Getting Oriented

The best way to orient yourself in Moscow is via the city's efficient and highly ornate metro system. Most of the sights in this chapter are located on or within the metro's brown line (#5) which circles the old historic center. Learning the Cyrillic alphabet will prove infinitely useful in helping you to distinguish between metro stops. When asking locals for directions, it's often more fruitful to discuss locations by the nearest metro stop than by neighborhood names.

Moscow is laid out in a series of concentric circles that emanate from its heart—the Kremlin/Red Square area. This epicenter, encircled by the tree-lined Boulevard Ring (Bulvarnoye Koltso), is rich with palaces and churches. Although the individual streets that make up the Boulevard Ring have different names, most of them have the word for boulevard, bulvar, in their names. The Boulevard Ring passes by stations Arbatskaya, Pushkinskaya, and Chistye Prudy on its way around the city. Much of your time is likely to be spent near metro stop Pushkinskaya, a few hundred yards up ulitsa Tverskaya, the city's main street, which goes north directly from the Kremlin.

Marking the outer edge of the city center is the Garden Ring (Sadovoe Koltso), a wide boulevard that has lost all the trees for which it was once famous. The metro's brown (#5) line almost follows the route of the Garden Ring. Metro stations Smolenskaya, Barrikadnaya, Mayakovskaya, Sukharevskaya, Krasniye Vorota, Taganskaya, Paveletskaya, Oktyabrskaya, and Park Kultury are all located on the Garden Ring road.

The Kremlin and Red Square. The ancient heart of the city stands out for its grand palaces, towers, and some of the country's most sacred churches, including St. Basil's and Assumption Cathedral. In addition to the historical sights, there are also modern shopping centers and a lively atmosphere in this most central area.

Kitai Gorod. North and east of the Kremlin/Red Square area and within the Boulevard Ring, this neighborhood began as an outgrowth of the Kremlin. Its sights include the Bolshoi Theatre and Sandunovskiye Bani, as well as some of the city's best restaurants.

Ulitsa Tverskaya. North of the Kremlin is the famous northern road to St. Petersburg, ulitsa Tverskaya, which extends from the Kremlin through the Boulevard Ring and out to the Garden Ring. This is Moscow's main shopping street. The Museum of the Contemporary History of Russia, just north of the Boulevard Ring, provides an interesting look at Moscow's evolution.

Ulitsa Bolshaya Nikitskaya. This main thoroughfare is lined with some stunning old mansions and the Tchaikovsky Conservatory. The area around Patriarch's Ponds (Patriarshy Prudy) is full of posh cafés and shops and reminiscent of New York's Greenwich Village.

The Arbat. Two streets radiating out of the Kremlin to the west are the Stary Arbat (Old Arbat) and the Novy Arbat (New Arbat). The Stary Arbat is referred to by Russians simply as "the Arbat" and is a cobblestone pedestrian street with cafés, street performers, and all manner of souvenir shops. Novy Arbat is a modern thoroughfare with shopping malls and upscale restaurants.

The Kropotkinsky District. Southwest of the Kremlin, the Kropotkinsky District is home to the monumental Church of Christ Our Savior, where the Russian Patriarch leads mass on the most important holidays. Also here are the venerable Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and the Tolstoy Memorial Museum.

Zamoskvoreche. This area is best known for its many churches, especially along the long north–south street Bolshaya Ordynka. Also here is the Tretyakov Gallery, the country's best art museum and the entrance to the recently revamped Gorky Park.

Moscow Outskirts. Four magnificent monasteries are the main points of interest south and east of the city center. The can't-miss among them is New Maiden's Monastery, with its colorful battle towers and peaceful pond. To the west and south, parks and former estates outside the city give you a glimpse of the verdant Russian countryside. Perfect for a visit on a day with fine weather, these spots draw masses of picnicking Muscovites all summer long. For those on a tight schedule, and with an interest in World War II, the sprawling Victory Park is just a quick trip from the center on the Moscow metro.

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