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Russia is unbelievably vast. Sizewise, it outstrips the world’s second-largest country, Canada, by magnitudes. It covers a full eighth of Earth’s habitable land area! Although its land mass straddles Europe and Asia, Russia’s culture is unmistakably European. Dotted by picturesque wooden homes and churches in the shadows of soaring palaces rich with cupolas, minarets, and gold-leaf detail, this is a land of treasures both great and small. The jewels of the Romanovs are ensconced here (in the enormous, gorgeous Winter Palace of the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg), along with Lenin’s tomb, the vast and foreboding majesty of the Kremlin, and the sparkling frozen tundras of Siberia. Beauty surrounds one here, both natural and of the type built by human hands.

A profound excellence in ballet and opera graces the country, although other arts are rich and splendid as well: traditional Russian folk dance is a key example. Nor will you lack for delicious food! The beets, borscht, vodka, and potatoes with which Russian cuisine are strongly associated are just the tip of the iceberg, so to speak. Did you know that the country is also known for toothsome hard cheeses, high-quality Muscovite honey, chocolate, and vinegars? The caviar is also as delightful as you’ve heard! You’ll want to pick up traditional souvenirs like matryoshka, or nesting dolls, as well as samovars (for brewing tea or coffee) of precious metals and gemstones.

Top Sights in Russia

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg was once called Petrograd and then Leningrad, but it has always been called beautiful. Indeed, the entire city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site! St. Petersburg is crisscrossed by meandering rivers ornamented with baroque bridges. In ways both obvious and subtle, this is a city full of treasure. The Hermitage Museum is renowned the world over for its priceless collection of art, jewels, and antiquities, a legacy of the doomed Romanov dynasty. Works by Michelangelo, Rubens, Rembrandt, and others grace the labyrinthine halls of the Winter Palace. Several cathedrals, including the Church of the Savior, Saint Isaac’s, and Our-Lady-of-Kazan, highlight both the deep faith of Russians throughout history as well as the knockout beauty of the classical architecture, which is rich in mosaics, minarets, and cupolas. One cannot visit St. Petersburg without attending both the ballet and the opera, of course. The Russian ballet tradition is famed the world over, and nowhere is dance as graceful and heartrending as in St. Petersburg. Opera at Mariinsky Hall is a world-class experience, and shouldn’t be missed. Boat tours of the myriad canals are a popular way to check out the city!

Moscow

The Russian capital is a mosaic of history, a city that bears at least a small trace of all those who passed through it. Its imperial history, more recent Soviet past, and post-Soviet modernity all coexist side-by-side in this sprawling metropolis. The heart of Moscow is the Red Square, which encompasses the Lenin Mausoleum and St. Basil Cathedral. Right beside it is the star attraction of any visit to Moscow: the sweeping expanse of the Kremlin, a huge complex consisting of several palaces and cathedrals. Book a ticket at the famed Bolshoi Theater, check out the Old Masters at the Pushkin Museum, marvel at the Byzantine era Church of the Ascension (built to commemorate the birth of Ivan the Terrible), or settle in with a drink to watch the in-crowd swan about in Gorky Park. There are two circuses, a zoo, a water park, and chances to take a hot air balloon tour of the city!

Kizhi

The island of Kizhi is located in the geometric center of Lake Onega, in Karnelia. It is known for its historic wooden buildings, the most prominent of which is the Kizhi Pogost. This enclosure contains two 18th-century churches, in addition to a bell tower, the sum of which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The massive Transfiguration Church, or “summer church,” is known for its 22 domes and massive gold-leaf iconostasis. The Intercession Church, or “winter church,” is smaller, has 9 domes. Both were built of logs, without a single nail or screw. Blue cornflower blooms run riot over the island in the spring, making a pretty picture indeed. The open-air state Kizhi Museum contains a total of 89 wooden buildings, including windmills, granaries, houses, and barns. The old peasant homes have traditional handicrafts displayed inside and windchimes tied outside so that, when the lake breezes blow, the whole island comes alive with the delicate ringing of bells.

