Oddly, the 2015 edition of Lonely Planet’s guide to Moscow tells you that if you are short on time at the Kremlin that you should “skip the Armoury”. Ignore their advice. The Armoury is by far and away the best bit – particularly because there is considerably more to it than weaponry. Despite the name, the Armoury is also the section of the Kremlin where you’ll find royal carriages, thrones, state robes, jewellery and ancient crowns.
Beanie-boy is now five years old and has been asking to visit “the castle” for ages, so when we found ourselves with a morning to spare (and Little Pickle was happily occupied elsewhere) we decided to have a look around.
Beanie-boy appreciated more of the exhibits than I would have given him credit for – he liked looking at the Coronation robes and crowns which I wouldn’t have thought was his thing. And he really liked the thrones. He particularly liked hearing about the Double Throne of the boy-Tsars Ivan Alexseyevich and Peter Alexseyevich who jointly ruled Russia from 1682-1696. Apart from the obvious fact of having two seats, what also makes it special is the rectangular hole cut behind part of the throne (in those days covered with a velvet cloth) through which instructions were given to the young boys by their mother.
Clearly the highlight of any five-year old boy’s trip to the Armoury is the weaponry. Beanie-boy particularly liked the suits of armour – especially the armour for the horses, and was thrilled when we discovered an electronic screen at the side of the room which gave considerably more detail about each item in English. He insisted that I read out all the information about a couple of very fine ceremonial sabres, an ornamental axe and a Turkish helmet before I finally persuaded him to move on. I was somewhat relieved to find the information screen in the adjoining room was temporarily out of order!
The royal carriages were another highlight – covered in gold and velvet, the craftsmanship is stunning. We looked at the Empress’s sleigh pulled by 23 horses and I told Beanie-boy the story that royal sleighs were sometimes pulled by dwarves. He looked at me incredulously and said “that’s not true, Mummy – I think it was pulled by a dragon!”
Back outside, the main attractions for Beanie were the cannons including the Tsar Cannon – the biggest ever made. He was curious to know why it had never been fired, but when I pointed out the enormous size of the cannon balls he soon realised why it had turned out to be so impractical! I also took him to see the Tsar Bell – also the largest ever made. He was less impressed by that, partly due to the fact that it wasn’t a gun but also because it’s broken (it shattered while being made). He took one look at it and told me that if it was broken and didn’t work anymore that it should be “recycled”!!
There is more to see at the Kremlin including several cathedrals and the Palace of the Patriarchs but for small children the Armoury and the outdoor areas are probably more than enough.
Tickets for the Armoury are sold separately to tickets for the grounds. You can also buy tickets to climb up the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great and for the Diamond Fund (which has it’s own special kiosk in the ticket office). Although entrance for children is free you will need to obtain child tickets from the ticket office – you can’t get them online. As a result if you are coming with kids you need to get to the ticket office early because only a limited number of tickets for the Armoury (including free children’s tickets) are available at the ticket office on any given day.
When you get into the Armoury itself, the sign-posts suggest that you should start your tour by going straight up the large set of stairs in front of you. But it is a good plan to turn left up the shorter set of stairs and look at those rooms first (where the state robes and carriages are) while the larger crowds who have followed instructions (!) are upstairs.
There are toilets on site but no cafe facilities. An English-language audio guide to the Armoury is available. The Kremlin is closed on Thursdays. The visitors entrance and ticket office are located off Mokhovaya Street.