Parks and Gardens

Moscow is famous as one of the greenest capitals in the world, with over 100 parks within the city limits, not to mention countless gardens, boulevards and squares. And it's not just the number of green areas in the city, it's their incredible variety that makes Moscow parklife so interesting. From the extraordinary Soviet pomposity of the All-Russian Exhibition Centre to the breath-taking beauty of the old Tsarist village of Kolomenskoe, Moscow's parks have something for everyone, and if you're planning to spend more than a few days in the city you'll almost certainly welcome the chance to get some fresh air and exercise in one or more of them.

Some of Moscow's most beautiful sights can be found in the suburban estates of the 19th century aristocracy, like Uzkoe and Kuskovo, which have since been subsumed by the ever-expanding city and are now easily accessible by public transport from the centre. There are a number of options for children, including skating and ice sculptures in Gorky Park and the perennially popular Moscow Zoo. Nature lovers will no doubt find it worth their while to inspect the vast array of rare and exotic plants on display at the Botanical Gardens, and the more active will be glad to hear that Moscow's parks offer a full range of outward-bound activities from yachting to paintball. In short, no matter what your tastes are, finding something to suit them in Moscow really is a walk in the park.

Izmailovsky Park

Izmailovsky ParkFor many centuries Izmailovsky Park has been a favourite relaxation spot for Muscovites.

Mention of the village of Izmailovo can be found in records dating as far back as the 14th century, when it would have stood at the edge of a dense forest stretching east for many miles. It probably took its name from the boyar Izmailov family, who owned the village at the time.

In the early 1600s, Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich decided to build a model economy at Izmailovo, and more than 700 peasant families were moved there in the course of just one summer. Parks and gardens were laid out, and exotic crops such as melons, watermelons, cotton and grapes were even grown in the orangeries. Rare animals and birds were kept in a menagerie.

Roughly 20 ponds were dug out along the courses of the Izmailovka and Pekhorka Rivers, which flow through the park. Watermills were built on the dams and fish were farmed in the ponds. In the 1660s, an artificial island, Silver Island, was created as the home of the Royal household.

Aleksei's grandson, Peter the Great, spent much of his childhood at Izmailovo, and first learnt to sail here. Thus began a life-long passion that would lead to the birth of Russia as a formidable maritime power and, in part, to the founding of St Petersburg.

Much of Izmailovsky Park has retained its original beauty. Apart from the glorious birch woods, the main attraction of the park is the beautiful Pokhorovoskiy Cathedral on Silver Island, which was completed in 1679. Although badly damaged during Napoleon's 1812 invasion, the cathedral was restored by the great Moscow architect Konstantin Ton in 1840. He also supervised the construction of the buildings which now surround the cathedral, originally designed as a military hospital. Two more buildings from the original estate, the Ceremonial Gate and the Bridge Tower, lie in front of and behind the cathedral respectively.

A visit to the park can also be combined with some souvenir shopping at the Izmailovo Market.

Getting there: The main entrance to the park, the market and Silver Island are located next to Izmailovsky Park Metro Station and the Izmailovo Hotel Complex. However, you can also go to Izamailovskaya Metro Station - actually located above-ground - and enter along one of the park's most picturesque alleys.

Kuzminsky Park and Estate

Kuzminsky Park and EstateLocated in the south-east of Moscow, right next to the Ring Road, this once glorious nobleman's estate has certainly seen better days. However, there's still a certain desolate romance to the ruins and half ruins in the grounds, and the park also plays host to some interesting events on occasion.

From 1820 to 1917 this suburban Moscow estate was owned by the Princes Golitsyn. The estate was laid out at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century, with various beautiful neoclassical buildings and a landscaped park.

The current Kuzminka Park occupies some 375 hectares, most of which is taken up by the estate. Some of the most important architects of the day were involved in the laying-out of the park, which is still a popular relaxation spot for Muscovites and visitors to the city, who enjoy its natural beauty as well as the various entertainments it offers.

The palace burned down in 1916, and only one wing survived. Next door is the Egyptian House (also known as the Egyptian Pavilion), designed by A.N. Voronikhina to reflect the influence of the monumental architecture of ancient Egypt - although it doesn't deviate much from the dominant Neoclassicism of the rest of the park. The Bath-House, gates, and iron fence with its lions also survived. Originally the Kuzminskaya estate had a large number of objects made out of iron, which were forged in a factory which also belonged to the Golitsyns.

