Free walking tour of Moscow Russia
This free walking tour of Moscow brings you to the heart of the city. Moscow is huge and while some of its sights are far away from each other, the oldest parts of Moscow are actually quite compact. This makes it perfect to explore by foot.
The oldest parts of Moscow include the city’s Kitay Gorod, the Red Square and the Kremlin, home to Moscow’s top attractions. There are lots of paid and free walking tours of Moscow out there that include these areas. This self guided free walking tour of Moscow allows you to explore on your own while at the same time giving you the background information and curious facts that a guide would otherwise provide.
A free walking tour of Moscow
This free walking tour of Moscow can be completed in a long and full day or in 2 days. I recommend 2 days if you want to include a visit to the State history museum and the Kremlin Armoury.
After completing this Moscow walking tour you will have seen Moscow’s most important tourist sites. Obviously, there is much more to see and do in Moscow. For more inspiration I can recommend my 4 day Moscow itinerary.
Moscow walking tour part 1: Kitay Gorod
In the first part of this free walking tour of Moscow, we explore Kitay Gorod. The Kitay Gorod is among the oldest parts of Moscow. In the 16th and 17th century it developed as one of the most prestigious trading and business areas of the city. Right next to the Kremlin and the Red square it was the economic heart of Moscow.
Not much of this history remains though. The six meter fortification walls are almost entirely gone, most churches did not survive the anti religious Soviet times and in the nineties lots of historical buildings were torn down in the name of modernization.
Despite its historical significance, this area is certainly not as interesting as the red square and the Kremlin. If you have limited time, you could possibly skip this part of the free walking tour in Moscow. However, some interesting sights are definitely there.
Let’s start this free walking tour of Moscow at Lubyanka square on the edge of Moscow’s Kitay gorod. It’s easy to get here by the Moscow Metro on the red line (Lubyanka station). As you leave the metro station, you will see a large building with a yellow brick facade. This was the headquarters of the KGB alias the secret police. In its cellars political prisoners were held and tortured before they were deported to labour camps in Siberia and Kazakhstan.
This building still belongs to the FSB, the successor of the KGB and still houses the Lubyanka prison.
From Lubyanka continue this walking tour of Moscow along the Teatralny Proezd. You will pass by Hotel Metropol. This still functioning hotel is the largest hotel from before the Russian revolution in 1917. The Art nouveau style building is quite beautiful.
After the Metropol hotel you will enter Revolutionary square where you can still find the Karl Marx monument with the red square behind him and the Bolshoi theatre in front of him.
The historic 18th century Bolshoi theatre makes a perfect night out during your stay in Moscow. The opera and ballet performances are as spectacular as its architecture. There are also tours around the theatre if you are interested to see its beautiful interiors only without going to one of its shows.
Behind the revolutionary square lies the 17th century Zaikonospasski monastery that was a center of enlightenment and education at that time. One of its students was Lomonosov who later founded the Moscow University in 1755.
Church of the Epiphany
Now follow Bogoyavlenski Perelok where you will pass by the Church of the Epiphany. This was the oldest male monastery in Moscow and has always been under the patronage of the grand princes and tsars of Russia.
Trinity church in Nikitniki
After the church of the epiphany turn left at Ulitsa Ilinka and then the third right at Staraya square street. Follow this street until Perelok Nikitnikov where hidden between modern buildings lies the 17th century trinity church. It was founded and designed in Russian Baroque style by one of the richest merchants in Moscow.
Varvarka street & House of the Romanov Boyars
After the trinity church we go back to Staraya square street and then turn right at Varvarka street. This was one of my favourite streets in Kitay Gorod, because of the nice views on some of Moscow’s oldest churches and monasteries, historic buildings and the brand new zaryadye park.
The biggest historic sight on Varvarka street is the house of the Romanov Boyars. This is where the Romanov family lived in the 16th century and where the first Romanov tsar was born. It is now a museum about the daily life of the Moscow nobility in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Park Zaryadye is a brand new recreational park located right next to the red square. A small, but welcome green space in the heart of the city that is always busy with locals. There are nice views on the Moskva river.
Moscow walking tour part 2: Red Square
The second part of this free walking tour of Moscow focuses on the Red square. The red square is probably the most iconic place in Moscow, if not in all of Russia. What was to be Moscow’s central market place has seen lots of historic events and public ceremonies throughout its history.
Construction of the square’s walls and towers started in the 15th century already. It initially was indeed a market place with lots of wooden market stalls. Once the St Basil cathedral was built in the 16th century it also became a holy place where the palm sunday processions took place.
