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A vendor tending to the produce at her stall at Danilovsky Market.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Moscow

A vendor tending to the produce at her stall at Danilovsky Market.
  • By Andrei Muchnik
  • Photos by Nanna Heitmann
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It’s common for tourists to spend only a day in Moscow, often on their way to St. Petersburg, and overlook much of what’s special here. There’s infinitely more to see in this metropolis than just the postcard view of the Red Square, or the Pushkin Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery. In the 2010s alone, Moscow has experienced a gentrification boom, a gastronomic revolution and an overhaul of all its major parks and public spaces.

The weather dictates that it’s best to visit from May to September, but the city is beautiful in any season: snow-clad most of the winter, sunny and green in the summer. Moscow will probably surprise you, no matter what your expectations are. From contemporary galleries to street art, shaded parks to semi-abandoned industrial clusters, there’s something new and intriguing happening here every day.

Meet Andrei Muchnik

Born and raised in Voronezh, Russia, Andrei moved to Moscow after graduating from university. He writes on culture for Lonely Planet, the Moscow Times and several Russian-language publications. An avid theatergoer, Andrei tries not to miss all the major premieres in between biking around central Moscow and exploring the local craft beer scene.

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IN THE ACTION
Tverskoy district
The Tverskoy district is the heart of the city, stretching from the famous Red Square and Zaryadye Park and along Tverskaya Street, up to the Belorussky railway station. Tverskaya, Moscow’s main thoroughfare, gives a whole range of lodging options, from big brands like Ritz-Carlton and InterContinental to smaller hotels and Airbnb rentals. This district is also home to the best theaters (including the Bolshoi), restaurants and boutique malls. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Presnensky district
Another large central district, Presnensky encompasses several pricey neighborhoods, such as Patriarch’s Ponds, but also calmer ones like Krasnaya Presnya Park and the neighboring Krasnogvardeiskiye Prudy. Full of small ponds and leafy parks that were recently redesigned, this area’s housing options include the Crowne Plaza hotel and good value Airbnb rentals. The handful of great restaurants and views of Moscow’s skyscrapers are a bonus. Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Cook’kareku
Cook’kareku is a popular 24-hour breakfast place run by prominent Moscow restaurateur Alexander Rappoport. Right on the Garden Ring road, Cook’kareku focuses on breakfast dishes from different regions of the world. Most breakfasts are 480 rubles, or well under $10 U.S., but if it’s “breakfast time” in the dish’s corresponding part of the world, you get a 30 percent discount. The best time to get the “Moscow” breakfast — three-egg omelet, fried-bologna sausage and scallions — is between 8 and 10 a.m.
BTW: Cook’kareku is a perfect stop on the way home after a night of clubbing. Discounts on pad thai are from 4 to 6 a.m. and on tandoori chicken from 5:30 to 7:30 a.m.
9 Ulitsa Sadovaya-Kudrinskaya, Bldg. 4, Moscow 123242, Russia
BREAKFAST
Chelovek i Parokhod
“Chelovek i Parokhod,” or “The Man and the Steamship,” is a phrase coined by one of the greatest Russian avant-garde poets, Vladimir Mayakovsky. Referred to as ChIP for short, the restaurant began as a stall at Danilovsky market but gradually expanded. Its most central location today is at Triumfalnaya Square, which is coincidentally next to the statue of Mayakovsky and the eponymous Metro station. ChIP serves truly excellent coffee drinks, brewed from beans that ChIP roasts. Although espresso-based drinks are ChiP’s forte (try their flat white), the filtered coffee is worth a try, too.
BTW: ChiP shares space with the famous Moskva cake shop, recognized as the official cake of the city. Get a slice with your coffee for a perfect breakfast combination.
1 Triumfalnaya Square, Moscow 125047, Russia
LUNCH
Dr. Zhivago
Named after Boris Pasternak’s Nobel-winning novel, this spot is fittingly on the first floor of the hotel National, just across from the Kremlin. Part of Alexander Rappoport’s restaurant empire, Dr. Zhivago is extremely popular, so book in advance. The menu consists of both reimagined Soviet-time dishes, like the ubiquitous Olivier salad (potatoes, carrots, chicken and pickles), and revived 19th-century recipes. Try one of the classics, like beef stroganoff. If you’re looking for something adventurous, you won’t be disappointed by the millet porridge with crawfish or pelmeni (Russian dumplings) with duck.
