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DIY Voluntourism: A Manifesto

More than a hundred years ago, when Hiram Bingham brought the Inca site of Machu Picchu to public attention, he and other explorers of his time traded on travel as a vehicle for high adventure.

Motivations have shifted in the modern era, with many of today’s travelers driven by a deep desire to create meaningful connections within communities and across cultures.

When I left home to travel around the world, I was driven by a desire to give back, in one way or another, to the communities I encountered along the way. It’s been five years, and I’m still going.

Shannon O'Donnell, one of Traveler's Travelers of the Year, poses for the magazine's photographers

Over time, I’ve grown more and more convinced that the most positive way travelers can ethically and sustainably discover the developing world is through DIY voluntourism. It is a prism through which travelers may visit new places and foster deeper connections with the cultures they encounter while adhering to the basic tenets be of service and do no harm.

Time and again on the road, I encountered other travelers   who wanted to give back, but were wary of the word “voluntourism.” I understood why.   My earlier forays into travel and service had involved organized volunteering efforts abroad. While some experiences were better than others, I came to notice a widespread perception that large-scale organized opportunities are the only way travelers can make a positive contribution to developing communities.

This just isn’t the case.

As I logged passport stamps, I met locals who were addressing social issues and creating lasting change where they live in creative ways–as individuals and in the form of   self-started social enterprises and businesses. Coffee shop owners in Thailand who supported a hill tribe farm collective by roasting and selling their beans directly to consumers, and an indigenous group in Panama that welcomed travelers into their small community for weekend courses on the origins of chocolate, slowly building a grassroots tourism business, are but two examples.

Through conversations and interactions with people I met, I realized that “being of service” goes beyond simply volunteering. It involves a shift in perspective and a willingness to allow that new perspective to inform how you spend your time and money in a given place. It also involves going to the source and actually asking locals how you can be most helpful.

Lastly, this kind of DIY voluntourism–I call it grassroots travel–involves making as small a footprint as possible, adhering to cultural norms, and lending support to local communities on the terms they’ve set themselves–be that by volunteering or in the form of tourism dollars.

In this way, travel has the potential to become a great equalizer, as tourists from all over the world put their money directly into local hands rather into the teeming bank accounts of multinational corporations.

Beyond mainstream charities and volunteer opportunities is a system of exchange and support that is just as valuable. Spending money at local businesses, on-the-ground social enterprises, and projects that promote sustainable solutions to wealth disparity is the essence of grassroots travel. This is the attitude I now bring with me on my journeys around the world.

A local indigenous woman prepares roasted cacao seeds to press them into chocolate at Urari in northern Panama. (Photograph by Shannon O'Donnell)

As travelers become more aware of their impact on the places they visit, they are able to more accurately assess their actions and ultimately, to be of service in interesting ways wherever they go.

In some cases, you might best serve a community by donating your knowledge, skills, and time to a   locally supported project. In others—and for the vast majority of travelers—service is instead a commitment to investing tourism dollars in ways that will actually benefit local communities and ensuring your presence there does no harm.

As more and more travelers adopt the grassroots approach, we get closer to a planet where benevolence and service come first, shape our interactions with new countries and cultures, and yield nothing less than a greater feeling of community and shared humanity.

It’s less about eschewing other travel priorities—historic landmarks have a place in any trip—than about adding a layer under the travel experience that seeks to see and understand new places, peoples, and cultures.

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How to Get Started:

If you’re keen to get started in voluntourism, there are a few simple steps you can take to add elements of grassroots service on your next trip. Keep in mind, no matter your level of time investment, there are easy ways to travel and connect more deeply with local communities and causes that support smart growth in the world’s developing regions.

Do Your Research: Understand the cultural norms in each new place you visit; read widely about the local history, culture, and even celebrated literature from the region. If you plan to volunteer, take it a step further by doing your homework on the specific development and aid issues the communities there face so you can better assess the impact a given volunteer project may have ( this is a good starting place ).

Assess Your Level of Service:   Analyze your motivations for volunteering and assess which level of grassroots service best suits you. For many trips, consider finding small ways to infuse money into the local economy. If you have longer to give and the motivation to be useful to a long-term project, list out your skills and interests so you have a starting point for your research. If you have professional skills to offer, sharing and teaching that knowledge may be the best use of your time.

Plan Your Service: Use regional and international databases to find small independent organizations in need of help and determine where your skills are most needed. Many long-term DIY voluntourism projects are informal, low-cost, and require more travel planning on your part. Vet potential projects for their long-term goals and their relationships with local communities and ecosystems: the best projects work with locals, not for locals.

Shannon O’Donnell   is a storyteller sharing stories of the people, places, and communities that have touched her life in the course of her travels around the world. In 2013,   National Geographic Traveler named O’Donnell   one of its   Travelers of the Year. Follow her story on Twitter and Instagram @ShannonRTW.

