Scorpions in the famous “Wind of Change”. If you come in the summer, the grass is dotted with mats where you can stop and take a nap in the sun. In winter, visit the inside of the Garage Museum.
*GARAGE MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART. Opened only a year ago and designed by none other than Rem Koolhaas, the Garage Museum is one of the flagships of the Moscow culture scene. Its immense spaces host exhibitions of contemporary art you just can’t miss.
WHERE TO EAT IN MOSCOW
* GEORGIAN CUISINE AT HACHAPURI. To sample Georgian specialties, Hachapuri is the ideal place because of the trendy yet relaxed atmosphere. Here we tried a delicious lentil soup and of course, the khachapuri, the traditional Georgian bread seasoned with a thousand delights, from cheese to eggs and vegetables. You can’t miss this!
* UZBEK SPECIALITIES AT VOSTOCNY KVARTAL. As soon as you come across a sign with Uzbek specialties in the Arbat district, stop and have a look: you’ll find kebabs, lamb soup and plov. The environment is super typical and the staff is super friendly (in the summer there is even a nice terrace away from the chaos): this is one place you don’t want to miss if you’re in the area, and is a great way to avoid “tourist traps” in the area.
* THE GEORGIAN HAMBURGER AT AC/DC IN TBILISI. If you’re taking a walk in Gorky Park and are feeling a little hungry, pause at this stand with wooden benches outside for a super spicy traditional Georgian burger: AC/DC in Tbilisi, the rocking name says it all already!
* DINNER AT KM 0 AT LAVKALAVKA. One of the places that I preferred to dine at was this charming restaurant that brings only ingredients produced right outside of Moscow to the table. If you like the philosophy of “km zero”, you’ll want to check out this place but even those who are not sensitive to these issues should definitely book a visit. All you’ll need is the excellent beef tartare with quail egg that comes straight from the farms near Moscow.
* APERITIVO AT THE FOUR SEASONS. I can only say that at the Four Seasons in Moscow, if you’re looking out one of the windows, you can see the golden domes that rise in the city landscape, as well as the Red Square, the Kremlin and the Church of St. Basil. If you want to give treat yourself to something special, enjoy an aperitif in the lobby of this super luxurious hotel and sit at one of the restaurants (there is also an Italian one, Quadrum).
* PAD THAI AT THE DANILOVSKY MARKET. A bit out of the center yet only a few metro stops away and not far from the Danilov Monastery are the headquarters of the Orthodox Church (if you have more days to visit it do so, but otherwise you can safely move on). Close by is this beautiful indoor market that deserves a visit if only for all the corners of street food and groceries you can find inside. Don’t miss the pad thai from the corner dedicated to Thai specialties: the best I’ve ever tried!
* DINNER AT LEPIM I VARIM. This is the address if you’re looking to try pelmeni, typical Russian dumplings. Thanks to the super central location and reasonable prices, this address is perfect for a quick lunch or a casual dinner.
* GRAND CAFE DR. ZHIVAGO | CAFE PUSHKIN. It’s impossible not to stop at one of these two historic cafes in Moscow. My advice is to stop in for breakfast or a snack, because the true attraction here is the atmosphere, not the food.
* COCKTAILS OR DINNER AT STRELKA. I think the picture below speaks for itself. Stunning and super romantic.
* A COCKTAIL AT THE SECRET BAR MENDELEEV. Do you like secret bars and places for drink that is delicious to taste but difficult to find? Try to find the Mendeleev Bar, whose entrance can be accessed only by crossing through the threshold of an anonymous Chinese takeaway counter. Once you’re inside, you’ll be catapulted into a dark atmosphere between red velvet couches that recall the inside of a little church. A decisively “pulp” little church. The cocktails are fantastic and cost what they are worth (roughly 15 euros).
Some of the places I didn’t have a place to try but was recommended are the following: a drink at Novikov Bar, dinner at Les Artists and an after-dinner drink at White Rabbit.
WHAT TO SEE IN SAINT PETERSBURG
*THE CHURCH OF THE SAVIOR ON SPILLED BLOOD. Let’s start with the basics: not far from the Nevskij Prospekt is this church, one of the most beautiful in all of Russia built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was killed. Wonderful! Other interesting churches include Our Lady of Kazan and St. Isaac.