Sochi

Gorgeous Sochi is tucked away by the Black Sea, and has been called the beach resort capital of Russia. Its fame was isolated within Russian boundaries before 2007, when the city won the coveted bid to host the 2014 Winter Olympic Games. As of the time of this writing, the Sochi Olympic Park was nearing completion. Despite its seemingly inevitable destiny to be associated with cold-weather sport, Sochi is known far more for its summer pastimes. When in town, visit the 12th century Byzantine Loo temple and Empire Style Stalinist buildings for a brush with beautiful architecture. Yachting and boat tours allow visitors to savor Sochi’s seaside wonders! For more natural marvels, check out Sochi National Park—trek mountain and canyon paths alike, explore the Vorontsova Cave system, and view highly-endangered yew and boxwood tree species. Sochi is also proud of its tea, which is the northernmost produced tea in the world—the Dagomys tea plantation is a popular site for tours.

Irkutsk

Irkutsk is the biggest and best-known city in Siberia. Its historical significance as a haven for artists and free thinkers during the Decembrist revolt has lent it a sophistication and distinction of architecture and culture profound enough that it is often referred to as the “Paris of Siberia.” Many visitors arrive here by way of the Trans-Siberia Railroad! The journey is truly part of the adventure when you hop a sleeper train car to chug through the frozen tundra on this world-famous track. Once in Irkutsk, the homes of former Decembrist rebels and historic wooden buildings are big tickets for sightseers. The old churches are also beautiful, all painted in bright colors. Visit the large statue of writer A. Vampilov and squeeze his right thumb for luck! In winter time, the central park becomes a winter wonderland of ice sculptures, an ice slide, and an ice house big enough to walk around in! Elk fur boots and wooden handicrafts like wood carvings, birchwood boxes, and ornaments of lacquered wood are traditional souvenirs.

The Golden Ring

The “Golden Ring” refers to a roughly circular grouping of historic towns located between St. Petersburg and Moscow. Loaded in breathtaking traditional architecture and rich in exquisite artwork, these cities were once close enough to get between in just one day on horseback. Today, their proximity makes for a delightful whirlwind of a detour when shuttling between Russia’s two biggest cities. There’s Sergiev Posad, home of the Russian Orthodox Church and the exquisite Troitse-Sergiyev Monastery. It is known for baking delightful hot cross buns, best washed down with some authentic, strong Russian coffee! Kostroma is an ancient city containing several huge, old, and beautiful monasteries. An outdoor museum of wooden architecture invites you to marvel at the ingenuity behind the historic churches and homes, each built without screws or nails. There’s six other “official” towns in the Golden Circle, as well as several others that claim inclusion by means of tradition.

Quick Facts

Capital: Moscow
Primary Airports: Sheremetyevo International Airport (SVO), Domodedovo International Airport (DME), Vnukovo International Airport (VKO)
Government: Federation / Semi-Presidential Republic
Currency: Ruble (RUB)
Population: 143,500,000 (20012 est.)
Language: Russian
Electricity: 230V/50Hz (European)
Time Zone: UTC +2 to UTC +12
Russia

Russia Travel Reviews


Don't Lick the Walls!

Anonymous

I’ve had more than one person tell me that they thought St. Petersburg, Russia was the most beautiful city in the world. While I don't necessarily agree, I do think there are some gorgeous things to see everywhere around the city. In fact, some of my favorite things are in very surprising places.

Of course, the Peterhof Palace and the Hermitage Museum are two things that I believe everyone should see, but I want to add something unusual to the list: the Metro. Honestly. The St. Petersburg Metro has to be the most beautiful Metro in the world. To get to the Metro, you will have to travel up to 86 meters below ground in places. Which also happens to make it one of the deepest metro’s in the world.

Once you are there, you will think that you must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and ended up inside the palace of some eccentric underground-dwelling Tsar. There are marble columns, elaborate mosaics, and elegant chandeliers scattered all about the place. It looks as though a formal ball is about to break out at any moment.

