Ideas for hiking in Moscow

© Alexander Roschin 2018
last update: April 2018


Kolomenskoe Park

From-To: Kashirskaya Metro - Kolomenskaya Metro
Duration: 2-3 hrs
Conditions: relatively dry weather, footwear suitable for dirt trails

Map with attached route

Kolomenskoe Park, although quite large, is far from being the biggest natural park of Moscow. But it's surely one that is the richest in historical monuments.

The oldest of them is the archeological site of "Dyakovo Gorodische" from first millenium BC - first millenium AD. It had been one of administative and sacral centers of the then tribal population, later known to Slavs as "Merya". Their language was Finnish-like, they inhabited what are now Moscow, Vologda and Yaroslavl regions, had some part in transit trade with Europe and Asia, but lived rather poorly and had no writing. Still, many toponims in the region derive from their language, probably including "Moskva" itself.

The site center is a small sharp hill overlooking the Moskva river valley, with the clearly visible several-meters-long moat and rampart. It was thoroughly excavated in the Soviet time. In wet weather it's still a difficult-to-reach place, but when dirt dries one can approach it from both riverside/northeast and inland/south. There's another archeological site "Chertov gorodok" on the lower terrace 500 meters away, but it is rather plain and has no panoramic views.

From the hill one can easily see St. John the Baptist's Cathedral one kilometer northward. It stands in the middle of a village cemetery, but was built when Kolomeskoe was a Tsar's residence, most probably around 1550 AD, under Ivan IV "Groznyi" (The Terrible). It's one of the oldest temples in all Moscow, and, like the famous Cathedral on Red Square, is constructed of several distinct 8-sided towers, each of them having its own entrance and altar (Russian Wikipedia). The Cathedral is opened only at prayer service hours, but it has lost the original decor long ago, so from inside it's not very interesting.

Just below St. John's Cathedral is a ravine with the funny name "Golosov". It seems likely that it was renamed from "Volosov", after Volos - the Slavic pagan god of wealth, cattle and lower world. There are some mystical, or fantasy, stories about the ravine (told in English in the Wikipedia article); on its southern side there are two large boulders believed to have healing powers, maybe since ancient Merya times. Next to the ravine is a big apple orchard, planted in mid-20-century, when Kolomenskoe was still a Moscow suburb, not a megapolis-encircled park.

The territory north of Golosov ravine is the open-air museum of old Russian architecture. The most famous is the column-like Church of the Ascension of Jesus, 1532. Despite being biult by an invited Italian architect, it's a perfect example of the early Rusiian tent-roof style. To my view, from aside it resembles the first Soviet, and world's, space rocket Sputnik/R-7. The many archs and passsages of its ground level are also worth a closer look. The interior of the Ascension temple is off-limits to visitors; as by photos, it currently has very few decorative elements.

Next to the Ascension temple is the "Peredniye vorota" (Front Gate) with another tent-roofed tower, some fine red-brick ornaments and icon paitings over its facades. Beyond the Gate is the beautiful Church of Virgin Mary of Kazan', 1653, with five blue domes and delicate brickwork over its walls.

The nearby territory hosts many less-important old buildings, some of them remaining from the Tsar estate, some brought to the museum from other parts of Russia. Most notable of the latter kind are wooden St. George's Church, 1688, moved recently from northern Arkhangelsk Oblast, and the operational watermill on the Zhuzha river. There are also cafeterias, souvenir shops, Luna parks and other features of a touristy place.

The Kolomenskaya Metro station is to the north from the museum territory, on Prospekt Andropova. The Kashirskaya Metro station is a few hundred meters west off the southwestern corner of the park.

Walking south-east along the Moskva river is recommended only to the park's fence; further way to the Moskvorechye railway station is for the most intrepid only.

