There are more than 160,000 exhibits in Russia's largest technical museum, and some fantastic miniatures, which are, as Kenneth Williams says, to small to tell what they are, at least without the aid of a microscope. Fascinating, eh?
There are displays on cybernetics, space exploration and atomic technology, and a stroll through the museum's many halls will provide a wealth of information about the history of technology and the people who made it.
Apart from anything else, the museum is fascinating in terms of the inventions that it claims for Russia. So you thought that the radio was Marconi's little toy, did you? And John Logie Baird was the man who created the television? Here you'll see displayed the "alternative" history of technological innovation (when you realize that half of what is claimed here could well be true, then your brain will do the necessary somersaults). For this reason alone the Museum, although hardly modern in terms of its display techniques - very didactic - is nonetheless interesting.
Opening hours: Daily - 10:00 to 18:00, except Mondays and the last Thursday of each month.
Extra Services: Kiosk, cinema, public library, internet room, cafe and amusement arcade.
The museum dates back to 1872, and a direct order from Tsar Aleksander II himself which resulted in the founding of a committee for the building of a Museum of Applied Sciences in Moscow. It was conceived by members of the Imperial Society of Amateur Natural Scientists, Anthropologists and Ethnographists as a centre for research and education. There first act was to organize an All-Russian exhibition of technology to mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Peter the Great.
Work began in 1877 on the construction of a home for the museum in the Russian 19th Century style, and the first members of the public were admitted in 1907. Since then, The Polytechnical Museum has become a centre of scientific, cultural and social life in Moscow. The greatest scientists in Russia presented their advances to the public here, and the latest breakthroughs in science and technology - including Yablochkov's lamp, Bell and Golubitskii's telephone and Edisson's phonograph - were unveiled to the Russian people here
The large hall of the museum has long hosted evenings of poetry and music, a tradition that is still alive and well. In December 1991, by presidential decree, the Polytechnical Museum was declared a valued cultural asset of the country.
Address: 3/4, Entrance 1, Novaya Ploshad, Moscow, 101000, Russia
Transport: Lubyanka or Kitai Gorod Metro station
This is one of the most extensive natural history museums in the world, displaying the earth's flora and fauna from prehistoric times to the present day.
As you walk round the museum you'll be able to visualize the whole process of the evolution of life on earth. Children are particularly fond of the dinosaur hall, where you can see a number of skeletons of these extinct beasts who once dominated the earth. There is also a separate hall dedicated to the geological history of the Moscow region. There's also an impressive mammoth skeleton.
Opening hours: Wednesday to Friday - 10:00 to 16:00, Saturday and Sunday - 10:00 to 18:45, closed Monday and Tuesday.
Address: 123, Profsoyuznaya Ulitsa, Moscow, 117647, Russia
Transport: From Teply Stan Metro station it's one stop on any form of transport, or 5-7 minutes on foot.
Moscow University's Zoological Museum is one of the ten largest of its kind in the world and, although there's nothing particularly imaginative or engaging about the way the presentation of the exhibits, there's plenty here of interest to the expert and the layman.
For the specialists among you, the museum houses a rare collection of land and sea invertebrates collected by the German naturalist Karl Semper at the end of the 19th century in the Philippines and until recently thought lost. Most extensive are the entomological collection and the collections of mammals and birds.
The lower hall contains invertebrates, fish, amphibians and reptiles, while the more popular upper hall houses the birds and mammals. There are such unique specimens as the full skeleton of a Steller's sea cow, an unfortunately docile and unsuspecting sea mammal that once lived off the coasts of Kamchatka, and a stuffed wandering pigeon. Both species were hunted to extinction in Russia more than 200 years ago. Among the most popular exhibits are the collection of large, brightly-coloured tropical butterflies, the fine collection of century-old vertebrate skeletons, including the extraordinary skeleton of a humming bird - a masterpiece of reconstruction. The two stuffed giant pandas may, of course, seem a little ominous.
Several of the animals are displayed in their "natural habitat", there is a large collection of art by the best Russian animal painters, and the museum constantly mounts interesting exhibitions.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday - 10:00 to 17:00. Monday - closed. The museum is closed on the last Tuesday of each month.
Moscow State University's famous Zoological Museum, named after Mikhail Lomonosov, began in 1791 as the Natural History Cabinet of the Moscow Imperial University.
Almost all the original exhibits were destroyed in a fire in 1812. In 1820 the museum was moved to a different part of the university - the Pashkov House. In 1822 the museum already had more than a thousand vertebrates and around 20,000 invertebrates in its collection, and by the 1850s the collection contained more than 65,000 specimens. In 1866 the museum was opened to the public.
The museum moved to its current location, a specially-constructed building on Bol'shaia Nikitskaia, in 1901. Today the museum, which now holds over 4.5 million specimens, is the sight of important research into invertebrate zoology, entomology, ichthyology, ornithology and other branches of zoology. The museum's findings are published every year in four scientific journals called Researching Fauna.
