Moscow's main park, Gorky Park boasts a long and eventful history and a plethora of amusements. It has been Muscovites' favourite park for nearly a hundred years. This land was designated as the central municipal dump in 1900, and remained a dump for 20 years. Vladimir Lenin ordered the dump removed in 1921, and the land here and in the neighbouring Neskuchny Garden made suitable for the 1st National Agricultural and Primary-Industrial Exhibition. The area was cleaned and landscaped, and pavilions were built for the exhibition, shaping the current outline of Gorky Park. The park was intended as a spacious recreation and amusement spot for locals and visitors. There were amusement rides in the park from the mid-1980s on, but they were relocated elsewhere in the city in 2012, and Gorky Park was re-conceptualized as a family recreation spot with sports fields, bike and boat rental, Pioneer summer cinema, ping-pong tables and countless cafés. Celebrations and festivals are staged here during the warm season, devoted to culinary arts, kids' education, sports and many other subjects.
This old landscaped park, contiguous to Gorky Park, overlooks the Moskva River from its steep right bank. The famous Russian noble families, the Trubetskoys, the Orlovs, and the Golitsyns, once had their manors here with endless vistas guarded by living statues, and secret arbours tucked away amid the greenery. Factory owner Prokofy Demidov founded a botanical garden here and filled it with rare plants. In the 19th century, Neskuchny Garden was a popular recreation spot for Muscovites, who were lured by the promise of an idyllic stroll along the riverbank with a scenic view of Saint Andrew's Monastery. There was a summer theatre in Neskuchny Garden, where both local and visiting artists – gypsies and magicians – played. The Garden today is a landscaped forest with deep ravines, overgrown with lilies of the valley. The summer theatre is still here. Other attractions include a children's club, a menagerie, Fersman Mineralogical Museum, and a hunter's hut remaining from the Trubetskoy family times. TV quiz show What? Where? When? is filmed in the hunter's hut nowadays.
Vorobyovy Gory, or Sparrow Hills, is a steep wooded slope on the right bank of the Moskva River. The view of the city from the top of the hill is truly breathtaking, no wonder the spot is usually crowded. It is customary for newlyweds to come here after church. It was here that Alexander Herzen and Nikolay Ogarev once made a vow to fight tsarism. Russia's first Bird Day was held here. They say that Vladimir Mayakovsky was among the activists hanging birdhouses on trees that day. There is a famous ski jump at Vorobyovy Gory. Beyond the observation deck lies an amazing nature preserve with hidden paths, rare birds and lots of squirrels. Locals and visitors alike love to stroll here. There is enough room for everyone. You can always escape the crowded walkways, taking a secret path to seclusion. At the foot of Vorobyovy Gory, between the preserve and Neskuchny Garden, lies Saint Andrew's Monastery. There are tracks along the river, specially appointed for running, roller-skating and other active sports. River trams make a stop here on their way up or down the Moskva River.
Sokolniki is a massive park in the north-east of Moscow. This was all wild forests in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Tsars Ivan the Terrible and Aleksey Mikhailovich went falconing here. But wild nature was pushed out with every passing century: the thickets were cut down, clearings and vistas were carved until, by the 1930s, Sokolniki became a real "park for culture and recreation," in the parlance of the time, which it has remained to this day. You can stroll for hours amid the old vistas and ponds, overgrown with rosehip, and never meet another human being. There is a "quiet zone" in the park, where visitors are asked to turn off their cell phones, their music, and generally try to not make a sound. The amusements and facilities at Sokolniki include a children's "Science Innopark," astronomical observatory, calligraphy museum, rock-climbing wall, go-cart track, bike and segway rental, Pioneer summer cinema, some dance-floors and numerous cafés, scattered across the whole park. They make a skating rink in the park in winter, and build artificial sandy beaches in summer.
The Central Botanical Garden named after Nikolai Tsitsin is a sprawling green expanse in the north of Moscow. Rare plants are planted, propagated and protected at Nikolai Tsitsin Botanical Garden, one of the largest arboreta in Europe. Rare plants are exhibited in greenhouses, but in some parts of the garden they grow densely outdoors, forming microclimatic zones of their own. Some plants are planted here for scientific purposes, and some for education. The Botanical Garden borders on the VDNKh and the Ostankino Park with its magnificent mansion. When you plan a visit here, you can take in those other landmarks, as well. Just remember that the Botanical Garden is not a recreation spot, which means you cannot walk everywhere, but have to use paved walkways only.
