There are two great reasons to visit Sparrow Hills at the moment: one is the annual cascades of golden anenomes which have begun to flower along the wooded slopes; the other is that the boat trips through town have started up again, so you can make a pilgrimage by water to Moscow's most famous viewpoint. Most people catch the boat from the Kievskaya end, but by getting on at the eastern terminus of its one and half hour journey, you can cruise west along the meandering Moscow River, past many major tourist attractions and into the woods beyond. From Proletarskaya Metro Station, you need to walk about 500 meters along 3rd Krutitsky Pereulok, turning right past the pond of the beautiful Novospassky Monastery (1) onto the embankment. In peak season, boats leave every twenty minutes (Check out www.cck-ship.ru or phone 2256070). The striking glass dome of the International House of Music stands on the left bank. The first of the seven famous tower blocks imposed by Stalin on Moscow's skyline soon appears to the right - the Kotelnicheskaya apartment block (2), towering over the confluence with the Yauza River.
The green church of St Nicholas and, later, a pink bell tower become visible opposite the enormous site of the demolished Rossiya Hotel. Just after the granite Moskvoretsky Bridge (the third so far on the voyage), look right for an iconic view of colorful St Basil's from the water, followed by ever-changing panoramas of the white and gold Kremlin cathedrals above the red brick walls and towers. At one point, you can see (from right to left): the Bell Tower (the tallest, topped by a single gold dome); the Cathedral of the Archangel (with distinctive scallop shell decorations), Assumption (five burnished domes) and Annunciation (nine domes above tiered gables), followed by the long yellow and white facade of the Great Kremlin Palace.
Past the next bridge, the grey "House on the Embankment" (3) looks as grim as its history. The elite apartments it houses, with their fine views across the river to the seat of power, became a place of terror when more then half the once-privileged residents were arrested and executed during Stalin's purges in the late 1930s. The brightly colored Church of St Nicholas next door livens things up, as does the sixteenth century Krillov mansion with its ornate exterior. The pedestrian "Patriarch's Bridge" leads across to the rebuilt Christ the Savior Cathedral, the world's largest Orthodox church. The fairy tale "Pertsov house" beyond it, with its steeply pitched roof and mosaic panels is a great example of Russian Art Nouveau.
The Red October Chocolate Factory opposite, founded in the late 19th century by the German entrepreneur, Einem, has recently moved production to the suburbs, but the buildings are still here. Next, the controversial statue of Peter the Great.
After Krimsky Most, Moscow's only suspension bridge, is the famous Gorky Park, full of rides and amusements. More scenic, is the Nyeskuchny Sad ("not-boring garden"), which begins on the other side of the glass covered Andreyevsky Most. These tree-covered cliffs are Moscow's oldest landscape park and were once home to three aristocratic estates, of which almost all that remains is the grey, pillared Orlov family mansion.
The next bridge, carrying the third ring and railway line across the river, yields to a view of our destination, the wooded sweep of Vorobyovy Gory, crowned by the spire of Moscow State University (MGU). More immediately, the hidden gem of the Andreyevsky Monastery on the left is overshadowed by the towers of the Academy of Sciences, topped by their "golden brains." Getting off at the landing stage on the other side of Vorobyovy Gory Station, whose glass bridge spans the river, continue on foot along the river bank until you see a pink building (4). Just before this, turn left up a mud track and left again along a winding path through trees and patches of wild flowers.
Passing a playground, small sports field and a blue and white house, turn right up a curving track between wooden fences. At the top, turn right again under a corrugated iron tunnel and then zigzag up the hill in front of you to the viewing platform at the top. Herzen described this climb in his autobiography: "Flushed and breathless, we stood there mopping our faces. The sun was setting, the cupolas glittered, beneath the hill the city extended further than the eye could reach..." Turning left away from the view, you come to a pretty green and white church, built in the early nineteenth century, adorned with icons and frescoes inside and with tulips and crocuses outside.
Crossing the road, follow a track between two little buildings opposite the church, straight into the woods ahead. Turning right along a lime tree avenue and left along another of birches, cross Universitetsky Prospekt to go straight on along the fence of the MGU botanical gardens. Sadly accessible only with an official pass, outsiders can still peer through the railings into a secret wilderness of snowdrops and squirrels. Passing the imposing University building (5), turn left and then diagonally right to cross the pretty square in front of the main entrance, full of lion-head fountains, spring flowers and birdsong.
Turn left again along Leninsky Gory ("Lenin Hills"), recalling the area's Soviet name, eventually passing between the sociology faculty and a statue of imperial lawyer, Anatoly Koni, to then emerge onto Vernadskovo Prospekt opposite the circus. Turn right past a handy row of food stalls to reach Universitet Metro.
Family friendly features
Worth noting that the cafe next to the viewing platform has a small playground and carousel on its outdoor terrace - especially useful since service can be rather slow.