Address: 6, Bol'shaya Nikitskaya ulitsa, Moscow, 103009, Russia
Transport: Okhotny Ryad or Aleksandrovsky Sad Metro stations
This museum, the only one of its kind, situated inside an enormous monument to the explorers of the cosmos, is well worth the visit, not least for the nostalgia it should inspire in anyone who grew up in the heady days of the space race.
The displays trace the history of space exploration, including the first interplanetary satellite flights, the first dogs in space and man's journeys to the cosmos. There's plenty of fun gadgetry, plus an excellently conceived display explaining how astronauts survive a space flight, all of which should be interesting for children.
Apart from anything else, the shear aesthetic beauty of the displays should impress. The other-wordly sheen of the hi-tech materials used to construct space craft is extraordinary when seen close-up and, combined with a host of cosmos-themed artwork, the exhibition is a compelling reminder of the time when space exploration was still viewed unequivocally as mankind's last great adventure.
Opening hours: Daily - 10:00 to 18:00, except Mondays and the last Friday of each month.
Extra Services: Kiosk and cinema.
The world's first satellite was sent into space from the Soviet Union on 4 October 1957. Soon after, a contest was announced to find the best design for a monument to mark this historic occasion, and five years later the Explorers of the Cosmos monument was unveiled on Moscow's Prospekt Mira, in honour of those who had begun the space era.
The upper part of the monument comprises a vast slanting obelisk of steel and titanium that stretches to a height of 99 metres, topped by an eleven metre rocket pointed toward the heavens. The obelisk's base is faced with granite tiles decorated with reliefs showing cosmic themes and TASS reports about Soviet space explorers.
In 1981, to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of the first manned space flight, the base of the monument was opened as the Cosmonautics Memorial Museum.
Address: 111, Prospekt Mira, Moscow, 129515, Russia
Transport: VDNKh Metro station
This spectacular museum is an essential destination for budding Russophiles and all visitors to Moscow.
For most Westerners, Russian art is something of a closed book up until the 20th century and the appearance of giants such as Kandinsky, Chagall and Malevich. The Tretyakov gives you the chance to discover the rich tradition from which these great artists sprang onto the world stage.
Often referred to as the Old Tretyakov to differentiate it from the annex next door, the gallery has 62 rooms and 100,000 works charting the development of Russian painting from the 10th to the end of the 19th Centruy.
Icons are an acquired taste - although the Tretyakov collection is impressive - and it's hard to get excited over the derivative, Italian-influenced portraits and landscapes of the 18th Century, but the rejection of the Imperial Academy's restrictive diktats and the attempt to create a national art for the people that gained momentum as the 19th century progressed produced some fascinating results. Fans of Russian literature can entertain themselves by seeing how the concerns and ideals of the great 19th century writers were reflected by the artists of the same period.
And it is not only the historical gallery on Lavrushkin Pereulok that makes up the "All Russian Museum Union of the Tretiakov Gallery" (to give it its full title), there's also the House of Artists on Krimskii Val, which houses the gallery's collection of 20th century art. It's a bit of a trek from the center, but well worth the effort to see the fine collection of early modern art - including Malevich's epoch-defining Black Square - to have a chuckle at the gross pomposity of the "masterpieces" of Socialist Realism, and to discover the sporadically fascinating works of the post-war Soviet avant garde.
Main gallery opening hours: Daily - 10:00 to 19:00, except Mondays.
House of Artists opening hours: Daily from 10:00 - 20:00, except Mondays.
The gallery is named after its founder, the great Moscow industrialist and patron Pavel Tretiakov. The museum lies on the site of an estate built in the 17th and 18th centuries. Tretiakov bought it in 1852 and moved his collection of art here. It had taken him more than thirty years to put together, and before he died the museum was already open to the public free of charge.
The patron also commissioned from the best artists of the day several portraits of the great contemporary figures of Russian art and literature, among them Dostoevskii, Ostrovskii, Turgenev and Tolstoi. This formed the basis of the gallery's portrait collection, which also contains two paintings of the founder himself.
In August 1892, Pavel Tretiakov presented his collection to the city of Moscow, and in 1898 he died. After his death the building was reconstructed, with the addition of the "Russian-style" fasade, designed by Viktor Basnetsov, which has become the emblem of the gallery. In 1918 the gallery was transferred into the hands of the state, and received its present name.
Address: 10, Lavrunshkensky Pereulok, Moscow, 119017, Russia
Transport: Tretyakovskaya or Novokuznetskaya Metro stations
Moscow's collection of art museum is rich in masterpieces of Russian and foreign painting, sculpture and graphics.
This unique museum is the resting place for some of the most precious examples of Russian Orthodox art.