> Related:

  • Check out Shannon’s blog, A Little Adrift , and DIY voluntourism website,   Grassroots Volunteering
  • Find out more about why Shannon was chosen as a Traveler of the Year in 2013 (and meet her fellow honorees)

The Volunteer Traveler’s Handbook ,  

Related Topics


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A Taste of Mexico: Grassroots Travel

A few weeks ago, we had a wonderful family trip on a grassroots expedition to Oaxaca, Mexico. Immersed in the culture, food, and world of Mexico, they were able to experience the country as a native in the heart of Mexican Zapotec culture. This incredible trip is documented in the photos below. Enjoy!

grassroots travel

After flying into Mexico, the family was met by Rodolfo, their guide for the trip. Rodolfo handled everything, from tours to lodging and food. As an expert in Mexican culture, Rodolfo was able to give them an authentic glimpse into what life is like in Oaxaca.

grassroots travel

After arriving in Oaxaca City, the family dropped off their bags in Hotel con Corazón, a modern, cozy hotel where profits go into local schools to help lift the local community. After getting some time to relax, they head out into the city for their first taste of authentic Mexican cuisine.

grassroots travel

After exploring the city for a few days, the family headed out to the nearby villages of the Teotitlán Valley to meet the women and children supporting their communities.

grassroots travel

The group spent two days with our inspiring nonprofit partners, Fundación En Vía, to engage with the rural communities where they work. They visited women-led businesses and lent a hand in a dyeing and weaving workshop, as well as shopping for ingredients at the local market for a traditional cooking class with the women.

grassroots travel

As the trip comes to an end, the group gets a chance to explore the city one last time and have a farewell dinner together with their guide. After having a chance to explore Mexico in this way, their kids will have lifelong memories of this incredible place. The farewell dinner is a great time to share memories and connect one last time before traveling home.

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Exciting - Grassroot Tours Ghana

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Their service is great. Very patient, time conscious, understanding and meet the customers needs. I always opt for their service when I have people going to Tamale.

Thank you so much for your feedback. We will keep providing the best of car rental ans tour services to Arthur Energies.

Magical. If I had to use one word to describe this tour it would be magical. The people are the friendliest people I have ever met(David that’s you!). Just genuine, kind, and full of life and love. We saw everything we wanted to and more. It was wonderful. The first day we went on the walking tour, and tracked eelephants for a half a mile or so. Found tracks, and fresh poop of an elephant. SO much fun! But we didn’t see any elephants. We continued with an awesome canoe safari, and ended with the driving safari. Towards the end of our drive safari it turned into a beautiful dream. We thought the tour was over and sadly hadn’t seen any elephants. But it ain’t over until it’s over! Our guide saw a couple elephants and we hurried and pulled over. We got to see 3 elephants, and watched them cross over the road. We then Continued on, and ended up stopping multiple times due to seeing elephants everywhere!!!! So beautiful and incredible. The next day the guides were able to take us straight to more elephants due to them knowing the elephants usual movement. Magical. We saw over 20 elephants! 😍 We also saw baboons, monkeys, warthogs, beautiful birds, water Buffalo, deer, cob...and SO much more! Our tour guide also took us to show us how shea butter is made, the beautiful mosque, the mystic stone, food market, flea market, the local “doctor” using all natural remedies, and how the wonderful people live there beautiful lives. They even showed us into one of there homes. It was a very well thought out plan that fit exactly what we were looking for! Thanks so much for that once in a life time experience!! And just in case you are still wondering if you should take this tour, I’ll help you. Do it! 🤗🤗

Thank you so much for your review. We hope to see you again in Ghana!

It was the best tour we have ever been to in Africa! In the last 10 years we have never had such a wonderful tour. Water Buffalo were amazing. Geckos were fantastic, as promised. The warthogs kept us up all night snoring next to our motel room. They were staying on room 4, and we were in room 5 😆😆. Baboons had the shiniest rear ends we ever did see. We saw so many cobs, that they became boring. And the elephants were out of this world. May I suggest they ought to have an elephant instead of a hippo as there logo.

Thank so much for your feedback. Knowing you had a wonderful time in Mole National Park Is a great feeling. We looking forward to showing you around other parts of Ghana in the future. Best!

Such a great experience! David was great and made us feel at home. For us it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience and was well worthwhile. We were surprised by a couple of warthogs sleeping directly outside the motel room our first night. 😄

Thank you for review. We are happy your guide, David made your stay in Mole National Park an exciting one. Do visit again, we have some more interesting places to show you!

