Red Square is not only the cultural and historical centre of Moscow but inside the famous red Kremlin walls is also the political centre of Russia. The city spirals out from this world renowned spot where you can visit the graves of Russia’s infamous leaders, see where Putin hangs out and step inside the fairy tale St. Basils cathedral!
When we dreamt of visiting Moscow there were many things we wanted to see both within the centre of the city and further afield as well as much more to be discovered once we arrived. But it was Red Square that had captured our imagination for so long. The old images of tanks rolling across this famous square, the macabre and archaic existence of the Lenin memorial, the landmark church of St. Basils and the bright red walls of the heart of Russia: The historic Kremlin.
To step into Red Square for the first time was the culmination of years of dreaming of this moment, months of planning and a rather stressful visa process! As soon as we arrived in the city it was the natural starting point for our adventures, but not only that, but it would became somewhere we returned on several occasions as is the breadth of things to see and do here.
Red Square has been at the centre of Russian life since its beginnings in the 15th century when Ivan III extended the area around the Kremlin to reflect the growing power of Russia. It became an important market place as well as becoming famous in the 20th centuries as the show ground for parade displaying yet again the strength of the soviet union.
Things to do in Red Square:
St. Basil’s Cathedral
Built from 1555–61 St. Basils Cathedral is probably the most famous landmark in Moscow, if not the whole of Russia. This landmark of Red Square is world famous for its unusual design and strikingly colourful onion domes. Seeing this in person for the first time was an experience I had waited for a long time for and it lives up to every dream we had and more. Stepping inside this wonderful old building is even more enchanting with detailed and again colourful frescos on every surface imaginable!
Often people are mistaken in thinking that Red Square and The Kremlin are the same thing due to the red walls of what was originally built as a fortress. Many Russian cities have Kremlins at their historical and political centre. The Kremlin is not just home to the Russian president’s and his government, but to a group of palaces and cathedrals to which to public can visit. Other attractions include the Tsar’s Bell, the largest bell in the world at over 20ft high, but has never been rung after it was cracked during casting. The famous walls and towers of the Kremlin and this UNESCO world heritage site date back to 1482, however this area has been home to Russia’s most wealthy and powerful since the 11th century.
At first glance this might just seem like a department store, but it is an Russian institution that just has to be experienced. An abbreviation of “Glávnyj Universáĺnyj Magazín” which means “Main Universal Store”, a common name for what were once knows as “State Department Stores” across the former Soviet union. This ornate building which is beautifully lit up at night is a glimpse into the high society of Russia. Built between 1890 and 1893 as a huge trading centre this impressive building as always been at the heart of retail, even when it was used during the Bolshevik era as a symbol of equal opportunities for all to consume! Now the store sells expensive and exclusive products to all who can afford them, but a wander around this old arcade s a marvellously free activity!
A macabre monument to the Soviet leader and indeed the remnants of the soviet union on modern Russia. This tomb has displayed the body of the 1917 leader of the uprising since his death in 1924 with only a brief exception during the war. Lines of mourners would fill up Red Square for years to come and see the body of their beloved leader, so much so that this permanent granite structure was built as a permanent public mausoleum. Even now the queue snakes out of the square and takes well over an hour. Visiting this strange shrine to the past was something that will live for us for a long time. It was an odd and yet moving experience!
You can read more about it here: Visiting the Mausoleum of Lenin… A relic of the Soviet Union!
The Unknown Solider
Dedicated to the soldiers who died during the second world war this eternal flame is guarded constantly by the Kremlin regiment of the Russian Army. This particular incarnation of the shrine was opened in 1967 and contains the remains of the unknown Russian soldiers who were originally buried in a mass grave after the Battle of Moscow in 1941. The flame itself was transported and lit from that which burned at the field of Mars in Leningrad. The changing of the guard occurs every hour and the goose stepping officers are quite a sight to be seen!
The State Historical Museum
This impressive and striking building at the opposite end of the square to St. Basils was built in 1755 as a medical store. From 1872 it began to display what would become millions of artefacts from priceless artworks to prehistoric finds and modern day items of historical importance. This museum chronicles the history of Russian from its earliest beginnings. I also love how this bright read building looks like a snow topped palace with the white highlighted roves, it just adds to that magical feeling within red square!
Stand in awe in the centre of the famous cobbled square!
There is most definitely an atmosphere of grandeur when you step into Red Square and the weight of history really does make this place feel even more impressive than the stunning and striking architecture does. There is no doubt that it is a mixture of imposing, intimidating but also breath taking and dream like in equal measures. To step foot into red square is an experience every traveller should strive to have.
Have you ever been?
Check out our guide to Moscow here: 8 of the best things to do and see in MOSCOW, Russia