This incomparable and unusual museum lies in the ground of the Andronikov Monastery, which was founded in the 14th century and long considered one of Russia's most important religious centres, involved in many of the country's defining historical and cultural events.
Within the walls of the monastery is the Cathedral of The Saviour, built at the start of the 15th century and decorated by the legendary icon painter Andrei Rublev. His celebrated works take centre stage in the museum, too.
The museum's collection also contains the greatest icons gathered from all over central and northern Russia. Here you'll find the richest collection of icons from the Moscow, Tver' and Northern schools of the 14th to the 19th century. Experts also praise the fragments of monumental religious art and the ancient wooden sculptures on display.
Opening hours: Daily - 11:00 to 18:00, except Wednesdays and the last Friday of each month.
Christianity was brought to old Rus from Byzantium in 988. As the new religion spread, examples of mosaics and frescoes depicting the saints began to appear. The works were executed on wood using tempera - paints made from a mix of mineral colours, egg yolk and water, and then varnished. If the work was spoiled, then the artist would usually simply paint a new icon on top of the old.
During the last century, interest began in the restoration of ancient icons, and many of these ancient masterpieces were discovered under layers of dirt and later paint. Surprisingly, they were very well preserved. Icons were usually encased in rich frames of gold or silver, encrusted with precious stones. The most important quality for an icon was its ability to transmit a feeling of ecstasy and heavenliness. To attain these aesthetic goals, the painters used established techniques: the images of the saints were executed in a particular range of colours, and always appeared to be flat.
Few of the names of these ancient craftsmen have survived to this day but, undoubtedly, one of the most famous and talented icon painters was Andrei Rublev, celebrated in Tarkovsky's famous film, in whose honour the Museum of Ancient Russian Art is named. Andrei Rublev lived and worked as a monk in the St Andronicus Monastery, and is also buried here.
Address: 10, Andronevskaya Ploshad, Moscow, 105120, Russia
Transport: Ploshad' Il'icha and Taganskaya Metro stations
Paintings, sculpture and applied art from ancient history to the present day - art fans can find all this and more at the Pushkin Museum.
The museum's greatest treasures are to be found in its collection of European art from 1600, particularly the perennially popular and vastly comprehensive collection of French impressionists and post-impressionists, which comes close to that of the Musee d'Orsay in scope. Also of note are the display of Schliemann's "Troy treasure", removed from Berlin at the end of the war and probably dating from the late Bronze Age; a small collection from ancient Egypt; and rooms full of plaster casts of the most important sculptures from the Hellenistic era until the Renaissance.
While the museum lacks some of the contemporary gloss of its Western counterparts - there is no guide book at present, even in Russian, many of the exhibits appear never to have been cleaned, and the lighting and decor are old-fashioned to say the least - there is more than enough substance in the huge collection to make up for any superficial inadequacies. Underfunding and resistance to change also mean that, while a little shabby, the Pushkin is a considerably more peaceful place to contemplate great art than many of the more hyped and hectic big galleries in the West.
The museum is constantly altering its permanent display, which gives the public the chance to see more of the enormous collection, but can also be a little frustrating if you are coming to see a particular picture that has been inexplicably moved. There are also regularly changing temporary exhibitions, which often include collections from abroad. And, next to the main building, at Volkhonka 14, there is the Museum of Private Collections, purpose-built and opened in 1994, and housing mostly Russian art of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday - 10:00 to 18:00, closed on Mondays.
The glorious building that houses the museum, decorated with ionic columns that are directly copied from the Erechtheion on the Acropolis, was built between 1898 and 1912 by architect Roman Klein on a site formerly occupied by a transit prison - the land was given to Moscow University especially for the construction of a museum of fine art. The museum was officially opened on 31 May 1912 as part of the centenary celebrations of Napoleon's defeat, with Tsar Nikolai II himself in attendance.
The founder and first Director of the Museum was Ivan Tsvetaev, a professor at Moscow University and father of the great poet and essayist Marina Tsvetaeva. It was almost solely thanks to his tireless efforts that the Museum came to play such an important role in Russian culture. Not only did he sink what money he had into the project, he fought long and hard for government funding and, most significantly, persuaded the great patron and industrialist Iurii Nechaev-Mal'tsev to provide on-going financial support to the Museum
After the Bolshevik Revolution the Museum obtained the collection of the Rumantsevskii Museum, as well as several 'nationalised' private collections and many works from the Hermitage. In 1932 it officially became known as the State Museum of Fine Art, and five years later Pushkin's name was added to the title in honour of the centenary anniversary of the poet's death.
Address: 12, Ulitsa Volkhonka, Moscow, 121019, Russia
Transport: Kropotkinskaya Metro station
Opened in 1981, this relatively young museum is something of a mixed bag, combining a number of private collections gifted to the state that would otherwise be homeless. The emphasis is on Russian decorative art, with pride of place going to the extensive collection of antique lacquer miniatures, but there are also collections of toys from around the world and of European needlework.
