Top winter spots in Moscow

Suggested activities in and around the capital during the January holidays
25 December 2015

The Nutcracker at Bolshoi

Holiday installation at the Bolshoi Theatre © Vyacheslav Prokofiev/TASS

In winter, the opportunity to see The Nutcracker at the Bolshoi Theatre is in itself worth the trip to Moscow. The magical Christmas tale, composed by Ernst Theodor Amadeus Hoffmann and Pyotr Tchaikovsky, and told in 1966 by Soviet ballet choreographer Yuri Grigorovich, plays in late December through early January every year. The Bolshoi star cast will be dancing the uniquely beautiful ballet on its historic stage. It’s an enjoyable experience just to be there. The house is always full for The Nutcracker. They start selling tickets for the December shows at the end of September, and for the January shows, in early October. The tickets aren’t cheap, but The Nutcracker at the Bolshoi is worth it.

Adress: Metro station Teatralnaya, Teatralnaya Square, 1
Phone: +7 (495) 455 55 55

Skating Rink in Red Square

Skaters at the Red Square rink © Sergei Fadeichev/TASS

At Russia’s No. 1 skating rink, brightly illuminated for the holiday season, couples, kids, seniors, and professional figure skaters glide gleefully, twirling round and round. This is their only chance to skate here, in the space between the Kremlin walls, the GUM and the History Museum, in an area densely crammed with historical landmarks. Faint smells of mead, mulled wine and fresh bread are wafting along from the Christmas Bazaar nearby.

Address: Krasnaya Square, Metro stations: Okhotny Ryad, Teatralnaya, Ploshchad Revolutsii
Phone: + 7 (495) 788 43 43

Icebreaker cruise on Moskva River

Segei Fadeichev/TASS

When winter comes into its own, and the Moskva River freezes over, an icebreaker starts lining missions up and down the river. Its route repeats the summer routes of the “river trams.” The landmarks you will see out of its windows include Novodevichy Convent, Vorobyovy Hills, Church of Christ Our Saviour, Estrada Theatre, Kremlin, and Novospassky Monastery, to name a few. The ticket office is by the landing, close to Kievskaya Metro station. That’s also where you board the icebreaker.

Valentin Serov exhibition at Tretyakov Gallery

Visitors of the Valentin Serov exhibit at the Alexander III portrait. Tretyakov Gallery © Artiom Korotaev/TASS

This is an exhibition of staggering proportions, featuring Valentin Serov’s art pulled from the Tretyakov Gallery repositories and private collections. It’s fun to explore the show on your own, but it would be a far more illuminating experience with an audio guide or an excursion. Along with copious other information, you will learn that Serov painted his famous Girl with Peaches when he was only 23. The show is open until 24 January 2016.

Address: Krymsky Val, 10, Metro stations: Park Kultury, Oktyabrskaya
Phone: +7 (495) 951 13 62, +7 (499) 238 13 78

Chayka swimming pool

Chayka is an outdoor swimming pool in the centre of Moscow. It’s good for a nice swim in spring or summer, but in winter, it’s quite an experience, especially when it’s snowing. Dense steam rises from the heated water, shot through by rays of light. Snowflakes melt a few feet above the surface. No need to sign up in advance, just get a general practitioner’s clearance on the spot.

Address: Turchaninov Pereulok, 3, Building 1, Metro station: Park Kultury
Phone: +7 (495) 246 13 44

Urban Farm at VDNKh

Visitors of the Urban Farm at VDNKh © Nikolai Galkin/TASS

Tucked away amid the sprawling VDNKh pavilions, this amazing place is reminiscent of a farmstead in the Alps with its neat cows, goats and poultry. If you sign up for a master class, you will learn all you need to know about the properties of winter crops. Other amusements include forging a real horseshoe in the blacksmith shop, or milking a goat. There are heated premises at the farm where to hide from the freezing cold outside, and there’s also a café.

