Ports of Call: Moscow
Sam Ballard finds plenty to enjoy in the Russian capital, from captivating buildings to bizarre theatre
Russia is a land of mystery. Those who have never been, know little about it beyond political stories that talk of its bare chested leader and geopolitical shadow play. Those who have been, however, know the truth behind the headlines. Russia is a country of beautiful landscapes, fascinating history and some of the friendliest people in the world.
As a cruise destination, Moscow can be found at either the beginning or end of a Russian Waterways sailing, bookended with St Petersburg. These itineraries give passengers an incredible insight into Russian life – with some of the most beautiful churches you will ever see (just Google Kizhi to see what we mean) as well as world famous cultural institutions (St Petersburg’s Hermitage is hard to beat).
A number of river cruise lines have Russian Waterway itineraries, including the likes of Viking, Vodohod, Uniworld, Scenic, Riviera and CroisiEurope operating between Russia’s two biggest cities. Vodohod, the Russian line, runs cruises beyond the Volga, where most Western companies operate, including a Siberian Wilderness itinerary.
Naturally, St Petersburg and Moscow are the two standout ports of call on the most known Russian river cruises. The two cities are incredibly different – St Petersburg’s palaces and waterways have the grandeur of Vienna – while Moscow is far more identifiable as Russian. Whether that’s because of Red Square, which contains Lenin’s Mausoleum, Saint Basil’s Cathedral and the Kremlin, or because of the ever present military presence you will find there. There is a changing of the guard every hour by the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
The Kremlin itself is actually a fortress which contains an entire complex of buildings, you’ll find a number of palaces, an armoury and cathedrals inside. The Assumption Cathedral, the most famous, is where tsars of old were crowned since the 15thcentury. The Grand Kremlin Palace is the official residence of Vladimir Putin, although he actually lives elsewhere within the fortress’s walls.
Away from the famous sights, there is plenty to get your teeth into. Unsurprisingly, shopping is big business in Russia’s capital. If you like retail therapy then a pilgrimage to the GUM department store is a must. The ornate mall looks more like a boulevard in Paris than a shopping centre, with its gothic lamp posts, stone facades and glass domed roof.
If your guests have an evening free then a visit to the Russian ballet is a must. Many ships offer excursions to a special performance. However, if your guests are aficionados then it’s worth reminding them that the Bolshoi, one of the most spectacular theatres in the world, is right on their doorstep. A visit is one that won’t be forgotten.
One of the more unusual excursions that Moscow has to offer is a trip around the Metro. This may sound unusual – or even hellish depending on how you get to work – but believe us, it’s a marvel to behold. Stations are decorated with beautiful frescoes and statues depicting the glorious struggle of the Russian revolution and even chandeliers. Some stations look more like the interior of a grand palace than a capital city’s underground network. It sure beats the Victoria Line, anyway.
Three Moscow Cruises
14 days to the Caspian Sea
Vodohod – MS Konstantin Korotkov
September 24, 2020 From €2,730pp
This itinerarary – named The Real Russia – begins with three days in Moscow, before heading down the Volga to the merchant city of Astrakhan, via Volgograd.
13 days to St Petersburg
Viking River Cruises – Viking Ingvar
May 17, 2021 From £3,395pp
The Waterways of the Tsars itinerary includes three days in Moscow and St Petersburg at each end and includes 10 guided excursions in fascinating destinations such as Kizhi.
11 days to Volgograd
Volga Dream – MS Volga Dream
October 6, 2020 From £2,845pp
This journey on a family owned and operated vessel heads to the city famous for the Battle of Stalingrad in World War Two, via stops at Samara (for the Space Museum) and Kazan.