The estate's Triumphal Gates are an exact copy of the iron palace gates at Pavlovsk, just outside St. Petersburg, as designed by Carlo Rossi. One of the park's finest features is the beautifully preserved Stable Yard with a pavilion decorated with sculptures of horses by Pyotr Klodt - again copies of the same architect's famous horses which adorn the Anichkov Bridge in St. Petersburg. In the center of the yard is a sculpture of Apollo and the muses.

Also of interest is the wooden Musical Pavilion, built by Domenico Giliardi to create as perfect an acoustic as possible so sound would carry throughout the park.

The park has also preserved two stone caves and two bridges from the 18th and early 19th centuries, as well as the Church of the Vlakhernskaya Icon of the Mother of God. The Church was built between 1759 and 1774, with funding from Prince M.M. Golitsyn. It was originally planned in baroque style, but ended up being classical. The church was reconsecrated in 1992.

Not far from the church is an annex of the Museum of the History of Moscow, opened for the capital's 850th anniversary.

Getting there: The main entrance to Kuzminsky Park is a 10-minute walk from Kuzminka Metro Station. The best way to get to the estate gates is by bus no. 29 or B from Ryazansky Prospekt Metro; it's about a 10-minute ride.

Opening hours for the Egyptian Pavilion: Daily from 11:00 to 17:00, closed on Tuesdays.

Kolomenskoe Park

Kolomenskoe ParkKolomenskoe is one of the most beautiful places in all of Moscow. Although only a short metro ride from the center, and situated close to one of the city's most industrialized areas, the park and its awe-inspiring buildings are so steeped in history that not even the Kremlin itself can quite so well evoke the Russia of old. Arriving at Kolomenskoe along a street of drab Soviet tower blocks, you are first confronted by a rather gaudy collection of "medieval" sideshows and souvenir booths, and part of the magic of the experience is the way that this display of touristy tackiness fades from your memory the further you get into the tranquil, rugged beauty of the park proper.

The village of Kolomenskoe was founded in 1237 by refugees from Kolomna, although archaeological traces have been found here of pre-Slavic civilizations dating back over 2,500 years. In the 15th-17th centuries the village became first a Grand Prince's and then the Tsar's estate. Peter the Great was brought here for his own safety during the streltsy insurrection of 1682, and began his studies here. His daughter, Elizabeth, was also born here. Later, Alexander I studied here on his way to Moscow with his grandmother, Catherine the Great.

In 1923, a museum was founded here that went on to become the Museum of Wooden Architecture. Between 1930 and 1959, various examples were brought from all across Russia to Kolomenskoe, including Peter the Great's little house from Arkhangelsk. Kolomenskoe remained a normal village until 1985, when it became a museum and park complex, after which all the residents were resettled, and the historic buildings extensively overhauled.

The chief attraction of the park is undoubtedly the stone Church of the Ascension of the Lord. It was constructed in 1529-1532 by order of Tsar Vasily III to commemorate the birth of his son and heir, Ivan the Terrible. Its unique blend of architectural styles has been attributed to the copying of much older wooden ecclesiastical architecture and to early influences from Italy. Its asymmetrical structure is formed from an octagonal base topped by a soaring tented roof. Standing right on the banks of the Moskva River, the church has a mystique and stark beauty that is only enhanced by its contrast with the modern cityscape that spreads across the opposite bank.

But there is plenty more to see within in the park, with other highlights including the pretty Church of the Icon of Our Lady of Kazan - with its bright azure domes and plenty of gold, a more instantly familiar image of Russian religion - built under Aleksei II in 1644. Further into the park, in the wildest area and surrounded by an ancient cemetery, is the equally charming Church of the Beheading of St John the Baptist, built by Ivan the Terrible to mark his coronation.

In summer, Kolomenskoe is one of the most popular places for Muscovites to come and soak up the sun, although there's more than enough space in the park to find tranquility and solitude. In winter the park is perhaps even more impressive, when there are far fewer visitors and the ancient buildings seem to have been left to the crows and the snow. Whatever time of year you come to Moscow, Kolomenskoe should definitely be on your itinerary.

Getting there: The main entrance to the park is about 10 minutes' walk from Kolomenskaya Metro Station.

