As most foreigners have an exaggerated fear of the cold in Russia, the best time to visit is summer, lasting from the beginning of June to mid-September. Days and nights are warm and sultry, with heat waves likely during August, when Muscovites leave in droves for their dachas in the countryside. Spring is chiefly rewarding for the rituals and candle-lit processions marking Orthodox Easter, when cathedrals are so packed that people wait for hours to get in. (Christmas services are as splendid yet not nearly so crowded.) Several major music festivals start around this time, or in May, accompanied by such national holidays as Victory Day and May Day. Autumn is likewise excellent for festivals, despite cloudy skies and falling temperatures, and you can still look forward to a week or two of Babe leto (“Granny’s Summer”).
Subzero temperatures and snow can set in up to two months before winter officially begins in December. Blanketed in fresh snow, Moscow is magically hushed and cleansed, and Muscovites revel in the crispness of the air. Days are often gloriously sunny, and the temperature only a few degrees below zero, so skiing and sledging are popular pursuits. The secular New Year and Orthodox Christmas in early January are occasions for shopping and merrymaking, but at some point a cold snap will send the temperature down to -20°C or lower, while traffic and thaws turn the snow into mounds and lakes of black ice or brown slush, which linger on until late March.
Finally, make sure you bring the right gear. Lots of layers, a hat and waterproof footwear with nonslip soles are essential for winter. A compact rainproof jacket will protect you from showers in the spring or autumn. Shorts and t-shirts are fine for summer, but pack long trousers or a skirt for visiting monasteries, the ballet or dining out – and a mosquito net to drape over your bed if you’re unsure that your lodgings have screens on the windows.