If Red Square is the heart of Moscow, historic Arbat Street is the soul of the city. This street is without a doubt one of the most famous in the Russian capital, if not the most famous, perhaps along with Tverskaya Street. Commercial and touristy, full of shops, restaurants and street artists, it is almost all pedestrian-only. I’ll give you a tour on which you can see and even visit the most representative buildings, museums, theaters and monuments on the Arbat.
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1. Arbat, the most charming street in Moscow
The Arbat Quarter or District is a historic district in Moscow where the famous Arbat Street (or Old Arbat) is located, about a 20-30 minute walk west of Red Square, or 15 minutes from the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, to mention two central landmarks.
Located in the historic center of Moscow between Arbatskaya and Smolenskaya-Sennaya Squares, it is approximately 1.2 km long and surrounded by historical buildings in different architectural styles. I personally love to stroll down this street. It’s the most charming street in Moscow because of its historical architecture and its energy.
If you like nightlife and excitement, this area is a good place to stay in Moscow. On this street you’ll find many souvenir shops, restaurants, museums or artists painting passers-by. In addition, at different holiday periods during the year, such as Christmas, this street is specially decorated and lit up.
Before you start the tour of this street I must first warn you about two things:
- Don’t confuse Arbat Street with New Arbat Avenue (or Novy Arbat), which is also in the same District, north of Old Arbat Street and perpendicular to it, just a few minutes’ walk away. It’s a modern avenue which eliminated the old quarter with its narrow Arbat alleys. It has several traffic lanes in each direction, which are part of the Moscow Ring Road, the M-1 federal highway or freeway that runs through the entire Moscow region and goes as far as Belarus. Here’s a photo of New Arbat Avenue with the skyscrapers of Moscow City in the background:
- Along the street you’ll find employees from shops, restaurants or museums on the hunt for tourists to take to their business establishments, some of them dressed in a wide variety of costumes.
2. A little bit about the history of Arbat Street
If we go back to the 15th century, this street was occupied by merchants and master craftsmen, and many churches began to be built on it. Later, in the 18th century, the Russian nobility saw it as the most prestigious place in which to live, although it was almost completely destroyed by fire during Napoleon’s occupation of Moscow in 1812.
After its reconstruction, this street was a place filled with artists, academics and the Russian nobility. It was also occupied by senior officials in the Soviet era.
Nowadays this urban artery is one of the major tourist attractions in Moscow. It has its own ambiance and is very suitable for pedestrians since it has been practically free of road traffic since 1985 (except for a small section as you reach Smolenskaya Square).
Incidentally, at present the etymology of “arbat” is still unknown, although it has been speculated that it might be related to the word “suburb” or the suburbs, since Arbat was not originally the center of the city.
3. What to see on Arbat Street and surroundings: a walk from beginning to end
You can walk along or tour Arbat Street in many ways, or by taking different routes. Obviously, it is a very lively place where you can find restaurants, hotels, museums, souvenir shops, street artists, bookstores, etc.
But here I’ll be guiding you through another kind of tour. The tour I’m proposing is based on a map from the Moscow City Tourism and Hospitality Committee. I’ll not just stick to Arbat street; I’ll also show you the most significant buildings, museums or monuments of interest found on the adjacent streets.
It is a tour of just over 1.5 km and about two hours long without going into the locations. Here’s the tour:
3.1. Arbatskaya Metro Station (Line 3)
The Arbatskaya Metro Station (Line 3 Arbatsko – Pokrovskaya), which is spectacular like many Moscow stations, is the beginning of this journey (No. 1 on the map above).
It is one of the capital city’s most luxurious and was officially opened in 1953 on top of another station that was damaged in World War II. This time it was built deeper, 41 meters underground, to serve as a shelter in case of a nuclear attack. It has important elements of the Moscow Baroque, featuring marble, multi-colored granite floor, arches, chandeliers and floral reliefs. It is one of the city’s longest Metro stations.