Park opening hours: Daily from 09:00 to 19:00 (from April till August to 22:00)

Admission prices: Admission to the park is free, but you have to pay a minimal entrance fee for some of the sights.

Uzkoe Park and Estate

Uzkoe Park and EstateThis attractive and well-preserved park and estate are located in the farther suburbs of south-west Moscow - a long haul from the centre. Uzkoe was one of several properties bought by M.F. Streshnev, a relative of Tsar Mikhail Fyodorovich, following the end of Russia's wars with Poland in the early 17th century. After passing through several other owners' hands, Uzkoe was bought in 1890 by the Trubetskoy family, who built a new manor house here. It became a favorite meeting place for intellectuals and writers during the Silver Age of Russian literature. In Soviet times it was transformed into a sanatorium for the Academy of Sciences, and, bizarrely, rumour has it that part of Hitler's private library - seized after the fall of Berlin - was stored here in secret before being destroyed or dispersed in the mid-nineties. Almost all the buildings of the Trubetskoi estate have survived to this day with little alteration, making it one of the few aristocratic estates in Russia that can still give a realistic impression of how the Russian noble families lived. The Uzkoe Park is divided into two parts: the formal gardens and a landscaped park. Both were created at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries. Features of interest include a natural spring, one of the very few in Moscow which provide drinkable water.

Getting there: by bus from Belyaevo Metro Station.

Lyublino Park

Lyublino ParkLyublino Park is located in the south-east of Moscow, next door to Kusminsky Park. The two share a common water system and an oak forest.

The park's main historical attraction is the estate of N.A. Durasov, built in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. The manor house, theater and theater school, orangery and stables have survived to the present day.

Durasov had his house built in the shape of an English cross, to commemorate his acceptance of the cross of Saint Anne, First Class. He had a taste for the comfortable life, and during his lifetime Lyublino was home to a number of diversions, such as a holiday home for children of the nobility and a richly decorated theater to stage productions by peasant actors and musicians.

In 1917 a railway workers' club was established in the recently vacated manor house, and in 1937 a leisure park was opened to the public on the estate. The park took up 7 hectares, and the large lake was extremely popular. The park is home to the Green Theater, a veranda for dancing, an amusement arcade, funfair rides and other entertainments. Some of the interiors of the manor house have also survived.

Getting there: Volzhskaya Metro Station is located right next door to Lyublino.

Lefortovo Park 

Lefortovo Park This park in the east of Moscow on the banks of the Yauza River has a rich history, and is claimed as the forerunner of the great Imperial parks around St. Petersburg. Sadly, however, the park has been much neglected, the grandest of its palaces is closed to the public, and current restoration efforts are bogged down in controversy. Nonetheless, the park is worth visiting if you have the time, as there are a number of other interesting sights in the surroundings, a region which was, from the days of Ivan the Terrible, home to Moscow's "expat" community, and under the Soviets became predominantly associated with the security services (the infamous Lefortovo Prison was the remand prison for the KGB's "political" prisoners).

The Franz Lefort who gave his name to the park, the prison and the surrounding area, was a Geneva-born soldier, adventurer and bon viveur, who became a general in Peter's army, an admiral in his navy, and one of the young Tsar's closest companions. Lefort's house in the German Suburb was the site of considerable debauchery involving Peter and his coterie, and in 1697 the Tsar decided to build a palace for his favorite. It was completed in 1699, either just before or just after Lefort's death, so Peter gave the building to Lefort's replacement in his favors, Danylich Menshikov. Menshikov had a new facade added to the Palace in 1708, and the building is unaltered to this day. It is not, however, particularly impressive, and hardly worthy of the "palace" title bestowed on it. It has, appropriately, housed an archive of military history since 1819, and is not open to the public.

The park itself is on the opposite banks of the Yauza, and was originally laid out in 1701 by Feodr Galovin, another of Peter's military commanders, whose estate and palace became another of the Tsar's residences in Moscow. The park was further developed by Empresses Anna Ivanovna and Elizaveta Petrovna, who added their own short-lived palaces, plus follies and landscape features, some of which have survived to this day. The palace that now stands at the opposite end of the park was built for Ekaterina II (Catherine the Great) by three architects, Quarenghi, Rinaldi, and Camporesi. At the same time, the park was significantly remodeled, in part by the Italian-born St Petersburg master, Bartolomeo Rastrelli. The Catherine Palace was completed in 1776, and was the largest building in Moscow in the 18th century. To this day it still has the longest colonnades in the city. It has been military property since the accession of Catherine's son, Paul, and is now home to the Malinovsky Tank Academy.