BTW: If you can’t get a table at Dr. Zhivago, don’t despair. Just walk upstairs to Beluga, another Rappaport restaurant devoted to Russian cuisine, although pricier.
15/1 Ulitsa Mokhovaya, Moscow 125009, Russia
LUNCH
Vai Me
Out of all the ethnic cuisines of the former Soviet Union, Georgian is probably the most beloved. There are hundreds of Georgian restaurants in Moscow; Vai Me is a rather small chain of fast-casual cafes. Its flagship outpost at the exit of Novokuznetskaya Metro station, Vai Me serves proper Georgian traditional dishes in small portions at bargain prices. You can’t go wrong with khinkali (traditional Georgian dumplings) or khachapuri (pastry with cheese).
BTW: “Vai me” is an exclamation in Georgian, which can be roughly translated as “oh, wow.”
Vai Me!, Pyatnitskiy Pereulok, Moscow, Russia
DINNER
LavkaLavka
LavkaLavka was one of the “farm-to-table” pioneers in Moscow. All ingredients used are seasonal and supplied by local farmers, named on the menu. While the menu rotates often, the dishes are based on one concept: creative interpretations of traditional Russian dishes. The mainstays include borscht, the famous Russian cabbage soup with beef and its vegetarian brother, shchi. Buckwheat is also big in Russia. Try it in the restaurant’s mushroom soup or made into a semblance of risotto with duck confit and lingonberry jam. Then wash it all down with polugar — fancy homemade vodka.
BTW: Apart from the restaurant, LavkaLavka also owns a supermarket chain. Opt for the homemade pickles, which taste just like a Russian grandmother’s, or cheddar cheese made at a farm in Siberia.
LavkaLavka, Petrovka Ulitsa, 21, стр. 1, Moscow, 107031, Russia
DINNER
Lepim i Varim
Lepim i Varim, which translates to "we shape and boil,” is a small fast-casual chain dishing out pelmeni (dumplings). Its biggest branch is at the entrance to Aptekarsky Ogorod (Apothecary Garden), the oldest botanical garden in Russia. Pelmeni come in a dozen varieties, with fillings ranging from a mix of pork and beef, potatoes and onions, and even prawns and Kamchatka crab. Vareniki, the sweet cousin of pelmeni, are also available. At this outpost, there’s a bar with vodka, Georgian chacha and various infusions.
BTW: The original Lepim i Varim, at Stoleshnikov Pereulok 9/1, in the heavily touristed Tverskoy district, is a great spot to save money for a meal, since that’s a notoriously expensive neighborhood.
Lepim I Varim, Prospekt Mira, Moscow, Russia
LATE-NIGHT
Noor Electro
One of Moscow’s most popular bars, Noor was recently redecorated, expanded and renamed Noor Electro. (The second word references the cutting-edge performance venue Electrotheater in the same building.) Perfect for after-theater drinks or a great party on the weekend, Noor serves some of the best cocktails in the city, and the bartenders here are legendary. Weather permitting, a cute courtyard with a few tables and chairs and some greenery is open.
BTW: Caffe Torino is an Italian eatery inside that’s open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Noor Bar, Tverskaya Street, Moscow, Russia
LATE-NIGHT
Burger Heroes
Burger Heroes arguably serves the best burgers in town. It’s a small chain with a flagship on the first floor of the performing arts center Moscow Musical Theater, a large Soviet modernist building on Pushkinskaya Square. The interior is all exposed brick and piping, decorated with rows of kegs. The most popular burgers include the Black Mamba, served on black buns with smoked bacon and cherry sauce, and the Bad Bro, with spicy pepper sauce and onions. Apart from burgers, there’s rib-eye and chuck roll steaks, along with more than 100 bottled craft beers.
BTW: Beer on tap changes frequently, but make sure to try the Black Mamba porter named after that burger.
Burger Heroes, 2 Pushkinskaya Square, Moscow 127006, Russia
(Maria Ku for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. The best way to get into the city is Aeroexpress, which operates from all three major airports.
  2. It’s quite safe to walk around, but always carry both your passport and your hotel registration in case you get stopped by the police — not an uncommon occurrence.
  3. Get a local prepaid SIM card. It’s cheap and comes with a lot of megabytes.
(Maria Ku for The Washington Post)

