Everything about Russia is monumental – its turbulent history, its astonishing cultural achievements, and its title as the world’s largest country covering more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited surface. Understanding this vast land has never come easily to outsiders. However, Russia is a country that offers it all from historic cities and idyllic countryside to epic train journeys and an intoxicating vodka-fuelled nightlife.
Described as ‘a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma’ by Winston Churchill, the mystery of Russia has always fascinated and the raising of the Iron Curtain has led to millions of tourists venturing beyond the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg for the first time. The iconic city of Moscow is, without a doubt, the best place to begin exploring this stunning country, with routes such as the Golden Ring and the Trans-Siberian Railway offering the perfect chance to see both historical and rural Russia.
The Golden Ring loops around the northeast of Moscow and encompasses a collection of superbly preserved cities dating from the Medieval period. Here, you can explore the star-sprinkled domes of Suzdal, the ancient monasteries of Kostroma, the exquisite churches of Vladimir, and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed city center of Yaroslavl.
Whichever Russia you choose to explore, you are sure to encounter passionate and hospitable locals who are likely to leave the most lasting impression on your journey.
The 860-year-old capital of the Russian Federation, Moscow is a truly iconic and global city. For many westerners, Moscow may look entirely European. However, the chaotic spirit of the city is never far beneath the surface. Today’s Moscow couldn’t be further removed from its humble beginnings as a small wooden town, as it quickly becomes one of the world’s most visited cities.
From its historical, political, and financial attraction for foreign business travelers to the world-renowned universities that attract students from around the world, Moscow is a melting-pot in every sense of the word with a superb dining scene and a fast-paced nightlife reflecting its cosmopolitan population.
Russia’s second-largest city and former capital, St. Petersburg is known as the country’s ‘window to the west’ and is one of the most glorious cities in the world. It is said that there are whole countries who can’t boast as many great sights like this one city, and this is plainly evident when wandering through the UNESCO World Heritage-listed historic center which is packed with significant buildings, threaded with winding canals, and dotted with Baroque bridges.
The ‘Venice of the North’ is an ideal destination for those in search of culture with countless palaces and art galleries, history with numerous historical figures leaving their mark on the city, fun with a legendary nightlife, and thriving café culture.
Although only the eighth most populous city in Russia, Kazan is commonly referred to as Russia’s third capital and the city ‘Where Europe meets Asia’. The capital of the Tatarstan Republic, the city, pre-dates Moscow by around 150 years and is the center of world Tatar culture – a rich Muslim culture with its own language, evident in the bilingual street signs and government. However, the Slavic Russians make up around half of the population and Kazan has become famous for its religious tolerance and friendliness. The pride of the city is its UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kremlin, and the renovation project to celebrate the city’s 1,000-year anniversary in 2005 has made many more attractions more accessible.
Previously known by its German name of Königsberg when it was renowned for its regal architecture and cosmopolitan culture, Kaliningrad now has more than a slight air of its days as a USSR outpost about it. However, don’t let the imposing Stalin-stamped buildings and Soviet monuments fool you. Kaliningrad is a wonderfully pleasant city with outstanding museums, leafy parks, and charming neighborhoods. The streets are easy to navigate, and the locals are always willing to lend visitors a hand or point them in the right direction.
Located in eastern Siberia, the astonishing Lake Baikal is one of the world’s oldest geological features, formed between 25 and 30 million years ago. It is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world and a treasured UNESCO World Heritage Site. During the summer, you can enjoy outstanding vistas across waters of the purest blue to rising mountain ranges on the opposite shore. If you are traveling in winter, you can marvel at the powder-white surface, frozen solid in temperatures well below zero and ice roads. The lake contains almost one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water, more than all the Great Lakes in North America combined, and is pure enough to drink from in most places.
Covered in palm trees and bathed in a subtropical climate, Sochi is known as the gateway to the ‘Russian Riviera.’ The city received massive media attention in 2014 when it hosted the Winter Olympics. However, the events in the games were actually held in the neighboring resort of Adler and Krasnaya Polyana – no actual events took place in the city of Sochi. The lively pedestrian-only sea embankment is the activity center of the city, packed with bars and cafés, and providing an idyllic spot to watch the sun set behind the Black Sea horizon. In stark contrast is the towering mountains which provide top class ski resorts. It is this combination of beaches and mountains that makes Sochi unique.