In the far eastern corner of the park stands the Peter and Paul Church. The wooden original was built on Peter's instructions in 1711 specifically for the soldiers of Lefortov's Regiment, and remodeled in stone 70 years later. Another of Peter's projects for his soldiers was a military hospital, built under the aegis of his chief physician, the Dutchman Nikolai Bidloo. Its current incarnation dates from 1798, and lies a little further away from the park, down Gospitalnaya Ulitsa.

Getting there: 10 minutes' walk from Aviamotornaya Metro Station.

Kuskovo Park and Estate 

Kuskovo Park and EstateKuskovo is almost unique among Russian aristocratic country houses in that it has original interiors to match its glorious facades. Once a village to the south-east of Moscow, it was razed to the ground during the Polish invasion of 1611, and was used as a hunting reserve until Count Boris Sheremetev, one of Peter the Great's leading generals, decided to build a summer home here.

The park and palace that can be seen today were a labor of love for his son Petr, who took advantage of the nobility's new-found leisure to devote his life and his wealth to his two great passions: his home and the theatre. Serf architects and artisans were employed to create the estate, and the work was overseen by the celebrated Moscow professional Karl Blank. The ensemble comprises a palace, an adjoining church, and a formal baroque park filled with statues and follies. The result is a fascinating mixture of late baroque and early neoclassicism, with the two styles overlapping surprisingly harmoniously in their uniquely Russian interpretations.

The palace, a single-storey, salmon pink-and-white structure, is a fine and rare example of wooden neoclassicism. It was completed in 1775, and the rich interiors remain unchanged since 1779. They include a room hung exclusively with exquisite Flemish tapestries, an abundance of silk wallpaper and an impressive collection of 18th century European and Russian paintings.

Highlights of the park include the entertainingly pretty Italian, Dutch and Swiss Cottages, Blank's Hermitage and the old Orangery, which is home to the State Ceramics Museum, an extensive and absorbing collection of porcelain from the 18th century to the present day.

Petr Sheremetev's son Nikolai shared his father's love for the theater, but preferred to build his own estate at Ostankino. Further troubles beset Kuskovo after the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, which left the Sheremetevs financially incapable of maintaining the large formal parks. The garden at Kuskovo became overgrown, surrounding lands had to be sold, and the last Count Sheremetev was reduced to building a small wooden dacha next to the palace so that he could continue to live on the family estate. In 1919, the Bolshevik government nationalized the estate, and it has since been one of the favorite attractions for Muscovites in the summer months.

Getting there: from Ryazansky Prospect take bus 133 or marshrutka 208 to the Kuskovo stop.

Opening hours: From 16 October to 14 April - daily from 10:00 to 16:00. From 15 April to 15 October - daily from 10:00 to 18:00. Closed Mondays, Tuesdays and the last Wednesday of each month. Also closed during heavy rain.

Timiryazevsky Park

Timiryazevsky ParkTimiryazevsky Park is located in the north of Moscow, not far from the Petrovsko-Razumovskoe Estate. The park was owned by the influential Counts Razumovsky from the 18th to the early 19th century, and the wonderful palace built there by N.L. Benois has been preserved to this day.

In the 19th century the palace was home to the Petrovskaya Agricultural and Forest Academy, around which the park expanded. Today it is still home to an academy: the Timiryazev Agricultural Academy, the largest of its type in Russia. The building itself is a magnificent example of Classical architecture, with Corinthian columns crowned by opulent vases, delicate little balconies with open-work trellising, and unusual windows that reflect the light and seem to burn.

Of the park's surviving ornaments there are vases with bas-reliefs, and four allegorical sculptures depicting the seasons. The sculptures were cast in Nizhny Tagil in 1760, and weigh two tons each! Also in the park is a lake created by Count K.G. Razumovsky, which is now home to flora from around the world. The park covers a total of 500 hectares and, while neither the buildings nor the park are in any fit state of repair, it is still a pleasantly wild place for a ramble on a summer's day.

