24 Hours In: Moscow

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder in this city - from the Stalin-era skyscrapers to its monumental metro
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The Independent Travel

08.30: Wake up in the newly renovated Peking Hotel (00 7 495 209 2215), where a double room costs $208 (£122) a night without breakfast. This is one of the Stalin-era skyscrapers, admired for their solid construction and high ceilings. (In fact, this one is not very tall and dates from 1956, three years after Stalin's death.) Outside, Triumfalnaya square is dominated by the statue of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, striding forward, with the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall on his right. Breakfast buffets in Russian hotels consist of cold meats and salads, the core components of all Russian meals. Tea is traditionally served from a teapot and samovar: you take a small amount of the well-brewed tea from the pot, then top up your cup with boiling water from the samovar.

Brush up on your Pushkin

09.30: From Triumfalnaya square take the metro at Mayakovskaya direct to Teatralnaya for Red Square. Mayakovskaya, built in 1938, is one of the finest stations on the metro system, with marble and steel pillars; the mosaic panels in the ceiling, designed by Alexander Deineka, show aircraft and parachutists illustrating "One Day in the Soviet Skies". Alternatively, walk down Tverskaya (formerly Gorky) street, passing the red building of the English Club, now Museum of Contemporary History (00 7 495 299 67 24; open daily except Monday, 10am-6pm, and well worth a visit), with an armoured car parked outside; then Pushkin Square, with the statue of the poet now somewhat upstaged by Russia's first McDonald's; and, in the next square, the monument to Yuri Dolgoruki, founder of Moscow.

See red in the Kremlin

11.00: Red Square is one of the most famous urban spaces in the world. Head across it, past Lenin's tomb towards St Basil's Cathedral, with its multicoloured, twisted and patterned domes. Inside, the cathedral is surprisingly claustrophobic, with narrow passages and small chapels. Continuing past it to the bridge, there's a spectacular view of the Kremlin Wall and the Moskva river. Return through Red Square to visit the Kremlin.

Eat well on a shoestring

12.30: Ready for lunch? Try the business menu for 300 roubles (£6) at Mesto Vstrechi (00 7 495 629 2373; mestovstrechi.ru) on Maly Gnezdnikovsky, where the pelmeni are very good.

Delve into Gorky's past

14.00: The Arbat, near Arbatskaya metro, is a tourist trap; even the Pushkin Museum (00 7 495 241 4212) at mudrumat number 53, though the poet did live here briefly, feels entirely sanitised of his presence. If you walk the length of the street, and avoid spending money on tacky souvenirs, you can find some interesting Art Nouveau and older houses to the south. However, north of the Arbat, on Malaya Nikitskaya street, is the most impressive Art Nouveau building in Moscow, the Shekhtel House, now the Gorky House-Museum (00 7 495 290 5130). It was given to the writer Maxim Gorky on his return to the Soviet Union in 1931 and has a staircase like a river of marble.

Discover the Russian soul

15.00: You could spend the afternoon at the market in Izmailovo park, near Partizanskaya metro, hunting for souvenirs: matrioshka dolls, carpets, Soviet-era collectables and loads more. For something more cultural, go to the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum (00 7 495 203 7998; museum.ru/gmii), which has a good collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, or, for Russian art, to the Tretyakov Gallery (00 7 495 238 1378; tretyakov.ru). Or else head for the Novodevichy Convent and Cemetery on Luznetsky proezd (00 7 495 246 8526). The convent, to which noblewomen retired in Tsarist times, is a museum (open daily, except Tuesday, 10am-5pm), while the cemetery contains the sculptor Neizvestny's black-and-white monument to Nikita Khrushchev (who, in life, was critical of Neizvestny's art) and the graves of many other notables, including the writer Nikolai Gogol and the composer Dmitri Shostakovich. There is something about a Russian cemetery that makes you feel you know the Russian soul.

Stay away from cheap vodka

18.00: Moscow offers a huge variety of restaurants and every kind of entertainment for the evening: theatre, cinema, music (classical, jazz and pop), ballet, opera, nightclubs, gambling and every kind of debauchery. Details of some of these can be found in the English-language newspapers Moscow Times and Moscow News, or in the Russian-language Dosug v Moskve. Culture is no longer as cheap as it used to be: you can expect to pay international prices at the main theatres, while museums and galleries often have a special, higher price for foreigners. For dinner at an old Russian price, try Yolki Palki (00 7 495 928 5525) in Pushkin Square, or a branch of MuMu. Avoid drinking cheap vodka or anything offered by strangers, and enjoy one of the world's most intriguing cities.

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