* YUSUPOV PALACE. Among the wonders that I will remember for a long time is this palace, which is “off the beaten paths” and whose rooms and furnishings are really speechless. Known to most as the building where Rasputin was assassinated, it is an absolute must during your tour of St. Petersburg.
* A WALK ON THE WALLS OF THE FORTRESS OF PETER AND PAUL. On the island of Hares, on the Neva River, is the Peter and Paul Fortress, an unmissable attraction if you are in St. Petersburg. Walk on the fortress walls, then take a seat and enjoy the show across the river!
* A DAY AT THE HERMITAGE MUSEUM. What can one say about one of the finest museums in the world, if not than to try and get there early and buy tickets online (or at the automatic machines which allow you to skip the line)? Inside there is every important work of art you can imagine, from any age (from those of Caravaggio, Canova up to Leonardo da Vinci, Degas, Gauguin and Matisse), but what’s even more impressive is the museum’s inside itself: it’ll leave you speechless!
*A CRUISE ON THE NEVA. In the city there are several companies that offer tours of the Neva river: you buy a ticket (any one is fine, given that the offers are very similar to each other) and enjoy the show on the water!
WHERE TO EAT IN SAINT PETERSBURG
* THE BORSCH AT TEPLO. Among the most typical places, highly recommended even among Russians themselves, is the Teplo: a restaurant that looks like a home (sofas, bookcases and generally a very welcoming atmosphere) that proposes different dishes from the country. I tasted the borsch – a beetroot soup that is a symbol of Russia – and it was great. A tip: book because it is always full!
* EUROPEAN CUISINE AT DUO GASTROBAR. Close to our apartment we discovered Duo Gastrobar, a great place to enjoy dishes that weren’t necessarily traditionally Russian. The menu proposes various types of bruschetta, cod with tomatoes, quinoa with vegetables and incredible desserts. The atmosphere is young, and there are small tables outside for when it’s hot. Gorgeous!
* EXPERIMENTAL CUISINE AT COCOCO. If you are looking for a beautiful and very trendy place, book a table at Cococo, the restaurant at the W Hotel which has fun (and, in turn, makes the experience fun) with special dishes presented in original ways: the sweet chocolate dessert presented in a jar was fantastic. The bill is much higher than that of the other recommended places, but for a special dinner it is worth it.
* SUSHI AT DVE PALOCHKI. If you are tired of Russian cuisine, rely on Dve Palochki to enjoy good sushi and Oriental specialties. The restaurant is a chain with locations across the city, including the central Nevsky Prospekt, and is open at any time of the day or night. We went twice and we enjoyed it: the prices are reasonable (about € 25), the restaurant is clean and the fish is fresh. Super recommended!
Some of the places I didn’t have a place to try but was recommended are the following: an evening at Fish Fabrique, the sight of a dinner at Mansarda, a quick lunch at the Brasserie Kriek.
SOME TECHNICAL TIPS
* For a visa, begin the process well in advance and avoid doing it yourself (a practice that is definitely cheaper but highly unrecommended if you want to keep your sanity). Eventually, in desperation, I turned to an agency which didn’t provide the best service but nonetheless got the job done for the modest sum of 140 €.
* If you are planning on staying in Russia for more than five days, it is best to register your visa upon arrival. If you are staying in a hotel it will be done by them immediately upon arrival. If you stay in an Airbnb or other, don’t assume that the host will do it for you (ours refused). The alternative solution is to go to the postal office (which I do not recommend) or to find a hostel that will do it for a service fee. We in St. Petersburg were supported by the very kind staff at the Baby Lemonade hostel. Without them I do not know how we would have done!
* To go from Moscow to St. Petersburg (or vice versa) take the train and buy your ticket online on the Russian Trains website. With the Sapsan, Russia’s high-speed train, which is super clean, punctual and quiet (take a hint, Trenitalia) you will arrive in four hours exactly after a journey through the Russian countryside. Super comfortable, and super reliable!
* Here are the links to the two apartments we rented on Airbnb, this one in Moscow and this one in Saint Petersburg. Considering our budget, both made us happy and made us feel like we were coming home at night. In addition, we were two girls alone and yet we always felt safe, which is in part thanks to the fact that in both cities we stayed right in the center. Dasvidania!
Did you enjoy this story? To discover all the places where I’ve been look for the #ConoscoUnPostoInRussia hashtag on my Instagram and you’ll find all the addresses!
Read the original article on Conosco un Posto. This English version was translated by Kelsey Rivett.