By Helen Fletcher – HolidaysFromHels
Looking for a bit of an adventure, we decided to travel to Moscow with our kids, in the middle of the winter. And, it turned out to be the snowiest winter in the past 20 years. It took some preparation, but seeing the onion domed cathedrals dolloped with snow was magical. Traveling to Moscow with kids, and doing so in winter was challenging but rewarding. And, going at this time of year provided us the bonus opportunity of trying out snow tubing and ice skating in the once infamous Gorky Park. All the details from our family adventure are below, so let’s get going! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave us a comment below.
Table of Contents
The Main Questions We Had About Our Travel to Moscow With Kids
In the winter time, would it be too cold to travel to Moscow with kids?
The answer is no, not if you bring the proper gear. February is the best time to travel to Moscow with kids, as the temperatures are no longer at their coldest. It can get to -40 degrees in January, but in February it is not yet warm enough for the snowy streets to turn to rivers of slush, as they do in March.
Is is safe to travel to Moscow with kids?
We felt no sense of danger, even at night. The soldiers and medal wearing military men wandering around the Kremlin simply add an element of interest rather than fear.
7 Ways to Plan Ahead for Some Travel to Moscow with Kids
1. Start the Visa Application ASAP
Make the visa application no more than 90 days before travel, but plan to use the full 90 days. Part of the process requires you to travel to the application office for digital fingerprinting for everyone 12 or over.
Fill in the visa application form. For UK citizens apply here. Be warned, it is a pretty intrusive and time consuming process to do a whole family application. You will need your last 3 passports and details of all countries you have visited in the last 10 years. You will also need to disclose your monthly salary, and you will also need to note your social media accounts.
I’m not going to lie, the visa application process is no walk in the park. You can pay companies to do the legwork for you, but I was up for saving money, and finding the information needed to complete the form is the hardest part anyway. No one else can do that for you.
NOTE: There are also lots of travel agency sites masquerading as official application centers, so go directly through the Embassy or Consulate nearest you to avoid extra costs.
2. Pay for Flexibility
Book flexible flights – in case the visa does not come through. Also, make sure to book a hotel room that can be canceled/rescheduled with no extra charge. When you book a hotel, obtain a hotel voucher to be submitted with your visa application. Ensure the names and dates on the voucher exactly match your passports and flight dates. Also look at how cool your name looks in Russian writing!
3. Packing Appropriately for a Winter Trip to Moscow
Visa applications complete and accommodations booked, you must now turn your mind to packing for the extreme cold. However, as you will also be visiting restaurants or ballets when you travel to Moscow with your kids, your normal hiking gear may not cut the mustard. It is the indoor/outdoor transition that makes city packing harder.
When we traveled to Moscow in February, the forecast was for lows of -20 C. No matter when you travel to Moscow, first check the Moscow weather averages. Although our children are pretty skinny, they were still able to roll in the snow to their heart’s content with the following gear:
Here is What We Brought
- Waterproof socks – These were a recent discovery for me but an invaluable one. Bring them for all the family. Go for mid-shin rather than ankle length.
- Waterproof Gore-Tex boots – Ankle boots were sufficient for the city snow when combined with waterproof socks, and they looked more acceptable than full on snow boots when indoors.
- One pair of smart indoor shoes.
- Thermal layer (top and bottoms) and a fleece layer – Thin layers are more versatile and fit into your bag.
- Everyone should bring their own daypack for all the clothes you will be taking on and off.
- Fleece-lined waterproof soft shell trousers – These look almost like normal trousers but keep your legs warm and dry. Full snow trousers would be impractical for walking around shops.
- Everyday trousers to wear under the waterproof layer – Use these for eating out. The fancier restaurants have extensive subterranean cloakrooms, and you can de-robe and transform into your classy under layer self.
- Thin merino wool scarf and hat.
- Gloves – 2 pairs each for after dark when the temperatures plummet and your fingers freeze. At least one waterproof pair for snow-balling.
- Winter coat – I went for sheepskin, but the rest of the family sported thin–ish ski jackets. The lighter and thinner without sacrificing warmth the better.