Map with attached route

Moskva river valley John the Baptist Church
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Between Kitay-gorod and the Kremlin

From-To: Kitay-gorod Metro
Duration: 1 hr

Map with attached route

The name Kitay-gorod refers to a circle of Moscow city walls, about 1km in diameter, the first of several circles outside the Kremlin (second was Belyi Gorod where now is the Boulevard Ring, third - Zemlyanoi Gorod where now is the Garden Ring, forth - the Kamer-Kollezhsky rampart more or less where now is the Third Ring). The stone and brick wall with towers was built in 1538 and demolished during Stalin's reconstruction in 1934. One 300m-long section remains near Ploschad Revolyutsii Metro; stone blocks of the Varvarskaya Tower are exposed in the underground passage of the southern exit of the Kitay-gorod Metro station; a modern reconstuction of another 200m redbrick wall can be seen between that exit and the Moskva river. Certainly, these are not the main attractions in this area.

Before the massive removal of Soviet names in mid-1990s, the now Kitay-gorod Metro station and its square were called Nogin Square, and were the symbol of bureacratic late-Soviet Moscow. The territory between the Kremlin and the Garden Ring was full of state-run offices and institutes - civilian, restricted, or military, and of apartments for their emplyees. Numerous historical buidings were also used by these institutions, except a few beatifully restored churches, fully encircled in administration quarters. This kind of atmosphere is still in place - look at fine All Saints' Church just at the metro exit, then at buildings behind it.

The corner building of Kitaygorodskii Proezd was built as a trade and business center in 1913, and in early Soviet time was used by governmental offices and called "Dom metallurgov" (the House of Steel-workers). There're several memorial plates on it, among others of Kuibyshev and Orjonikidze, early Soviet "captains of industry", included in the all-USSR cult list with, say, Kirov, Kalinin and Dzerzhinskii. After them important cities had been named, which in 1991 were reverted to Samara and Vladikavkaz. We had had a good practice spelling the difficult name of Orjonikidze, as literally any town had Orjonikidze street, Orjonikidze factory and Orjonikidze school. Reportedly, in 1990s the former apartments of mighty Commissars in this house were used for a brothel; but they were not cynical enough for "Orjonikidze brothel", and called it something like "Daydreams".

If you follow the small street beside the church, you'll meet more of this bureaucracy architecture, including the notorious Roskomnadzor, the state watchdog on Internet -- nothing of dark Gothic, the most ordinary office buiding.

Southwest of the metro station there's the Russia's main government quarter; the political Kremlin actually resides there. The compound near Staraya Ploschad has changed ownership from the Communist Party Central Commitee to the President Administration, bloated and consumed neighboring blocks up to Varvarka Street and the western side of the metro square. It has recently encircled itself in a high fence of thick metal rods, with guarded checkposts. In theory, the guards should allow visitors to see the beautiful Trinity Church inside, in practice - you are free to try it yourself.

- Daddy, what is this big wall for ?
- Sonny, the bad people cannot come over it and harm the good people
- Daddy, to come from outside or from inside ?
(Soviet-era joke about the Kremlin).

So, let's talk about the good. Varvarka Street connects the Kitay-gorod Metro station with Moscow's central Krasnaya Ploschad (usually incorrectly translated as Red Square), and has the biggest concentration of medieval buidings outside the Kremlin, so it's a must-see. Exactly the place "it's better to see once, than to read about a hundred times". A good idea is to walk all its 500 meters, then turn left around the last church and return by lower level along the border of Zaryadye Park. That closest to the Kremlin church is named after Svyataya Varvara (St. Barbara), and the whole street was called after it, as it was usual in old Moscow (Il'inka Street after St. Elias's Church, Pokrovka Street after Church of Pokrov). There are 4 beautiful churches on Varvarka, dated from 1684 to 1804, and several masonry houses, which are even older. There are also two museums: The Old English Court and The Chambers of Boyar Romanov. For such a big historical cluster, there's only little of atmosphere, because all these antiques were cleaned and restored from Soviet-era usage as storehouses and communal lodgings. Now it's been made to feel like a cosmopolitan touristy area, with all due nonsense like mock old lanterns and a pavement of machine-worked granite slabs.