My partner and I did the 7 day tour of northern Ghana with Isaac. We visited Tamale, Bolgatanga and surroundings, and Mole National Park. The tour covered the greater part of northern Ghana and covered many cities that were historical, cultural, and natural (elephants and hippos!). We enjoyed the diversity of each day. We enjoyed having Isaac as a guide and some highlights were - his easy going manner, his local knowledge and insights into best sights, he was helpful with pricing especially for baskets in Bolgatanga, and was very accommodating with our additional requests.

Hi Anna, Thank you for your feedback. We appreciate this and will always do our best in making our tours the best in Ghana.

This was simply an amazing experience. From the airport pick up at Tamale to the drive to Mole National Park and everything else that followed, Isaac, our chauffeur and detailed tour guide took very good care of us. He ensured we made the most of our Safari Tours allowing us to see a range of animals and of course elephants and did all he had to to make sure we were comfortable throughout the trip. We saw the Shea Butter making process, went on a canoe ride, met the Medicine Man and his son and enjoyed a tour of the city of Tamale just before we boarded our flight back to Accra to mention a few. There were so many highlights of the trip but one funny moment was when we saw a Baboon pinching some lunch from the table and enjoyed the tasty Jollof! Our team comprised of my mother, brother, 7 year old nephew and 5 year old son. We all had a great time. Not only would I love to go back to Mole and the Savannah Region, but I am craving for more adventures with Grassroots in the near future. Many thanks for the hospitality and experience. And a huge thank you to Isaac!

Dear Afua, Thank you so much for your feedback. It's smiles to see our guest had great experiences. We look forward to the tour to the Upper East of Ghana.

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Affordable real life adventures for active travellers of all ages. A "Grassroots Adventure" is about exploring the world in good company, doing exciting things, and having fun! We are delighted that our travellers agree! In recent years prior to Covid, 97% of our clients were 'repeat travellers', many returning for their 2nd, 10th, 15th and even their 21st plus trip, more often than not bringing friends and family with them!

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Is this you ?

Interested in exploring unusual places and experiencing other ways of life.

Moderately fit and active, seeking active sightseeing with plenty of variety and “do-it” outdoor activities.

Happy to accept ways of life and standards of facilities that at times can be very different from home.

Appreciate time to explore and enjoy each location.

Enjoy a relaxed friendly style of leadership and travel.

If so, then a "Grassroots Adventure" could be just what you are looking for.

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Terms and Conditions

Thank you for making us a part of your experience.

When you book with Grassroots.Travel , we organize your trip with the local operators who block, reserve, and hold the boat/plane/vehicle/room for your party.  In most cases, the conveyance/accommodation that is part of your trip is arranged specifically for you.  Because they have a modest operation and we are a small company ourselves, our Terms and Conditions are a bit more conservative.


We require a 50% deposit to confirm your booking. Final payment is due 2 months before the trip.

Depending on where the payment comes from, we may ask you to remit to different accounts or make it directly to the local operator in order to minimize transfer fees.

It is important to note that while we quote in US dollars (USD), we may pay the operators in local currency. Our prices are subject to constant fluctuations in the exchange rates, availability of services, etc. and may change without prior notice.

You will be billed in Mexican pesos (MXN) for any transaction that you make on our website.


50% if 2 months or more prior to departure; 100% if less than 2 months prior to departure.

Force Majeure

While we personally handpicked humble individuals who we know will give you a good experience, trip itineraries are subject to change or cancelation for reasons such as inclement weather, mechanical breakdown, governmental orders, and other factors beyond our control. We will do our best to reschedule your trip, or a portion of it, within one (1) year of the original itinerary. Partial refunds or trip credits may be issued depending on the local companies’ cancelation policies.

We strongly encourage you to purchase trip cancellation insurance.

Unlike big companies with more liquid assets, preparing for a booking puts a financial strain on small businesses. Similarly, a big part goes to transfer and processing fees when we receive payments and issue refunds.

All prepaid deposits are non-refundable. Any potential refunds do not include paid taxes or wire fees.


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Announcing the Grassroots Basketball Association

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The three biggest independent travel basketball organizations have partnered to create the largest and most impactful platform in the country. NY2LA Sports, Hoop Group and HoopSeen will all be a part of The Grassroots Basketball Association in 2021. 

The need to have the best platform possible for college-bound student-athletes has been forefront in each organization’s mission. The three groups work year-round to create opportunities that best connect grassroots programs with the college coaches. By joining together the three groups will create an unparalleled stage for independent programs at a national level. 

Each organization will continue to host their respective travel circuits as divisions of The Grassroots Basketball Association  (NY2LA Basketball Association, Hoop Group Showcase League and HoopSeen Association).  Participating teams will have opportunities to compete against some of the best teams from other regions of the country at joint circuit stops as well as the potential to be seen and promoted by three of the most influential voices in grassroots hoops.

