By Alex Howlett
Moscow is not an easy choice for expats — the language and chilly winter weather can be difficult for starters — but those who do make the move discover a city with a distinctive history and culture reflected on its streets and in its traditions.
Moscow has seen high income growth, contrasting with one of the lowest increases in house prices globally, according to Knight Frank’s 2018 Global Affordability Monitor.
Compared with London, where pay rose 7.5 per cent and house prices 32.8 per cent in the five years to September 2018, salaries in Moscow shot up 22.7 per cent, while house prices climbed less than 1 per cent.
Russia’s turbulent political history is evident on Moscow’s streets. The grand façades of pre-revolution buildings — such as the largest one of that era, the Hotel Metropol with its stained-glass roof — contrast with the hulking Stalinist architecture of the Seven Sisters (a group of skyscrapers, including Moscow State University).
Architecture in the city continues to evolve: Zaha Hadid Architects is designing a whole new district on the outskirts of Moscow, a 460-hectare smart city called Rublyovo-Arkhangelskoye. Herzog & De Meuron’s “floating” apartment blocks, held aloft on stilts and built on an abandoned brewery on the Tarasa Shevchenko Embankment, are due to launch in five years, according to the developer Capital Group.
Public spaces are being transformed too, as part of the My Street urban renewal programme.
Travelling round the city is made easy by an extensive public transport network: more than 10,000 metro trains run between 200 stations every day.
Many of the stations are palatial and reference the country’s complex history: black marble arches and socialist sculptures dominate at Ploshchad Revolyutsii; at Kiyevskaya a large mosaic depicting women dancing and holding flowers celebrates unity between Russia and Ukraine.
Summers in Moscow can be as pleasant as the winters are challenging. With temperatures reaching highs of 35C, the city’s parks come into their own. Gorky Park offers bicycle and boat rental, and the opportunity to cool off with a visit the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.
There is a festival for everything over the warmer months. Last year, 500 musicians from 20 countries performed at Usadba Jazz Festival, which takes place at the Kolomenskoye Estate in June. Food lovers gather in the same month for the Taste of Moscow in Festival Square at the Luzhniki Olympic Complex.
Alternatively, do as many locals do and stay in a dacha; heading to summer residences outside the city is a longstanding Russian tradition.
The Bolshoi ballet company, founded in 1776, is one of the oldest and largest in the world. The Bolshoi building on Moscow’s Theatre Square dates back to 1856 and has two stages; the original reopened in 2011 following a six-year renovation.
But ballet defines the city beyond the Bolshoi. The Stanislavsky and Nemirovich-Danchenko Music Theatre puts on a variety of ballets, and traditionally takes part in the annual Golden Mask theatre festival in spring.
Photographs: Evgeny Drobzhev; Dreamstime; Getty Images; Anton Gvozdikov; Alamy