There's also really charming St. Anna's Church in the southeastern corner of the park, where Kitaygorodskii Proezd/Lane comes down to the Moskva river. It's the oldest church in this area (15-16th centuries) and is a clear example of the old Bizantine white-stone cross-dome design, later supplemented with a gallery and other additions, still later restored. (Other surviving cross-dome churches in Moscow are St. Trifon's near Rizhskaya metro and the central church of Andronikov Monastery near Ploschad Il'icha metro, both from 15th century.) It was recognized as a historical monument through the Soviet era, and eventually outlived the Rossiya hotel, a tremendous square block of concrete and glass, that had covered territory of the now Zaryadye Park. The park itself, although much advertised, is only a little better than that demolished ugly "modern" hotel. It was born by the same power-plus-money intoxicated mind, that planned the winter Olympics 2014 in the only place of Russia lacking natural snow. The park does offer some good views, but those from the neighbouring Moskvoretskii bridge are even better.

Map with attached route

Kitay-gorod Kitay-gorod
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Between Kitay-gorod and the Boulevard Ring

From-To: Kitay-gorod Metro
Duration: 1-2 hr

Map with attached route

Coming from the Kitay-gorod Metro station east along Zabelina Street we soon get to a crossing with Solyanka Street. The imposing building in the far-right corner was in 1990-2010 a legend for advanced teenage Muscovites, calling themselves "diggeri" (a plural of "digger" according to the Russian morphology). It stands on a really huge basement floor, with a non-trivial layout, those days desolate and unguarded. Together with the University bomb shelter and numerous city water collectors it was considered a worthy beginners' "zalaz" (crawling-in). More advanced researchers went on to metro venting shafts and abandoned military objects; the ultimate target was "Metro-2" - the legendary system of governmental command bunkers and tunnels at 200m depth. "Diggerstvo" is still flourishing in Internet, but in reality became much more difficult with new networked guard systems and stricter law enforcement.

Solyanka Street goes to the right of the crossing and connects (almost) straight to the square at the Yauza river's estuary, from which you can continue walking towards Taganskaya Metro (that deserves a chapter of its own). Straight from the crossing Zabelina Street climbs a hill, topped with lovely and very old St. Vladimir's Church (1516/1660, build as a home church for the King Vasilii III) and a massive-walled compound of St. John's Nunnery with St. John's Cathedral.

From the Solyanka/Zabelina crossing it's worth to turn left, into a lane with the funny name Spasoglinischevskii. It soon leads to a characteristic yellow building, capped with a small dome and six-pointed-star - that's a sinagogue, a very rear kind of temple for Moscow. Just next to it a whole quarter is occupied by the misterious construction site "Shaft 731"; unlike Varvarka Street, it's a stunning place to read about (in the Russian Wikimapia, for example), not to encounter in reality. A hillside just opposite the sinagogue is turned into a lovely park; there's a stairway past a (now partly wrecked) student's hostel up to the bent Petroverigskii Lane. Follow its eastbound leg, and you'll come to another wonderful alien temple - Evangelical-Lutheran Cathedral of St. Peter and Paul, 1905, on Starosadskii Lane. There's a maze of yards and shortcuts west of this point, you can spend some time exploring them, or simply follow the Starosadskii Lane southward to St. John's Nunnery at the top end of Zabelina Street.

Looking downhill, it's easy to spot a small lane forking from Zabelina westward, between two parapets, and a small monument near it (lat=55.755128 lon=37.638938). It's a memorial of Osip Mandelshtam, now recognized as an important Russian poet, born Jewish, died in 1938 in prison for criticising the Soviet rule. It has a good view of the square and St. Vladimir's Church.

Lovely St. Vladimir's Church is certainly worth a close look for fine exterior details. It's also the only place on this congested hill to offer you a look to the golden head of the Kremlin belltower and even to the dome of Christ The Saviour Cathedral 2.5km away.