Getting there: 10 minutes by tram from Timiryazevskaya Metro Station, or 15 minutes' walk from Petrovsko-Razumovskaya Metro Station and the railroad station of the same name (trains leave from Leningrad Station).

Ostankino Park and Estate

Ostankino Park and EstateThis late 18th Century park, which lies somewhat incongruously between the Ostankino TV center and the Soviet kitsch of the vast VVTs exhibition grounds, was once part of the estates of the Princes Cherkassky, but came to the Sheremetev family in 1743 through the marriage of Varavara Cherkasskaya to Count Petr Sheremetev.

Their son Nikolai moved the family seat here from Kuskovo in 1790, along with the famous Sheremetev serf theater, for which he built an impressive new stage, one of the highlights of the park, still used to this day for classical music concerts.

Also on display is the grandiose neoclassical palace, made entirely of wood. The glorious interiors house many fine collections, some of which were the property of the two families, and some of which found their way here after the estate was taken into State control in 1918. They include a large collection of European gilt furniture, rare Chinese ceramics, and a vast collection of fans.

In the park there are a number of copies of classical statues, as well as Egyptian and Italian pavilions, and the beautiful Church of the Trinity, which dates from the 1680's and is the only building that remains from the Cherkassky's tenure here.

While Ostankino feels less organic and less cherished than Kuskovo (Nikolai Sheremetev was forced to move to St. Petersburg shortly after the project was completed to take up duties as a senator), there is nonetheless plenty to be seen here. And the sight of this emblem of cultured gentility dwarfed by the monolithic modern buildings on either side is both striking and surreal.

Getting there: 10 minutes walk from VDNKh Metro Station.

Opening hours: The palace is open from May to September, daily from 10:00 to 17:00, except during heavy rain.

The Botanical Gardens

The Botanical GardensRussians take their Botanical Gardens very seriously - there are five in Moscow alone. The largest and most famous is The Russian Academy of Sciences' Main Botanical Gardens, located in the northwest part of the city, and adjoining the All-Russia Exhibition Centre (VVTs, or VDNKh as it is still better known).

This 360-hectare (890-acre) park, which spans the valleys of three small rivers, was officially founded in 1945. Nearby is the sight of the 17th century Apothecaries' Gardens, where medicinal plants were grown to stock the Army's pharmacies and the Grand Prince's palace with drugs.

After World War II, an enormous collection effort brought plants and seeds from all across the Soviet Union and further afield, and the garden is now a botanist's treasure trove, with a rose garden containing 2,500 varieties including an ancient green Bengali rose. There is also an arboretum whose highlight is a glorious oak grove (home to squirrels who are tame to the point of impudence), a delightful Japanese rock garden, and a vast glass-covered orangery with a wide collection from the tropics and sub-tropics including numerous rare orchids and carnivorous plants.

But the Botanical Gardens are not just for experts. Once inside, it's hard to believe that you're close to the centre of Europe's biggest city, and it's a wonderful place to come to get away from the noise and stress of urban living. The gardens change their character and their attractions according to the season, and the enormous greenhouses mean that even in the depths of winter there's plenty to see - although the cost of heating them doesn't bear thinking about.

Getting there: Vladykino Metro Station.

Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday - 10:00 to 16:00 (20:00 in summer).

Admission costs: Entrance to the park is free, but the Japanese Garden, the Orangery and the Arboretum all require separate (very cheap) tickets.

Moscow Zoo 

Moscow ZooVisitors can sometimes be a little wary of Russian zoos, but there's no reason to be - the dedication of the keepers to the animals is evident, and under-funding problems have by and large been resolved. Moscow Zoo, Russia's largest, is an increasingly respected conservation institution, but the main emphasis is on children's education and entertainment - it's more about giving the city's children a chance to see and touch farm animals than about big cats in small cages.

The idea for the Moscow Zoo was first put forward in 1857 by zoology Professor A.P. Bogadanov. The plan came to fruition 7 years later, when 300 animals, including 2 tigers and 2 lions, went on display. The Zoo's pavilions were made of wood and built in traditional Russian style, and up to 200,000 people a year came to visit. Nonetheless, the zoo suffered severe financial problems and, in the 1905 revolution, found itself the scene of heavy street-fighting during which the infrastructure was badly damaged and several of the animals perished.

