The short winter days are perfect for exploring Moscow's numerous museums. This route takes you from Ploschad Revolutsii with its Christmas market, through Red Square with its seasonal ice rink and ancient Kitai Gorod with its churches and palaces. Lights are a theme throughout: Christmas decorations and trees, floodlit monuments, numerous candle-lit churches and a museum that tells you how Moscow's streets have been lit - by oil, gas or electricity - throughout the ages. In gloomy Ploschad Revolutsii Metro Station, the things that shine brightest among the crouching bronze statues are the gold noses of the sculpted dogs, touched by passers-by for luck. Follow the signs to Ploschad Revolutsii to emerge straight into the Christmas "Yarmarka". This "Russian Winter Festival", with painted wooden ferris wheels and swingboats, runs until January 19th. There is definitely a festive atmosphere with stalls full of honey-filled gingerbread, birchwood boxes and lacy shawls, but if you are expecting a German-style ‘Weinachtsmarkt' you might be disappointed: too many matryoshkas and not enough gluhwein!
Walk left through the Resurrection gates onto Red Square. No matter how many times you walk across it, there is something awe-inspiring about crossing the historic cobble stones towards St Basil's with singing coming from Kazan Cathedral. The elegant facade of GUM, the nineteenth century shopping mall to the left, is outlined in fairy lights behind the ice rink and Christmas tree. The distinctive towers of the Kremlin are all different: on the side facing Red Square, starting from the end of the Historical Museum are the layered St Nicholas Tower, with its intricate decoration, the Senate Tower, behind Lenin and the Saviour Tower with its familiar clock. If you happen to be passing on any morning except Monday or Friday, do pop into Schu sev's constructivist mausoleum (1) and see Lenin (entry is free, but you have to leave your bag at the left-luggage on the corner of the History museum). The reverential atmosphere, dark staircases and spotlit seemingly-sleeping body all make this an unforgettable experience. Since there are intermittent rumours of plans to bury Lenin, you should go while he is still there.
The circular stone platform behind the ice rink is the "Lob noe Mesto", used for executions during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Walk along the side of St Basil's and turn left into Ulitsa Varvarka (St Barbara's Street), whose name-sake pink and white church you can see straight away. When medieval Red Square was filled with rows of stalls, craftsmen lived on this riverbank which became known as Zaryade ("behind the rows"). Take the steps down on the right to reach the wood-roofed Old English Court. This white-washed sixteenth century palace houses an exhibition on trading history between England and Russia. (Open 11-5, Tues-Sun)
The next building along jam-packed Varvarka is the dilapidated church of St Maxim the Blessed, followed by the belltower and cathedral of the Mo nastery of the Sign with its lovely shop across a little bridge. This red brick church was built on the grounds of the neighbouring Romanov Palace (2) in 1634. To reach the palace itself, go on towards the church of St George, walk back down the staircase and through the gateway towards the colourful walls. This is a popular tourist excursion on Mondays when many other museums are shut. (It's day off is on Tues day.) Entry costs 110 rubles and the low, vaulted rooms with tiled stoves and wooden furniture are quite atmospheric. The Romanov men lived on the ground floor surrounded by rich leather wall coverings and carved furniture, while the women lived upstairs in the lighter terem.
Back up on street level, take a last look across the monumentally ugly ruin of the Rossiya Hotel. On the far side of the river, Zholtovsky's celebrated "Mosenergo" building with the tall chimneys was topped during De cember by a giant video installation run by the Garage Centre for Contem porary Culture. Turning left up Ipatevsky Pereulok, you can't miss the seventeenth century Trinity Church (3) whose red walls and green domes stand opposite the old home of the painter Simon Ushakov.
Turn right in front of the church and left up the hill by Ilinsky Square. Turn right across the road via the Kitai Gorod Metro underpass, coming up on the far side of the memorial to the nineteenth century Siege of Plevna (4). Go on along Ulitsa Maroseika past the small pink church of St Nicholas. Turn left into Bolshoy Zlatoustinsky Pe reulok and almost immediately right into winding Maly Zlatounsky. At the end of the lane, turn left into Armyansky Pereulok. Opposite the grand mansion of the Armenian embassy, a small white-washed seventeenth century palace, also once belonging to the Romanovs, is now the "Moscow Lights" museum (5). This great little exhibition has all kind of wonderful objects from insulated boots for electricity workers to sledge-borne oil lamps.
At the end of the road, turn right into Krivokoleny Pereulok ("crook-knee lane"), looking back at the fantastic old brick-work next to the Armenian embassy. Just before the lane bends right, go into the small courtyard on the left to find Petrovich club and restaurant (6) tucked away in the near left hand corner. This eccentric hideaway does one of the best business lunches in Moscow for 180 rubles. In the evenings it is members only but there are plenty of other choices nearby. Following the lane and turning left onto Arkhangelsky Pereulok, you come to the baroque pink "Menshikov" tower (7), also hidden in a courtyard on the left. The cherub-framed entrance is round the side and the interior is incandescent with recently-restored gold scroll-work and fragrant candles. Just beyond the church, you reach Chistoprudny Bulvar. The metro is a short distance to the left, behind the monument to the playwright, Griboyedov.
This is a great holiday outing for the kids. There is something special about skating under the Kremlin towers (open daily 10am-10pm. Prices vary with times from 250 rubles an hour weekday mornings to 500 rubles during weekend evenings, plus 250 rubles for skate hire. Kids are just 100 rubles at any time.) This year there is even a Chocaladnitsa in the corner of the rink for that apres-skate hot chocolate. Any of the museums makes a good destination, but the "Moscow Lights" Museum also runs special kids' tours.