Red Square

Arteom Geodakyan/TASS
This is Moscow's and Russia's main square, the immediately recognizable cityscape few foreign films about Russia do without. Surrounding the square are the Kremlin with its Nikolskaya and Spasskaya Towers overlooking the square, the State Historical Museum, GUM department store with multicoloured windows and outdoor café, and Pokrovsky Cathedral (Saint Basil's Cathedral), behind which there opens up a peaceful view of the Moskva River and the tranquil Zamoskvorechye District beyond. Also in the square or facing it are the Lobnoye Mesto (execution spot), Lenin's Mausoleum, the monument to Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky, the leaders of the second people's militia, which freed Moscow from Polish occupation in 1612, and a part of the Kremlin Wall with entombments of famous Soviet political and cultural figures, including Joseph Stalin and the writer Maxim Gorky.

Before the 1900s, the Red Square, the city's finest place (the Russian word for "red" – "krasny" – meant "beautiful"), was always abuzz with life. Here vendors hawked their wares, royal edicts were read out loud, the occasional public executions were staged, and the public house Pod Pushkoy by the Lobnoye Mesto, surrounded by trophy cannons, was always full. The archaeological digs conducted here yielded lots of small change, cheap glasses and human teeth.

While Red Square is still crowded most of the time, fairs are only held here during the Christmas season. Those fairs are lots of fun, with skating, the honey brew, hot pancakes and beautiful Russian porcelain. At the beginning of September, Red Square becomes the grounds of the Spasskaya Tower international festival of military brass bands, and welcomes the military parade on Victory Day, May 9. The rest of the year the square remains open to strollers, enjoying the sight of the illuminated GUM and listening to the chimes of Spasskaya Tower.