Address: Prospekt Mira, 119, VDNKh, next to Pavilion #44, Metro stations: VDNKh, Botanichesky Sad
Phone: +7 (926) 866 87 84

Shopping for headscarves at Pavlovsky Posad

Finishing work of the headscarves at the Pavlovposad Headscarf Manufactory © Artiom Geodakyan/TASS

Pavlovsky Posad, an hour’s train ride away from Moscow, is where they make the famous fringed headscarves. They first started making headscarves here at the end of the 18th century, but the printed Pavlovoposadsky Platok as we know it did not come around until the mid-1800s. Back then, they would print a thin wool cloth with the aid of carved wooden moulds. This was hard work, and required superb craftsmanship. They introduced silk-screen printing in the 1970s, but at the end of the 20th century, modern technology firmly took over the printing process. Although they reproduce the traditional ornaments, the scarves and shawls made at Pavlovsky Posad these days are far superior in quality to those which were crafted 150 years ago. Pavlovsky Posad headscarves were on display at the 1937 World Fair in Paris. That’s how they became famous.

Address: Ulitsa Kalyaeva, 5, Pavlovsky Posad
Phone: +7 (49643) 707-55, +7 (919) 724-8364 (museum)

A dip in an ice-hole

Dipping in Talitsa at the Smolensk Temple of the Sofrino village celebrating the Baptism of Jesus © Viktor Berezkin/TASS

Russians go dipping in icy water en masse on 19 January, the Orthodox Festival of the Epiphany. The customary time period for this activity is between the evening of the 18th and the evening of the 19th of January. In 2016, Epiphany falls on a Friday, so the turnout of bathers and strollers is likely to be more massive than it usually is. It is not necessary to wait for the holiday to go swimming in icy water: some Russians do it all winter, especially after a steam banya. There are designated spots in and around Moscow for dipping in an ice-hole or a font basin, usually located by some boat landings on the rivers and lakes. One such location is at Serebryany Bor.

The Blue Bird at the MKhAT

This version of The Blue Bird, a fairy play by Maurice Maeterlinck, was staged by Konstantin Stanislavsky in 1908, and has hardly changed since. It is arguably the most archaic theatre production still playing in Moscow. The slowly, ingenuously unravelling story is not what the kids are accustomed to these days, and yet The Blue Bird continues to mesmerize audiences of any age with its artful stage design, amazing costumes and powerful, finely honed acting. The Blue Bird belongs to that rare breed of children’s plays, where the nature of Miracle and Duty is discussed in simple, yet grown-up terms.

Address: Tverskoy Boulevard, 22, Metro station: Tverskaya, Pushkinskaya
Phone: +7 (495) 697 87 73

Antiques Fair at Danilovsky Market

The recently overhauled Danilovsky is now Moscow’s most “progressive” farmers’ market. In addition to first-rate produce, the offering includes an unusual food court, which serves pierogi and coffee. The restaurants here are serious about gastronomy, offering fast food menus formulated specially for an outdoor market environment, and occasionally giving lectures on cooking and ethnic culinary traditions. Danilovsky has recently launched an antiques fair on Sundays. The Christmas and New Year’s Eve is the time to check out things like collector’s Christmas decorations of fragile glass, Soviet multicoloured garlands, and miscellaneous porcelain figurines. All kinds of retro stuff are on offer: vintage cameras, tableware, jewellery, books, and much more.

Address: Ulitsa Mytnaya, 74, Metro station: Tulskaya
Phone: +7 (968) 632 38 27

Znamenskaya Church at Dubrovitsy

One of the prime landmarks near Moscow, the Church of the Annunciation (Znamenskaya) at Dubrovitsy is a rare baroque specimen that would look sensational in the downtown, and looks surreal amid suburban nature. Peter the Great himself attended the consecration of the church, built at the end of the 17th century by his mentor Boris Golitsin. Peter’s attendance helped pacify the local peasants, who were up in arms over the unwelcome outlandish edifice. The church stands tall on a high hill where the rivers Pakhra and Desna meet, which makes a great ice-hill to sled off of in winter.

Address: Church of the Annunciation of the Holy Virgin, Dubrovitsy, Podolsky Rayon, Moscow Oblast
Phone: + 7 (4967) 65 16 44

The Snow Maiden, ballet at Stanislavsky Theatre

Alexander Ostrovsky’s fairy play, staged in 1961 by famous choreographer Vladimir Burmeister for the London Festival Ballet. Burmeister wrote the libretto himself, using Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s score for Ostrovsky’s play, and a few other Tchaikovsky pieces. Thus Tchaikovsky’s “fourth ballet” was born (Tchaikovsky had composed three ballets in his lifetime), which is now an internationally acclaimed classic. In 1963, Burmeister brought The Snow Maiden to his home stage, the Stanislavsky Theatre, where it’s been playing ever since, and its popularity has only increased in the past 50 years. This winter tale of loneliness and yearning, afflicting the Snow Maiden, doomed to live her life among the human beings, is told in the language of lyrical dance, which will not be lost on anyone or leave anyone indifferent. Neither will the magical winter forest props, sparkling snowy costumes, precise dance movements, and Tchaikovsky’s great music.