Teams from each circuit will come together to compete for a national title at The Grassroots Basketball Summer Championships. This finale to the travel season will be held under one roof at the Orlando Convention Center at the end of the summer. 

By creating The Grassroots Basketball Association, the groups involved hope to create a more cohesive solution for independent teams and college coaches to maximize their travel basketball season.  

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Justin Young

Justin Young has been the editor-in-chief of since 2013. He manages the day-to-day operations on the site and in conjunction with our national and regional events. He was the national basketball editor for and a contributing editor at Yahoo! Sports. Young has been earned numerous awards for his work in sports journalism, including the Georgia Press Association Columnist of the Year. His Justin Young Basketball recruiting service has been in existence since 2002 and worked with over 300 schools from all levels. He is the director of HoopSeen Elite Preview camps and our national Preview camp series. 

2018 Primetime Emmy & James Beard Award Winner

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A History of Moscow in 13 Dishes

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Russian Tours and Cruises from Express to Russia

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Our 20 Best Moscow Tours of 2022

Join us on an unforgettable tour to Moscow, the capital of Russia. Imagine visiting Red Square, St. Basil’s the Kremlin and more. Moscow is one of Europe’s most vibrant cities and one of Russia’s most historical. All of our tours to Moscow are fully customizable and can be adjusted to fit any budget. Our most popular tours are listed below. Please click on the tour details to learn more or contact us for more information about our Moscow tours using the form at the side of the page. You can also schedule a call with one of our Russian travel specialists to learn more.

Moscow Kremlin, photo by Walkerssk on Pixabay

Classic Moscow

This is our most popular Moscow tour that includes all the most prominent sights. You will become acquainted with ancient Russia in the Kremlin, admire Russian art in the Tretyakov Gallery, listen to street musicians as you stroll along the Old Arbat street, and learn about Soviet times on the Moscow Metro tour.



St. Basiils Cathedral, Moscow, Photo by vierro from Pexels

A Week in Moscow

This tour is a perfect choice for those who wish to get to know Moscow in depth. One of the highlights of this package is the KGB history tour which gives an interesting perspective on the Cold War. You will also have time for exploring the city on your own or doing extra sightseeing.

Photo by Andrey Omelyanchuk on Unsplash

Weekend in Moscow

This tour is a great way to get acquainted with the capital of Russia if you are short of time. You will see all the main attractions of the city, the most important of which is the Kremlin - the heart of Russia. The tour starts on Friday and can be combined with a business trip.

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Group Tour Moscow Break by Intourist

Russia's capital has so much to offer, from the Kremlin and the Metro to the Old Arbat street and the Tretyakov Gallery. Besides these sites, you will also visit a fascinating country estate which today is quite off the beaten path, Gorky Estate, where the Soviet leader Lenin spent the last months of his life.

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Kolomenskoye Tour with transport

The history of Kolomenskoye stretches back for centuries. In 1380, Dmitri Donskoi’s army passed through Kolomenskoye on their way to the Kulikovo battlefield, and it was...

Tours by car

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Kremlin, Red Sq., Cathedrals & Armory Tour

The Kremlin is truly a fascinating structure, at the same time it is an ancient tower, the city’s former military fortification, a palace, an armory, the sovereign treasury...

Walking tours

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Kremlin, Red Sq., Cathedrals, Armory, Diamond Fund Tour

grassroots travel

Old Arbat walking tour

You will be told of the street’s interesting history and view the street’s artisan culture. You will also have the opportunity to view and purchase souvenirs from the...

grassroots travel

Tour to Sergiev Posad with transport

Considered by some to be the Russian Vatican, Sergiev Posad is the temporary residence of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church. The Trinity St. Sergius Monastery (Lavra)...

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Tour to Kuskovo with transport

The Kuskovo Estate often called the Moscow Versailles due to its perfectly preserved French park, is an example of an 18th century, luxurious Moscow summer residence. Its history...

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Tour to Tsaritsyno with transport

The Tsaritsyno Estate is located in the southern part of Moscow. The estate was constructed for Catherine the Great by the Russian architects Bazhenov and Kazakov in a romantic...

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Moscow Metro and Old Arbat Tour

The Moscow Metro is one of the largest and most grandly built metro systems in the world. It was meant to be a showcase of the Soviet Union’s achievements for both the Russians...

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Vodka Museum Tour with transport (excursion and vodka tasting)

Vodka is an important component of Russian life, an element of national identity and everyday culture. We invite you to visit the Vodka Museum and feel the atmosphere of long-gone...

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Mikhail Bulgakov Apartment Museum

This apartment museum located close to Patriarch Ponds became the prototype of the "bad apartment" described in the novel "The Master and Margarita." Currently the museum's...