3.2. Reception House of the Government of the Russian Federation (16 Vozdvizhenka Street)
As you leave the Arbatskaya Metro Station (Line 3), you’ll come upon the Reception House of the Government of the Russian Federation (or Arseny Morozov House) at 16 Vozdvizhenka Street. It combines various architectural styles rarely seen in Moscow, such as “art nouveau” and eclecticism, in an exotic Arabic style resulting from the travels of the Russian magnate, Arseny Morozov, to Spain and Portugal.
There are also clear Gaudí influences. In fact, the architect for the House (or rather, the Mansion), Fyodor Schechtel, was called the “Russian Gaudí”.
The House dates back to the end of the 19th century. As a point of interest, it is believed that whoever finds a dragon on its walls will be very lucky throughout the year.
It was rebuilt in 2006 and hosts meetings of government delegations, diplomats, and international conferences.
3.3. Khudozhestvenny Movie House (11 Arbatskaya Square)
If you head towards Arbatskaya Square, you’ll see the Khudozhestvenny Movie House which also used to be a theater. This is where the Russian intelligentsia met in the early 20th century and it was intended to be a kind of film cathedral.
It opened in 1909, with room for 900 spectators and was the venue for the first Soviet sound film: Road to Life (Nikolai Ekk, 1931). The legendary, world-famous and in many ways revolutionary Battleship Potemkin (Sergei Eisenstein, 1925), was also premiered there.
Specializing in state-owned cinema, the Khudozhestvenny Cinema closed again in 2014 for refurbishing, a constant feature of its important development. It currently houses various movie theaters in modern facilities.
3.4. Entrance to the Arbatskaya Metro Station (Line 4)
In addition to the Arbatskaya Metro Station on Line 3, there’s another one located a few meters away and bearing the same name except for the Line: Arbatskaya Station on Line 4 Filyovskaya.
This station was built in 1935 and today it has less traffic than the previous one. Its lobby is shaped like a five-pointed star, one of the main symbols of the Moscow Metro. The external façade is very original in the setting with its red color and some white.
In this picture you can see the Khudozhestvenny Cinema on the left, in the middle, the Arbatskaya Metro Station on Line 4, and on the right the Chapel of Sts. Boris and Gleb:
3.5. Chapel of Sts. Boris and Gleb (4 Arbatskaya Square)
The Chapel of Sts. Boris and Gleb was built in 1997 not very far from where there was another chapel that was demolished in the Soviet era. It is an example of the variety of buildings in the area.
3.6. Prague Restaurant (2 Arbat Street)
From Arbatskaya Square the tour begins along Arbat Street, where the Prague Restaurant is located.
This restaurant dates back to 1872 and is an emblematic historical site located at the beginning of the street. It was visited by various artists and famous writers such as Anton Chekhov, Leo Tolstoy or Ivan Bunin. It was known in the city for its excellent cuisine including unique specialties.
It was a soup kitchen after the Revolution and later, from 1954, a luxury location. Its name comes from the “Prague” cake.
It was rebuilt between 1995 and 1997 and its night lighting was a striking feature. However, it has been closed since 2018 after an auction, and is expected to be turned into a museum dedicated to its history in the near future, if all goes well.
Continuing along Arbat Street, at the first intersection on the right, you will be struck by the unusual architecture of the Georgian restaurant Genatsvale.
A little further on, when you get to a Starbucks Coffee, you will see on one side of a building a large portrait of the Marshal of the Soviet Union Georgy Zhukov, one of the most outstanding commanders of World War II.
3.7. Vakhtangov State Academic Theater (26 Arbat Street)
One of the most famous buildings on Arbat Street, known to different generations of Muscovites and one of the best theaters in the city, is the Vakhtangov State Academic Theater. It dates back to 1921 and was almost completely destroyed in 1941 by an air attack during World War II. A new building was constructed between 1946 and 1947 and restored again in 2011 with a seating capacity of 1,055 spectators.
Apart from famous performances throughout its history, it has been a space of great creativity, with a museum on the history of the theater itself and its founder, as well as an adjoining room at number 24, which is a sort of café-theater.
