Red Square is one of the most challenging sights to show to your tourists. First of all, the Square is a long waited visit for tourists alluring them with its mystery and drama. It is difficult to keep them focused and grounded once they are in it. They have seen this unforgettable image one hundred times on TV and in newspapers, and it’s a breathtaking experience for the tourists to finally be in the place.
Secondly, the Square is huge, and its sights are scattered all over its surface. And every other sight looks even more important to take a picture of.
Thirdly, GUM is a huge temptation with its abundance of inviting showcases and decorative sale points with delicious bakery and hand made chocolate and other goods looking so authentic, wrapped in unfamiliar Russian branded packages.
And at last the Square is exposed to all types of weather. Be it a hot sunny day, or a gloomy rainy afternoon, there is no shelter. It adds physical fatigue and mental restlessness to the wandering tourists.
If the guide does not keep the situation under his/her control, the guide will lose the group. Losing the group anywhere means loss of time and confidence and much more, but in Red Square it is also a danger for tourists, they can be pickpocketed or cheated by street venders and frightened by beggars speaking Russian to them.
If you want to provide your tourists with interesting information about Red Square and at the same time let them enjoy the sights on their own, let’s plan your tour in Red Square step by step.
Tour Tip One:
Give all the necessary instructions while you are still in the bus or approaching the square on foot. There will be hardly any chance to do that later. Speak about what you are going to do in Red Square and how much time you will spend there. Tell your tourists that they would go as a group and follow you. You will take them to the most adventurous spot in Red Square, from which they will have a perfect view at all of the sights. Tell them that first you will speak about Red Square for 10 minutes, and that you want all of them to be with you during these 10 minutes. At the end of your presentation you will notify them of the time and place where you are going to meet later. Only then you can give your tourists free time to take pictures of every structure in Red Square and take a stroll.
As any other big attraction to tourists, Red Square is full of pickpockets and street vendors trying to cheat tourists by offering them low quality and overpriced souvenirs.
Tell your tourists that the square is vast and involves lots of walking. Those who have little chances of dragging 300 meters long and even further to be picked up by the driver in the end should consider other opportunities of looking at the square. One of them is to leave a slow walker in the bus, and after you finish your presentation, you should come to pick him/her up and take the tourist as close as possible to St. Basil’s. This will work only if your driver will find a parking opportunity in Vasilievsky Spoosk. Otherwise, your tourist will miss Red Square and he/she should be aware of that. You’d better encourage your tourists to join the group and promise that you will walk slowly.
Tour Tip Two:
When telling your prepared story about Red Square, trim it to be not longer than 10 minutes. Outline the main facts about the square either in a logical (as they follow) or in a chronological order. It depends on the guide’s presentation. Don’t go into details about every sight in Red Square, but be sure to give their names, describe their meaning and function. The rest of the information you may tell in the bus when passing the square on following days or during other trips, like to Sergiev Posad or when in a traffic jam.
The must-have-said facts should include:
- The name of Red Square through centuries;
- Its present day function;
- Lenin’s tomb;
- St. Basil’s Cathedral;
- A monument to Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky;
- Lobnoe mesto or Forehead place;
- Kazan Cathedral;
- State Historical Museum.
Tour Tip Three:
Choose the meeting point beforehand, and it is usually the Forehand place. Make sure that everyone understands where you will be waiting for the group and at what time. Ask your tourists to check their wristwatch or mobiles according to the time showing on Spasskaya Tower (the Savior Tower), because the tourists’ watch may be ahead of time or a few minutes slow, and the mobiles may still be set to their local time zones, and there are also those who do not have any time piece at all. Usually you give 30 minutes of free time to your tourists, which seems to be good enough to take pictures in Red Square, have a walk inside GUM, check the bathroom and come back to the meeting point.
Telling your tourists that they have 30 minutes at their disposal is not enough. You announce the time saying hours and minutes when you expect them to come back. For example, “3:30PM I am waiting for all of you here at the Forehead place. It is 3PM (pointing to the clock tower) now, and you have 30 minutes at your disposal to have a walk in Red Square and GUM. Please, do not be late. Thank you.”
