Sol Solntze is the British part of an Anglo-Russian family who moved back to Moscow in 2015 after living in London for ten years. She writes a blog about taking her two children out to museums and other places of interest in and around Moscow at kiddingherself.com. Here she shares with us her favourite haunts and ideas for things to do with children in Moscow.
Moscow. With children. Does this sound like a natural pairing to you?
Actually, Moscow can be very child-friendly, both in the welcome that the locals give kids and the range of places you can take them while you visit. Many of which parents may well enjoy too!
If you are visiting the capital of Moscow, whether for a flying visit or a longer stay, here are some of the top attractions guaranteed to please the most exacting child.
Yes, yes, yes, I know you want to see Red Square and the Kremlin, and of course you should, but just a few hundred metres up the road is the place kids ought to have on their Moscow bucket list. It’s a department store totally dedicated to children and their interests. So as well as a huge Hamley’s store, there is a Disney outlet and lots of other shops. There are also a whole host of entertainments aimed at kids, from Kidburg, where they can go and experience all the best bits of working life as an adult, through an animatronic dinosaur exhibition to a place where they can make science go bang in all sorts of colourful and pleasing ways. And if that’s not enough, a stage in the main hall regularly puts on free shows for visitors, and many more interactive distractions lurk in the corridors and the food court.
Very few children can resist the call of stuffed animals, and the Darwin Museum in Moscow has 400, 000 of them. But it’s not just the sheer number of taxidermy exhibits which is the draw, although if you have ever wanted to see every type of cat in existence in just one display case now is your opportunity, it’s all the little touches this very well-put together museum has added to bring the animal world to life. Quite literally, in the case of the screen which allows you to interact with suddenly animated creatures from the surrounding collections. If this palls (it won’t pall), then you can go next door, where they have live insects to gawp at and immersive 3D experiences to choose from. And it’s (nearly) all educational, as I defy anyone to come out without a decent grasp of deep time and what the survival of the fittest actually means. Even if you don’t speak Russian.
The attraction of VDNH from a parent’s point of view is that there are large open spaces somewhat larger than the principality of Monaco to allow the kids to let off some steam, combined with some pretty impressive Soviet-era architecture for you to look at while they do so. The advantage from a child’s point of view is that there is a fairground, one of the largest aquariums in Europe, Mosquarium, an excellent hands-on science museum, a robot show, robot side show and robot crafting experience, and a city farm. And that’s just for starters. In winter, as well as an impressive tubing run twisting right round the full-sized space rocket they have hanging around in the grounds, there is the largest outdoor ice skating rink in the world. Not that outdoor ice rinks are at all difficult to find in Moscow – you can even go gliding around on Red Square should you so wish.
The USSR didn’t make it to the moon, but it did an awful lot else of what it is possible to do in in the infinite vacuum beyond our atmosphere bubble, and this museum covers all of it, and even has the actual stuffed remains of the first dogs in space on display to boot. The museum itself is also extremely attractive, polished to gleaming and lit to give the impression that you are doing your own space walk under a starry starry night, or just about to enter a space craft and jet off yourself. And this is only enhanced by the fact that you can also walk round a mock up of the Mir space station itself, admire a fully-stocked space refrigerator, and eat space ice cream in the cafe. Plus, the entrance is underneath a particularly fabulous example of Soviet monumental art. Unmissable, really.
Is a zoo. What’s not for children to like? It’s stocked with all the exotic animals large and small that you might expect of a zoo in the capital city of a country and the only surprising thing is why they have warm weather penguins rather than ones they can let outside to enjoy the cold Moscow winters. It’s also free for all those under 17, so if that doesn’t incentivise adults to go, I don’t know what will. Also, as a zoo in a central location, you can look up from contemplating a giraffe, or a polar bear, or a walrus and gaze straight at not just apartment blocks but one of Moscow’s most iconic Soviet buildings.
If your children have any interest in items of the twentieth-century military hardware (and uniforms) large and small, then this is the place to take them as it is all on display. Tanks, tanks and more tanks, really big guns, aircraft, rockets, smaller guns and so on and on. You can even see the very spy plane that American Gary Powers was flying over the USSR when it was shot down. And items from other countries, notably Nazi Germany. There are handling opportunities too and all the rooms are very visually effective; it’s not a dry and dusty sort of museum at all. Which is good, because there isn’t much English language support about. Still worth it.
With the exception of the central Gorky Park, Moscow is not especially famous for its parks, which is a shame because there are quite a few of them dotted about the capital, and they all have something to recommend themselves highly to children. Whether you are looking for fairytale castles, bicycle hire stations, wildernesses, wooden palaces, urban beaches, horse and carriage rides, dancing fountains, ducks, outdoor theatres, cinemas and concert venues, ice cream festivals, another military museum, ice sculptures, boating, an underground glacier, live-action Viking battles, deposed Soviet memorials or just a good old-fashioned playground and a cafe, Moscow parks have something for you. And yet more giant outdoor ski rinks in winter.
There are a number of performance spaces in Moscow which cater specifically to children, and they have a wide range of shows, from the Obraztsov Puppet Museum, through not one but two world-class circuses, a theatre of performing cats, and finishing with the Moscow Children’s Musical Theatre, which is not afraid to do opera and ballet pitched for kids but enjoyable for everybody. If you are here around New Year, some of the stadiums will be putting on lavish seasonal ice dancing shows. And these performances are mostly visual, so even if you don’t speak Russian, your children (and you) should get a kick out of them.
So there you have it. Not by any means an exhaustive list – there are the trampoline parks and soft play areas hidden away in shopping malls and the Planetarium to mention, as well as the Cold War bunker, the escape rooms, the water parks, and the moose sanctuary before this would become the ultimate guide, but hopefully this gives you a flavour of what is on offer to keep children happy should you choose to come to Moscow.