Gradually wood was replaced by stone and the square was paved as it took its current image. The Soviets used the red square to showcase military parades that are still being performed on victory day every year.
In this second part of the free walking tour of Moscow you won’t be walking long distances, but it is easy to spend several hours on red square, especially if you include a visit to the state history museum.
St Basil cathedral
The first thing you notice when entering the Red Square from Zaryadye park is the colorful onion domes of the St. Basil cathedral. It is as colourful inside as it is from the outside. In the 16th century Tsar Ivan the Terrible ordered its construction to celebrate the capture of the cities Kazan and Astrakhan.
The design is unique in Russia and it is supposed to look like a bonfire that rises up to the sky. Actually the whole complex represents ten different sanctuaries. It started with a simple building on the grave of Saint Basil, but it expanded over the years. For example, the onion domes with the vivid and bright colours and the interior mural paintings were a later addition in the 17th and 18th centuries.
In Soviet times the state appropriated the church. Unlike the Kazan cathedral, it survived Stalin’s vision to clear the square from all religious buildings and became a museum instead, which it still is today.
The entrance fee is well worth the price. Inside you will be able to visit all of the sanctuaries, each with beautiful mural paintings and ancient wooden iconostasis.
The historic 19th century trading arcade remains one of Moscow’s most important department stores. Nowadays GUM has mostly upmarket brand stores. Even if you are not planning to buy anything, the architecture makes it worth a visit inside
Lunch tip: After much exploration you are probably getting hungry. Being in the heart of Moscow there aren’t a lot of budget options, except for Stolovaya no 57. This restaurant on the top floor of the GUM department store has a good choice of Russian food for very reasonable prices. For other budget options check my post about cheap eats in Moscow.
The 17th century Kazan cathedral was one of the most important churches in Moscow. However, Stalin removed it in his mission to clean the red square from all religious buildings. It was destroyed, but not forgotten and after the fall of the Soviet Union it was the first church to be rebuilt.
It’s small chapel is once again an active place of worship. It’s interior might not be as spectacular as the Basil cathedral, but it feels much more like a real church and there is a peaceful quiet atmosphere.
The resurrection gate is not just a gate that gives access to the red square, but is also home to another, very small, holy chapel. Locals believe, that the keeper of the gate icon inside performs miracles for those that pray before it. Traditionally, everyone, including the tsars, did so before entering the square.
State History museum
The State history museum is the perfect place to learn more about Russian history. From the Mongol invasions and the very first Tsars that ruled this vast country to the Bolshevik revolution. The rooms have rich interior decorations that are part of the attraction.
Finish your time at the Red square by standing in line to say your goodbye to Lenin. The lines are long and security is tight, but it is moving pretty fast as the guards are urging you to move on. You will only get a glimpse of the embalmed body of Lenin.
It’s not sure for how long you can still see him. Keeping his body in the current state is a costly affair and in a poll in 2017 more than half of Russians believe he should be buried. Although in the past Russians still came to pay their respects, it is now more of a quirky tourist attraction.
Behind the Lenin Mausoleum you will find the Necropolis wall where other Soviet leaders, including Stalin, are buried.
Moscow walking tour part 3: Kremlin
After the red square we continue this free walking tour of Moscow to the Kremlin. For most foreigners, The Kremlin is synonymous with the seat of power in Russia. The word kremlin is an old Russian word that translates as “fortified complex”. Historically, almost every important city in Russia had a kremlin with the city’s most important buildings.
The Kremlin together with the red square and the Kitay gorod is the oldest part of Moscow. The construction of its first fortification walls started at the beginning of the 14th century. It soon became the playground of Russia’s leaders. In the 15th century the Muscovite grand dukes built several churches and in the 16th century it became the residence of the Romanov Tsars until Peter the Great moved the capital to Saint Petersburg.
The Kremlin was still used for coronation ceremonies and the Romanovs continued to develop the complex. In the 17th and 18th centuries they built the Kremlin palace, the Kremlin Arsenal and the Kremlin Armoury.
As soon as the Soviets took over they moved the capital back to Moscow. Lenin and Stalin all had personal rooms in the Kremlin. The eagles on the towers became red stars and the churches closed their doors. Luckily they became a museum and most treasures went to the Kremlin Armoury. The State Kremlin palace was an addition from Khrushchev who used it for communist party meetings.
Nowadays the Kremlin is partly open to the public. Because the Kremlin has the oldest and most beautiful churches in Moscow, it’s well worth paying the higher entrance fee that includes a visit to the churches. The interior frescoes are stunning.