In front of this theater, you will come across the bronze and granite statue of the Princess Turandot Fountain dating back to 1997. It is a tribute to the play of the same name by Carlo Gozzi and premiered with great success in the same theater I’m referring to. It also staged a subsequent unfinished opera by Giacomo Puccini. In the statue-fountain, the dancing princess is coated with the color gold.
3.8. The Central House of Actor (35 Arbat Street)
Right in front of the Vakhtangov Theater is the Central House of Actor building (35 Arbat Street) built between 1913 and1914 as an apartment block (A. T. Filatova and Y. M. Filatov apartments). In its time, it was a true skyscraper for Moscow in terms of its dimensions. Today, obviously, much improved, it hosts meetings, plays and theater workshops. There is also a banquet hall on the ground floor.
3.9. Ruben Simonov Moscow Drama Theater (10 Kalohsin Street)
From here you can turn off briefly and go to see the Ruben Simonov Moscow Drama Theater (10 Kalohsin Street) from the outside. It was first founded as a theater studio and was completely renovated in 2017.
At the intersection of 37 Arbat Street and Krivoarbatsky Street you will find the Tsoi Wall, which pays tribute to the Russian rock star Viktor Tsoi and his group, Kino. He died in 1990 in a traffic accident. It is a meeting place for young people to remember his songs.
On the walls of this cult space you will find graffiti and images of Tsoi, who was very popular during his time.
3.10. Melnikov House (10 Krivoarbatsky Street)
If you continue on Krivoarbatsky Lane, you will come to the constructivist-style Melnikov House (or Mansion). It was the studio of the avant-garde architect Konstantin Melnikov and was built between 1927and1929.
To visit it on a guided hour-and-a-half tour, you need to make a reservation in advance. In any case, it’s worth seeing the house from the outside with its hexagonal windows and its garden.
It’s a branch of the Museum of the USSR Academy of Architecture. More information: http://muar.ru/en/melnikov-house
3.11. Monument to Bulat Okudzhava (Plotnikov Street)
Returning to Arbat Street along Plotnikov Street you’ll find the Monument to Bulat Okudzhava, a famous Russian singer-songwriter of Georgian origin, a man of letters and composer at the same time. It dates back to 2002 and is the work of Georgy Frangulyan.
The composition includes two bronze semi-arches that serve as the entrance door, two benches and the figure of Okudzhava, 2.5 meters high, in a very charming location.
3.12. Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior on the Sands (4A Spasopeskovsky)
If you turn off onto Spasopeskovsky Street you will be able to admire the Church of the Transfiguration of the Savior on the Sands whose origins date back to the beginning of the 18th century. It was closed during the Soviet era.
Incidentally, it appears in Vasily Polenov’s famous painting “Moscow Courtyard” (1878, State Museum of Russian Art, St. Petersburg), showing us Arbat District, which used to looked like a village.
3.13. Monument to Alexander Pushkin (Spasopeskovsky Square)
From this church you can go to Spasopeskovsky Square, where the Alexander Pushkin Monument is located in a small park. It’s the work of the sculptor Yuri Dines and was erected in 1993.
In this same square, at number 10, is the Spaso House (formerly the Vtorov Mansion), the residence of US ambassadors since 1933. It was built between 1913 and 1915 and was very luxurious for its time. Its outstanding feature is the high ceiling and a huge chandelier made of Russian glass.
3.14. Alexander Pushkin’s Memorial Apartament (53 Arbat Street)
Continuing along Arbat Street, at number 53, is the Puskhin Apartment-Museum, where the legendary Russian national poet (also a playwright and novelist) lived from February to May 1931. He held his bachelor party there before marrying Natalia Goncharova, and then he spent his honeymoon there. He had a very eventful life and lived in many places.
His work falls under the Romantic Movement and he is the founding father of Russian national literature. His best-known production is the play Boris Godunov.
