Blanketed in snow, Moscow is a wintry wonderland waiting to be explored. Add a dazzling line-up of free events at the city’s colossal Journey to Christmas festival, and Moscow ticks all the right boxes for a joyous winter getaway. Here’s a sampling of some of our favorite ways to celebrate the season in Moscow. Some activities are long-standing traditions, others are lesser-known, and all are guaranteed to help make your holidays merry and bright.
Snowboard by the Kremlin
Only at the Journey to Christmas festival can you snowboard down a giant slope near the walls of Russia’s iconic Kremlin. Snowboarding is the featured sporting event at this year’s festival, and a temporary, 130-foot-long, snow-covered slope will be at the center of all the big-thrill action. Moscow’s festivals are famous for their amazing sports venues, such as wakeboarding and surfing pools in summer and rock-climbing and zip-lining sites at previous winter events.
Glide, slide, and play outside
Moscow is one of the world’s northernmost national capitals, so the holiday season here almost certainly means sub-zero temperatures and lots of snow. Instead of hibernating, jump feet first into winter by bundling up and venturing outside. Lace up a pair of rental skates to glide across the ice in Red Square or on Europe’s second-largest skating rink at VDNKh. Hurtle down gigantic ice slides, play ice hockey, and take free curling classes at various Journey to Christmas venues. If you’d prefer to stay on the sidelines, watch an amazing performance by world-class figure skating champions at the festival’s open-air Magic Ice Theater on Novopushkinsky Square.
See artists from the world-famous Bolshoi Theatre for free
Visiting Moscow during the Journey to Christmas festival offers the rare opportunity to watch a free performance by dancers of the legendary Bolshoi Theatre. Several Bolshoi artists are participating in the festival, as are performers from some of Russia’s finest theatres and artistic companies. All performances are free and will be staged at various Journey to Christmas venues.
Join Moscow’s colossal New Year’s Eve party
Mark the start of 2019 Moscow style by counting down to midnight with the cheerful crowds gathered in the historic center city. On New Year’s Eve, Moscow’s central Tverskaya Street is closed to traffic, creating a car-free space to accommodate the city’s largest outdoor New Year’s party. Be amazed by the spectacular fireworks displays and illuminations. Dance and celebrate to the sounds of the live bands playing until 3 a.m.
Marvel at Moscow’s amazing street performers
No translation is required to appreciate the artistry and athleticism of Moscow’s talented buskers. See amazing stunts performed by some of Russia’s top circus acts, choreographed dance routines, mimes, and a mix of musical acts —such as classical, jazz, punk, and rock— at outdoor Journey to Christmas venues. Warm up between acts with a cup of hot tea or traditional Russian Sbiten (a honey-based beverage made with or without brandy) in one of Moscow’s cozy cafes.
Snap a selfie with a rocket
Moscow’s festival venues regularly feature elaborate decorations and art installations, such as the replica Salyut-7 orbital station created for the city’s 870th birthday celebration in September 2017. The cosmonaut vibe continues this holiday season with a festive Tverskaya Street Christmas tree adorned with space-themed decorations. Fuel your social media feed with a selection of Moscow’s out-of-this-world backdrops, including the 16-story high, replica Vostok rocket, at the Cosmonautics and Aviation Centre at VDNKh. Opened in April 2018, the massive space museum is a treasure trove of space and flight memorabilia and artifacts, including more than 120 aircraft and spacecraft exhibits, game simulators, and a full-sensory 5-D theater.
Join a parade of Snow Maidens
Experience a uniquely Moscow Christmas tradition, the joyous Snow Maiden parade. Unlike most holiday parades, the stars of this procession are Father Frost (Russia’s version of Santa Claus) and his granddaughter, the Snow Maiden, who typically is portrayed as a young girl wearing in a bright-blue fur coat. During the Journey to Christmas festival, hundreds of participants dress up as Snow Maidens and cheerfully march around the central venues accompanied by a festive band.
Taste your way around Russia
While strolling around the festival venues, dig into a smorgasbord of taste-tempting Russian specialties, such as dumplings from Siberia, the Urals, and Buryatia; sweet treats from Tatarstan; hearty meat dishes from the Caucasus; seafood from the Russian Far East; and gourmet cheeses from regional Moscow farmers. Warm up with traditional winter favorites like blini (buckwheat pancakes) with caviar, mulled wine, and meat- or cabbage-filled, pirozhki (small pastry pies). Don’t miss the oh-so-cherished Russian tradition of drinking steaming hot tea brewed in a traditional samovar (heated metal container). Pair your tea or the local favorite Raf (a sweet coffee drink made with espresso, cream, plain sugar, and vanilla sugar) with a slice of Moskva, Moscow’s signature red-glazed, nut cake.
Discover Moscow’s creatively cool spaces
While Moscow’s classic art museums are legendary, the city also is a hotspot for all things modern. Embrace the capital’s cool arty vibes in places like Krasny Oktyabr, or Red October, a former chocolate factory reborn as hip arts and entertainment venue. Cornerstone of the hip Red October district, the red-brick complex houses galleries, trendy bars and cafes, design studios, and the Strelka Institute for Media, Architecture and Design. A former tea factory is the site of ArtPlay, a collection of restaurants, shops, galleries, and studios spanning an entire city block. Another urban artistic hive is Flacon, a repurposed glassworks factory that buzzes with creativity. Meander through the complex to admire the street art adorning the walls and to visit Flacon’s artisan cafes, galleries, and craft shops.
Shop for uniquely Russian holiday gifts
Find the perfect gift for everyone on your Christmas list at the Journey to Christmas festival. Retail stalls in and around the main venues are packed with unique Russian keepsakes, fine crafts, and winter clothing, such as fur hats, traditional (and super-warm) wool felt boots called valenki, and colorful head scarfs. Browse the vintage items to discover one-of-a-kind retro finds like antique Christmas decorations, Soviet-era vinyl records, and 19th-century books and postcards.