Photos of Moscow, and My First Impressions

Moscow Saint Basils Cathedral

Even though I visited Moscow six months ago I’m not entirely sure why I’ve only decided to write about it now. I must have something to say about it, right…?

I do.

It’s not that I didn’t like Moscow, but I can’t exactly say I loved it either. I was only there for three days, so by the time I managed to find my feet around Europe’s biggest city it was already time to leave. The right thing to do is plan a revisit, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do! When? I’m not sure. There are still so many places I want (and need!) to explore, so planning a revisit to somewhere just because I want to like it is less appealing than revisiting somewhere because I loved it.

If there is anything useful to take from reading this post it is this: don’t make my mistake and leave only 3 days for Moscow – it’s not a city like Saint Petersburg that has the power to plunge you head-first into wanderlust. It takes time and a little more effort discovering what’s on offer.

I would suggest a minimum of five days to be able to feel more, see more, and experience more. Afterwards, who knows, you may decide Moscow’s not for you, but at least you can say you tried. It’s hard to find any credibility when I hear people say they disliked a city after only spending a day or two in the place. Some of the best places require effort to explore, that’s often the case with cities in Eastern Europe. They may not always offer the killer attractions of London, Paris and New York; however they sometimes offer a uniqueness that’s often hidden beneath the surface: local life.

There are a few things about Moscow that really stand out for me. Of course there’s Red Square, no trip to Moscow would be complete without seeing the buildings, learning about the history and tripping over the architecture. Once you’ve seen it you don’t forgot it.

Red Square, MoscowKanzan Cathedral, Red Square, Moscow

Inside Saint Basil's Cathedral, Moscow

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Red Square

The things that stick in my head the most are the things like the roads, the underground and the people – the everyday things.

Before heading to Russia I had read and heard so many negative things about the people and I experienced none of what I read. It’s worth mentioning here that my travel buddy Ruchi is Indian and I’m Chinese, and despite the plethora of advisory information we both read on internet forums about their racial problems, we felt very welcomed. I think it’s easy to get a negative portrayal of Russia from the media, but we should recognise there’s often a mental disparity between the everyday people and the government (as is the situation with so many countries unfortunately).

The people in Russia were helpful when we asked for assistance with directions and friendly in the cafes, restaurants and hotels. In Moscow many people speak good English, much better than in Saint Petersburg (we found anyway), where very few people we came across spoke the language.

The main roads in Moscow are a death trap. They are unforgivably wide, you can’t just go across them in a few footsteps, you need traffic lights – finding them is like trying to find a winning lottery ticket. This wouldn’t matter so much in a city like Reykjavik where the population is miniscule, but this is Moscow we’re talking about. There is traffic, and often lots of it, crossing roads require patience, awareness and quick reactions.

Moscow cityscape

Sadly the aforementioned qualities are not something Ruchi possesses, I had the trauma of watching her try to cross a road in the midst of heavy traffic and I don’t think I’ve ever feared for someone’s safety so much in all my life. For a clever girl she can also be very stupid. She leaped from the pavement into the midst of chaos like a new born baby lost without its mother. Cars screeched, horns beeped, plumes of smoke erupted, and people from the sidewalk watched to see if this girl, dodging an early grave, would make it to the other side. It was a close shave but she made it unscathed and we all went back to breathing properly again.

On first impression, the Moscow underground is a maze of tunnels, I’m sure it’s as easy as ABC for everyday commuters but you have lines that go up, down, across, and another that goes in a circle in seemingly clockwise and anti-clockwise rotations, and sometimes you feel like you’re walking the length of a small city just to cross over onto the other line (you probably are). It’s the most complex underground system I’ve been on but it’s cheap and you need to use it because Moscow is massive. Not only is it the most complex, but it’s one of the most opulent undergrounds I’ve ever seen. Give it a good scrub and it’d be fit for the Queen.

Moscow underground

Moscow’s decadent underground

Moscow Underground Map

Underground map

Moscow may not be as romantic, beautiful or quite so elegant as Saint Petersburg, but if you want to experience the wrath of a big city with equally impressive architecture then look no further…

Vysoko Petrovsky Monastery

Vysoko Petrovsky Monastery

Moscow Modern Art Museum

Opposite the Monastery is Moscow’s Modern Art Museum with a small scuplture garden

Moscow street art

Moscow has a thriving street art scene, we were lucky to stumble across this one being created.

People watching in Moscow

Sometimes all you want to do is sit down and watch the world go by.

Have you been to Moscow?

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

'Photos of Moscow, and My First Impressions' have 22 comments

  1. March 7, 2015 @ 8:13 am Lizzie

    Great post as always Shing! Moscow’s been on my radar for a while now, but I often find myself put off by the media and other stories that you hear about Russia in general so it’s good to know that it’s not really like that on-the-ground. I definitely think I’d struggle to use that underground, though! I mean seriously, is it necessary to have that many lines?!