After the Bolsheviks came to power, the zoo became state property, and considerably more funding was found. The zoo expanded rapidly, and in 1926 the New Territory was established on the other side of Bolshaya Gruzinskaya Ulitsa. The zoo now covers over 20 hectares in total. During the war, the zoo remained open and, from 1941 to 1945, received 6 million visitors.

By the eighties, the zoo was in a terrible condition due to decades of Soviet neglect, and it wasn't until 1991, when the new Moscow city government under Mayor Luzhkov took control, that serious reconstruction began. The results have been impressive.

The main entrance to the zoo, built in 1997 during wide scale reconstruction to mark Moscow's 850th anniversary, stands opposite Barrikadnaya Metro. It was made to look like a fairy-tale castle with towers and a waterfall. This leads to the old part of the zoo, where the highlights include the big cats, and a neat underground viewing space below the penguin pool, as well as the sea lion enclosure that lets you watch them swim from below.

A pedestrian bridge takes you across the street into the New Territory, the most interesting parts of which are probably the primate house and the tacky but fun children's zoo, where younger visitors get the chance to see animals from various fairytales, watch chicks hatching in an incubator, and pets some of the more docile domestic breeds.

In total, about 5,000 animals of 750 species are kept in the Zoo, making it Russia's largest. If you're coming to Moscow with young children, it's probably one of the best ways to keep them entertained. Be warned, though, that it can get very crowded on weekends.

Getting there: across the road from Barrikadnaya Metro Station.

Opening hours: Daily from 10:00 to 17:00 (20:00 in summer), closed on Mondays.

Troparevsky Forest Park

Troparevsky Forest ParkLocated in the south-west of Moscow, Troparevsky Forest Park was founded in 1992 in part of Bitsevesky Wood. Of interest are the Tropareva Stream and spring, and the varied nature, including 150 sorts of plants and 70 different forms of wildlife (including squirrels, moles, hares, ferrets and numerous birds).

Getting there: Troparevsky Forest Park is 10 minutes' walk from Yugo-Zapadnaya Metro Station.

Elk Island National Nature Park

Elk Island National Nature ParkElk Island straddles the boundary between Moscow proper and the suburbs of the north-west of the city, and is home to an amazing variety of animal and plant life.

More than 200 different species of animal live here, many of them hiding away in the depths of the forest, including dappled deer, roe deer, elk and wild boar. Beavers and otters live in the riverbanks, and there are rare types of bird, including pheasant, grey partridge, and egret. The park's richest asset is the woodland that makes up 85 percent of its area. Of particular note is the Alexeev Copse, which has pine-trees up to 200 years old and spruces up to 170 years old. The Copse lies along the old road through Elk Island which once linked Moscow to the towns of Suzdal and Vladimir.

Historical documents say that Elk Island was a favorite place for Ivan the Terrible to enjoy falconry and bear-hunting. The name Elk Island was recorded in the early 17th century, when documents say that the place was used for hunting "all manner of game birds, and especially elk". From the turn of the century come documents banning hunting "around Moscow", without exception - punishments included hefty fines and banishment to far-flung regions of Russia.

Organized forestry on Elk Island began in 1842, when fire-breaks were cut through, dividing the area up into separate sections. In 1983 Elk Island was declared a state national nature park.

Getting there: The closest metro station to the park is Ulitsa Podbelskogo. Elk Island can also be reached from Sokolniki Metro Station through the park of the same name.

The All-Russian Exhibition Center (VVTs)

The All-Russian Exhibition CenterThe VVTs is still much better known by its Soviet-era name, VDNKh - the Exhibition of National Economic Achievements - and it remains a fascinating monument to Russia's transitional period, a mixture of faded Soviet pomp and unregulated, rapacious capitalism.

It began life in 1939 as the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition, a monumental paean to the achievements of collectivization epitomized by the famous statue Worker and Collective Farm Girl by renowned Soviet sculptor Vera Mukhina. The exhibition was housed in 250 buildings spread over 136 hectares, and attracted 4.5 million visitors in 1940 alone; 3,000 guides were employed to take care of them.

The exhibition had to be closed during the war years, and was only reopened in 1954, with the addition of the magnificent arch that stands at the main entrance and further exhibition pavilions that extended the area of the park to 207 hectares. Two years later, the All-Union Industrial Exhibition was opened on the same site and, in 1958, the Construction Exhibition was moved here, too, and all three were renamed VDNKh. In 1992, the park was given its current name and opened up to private enterprise.