The museum has over 65,000 exhibits altogether, and other collections of note include those of Russian 19th century fine furniture, Faberge jewelry and Soviet porcelain, pottery and glassware.
The variety of the displays is such that you're bound to find something here of interest and, although the museum is a little dark and foreboding, the ramshackle nature of the exhibits gives it a certain charm, too.
Opening hours: daily from 10:00 to 18:00, closed Fridays and the last Thursday of each month.
The history of the Museum's buildings is as chequered as the collection. The Museum is situated in the former estate of Count Osterman, built at the end of the 18th Century. The three-storey palace dates from 1786, and was once surrounded by a landscaped park.
In 1812 the palace was badly damaged by fire, and the site was sold to the Moscow Church Seminary, which worked here until the Revolution. Further buildings were added within the grounds to house the seminary.
In Soviet times, the building which houses the Museum itself - a tasteful example of Stalinist Classicism erected on 1949 - was the home of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet and Soviet of Ministers, before eventually being handed over to the Museum at the start of the 1980s.
Address: 3, Delegatskaya Ulitsa, Moscow, 127473, Russia
Transport: From Mayakovskaya, Novoslobodskaya or Sukharevskaya metro stations, take trolleybuses B, 10 or 47 to the Teatr Kukol (Puppet Theater) stop.
The museum houses a unique collection including rare Buddhist sculpture, jewellery and textiles, wood and bone carvings and antique weaponry.
Although the collection is small and somewhat amateurish in comparison with equivalents in London and Paris, the museum covers the cultures of the whole of Asia, displaying paintings, sculpture and handicrafts form all across the continent, including the Middle and Far East, Central Asia, the Caucasus and the indigenous tribes of Siberia and Eastern Russia.
A special section of the museum is devoted to the life and works of the renowned thinker, poet and artist Nikolai Rerich (1874-1947) and his son Sviatoslav. Rerich, who left his native land in 1917 already well-established as a talented painter drawing heavily on the religious and cultural traditions of old Russia and the East, traveled the world with his wife and family, particularly Asia, promoting his own fascinatingly crazy mixture of pantheism, Eastern mysticism and European high culture, which to this day has thousands of followers in Russia and throughout the world. He spent the last decade of his life in a remote village in the Indian Himalayas, and many of the impressive landscapes on display here date from that period. His vibrant and mysterious paintings alone are well worth the admission price.
Opening hours: Tuesday to Sunday from 10:00 to 20:00, closed Mondays.
The State Museum of Oriental Art was founded in October 1918, housed in a fine Russian Classical building that had previously been the home of the Lunin family, whose most famous son Mikhail was a soldier, a poet and one of the leaders of the Decembrist movement.
The building was seized by the state after the revolution, and dedicated to the museum, partly as a propaganda gesture to encourage the spread of Socialist power in the putative Central Asian republics.
The museum regularly hosts temporary exhibitions, which are often worth visiting, and also acts as a center for anthropological and archaeological research.
Address: 12-A, Nikitsky Bulvar, Moscow, 121019, Russia
Transport: Arbatskaya metro station
This museum, founded in the late 19th Century by a wealthy amateur enthusiast, has an enormous collection of paraphernalia from the rich history of Russian theater, including costumes, set designs, billboard posters etc.
From portraits of the earliest Russian actors through to the extraordinary and justifiably celebrated avant garde costumes and sets from the 1920s - including works by Rodchenko for the great Soviet director Vsevolod Meyerhold, this museum is essential viewing for the true theater buff.
For the average tourist, however, the fact that there is no English-language labeling of the material on display may cause frustration. That said, the glorious puppet theater upstairs is almost worth the effort alone.
Opening hours: Daily from 12:00 to 19:00, closed Tuesdays and the last Monday of each month.
The museum was founded in 1894 by Aleksei Bakhrushin, a wealthy industrialist and theater fan who came from a family of collectors. History relates that his enthusiasm considerably outweighed his expertise, and his early efforts were something of a joke in Moscow intellectual circles.
Nonetheless, in 1913 he presented his home and his collection to the Imperial Academy of Sciences. The building was later completely reconstructed, so that only the pseudo-gothic vestibule remains from architect Konstantic Gippius' original.
The Museum is now probably the most important center of theatrical history in Russia, and also operates various other museums including the Ostrovsky House Museum and the Meyerhold Appartment Museum
Address: 31/12, Bakhrushina Ulitsa, Moscow, 113184, Russia
Transport: Paveletskaya metro station
The exhibitions in these museums will introduce you to the life and works of Russia's greatest literary artists.
This museum, honoring the greatest poet in Russian history, and one of the most significant figures in world literature, is not the most inspiring of collections, although it is well organized and labeled.