    • March 7, 2015 @ 8:48 am admin

      I think an art and literature lover like yourself would love Moscow and Saint Petersberg. Perhaps ‘love’ isn’t the right word for Moscow but it will give you lots of unique experiences, which is a gift to the memory.

      Of course Russia has its troubles, and there’s truth in what the media says, but Russia is not Putin, from my experience the people were helpful and often warm. I know not everyone’s experience will be as positive as mine, factors such as being female, small and young-looking might change the way someone reacts to me on the street when I approach them.

      Haha, I know, and I think the Russian text makes the underground feel even more intimidating! But if you can manage London then Moscow isn’t so different!


  2. March 7, 2015 @ 8:33 am Megan

    i loved moscow. i was only there a day though haha! but i have an appreciation like no others for that part of the world, so me liking moscow is surely no big surprise. i havent been to st. petersburg, and while i want to go, it is not on my radar like other russian cities (kazan, omsk, ones on the kamchatka peninsula) because i think it lacks a bit of the western mystery as other russian cities do. i found the people of moscow very friendly, but i tend to find russians very outgoing to me as an american (it’s their government that doesnt like us haha). i love the grandiose architecture and the drinking culture, as well as every single female looking like a supermodel. anyways, this post makes me yearn to go back soon! if only those visas weren’t so expensive dangit!

    have a great weekend shing!


    • March 8, 2015 @ 4:40 am admin

      I love your appreciation for this part of the world Megan, that’s what makes your travel blog stand out from the hundreds out there! I know what you mean about Saint Petersburg perhaps lacking a bit of mystery in comparsion to the other Russian cities, it is the most visited one after all, but Saint Petersburg is truly fascinating, perhaps the most fascinating city I’ve ever been to. History is peeling from the walls!

      Before I went, people said Moscow is ‘very Russian’ but I think Saint Petersburg is more Russian. Moscow surprised me because it was much more modern and cosmopolitian than I imagined it to be, much more than Saint Petersburg which I can imagine looking the same now as it did decades, and even centuries ago. However, what should I expect from a city that’s home to so many oligarchs?

      Oh, those damn visas, yes the money but also the time! And yes again to the women! The heels, the legs, the hair!


  3. March 7, 2015 @ 8:38 am Mike

    Wow, I was just thinking of you yesterday. For real. I sure have missed hearing from you Shing over on my side of the blogging block. Russia is definitely a place I want to visit and thank you for your candid post. Interesting that it didn’t blow you away but I’m glad that you and Ruchi felt comfortable there. Yikes on her navigating the busy street! I’m glad the locals were helpful. A blogger told me the airport could be a nightmare because there was little to no English as in many international airports in different countries. What was your experience with that?


    • March 13, 2015 @ 1:20 pm admin

      Hi Mike! I will ensure not to leave it so long before I pay a visit at your end 😉 Oh I don’t think I recall having a problem at the airport, but maybe because I’m so accustomed to airports I have the general layout figured out – perhaps?


  4. March 7, 2015 @ 12:23 pm Estrella

    Those shots are wonderful! I love the style and colour combinations of the buildings, it’s so different from the architecture I’m used to.
    I would love to visit Russia in the future, but I was put off because of the things I’d read in the newspaper and the government’s opinions on some matters. I’m really happy to read that the everyday people in Moscow were friendly and helpful.


    • March 18, 2015 @ 3:22 pm admin

      The architecture is like nowhere else in the world Estrella!

      I disagree with many of the Government’s policies too, and I’m disgusted by several, but I feel like the government doesn’t represent the people, but represses them. For this reason one of the best things we can do for a most unified universe is to travel.


  5. March 7, 2015 @ 3:37 pm Colleen Brynn

    I’ve been pretty open about my negative experiences in Russia, and still some of those stories haven’t been told! All of Russia was a challenge for me. I found I enjoyed myself the farther east I went, away from the “big” cities like Moscow and St P. I was very surprised to find how big the Siberian cities are though! I was expecting little villages and nothing but, and boy was I wrong. This is where cutting my research short becomes obvious. The people in Russia for me were hit or miss. Some TOTAL sweethearts and some complete, utter assholes. I’m sorry to say that the negative outweighed the positive. I have to actively remind myself that there were in fact some nice people there. I don’t think I will ever go back to Russia; I would love to try to love it more, but I just feel like there is so much more of the world to see and potentially fall in love with and so little time. Life is too short to spend it somewhere I might like maybe possibly.


    • March 20, 2015 @ 3:41 am admin

      I’m sorry to hear that the negative outweighed the positive for you Colleen but if there is one thing that Russia gives you it’s life experiences and that’s often one of the key differences between ‘travelling’ and having a ‘holiday’ – sometimes you need a holiday after a travelling!!