Spasskaya Tower,Moscow Kremlin, Russia, image from Shutterstock

Kremlin, Red Sq., Cathedrals & Diamond Fund Tour

Portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin (1887)

The State Museum of Lev Tolstoy Tour

Take this opportunity to learn more about the Russian writer Lev Tolstoy. During the visit to the museum you will see part of a vast collection of exhibits connected to Tolstoy...

Novodevichy convent, Moscow, Russia, image from Shutterstock

Novodevichy Convent Tour with transport

Tour of the Novodevichy Monastery. Founded in 1524 by Grand Prince VasiliIoanovich, the original convent was enclosed by fortified walls and contained 12 towers. The structure...

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow, Russia, image from Shutterstock

City Tour with Visit to St. Basils & Red Sq. with transport

Panoramic City Tour. This Moscow tour is a great start to your trip and the best way to get acquainted with many of the city’s major highlights. Our professional guide will...

grassroots travel

City Tour of Moscow

Head to the heart of Moscow with a professional guide on a 4-hour private walk through the city center. See Tverskaya and Old Arbat streets, Theatre Square with the world-famous...

grassroots travel

Moscow Metro walking tour

The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia, image from Shutterstock

Kremlin, Red Square and Cathedrals Tour

grassroots travel

KGB Tour with transport

This is a very interesting and insightful tour. You will visit places connected with Stalin’s terror - a time of great repression and fear. You will be shown monuments to...

grassroots travel

Soviet and Post-Soviet Moscow Tour

The tour begins with a drive or walk down Tverskaya Street – a Soviet masterpiece. In the years of Soviet power, Tverskaya began to undergo a transformation: it was widened...

Girl with Peaches by Alexander Serov

Tretyakov State Gallery Tour

This world-famous gallery contains masterpieces of Russian art beginning in the 10th century up until today. You will view exquisite Russian icons and paintings from the 18th and...

grassroots travel

Jewish Heritage of Moscow Tour

This tour offers a detailed look into the history and present-day life of the Jewish community of Moscow. On the tour, you will visit sites connected with the cultural and religious...

Vodka, photo by Detonart at Pixabay

Vodka Museum Tour with transport (excursion only)


Lena, our guide in Moscow was excellent. She was very knowledgable and could answer any question we had for her. We liked that she could pick up on our interests and take us places we might not have thought of to go. When we realized that one of the places we had chosen to see would probably not be that interesting to us, she was able to arrange entry to the Diamond Fund and the Armoury for us. Riding the Metro with Lena was a real adventure and a lot of fun. In Saint Petersburg we found Anna well versed in the history of the Tsars and in the Hermitage collection. Arkady in Veliky Novgorod was a very good guide and answered all of our questions with ease. Novgorod was perhaps a long way to go for a day trip, but we did enjoy it. Vasily was a great driver to have and kept us safe with good humour and skill. We enjoyed ourselves so much, my daughter says she is already planning to return. We would both have no hesistation to recommend ExpresstoRussia to anyone we know.

Just wanted to let you know that My grandson Bruno and I couldn´t have been more pleased with our week in Moscow (6/15 - 6/21). We were absolutely enchanted with the whole experience, including getting lost a couple of times in the Metro during our free time. Although both our guides (both Eleanas) were excellent, I would particularly commend the first one (she took us to the Tatiakov, the KGB tour, and to that beautiful cemetery where so many great Russian artists, authors, composers, musicians, militarists, and politicians are buried). Her knowledge is encyclopedic; and her understanding of today´s Russia as a product of its past was, for us, truly enlightening. I will be taking another tour in Russia, with my wife, within the next two or three years. I will be in touch with you when the time comes. Meanwhile, I will refer you to other potential visitors to Russia as I meet them.

Tours to Moscow

Our Moscow tours are land only meaning that you arrange your own air travel to Russia and our expert staff meets you at the airport and handles everything else from there. Our online Airline Ticket booking system offers some of the most competitive rates to Russia available on the web so if you need tickets, please visit our Russian air ticket center . Rest assured that you will be taken great care of on one of our Moscow tours. Express to Russia has a fully staffed office in Moscow that will help to make your visit fun, informative and unforgettable. Please remember that of all these tours are private and can be adjusted to your taste. You can add, replace or skip some sights; you can add more days to the package or cut the tour short. Our specialists will be glad to help you create the tour of your dreams!

Novodevichy Convent, Moscow

Moscow, a City Like No Other

Moscow is Russia’s largest city with a population of between 12 and 13 million. It is also Europe’s largest city and when you visit Moscow, you can feel it. The layout and architecture of the city is eclectic, ranging from crooked, ancient streets and alleyways to wide, bustling boulevards, from medieval churches to Stalin skyscrapers and to modern, glass buildings towering over everything and of course in the center of it all is the Kremlin and the magnificent Red Square. Moscow is also home to a fantastic, efficient and very beautiful metro system – each station having its own special design. In fact, Express to Russia’s Moscow metro tours and excursions are some of our most popular attractions that we offer. On our Moscow tours, you will see this and more.