Do

VDNKh
VDNKh stands for the translation of Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy, and it’s more than just a park — it’s practically an open-air museum, full of Soviet architectural masterpieces. Pavilions devoted to various industries as well as former Soviet Union republics are built in various architectural styles, from Stalinist-empire to Soviet modernism. VDNKh has undergone a recent redevelopment and aims to cater not just to architecture buffs, but foodies and art lovers as well. Try retro-Soviet cuisine at Moskovskaya Vysota (Moscow Height) and stop by the recently opened Museum of Cinema. In the winter, the central alley turns into the largest skating rink in Europe.
BTW: The carved wood facades and sculptures at the Karelian Pavilion, along with some food from the South Caucasus at the Armenia Pavilion, are must-hits.
119 Prospekt Mira, Moscow 129223, Russia
Rogozhskaya sloboda
This is a pre-revolutionary settlement of Old Believers, a group that branched off from Russian Orthodoxy in the 17th century but kept some of the ancient rituals. Old Believers have always tried to compete with the Russian Orthodox Church proper. A case in point: the settlement’s bell tower — 80 meters (262 feet) tall, just one meter shorter than the Ivan the Great tower at the Kremlin. Old Believers also managed to hire the famous 18th-century architect Matvey Kazakov to build the Cathedral of Protection, which was meant to rival the Dormition Cathedral at the Kremlin. Don’t miss the cafeteria Trapeznaya, pictured above, which features traditional Russian food.
BTW: Just a short taxi ride away is another highlight of “old Moscow”: Krutitskoye Podvorye, or Ecclesiastic Residence, is a historical estate worth a visit.
3 Ulitsa Rogozhskiy Poselok, Moscow 109052, Russia
Craft beer in the Taganskaya area
When the craft beer revolution hit Moscow, around 2015, the neighborhood around Taganskaya Metro station became somewhat of a craft mecca. It’s the best area in the city to get that perfect pint. A favorite spot is a relative newcomer: Method Beer & Munchies, which specializes in beers from Moscow brewery Zagovor. “All Summer in a Day,” a gose-style brew with passion fruit named after a Ray Bradbury classic, is a sure hit. Don’t miss the fried pickles.
BTW: If you’re looking for more, another popular bar to check out in the area is Varka, with Russian and imported craft beers.
METHOD Beer & Munchies, Tovarishcheskiy Pereulok, Moscow, Russia
Danilovsky Market
Moscow has recently become a city of gentrified, hipster-friendly markets. It’s easy to get confused when deciding which one to try, but Danilovsky Market should be high on your list. Resembling a UFO from the outside, it was one of the first markets on the scene and still retains the feel of an approachable farmers market. You can find anything here, including Vietnamese pho soup, pastrami sandwiches and food from the Dagestan region in the North Caucasus.
BTW: Danilovsky is officially an architectural landmark, built in the late Soviet modernist style. There are two more masterpieces in the immediate neighborhood to check out: Moscow Mint and the House-Boat (sometimes called Ship House).
74 Mytnaya Ulitsa, Moscow 115191, Russia
Tolstoy Estate Museum
Just a five-minute walk away from the noisy Garden Ring area of Moscow, there’s a wooden two-story house surrounded by a sizable fruit tree garden. It’s the estate that once belonged to Leo Tolstoy, arguably Russia’s best known writer. Today it’s a museum that preserved the estate’s historical appearance from the time the writer and his family lived here. Tolstoy bought it in 1882 and lived at the estate for 19 winters, spending every summer at Yasnaya Polyana, his country estate in Tula region. Make sure to stop by his office, where Tolstoy completed his last novel, “Resurrection.”
BTW: The garden behind the main house is worth a visit in any season. Read a Tolstoy novel on a bench when it’s warm or ride a sleigh over the artificial hill in the winter.
21 Ulitsa L’va Tolstogo, Moscow 119034, Russia
Vkusvill
If you want to experience real contemporary Russian food-shopping, stop by one of the Vkusvill supermarkets, which translates to “taste-ville.” There are dozens in central Moscow, including at Pereulok Bolshoy Kislovsky (mapped below), which is less than 10 minutes away from the Red Square. Advertised as a healthy chain, Vkusvill offers uniquely Russian products, like pelmeni and pryaniki (a type of gingerbread filled with jam). There’s also an excellent selection of takeout.
BTW: If you get thirsty while exploring the city, pop into a Vkusvill for a traditional refreshment such as kvass (fermented-bread drink), mors (made with boiled berries) or tarkhun (tarragon lemonade).
Pereulok Bolshoy Kislovsky 4, Bldg. 1 Moscow 125009, Russia
Andrei Muchnik
Born and raised in Voronezh, Russia, Andrei moved to Moscow after graduating from university. He writes on culture for Lonely Planet, the Moscow Times and several Russian-language publications. An avid theatergoer, Andrei tries not to miss all the major premieres in between biking around central Moscow and exploring the local craft beer scene.
Nanna Heitmann
Nanna is a contributing photographer to The Washington Post based in Moscow. One of her favorite places to eat is the Cheburechnaya USSR restaurant, which comes with a dive into Soviet nostalgia. You can also catch her having a late-night picnic on a little hill opposite the Square of Europe, enjoying a view over the Moskva River.

CITY GUIDES