(CNN) — Moscow, the capital of Russia, is brimming with historical sights, eye-popping architecture, world-class museums and cultural landmarks.
Figuring out what to see can be a bit bewildering in this huge, complex city.
London has the Thames. Paris has the Seine. And Moscow has the Moskva. It may not get the same attention, but it’s nonetheless a good place for a walk or boat tour.
A riverside stroll between the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and Gorky Park (with one bridge crossing) would take about 90 minutes, depending on your walking speed and how much you stop to gawk. And if you’re a fan of religious buildings, you can begin or end your walk with a tour of the cathedral, which was destroyed on Josef Stalin’s orders in the 1930s but rebuilt in the 1990s.
A river cruise in any major city with a waterway lets you get a whole new take on it, and Moscow is no exception. You can book cruises of varying times and routes from different companies. Night cruises get special raves from tourists online. Just remember Moscow has long winters, and the river can freeze over for months.
The mausoleum once had an almost religious pull for citizens of the officially atheistic Soviet Union, with people waiting long hours just to get a glimpse of Lenin and perhaps leave a flower.
In today’s Russia, it’s a less somber atmosphere along the walls of the Kremlin. There’s even talk of closing the mausoleum to visitors, so if you want to see the preserved body of the man who set the historical trajectory for much of the 20th century, act quickly. Hours are limited; plan your schedule well. And you can’t take cameras or bags inside.
St. Basil’s Cathedral
When you close your eyes and think of Moscow, you might picture St. Basil’s Cathedral in your mind. You’ve probably seen its richly colored, onion-shaped domes on television during fireworks shows or as a backdrop for Western TV correspondents.
Gorky Park is the Wi-Fi-equipped epicenter of Moscow’s metamorphosis into a kinder, friendlier urban space.
Opened during the Great Terror of the late 1930s, the park showcases Stalin’s imperial style: The central concrete strip down the middle was designed for tanks to lumber through after parades in Red Square.
An overhaul has transformed Gorky Park into the city’s most happening place to hang out. Gone are the rusting roller coasters of yore, replaced by cafés, an outdoor cinema, lounge chairs and free dance and yoga classes. And fans of the 1981 murder mystery novel “Gorky Park” by Martin Cruz Smith will get a kick from just being here.
Even people who don’t follow ballet and opera have usually heard of the renowned Bolshoi Theatre.
In 2011, Russia’s beloved Bolshoi reopened after a long renovation. Visitors are now enjoying improved acoustics, new seating and touched-up mosaics that restored the theater to its imperial luster after decades of communist neglect.
The opera and ballet productions are more popular than ever, but it’s not just the same old “Swan Lake.” Experimental stagings of classics such as “Ruslan and Lyudmila” were sending traditionalists into a tizzy — and winning the theater new cultural relevance.
The theater runs an online booking system. Reserve early, as tickets can sell out months in advance. In 2018, the Bolshoi is closed from July 29 to September 12 (though nothing can stop you from marveling at its exterior).
Moscow State University (main building)
The main building of Moscow State University is sure to leave a lasting impression. The Stalinist-era building is a tall, wide, white behemoth topped by a distinctive spire with a star.
GUM department store
Moscow’s national department store GUM on Red Square has a rich and mysterious history that few can rival. It has survived more than a century of tumult since opening in 1893.
The 242-meter-long (794 feet), three-story structure escaped the bulldozer three times. And it became Stalin’s office in the 1920s.
Its lavish toilets were shut down for being a bourgeois luxury in 1918. One of them — branded Historic Toilet — has now been restored to its pre-revolutionary grandeur and is open to anyone willing to spend just a little money.
The main historical gallery holds more than 1,300 works of Russian art that span from the 11th century to the early 20th century. This is where you can see masterpieces such as “The Appearance of Christ to the People” by Alexander Ivanov and “Trinity” by Andrei Rublev.
If you want to see more modern works, from the past 100 years or so, then the New Tretyakovka is the place for you. About a 25-minute walk from the historical gallery, you can explore works in socialist realism, avant-garde and more here.
If all this doesn’t satiate your appetite for Russian art, then the Tretyakov has associated house museums of important artists.
MIBC (Moscow International Business Center)
You’ll have lots of chances to see glories from distant and more recent Russian history. This is where to go if you want to see the future.
But if you’re the kind of traveler who likes to see parts of a city off the tourist trail or you like modern skyscrapers, this may be for you.
The Central Museum of Armed Forces
One of the world’s finest military museums offers an exhaustive look at the entire history of the Soviet military. Most of the 24-room museum is devoted to the Great Patriotic War (known in the West as World War II).
Among thousands of artifacts, the original Soviet victory flag hoisted over the Reichstag in Berlin in 1945 is here.
Cold War relics include weaponry, spy technology and pieces of Gary Powers’ U-2 spy plane, which was brought down over the USSR in 1960 and has been on display here ever since. Outside, more than 150 weapons, planes, missiles and battle vehicles are on display.
Winzavod Center for Contemporary Art
Winzavod, a cluster of galleries, shops and cafes in a former wine factory, has been at the heart of Moscow’s cultural transformation since it was founded in 2007.
Winzavod has an excellent swathe of contemporary Russian visual art and photography, with spaces for contemporary art, artists’ studios, creative showrooms, children’s studios, a bookstore and more.
A trip to a farmers’ market, or “rynok,” imparts the sights and smells of the countryside without forcing you to leave the city.
Babushkas sell sour brusniki (cowberry) jam, pickled tomatoes and honey in more variations than you knew existed, while men from the Caucasus hawk spices, honey-drenched nuts and hand-painted teapots nearby. Kiosks serve draft beer poured into plastic two-liter bottles for carting home.
Dorogomilovsky is the city’s best-known market. Danilovsky has more character. Near the entrance there’s a booth selling hot lavash flatbread, which you can watch being baked.
Rebecca Bluitt and Maggie Hiufu Wong contributed material for this article from previously published stories for CNN.