Address: Ulitsa Bolshaya Dmitrovka, 17, Metro station: Chekhovskaya
Phone.: + 7 (495) 723 73 25

Losiny Ostrov bio station

At this biological research station in the Losiny Ostrov (Elk Island) forest range in the north of Moscow, elk can be seen any time of year, both at designated spots and – by accident - on forest paths. It’s easier to spot the elk amid the snow-covered thickets in winter, when the trees are bare. If you take an excursion, guided by a bio station staff member, elk sightings are positively guaranteed. Sign up for an excursion in advance.

Address: Metro VDNKh or Los railway station
Phone: +7 (965) 230 60 31

Journey to Christmasland festival

A street theatre performance at the Novopushkinsky Garden during the holiday season © Stanislav Krasilnikov/TASS

This urban winter festival with fires, Christmas bazaars and festive illumination livens up the city centre every year, coming to 42 sites at the same time: city squares, boulevards and parks. Every site gets its own theme and decorations. Some are devoted to the Nativity of Jesus Christ, others celebrate simple human pleasures, others still are impromptu skating rinks with free hockey lessons, and then there are whole streets festooned with flickering lights in such abundance that it takes your breath away. These “Christmas Lights” are the highlight of the festival. The offering of amusements is pretty much the same everywhere: slapstick shows, food and gift fairs, and lots of fun until the New Year’s holidays end.


'Robo-yolka' party at Sokolniki

One of the most unusual Christmas tree parties in Moscow, Robo-yolka (Robot Christmas Tree) is an interactive play staged by children’s theatre director Yuri Alesin and the Robot Ballroom theatre company. This expansive show, based on two fairy tales at once: Snow-white and The Sleeping Beauty, is billed as an “innovative musical show” about how “robots have feelings, too.” All the pernicious qualities of the inhabitants of Robo-Kingdom, such as hubris, envy and anger, stem from malfunctions in their electronic works and a lack of spare parts. Therefore, all the bad things in Robo-Kingdom are correctible, and they will be fixed sooner if the young theatre lovers help out. Some big-name actors, known for their work with the Meierhold Centre, Polunin’s Theatre and Sovremennik Theatre, are on the show. The highly enjoyable show will be complemented by some contests, a fair, a robot lab, a display of scientific magickry, and gifts.

Address: KVC Sokolniki, Pavilion 11.1, Metro station: Sokolniki
Phone.: +7 (926) 579 29 59

The History of a Miracle

The chamber quality of this winter play is matched by the homey quality of the stage where it plays: Practica Theatre. The actors tell the story of the Nativity of Jesus Christ with the aid of the simplest objects: a feather, some white powder, and some jugs that look like people. The company that staged it, Creative Alliance 9, is a company of very young people, who relate to children easily and naturally. The show will play from 2 to 10 January 2016.

Address: Trekhprudny Pereulok, 11/13, Building 1, Metro station: Mayakovskaya
Phone.: +7 (495) 544 55 45

Etnomir Park

In this ethnographic park 140km away from Moscow they will show you graphically what it’s like to live in a tepee or a yurt, haul water from the well on a shoulder-yoke, and bake bread in a traditional Russian wood-burning oven. The local amusements include games, contests, rides, master classes, excursions, a sledge dog farm, a bird house, and a puppet theatre. All these amusements and many more await you at Russia’s largest ethno theme park and museum, covering a sprawling 140 hectares of land. They stage a festival here every winter, showcasing the celebration of Christmas and New Year in different countries. The programme features fireworks, quaint foreign customs, competitions, gifts, downhill sledding and dog-sledding.

Address: Petrovo, Borovsky Rayon, Kaluga Oblast
Phone: +7 (495) 241 54 43, +7 (495) 627 51 90


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