- Photocopies of your passport and visa – There are rumors that police sometimes demand to see your papers, and then they refuse to return them unless you pay them money. The advice we followed was to leave the originals in the hotel, and only carry the copy-documents with you when you are out and about.
4. Learn a Bit of Russian
Use Duo lingo to learn the Russian alphabet, so you can read words like “pizza” on a menu.
5. Practice your Skating for Moscow
We had a couple of goes at home, as we were a bit scared there would be no sides in Gorky Park to hang on to.
6. Plan and Print your Moscow Metro Route
Make sure you use the Moscow Metro. The stations are works of art in their own right, filled with golden frescoes, fancy lighting and communist era sculptures.
If, like us, you neither speak nor read Russian, take the precaution of using Google Maps to plan all Metro journeys in the comfort of your own house, and print these off to take with you. Wifi is not always available when you are underground, so be prepared.
When you travel to Moscow with kids, let alone anyone, reading station names as they whip by is virtually impossible. By counting their number and with a quick scan of the first few characters, you can check them off against your map, and you stand a fighting chance of getting off at the right stop.
7. Plan Your Food
With a family, the need to eat is never more than a couple of hours away, so planning your food is quite important. While you’re in Moscow check out some of the local food to try in Russia. Also, book hotels that include breakfast, and stay in a hotel near a shopping centre. Then, at least it is only lunch you have to worry about. We went for the Novotel Moscow City Hotel, which is right next to a mall, a snowy park and a Metro stop. They allow four in a family room, and breakfast is free for under 15’s.
TIP: Food courts are good for picture menus and pointing based ordering.
Our Moscow Itinerary
TIP: Do not start your travel to Moscow with kids trip on a Monday – most of Moscow is closed.
Day 1 – Lenin’s Tomb / GUM / Kitai Gorod / Kremlin at Night
All of these activities are accessible from Red Square, as this is the epicentre of Moscow. Arriving from a hotel in the monochrome world of the suburbs, you will be blown away by the riot of colour in the square.
Morning – Lenin’s Tomb
Location: Red Square
Opening Hours: 10 -1pm Tue-Thur and Sat (not public holidays)
Timing: Allow up to an hour (including queuing)
The queue for the security check for Lenin’s Tomb takes about 30 minutes. You then make your way past the tombs of the former Russian Presidents, lined up along the outside wall of the Kremlin. As you enter the mausoleum, warn your children not to speak, or they will be severely shushed by one of the armed guards. Do not laugh.
Shuffle your way past the embalmed body (not taking any photographs) and out the other side straight on to Red Square. The children can then impress their friends by telling them they have seen a dead body.
Lunch – Red Square (outside) or GUM (inside)
For lunch, if you are giving up vitamins for your holidays, eat a traditional Russian blini (chocolate pancake) at one of the stalls in Red Square, or head inside to a café in GUM, the largest department store in Russia, next door. The name “GUM” comes from Glavny Universalny Magazin (“Main Department Store”), formerly Gosudarstvenny Universalny Magazin (“State Department Store”).
Afternoon – GUM
A good place to be indoors and warm up, this historic state shopping centre runs the length of Red Square, and it contains 200 (centrally heated) shops. Built in the 1890’s, it was nationalized after the revolution, and now it appears to be flirting with capitalism. It has a particularly impressive glass roof, and many high-end boutiques and cafes. Spend an hour or so exploring and having a coffee overlooking Red Square, and then head back outside.
As the sun lowers in the sky, explore the back streets behind Red Square, an area known as Kitai Gorod, where fondant fancy pink and white buildings glow in the evening light.
Kremlin at Night
Then, head back into Red Square to see the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral magically illuminated at night.
Cost: R1000 (under 16’s are free) for the Kremlin and the Armory
Location: By the Kremlin walls, next to The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Opening Hours: [Museum opening hours 10:00 to 17:00] [Ticket office 9:30 to 16:30] [Closed – Thursdays]
Timing: Allow 2 hours for the armory and up to an hour for the cathedrals
Buying tickets is complicated. You can buy adult tickets up to 17 days in advance, but they do not guarantee entry for free ticket holders. Childrens’ free tickets are only available 45 minutes before each “session”, and tickets for the following session are only available after the current one has ended. All the rules are here.
