Five things to do in Moscow
If you're visiting Russia for the upcoming Winter Olympics, why not see Moscow while you're there? Here are five top activities for tourists.
1. VISIT RED SQUARE
Despite the communist connotations, the name of Red Square actually comes from the Russian word "krasnaya", which means "beautiful" as well as "red".
The iconic square, in the very heart of Moscow, is the gateway to attractions such as the Kremlin (which also contains the treasures of the State Armoury museum), St Basil's Cathedral and the State Historical Museum.
While you're there don't miss the changing of the guard ceremony, which takes place every hour at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Alexander Garden.
You can also pick up some knick-knacks to take home at Red Square's souvenir stalls, such as novelty Babushka dolls. One that came home with me consisted of a Lenin doll containing a Stalin, a Brezhnev, a Gorbachev and a tiny but perfectly formed Putin.
2. RIDE THE METRO
The Moscow Metro isn't only a fast and reliable way of getting around the city but a tourist attraction packed with art and history in its own right.
It has almost 200 stations situated along a series of colour-coded lines and many of them are an architectural feast for the eyes full marble pillars, chandeliers, mosaics, elaborate historical murals and more monuments and statues than you can poke a stick at.
Visitors can easily spend a day travelling on Moscow's underground trains and getting off at stops along the way to take in the sights of palatial stations like Belarusskaya, Mayakovskaya, Novokuznetskaya and many more.
3. SEE LENIN'S MAUSOLEUM
Descend into this silent, eerily lit vault at the foot of the Kremlin wall in Red Square and you'll be able to gaze at the embalmed body of Vladimir Illyich.
Photography is forbidden (you are required to surrender all cameras and mobile devices before entering the mausoleum) and the grim-faced guards seem averse to letting you linger, but peering at the face of the communist revolutionary who died in 1924 is an experience not to be missed.
There's some controversy among conspiracy theorists over whether it is actually the man himself or a wax replica in the tomb, and debate continues about whether or not to finally bury the Soviet leader.
So perhaps it's best to see him while you can and make up your own mind.
4. SHOP AT GUM
Despite their communist history, Russians have embraced consumerism with a passion. Nowhere is this more evident than at the GUM (pronounced Goom) department store, ironically situated across from Lenin's Mausoleum in Red Square.
You'll see beggars on the Metro and homeless people on the streets of Moscow, but affluent Russia is on display here, where you'll find luxury brand stores, western-style cafes and restaurants and expensively dressed women with perfect complexions and full-length mink coats.
The strange name is actually an acronym for Glavnyi Universalnyi Magazin, or Main Universal Store.
5. RAMBLE AROUND ARBAT
If you're planning any serious souvenir shopping, save it for Arbat, Moscow's historic tourist district.
In the 18th century Arbat was Moscow's most prestigious living area and it later became a haunt for artists, intellectuals and bohemians.
One of Moscow's oldest surviving streets, it's now undergoing gentrification and provides a vibrant and colourful part of any Moscow experience.
Just take the metro to Arbatskaya station and wander through the district's picturesque main drag Arbat Ulitsa, where you people-watch, enjoy the buskers and street artists and lose yourself in the shops and cafes for hours.
IF YOU GO
Trips to Moscow can be arranged though your travel agent or by private invitation. Visa information is available from the Russian Consulate.