The street westward from the square is called Khokhlovskii Lane and after several bends feeds into the Boulevard Ring. It's interesting to follow it until the first big crossing and turn left into Kolpachnyi Lane, follow all its length to Pokrovka Street and return the same way. Kolpachnyi Lane is full of historical houses, most prominent being 1) the former residence of Abakumov, the Stalin's Minister of State Security, 1912/1948, and 2) the mansion of baron Knop, built 1900, in 1937-1991 - the Moscow City Comitee of VLKSM; as of 2017 - an office of the Khodorkovskii's "Open Russia". If you like the taste of these quarters, try also to find their oldest houses: the Chambers of Ukraintsev, 1665 (lat=55.755883 lon=37.643816), and the Mansion of Dolgorukii, 17-18 centuries (lat=55.757863 lon=37.641370).

Back to Khokhlovskii Lane, next fork southward is Podkopaevskii Lane. Enter it, go past one crossing to the second and turn left into Malyi Tryohsvyatitelskii Lane, then follow it until you see a beautiful old church on its right side. It's Church of the Three Holy Hierarchs, 1674 (lat=55.754192 lon=37.644761). Just past it a short lane named Khitrovskii leads down to Khitrovskaya Square, that was a horrible criminals' hangout during 19th century, but now is a lovely quiet place, little touched by mad-money-powered development of latest decades.

From Khitrovskaya Square Podkolokol'nyi Lane connects to the Boulevard Ring. The corner house is one of the first classical Stalin-style, built in 1938-1941 for top Red Army officers and cadets of Kuibyshev Academy. It's flanked by gorgeous statues of a Worker and a Peasant Women (she, unexpectedly, holds a gun).

There're still many things to see: you can continue along the boulevard clockwise to Yauzskie Vorota Square, then cross the Yauza and follow Goncharnaya Street to Taganskaya Metro. Or to go counterclockwise to Chistyie Prudy Metro. Or to just cross the boulevard and follow Vorontsovo Pole Street to Kurskii railway terminal and metro. The shortest way to return to Kitay-gorod is to backtrack to Khitrovskaya Square and continue westward to Solyanka and Zabelina streets.

Map with attached route

Kitay-gorod Kitay-gorod
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Novospasskii Monastery - Krutitsi Church - Simonov Monastery

From-To: Proletarskaya/Krestyanskaya Zastava Metro - Avtozavodskaya Metro
Duration: from 3 hrs

Map with attached route

Monasteries on southern outskirts of old Moscow have been built as forts, encircled in good walls with towers and three tiers of gun ports. There are several of them: Novodevichii (near Sportivnaya Metro) and Donskoy (near Shabolovskaya Metro) are among the most popular tourist destinations; Daniilov (not far from Paveletskaya Metro) is an office of Patriarchy; Andronikov (not far from Rimskaya Metro) hosts the fine Rublev Museum of the Ancient Russian Art. Novospasskii Monastery near Proletarskaya Metro is less-visited and less interesting by itself, but neighbours another fine old place - Krutitsi Church; the remains of majestic Simonov Monastery are also not far from it, and all three can be done in one reasonable foot trip.

Generally, in less-touristy Russian Orthodox monasteries and churches they don't like the idle onlookers and may even turn you away. You'll be allowed almost everywhere if you: 1) do not smoke 2) do not talk loudly 3) put your camera and phone out of sight 4) take your hat off if you're a man, cover your head, arms and knees if you're a woman.

Still, there're no special attractions in Novospasskii Monastery and you may not want to go inside it at all. The real atmosphere lives outside it: there's a trail just under the western wall (you can touch it if you like) and a huge quiet pond between the monastery and the Moskva river. From the riverside the monastery makes a really fairy-tale view.

Very beautiful Krutitsi Church is not far, but to get there from Novospasski is a challenge as there's a busy road between them, deceptively called "3rd Krutitskii Pereulok/Lane". One possible way is to go back to the Simonovskii Val crossing, cross the east-west road southward, and go on its southern side towards the Moskva river to the corner of Krutitskaya Street, which is the old access road to the church. The second way, for the adventurous, is to come from Novospasski Pond to the very Moskva river bank, go to the big bridge, pass under it, go further 300m just over the river, until you see big modern houses and the stairway up the slope. Cross the embankment driveway very carefully, get up that slope, turn left and enter the desolate back yard of the Krutitsi.