The displays take you through the stages of the poet's life, and the sheer quantity of Pushkin paraphernalia is remarkable, from miniature portraits of the poet to the medicine chest that was used by the doctor who treated his fatal injuries. With some of the exhibits, the connection to Pushkin himself is less than tenuous.
There are some things that are well worth seeing, though particularly the poet's own charming line drawings, with which he often embellished the manuscripts to his verse, and the touching final hall, which contains everything connected to his tragic dual, including his death mask and the pen with which he wrote his last poem.
There's a second part of the museum in a flat on the Arbat (No. 53), where Pushkin hosted the equivalent of a stag party, and briefly lived with his new bride, the treacherous Natalia Goncharova.
Opening hours: Daily from 10:00 to 18:00, closed on Mondays and the last Friday of each month.
Pushkin Appartment Museum on the Arbat
Opening hours: Daily from 10:00 to 18:00, closed on Mondays and the last Friday of each month.
The exhibition dates back to 1937, when a nationwide celebration was organized to commemorate the death of the great poet. It was then decided to keep all the exhibits that had been gathered for different exhibitions in one museum sited in the former estate of the Khrushchev-Selezenev family, where Pushkin himself may or may not have been a guest.
Restoration pf the building took years, and was interrupted by the Second World War, and it wasn't until 1961 that the museum opened its doors to the public. Gifts of relics connected with the poet continued to pour into museum's collection, and the museum was further renovated in honor of bicentenary of the poet's birth.
The museum regularly hosts 'Pushkin evenings', where his works are read by professional actors, and there is also a concert hall used for concerts and balls.
Address: 12-2, Ulitsa Prechistenka, Moscow, 119034, Russia
Transport: Kropotkinskaya metro station
Pushkin Appartment Museum on the Arbat
Address: 53, Stary Arbat, Moscow, 119021, Russia
Transport: Arbatskaya or Smolenskaya metro stations
Vladimir Vysotsky, the legendary singer-songwriter and actor, died in 1980 and, although his funeral went unannounced, tens of thousands lined the route to the Vagankov Cemetery where he was buried. Although he received little official recognition in his lifetime, his unmistakable gravelly voice, detailing the daily life of the Soviet Union with wit and pathos, was known and loved by millions.
Vysotsky was born in 1938 to a family of servants. In 1960 he graduated from the Studio School of the Moscow Academic Theater, and first achieved fame as an actor on stage and screen. For most of his life he worked at the Theater of Drama and Comedy on Taganka, a short walk from the museum. His most celebrated role was as a denim-clad, guitar playing Hamlet, and he appeared in the play over 300 times.
But it was his songs, tales of the trials and tribulations of the Soviet people, that made him most famous. His work was labeled as Anti-Soviet, but his recordings were distributed on bootleg tapes across the nation, and unadvertised concerts in obscure suburban halls were packed with fans.
The museum contains a wealth of exhibits chronicling his life and the various aspects of his creative activity, including manuscripts, posters and photographs, and bringing to life the whole world of the late Soviet underground.
Opening hours: Daily from 11:00 to 17:30, closed Sunday and Monday.
The idea of opening a museum in Vysotsky's honor was first mooted shortly after his death in 1980. Letters streamed in to the Taganka Theater from across the country supporting the idea. Seven years later a bank account was opened to take contributions to fund the museum, including contributions from private individuals, the proceeds of tribute concerts etc., a testament to the Russian people's love for 'Volodya'.
Since 1996 the museum has been run by Vysotsky's son, Nikita, and now works as a permanent collection with regular temporary exhibitions.
Address: 3, Nizhny-Tagansky Tupik, Moscow, 109004, Russia
Transport: Taganskaya circle line metro station
This imaginative and exciting museum is dedicated to the life and works of Vladimir Mayakovsky, one of the most colorful figures of the Revolution and arguably Russia's greatest 20th Century poet.
Opened in 1974 in the house where the poet lived - and committed suicide - the Museum's layout mimics the Constructivist art of his contemporaries, providing the ideal backdrop for the comprehensive collection of his visually powerful manuscripts and agitprop posters.
For Mayakovsky's fans, this is an unmissable experience. For others it is an excellent introduction to the fascinating world of 1920s Soviet art.
Opening hours: Daily from 10:00 to 18:00, closed on Mondays
More than any other writer, Vladimir Mayakovsky embodied the hopes, aspirations and eventual degeneration of the political and cultural ideals that spurred the 1917 revolution. Born in 1893 in Georgia, he moved with his family to Moscow as a teenager, and became involved in radical politics while still a gymnasium schoolboy.
His part in meetings and demonstrations led to several arrests and his eventual incarceration in Butyrskaya Prison, where he began to write verse.
