Moscow Transformed: 4 Reasons Why Now Is the Best Time to Travel There
MIR co-founder and president, Doug Grimes, journeys overseas for months each year, looking for new experiences in favorite old places and updating itineraries to bring you the best of the best in MIR’s slice of the globe.
Moscow has gone through a major transformation over the last three or four years. It has become a very friendly and desirable city to spend time in. I suggest to travelers that they spend a few extra days in Moscow to really take in the city and all its beautiful architecture, pedestrian streets, cool restaurants, museums, and cultural events.
Here are four recent changes that have given Moscow a different look and feel today, and make the city a fabulous place to explore.
1. Handsome new pedestrian streets make it easy and pleasant to explore on foot.
Moscow’s changes amount to more than simply more pedestrian streets. A city-wide plan, called My Street (Moya Ulitsa), began to radically transform the look of the city back in 2015. Termed “the biggest renovation program in Moscow’s modern history,” My Street planted acres of trees and grass, widened streets, transformed the shabby Moskva River embankments into pleasant, well-lit promenades perfect for strolling, paved public spaces and pedestrian walkways in granite, and opened up historic Triumfalnaya Square, which had devolved into a stark asphalt traffic island amid streams of Moscow cars and trucks.
An offshoot of My Street, called Clear Sky, removed “visual rubbish,” such as overhead power and communications wires, illegal advertising, and unsightly banners.
Triumfalnaya Square has become a commodious user-friendly space that connects to nearby pedestrian streets, with swings, plantings, cafés, and local people enjoying a ramble. Kuznetsky Most, one of Moscow’s oldest streets, has morphed into a lively evening spot, with street musicians, restaurants, and bars.
The result of all this urban renewal is a relaxed, clean, well-lit, and inviting city center, one that’s easy to enjoy on foot. Many of the pedestrian thoroughfares are interconnected, so a person can take long car-free walks through some the city’s most picturesque areas, where buildings from the 17th to the 19th centuries have been restored.
MIR’s Director of Sales, Joanna Millick, points out that it seems to her Muscovites are more casual and laid back than she’s ever seen them. “It’s like they feel they don’t have to dress up and hurry around to compete with the rest of the world. They’re sure of their place in it.”
2. Fewer kiosks make the sidewalks clean and clear.
In another successful move toward the beautification of Moscow streets, (though highly unpopular with some – urban renewal always has its downside), the city set out on the night of Feb 8, 2016 to knock down more than 100 of the dilapidated kiosks that sprang up just before and after the Soviet Union collapsed. Handy but shoddy, these sidewalk shacks offered anything from a pack of smokes or a soda to flashlight batteries, sweet buns, and packets of ramen.
When the kiosks first began to appear on the streets, there were no modern all- purpose grocery stores, simply small state-owned shops that sold bread, or milk, or meats. The kiosks were an experiment in capitalism that worked well, until the powers-that-be decided that they were unsightly. And they were. The streets look more prosperous and less cluttered without the gallant little tin huts that some are still nostalgic for.
3. Zaryadye, the new park across from Red Square, gives Muscovites and travelers an open green area to enjoy picnics, concerts, and great views over the Kremlin.
Launched in 2013, and designed by the same cutting-edge architectural firm that gave us the Manhattan Highline, Zaryadye is 13 acres of contemporary public space situated just across the road from Red Square. Built on the abandoned open area where the modernist behemoth of the Rossiya Hotel once squatted, it’s the first large public park created in Moscow since 1958.
Zaryadye means “behind the trade rows,” since this neighborhood long ago was situated behind the market stalls near Red Square. Today its name connotes a quiet place beyond the hustle and bustle of the Moscow city center.
With four different vegetative zones, an amphitheater, an ice cave, and a sightseeing bridge cantilevered over the river, Zaryadye appeals to just about everybody – urban ramblers, families with children, travelers, and local couples looking for a romantic place to stroll.
4. The new Space Museum at VDNKh is an out-of-this-world treat.
I’ve always been fascinated by space: I’ve been privileged to attend at least nine manned Soyuz launches in Russia’s space facility in Baikonur, Kazakhstan (more info about our Inside the Russian Space Program tour). I highly recommend this modern space museum in Moscow.
Opened in April 2018 at Moscow’s VDNKh exhibition center, the new Cosmonautics and Aviation Center is a state-of-the-art museum complex highlighting more than 120 aircraft and spacecraft never before exhibited, including the Vostok-1 descent vehicle in which Yuri Gagarin landed after the first manned space flight. Game simulators, a unique 5D cinema showing the beginnings of the universe, and over 2,000 archival documents, photos, and videos are labeled both in Russian and in English.
Moscow: A world-class city
The problem Moscow used to have was that it was a world-class city without looking like a world-class city. It had five star hotels, innovative cuisine, great museums, sophisticated inhabitants, and high-end international shops, but it lacked the kind of gracious and accessible spaces that make a city a friendly and easy place to navigate. Today much of that has changed, and Moscow looks as comfortable with itself as its citizens do.
Travel to Moscow with MIR
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(Top Photo: Red Square at night, travelers’ delight! Photo: Jonathan Irish)
PUBLISHED: March 26, 2019