The results were instantaneous and extraordinary: temporary kiosks and garish billboards spread like a rash across the park, in stark contrast to the grandiose Stalinist architecture of the original pavilions. These, too, were swiftly taken over, with luxury car dealerships and gun shops taking the place of earnest exhibitions detailing agricultural processes and industrial breakthroughs.

Nowadays the VVTs is a bizarre juxtaposition: part agricultural fair, part trade expo, part shopping centre and part street market, with amusements as diverse as paint-balling and camel rides - as well as the ubiquitous slot-machine arcades - on offer in various parts of the grounds. The park itself is an intriguing example of 20th century landscaping and, even if they are a little the worse for wear, the buildings are still preposterously magnificent. The VVTs is truly unique, and well worth a visit, especially as there is plenty more to be seen nearby, including the wonderful Cosmonautics Musuem, the Ostankino TV Tower, and the very different delights of the Ostankino Park and Estate.

Getting there: VDNKh Metro Station.

Gorky Park

Gorky ParkThe Central Park of Rest and Culture Named After M. Gorky, to give it its full name, is one of the most famous places in Moscow (thanks presumably to Martin Cruz Smith's grizzly tale of a psychopathic professor, and the Hollywood film it inspired - shot mostly in Stockholm). Laid out in 1928, this was the first park of its kind, and the prototype for hundreds of others across the Soviet Union.

The park stretches along the banks of the Moscow River, and is divided into two parts. The first is primarily of interest to children or those trying to entertain them, as it contains a range of funfair rides and rollercoasters - some safer looking than others, although they are being upgraded all the time. You can also hire boats or horses, go bungee jumping, and there's a sports club with tennis courts. In winter the whole area becomes a vast skating rink with skate hire, disco lights and music to match. In summer the "beach" area is hugely popular with sun-worshippers, and becomes an open air club in the evenings.

The other, older, half of the park is considerably more restrained, consisting of formal gardens and woodland that combine the former Golitsynskiy and Neskuchniy Gardens, names that crop up regularly in Russian literary classics. There are a number of fine old buildings dating from the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, including two summerhouses by the great Moscow architect Mikhail Kazakov (who designed the Senate Building in the Kremlin), and the first City Hospital. Nearby is the enormous Green Theater, an outdoor amphitheater that hosts various gigs and concerts in the summer months.

Gorky Park's attractions are generally more appealing for locals than for tourists but it's the place to come if you want to find out how the majority of Muscovites spend their free time. Across the road from the main entrance, in front of the House of Artists, is the Graveyard of Fallen Monuments, a ramshackle but intriguing collection of old Soviet official statues and other homeless sculpture that's well worth a brief inspection.

Address: 9, Krymskiy Val, Moscow, 117049, Russia.

Getting there: Park Kultury or Oktiabrskaya Metro Stations.

Opening hours: Daily from 10:00 to 22:00 (most of the rides are closed in the winter)

Sokolniki Park

Sokolniki ParkSokolniki Park is not far from the center of the city, near Sokolnicheskaya Gate. The park gained its name from the Sokolnichya Quarter, the 17th century home of the sovereign's falconers (sokol is the Russian word for falcon). It was created by Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich (father of Peter the Great), a keen hunter who loved to go falconing in the area.

The park's current layout of clearings and alleys began under Peter. In 1900 a "labyrinth", or network of alleys, was laid out. The park has been open to the public since 1878, and from 1931 onwards Sokolniki has been being developed as an official "park of culture and leisure".

Today Sokolniki is a typical Russian park, with an ageing funfair and other amusements for children, and numerous fast food stalls all clustered near the main entrance. In summer the central alleyways are a mass of brightly colored formal flowerbeds, while the depths of the park are a wilderness home to pines and spruces, birches and oaks, limes and maples - all trees native to the Moscow region - as well as a number of non-indigenous trees, such as larches, cedars, walnut, red oaks, etc. The park's wildlife includes hares, squirrels and weasels, as well as 76 types of bird.

Getting there:Sokolniki Park is located next to Sokolniki metro station.

