Brave sub-zero temperatures to discover Moscow’s hidden cultural treasures

 
Laura Millar

Russia’s sprawling capital teems with magnificent onion-domed churches, candy-coloured Baroque buildings and compelling, clean-lined, Stalin-era skyscrapers.

Pretty parks such as the vast, green Gorky Park dot the city, and at its heart is the imposing plaza of Red Square. This is home to the showpiece cathedral of St Basil, Lenin’s mausoleum and the state-owned department store, GUM. Behind it loom the brick walls of the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and current home of a certain Vladimir Putin. Getting around it all on Moscow’s somewhat confusing (thanks to all station names being written in the Cyrillic alphabet) but elaborately decorated metro system is part of the experience.

The hotel: Located in the city’s business district close to Paveletsky train station (where, conveniently, the Aeroexpress arrives from Domodedevo airport), the Swissotel Krasnye Holmy is one of the tallest buildings in Moscow. The comfortable, modern rooms are spacious (and, importantly in winter, well-heated) with marble-floored bathrooms. There are also 28 suites, which include access to the executive lounge. The main restaurant, Acapella, serves innovative local cuisine like pearl barley risotto and octopus cooked on Himalayan salt by head chef Ivan Tishkin. I loved the views from City Space, the 360-degree panoramic bar on the 34th floor, where the barmen will create you a cocktail – or five – based on your favourite ingredients.

Ask about: Moscow’s Imperial and Communist pasts are proudly honoured. Start by walking around the Kremlin, whose walls contain a handful of churches and cathedrals, the former arsenal, royal residence, the Grand Palace, the Senate building – where the Communist Party used to be based – and several important museums, including the Armoury Chamber. Here you’ll find regalia, jewellery, clothes and thrones belonging to the former tsars, from Ivan the Terrible to Catherine the Great.

And after that: Prepare to gawp at the beauty, and unique construction, of the 16th century St Basil’s Cathedral; its eight distinctive, multi-coloured domes have a fabulous element of Disneyland about them. If you have a taste for the macabre, visit Lenin’s closely guarded, dimly lit mausoleum where the revolutionary leader’s waxen, shrunken, embalmed body has lain since his death in 1924.

The food: Thankfully, Russian cuisine has moved on since potatoes and beetroot, and there are many culinary highlights to be found in the city. Dr Zhivago is a modern take on a grand European café, with slick red and white décor, dishing up favourites like blinis with caviar, buckwheat porridge and roast carp. Popular glitzy haunt Soho Rooms also features a fashionable nightclub, so if you book a table to dine on beef stroganoff or fillet steak, you won’t have to brave Moscow’s notoriously harsh ‘face control’ door policy (wherein a bouncer will turn you away based on appearance) to get in.

Need to know: Swissotel Krasnye Holmy’s rooms start at £192 per night, room only; book via swissotel.com or call +7 (495) 7879881. Executive Suites start from £439 per night on a room only basis. British Airways flies regularly from London Heathrow from £192 return; book at britishairways.co.uk or call 0844 493 0787

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