No place better represents Russia than Red Square, or Krasnaya Ploshchad. Thousands of years of history have played out on this brick plaza, long used by the occupants of the Kremlin to congregate, celebrate, and castigate for all to see.
Start at Teatralnaya Ploshchad, or Theater Square, site of the celebrated (1) Bolshoi Theater (Teatralnaya Ploshchad 1; www.bolshoi.ru) and the lesser known (2) Maly Theater (Teatralnaya Ploshchad 1/6). The fantastic facade across the street is the (3) Metropol Hotel (Teatralny proezd 1/4), an amazing art nouveau masterpiece covered with multicolored mosaics and sculpted stone.
From here, walk southwest on Okhotny Ryad to Manezhnaya Ploshchad, or Manezh Square. The square is now occupied by the vast underground shopping mall (4) Okhotny Ryad (Manezhnaya Ploshchad). Surrounded by luxury hotels, the square centers on the statue of Marshall Zhukov, the heroic commander from WWII. The former (5) Central Lenin Museum (Krasnaya Ploshchad 1/5) provides the backdrop.
The best way to approach Red Square is through the (6) Resurrection Gate. Although this triumphal arch was built in the early 1990s, it is an exact replica of the original structure, which stood on this site from 1680 to the early 1930s. Now the stunning square is before you, ringed by historic buildings and amazing architecture. On the immediate left is the tiny (7) Kazan Cathedral, another 20th-century reproduction. And on your immediate right, anchoring the north end of the square, is the (8) State History Museum (Krasnaya Ploshchad 1; www.shm.ru). This stately brick building is a gem of a museum with each room dedicated to a different historical period.
The enormous, elaborate facade occupying the east side of the square is the State Department Store, better known as (9) GUM (Krasnaya Ploshchad; www.gum.ru). These days, GUM (pronounced goom) is filled with fancy boutiques and souvenir shops. The mighty towers of the (10) Kremlin (Krasnaya Ploshchad; eng.kremlin.ru/) dominate the west side of the square (although the visitor’s entrance is on the opposite side). In a prominent place near the center, (11) Lenin’s Mausoleum (Krasnaya Ploshchad) is still open for visitors (although his eventual interment is an ongoing subject of debate).
At the far end of Red Square, the colorful confusion of onion domes and tent peaks is (12) Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed (Krasnaya Ploshchad), the 16th-century church that is probably Moscow’s most recognizable sight. “The interior is mysterious and beautiful with its painted walls and iconostases of different period,” says Clementine Cecil, co-founder, Moscow Architectural Preservation Society (www.maps-moscow.com). “It was a museum during Communist times, which saved it from Bolshevik looting.” The church’s proper name is the Intercession Cathedral, named for the feast day on which the army of Ivan IV the Terrible captured the city of Kazan in 1552. But one chapel is built over the grave of Vasily (Basil) the Blessed, whose name has stuck to the whole church.
From here you can continue strolling south to the Moscow River for fabulous views of the gold domes of the Kremlin churches rising up over the red brick walls.
Travel Photos From Your Shot
Browse Stunning Images of These Natural Marvels
Shop National Geographic
Special Ad Section
Watch as Nat Geo photographers reveal what drives them to create iconic images.