Next to the Metro, I think everyone should see the Catherine Palace. Or rather, the Amber Room, which is inside the Catherine Palace. While this is only a replica (the original disappeared during World War II, presumed to have been stolen by the Nazi’s), it is one of the most fabulous masterpieces I have ever seen. Every tiny thing inside this extraordinary room was painstakingly crafted from amber. I had no idea that amber came in so many different colors and shades. From the deep golden brown that we are most familiar with to pale creams and rich greens. It looked like candy. I was tempted to lick the mirror frames!

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Destinations Visited: Russia

The Road Less Traveled

Anonymous

While it was not my first trip to Russia, my wife had an eye-opening experience during our recent trip to the country. We flew into Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport and took a bus and the metro to our hotel. The hotel that we stayed in had a certain Soviet charm that was undeniable, but it was not up to the same standards as the hotels we had frequented in other countries. Our tour of Red Square and the Kremlin was amazing, and we were able to get some great pictures with St. Peter's Basilica in the background. One of the most memorable experiences about the vacation was going to see Lenin's body in his Mausoleum on Red Square. We were shushed by the guards who stand constant watch over the former dictator's body. It was creepy and exhilarating at the same time. After a few days, we caught an overnight train from Moscow to St. Petersburg to explore the Venice of the north. My wife found the Hermitage to be one of the top museums in all of Europe, and I really enjoyed touring the Peter and Paul fortress in the heart of the city. Overall, our trip to Russia was a four-star vacation that was interesting, but one that lacked some of the amenities that are present in other parts of Europe. To travel in Russia, it is very beneficial to have a working knowledge of Russian. The entry requirements are also very stringent for Americans and many Europeans.

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Destinations Visited: Russia

Wrestling in Russia

Anonymous

I traveled to Russia when it was still the USSR, in 1986. We went as the first high school cultural exchange team allowed into the USSR. We entered Russia via train from Finland and I remember older Finnish gentlemen standing by the windows with tears in their eyes, remembering how the land we were traveling through, used to belong to Finland, until WWII, but now was part of the USSR. We were immediately stopped at the Finland Station in Leningrad and our bags were methodically searched for contraband coming in from Finland. We had none and were taken off the train and loaded onto a bus. We were taken to our hotel and then we toured with a guide and a guard to see the Winter Palace and Smolny Catherdral. We wrestled the next 3 days and then we toured a paper making plant. From there we were flown to Moscow on Aeroflot Airlnes. In Moscow we stayed in the Metropol Hotel, I believe, and were able to see Red Square and the Kremlin. We witnessed the massive lines of people standing for hours to see Lenin's remains in a glass case. It happened every time the exhibit was opened. We toured St. Basil's Cathedral and the stunning tapestries and art were amazing, finally we were treated to the Moscow State Circus. We wrestled 3 more times and then were allowed to tour the city on our own. We didn't stray too far from our hotel, but did find the Hermatage Museum, it was overwelming in size and material. Overall, the experience was awesome nd I would love to go back someday.

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Destinations Visited: Russia

Prepared To Be Overawed By The Russian Capital

Tony Gillen

Friends and I traveled to Moscow. We expected to see what everyone expects to see and we saw it. What we did not expect was to be overawed by the sheer magnificence of the buildings and the public works.

Red Square is, of course, the magnet for everyone visiting this ancient and glorious city. It is bounded by iconic tourist attractions, all of which are must-see destinations. To do everything properly you should allow at least three full days. We went to Lenin’s Mausoleum, which is only open Tuesdays to Thursdays, and was worth the wait in line. The Kremlin, with its gold-domed cathedrals, is a huge complex containing so many buildings which have now been converted into museums. St. Basil’s Cathedral is, in my opinion, the most peculiarly-designed church in the world, but well worth going inside; it is truly unique. GUM is the great and picturesque department store standing opposite the Kremlin and is definitely where you go for lunch!

On your other days visit the Lenin Library, Gorky Park and then walk along the banks of the Moscow River. Save at least half a day to be mesmerized by the Moscow Metro. Just ride the trains and get off at every station on the older lines. If you want to see one of the wonders of the transport world this is it. Every station is dedicated to a hero of the Soviet Union. You will see works of art on the walls, chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, marble columns and marble tiles to walk on. The stations are all spotlessly clean.

