Moscow is a sprawling beast that can be disorienting. Come armed with a basic knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet (it's surprisingly easy to master the basics to the level of reading street names), and a well-thought-out plan.
The city is split in two by the Moscow River, but most of the tourist sites are on the north side -"location for the Kremlin and Red Square, from where the city ripples out in a series of concentric circles; first with the tree-lined Boulevard Ring, then the busy Garden Ring (a 12-lane highway, with no greenery in sight despite the name).
Take a hike
Begin on the cobblestones of Red Square, site of Tsarist executions and Soviet parades, to see the mummified body of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. There are constant whispers about removing him, but for now the hero of the October Revolution is still in his marble mausoleum and open for business from 10am to 1pm daily except Mondays and Fridays (free entry).
Soak up the austere beauty of the square before walking down Ilinka and the lanes of Kitai Gorod, dotted with ancient churches and low-rise buildings. Emerge on Lubyanka Square, the monolithic base of the KGB and its successor, the FSB. Head back down the hill to the Soviet-era Russian parliament and you'll be back at the other side of Red Square.
Head up Tverskaya, Moscow's main thoroughfare, passing the mayoralty and a statue to Yury Dolgoruky, the city's founder. You'll end up at Pushkin Square, from where you can cut through to Patriarch's Pond, where the Devil first appears in Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita.
Lunch on the run
The area around the Patriarch's Pond has a number of lunch options. CafÃ© Margarita at 28 Malaya Bronnaya, named after Bulgakov's book, serves hearty Russian fare such as pancakes with caviar and salt herring. Lunch will cost 750 roubles (Â£15).
Yeliseyevsky Supermarket at 14 Tverskaya is worth a visit for its Tsarist-era interiors. You can stock up on caviar. Like many shops in Moscow, it's open 24 hours. There are no restrictions on red caviar.
Take a ride
The Moscow metro is an attraction itself. Central stations boast grand columns, mosaics and statues extolling Stalinism. All the Circle Line stops are impressive, particularly Komsomolskaya; the sleek columns of Mayakovskaya and the imposing statues of Ploshchad Revolutsii are worth a detour.
Dining with the locals
Feeling adventurous? Try Mayak at 19 Bolshaya Nikitskaya, which has the dÃ©cor of a grand Soviet-era apartment. The Russian-European menu is reasonable if basic, with soups, grilled fish and steaks and an average bill of 1,000 roubles (Â£20) per head, but you come here for the atmosphere.
You'll rub shoulders with actors, journalists and the political opposition. If you come before 9pm you should get a table for dinner; the place gets raucous later on as tables are cleared and loud music and bad dancing kick in until sunrise.
For a more refined experience, it has to be CafÃ© Pushkin at 26a Tverskoi Bulvar, the long-standing champion of haute cuisine Ã la russe. The room has been painstakingly renovated to late-Tsarist splendour and the waiters come in period costume. The food -" beef stroganoff, perfectly prepared fish, and pelmeni dumplings -" is fantastic.
Sunday morning: go to church
Take the red metro line south to Sportivnaya and turn right on exiting the metro. Here you'll see the extraordinary castle-like walls of Novodevichy Monastery (10am-5pm Wednesday to Sunday, admission free). You can tour inside, but the real draw is the cemetery (9am to 5pm daily, free), with cultural and historical names galore, from Nikita Khrushchev to Boris Yeltsin.
A walk in the park
Two stops back up the red line lies Park Kultury station, from where you can cross the river bridge to Gorky Park. Until recently it was a forlorn place, but a spruce-up with Roman Abramovich's money has turned the park into a great place to spend time, whether it's pleasure-boating in summer or ice skating in winter.
Out to brunch
Lebedinoe Ozero, which means "Swan Lake-, is in the park at 9/22 Krymsky Val (s-11.ru/lebedinoe -ozero). It opens at noon daily. Grilled fish and kebabs (about 450 roubles/Â£9) are served inside, or (weather permitting) on the terrace.
Go to the Tretyakov galleries, new and old (tretyakovgallery.ru for both; admission 360 roubles/Â£7.20 to each). Across the road from Gorky Park at 10 Krymsky Val is the New Tretyakov with its collection of Soviet art including a breathtaking array of Russian avant-garde works (10am to 7.30pm daily except Monday).
Allow a couple of hours for the original Tretyakov at 10 Lavrushinsky Lane (daily 10am to 7.30pm), which houses the world's most impressive collection of Russian art including icons by Andrei Rublev and Ilya Repin's dark portrayal of Ivan the Terrible murdering his own son.
Icing on the cake
The Kremlin (kreml.ru/en) is much more than a political powerhouse: it is the historical centre of Muscovy, and used to house the whole centre of the city in its walls. It is open 10am to 5pm daily except Thursday (entry 350 roubles Â£7); guards will stop you straying too close to the bits that are still government buildings. Of the five cathedrals, the most splendid is the Archangel Cathedral. A separate ticket (700 roubles/Â£14) is required for the Armoury Museum of Tsarist jewels and relics.