Krutitsi actually is a 17 century complex of two churches, chambers of the Krutitsi Metropolitan, and several unimportant buildings. Fortunately, there's the English Wikipedia article. The Krutitsi Metropolitan is a very high position in the Rusiian Orthodox Church, higher than an Archbishop, one of a few Metropolitans who are next only to the Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia; I'm afraid, that respectable man is unfrequent here. The site is not exactly a monastery, and not so long ago was a state-run museum, so they are not strict on visitors. Taking pictures formally requires permission, but that seems to be not enforced.

The charming gem of Krutitsi sits in a rather strange environment. There're some peaceful old village houses to the north of it; a retired sewage pump station, now the Museum of Water, next to the bridge; the Military Prosecutor's Office facing the big street with some military utility houses. The now back yard for centuries had been hosting barracks and the Moscow garrison brig, notorious from a 1840 revolutionary Gertzen to caught-in-something-bad conscripts of 1980s.

If you are full, you can go back to the main street and metro; but if you don't mind extra 2km walking, there's something more for you: Simonov Monastery. (You can also take a taxi, but I'm afraid not many drivers know the place.) Get out from the back yard to the hillside trail above the Moskva river. It goes through the most tranquil yards above the river, than crosses a defunct railroad and declines inland. Do not go too far left, find Vostochnaya Ulitsa/Street.

After half a kilometer from a big crossing you'll see a high round redbrick tower on the right side - that's the corner tower of Simonov Monastery, formerly the biggest and richest monastery of Moscow. There are two more towers and a 200m wall section westward of the street, and some buildings beyond the wall. I'm not sure if it's worth going inside, but the park in front of the wall is a really fine place with nice view over the Moskva river valley. The towers also are worth closer look.

Simonov Monastery was not only important as a fortress. It had close attention of the great St. Sergii Radonezhskii, and many outstanding figures of the Russian Church were risen in here, like St. Jonah of Moscow and St. Cyril of Beloozero. St. Cyrill in particular has founded important Kiriilov Monastery in Vologda Oblast, and likewise many disciples of Sergii had taken part in the great project of that time - the monastic colonization of the North and the East, that greatly expanded the area of influence of Moscow and, eventually, of the Russian nation.

Very unfortunately for Simonov, in 1930s it found itself on the territory that was planned for construction of the tremendous automobile plant ZIL, so it's a wonder that the Communists haven't demolished it completely. The ZIL, the USSR's glory, failed to become effective in the brave new capitalist Russia and finally collapsed around 2010. Most of its territory is now under luxury apartments and offices, but you may still see several desolate production blocks near the MCC.

In 300m south from the central tower there's very old Virgin Mary's Church. It was buried in the middle of a Soviet plant and was turned into a compressor station; but in 1989 became one of the first churches in Gorbachov's USSR to be returned to believers. The plant's buildings are still all around there, transformed into commercial estate, but the way to the church is marked by signs. It's an important place for the Russians, as national heroes Peresvet and Oslyabya are buried there, but, frankly, there's not much to see.

If you follow Vostochnaya Street 500m more southward you'll see a big red "M" at the entrance to Avtozavodskaya Metro. The Dubrovka MCC station is further 300m southeast, beyond a big road crossing.

Map with attached route

Novospasskii Monastery Krutitsi
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Losinyi Ostrov Park - Yauza river - Rostokino aqueduct

From-To: Belokamennaya MCC - VDNKh Metro or Preobrazhenskaya ploschad Metro
Duration: from 2 hrs
Conditions: relatively dry weather, footwear suitable for dirt trails, navigator/compass/local guide for orientation
Dangers and annoyances: It's VERY easy to get lost in this park, do not try to go any deep without a navigator or at least a good compass. Some boggy or storm-beaten areas are really untraversable. Personal safety is at same level as in other Moscow parks: your may by bad luck encounter drunk people, crazy dogs with impudent owners. (There may be also wild dogs, but they usually avoid people.) There are littered spots in housing-bordered areas and mad cyclists on asphalt roads.