He became a disciple of Futurism and a controversial figure in pre-revolutionary avant garde circles in Moscow and St Petersburg. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, he embraced the Bolshevik seizure of power unreservedly and threw all his energies into the drive to create a new art for the proletariat. A competent and innovative graphic artist, he was as enthusiastic in creating propaganda posters promoting personal hygeine as in composing exhleratingly passionate love poetry. His charisma and emotional sincerity made him unique in his ability to captivate a factory shopfloor with verses that retained a dizzying linguistic and structural complexity.
His suicide in 1931, prompted by despair at his inability to adapt to the increasingly restrictive boundaries placed on art by the Bolshevik high command and to curb his irrepresible individualism, came to symbolize the end of the great, doomed artistic experiment of the 1920s.
Nonetheless, his reputation as the Bard of the Revolution remained untarnished, and his more bombastic political poems were an integral part of the literature syllabus for Soviet school children right up to the fall of the Soviet Union, providing a secret path to genuinely subversive poetry for scores of dissident intellectuals. He was also one of the few Soviet artists who gained significant recognition in the West, an inimitable inspiration to generations of left-wing artists trying to combine artistic integrity and passion with political engagement.
Address: 3/6, Lubyansky Proezd, Moscow, 101000, Russia
Transport: Lubyanka metro station
Moscow's glorious past is brought alive in these museums dedicated to diverse aspects of the city's (and the country's) history.
Part of the Great Kremlin Palace complex, the Armory is home to Moscow's oldest and most prestigious museum, which boasts a staggering collection of Tsarist artifacts, Russian and foreign jewelry and armour. Although the museum has been open to the public since the mid-19th Century, the current collection was established as recently as 1986, which means that display techniques are relatively modern, the layout is clear and coherent, and there is even plenty of labeling in English.
The Armoury covers two floors, the lower dedicated to artifacts directly linked to Russia's rulers. The first hall on the lower floor contains court dresses and religious vestments, including Catherine the Great's glorious coronation dress, the saccos (ceremonial robe) of Peter, Moscow's first Metropolitan, which dates back to 1322, and Peter the Great's high boots and cane. The next hall contains state regalia and ceremonial objects, which means thrones such as Ivan the Terrible's beautifully carved ivory throne and the exotic gold and turquoise throne given to Boris Godunov by the Shah of Persia, and crowns - most notably the Crown of Monomakh, purportedly a gift from the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Monomachus, and used to crown all the Tsars up until 1682.
The last two halls of the ground floor contain equestrian-related artifacts: decorative saddlery and state carriages. The most impressive pieces of tack are the two gold harnesses that were presented by the sultans of Turkey to Catherine the Great, and the carriages include one given by James I of England to Boris Godunov, and Empress Elizabeth's coach with paintings by the French artist Francois Boucher.
Upstairs, the first two rooms contain Russian gold and silver from the 12th Century onwards, a sumptuous collection of jewelry, tableware, icons and decorative objects. The large case of Faberge eggs, presents exchanged between the tsar and tsaritsa every Easter, is probably the highlight of the collection, including the famous Siberian Railway Egg. However, the most beautiful items are those from earlier centuries, when Russian craftsmen developed their own techniques and styles, rather than taking their cue exclusively from Europe. Traditional Russian decorative art reached its peak in the late 16th and 17th centuries, and there are scores of examples in the collection illustrating the styles of the schools that developed in different cities of Russia.
The collection of weapons, also divided by hall into Russian and foreign examples, is equally impressive, as befits the building. Mikhail Romanov's ornate, jewel-encrusted arms case and quiver, and the splendid dagger presented to him by the Shah of Persia, are particularly noteworthy.
Opening hours: Daily except Thursday, admission at 10:00, 12:00, 14:30 and 16:30. Sessions last 1 hour 45 mins. Tickets can be bought in the foyer or from the office in the Kutafiya Tower (to save time).
Address: Sobornaya Ploshad, Kremlin, Moscow, 103073, Russia
Transport: Borovitskaya or Alexandrovsky Sad Metro Stations
The imposing building that stands to your right if you enter Red Square through the Resurrection Gate is the State Historical Museum. The museum was opened in 1894, to mark the coronation of Aleksander III, and was the result of a 20-year-long project to consolidate various archaeological and anthropological collections into a single museum that told the story of the history of Russia according to the latest scientific methodology.
The building, which prompts mixed aesthetic reactions, is undeniably impressive. A mass of jagged towers and cornices, it is a typical example of Russian Revivalism, the Eastern equivalent of the Neo-Gothic movement. It was built by architect Vladimir Sherwood (whose father was an English engineer, hence the very un-Russian surname) on the site of the old Pharmacy Building, which was the original home of the Moscow University.