      One day I’d love to go east like you did and see how different it it. Haha, I think places that are considered small for Russian standards are still quite big in reality, eh? I had the same experience in China. They called a city small if it had under 2 000 000 million!

      It sounds like you and Russia probably won’t meet a again… but at least you give him a shot! 😀


  6. March 7, 2015 @ 6:38 pm Charlie

    Looks incredible to me! I’ve been lusting over Russia since studying it in school though… Still not made it there yet but definitely going to. Very true what you say about Eastern European cities and having to give them a bit more of a chance. They certainly don’t have the immediate wow of the hot, sunny and openly artsy cities you often find in Spain and other places in Europe – but I’ve loved all the Eastern European cities I’ve been too after I’ve had some time to amble around, find some quirky cafes etc. Loved your photos too btw 🙂


    • March 20, 2015 @ 3:45 am admin

      Glad you love the Eastern European cities that you’ve experienced too Charlie! Ambling about it very important! 😀

      I hope you make it to Russia!


  7. March 7, 2015 @ 7:41 pm Susanne

    I have to agree – the portrait of Russia in the media is often misleading. I went to 2 Russian cities (St. Petersburg and Pskov – a ‘smaller’ city near the Lithuanian border) and in both, I had no issues with communication or anything, really. Minus one time that I had a ‘I’m going to jail’ moment but it worked out just fine.


    • March 20, 2015 @ 3:48 am admin

      Haha… you can’t tease me with a sentence like, ‘Minus one time that I had a ‘I’m going to jail moment’ but it worked out just fine’.

      Go on, spill the beans, what happened…?!


  8. March 9, 2015 @ 6:30 pm Victoria@ The British Berliner

    I haven’t been to Moscow proper and it was one of the biggest mistakes ever. I was on my way to Vietnam with Aeroflot (Haw! Haw!) and they offered to arrange a stop-over in Moscow for me. If only I had known how difficult it normally is…! Anyway, when I asked about the visa and it was €50 just for me to stay a night. I rejected it ‘cos I was being cheap even though I had just paid €800 for a return flight…! Anyway, I ended up “staying” at the airport in Moscow for 10 hours! It was awful. Some people even had tents and camper stoves.

    Your photos and stories are so lovely. I have just got to go to Moscow properly sooner rather than later and I will cough up LOL! Thanks so much for sharing! 🙂


    • March 20, 2015 @ 3:52 am admin

      Oh dear Victoria! I paid £125 for my Visa so had you known the price and difficulty of getting it beforehand, you probably would have grabbed the opportunity!

      But a night is still too short, so enjoy a fuller trip to Moscow hopefully in the not so distant future!


      • March 20, 2015 @ 7:03 am Victoria@ The British Berliner

        I certainly will LOL!
        p.s. ‘Can’t believe that you paid £125 for the visa. I’m such an idiot LOL but I’ve learnt my lesson LOL!


  9. March 19, 2015 @ 3:47 pm Shaun

    Some places we just not get as connected to. Moscow really spoke to me but I’ve read a lot about the cold war and enjoyed the….well, three, historical walking tours I took. In my defense they had really good guides. Fashion really stood out to me too, Moscow dressed well. Going back fifty years you’d be considered a “decadent westerner” lol. There’s still many remnants of communism architecturally left behind.

    I really enjoyed my time there, I actually went back after visiting St. Petersberg just to see more.


    • March 20, 2015 @ 3:58 am admin

      I should definitely follow your steps next time by taking a walking tour of Moscow. A city with as much history as it has is really brought to live when we have a better understanding of the different phrases it’s been through.

      The dress sense stood out for me too, you can tell you’re among the rich and wealthy in Moscow, and they’re not shy about being extravagant!!


  10. March 26, 2015 @ 3:03 pm kami

    I love these pictures and I so would love to go to Moscow! This city must be crazy yet amazing! and I’d probably spend one day exploring the metro itself! Too bad it’s getting difficult to get a Russian visa these days…


  11. July 25, 2015 @ 5:38 am Alex

    Hey shing, I’m visiting Germany next month and thought about getting a visa to Russia and visit Russia too since I will be in Europe. The only problem is that I can’t make up my mind wether to visit Moscow or St. Petersburg. I’ve never been in Russia before and I like Russia because of the Cold War anedotes I’ve read and Heard, which city would you recomend me to visit?


    • July 25, 2015 @ 3:15 pm Shing Yoong

      Hi Alex! If you have the opportunity to go to Moscow or St Petersburg whilst you’re in Europe I definitely recommend you go!

      If you’re short on time I would recommend St Petersburg, it’s much easier to walk around and you can’t help but instantly fall the for the beauty of city, whereas Moscow is bigger and takes more time to adjust to. If you’re interested in the Cold War you might be interested to go to the State Museum of the Political History of Russia located in Petersburg.


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