From the Lenin Mausoleum leave red square in the direction of the State history museum and turn left to walk next to the Kremlin wall towards the Kremlin entrance. Don’t miss the war memorial here and the stone steles with the cities that were rewarded a hero status, because of their important roles in the victory over Nazi Germany in the Great Patriotic War.
Trinity gate tower
The main entrance to the Kremlin is at the 15th century Trinity gate tower. This is the tallest Kremlin wall tower. It is 80 meters high. The basement of the tower was a prison in the 16th and 17th century.
Insider tip: before going up the Troitsky bridge towards the entrance, buy your tickets first in the ticket office at the right side of the tower in the park below. You can buy different tickets. The cheapest tickets give you entrance to the Kremlin grounds only (time needed: 1 hour). The recommended ticket includes access to the Kremlin’s churches and the Ivan the Great bell tower (time needed: 2 – 3 hours). The most expensive ticket also includes the Kremlin Armoury (time needed: 3 – 4 hours). What ticket you want to buy depends on how much time you have and your own interest.
Assumption cathedral (Dormition cathedral)
From the trinity gate tower you walk past some government buildings that you can not enter towards Sobornaya square. Here you will find the beautiful Kremlin churches that are all well worth a visit for their beautiful frescoes and ancient icons.
The Assumption cathedral is one of the oldest churches in the Moscow Kremlin. Archeological evidence indicates that it was a burial ground with a wooden church as early as the 12th century. It was Ivan the Great as the Grand prince of Moscow that built a stone cathedral here in 1475 with the help of an italian architect.
It became the mother church of the Russian orthodox church in Moscow as well as the church where the elaborate coronation ceremonies for the Russian tsars took place. The link between the church and the Romanovs was so strong that they believed that their coronation must be according to the Orthodox rituals.
Even when Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersburg, the Tsars came back to Moscow for their coronation ceremony at the Assumption cathedral. A tradition that continued up until Nicholas the second who was the last Tsar of Russia.
The Annunciation cathedral was another church made by Ivan the great, shortly after the Assumption cathedral. This time with the help of architects from Russia itself.
The Annuciation cathedral became the personal chapel of Ivan the Great and the tsars of Russia that followed him, up until the Russian Revolution. It is where the Romanov tsars married and baptized their children.
The archangel cathedral was the last church to be built by Ivan the Great. He never saw the result as he died the same year construction started. Nevertheless he was buried in the unfinished building in 1505 while the church opened its doors 4 years later.
It was where all Russian Tsars and Grand princes were buried until Peter the Great moved the royal necropolis to the Peter and Paul cathedral in St Petersburg.
Ivan the great bell tower
In the year Ivan the Great died he ordered the construction of another cathedral which was later finished by his son Vasily. As none of the churches at the Kremlin square had a bell tower, Vasily decided one should be added.
It was the tallest building in the Russian empire until the construction of the Peter and Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg
The Kremlin Armoury is the oldest museum in Moscow with the Tsars personal collections of their weapons, jewellery and household items. Items include the imperial crown of Russia, the ivory throne of Ivan the Great and the famous Faberge eggs.
Christ the saviour cathedral
This church is not part of the Kremlin, but if you leave the Kremlin at the Armoury and the Borovitskaya tower, it is only a 15 minute walk to the cathedral of Christ the Saviour. The second largest orthodox cathedral in the world. Stalin destroyed the original 19th century church during his anti religious campaigns. Reconstruction of the church started in 1995 and it reopened in all its glory in 2000.
The size and its interior decorations are for sure impressive, but I personally also felt it was all a bit too much. It certainly lacks the charm and authenticity of the Kremlin churches that I liked much more.
Dinner tip: It is not cheap, but treat yourself to excellent Siberian cuisine in restaurant Chemodan, a further 15 minute walk from the cathedral of christ the saviour. The menu includes curiosities like grilled altay yak meat and wild boar, elk, roe or beer meat with cloudberry sauce or pine cone sauce.
Where to sleep in Moscow
Hostels Rus stand for clean and professional hostels with a mix of dormitories and a limited number of double rooms for good prices. They are often located close to one of the Moscow metro stations making travel in Moscow easy. There is one near Kurskaya and one near Paveletskaya (dorms only).
Vinegret hostel is a clean and nice budget hostel with an excellent location in the heart of Moscow. It is right near Arbatskaya metro station on the famous arbat street. From there you can walk to the red square in only 30 minutes.
Axel hostel has great budget dormitories with lots of privacy. It has a central location within walking distanc of Kitay Gorod.
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