GUM in Moscow is the most famous shopping mall in Russia. Located in Red Square, it is a spectacular architectural monument and a must-see. Here you’ll find not only the finest luxury stores in the city, but also reasonably priced restaurants offering Russian food, supermarkets, a pharmacy, souvenir shops or ATMs. I recommend that you try the legendary GUM ice cream.
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0. Moscow’s GUM, not just luxury shops
The first thing that comes to my mind when I think of GUM is ice cream – vanilla, chocolate or other flavors – that is served in a waffle cone and that I had so many times during my childhood.
This memory came to my mind recently and motivated me to write an article about Moscow’s GUM, one of the most delightful places in the city.
The first thing to say is that GUM or “Main Universal Store” (ГУМ in Russian) is a shopping mall located in the middle of Red Square and opened in 1893.
In this mall you’ll find the finest, (and also the most expensive) luxury stores and commercial brands in the city. Paradoxically, this shopping center is located right in front of Lenin’s Mausoleum.
But don’t think that GUM is just a shopping mall with high-end stores where you can buy anything; it’s much more than that:
- It is a monument of Russian architecture which is located in front of the Kremlin and which, as I’m going to show you, is part of the history of Russia and the Soviet Union.
- It is a place where there are cultural events, art exhibitions or recreational activities such as the summer flower festival or skating on the ice rink built in winter.
- It is a place in the heart of Moscow where you can eat comfortably and at a reasonable price in one of its Soviet-style restaurants on the third floor.
- It is a place where you have ATMs in case you need to exchange rubles for cash.
- It is a place where you can buy souvenirs, such as the famous matryoshkas.
- It is a place with a supermarket where you can buy Russian gourmet products like caviar or drinks like vodka.
- It is a place where you have a pharmacy in case you need to buy medication.
- It is a place where you can buy a Russian prepaid SIM card in case you need to have an affordable internet connection.
- It is a place where you can get the famous GUM Shopping Mall ice cream at one of the kiosks on the ground floor at a reasonable price.
- It is a place where you have bathrooms, including the historic paid GUM toilets.
- It is a place with official ticket offices of the Bolshoi Theater to buy tickets for the opera or ballet.
- It is a place where you can shelter from the heat, cold or rain.
In short, it’s a very beautiful and very useful place that doesn’t only have expensive shops. On the contrary, you can buy products or eat in restaurants at very affordable prices, taking into account that you are right in the center of Moscow. Of course, admission to the mall is free.
1. A little bit about the history of GUM
The Upper Trading Rows building (the original name of these department stores) was constructed between 1890 and 1893 under the supervision of architect Alexander Pomerantsev and engineer Vladimir Shukhov.
The project was inspired by the covered passages or shopping streets invented in the early 19th century in Paris after the Napoleonic Wars, and which were inspired by the commercial bazaars of the Arab countries.
GUM was officially opened on December 2, 1893, becoming at the time the largest shopping mall in Europe and the symbol of the new Moscow.
The shopping mall that comes closest to GUM is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan which dates back to 1877. Although GUM is not as big as the Milan mall, it does have shops on 3 levels connected by bridges.
With the Revolution of 1917 GUM was nationalized, commerce was abolished and the offices of different institutions of the Soviet Government were installed.
In the 1930s, in the first passage of GUM, was the office of Lavrentiy Beria, head of the Secret Service during the Stalin era. A store was also opened in which goods seized from “enemies of the people” were sold.
Stalin attempted to bulldoze the building on more than one occasion. In 1947 he proposed tearing it down to erect a monument to victory in World War II, with a huge rotunda with tiered seating all around.
After Stalin’s death, GUM was renovated and opened to the public on December 24, 1953. Lavrentiy Beria had been murdered just the day before.
Subsequently, there were also attempts to demolish it, such as in 1972 when the Communist Party’s Second Secretary, Mikhail Suslov, argued that a market should not be next to Lenin’s Mausoleum.
The truth is that since its opening during the imperial era of the czars, the years, different communist governments, the Cold War, perestroika or the coronavirus have passed, but the GUM Shopping Mall remains in the center of Russia in its own right and as a world-famous attraction. It is one of the most recognizable symbols of the capital city on practically the same level as the Kremlin or the Bolshoi Theater.
