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With 11 time zones and an area spanning Asia, Europe and almost touching North America, Russia is the world’s largest country. With great size comes great diversity – be it Russia’s geographical vastness or the culture of its numerous ethnic groups. From top-notch cities to off-the-beaten-track destinations, a trip to Russia is nothing short of an adventure.
Russia’s capital Moscow is a sophisticated city on the Moskva River. Known for its historical and architectural legacy, Moscow is dotted with a labyrinth of churches, cathedrals, fortresses and museums. This cosmopolitan city – located in the southwest region of Russia, is the best place to start your Russian exploration. Located in the heart of Moscow, the fortified complex of the Moscow Kremlin along with the adjacent Red Square are the most recognized symbols of not only the capital, but also Russia. Known as the founding site of Moscow, the Kremlin is the primary working residence of the country’s president. To the southern end of cobblestoned Red Square lies St Basil’s Cathedral – the most celebrated Christian monument in Moscow. Known for its beautiful architecture, the cathedral dates back to the 16th-century. Together with the Kremlin and Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral is a UNESCO world heritage site. Russia is known for its communist history and various Soviet-era remains can be seen in its capital city.
To learn more about the history of the country, you should visit sites like Lenin’s Mausoleum – the resting place of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, State Historical Museum – a striking architectural gem where you can learn Russia’s history and culture, All-Russian Exhibition Center (VDNKh) – a huge complex of monuments, fountains and pavilions and Armoury – the city’s one of the oldest museums that dates back to the early-16th-century. Apart from these, Moscow’s other notable highlights include Sparrow Hills – one of the highest points in the city that offers excellent panoramic views, Gorky Park – a beautiful park to enjoy outdoor activities, Kolomenskoye – a historical open-air museum, Tsaritsyno Museum-Reserve – an 18th-century palace museum and Ostankino Television Tower – a 540m tall tower with an observation deck.
Russia’s second-largest city St Petersburg is located about 700km northwest of Moscow. This port city on the Baltic Sea was once the imperial capital of Russia and features several Imperial palaces, museums and cultural centers. Known as the cultural capital of Russia, St Petersburg’s State Hermitage Museum is the most visited site in the city. This art and culture museum is the world’s second-largest art museum and houses over three million items (however, not all of them are for public display). Apart from that the city has the Russian Museum, which is the world’s largest collection of Russian fine art. Adjacent to the State Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace was the official residence of the Russian Emperors for almost 200 years. Along with its palaces and museums, the city’s squares like Palace Square, St Isaac’s Square and Senate Square and churches and cathedrals like Savior on the Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and Kazan Cathedral are the must-visit sites in St Petersburg. With a coastal atmosphere and easy to reach beach, St Petersburg offers a different experience from landlocked Moscow.
Russia is so vast that if we start describing every city and town, it would take a considerable amount of time to finish. So instead of taking all your time, let’s explore the country by its regions. From the country capital Moscow you can easily explore the Golden Ring and Volga Region. Located northeast of Moscow, the Golden Ring region is known for its collection of medieval towns like Sergiev Posad, Suzdal and Rostov. In these towns you will come across numerous whitewashed golden-domed churches and medieval monasteries along with historic architecture, religious art and traditional handicrafts and food. Away from the urban areas, renting a bicycle is the best way to explore the countryside. After the day’s exploration, don’t forget to take a hot bath, which is known as banya, to unwind and add a perfect ending to your day.
The Volga Region revolves around the Volga River – the longest river in Europe that flows through Central Russia and into the Caspian Sea. You can opt for a Volga river cruise from Moscow to Astrakhan to experience the best of the region. The Volga region is a potpourri of various ethnic groups including the Volga Tatras. Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan and Volgograd are the most notable cities in the region. