Winter Activities in Moscow
What To Do in Winter in Moscow?
- Markets: From woolen valenki to pine cone jam, Moscow’s markets are perfect for Christmas shopping.
- Ice Skating: There are 1,500 ice rinks in Moscow. The main one at VDNKh is the world’s largest!
- Parks: Moscow’s parks are just as enjoyable in winter as in summer. Many of them host cultural events, especially in the run up to the orthodox Christmas.
- Theatres: The Bolshoy Theatre is famous for a reason and it’s resplendence is best enjoyed when the wind is howling outside.
- Banyas: Therapeutic and traditional— banyas are an iconic part of the Russian lifestyle.
Moscow truly is the beating heart of Russia and in the run up to New Year’s, visitors can really feel it thumping! Merry-makers from all over Russia come to see Moscow in all its shining glory. At a time when most northern cities go into dormancy, Moscow blossoms.
Moscow’s Christmas Markets
Moscow’s Christmas Markets are at the center of all the jolliness. Red Square’s market is the most frequented and perhaps the market that best embodies the spirit of Russian winter. However, it isn’t necessarily extremely authentic; catering primarily to tourists and, for the most part, it is uncomfortably crowded. The Christmas Village on Revolution Square is a far more genuine and affordable place to buy local goods. Another wonderful market, that’s more popular with younger Muscovites is the one at Gorky Park. While the traditional fare such as valenkis and pastila will be for sale, one might also find vegan hot chocolate and hand-crafted silver jewelry being sold from the quaint wooden huts. Pushkinskaya Square is also a great option, but perhaps the most authentic market out of all of them is the bustling market at Sokolniki. Local produce takes center stage, but there are also handicrafts for sale. Haggling is common practice, so a few Russian phrases will definitely help in bagging a bargain.
As soon as they’ve learnt to walk, Russian children are taken on to the ice. Thanks to that, there honestly isn’t any need to go out to buy tickets to see figure-skating in Russia as almost everyone from 7 upwards skates like a pro. Despite their undeniable skill, they aren’t haughty about it so there’s no need for less nimble-footed foreigners to worry about stepping on to any of Moscow’s 1,500 rinks. Indeed, even a complete novice should not miss the opportunity to skate on the rink in Moscow’s recently renovated, mind-bogglingly big park, VDNKh, which happens to be the world’s largest, outdoor ice rink. You can also see the most amazing light and firework shows at VDNKh and due to its long ice-avenues, it never feels crowded. For a classic that never fails to impress, reserve skates in advance at the GUM rink right on the Red Square.
For those looking for a full day out, Gorky Park has it all. Along with ice skating, there’s also cross-country skiing trails and the major draw, the Ice Sculpture Festival, is of world-wide acclaim. Another wonderful park with so much on offer is Izmailovo Park. Though it is a bit out the way, seeing or even traveling on the iconic Russian troikas, laden with colorful rugs and fur throws, gliding through its tree-lined avenues make the journey worthwhile. There’s also folk dancing to be watched and heaps of warming food to be eaten. Young children will delight in seeing the park’s very own Ded Moroz (Father Frost) and his grand-daughter, Snegurochka (Snow Maiden).
There are days in winter when even hardy Muscovites wouldn’t venture out willingly. Thankfully, from November to March, Moscow’s many renowned theatres open their doors for the cultural highlights of the year (most important ballet and opera companies go on tour in the summer season). The Bolshoi Theatre is without a doubt the most historic theatre in Moscow and, thanks to extensive restorations recently completed, it looks just as grand as it did when it held the coronation celebrations of Tsar Nicholas II. Despite its old-world appearance, almost all of its performances have screens with English subtitles which is a rarity in Russia. For a more refreshingly modern experience, try the Stanislavsky Theatre. It’s pastel blue and white interiors lead to a calm, almost casual atmosphere. But casualness most certainly doesn’t translate to poor performances; its contemporary ballets are simply world-class.
For those with alert ears, there’s a secret Christmas gift to be discovered right on the Red Square. No less captivating than the ballerinas of the Bolshoi, the otherworldly exclusively male “Doros” choir often goes unnoticed within the grandeur of St Basil’s Church. Quite unlike European choirs, the rich baritones and ancient Slavic tongues sung by this choir must be experienced to be believed. Their daily hymns are truly a gift to the ears that will last long after the snows have melted.
Another secret that tourists are often not privy to is the way to survive Moscow’s frosty winters. The answer is steamy, sizzling and sexy. But though it is true that the temperatures are head-spinning, a winter visit to Moscow would be incomplete without a session at the banya. To say that Moscow’s bathing houses of yore are grand wouldn’t do them justice. They could easily rival the Roman’s most advanced bath houses. Sanduny in particular, is a venerable institution that’s seen the likes of Pushkin to Naomi Campbell a lá nude during its 200 year history.