I visited Russia’s most iconic department store, a 126-year-old building in the heart of Moscow. It was a far cry from most American shopping centres I’ve been to.

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Russia’s most iconic department store is in the heart of Moscow’s Red Square. Katie Warren/Business Insider
  • GUM is the most iconic department store in Russia.
  • It opened in the heart of Red Square in Moscow in 1893 and today includes luxury shops such as Louis Vuitton and Prada, as well as a beloved 1950s-style shop selling gourmet food items, wine, chocolate, and classic Soviet products.
  • On a recent trip to Moscow, I visited the 126-year-old shopping center, and it had a different vibe from US department stores.
  • GUM’s distinctive architecture and design, touches like an ice-cream bike and a throwback Soviet-era grocery store, and the abundance of live plants set the space apart from most US shopping centres.
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New York City has Barneys and Bergdorf Goodman, Paris has Le Bon Marché, and London has Harrods.

In Moscow, the most iconic department store is GUM, a massive 126-year-old structure in the heart of Red Square.

On a recent trip to Moscow, I visited the department store, which opened in 1893 and includes luxury shops like Prada and Louis Vuitton as well as a beloved 1950s-style shop selling gourmet food items, wine, chocolate, and classic Soviet products.

Here’s what it looks like.


GUM is Russia’s most iconic department store, located in the heart of Red Square in Moscow. More than 60,000 shoppers visit the shopping center every day.

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Source: GUM


GUM opened in 1893. Until the 1920s, it was known as the Upper Trading Rows.

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GUM, then called the Upper Trading Rows, in the 1910s. Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images

Source: GUM


On a recent trip to Russia, I went to check out the 126-year-old department store.

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Source: GUM


I was surprised by the level of security I had to pass through to get in — most department stores I’ve been to in the US don’t have full-body scanners at the entrance.

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Source: GUM


There was even a second security checkpoint at the revolving doors.

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Source: GUM


From the moment I stepped into GUM, I was pleasantly surprised.

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Source: GUM


I’m not usually a fan of department stores because in the US, at least, they all look the same and they seem isolated from the city they’re in, so you can easily forget where you even are. But this one had a different vibe from what I’ve typically found in its American equivalents.

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Source: GUM


The domed glass ceiling let in plenty of natural sunlight …

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Source: GUM


… and live plants and flowers gave the space a fresh, cheerful vibe.

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Source: GUM


A fountain anchors the center of the shopping center …

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Source: GUM


… and the unique architecture creates a sense of blended interiors and exteriors.

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Source: GUM


An employee riding an ice-cream bicycle added to the whimsical feel of the department store.

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Source: GUM


Actually, there was no shortage of places where people could get ice cream.

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Source: GUM


GUM’s luxury boutiques include places like Fendi …

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Source: GUM


… and Louis Vuitton, both of which can be found in luxury shopping centres around the world.

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Source: GUM


But there were also shops like Gastronome, a delightful 1950s-style store that sells gourmet food items, wine, chocolate, and classic Soviet products like candies, seafood, and caviar.

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Source: GUM


I spent the majority of my time at GUM browsing through the selection at Gastronome, which sells freshly baked pastries and Russian chocolate as well as candles, cheese, tea, wine, and, of course, vodka.

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Source: GUM


GUM’s dining and drinks options include a smoothie bar, a Champagne bar, a caviar bar, and Bosco Café, which has an internal terrace as well as an outdoor area right on Red Square.

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Source: GUM


One potential downside of GUM for some people is that there’s no air conditioning in the main space, only in the individual stores.

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Source: GUM


But for me, a person who finds most American shopping centres to be overly air-conditioned to the point where the air feels stale and artificial, it was a plus.

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Source: GUM


You also have to pay 50 rubles — or about $US0.80 — to use the bathroom in GUM, which could bother some Americans who aren’t used to paying to enter a restroom.

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Source: GUM


GUM has several major differences that set it apart from US department stores — and that’s exactly why it’s so charming.

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From the two security checkpoints I had to pass through before even entering the store to the distinctive architecture, GUM is nothing like the American shopping centres I’ve visited.

In contrast to the typical modern, sleek department stores in the US, GUM’s beautiful glass ceiling lets in plenty of natural sunlight. Real flowers and greenery and whimsical details like an ice-cream bike made the space feel lively and fun.

These details were a stark contrast from shopping centres like the Shops at Hudson Yards in New York, where the interior is all shiny blacks and silvers and artificial fluorescent lights.

While the lack of air conditioning and the fee for the bathroom could be seen as negatives, I found GUM to be a far cry from generic American shopping centres – in a good way.