Moscow is a big city with more than 16 million people and it’s packed with exciting activities for kids. Here are my top 5 top activities for kids in Moscow.
1. An afternoon at the circus
The most beloved, Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnom Boulevard, is located in the center of the city. It’s a classic circus named after a famous clown, whose statue in front of the circus hordes of children pose. Animal acts may feature dogs, bears, cats, lions, monkeys, or elephants. Clown shows transcend language and are actually funny. The show rounds out with acrobatics, from balancing and juggling, to jumping and tumbling, to trapeze artists flying through the air without nets.
Children under 5 years old can sit on your lap and don’t need their own seat. This works well for kids who want the extra inches of sitting on a parent’s lap, but less well for those wiggly kids who also want to stand because there’s little room before they’re bothering the next row of seats.
There are 2:30pm shows on Saturdays and 7pm shows most days of the week. Grab a meal at cafeteria-style Grabli next door before heading to the circus, but save room and a few rubles for an ice cream or cotton candy. Before the show and during intermission you can pay about $10 have your picture taken next to a lion or tiger, although many kids did not look happy about being posed next to the chained, potentially ferocious animal.
When I lived in Moscow over a decade ago, most playgrounds were sad Soviet leftovers with just a few slowly rusting climbing bars. Under the current mayor, neighborhood playgrounds are being updated with modern, exciting equipment and public parks are getting new, inventive setups.
Stroll along garden boulevards, like the one that runs from Pushkin Square to Nikitsky Gate, and you’ll find several playgrounds. Another central playground is by Patriarch Ponds, which is shaded, lined with benches for parents and with a view of the pond.
Venture inside the courtyards of most buildings and there will be at least one playground shared by several apartment blocks. Kids have no language barriers for playing together, although I heard several kids express frustration because they wanted to communicate with my son. A few parents told their kids that they should pay more attention to their English lessons.
3. Detski Mir
Now know as Central Children’s Store, this is a 6 story wonderland of toys and play areas that’s about a ten minute walk from the Kremlin. Built in 1957, the brick building sits on Lyubyanka Square across from the headquarters of the former KGB. While children played at Detski Mir, a few hundred meters away dissidents and innocents were being interrogated and sentenced without trial.
We once played for four hours in one of the many stores, Hamleys, and bought just one Russian emergency vehicle and a few books. Hamleys is a play wonderland, with multiple areas for kids to play while parents shop for toys. In fact, this Hamleys is the largest single toy store in the world.
There’s a free viewing deck where you can look out over old Moscow. After playing for hours, head to the top floor food courts, where kids can run around on a solar system themed playground.
Like much of the now glamorized Moscow, Detski Mir underwent a $137 million remodeling and reopened in 2015. Before the remodel, the department store used to offer cheap kids clothes and toys in tiny shops. Now it’s slick, fun, and more expensive.
4. Go out to eat in peace
There are wonderful, kid friendly restaurants cropping up all over Moscow. On the weekends most restaurants have a kids room with toys and a babysitter, or animator in Russian, so that you can relax over your meal. One of the best restaurants for families is Anderson. Cartoons are playing above the bar, there are plenty of kid friendly dishes, the bathrooms are lined by cartoon wallpaper and a narration of kid’s stories is played over speakers. There’s a play room staffed by a babysitter with a door so you can see your child through the glass wall, but the atmosphere is still quiet. On leaving the restaurant, kids get a cookie and a balloon on a stick.
Another popular choice is Italian restaurant Da Pino, which has an excellent kids room and also offers free cooking classes for kids 4-13 years old.
5. Puppet Shows
Puppet shows are big in Russia, a kind of innocent past time from the Soviet 1960’s. Yes, the puppets are speaking Russian, but if you go to a show geared toward younger kids, the plot should transcend language.
The most famous Puppet Theater Obratsova is near the main circus. Tickets are most expensive here and unless you buy in the first few rows, I’ve heard complaints about not being able to hear from the back of the theater, let alone see.
Russians have their own version of Winnie Pooh and a host of beloved cartoon characters from the days when the Soviet Union amply supported cartoon studios.
If you have young children in strollers, be forewarned that Moscow is much like Paris or New York. It has excellent public transportation, but the metro is nearly devoid of elevators (and those are in far suburbs where tourists are unlikely to venture) and features plenty of stairs. Men will often lend a hand to help lift a stroller up or down stairs, but you might not always have a willing helper around.
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