2. GUM’s spectacular architecture
GUM’s architecture is truly impressive. It has a 242-meter long façade along the east side of Red Square.
The building features elements of medieval Russian architecture and a style similar to London’s major 19th century train stations. The truth is that when viewed from the outside it doesn’t look like a shopping mall.
It has a glass roof that acts as a skylight and is able to withstand snow buildup.
The GUM consists of 3 passages or shopping streets on 3 levels connected by walkways. Here’s a map with the location of all the shops, restaurants and services offered by GUM.
In the center of the shopping passages, on the ground floor, is the famous GUM fountain, reopened in 2007. It’s one of the most visited sites in Moscow and is said to be photographed every 3 seconds by a visitor. This fountain is constantly being redecorated.
In the basement of GUM you will also find the historic GUM bathrooms, which were recently restored while respecting their original design. In these bathrooms, after paying (150 rubles), you can freshen up, shower, brush your teeth, put on your makeup, shave, as well as buy all the accessories you need.
You also have rooms for childcare or services adapted for the disabled.
In GUM there is also a legendary cinema that has preserved its historical architecture. It is located on the third floor and has 3 halls: a large one with 70 seats, a children’s hall with 20 seats and a VIP hall with spacious velvet sofas, a capacity of 16 people and a bar.
The GUM Cinema does not depend on any distribution network and it shows premieres but also classic Soviet and foreign films. Children can watch cartoon movies.
On the ground floor there is also the historic GUM Demonstration Hall for events, concerts, exhibitions, weddings or press conferences.
At night GUM features a brightly colored night lighting that perhaps clashes somewhat with the lighting of Red Square.
Finally, to admire the architecture of this building, I recommend seeing it not only from the front from Red Square, but also by taking a walk along the Nikolskaya pedestrian street, which goes around GUM from the Kazan Cathedral. This street is bordered by other beautiful buildings and many shops and restaurants. At night it features beautiful lighting. This street ends at Lubyanka Square, where the headquarters of the Secret Service used to be located.
3. GUM Festivals
In addition to the shops and restaurants, which I’ll tell you about below, GUM has become a place for cultural events: exhibitions of talented designers, exhibitions of art or photography, or seasonal celebrations.
In summer there is a flower festival in which GUM becomes a colorful garden.
In winter, GUM sets up a large skating rink in the middle of Red Square and there is also a Christmas tree display.
4. What to buy at GUM: not only luxury fashion and jewelry
GUM has more than 200 stores, more than 2,000 employees work there, and an estimated 60,000 customers visit it daily.
Admission is free. Even if you don’t buy anything, it’s very worthwhile to walk along its galleries and admire its architecture.
In this mall you can buy practically anything: fashion clothing, shoes, accessories, watches and jewelry, cosmetics and perfumes, food, books and household items, souvenirs, medication, suitcases, a SIM card…
- List of stores: https://gumrussia.com/shops/
You can also get your loyalty card to obtain discounts at other stores. You can get the Maroon Card when you make any purchase.
Luxury clothing, fashion and jewelry stores
GUM’s most recognizable business side is its world-famous brand name stores.
Some of the luxury stores that operate in this shopping center are Burberry, Cartier, Dior, Emporio Armani, Gucci, Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Max Mara, Moschino, Omega, Piaget, Prada, Salvatore Ferragamo, Tiffany & Co, etc.
If money is not a problem for you, you have fun in this shopping mall. Of course, don’t forget to increase your credit card limit.
Gastronome No. 1, GUM’s Soviet supermarket
Located on the ground floor, Gastronome No. 1 is GUM’s only grocery store. Of course, it sells deli products, and its marble counters and shop windows overlooking Red Square resemble the famous Soviet store opened in GUM from 1953 to 1990.
In this supermarket where the quality is high but prices are also higher, you can find many of the products that were popular during the Soviet era:
- You can try the different varieties of black or red caviar before buying it.
