The community has existed since the 12th century, although its first written mention is dated 1338. The town's name can be derived from two roots, meaning "to ring bells" and "town". It may be translated as "the town where they ring bells". Indeed, there is a legend, that when they rang bells in Zvenigorod, the sound could be heard in Moscow, situated some 50 km to the east. Though, there is no ruins or evidence of churches or monasteries in Zvenigorod in 12th century; so, real meaning of the town's name isn't clear.
Zvenigorod rose to prominence in the late 14th century, after it was bequeathed by Dmitry Donskoy to his second son Yuri, who founded his residence on the steep bank of the Moskva River. The local kremlin, called Gorodok, contains the only fully preserved example of 14th-century Muscovite architecture, the Assumption Cathedral (1399). The cathedral's interior features frescoes by the great Andrei Rublev.
Zvenigorod is primarily remembered for internecine wars waged by Yuri's sons for control of Moscow during the reign of their cousin Vasily II (1425–1462). After their party was defeated, the town was incorporated in Muscovy.
Zvenigorod was granted municipal rights in 1784. By the late 19th century, the town gained popularity among intelligentsia as a fashionable banlieu of Moscow. Many extravagant dachas were built in the neighbourhood. Some of these house museums of Sergey Taneev, Anton Chekhov, and Isaac Levitan.