Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Testing the City's Waters for a Day at the Beach

As the green metro line heads north, losing passengers as it travels farther and farther from the center, those remaining show the same telling traits. Sandals are a-plenty, as are beach mats, and the odd towel can been seen poking out of an overstuffed plastic bag.

These are people headed for the beach, escaping from Moscow's congestion and heat to cool off in the dark, enveloping waters of the Moscow River and several of its tributaries and ponds.

The city's natural zony otdykha, or recreation areas, have lately developed a bad reputation for swimming, which is not surprising.

Pollution levels in the waterways to the south — downstream — of the city are increasingly high.

Bathers have complained of the infamous "bather's itch," a skin rash caused by parasites that normally live in ducks, gulls and other waterfowl.

The parasite lives in the birds' blood system and settles on the bottom of the ponds in bird excrement. Eventually, tiny maggots, just 1 millimeter long, travel to the surface of the water and wait for their next host.

A 1995 study by the Parasite Research Institute on the Moscow River and various ponds throughout the city showed that more than half of checked locations had the parasite.

Dr. Rose Gazin of the American Medical Center said she has not yet seen any swimming-related complaints this year, but it's just a matter of time.

"Last year, we had cases of people coming in with rashes and gastroenteritis [resulting in uncomfortable but generally mild stomach cramps] as a direct result of swimming in the river," Gazin said.

"If you're going to swim, just try not to swallow the water."

Although not a personal advocate of swimming in natural waters, Gazin said that if the water seems clean and reasonably fast-flowing, she leaves the choice to the individual's common sense.

Unfortunately, the bad news doesn't end with dirty water. Since the official start of the swimming season June 1, 44 people have drowned and 15 more have been rescued in Moscow's swimming holes, The Associated Press reported July 2.

Yury Vedeneyev, head of the Emergency Situation Ministry's Moscow branch, said the majority of those who drowned were men attempting to swim drunk, the AP reported.

They had also ignored the "No Swimming" signs and plunged into forbidden areas that "conceal logs, metal rods and other debris under the water."

Despite the horror stories, there are indeed plenty of places officially deemed safe to take a dip.

In terms of cleanliness, the outlying lakes are preferable, followed by northern, out-of-town river locations, untouched by the pungent effluence of Moscow's some 900 factories.

An obvious choice for many beach combers is to take a raketa, or hydrofoil, that ploughs 50 kilometers up the Moscow River and stops at the numerous sandy beaches on the northern stretch. The hydrofoils leave from Rechnoi Vokzal at 51 Leningradskoye Shosse.

Officially Approved Beaches

Serebryany Bor-2, -3 — Metro Polezhayevskaya, then trolleybus 20, 21 or 65. Metro Okhotny Ryad, then trolleybus 20. Metro Sokol, then trolleybus 65. (NB — the beach at Serebryany Bor-1 has not been declared safe by the State Health Inspectorate.)
Dynamo Beach — Metro Vodny Stadion.
Severny Rechnoi Vokzal — 51 Leningradskoye Shosse. Metro Rechnoi Vokzal.
Zvenigorod — Take an elektrichka or bus from Belorussky Station.
State Health Inspectorate —

From the Rechnoi Vokzal metro station, turn left, cross Leningradskoye Shosse and walk through the park toward the impressive Severny Rechnoi Vokzal building. Ticket booths and timetables are situated to the left, opposite the main building; however, tickets can be purchased on the hydrofoil itself, starting at around 50 rubles. Naturally, there are long lines during the weekend, but hydrofoils leave regularly.

The most visited places along the route are Gorki, the closest stop to the city with a sandy beach, volleyball nets and several kiosks; the almost-too-popular Solnechnaya Polyana, with it's surrounding forest; Troitskoye; and the sandless Aksakovo.

However, passengers agreed that the most popular of all the hydrofoil stops was Bukhta Radosti, or the Bay of Joy, on the Klyazminskoye Reservoir.

The reservoir, where Moscow gets most of its drinking water, reputedly has the cleanest water and the nicest beach. There are also volleyball facilities.

But you don't have to take the hydrofoil to find decent places to swim. To the left of the Vodny Stadion metro station, again across Leningradskoye Shosse, is the Dynamo plyazh, or beach, which, apart from its convenient location, provides showers, volleyball and kiosks. There is a 30-ruble charge to use the beach.

By far the most popular and certainly the best known of the zony otdykha are the Serebryany Bor beaches, situated to the northwest of the city.

Serebryany Bor literally means the silver forest, no doubt due to the surrounding silver birches or maybe the sun's glint off the clean waters and sand dunes.

But the peace and beauty invariably attract throngs of people, and during the summer weekends, the place is a mass of hot bodies and blaring music.

However, things have become slightly more refined since Nivea skincare products decided to sponsor the Serebryany Bor-3 beach starting June 26. There are now umbrellas, folding chairs, a swimming instructor, photographer and toilets, not to mention the obligatory volleyball nets. Nivea is also providing minibuses from Polezhayevskaya metro station.

Heightened tranquility can be found, but it will cost you your clothes. Moscow's nude beach is only a short 400-meter walk away at Serebryany Bor-2.

Another restful zona otdykha is Zvenigorod, where, although the river runs fast and strong, there are shallow areas. If you can drag yourself off the beach, the town of Zvenigorod is also worth a visit to see its beautiful hilltop monastery.

The Moscow department of the State Health Inspectorate provides information on the state of water cleanliness in more than 40 designated swimming zones.

Occasionally, their results are published in the local press, most notably Komsomolskaya Pravda, which claims that the beaches to the northwest of the city were voted the best last year by swimmers.

However, the Health Ministry also posts weekly updates on its web site as to which zones are safe for swimming and which zones are hazardous (

Their June 27 missal says 12 "recreation areas are available with bathing" — a decrease of three from the beginning of June.

All the above zones have been cleared by the department as safe places to swim.