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Undercover Moscow: Five Hidden Gems to Investigate

Beyond Saint Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and Red Square, there’s a whole other Moscow waiting to be discovered. Many of these hidden gems would have made the top of visitors’ Moscow vacation itinerary anywhere else, but in a city of this size they often slip under the radar. Visit these five attractions and take a peek behind the scenes of the bustling megalopolis.

1. Diamond Fund (Almazny Fond)

Quite literally a hidden gem, Diamond Fund (Almazny Fond) occupies a special section of the Armory Museum inside the Moscow Kremlin. Even though it shares the same building as the museum, the fund is a separate institution governed by the Russian Ministry of Finance. The fund was originally established by Peter the Great and displays the gemstones and precious metals procured by the state over the centuries. Take a deep breath and get ready to be dazzled by some of the world’s most valuable diamonds, rubies, sapphires, and gold nuggets. Keep in mind that security measures here are very tight and it’s highly recommended to use a free trip planner and book a tour ahead of time.

2. Lomonosov Moscow State University (MGU)

Five Hidden Gems to Investigate

What Harvard is for the United States, Lomonosov Moscow State University (MGU) is for Russia. On top of being a great center of science and learning, it’s also a unique tourist attraction. The tallest of Stalin’s Seven Sisters, the colossal university building is an amazing feat of architecture that’s definitely worth seeing. While without an official pass you can only admire the building from the outside, the extensive university grounds are free to wander. Enjoy the outdoors, mingle with the students, and admire the city panorama from one of the best viewpoints in Moscow at Vorobyovy Gory (Sparrow Hills). In the wintertime, the grounds even have their own ski jumping hill.

3. Museum of Astronautics

Five Hidden Gems to Investigate1

While some museums in Moscow are more famous than the Museum of Astronautics, for any space-travel buff this is the place to go. Located at the base of the famous Monument to the Conquerors of Space, the museum celebrates Soviet and Russian achievements in exploring the final frontier. Travel back to the time of the Space Race and see replicas of Sputnik and other Soviet satellites, plus the original capsule used by Yuri Gagarin. The collection also includes genuine spacesuits, lunar rovers, propulsion engines, and much more. In addition to the Soviet astronautic history, the museum has sections dedicated to American, European, and Chinese space programs.

4. Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines

In case there was any doubt, the Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines proves that plotting against the West wasn’t the favorite pastime behind the Iron Curtain. Young Soviets were just as enthusiastic about penny arcades as their Western counterparts, and the museum keeps these relics of the Soviet gaming industry alive. Grab a handful of old kopecks and try out the genuine machines, many of which are purely mechanical and don’t use any electronics. Enhance your nostalgia with a soda from an original Soviet vending machine.

5. Izmailovsky Market

Fill your bags with authentic Russian (and Soviet) souvenirs at the sprawling Izmailovsky Market. Located outside the city center, the flea market is packed with trademark Russian items, many of which are handmade. Here you’ll find amber jewelry, matryoshka dolls, traditional clothes, and fur hats in all shapes and sizes, as well as an abundance of second-hand items of all possible sorts. The market is also a real treasure chest for military enthusiasts, offering a great selection of old Soviet uniforms, medals, gas masks, and the like. Haggling is commonplace here and a great way to find real bargains, so don’t be shy.

From imperial glory to communist utopia

For the majority of Russian history Moscow has been the nation’s capital and the epicenter of this vast country. The huge, multi-layered city has something to offer every visitor. Even if you’re here for just a few days, using a holiday planner and wandering off the beaten path in Moscow will reward you with a unique perspective and a bit of adventure, Russian-style.

By Nikola Mihaelj

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