The wind whipped the sort of ripping chill that makes you wish had another coat to go on top of the one you’re wearing. I was standing on the bow of a dinner boat in the Moscow River in the middle of winter. The water had long since iced over, but some reckless entrepreneur had decided to hack away enough space to keep the cruises rolling. Every few minutes, a sizeable chunk of ice—not a berg but too close for my liking—would strike the hull, give the massive ship a jolt, and then scrape along the bottom with an unsettling grinding noise.
On a map, Moscow seems a tiny speck amidst a lot of land. It rests in the relatively small enclave of the Russian Federation that inhabits Eastern Europe. But as the eyes wander past it, the rest of the country-continent fills the map: the biggest hunk of earth recognized under one name. Water doesn’t seem to be anywhere in the picture, but like most of the world’s major cities, Moscow resides beside a pretty significant body of water and actually gets its name from the Moscow River.
One of my favorite things to do anywhere I visit is get water-bound. I’m an absolute fool for the evening sail down the Nile, the steamboat saunter south on the Mississippi, the overnight junk in Halong Bay…So, almost as soon as I arrived in Russia, I began looking into cruising on the Moscow River. As luck would have it, I mentioned this in one of my English classes, and a student’s father happened to be a captain. Not only did I go boating, I did so for free.
In Your Bucket Because…
- A cruise on the Moscow River supplies a unique view of just about every highlight in the city.
- Boat rides are just fun, something special because most of us don’t often get to do it.
- It combine being on the water, eating a nice meal, and taking in iconic sights and that equals one memorable evening.
- Good for tourists, especially first time visitors to Moscow.
Moscow by Water
The Moscow River, nearly 300 miles long, bisects its sprawling namesake city, and not surprisingly, most of the top attractions—the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Gorky Park, The Church of Christ Our Saviour—hold the top-dollar spots along Moscow’s banks. Visit any of them, and you’ll notice the mighty river rumbling along. Get on the water, and you’ll see these highlights from a completely different perspective.
One of the unique aspects of my trip was that it was a winter cruise. Before 2011, when the river was frozen, the boats would shut down. Not only did I get to cruise by lit-up monuments, including some of Stalin’s Seven Sisters (skyscrapers built in the Stalinist era), and the statue of a triumphant Peter the Great aboard his ship, but I also got my first experience of boating though frigid waters. I had no idea how intimidating, exciting, and different those icy blasts were going to be.
Not to say that cruising in the summer months doesn’t also have its perks. The capital city actually gets sweltering in the summertime, so those breezes coming off the river provide some relief (the opposite effect of what I got). Regardless of season, using the waterway gets you out of crowds, around the traffic, and into a whole new state of mind—tranquil and a bit pampered— about downtown Moscow.
Luckily for me, I had a comfy seat in the dining room to go back to, huge windows and a glass ceiling behind which to view the snowy overhangs, onion domes, and treetops. Back inside, I didn’t even need a coat.
- Obviously, the best (and only) way to cruise the Moscow is via organized tours, which are a-plenty. A quick Google Search or flip through a guidebook will provide several options.
- Go in the evening. Most of the tours double-back on themselves, so in our case, we got to see things in the daylight and in the dark. (This might not be possible in the summer because the sun doesn’t set until quite late at night.)
- Perhaps the most best (although probably not useful) advice I can provide is to get yourself a student whose dad is a boat captain! Thanks to Natasha and her father for a great evening.