Tour Tip Four:
While the tourists are enjoying their free time, do not follow them. Let them have a rest from you too, and besides, you need a break as well. Come 5 minutes before the time expires and check the situation, how people are gathering. Probably you need to walk along the square looking for your tourists and reminding them that time is running out. Then you should count your tourists and call the driver asking to pick you up at the agreed place. It can be Moskvoretsky Bridge or Mokhovaya Street depending on where you go next and the traffic situation.
When working on the text of your presentation do fact checking in the first place. Choose the vocabulary for your presentation. Your language should be of academic level, but try to avoid metaphors, too many names of the architects and architectural styles. Think of connections, which you could use to be able to speak about different epochs and sights.
These fact tips will help you to expand your knowledge and understanding of Red Square no matter who you are a guide or a tourist.
10 facts about Red Square which are most frequently misinterpreted
- Red in the name of Red Square does not mean color, but means ‘beautiful’.
- The pilot Mathias Rust never landed in Red Square, but not far from Moskvoretsky Bridge, which is behind St. Basil’s Cathedral.
- Lenin’s granite tomb from 1930 is the second structure after the first one built of wood in 1924.
- St. Basil’s Cathedral is the name of the smallest church in the ensemble of eight other churches around the central one, which is called the Intersession Cathedral and the latter is the official name of the whole ensemble.
- The Resurrection gates and Kazan Cathedral are the twentieth century’s constructions, after the original gates and the cathedral were blown up in 1936 being obstacles for the military vehicles, which took part in the military parades every year in Red Square. They opened a public toilet in the place of the blown up cathedral.
- Red Square was not always a pedestrian square. Traffic ceased in Red Square only after the Resurrection gates and Kazan Cathedral were built.
- The Tsar Tower was called so not because the Tsars watched from it what was going on in the square as the view from the tower is terrible.
- The flag on the dome of the office of the president of Russia is always on top of the mast, which means that we cannot guess whether he is in or not.
- The monument to Kuzma Minin and Dmitry Pozharsky changed its location in 1994-1996. It used to stand in the middle of the Square since 1818.
- The change of the guards used to take place in front of the Mausoleum since 1924 until 1993. Since 1996 Guard Service No. 1 or Honorary Guard is standing at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Alexander Garden by the eternal flame.
What you cannot do in Red Square
- Since 1993 there are restrictions on video and photo shooting in Red Square. Photo cameras, which bodies exceed 140 mm and with the diameter of the removable lens more than 700 mm fall under the restricted group. You still can apply for a special permit at the Kremlin’s commandant’s office beforehand and in person.
- Since 2001 you can’t ride a bicycle in Red Square.
- You cannot drink alcoholic beverages in Red Square.
- After Mathias Rust’s landing not far from Red Square in 1987, the square was called Sheremetyevo 3 as a joke and it was not allowed to smoke in it as in any other airfield.
- It is not allowed to take photo shooting with any posters (names of the companies, logos, signs) in Red Square.
- You cannot protest in Red Square.
- You cannot run in Red Square.
- You cannot visit the Necropolis by the Kremlin Wall in Red Square while the Mausoleum is closed.
- You cannot climb on top of Lobnoe mesto (Forehead place) in Red Square.
- You cannot sell souvenirs in Red Square.
Red Square in facts and years
- Electric lanterns illuminated the square in 1892.
- The square was first paved in 1804 with the cobblestone and in 1930 with the granite stones.
- In the years 1909-1930 a tram was dragging across Red Square.
- The oldest structure in Red Square is Lobnoe Mesto, first mentioned in 1547.
- St. Basil’s was built in honor of taking of Kazan, which was a turning point in the battle with the Tatar-Mongol Yolk in 1551-1561.
- Mausoleum was built in 1924 as a wooden structure and the present day granite pyramid in 1930.
- GUM was built in 1890-1893.
- State Historical Museum was built in 1875-1881.
- Kazan Cathedral and Resurrection Gates are newly built constructions of 1996.
- The necropolis by the Kremlin Wall was started in 1917 and the last person buried there was General Secretary of the Communist Party Konstantin Chernenko in March 1985.
I hope you find these tips useful and they will help you to make a perfect presentation of Red Square if you are a guide. And if you are a tourist, it will help you to learn more about Red Square. If you have had a unique experience in Red Square, no matter whether you are a guide or a tourist, feel free to share it in comments.