- Live Kamchatka crabs, fresh oysters or shrimp
- Fresh fruits and vegetables such as Antonovka apples or Baku cucumbers.
- Sausages and cold cuts such as Tambov ham, Doctorskaya bologna or Molochnye and Doctorskye sausages.
- Freshly baked cakes and the most famous candies of the Soviet era.
- Several varieties of chocolate from Switzerland, France, Belgium, Germany or other countries.
- A large assortment of Chinese, Indian or Sri Lankan tea.
- Wide variety of vodka or wines from around the world
Naslediye, the Russian craft and souvenir shop
In the GUM Naslediye Shop you can buy Russian handicrafts such as the famous matryoshkas, Easter eggs, amber jewelery, works by Gzhel and Khokhloma artisans, samovars, Fabergé eggs and a long list of other products.
MegaFon, one of the leading Russian mobile phone operators
In the MegaFon Store, located on the third floor, you can buy a SIM card to connect to the Internet at a very affordable price. Megafon is one of the three main Russian telephone service providers with their own network throughout Russia.
On the ground floor of the GUM Mall you have two ATMs of the main banks in the country: Alfa-Bank and Sberbank, where you can exchange rubles for cash.
In any case, to make purchases at the mall I recommend paying with your Visa or MasterCard which usually apply a good exchange rate.
The GUM Pharmacy
On the third floor you have the vintage-style GUM Pharmacy where you can buy those medications you might need but might not have brought to Russia.
Ticket offices of the Bolshoi Theater
On the ground floor of GUM you also have some official ticket offices of the Bolshoi Theater where you can buy tickets for the opera or ballet.
5. What to eat at GUM: Soviet restaurants, luxury restaurants and GUM
There are currently 9 different restaurants and cafés at GUM, where you can have breakfast or lunch or just have coffee.
Stovalaya No 57
Stovalaya No. 57 Canteen on the top floor of GUM will take you on a gastronomic journey through the Soviet Union. Here you can try the famous Russian (or Olivier) salad, Borsch soup, Pelmeni or pastry from the Soviet era. From its outdoor terrace you can enjoy a beautiful panoramic view of GUM.
Stovalaya means soup kitchen, a widespread feature during Soviet times.
Prices are quite cheap, but also keep in mind that it is self-service, where you have to queue, collect your food on a tray and then leave your table clean. It is not a tourist restaurant. You won’t find designer foods or large portions either.
The server might frown at you if you take long to read the buffet menu lists and don’t choose quickly.
Another equally inexpensive option on the same floor is the Festivalnoye Café which pays tribute to the Festival of Youth and Students held in Moscow in 1957, which brought together 34,000 people from 131 countries. Drawings and slogans in various languages posted on the walls are a reminder of this event.
Here you can eat pizza or hamburgers at a fairly affordable price. Of course, like the previous restaurant it is self-service fast food. The servers are not much fun either.
Beluga Caviar Bar
If you’re looking for something better, you can treat yourself to eating at the Beluga Caviar Bar, where they specialize in caviar and vodka, but where you can also try exquisite dishes from Russian cuisine. It is located on the ground floor.
Tourists usually enter here to try the caviar and Russian vodka (15 grams of salmon caviar and a shot of vodka might be around 700 rubles). Rather expensive restaurant; remember that you are in Red Square.
Bosco Fresh Bar
Another good restaurant is the Bosco Café on the ground floor of GUM and with a terrace next to Red Square. Italian and Russian cuisine. Here you will find designer food and excellent pastry. You also have the Bosco Mishka Bar, part of the same group.
GUM ice cream
And there’s no better way to end this article than talking about the legendary GUM ice cream. It costs 100 rubles and is sold at kiosks on the ground floor next to the fountain of the shopping center. Sometimes, there may be long lines formed to buy it because it is a very popular ice cream.
A scoop of chocolate, vanilla, cream, crème brûlée or other different flavor ice cream is served in a waffle cone, exactly the same as it was more than 120 years ago when it opened its doors. Don’t forget to try it 🙂
And that’s all for this tour of Moscow’s GUM which, I assure you, is going to surprise you. Thank you very much for reading me.
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