The museum holds a supremely rich collection of artifacts that tell the history of the Russian lands from the Paleolithic period to the present day. Each hall of the museum is designed to correspond to the era from which the exhibits are taken. The wide variety of the ancient cultures that developed on the territory of modern Russia is well represented, with highlights including Scythian gold figures, funerary masks from the Altai and the Turmanskiy Sarcophagus, a unique mixture of Hellenic architecture and Chinese decoration.
Later displays focus on the history of Russia's rulers, with a number of historical paintings, court costumes, thrones and Carlo Rastrelli's silver death mask of Peter the Great. Many of the museum's halls are still closed for restoration work, but the museum is still well worth visiting, and makes for an excellent introduction to the history of Russia. Unfortunately, the exhibits are not labeled in English, although there are English-language guide books and videos available in the lobby.
The building also contains a restaurant, Red Square No. 1, and the Red Square Jazz Cafs. You can either see this as unchecked commercialism, or as a tribute to the inn that used to stand here, and was frequented by Peter the Great.
Opening hours: Daily from 11.00 to 19.00, closed on Tuesdays.
Address: 1, Red Square, Moscow, 103012, Russia
Transport: Metro Stations Okhotny Ryad, Ploshad Revolutsii, Teatralnaya Ploshad
Although situated in the same building as the Armory Museum, the Diamond Fund is a separate institution, run by the Ministry of Finance. Admission to the Fund is a little complicated (see information below), but well worth the effort to see the fabulous collection of Russia's state jewels on display inside.
The idea of collecting jewels that belonged specifically to the Russian state - rather than to the ruling family - originated with Peter the Great, who had seen similar collections on his travels in Europe. He issued a proclamation that ordered each of his successors to leave a number of their jewels to the state, and declared that the state's fund was inviolate: the jewels could never be sold, altered or given away.
The fund was housed in the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, in a secure room called the Diamond Chamber, and grew rapidly, with a particularly large contribution from Peter's granddaughter, Empress Elizabeth, who was notorious for her love of expensive costumes and jewelry.
With the threat of German invasion looming, the collection was transported from St. Petersburg to Moscow in 1914, to be kept safe in vaults beneath the Kremlin. There it languished half forgotten during the years of the Civil War, and the vault was only reopened in 1926. The next year, over two thirds of the priceless collection were auctioned off at Christie's Auction House in London, to raise funds for the struggling Soviet economy. The whereabouts of many of the items is now unknown.
What was left, which included the most important pieces of state regalia, was kept in the Kremlin, and eventually went on display in 1967, although only for high-ranking officials and visiting dignitaries. It wasn't until the fall of communism that the fund was opened to the public. Now, although there are still strict rules governing visits, this extraordinary collection is open to everyone, and ranks among the world's most spectacular displays of jewels.
Highlights of the collection include Catherine the Great's stunningly lavish coronation crown (also called the Great Imperial Crown), the world's largest sapphire, the famous Orlov Diamond, and, of course, numerous Faberge eggs.
Opening hours: Excursions daily from 10:00 to 17:00 at twenty-minute intervals. Closed between 13.00 and 14.00. Closed on Thursdays. Tickets available in the foyer.
Address: Sobornaya Ploshad, Kremlin, Moscow, 103073, Russia
Transport: Borovitskaya or Alexandrovsky Sad Metro Stations
Although it's a little out of the way in the north of the city, Moscow's Museum of the Armed Forces is perennially popular with war buffs for its vast collection of military memorabilia, with pride of place going, unsurprisingly, to exhaustive displays about the Soviet Union's part in the Second World War. It also has plenty to appeal to children, particularly the clutter of military hardware parked around the outside of the building, including tanks, MIGs and ballistic missiles.
The museum, which was established soon after the Revolution, and moved to its current location in the sixties, focuses on the 20th Century, and there is still some residual ideologizing from the days when the museum acted as little more than a propaganda machine for Soviet might. However, efforts have been made to give a revised version of the history, including a sympathetic display about the White Army that concentrates on the hardships rather than the triumphs of the Civil War. As can only be expected, the more recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Chechnya are treated with somewhat less objectivity.
Pride of place in the collection goes to the victory banner raised over the Berlin Reichstag in 1945, which is kept here alongside the swathes of captured Nazi standards that were trampled on Red Square during victory celebrations. Other displays of note include the remains of US pilot Gary Powers' U-2 spy plane, brought down over the Urals in 1960, and a section of tattooed skin taken from a prisoner in the Maidenjak concentration camp. There are also vast quantities of Soviet propaganda material, the personal effects of a number of famous revolutionaries, and extensive photographic archives covering all the conflicts of the 20th Century.
By turns stirring and harrowing, the museum is a little schizophrenic in its attitude to war, but the displays have been created with imagination and skill, and there is plenty to see here not just for military historians or blood-thirsty kids.