It costs 350 rubles to go into the Pushkin Apartment-Museum (or Memorial, or Commemorative Apartment) on Arbat Street, which is open every day except Monday. In addition to the writer’s residence and various objects and documents, or what his wedding was like, there are also halls in the building with exhibitions that are ideal for getting to know nineteenth-century Moscow and Russia.
The Apartment-Museum (or Memorial) is a branch of the A. S. Pushkin State Museum, whose headquarters are located just fifteen minutes away at 12/2 Prechistenka Street in a historic mansion. More information: http://www.pushkinmuseum.ru/
In addition, there is also the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts (or Visual Arts), at 12 Volkhonka Street. Its name is also in tribute to the writer but it has nothing to do with the previous one. It’s a little more than twenty minutes from 53 Arbat and very close to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. It is the second major Russian museum dedicated to European art, second only to the Hermitage in St. Petersburg.
3.15. Monument to Alexander Pushkin and Nataliya Goncharova
In 1999, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of his birth, a beautiful bronze sculpture of Alexander Pushkin and Nataliya Goncharova was installed in front of the Puskhin Memorial Apartment. It is the work of Alexander and Igor Bourganov.
The structure is made of Romantic-style bronze with polished granite at the base. It’s a good place to take pictures. People touch the hands of the sculpture because it is a good omen for being lucky in love, which it will make it stronger and more long-lasting.
3.16. Andrei Bely’s Memorial Apartment (55 Arbat Street)
The Andrei Bely’s Memorial (or Commemorative) Apartment, which you can visit, is also part of the A. S. Pushkin State Museum, where this famous Symbolist poet of the late 19th and early 20th centuries lived for twenty-six years after his birth. Inside you can learn about his life and work. It also stages artistic and musical performances. Open every day except Monday. Between 100 and 200 rubles.
3.17. The Building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (32/34 Smolenskiy Boulevard)
Walking along Arbat Street you’ll surely be able to see a huge skyscraper in the distance. It’s none other than the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, the perfect place to end this tour.
This colossal skyscraper is one of the so-called Stalin’s Seven Sisters, the only one not crowned with a Soviet star.
It rises to a height of 172 meters and has 27 floors. At the highest part of the façade there is a large coat of arms or emblem of the Soviet Union. Constructed between 1948 and1953, it is a building for public use and cannot be toured on the inside, but it’s worth seeing on the outside after the tour of Arbat Street.
4. Restaurants, shops and other museums on Arbat Street
If you’re looking for variety and genuine cuisine, Arbat Street is your place. The restaurant options are endless.
You’ll find all the Russian and American fast food chains, as well as different buffets such as Mu Mu or Grabli, as well as Georgian, Azerbaijani, Uzbek, Armenian and Asian restaurants, etc., in other words, restaurants of the former Soviet Republics, which I suggest that you try. I assure you that they won’t disappoint you.
But if you prefer a fancy restaurant, you have the White Rabbit, a modern Russian-style restaurant located on the 16th floor of the Smolenskiy Shopping Mall, opposite the building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Here traditional Russian dishes are blended with the latest gastronomic trends, and the local products satisfy the most sophisticated gourmet palates.
Another good restaurant with Asian cuisine also located in the previously mentioned shopping mall is the Zodiac Restaurant which is part of the same business group as the White Rabbit.
Arbat Street is also a good place to buy souvenirs, such as the famous matryoshkas and other very typical items, such as Russian hats, etc., although this area, because it is so touristy, may be more expensive than other areas of the capital.
Along Arbat you will also find mobile tourist offices that may help you on your sightseeing tours.
Taking advantage of the tourist appeal of this street, some interesting museums have also been opening up, such as the Museum of Optical Illusions (4 Malyy Nikolopeskovskiy), the Moscow Museum of Torture (or Corporal Punishment) (25 / 36 Arbat,) or the Perfume Museum (36/2 Arbat Street, facing Spasopeskovsky Street).
And that’s all for this tour of Arbat Street, which I hope you found useful. Thanks for reading me.