Moscow is too big to travel around on foot but taxis and public transport are readily available and easy to use. Everyone we met – even the occasional police officer – was friendly and helpful - and most of them spoke English.

Our visit to this world capital was a wonderful and unforgettable experience.

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Destinations Visited: Russia

Russia a Mixed Reaction

Samantha Livingstone

Traveling to Russia, my final destination was Kraznoyarsk, Siberia for humanitarian purposes. My group landed in Moscow.

The heart of Moscow was my first experience with Russia. A 60 degree day when we landed, the chill of Russia came as we toured Red Square. This rainy, damp day set an appropriate dark mood as we visited Lenin’s Mausoleum. Standing in Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral was impressively big, bold and colorful, then walking by the Kremlin Wall and wandering around Moscow’s central square was not that pleasant. But, I still must recommend it, for it is the most notable place in Russia.

Most appealing to me is its rich culture that brought to life the Russian literature and authors I studied in college. I was thrilled to experience the Russian Ballet, in Russia, at the Pushkin Theatre. A walk through famous Gorky Park was like tying a bow on top. You shouldn’t miss out on the first McDonalds to ever be opened in the world’s largest country, even if you are not a fan of McDonalds.

Kraznoyarsk, Siberia, is quaint with countryside appeal, a stark contrast to Moscow. The snow that had fallen couldn’t take away the beauty of the landscape. I recommend a walk along the countryside where the hills and views are picturesque. The hills are said to be a magnet for rock climbers. A boat along the Yenisey River that runs right through the city, and visiting the Kraznoyarsk Dam, were most enjoyable because of the surrounding scenery.

Russia was a chance of a lifetime, but not my favorite country.

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Destinations Visited: Russia

Trip to Russia

Anonymous

My wife and I have recently retired. Since we are both Russian descendants, we have decided to go to Russia for our anniversary. We have chosen the Baltic Sea Cruise as it encompasses of visiting Russia in addition to other regions. Our first stop was in Tallinn, Estonia where we have visited the Kardiorg Palace and the art collected by the former Empress Catherine I of Russia as well as the work of present artists. The cobblestone streets and the charm of the town felt like the time has stopped. We hiked around the city until we came upon a little café called Rataskaevu16. Tasty food, old world décor and friendly people all around us. We made great friends with several of them that day. The 14th century architecture with its medieval walls and stone structures is amazing. Make sure to check out the sea harbor where you can visit the maritime museum. Kadriorg Park is also worth seeing with its swan lake and a myriad of scenic views. We stayed at the Tree Sisters Hotel. It is a very romantic 5-star establishment where you are treated like a king. The next day we met the historical character, Old Thomas who is a legendary figure in Tallinn. We then participated in a make-belief fight with medieval weaponry such as catapults and crossbows. What we enjoyed the most was a private tour of the city and its attractions. It is more intimate and interesting as the guides are truly knowledgeable and accommodating.

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Destinations Visited: Russia

My Travels in Russia: Exploring the Unexpected

Anonymous

I recently made a commitment to do more traveling and to take more risks. With this new commitment in mind, I immediately had the thought to travel to the elusive and mysterious country of Russia.

I decided to limit my travel to Moscow since Russia is such a large country and much different from the United States. However, this did not feel limiting at all, as the city of Moscow is larger than most countries. Upon arrival, I spent an entire afternoon walking around the famed Red Square, located at the epicenter of Moscow. I absolutely loved exploring this area while admiring the city’s quintessentially Russian architecture, and I consider it a "must see" for anyone traveling here.

I appreciated the variety of restaurants and eateries offered in Moscow, too. At first I was worried that I would get bogged down by the heavy foods that largely comprise Russian cuisine, such as meat dumplings and pancakes to name just a few. But, I was thrilled at the high quality and variety of eating options within the city’s main radius. Lastly, I recommend that all travelers see at least one show at Moscow’s celebrated Bolshoi Theatre. Not only is the Bolshoi Ballet Company one of the most renowned on the globe, but the theatre itself is a breathtaking work of art.

