Have you ever thought shopping could be such a unique and new experiment?! It is if you visit Russia’s iconic GUM Shopping Mall in the heart of Moscow.
This mega mall is a landmark of the Russian capital, stretching over an area twice and a half the length of a football field in the historic Red Square and front of the Kremlin.
For Glavny Universalny Magazin, GUM translates into the main department store, the largest in Russia. Pronounced as “goom”, this department store looks more like a royal palace and is considered a spectacular architectural monument built over a hundred years ago. Today, GUM Shopping Mall is a must-see.
The History of GUM Shopping Mall
Historically, the area on which GUM now stands was a place for trading. The mall’s first building was established in the 18th century before it was lost in the 1812 Fire of Moscow during the war with French Emperor Napoleon.
Reconstruction of the city centre started after the fire and included building new trading rows, which opened in the early 19th century. The “Upper Trading Rows” was its name then. Their design mirrored the old covered passages in Paris, inspired by the commercial bazaars in Arab countries.
Construction of the rows started in 1890. By late 1893 they were opened. Back then, the Upper Trading Rows” symbolised the new Moscow and were the largest department store in Europe.
The rows were built over a metal skeleton with upper levels. It was the first time European passages included storeys, which could be why they were named the “Upper Trading Rows”.
They were officially opened on 2 December 1893. They included more than 1,000 stores. The Upper Trading Rows were nationalised after the Revolution of 1917.
The Establishment of the Soviet Union
With the Soviet Union now in power, the government nationalised the passages in Moscow and offices replaced many stores. It changed from a department store to a “state” store. The rows faced the risk of demolition twice by then-politician Joseph Stalin in 1935 and 1947.
After Stalin’s death, GUM Shopping Mall was renovated and re-opened on 24 December 1953. It has been part of Russia’s history, beginning with Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, and until modern Russia.
About 130 years since its first opening, GUM Shopping Mall is now seen as a world attraction and a symbol of the Russian capital.
The Spectacular Architecture of GUM
Using features from medieval Russia and mimicking the style of the 19th-century train stations in London, Vladimir Shukhov designed his elongated shop galleries with bridges constructed to connect the upper ones. That is simply the layout of the iconic GUM Shopping Mall.
The Exterior of GUM
With its ornate exterior, this long beige building stands out, facing the east side of the Red Square. Its 242-metre stone façade makes it look more like a palace. A shopping mall is the least anyone could expect inside this place.
With a curved ceiling of windows, the architecture of GUM Shopping Mall, which was designed and constructed in 1893, still mesmerises its visitors in Moscow more than a century on. This large glass roof covers the three-level passages of the mall.
The fountain is on the ground floor of GUM Shopping Mall. It has been there for decades, serving as a meeting place for shoppers. It stands in the centre of the mall and can be spotted from anywhere inside the mall.
The Historical Toilets
Historical bathrooms are found in the basement of the mall. They were restored without sacrificing the original design. In there, visitors could have a chance to shower, shave or even put on some makeup.
Such luxurious toilet rooms were built over a hundred years ago. They were destroyed during the Soviet Union era before being restored in 2001.
Descending to the WC, the stairs are covered with red carpet, giving such a royal reception to visitors, surrounded by opulent marble floors, walls, and sinks. Unlike restrooms at other department stores, visitors here are asked to pay to enter the historical toilets at GUM.
A legendary cinema on the third floor is open and still preserves its old architecture. It is decorated with luxurious red curtains and crystal chandeliers.
The cinema at GUM Shopping Mall has three halls and can accommodate up to 106 seats. The large hall has soft velvet armchairs, while beanbags are in the children’s arena. The VIP hall has wide velvet sofas designed for only three people.
This all-out shopping complex is now home to more than 200 premium boutiques that sell famous luxury and high-end brands. Consumer visits are estimated to reach up to 60,000 per day.
Roaming inside GUM, shoppers could find the most expensive brands, such as Cartier, Gucci, and Burberry, inside the finest luxury stores of the mall. Those luxury brands are usually found on the ground floor.
Besides that, GUM Shopping Mall has nine reasonably priced restaurants and cafes that offer Russian food and coffee, which certainly adds to the adventure.
This mall just won’t let shoppers go empty-handed. It has stores for everything: fashion clothing, shoes, perfumes, food, and books, as well as household items and medication.
Stolovaya N.57 and Café Festivalnoe are two Soviet-style cafes on the second floor of GUM. Visitors can easily spot the colourful umbrellas and chairs at Café Festivalnoe, which is divided into several zones offering different types of food.
Stolovaya (self-service canteen) is where visitors can try a range of Russian dishes at affordable prices. Dishes served here have been considered Russian favourites throughout history.
The Legendary GUM Ice Cream
Ice cream is yet another trademark of GUM Shopping Mall. It is a traditional Soviet ice cream that goes by the old all-natural recipe without any preservatives.
It is sold at kiosks on the mall’s ground floor, just next to the fountain. It is considered the tastiest in Moscow and is served in waffle cones.
The GUM Fair
Part of the fun at GUM Shopping Mall is in the fair it organises for visitors. Numerous pavilions are open and ready, waiting for visitors to begin this adventure inside one of the world’s most famous department stores.
The GUM Skating Rink
Visiting GUM Shopping Mall in winter could be extra fun, with the skating rink starting operation from December to March. Visitors can zip around the rink positioned in the middle of Red Square so that skaters are surrounded by the magnificent sight of the Kremlin and St Basil’s Cathedral while on the blades.
The Original Russian Products
Since it is not only about shopping, GUM mall also allows visitors to discover some traditional Russian products displayed at several pavilions.
The “Kokoshnik” Pavilion
One of the old Russian products visitors learn about at the mall is the “kokoshnik”. It is a traditional headwear with a high crest used by married women in old Russia to conceal their hair.
The “Gzhel” Pavilion
Traditional blue and white ceramics and porcelain items are also shown at the mall’s “Gzhel” pavilion. “Gzhel” is the name of the region where this craft started in the 1800s. They are considered marvellous masterpieces of Russian art.
The “Matryoshka” Pavilion
Still, at GUM Shopping Mall, visitors surely won’t want to miss the colourful matryoshka (dolls) pavilion. It is the place where visitors can glance at Russian-carved toys made only of natural wood.
A Tourist Attraction
The royal look of the building has made GUM Shopping Mall one of the tourist attractions in Russia. Its remarkable architecture and designs make it a must-visit while in the capital.
Besides the beautiful shopping experience, GUM is a popular venue for cultural events and parties. Visitors are in for great fun inside GUM Shopping Mall through its fair, allowing them to explore Russian crafts and cuisine.
If you are in Moscow for shopping, you will want to visit GUM Shopping Mall. It tops the list of 14 best shopping places in the Russian capital.
Planning to visit GUM Shopping Mall while in Moscow? You need not worry about when to shop. This mega department store opens from 11:00 a.m. until 10:00 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. On Fridays, the mall starts at 11:00 a.m. and closes at 11:00 p.m. The working hours are from 10:00 a.m. until 11:00 p.m. during the weekends and holidays.
GUM is open all days of the week, so get ready and let’s begin the shopping adventure!