This small park, planted in the centre of Moscow in 1894, is a conveniently located walking spot with benches, fancy lampposts, terraced cafés, a brass band on holidays, and an outdoor stage, where Feodor Chaliapin once sang, Sergei Rachmaninoff played, and Sarah Bernhardt acted. In summer, all kinds of festivals and organized picnics and tastings are held on the lawns. In winter, the park becomes a skating rink straight from an old film: children all dressed up, and their parents enjoying their grog in the café on the ice. Theme festivals are staged in the Hermitage Garden all year, most notably the Christmas Fair, summer jazz festival, and Middle Eastern Food Fest.
This is an idyllic park with rare plants, "behaving" strollers, secluded vistas and Golden Carp ponds. The Apothecaries' Garden was founded in 1706 to the order of Peter I, in order to grow medicinal herbs for court physicians. Medicine and botany students started coming here to learn after the patch became property of Lomonosov Moscow State University in the 19th century. Nothing has really changed in the 300 plus years, except that potions are no longer prepared from the plants that grow here. The same rare herbs grow here that grew here three centuries ago, marked with little plaques in Latin. Something blooms and exudes fragrances here at almost any time of the year. Phloxes blossom in July, drawing crowds, starworts in September, and in spring a festival of greenhouse plants is held. The Apothecaries' Garden posts daily updates on its website about plants in bloom and plants on the wane.
Krasnaya Presnya is a secluded park, planted in the 1930s on the grounds of what had used to be the Studenets Manor, which had at different times belonged to the Princes Gagarin, Fyodor Tolstoy, and Moscow's Governor General Arseny Zakrevsky. All the proprietors made sure their estate looked gorgeous. Architect Gilardi had worked long and hard on the manor, but now his product can only be appreciated in lithographs. Today's Krasnaya Presnya is a park of straight vistas with Dutch ponds, an island in the middle, the Octagon water pumping station remaining from the old times, a football field, a moveable cinema and some playgrounds.
Elk Island is a large forest that begins in the north-east of Moscow, and ends far beyond the city limits. This national park officially consists of six forest parks, but when you stroll around, you are unlikely to notice when one park becomes another. It is pretty wild here, and really nice. Somewhere amid the ravines and forest paths you may run into a herd of moose. Tsar Aleksey Mikhailovich used to hunt moose here. Elk Island has a bio station, which welcomes excursions, and will show the grown moose and calves in its custody. Wild moose are a little harder to meet, but sometimes they will show up even in the urban neighbourhoods close to the forest. There are also deer, wild boar and beavers within the park's territory. One can spy beavers' huts on the banks of the rivers and ponds.
Serebryany Bor (Silver Pinewood) is a pine forest in the west of Moscow, one of Muscovites' favourite recreation destination. There is this explanation about where the name of the forest came from. They say that the pines took on a certain cold, tremulous silver hue in the bright sun at sunrise. Serebryany Bor is ideal for biking in summer, and skiing in winter. In hot weather swimming is also an option: there are well-equipped beaches along the river.
Situated right in the historical heart of Moscow, by the Kremlin walls, Zaryadye is not just a park. It is a cultural and educational site with a unique collection of plants spanning most of Russia’s climatic zones – forests, plains, meadows and sub-Arctic terrain. There are over a million plantings, including some rare plant species mentioned on the Red List of Moscow.
The park’s media centres, “Time Machine” and “Aloft,” which are both unrivalled in Russia, invite Zaryadye visitors on a virtual tour of the past to witness momentous historic events from Moscow’s history, as well as a virtual flyover of the Russian capital’s foremost landmarks. Zaryadye visitors are in line for most captivating views of the city, fascinating examples of old and modern Russian architecture, nature sanctuaries and, finally, a virtual flying experience.
The places to visit at Zaryadye include the “Ice Cave,” underground interactive archaeology museum, Florarium greenhouse complex which practices soil-less plant growing, Zapovednoe Posolstvo scientific learning centre, and kids’ media studio. The staff at Zaryadye’s visitor information centre will help you purchase your tickets and will also give you an informative tour on request. Excellent photo opportunities await visitors on one of the city’s best observation decks, the Soaring Bridge, from where breathtaking views unfold on the Kremlin, the Church of Christ Our Saviour, the tower on Kotelnicheskaya Embankment and the Moskva River. Zaryadye is the home of one of Moscow’s largest outdoor arenas: the Grand Amphitheatre underneath an unusual translucent structure, known as “Glass Bark.” The Patriarch’s Metochion is also in the park. Finally, there is a world-class mixed-use concert facility with a custom-designed sound system at Zaryadye.