Moscow Kremlin in the times of Ivan III

Moscow Tours centering on Russian History

Moscow has a long and interesting history and has been the capital of Russia in many of its different iterations – capital of the Grand Duchy of Moscow , the Russian Empire and of course the Soviet Union (who could ever forget the Soviet Union?). Moscow, was founded in the 12th century by Prince Yuri Dolgaruki (Yuri of the long arms – he really did have long arms!). From that time on, it was home to the Russian Tsars until Peter the Great moved the capital to St. Petersburg in 1703. The city has survived invasions and sieges from the Mongols, the Tartars, the Poles, Lithuanians and Napoleon but has always persevered. Our Moscow tours will enlighten you on this great history and give you insights into Muscovites and their unique culture. Our Moscow tours show you what the city is like today but also brings to life the past. Moscow never seems to sleep and is bursting with energy. A Moscow tour with Express to Russia is truly the best way of getting to know Russia’s largest and most vibrant city.

Frequently Asked Questions From Our Travelers

What is the best time to visit moscow.

Any time of year is fine depending on what you plan to do. Summertime is pleasantly warm, ideal for exploring the city and its vibrant atmosphere, but Moscow will be much busier and accommodation is more expensive. Winter can be quite cold but beautiful nonetheless, and this is unproblematic if you intend to spend most of your trip in museums and galleries. There are also various festivals and events organised throughout the year. For more information about the best time to visit, read our guide

How many days are enough in Moscow?

If you plan your itinerary strategically and aren’t averse to a packed schedule, you can cover Moscow’s main sights over a long weekend. Most popular attractions are in the city centre, and the Moscow Metro allows you to cover much ground in a small amount of time. Ensure that your accommodation is fairly central and book tickets in advance, so that you can make the most of your days. For an informative and well-organised day out, check out our Moscow day tours with options to suit all interests.

Do they speak English in Moscow?

As Russia’s capital city, tourists are well accommodated in Moscow. There should be English-speaking staff in restaurants, bars, hotels, shops and attractions in tourist hotspots, and there are also English-speaking tourist police. Transport services have English translations on their maps and English announcements via intercom; alternatively, order taxis from the Yandex Taxi app (Russian Uber), though it’s unlikely that your taxi driver will speak English. If you get stuck and cannot communicate, it’s fine to use Google Translate.

Is it safe to travel to Moscow?

It is no less safe to travel to Moscow than to any European city if you exercise common sense and look after your belongings. As with every city some regions can be more unsavoury than others, but no tourist attractions are located there. The traffic in Moscow is notorious, so exercise caution when crossing roads. Do not take unlicensed taxis; book in advance or take public transport, which is widespread and perfectly safe. If you encounter any problems, look for the special tourist police who can help you. For more information, read our guide about staying safe in Russia .

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25 Places to Visit in Moscow you Can’t Miss

Main Church of the Armed Forces in Park Patriot

25 Places to Visit in Moscow

Do you know what the most populous city in Europe is? Most people wouldn’t guess that it is actually Moscow. There are approximately 13 million people in the Moscow metro area, which amounts to approximately 1/10th of all Russians.

This former capitol of the Soviet Union is still the political and financial center of Russia. Just because it is a current business and government city, in no way means that it is boring and not worth a visit. Assuming the political tensions get solved, Moscow is a fascinating city you need to visit.

While lots of people can’t explain the nuances of Russian architecture, most can spot and appreciate it immediately. One of the best ways to see the historic sites is by taking a boat tour down the Moskva River that meanders through the city.

Overall, navigating the city isn’t difficult as there is phenomenal and cheap public transportation (roughly 30 rubles/35 cents per ride). You can also use a cheap Uber on the three ring roads that circle the city at various distances from the center.

Still wondering why you should visit this historic masterpiece of a city? Read on to see the top 25 things you need to see in Moscow.

The House with Animals

The animal house in Moscow Russia

This former church is famous for the terracotta reliefs of animals that adorn the front of the building. It is a favorite of locals, and famous around the world. It was built in approximately 1900.

Resurrection Gate or Iberian Gate and Chapel

The resurrection gate at the entrance to Red square.

The Resurrection Gate is now one of the most common ways to enter Red Square. This gate is also the only standing part of the wall that was the entrance to to Kitai-Gorod, or Moscow’s historic central business district.

Book your tour: Moscow Kremlin Armory Chamber Entrance Ticket

St. Basils Cathedral

Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow Russia.

