Think of Moscow as a wax museum. Tsarist icons and larger-than-life Socialist Realism characters are now elbowed aside by trappings of an oil boom -- new money, flashy restaurants and designer labels. The city's many historical guises adorn Red Square where the Kremlin's crimson majesty stands guard over Lenin's Mausoleum. The marble and mosaic of the Metro stations remain Communism's homage to the working class, while on the periphery the Seven Sisters skyscrapers -- the zenith of Stalinist architecture -- dominate the skyline.
Things to Do
Remnants of Soviet-era propaganda are now clustered at Muzeon Park of Arts, in Krymsky Val, a fallen monument preserve that displays outsized hammers, sickles and statues. Soak up a bit of local color at Gorky Park, known for its amusements and street performers. The saints of medieval icons rub shoulders with the pyrotechnics of Kandinsky's canvases on the walls of the Tretyakov Gallery. Save the crown jewel for last: the peacock hues of St. Basil's Cathedral and its signature onion-shaped domes.
The requisite souvenirs of matryoshka dolls, fur hats, and lacquered boxes can be found at the open-air Izmailovsky Market. Come early on the weekends and gird yourself for hand-to-hand haggling, but save a few rubles for Russian porcelain or the finest caviar and vodka at the fin de siecle delicatessen, Eliseyevsky Gastronom. The crystalline corridors of the department store GUM have been a shopper's refuge for Tsarists, Communists and present-day Moscovites.
Nightlife and Entertainment
The Great Moscow Circus remains a spectacle of bears, acrobats and clowns. For something more highbrow, dance and music remain important cultural forms. Take flight in world-class ballet and opera at the Bolshoi New Stage or view the next conducting or performing sensation classical music has to offer at the Tchaikovsky Concert Hall and the Moscow Conservatory.
Restaurants and Dining
Russia's new money flocks to glitzy Tverskaya Street, but foodies prefer the area around Kitai Gorod. Ethnic cuisine from the far corners of the former Soviet Union is represented -- think Armenian and Georgian. You'll also find Middle Eastern and Asian flavors, with succulent lamb and dishes bathed in tarragon, dill, mint, cumin and coriander. Typical Russian fare -- pillowy blini, a hearty bowl of borscht and the obligatory shot of vodka -- can also do the heart (or gut) good.