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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

9 Things to Do During Your Moscow Layover (Photo Essay)

With the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics around the corner, many international visitors will find their flight to Sochi is routed via Moscow.

Sheremetyevo Airport has a diverse assortment of medium-quality dining and duty free shopping, but the reason you are even going to the Olympics in Russia is because you are adventurous and you have a healthy appreciation of action.

Go explore Moscow with our list of top things to see while other visitors rest on airport benches and eat overpriced Italian food, (but check your visa before you do.)

1. Marvel at the Moscow Metro.


Pascal Dumont for MT

For visitors used to cities where subterranean transit involves close encounters with rats or urine, Moscow's metro stations seem like highly-ornate palaces.

Take the Aeroexpress train from the airport to Belorussky Station and hop on the green line towards the center of the city (the side of the station that features a much longer list of stops).

If you don't speak Russian, make sure to bring along a phrase book and a readiness to find patient Muscovites.

Time: 70 minutes.

2. Get Yourself a Layover Souvenir.


Pascal Dumont for MT

Russia is incredibly large, with a surface area that exceeds the former planet Pluto.

Popping above ground at Teatralnaya metro station, you will see another symbol of Russia's size, the Bolshoi (Russian for 'big') Theater, home of the country's most prestigious ballet and opera companies.

If you head south you will pass a statue of German communist philosopher Karl Marx, who was keen on explaining the big struggles of history and made a big impact on Russia and the 20th century.

A group of souvenir stalls nearby his statue on Ploshchad Revolutsii can satisfy all your matryoshka (Russian nesting doll), furry hat and Olympic gear needs, though you will get plenty of that in Sochi and Marx probably wouldn't approve.

Time: 10 minutes.

3. Stroll Around Red Square.


Pascal Dumont for MT

Stroll past Marx towards a gathering place that outlasted the Soviet Union and will most likely outlast tacky Bosco track suits: Red Square. People pondering the origin of the name “Red” Square, sometimes link it to the hue of the surrounding Kremlin walls and to the color most often associated with communism. In actual fact, the name is most likely derived from the Russian word “Krasny,” which nowadays means “red” but in Old Russian also meant “beautiful.”

Regardless of the origins of the name, there is no denying that Red Square — at 330 meters long and 70 meters wide — has become something of a centerpiece for the Russian capital and has featured everything from giant Louis Vuitton suitcases to parades to a man who nailed his scrotum into the cobblestones.

4. Empty Your Purse at GUM.


Pascal Dumont for MT

Red Square is also the center of your quick and dirty tour de Russe. The stores at the shopping mall GUM, to the east of the square tend to offer more Italian luxury goods than Russian produce. It costs nothing to have a look around though and there is an extremely reasonable canteen located on the third floor where visitors can pick up a decent lunch for about 350 rubles.

5. Meet Lenin in the Flesh.


Pascal Dumont for MT

Long lines generate on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for Lenin's Tomb, right on Red Square. The ban on pictures and a strictly enforced silence rule may scare some visitors off, but do you really want to pass up an opportunity to see the formaldehyde-preserved corpse of Russia's first revolutionary leader? Thought not.

Best part: entrance is free.

5. Sniff Some History at St. Basil's Cathedral and the State Historical Museum.


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Make sure to trot to the ornate cathedral St. Basil's on the square's south side and the State Historical Museum on the opposite side so that you can learn a fact or two about “that place with the towers and the colorful onion church.”

7. Pay Your Respects to the Unknown Soldier.


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The Moscow Kremlin, a fortified complex located to the southwest of Red Square, dates back to the 15th century and is well worth a visit — even if time only allows for a quick stroll around the grounds.

Covering 16 acres and overlooking the Moskva River, the Kremlin houses several tsarist cathedrals and has served as a residence to Soviet leaders and the official workplace of Russian presidents. Performances regularly take place at the State Kremlin Palace concert hall and visitors can see treasures, including what some claim is a stolen Super Bowl ring, at the Kremlin's museum.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is also located close to the walls of the Kremlin in the nearby Alexandrovsky Sad, and it is here that an impressive changing of the guard takes place every hour.

8. Visit the VDNKh and See Socialist Realism at its Best.


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Also known as the All-Russia Exhibition Center, VDNKh was built during the 1930s to attest to the success of the Soviet economic model— though domestic stores have long since given way to touristy market stalls, seeking to capitalize on the demand for Soviet kitsch. Take the orange line to stroll around the grounds and see the very best that socialist-realism had to offer.


Pascal Dumont for MT

9. Stroll Past Christ the Savior Cathedral on Your Way to Some Green Space.


Pascal Dumont for MT

Though often thought of as a city of brick, Moscow has many parks and a large amount of green (or white with snow) space. Walking south along the Moskva River from the Kremlin will take visitors past Christ the Savior Cathedral, a massive Orthodox church that was rebuilt for $250 million and was generally thought of as an eyesore before becoming the site of Pussy Riot’s “punk prayer” performance.

The river then winds to Gorky Park, a cultural center in Moscow named after the Soviet writer Maxim Gorky that has recently been renovated and become a playground for hip young Muscovites.

Further down the river leads past the Luzhniki Stadium, home to the 1980 Olympics, and Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills) park, which includes excellent views of Moscow and Moscow State University, the country’s most prestigious university. Both Gorky Park and Vorobyovy Gory are accessible by metro on the red line’s Park Kultury and Vorobyovy Gory stops.

If time permits, head back into the center and take a southbound green-line train to metro Kolomenskoye. This former Tsarist estate on the banks of the Moscow River is a great place to catch a few breaths of fresh Moscow air. Check out the museum reserve, admire the view over the city, or just sit in one of the park's many wooden cafes and eat pancakes — you can do it all here and more.

It’s easy to spend the rest of your day at one of these locations, but make sure to make it back to Belorussky Station to catch the Aeroexpress to the airport and catch your flight.
The Olympics won't wait!