Opening hours: Daily from 10.00 to 17.00, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Address: 2, Ulitsa Sovetskoi Armii, Moscow, 129110, Russia
Transport: from Novoslobodkaya or Tsvetnoi Bulvar Metro Stations, take the No. 69 trolleybus to the Tsentralnyi Muzei Vooruzhennikh Sil stop.
Opened to coincide with the state visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1994, this museum is housed in one of the oldest secular buildings in Moscow, the former home of the first foreign representation in the Russian capital. The Old English Court, built as a private home for a wealthy merchant in the Zaryadie region (famous as the centre of trade in medieval Moscow), was presented by Ivan the Terrible to a group of English merchants who arrived in Murmansk in 1553 from the court of Edward IV, under the command of Richard Chancellor. They had been sent to search for a northern passage to India, but took the opportunity to establish trade links with the Tsar, who welcomed them warmly, provided them with a headquarters and allowed them unlimited duty-free trade. Although good relations suffered when Elizabeth I repeatedly rejected Ivan's proposals of marriage - the third English envoy to the Tsar was kept under house arrest here - trade flourished between the two countries for almost a century, with the English bringing wool, metals and wine in return for furs, caviar, honey and other Russian produce. Russian timber was used to build the English fleet, and the Russian army was equipped with English muskets and ammunition.
In 1649, Tsar Aleksei I brought the alliance - which had seen an unprecedented number of foreigners journey to Russia to work as craftsmen, civil servants and explorers - to an abrupt end, expelling the English traders as a mark of his disgust at the execution of Charles I. The building became private property, and was the home of several prominent men, including the Miloslavsky family, Metropolitan Philaret of Nizhni Novgorod, and the merchant Solodovnikov. The house was remodeled several times, and was unrecognizable by the 20th Century, when it was split into apartments by the Soviet authorities. It was only thanks to the tireless labours of Pyotr Baranovsky, the Muscovite architect and restorer who almost single-handedly protected Moscow's medieval legacy in the Soviet Union, that the building was spared and painstakingly restored to its original form.
There was no record of the interior designs of the building, so restorers have based the present decor on Tudor interiors still extant in Britain, including those on display at Hampton Court Palace. The museum, part of the Museum of Moscow, contains two exhibitions entitled "Medieval Russia from the Eyes of a Foreigner" and "The History of Anglo-Russian Relations". The collection, mostly of coins and documents, was donated from a number of sources, including the British Library and the Marquis of Salisbury's private collection. However, it is the meticulously reconstructed interiors, especially that of the Formal Hall, with its elaborate brick fireplace, which will be of most interest to visitors. Concerts of early music are also held here regularly, as well as various performances and events for children on more or less relevant themes.
Opening hours: Daily 11.00 to 18.00, closed on Mondays and the last Friday of each month.
Address: 4a, Ulitsa Varvarka, Moscow, 103012, Russia
Transport: Kitai Gorod Metro Station
When Mikhail Romanov was elected Tsar in 1613, his family had for centuries been making steady progress up the social and political ladder of Muscovy. This palace, built by Mikhail's grandfather, Nikita Zakharin (the Romanov name was adopted by his children), was a mark of the family's status in the reign of Ivan the Terrible (confirmed beyond doubt by the young Ivan's marriage to Nikita's sister, Anastasia in 1547). Before his death, Ivan made Nikita joint regent with Boris Godunov and, as the latter moved to have himself crowned Tsar, boyars from the older families rallied round the Romanov faction in opposition. Godunov prevailed, and the family was exiled en masse to beyond the Urals. The head of the family, Feodor Nikitich, was forced to take monastic vows, assuming the name Filaret. It was in this capacity that, after Godunov's death, he rose to become Patriarch, the eminence grise behind the throne of the two False Dimitrys and then of his son, Mikhail I.
From Mikhail's election by the boyar assembly onwards, the family lived in the Kremlin, and it wasn't until the 19th Century that Nicholas I decided to have the building restored to its former glories as a tribute to his ancestors. Since 1859, it has operated as a museum, one of the first in city, offering visitors an opportunity to experience aristocratic life in the Moscow of the Middle Ages first-hand. The house is on two levels, the ground floor devoted to the public 'men's' rooms, and the second storey to the ladies' quarters, where the women spent their days weaving and doing needlework. The beautiful interiors, meticulously recreated by the architect Richter, show the very different styles of the two floors: the men's section is dark and imposing, with exquisitely tooled leather coverings on the walls, while the second floor is pleasantly light and airy, the walls lined with pale wood.
Although a venerable Moscow institution, the Palace is for some reason not often frequented by foreigners. This is shame, as it's a genuinely fascinating and appealing museum that gives an unusually complete glimpse of a world unknown to most Russians, let alone foreign visitors.
Opening hours: Daily from 10:00 to 17:00, closed on Tuesdays and the first Monday of each month.
Address: 10, Ulitsa Varvarka, Moscow, 103012, Russia
Transport: Kitai Gorod Metro Station