Probably the most famous of the Red Square attractions is St. Basil’s Cathedral. I don’t know if the legend is true or not, but supposedly Tsar Ivan IV poked the eyes of the architect out after completing it so nothing as pretty could be made again. What an awful boss!

Book your tour: Moscow: Saint Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square Private Tour

Book your tour: St.Basil’s Cathedral and Red Square: Private Tour and Ticket

The State Historical Museum

State Historical museum on Red Square, Moscow.

If you are like me then you can’t help but find all the twists and turns of Russian history fascinating. The State Historical Museum at Red Square is a fantastic place to learn and study the Russian Relics.

Book your tour: Kremlin, Red Square, and Metro Tour with Pick-Up

Moscow River Cruise

Moscow river cruise

The Moskva River cuts directly through the heart of Moscow. Want to see it all but rest your feet? One of the best things to do in Moscow at night is float along on a dinner cruise . The lights of the city are so beautiful. Of course, dinner in included.

Book your tour: Night lights Moscow Cruise (with Dinner option)

Museum of Soviet Arcade Games

Machines in Museum of Soviet arcade machines

This is one of the most unique things to do in Moscow. If you know that many American video games paint the Russians as the bad guys, then it’s probably not surprising to learn that you can find an entirely different variety of video games in Russia. This isn’t a recent phenomenon; even historically the video games were different. If you are a video game buff then this stop is for you!

Main Church of the Armed Forces in Park Patriot near Kubinka

Main Church of the Armed Forces in Park Patriot

This church attempts to commemorate the resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as Russian military leader. Yes, it’s an awkward amalgamation. It caused quite a controversy when there were plans to create murals of Vladimir Putin and Joseph Stalin to go along with the ones of Jesus Christ (those plans were scrapped).

Bunker 42 (Cold War Museum)

Meeting room in Bunker 42 Museum of the Cold War - military history museum.

Tunnel at Bunker-42, anti-nuclear underground facility built in 1956 as command post of strategic nuclear forces of Soviet Union.

Americans weren’t the only ones afraid during the Cold War! You can now discover the most secret and secure Bunker of the USSR, Bunker 42. Also known as the Cold War Museum . This former military communication center is now a museum. I recommend this tour that will take you on a private two hour visit of Bunker 42.

If you aren’t interested in a guided tour you can book your tickets in advance here.

Get your tickets: Bunker 42 Admission Ticket and Cold War Tour

Tank Excursion and Bazooka Shooting in Moscow

The main Soviet tank of the Second World War

For real – you can book this tour and actually ride in a tank and shoot off military grade weapons. While that’s not my cup of tea, I know tons of guys would absolutely love to shoot a bazooka!

Book your tour here .

Dormition Cathedral

Dormition Cathedral Moscow

This is another Russian Orthodox cathedral that is located inside the Moscow Kremlin. It is another famous landmark of Moscow. The inside is decorated with ancient frescoes.

The Cathedral of the icon of the Mother of God “Sign”

Cathedral of the Icon of the Mother of God of the Sign in the Moscow park Zaryadye

This cathedral is located in Zaryadye Park (adjacent to Red Square). It is also on the Moskva River. The Cathedral of the icon of the Mother of God “Sign” previously was a monastery.

Komsomolskaya Metro station 

Komsomolskaya Metro station in Moscow.

So many of the metro stations are breathtaking works of art. The idea was to create something beautiful that all the regular people could enjoy, or if you are more cynical you could say it was to attempt to show off how well they were doing.

Book your tour: Moscow: Small Group Metro Tour

The Round houses at Dovzhenko Stree t

The Round houses at Dovzhenko Street Moscow

The Round houses at Dovzhenko Street look super cool and futuristic, except like many communist projects didn’t actually work that well. They were supposed to be something new and different from the standard “Soviet Blocks.”

There are a number of problems with this design. Supposedly the acoustics are awful making the apartments perpetually noisy. The inner circle becomes a wind chamber even when it’s not that windy. My favorite weakness is that the trapezoid shape of apartments is hard to decorate and even harder to do maintenance on.

Izmailovo District and Izmailovo Kremlin

Izmailovo Kremlin In The Center Of

This area has to be one of the coolest places to visit in Moscow. It features a park in the middle of Moscow that is over 3x the size of New York City’s Central Park. The Kremlin in Izmailovo is a complex located in the Eastern Administrative District of Moscow that is known as the center of culture and entertainment. The wooden buildings are in Russian architecture of the XVI-XVII centuries (not original).

Izmailovo Kremlin on Google Maps .

Tretyakov Gallery

retyakov State Gallery In Moscow

For those that appreciate fine art this is where you have to go. The State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow Russia is the best collection of Russian fine art in the world. The museum previously hosted worldwide chess tournaments (I can’t help be think of the Queen’s Gambit).

