The Russian capital’s hotel prices are exorbitant enough to make an oligarch cry, but the city has some fine free sights that may dry up a tourist’s tears.
• Lenin Mausoleum: Two decades after the Soviet Union died, a visit to the mummy-under-glass of its founder is more about creepy kitsch than political pilgrimage, but still a potent view into the totalitarian psyche. Entrance is free, but bags, cameras and phones must be checked for a fee. To make this a true freebie, go with a companion who can hold your gear and then switch off. The line moves briskly and the tag-team method won’t eat up much extra time.
• Winzavod: This former winery on a careworn industrial street has been turned into Moscow’s modern art nexus. A dozen galleries, including that of internationally known art impresario Marat Guelman, an array of modish shops and a cafe draw the young and stylish on weekends. Take a map; though it’s near the Kursky railway terminal, the neighborhood is confusing and the street’s name, Chetverty Syromyatnichesky Pereulok, is a tongue-twister if asking directions.
• Yauza Valley: No one comes to Moscow to get close to nature, but if you need to get away from its dirt and din, a two-mile walk through the wetlands of the Yauza River, a tributary of the Moscow River, is a pastoral idyll just five miles from Red Square. Well-maintained paths and boardwalks lead through marshes and woods, past a 350-year-old country church, ending at a former nobleman’s estate. The trail starts a couple of blocks from the Babushkinskaya subway stop.
• Silver Island: Although tourists jam the Izmailovsky souvenir market’s ersatz czarist-era buildings, few venture to the real thing right next door. This island in a small manmade lake was a royal estate when Peter the Great was a boy and contains a soaring church with peculiar peacock-eye friezes and a fearsome three-story structure dating to his time (he died in 1725), along with a sprawling 19th century ensemble. The island is visible from the market area, but the buildings are hidden by thick trees, so coming upon them feels like discovering a lost village.
• All-Russia Exhibition Center: Larger than the country of Monaco, this complex originally built to laud Soviet achievements features Stalinist Gothic architecture (don’t miss the pavilion with a gargantuan bull charging off the roof), exuberant fountains, a Vostok rocket like the one that put the first man into orbit, and usually a few thousand Russians strolling, flirting and scarfing down shish kebabs and beer. Some of the massive pavilions that once housed Communist propaganda exhibits have been given over to capitalism, filled with warrens of tiny kiosks selling everything from medical devices to luminescent panties; others are falling into picturesque disrepair. Take the subway to VDNKh and follow the crowd.