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Things to do in Moscow

Red Square is the symbolic center of Russia and the geographical center of the city of Moscow. The city is laid out in concentric circles with avenues running out from the center like the spokes of a wheel. If you’re wondering what to do in Moscow, you can safely stick to the Red Square area for almost every activity. The square is bordered by St. Basil's Cathedral, the GUM shopping mall on the east, the State Historical Museum and Lenin's Mausoleum.

When people picture Russia, they picture St. Basil's Cathedral, the eye-catching, colorful, onion-domed church that would be a gingerbread house if life were a moralistic fairytale written by Leo Tolstoy. St. Basil’s full title is the Cathedral of Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat, and it was built in the 14th century under Ivan the Terrible. The building design was supposed to evoke a bonfire rising into the sky, so you see the Russians really are secretly full of whimsy. If you asked your Russian literature professor “what to do in Moscow,” he would say, “Ruminate on Dostoyevsky in the shadow of St. Basil’s Cathedral.” Take his advice.

For the travelers looking for a Russian experience centered on personal pampering, indulge in a day at the Sandunovskiye Baths, Moscow’s most famous bathhouse. The ornate halls put bathers in the mood for soothing steam, plunges into cold pools and massages with coffee grounds and honey. If you’re dying to relieve yourself of a couple thousand rubles, then take a stroll through the two most outrageously expensive malls in Moscow, GUM (pronounced goom) and TsUM (pronounced tsoom). Both are massive and beautifully decorated, so window-shopping should still make your list of things to do in Moscow.

Lenin’s Tomb is not to be missed—for both the historical importance and the kitsch-factor. You’ll recognize the mausoleum from a mile-away because it’s the only big, black box in town. Once inside you’ll get the chance to ogle Lenin’s embalmed form. If you’re afraid of Madame Tussauds, maybe skip this attraction. There are plenty of other things to do in Moscow if you are in the market for observing famous historical figures (without the wax museum nightmares). The gorgeous Novodevichiy Convent has a cemetery that houses the graves of Gogol, Chekhov, Stanislavsky, Bulgakov and Shostakovich.

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