In essence, to ensure you all get in together, arrive 45 minutes before opening time, and book all of your paid and free tickets at the same time.
Join the security queue for a bag search at the entrance, and then walk through into a world of golden topped white cathedrals. You enter the armory by way of a small door just on your left as you go in.
Here you will find the main event – the amazing Russian Crown Jewels. No photos are allowed inside but you will see Fabergé eggs, a fleet of royal carriages, thrones and gowns, 4 foot high jewel encrusted tomes, huge silver goblets and tigers – all brought to life through a free English audio guide.
If the crown jewels were not impressive enough for you, consider checking out some of these best Instagram sites in Moscow.￼
Afterwards, wander around the beautiful mosaiced edifices, and check out the tomb of Ivan the Terrible in the Archangel Cathedral. (Under 14s are not allowed in The Great Bell tower.)
No food is available in the Kremlin, so head 5 minutes round the corner to a stall in Red Square or into GUM – depending on your budget and the weather.
Afternoon – St Basil’s Cathedral
Cost: R500 (free for under 16’s)
Location: Red Square
Opening Hours: Check them out here.
Timing: 1 to 2 hours
Circumnavigate the incredible outside, looking up at the impossibly stripy and colorful domes, before exploring the golden interior of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Again, there is an English audio guide available.
Day 3 – Moscow Zoo / Gorky Park
Cost: R600 (children up to 17 free)
Location: 30 minutes from Red Square by Metro
Opening Hours: Open daily 9AM-5PM
Timing: Allow about 2 hours
In the winter you pretty much get the zoo to yourself. It was also a real bonus so see it knee deep in the snow. Extremely fluffy snow cats, mountain goats and arctic wolves looked right at home. The monkeys looked a long way from it, and the bears appeared to be hibernating. I did feel sorry for the creatures in the antipodean section.
There are plenty of indoor enclosures to escape the cold and lots of big animals to entertain the kids – giraffes, wolverines, musk oxen and elephants.
Most of the food stalls are closed in winter, but there is an indoor café serving hot drinks, cake and snacks inside the zoo.
Afternoon – Gorky Park
Cost: Tubing – ~R200, Skating – R100-R500 depending on the time
Location: 25 minutes by Metro from Red Square
Opening Hours: 10AM-3PM & 5PM-11PM Tue-Sun
Timing: As long as you’d like!
Gorky Park fronts the frozen Moscow river. Walk along its banks, and then fly on a rubber ring at speed in the tubing zone.
After dark, hire some skates, and take your place amongst pirouetting Russian experts on the largest, neon lit, disco ice rink in Europe. We were pleased to find that most of the pathways did have sides for clinging on to whilst finding our ice feet.
A maze of park paths are transformed into an icy track that leads past towering illuminated cubes, walk-in-with-your-skates-on cafes and hot chocolate booths.
Optional Moscow Extras When You Travel to Moscow With Kids
- If you have more time, tickets to the Bolshoi Ballet are much cheaper than at home (note that under 16’s are not allowed to all performances).
- For a spot of decadence, try the lunch menu at Café Pushkin, a former nobleman’s house, and dine amongst people in ball gowns in one of their themed rooms – a wooden panel pharmacy or antique filled library.
- Consider catching the train to the equally beautiful St Petersburg, as covering more in one trip will save you the bother of another visa application for a return journey.
Any travel to Moscow with kids is an off the beaten path adventure and certainly so in winter time. And although English is not widely spoken, the medium of mime does get you a long way. So, pack your bags, make sure you plan ahead, and craft your own Moscow family adventure!
If on the off chance this doesn’t all sound good to you, and if you’re looking for something that is the polar opposite of traveling to Moscow with kids in the winter time (pun intended), consider checking out this family friendly Bali off the beaten path itinerary. But no matter what you do, if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them below.
Helen spent two and a half years pottering around the world. She is now all grown up and works in a school, which does allow her plenty of time, if not money, to keep exploring with her children. She shares about her mishaps, surprises, stories and lessons learned in her family adventures travel blog, HolidaysFromHels.