Book your tickets in advance here. Tickets cost about $13 per person.

Kolomenskoe Estate

Kolomenskoe Estate in Moscow Russia

This reconstruction of a former royal estate is just a few miles southeast of the Moscow city center. Supposedly really detailed historical plans survived, so the reconstruction and current museum is incredibly authentic. It was completed in 2010.

Old buildings of Arbat

Old buildings of Arbat Moscow Russia

Arbat is an old street, and was previously the “nicest place to live in Moscow. Even though it fell into disrepair, it’s location, it’s historical buildings, and the fact that it is a pedestrian street are quickly making it a top place to live again.

The Melnikov House

Famous house of architect Melnikov on Arbat street in Moscow Russia

Located on Arbat street, the Famous house of architect Melnikov designed this house (and Lenin’s sarcophagus). Melnikov designed it at a time when private ownership was outlawed, but got around this restriction by saying it was an experimental design to maximize space. Even though others weren’t built, he was able to keep it.

The New Maiden Convent

The New Maiden Convent, built was built to resemble a mini-Kremlin. It stands out to me because this “convent” was the place where women who were no longer welcome in the royal court were banished to.

Monument to the Conquerors of Space at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in the Cosmopark

Monument to the Conquerors of Space at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in the Cosmopark.

The Americans may have made it to the moon first, but the Russian cosmonauts were first in a number of other achievements. This gigantic obelisk pays homage to their accomplishments.

Tsaritsyno Museum Reserve

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This royal estate was founded by Catherine the Great. She was Russia’s longest serving female leader. It is now a gorgeous museum!

Stalinist Skyscraper tour

Stalinist Skyscrapers called The Seven Sisters

This group of seven skyscrapers are called the Seven Sisters. They were all made in the Stalinist style, and one was previously the tallest building in Europe. If you want to tour them all while learning about their history book here .

Cathedral of Christ the Savior

The Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow

It’s ironic that a country that was so anti-religion for so long has so many great churches. The Cathedral for Christ the Savior was made to thank Jesus for saving Russia. If you are interested in visiting this and so many other cathedrals in Moscow I recommend this tour that will take you to The Cathedral of Christ the Savior many other popular churches in Moscow.

Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God

Cathedral of the Kazan Icon of the Mother of God  in Red Square Moscow

This church on Red Square is reconstruction of what was previously there but ordered to be destroy by Joseph Stalin. It is a travesty thinking of all the beautiful things that Stalin destroyed to attempt to implement his vision.

Zaryade Park

glass dome in Zaryadye Park in Moscow

Zaryadye Park is one of the main tourist attractions in Moscow. It is located directly next to the Kremlin, and offers truly amazing views. It is also famous for its “floating bridge” and the fact that there are so many unique features underneath it.

Church of Sign of Blessed Virgin in Dubrovitsy Znamenskaya

Church of Sign of Blessed Virgin in Dubrovitsy Znamenskaya church

The Church of the Theotokos of the Sign (Dubrovitsy), or The Church of the Holy Sign of the Mother of God is located in a village amed Dubrovitsy about 20 miles south of Moscow. It is another Russian Orthodox church, but what makes this one unique is that we aren’t 100% sure who made it, or why is has a style that is completely different than other churches of the time.

The Church of Nicholas The Wonderworker

The Church of Nicholas The Wonderworker on Bersenevka in Moscow.

I love the unique style of the Russian Orthodox churches in Moscow. The golden onion domes stand out across the globe. This church dates back to 1657, though it has been partially destroyed a few times since then.

Moscow University

Moscow University in Russia

Moscow University is one of the Seven Sisters that are the “Stalin Skyscrapers.” Previously it was the tallest building in Europe. Though it has lost that title, it is still the tallest “educational building” in the world.

So what do you think? Next trip to Moscow?

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Grad Student Sara Gardner receives Center for German & European Studies Travel Grant Award

portrait of student

PhD candidate Sara Gardner will be traveling to Leeds this summer to present a paper on a medieval magical-medical manuscript from the Jewish community of Catalunya at the International Medieval Congress 2024. Each year, the IMC welcomes papers on all aspects of Medieval Studies, alongside a special thematic focus. In 2024, this special thematic focus will be ‘Crisis’. More info .

She will also be participating in the Seminario ALCES 2024 in Santiago de Compostela in July, where she'll be workshopping a chapter of her dissertation as part of a seminar on the intersections of food and Iberian studies. ALCESXXI was born from a drive to recover and develop the practice of reflective, open, pluralistic, and interdisciplinary criticism. Read more here .

The award provides travel support to University of Minnesota Twin Cities graduate students in European studies.  The travel grants are intended for travel to scholarly conferences. Graduate students in good standing can apply for up to $2,500 for travel to an international conference. Congrats Sara!

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