Filevsky Park

Filevsky ParkLocated in the west of Moscow on the former estate of the Naryshkin Princes, the park has preserved an 18th-century palace and colonnade erected as a monument to Catherine the Great's visit to the estate. Until 1964 there was a nature reserve here, and work is currently ongoing in the creation of a landscape cultural park.

The five-kilometer stretch of the park along the Moscow River is particularly beautiful. Nearby is the Garbushka market, notorious for selling pirate CDs and DVDs.

Getting there: The entrance to the park is next to Filevsky Park Metro Station.

Victory Park on Poklonnaya Gora

Victory Park on Poklonnaya GoraVictory Park was only completed in the mid-nineties, and is something of a last gasp for the Soviet tradition of monumental triumphal art. Located on and around the Poklonnaya Gora - the hill where Napoleon waited in vain to be given the keys to the city when his troops were surrounding Moscow in 1812 - the park is set in an area steeped in Russian military history.

Victory Park was initially laid out over an area of 98 hectares in 1961, although work on the creation of an architectural memorial was only mooted in the Politburo in 1983. Fortunately, the original plan - to level the hill and replace it with a 250-meter high column - was abandoned in the turbulent eighties, and only returned to under Yeltsin's government, when it was considered imperative to get the long-delayed project finished in time for the 50th anniversary of the end of the Great Patriotic War (1941-1945 - Russians have little interest in other countries' participation). Questions of taste left aside, the results are certainly impressive. The central avenue is called "Years of War": It has five terraces, symbolizing the five years of conflict, and there are 1,418 fountains - one for every day. It runs past a memorial chapel, mosque, and synagogue to the circular Victors' Place, which has a triangular obelisk soaring 150 meters and surmounted by a statue of Nike, the Goddess of Victory. Behind this lies the crescent-shaped Museum of the Great Patriotic War, which gives a detailed but staid overview of Russia's appalling loses and eventual victory.

On 9 May, Victory Day in Russia, the park becomes the center of Moscow's celebrations, and as many of the remaining veterans and survivors as can make there way here, along with scores of the younger generations. In Russia the emphasis is on celebration rather than remembrance, and this is one of the most popular public holidays.

Getting there: Park Pobedy Metro Station.

Friendship Park

Friendship ParkFriendship Park is located in the northern outskirts of Moscow. It was founded in 1957 during the 6th World Youth and Student Festival, held in Moscow. Festival participants from almost 80 different countries took part in the original construction.

The park is home to two sculptural compositions and a statue of Cervantes, the author of the immortal "Don Quixote". The statue is a copy of the one in Madrid executed by Antonio Sola and was given to Moscow in return for a gift of a statue of Pushkin to the Spanish capital.

A monument to friendship between the Soviet Union and Hungary completed by sculptors and architects from the two countries was opened in 1977.

The only real attraction that might tempt tourists here - unless you have time to kill while waiting for a boat from the nearby River Terminal - is the statue Bread and Fertility, a great example of Soviet bombast. It was designed by Vera Mukhina, whose Worker and Collective-Farm Girl stood for many years at the entrance to the All-Russia Exhibition Center and is still the emblem of Mosfilm, the local film studio.

Getting there: two minutes' walk from Rechnoi Vokzal Metro Station

Khoroshevsky Forest Park and Serebryany Bor

Khoroshevsky Forest Park and Serebryany BorSerebyany Bor is a famous pine forest in the west of Moscow. Most of it is taken up by the Khoroshevsky Forest Park, which has many trees over 100 years old. The park has 230 forms of plantlife, and is also home to a watersports complex, marinas and stables belonging to wealthy Muscovites.

One area of Serebyrany Bor is now called the Lemeshev Memorial Zone, after the great Russian singer S.Ya. Lemeshev, who often came here to relax; it now hosts concerts and musical evenings. The layout of Serebryany Bor is unusual, as it is located on an artificial island between a meander in the Moscow River and a canal. There is an artificial lake, the Deep Gulf, in the depths of the forest. There is also the picturesque Bezdonnoe (Bottomless) Lake.

Serebryany Bor's beaches are the cleanest in the city and very popular among Muscovites. On weekends it is difficult to find a free spot here, especially because a whole range of services are on offer to visitors, from simple deckchairs to catamaran and yacht rides.

Getting there: Take the trolleybus from Polezhaevskaya or Shchukinskaya Metro Stations.

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