Map with attached route

The biggest natural park in Moscow is Losinyi Ostrov (Elk Island). The Ring Road and the MCC railroad divide it in three almost separate parts, each being a huge forest-park with its own mood. The territory outside the Ring Road contains upper reaches of the Yauza river - swamps, former peatery, and heavy forests. It is difficult to traverse, and even to reach from inside Moscow.

The middle territory between the Ring Road and the MCC railroad is a big forest with some boggy areas and small streams. It has a network of paved and unpaved trails and is extremly popular among Muscovites for skiing in winter and hiking and cycling all year round.

The innermost and smallest section of Losiny Ostrov between the MCC and middle reaches of the Yauza river is also a forest, crossed by several paved roads. It is also dotted with many fenced buildings, some of which are park utilities, others are hospitals and sanatoriums, built as Soviet state-owned, now apparently private.

Almost all of the huge park territory is encircled in modern city quarters and non-residential areas like storehouses and communal garages. Residential-bordered parts are the least pleasant, because of litter and, sometimes, crazy dogs walked by caddish women. By far the best way to get to the green heartland is via the new MCC station Belokamennaya. It has exits both to north and south, to the middle and inner park sections respectively.

It's also possible to perform a combined green-urban-historical trip: start from Belokamennaya - find the way across the forest-park southwest to the Yauza valey - follow the Yauza 1-2 km northwest to the Aqueduct of Rostokino.

There are many ways from the southern exit of Belokamennaya to the Yauza valley, depending on your navigation abilities and taste for adventures. The simplest way is to get by an asphalt road (called Yauzskaya Alleya) to the #75 bus stop and to follow its route by Belokamennoe Shosse to the Bogatyrskyi Most bridge. The most nature-wise way is to take a trail south to Losinoostrovskaya Street, follow that "street" westward to Belokamennoe Shosse and some further west into the forest, turn southwest and finally come through forest trails to a high bank of the Yauza valley.

The lower terrace of the valley is rather wet, there are big and small ponds on it, and some good paved trails. The Yauza itself is not very attractive, but there are still ducks living in it (they live even in the Moskva river).

Following the Yauza northwest we come to a passage under a busy railroad bridge. Just after it we need to decline right to bypass a small office and garages area, then the road comes back to the river. The lower terrace here is like a small park, on another bank there's a big, but now quiet, industrial area with several impressive-looking metal towers. All this urban territory once had been very wet and now has many undeground drainage pipes, feeding into the Yauza.

The Rostokino Aqueduct looks like a high (20 m) and long (356 m) bridge spanning all width of the Yauza valley, built on archs of limestone and brick. It was constructed in 1780-1804 for the first Moscow centralized water supply. The water was taken from the Mitischinskiye Klyuchi springs (now in the northwest corner of Losinyi Ostrov). Originally the water flowed in an open channel, later it was pumped with steam engines through 1 meter wide cast-iron pipes. The supply was operational until 1937, its source is still used by Mitischi town.

The upper gallery of the aqueduct is open to public on Saturdays and Sundays.

One can follow the Yauza still further on the other side of Yaroslavskoe Shosse highway, but it's not very interesting. The simplest way to get out of here is to catch a taxi near the highway. The longest reasonable way is to backtrack to the Belokamennaya station. The medium way is to cross the Yauza by a footbridge next to the aqueduct and walk 400m south to Borisa Galushkina street and tram stops. Trams going right/west can take you to the Ve-De-eN-Kha Metro station (or to the VDNKh Exhibition Centre and Park itself, if you want it). Tram #11 going left/east passes the Preobrazhenskaya Ploschad Metro station in ~20min (and a few other stations later). Both tram routes have good views if not crowded; but you must have a Moscow transport card with enough credit, as it's a really last-resort idea to buy tickets from a driver.

Map with attached route

Losinyi Ostrov Rostokino Aqueduct
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