With stunning church interiors and an armory with an extensive collection of Russian luxury extravaganza the Kremlin is one of Moscow’s top sights, for good reason. Not surprisingly large tour groups are inevitable nearly anytime of the year so having a plan of attack and managing the crowds will be key to an enjoyable visit.
Length of Visit
While some recommend 2 hours for Cathedral Square and 2 hours for the Amory, the non-enthusiast can go through these much faster – 2 hours for the entire experience. Access to much of the government portion of the complex is strictly restricted. Guards herd tourists away from these buildings towards Cathedral Square and out the exit to Red Square.
To Do or Not to Do the Armory
The armory, requiring an extra timed ticket, boasts exquisite collections of precious metals objects of just about everything – from housewares and religious paraphernalia to, well, armor. I especially liked the bible covers intricately decorated with precious metals and jewels. Downstairs there are also collections of carriages and costumes. My favorites were the fur trimmed crowns. We spent about 45 minutes in the armory. Note that no photos are allowed inside.
Planning Your Visit
If you plan on doing a short visit of both Cathedral Square and the Armory I would buy your tickets when the ticket office opens at 9:30, purchase the 11AM armory ticket and queue at Kutafiya Tower. Once inside the complex, visit Cathedral Square before the armory, tour the armory at 11 and then go back to Cathedral Square for anything you might have missed on your first visit. On your way to the exit take a spin through the garden in the southeast corner of the complex and exit into Red Square. During the time of our visit the Ivan the Great Bell Tower was not open.
On a Tuesday morning in the first week in October we arrived without advance tickets but were able to purchase them at the ticket office after about a 15 minute wait in the Armory ticket queue. Note that there are different ticket lines for different types of tickets. You can also buy the general admission ticket (Cathedral Square) at an automated kiosk.
To purchase same day tickets, make sure to go to the correct location in Aleksandrovsky Sad, the garden west of the Kremlin. This is not in Red Square. The ticket office is between the two towers Kutafiya and Borovitskaya, just south of Kutafiya Tower. While you can enter the complex from either tower entrance, it’s advantageous to enter from Kutafiya if you plan on visiting Cathedral Square first and Borovitskaya if you choose the Armory first. At the tower entrances there is a security line to get in. It looked massive but moved pretty quickly.
Crowd levels in mid-October
In mid-October the grounds and churches were still crowded with large tour groups, larger than I have seen at other sites, and they grew worse as the morning wore on. I would recommend touring the churches first and getting a later time slot for the armory as the number of visitors is controlled by a timed ticket at the Armory while there can be queues to enter the churches, especially later in the morning.
Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral
Exiting the Kremlin lands you directly in front of the iconic St Basil’s Cathedral. At about 1PM the Cathedral was busy but not too crowded, with no queue to buy tickets. We saw no organized tour groups inside the cathedral.
The interior of the 16th century cathedral has an odd layout. The bottom floor, a maze of richly painted small rooms, some opening to the outside, is worth the exploration. The second floor, or tier as they call it, has a bigger central room with an exquisite partition. Other rooms radiate out around the central one, some with beautiful icons. A museum since 1991, photos are allowed without flash.
During our visit there was a fall festival taking place in Red Square and access was only through security check points. A beautiful crisp day, the hay against the ornate facades surrounding the square made a striking contrast.
October 8, 2019
For links to all the posts in this series see the Russia page.