The only minor drawback of my time in Moscow was a lack of planning. Moscow is immense, and thus I would recommend planning the main sights you want to see in advance. I would probably use a tour company, too, as I ran into a few hiccups due to language and cultural barriers. Nonetheless, the city’s rich history and culture make it a city to visit at least once in your lifetime.

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Destinations Visited: Russia

My cold and wonderful trip to Russia

Anonymous

My parents and I arrived in Russia during a March blizzard. Our first few days in Moscow over half of the season's snow fell on us in three days but, being Russia, nothing stopped. Sidewalks were cleared, the Kremlin was completely accessible, and we embarked on an auto tour of the city, from which we marveled at the Seven Sisters, the ring of gothic skyscrapers built by Stalin. I also loved St. Basil's Cathedral, with its ice-cream-colored onion domes. The subway also was incredible, a museum within itself, with many of the stations full of bright murals and different forms of architecture.

For a very different experience, we took an overnight train to Togliatti, where my brother taught English. It's a drab, utilitarian working town whose first use of color in architectural design was the Coca Cola advertisement put up in the early nineties. But even here there is history, a large Soviet military museum, and a city full of kind people who invited us into their homes for hot soup and conversation. We also went to a banya, a traditional Russian bathhouse, where we partook of a sauna, a cold pool, billiards, and lots of food and vodka until the afternoon was gone.

Our trip ended in St. Petersburg. It's the gem of European Russia, boasting wide streets, the Hermitage Museum, and more artsy subway stations. We loved the stark Museum of Political History, the Vodka Museum, and the campy culture show "Feel Yourself Russian".

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Destinations Visited: Russia

St. Petersburg, Russia

Amanda Rupp

A person could live in St. Petersburg for decades and still not see everything! I visited St. Petersburg for a few days as part of a Holland America Baltic Sea cruise, and I wish there had been more time. Our tour bus drove past countless sites that I would have loved to visit: the Bronze Horseman, the Church on Spilled Blood, the General Staff Building, the Rostral Column, and much more. My two favorites were the Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace. The Hermitage Museum was first opened by Catherine the Great. It is famous for housing the largest collection of paintings in the entire world. One of its most famous pieces is Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Madonna and Child.” The massive museum has more than enough collections and pieces to keep any art and culture enthusiast happy! While the entire city has a regal air thanks to years of Russian rulers living within the city, the Winter Palace stands out. It contains countless halls of ornate architecture and design. We saw everything, from bedrooms to hallways to dining rooms, and we learned interesting facts about Russian life throughout the ages; for example, one of the dining rooms was decorated with paintings of gruesome butchery, because people thought that the scenes would turn their stomachs enough to suppress their appetites. I highly recommend St. Petersburg to any traveler – one visit is not enough!

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Destinations Visited: Russia
Tour Operator: Holland America

My Adventures to Moscow Russia

Wil

I had the opportunity with my job to travel to Moscow, Russia at the start of the school year. My journey allowed me to visit Germany, England, the Ukraine and Ireland. Within the country of Russia, the top areas that I was smitten with were Leningrad and Zvenigorod.

Moscow was a very beautiful but congested area. I had the distinct opportunity to the Bolshoi Theatre for a stunning production, and I also enjoyed meandering around Red Square. I just had to see the famous tomb of Stalin. The Moskva River is breathtaking, and taking a river taxi was a unique experience.

Located about a thirty minute drive from Moscow is the upscale area of Zvenigorod. It is worth the journey. I got to visit the Zvenigorod Historical Museum and enjoy decadent cuisines from the plethora of eateries in this part of the country. Make sure to try the Vatrushka, which is an abundantly filled cheese Danish made from scratch.

The pace is very fast in this part of the world. There is lots of walking and public transportation is a must. The presence of police forces were always in plain sight. The fact that most people walk everywhere there go was a bit challenging, especially coming from someone who drives everywhere they go. The weather was moderate around this time of year and though there were some warm days, the nights seemed to be cooler. There is little humidity here. There is so much to see and do in the Moscow area that I only covered a fraction of what I wanted too. Exploring this area of the world was amazing and a stunning experience.

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Destinations Visited: Russia

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