Moscow's hundreds of Orthodox churches provide splashes of gold and colour among the urban grey. The architectural variety of domes, spires, arches and gables that decorate the outsides and the frescoes and icons in the candlelit interiors are a joy. With sleet falling and the first whiff of Christmas in the air, they are more inviting than ever. This advent walk takes you past six contrasting styles, each with their own particular treasures. As soon as you step out of Polyanka metro station, you will see the orange and turquoise Church of St. Gregory with its silver domes. This mid-17th century building has all the hallmarks of the period: layers of "kokoshniki" gables (shaped like medieval women's head-dresses) and a tent roofed bell tower. The frieze of ceramic tiles, with their characteristic "peacock's eye" motif, is by the Belarussian master craftsman Stepan Polubes, who worked for the Romanov tsars. The church was commissioned by Tsar Alexei who had his son, the future Peter the Great, christened here. Admire the carved and painted stone doorway on the way in. Walk back past the station and turn left along Staromonetny Pereulok and follow it round behind the church. Then take the second right turn along Bolshoi Tolmachevsky Pereulok.
The white and yellow St. Nicholas in Tolmachi (open noon to 4 pm) is now part of the Tretyakov Gallery. Pavel Tretyakov, who founded the gallery, used to visit this church regularly. The newly gilded iconostasis contains icons that have been rescued from demolished churches. The Virgin of Vladimir icon stands in front in a special case, designed so that you can see the back too. This ancient image (painted, according to legend, by St. Luke) has been copied thousands of times. Pilgrims queue to kiss the glass.
If you're interested in icons, you are in the right place. The Tretyakov Gallery (10 am-6:30 pm; 150/250 roubles for residents/foreigners) has the best collection in the world. You can get straight into the gallery from the church and out again the other side. If it is closed, simply walk round the outside, left into Lavrushinksy Pereulok and then right through the little alleyway opposite the gallery onto 1st Kadashevsky Pereulok.
The fabulous Resurrection in Kadashi is accessible through a little gate in Kadashevsky Tupik.
This late 17th century church is a great example of the Naryshkin Baroque style, with its white stone ornaments on a red background. There is a restoration workshop in the grounds, which services other churches in the area and a museum of the Kadashevsky (weavers') Settlement. This includes archaeological finds, homespun cloth and a 19th century drawing room. Call +7 (495) 953-1319 to visit. Turn left out of the gate, second left onto 3rd Kadashevsky Pereulok and right onto Bolshaya Ordynka Ulitsa to reach the empire style Virgin of Consolation of all Sorrows.
This domed, ochre church bears the stamp of two famous architects, Vasily Bazhenov, who originally built it in the reign of Catherine the Great, and Osip Bove (of Bolshoi Theatre fame) who rebuilt it after the 1812 fire. The interior with its columns and angels is a complete contrast with the earlier churches. Glancing left along Klimentovsky Pereulok, you will see the baroque St. Clement's church, built under Empress Elizabeth, who favoured this Western style.
Bolshaya Ordynka takes its name from the Golden Horde ("orda"), ancient residence of the invading Mongols. Further along the road, you reach the whitewashed Church of St. Nicholas in Pyzhi. Among the heaps of mid-17th century domes and gables, the intricate bell tower and window frames are particularly lovely. The crown-topped crosses on the domes suggest a Streltsy church, funded by the guardsmen of the Imperial army, specifically, Colonel Pyzhev's regiment of musketeers. Raided by Napoleon, shut down by Stalin and used as laboratory, this great little church is a thriving place of worship again.
The gates of the Martha and Mary Convent across the road lead to the beautiful Art Nouveau Intersession Church. Princess Elizabeth Fyodorovna, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria and widow of Grand Duke Sergei, founded the convent, with a hospital and orphanage, after her husband was assassinated in 1905. She was thrown into a quarry by the Bolsheviks and is now an Orthodox martyr. There is a statue of her outside the door of the church.
Alexei Shchusev, who later built Lenin's mausoleum and the Kazansky Station, designed the church in 1908. White walls with Vladimir-style carvings are topped by one bulbous and two elongated domes. The artist, Mikhail Nesterov, whose spiritually charged works you can see in the nearby Tretyakov, painted the murals. The deep blue of the women's clothes, the luminous figure of Christ in the autumnal sunset of a Moscow birch grove and the expressive faces of the listening Russian peasants are typical of his paintings. There is a simple café in the basement of one of the buildings, near the shop left of the gate as you go out, where you can get reheated soup, salads, fresh pies and espresso. The curd cheese pastries dusted with icing sugar are recommended.
Turn right into 1st Kazachy Pereulok and right again into Bolshaya Polyanka, passing two more churches on your way back to the metro.