Moscow's climate means its chief outdoor pursuits involve snow and ice. Most Russians aren't particularly into casual sports; rarely will you see anyone out for a jog. City streets are unwelcoming to bikers and in-line skaters, though the vastness of Moscow's parks makes them great places for just about any physical activity.
There are very few places where you can row your own boat in Moscow, other than the small ponds at Chistiye Prudy and Patriarch's Ponds. Several companies offer trips up and down the Moscow River on small ferries from May to September. Most leave across from the Kremlin or across from Kievsky Station. The Moscow Shipping Company (tel. 495/242-0407) is the chief operator, with a boat that takes a 90-minute trip from Kievsky Station to the Novospassky Monastery and makes several stops along the way. It costs 400 rubles one-way (half-price for children 7 and under).
In deepest winter, you'll often glimpse men in fur hats perched on the frozen-over Moscow River waiting for something to bite. This is not recommended because of the risk of the ice cracking and the questionable quality of the catch.
You can however cast your own line at the All-Russian Exhibition Center, cook and eat your catch for 2,000 rubles.
Gym culture has only recently hit Moscow, and is still limited to a few chains. If your hotel doesn't have a health club, try Planeta Fitness's several branches for a day pass (tel. 495/933-7100; www.fitness.ru), or World Class (tel. 495/788-0000; www.worldclass.ru).
The city's bigger parks are good for a few hours of hiking, as are several forested areas outside town. Bitsevsky Park is a long rectangle of green space south of the center, crisscrossed with streams and ravines, hilly enough to hold one of the city's two downhill ski slopes, and dense enough to muffle the sounds and smells of this enormous city. Losiny Ostrov occupies a huge swath of evergreen forest in the northeast corner of the city, and is a few minutes by taxi from metro Shcholkovskaya, or a good 15-minute walk. Beyond the Moscow city limits, organized trails are rare, but forests and streams are ubiquitous. To avoid getting lost, you should go with a group or a reliable Russian guide. The most popular and pristine spots are along the Moscow River upstream (northwest) of the city, such as around Usovo, Tryokhgorka, and Zvenigorod. All three can be reached by commuter train (elektrichka) from Belorussky Station. Patriarshy Dom tours occasionally offers English-language weekend hikes in the warmer months. The Central Moscow Tourist Club also arranges hikes, usually in Russian, but the club will arrange English guides for a fee (4 Ulitsa Sadova-Kudrinskaya; tel. 495/699-7502; www.gctk.narod.ru/kontakt.html).
Gorky Park floods its main lanes in the winter, turning them into a rough but exhilarating open-air skating zone. You can rent skates here for 150 rubles. The ponds at Patriarch's Ponds and Chistiye Prudy also are transformed into free skating rinks in winter, though you need your own skates; if the winter has been mild, be sure the ice is thick before you try.
Red Square now has a skating rink in winter, too, though the ice is artificial (tel. 495/788-4343; 250 rubles entry, 250 rubles rental).
Note: At most Moscow rinks, you must leave a deposit of about 1,000 rubles to rent skates.
Victory Park has the smoothest paths for in-line skating and several good slopes for an afternoon workout. The lanes around Moscow State University and its lookout point are great for the view. Skating on city sidewalks is not advised, as they're usually too crowded and Muscovites have little experience with dodging skaters.
Moscow's air quality and sidewalk disrepair is such that jogging through your hotel neighborhood would be crueler to your body than it would be kind. Any parks mentioned can offer good running routes. There's also a great path along the river beneath Sparrow Hills (Vorobyoviye Gory), which run along the south side of the Moscow River where it forms a loop beneath Moscow State University; and another along the Moscow River behind the Ukraina hotel. Running during daylight hours is recommended. Casual joggers may get a few stares, since the only Russians who run for fun are generally current or former athletes.
Moscow has several downhill ski slopes, believe it or not. They are small and crowded and not cheap, but a fun way to take advantage of wintry weather. Most accessible are those at Krylatskoye (metro: Krylatskaya) and Bitsevsky Park (metro: Bitsevo). All offer basic equipment rental, including snowboards. Cross-country skiing options are endless. Izmailovsky Park, Bitsevsky Park (directly south of the city center, accessible by metro station Bitsevo), Losiny Ostrov (a tranquil, wooded mass that covers the northeast corner of the city map; best reached by taxi), and Sokolniki (near the metro station Sokolniki) are just some of the spots within city limits where you can get in a few hours of skiing without spotting a vehicle. Basic ski rentals are available at Sokolniki and Bitsevsky. A package of cross-country skis, boots, and poles rents for 400 to 500 rubles. The website www.mski.ru is in Russian only but has a good readable map of skiing sites to get you oriented.
It's not on most tourist itineraries, but if you can squeeze it in, there's no better way to shed city grime and immerse yourself in Russian culture than to visit a banya. Something between a steam bath and a sauna, the banya has been an important cleansing and resting ritual for centuries. Traditional banyas are huts built alongside rural houses, where families take turns steaming themselves clean, then plunge into a tub of cool water or a nearby stream, or roll in the snow to cool off. In Moscow, banya culture ranges from elite spa-type facilities with expensive body masks and luxurious pedicures (for both sexes) to more proletarian facilities used by residents of communal apartments tired of waiting in line for the shower at home. Thought to cure many ills, the banya is a great rainy-day activity for tourists, too, if you pick one with a bit of history. In the women's halls, bathers treat the steam water with eucalyptus oil and coat their skin with honey, coffee grounds, or whatever other remedy they learned from grandma. In the men's halls, business deals are often made over copious beer and snacks. In both halls you're likely to see bathers beating each other (gently) with birch branches; the practice is believed to accelerate and enhance the cleansing process. The steam is great for warming up in winter; the icy pools cool you off in summer.
Sandunovskiye Banyi, an ornate and cheerful 19th-century bathhouse, is a favorite with "new Russians" and Moscow-based expatriates. They have two levels of service for each gender. A 2-hour deluxe-level session costs 1,600 rubles; a 2-hour standard-level session costs 1,000 rubles. The differences between the deluxe and standard sessions are minimal; a "deluxe" session basically translates into more elegant furnishings and a larger steam room. Sheets, towels, and slippers can be rented for 50 to 150 rubles, or you can bring your own. The deluxe level is offered Tuesday through Sunday from 8am to 10pm; the standard level is offered Wednesday through Monday from 8am to 10pm. You'll find the baths at 14 Neglinnaya St., buildings 3 to 7; the entrance is on Zvonarsky Pereulok (tel. 495/625-4631; www.sanduny.ru).
Seleznyovskiye Banyi is a more modest and out-of-the-way option. This bathhouse has been serving customers since 1854 and is the one Russian connoisseurs prefer, especially the men's hall with its "professional steamers" running the show. A standard 2-hour session costs 850 rubles for men and women; entrance to the deluxe halls (men only) costs 1,100 rubles. The baths are open Tuesday through Sunday from 8am to 10pm, and are located at 15 Seleznyovskaya Ulitsa, building 2 (tel. 499/978-8491; metro: Novoslobodskaya).
S lyokhim parom, as the Russians say, or "Good steam to you."
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.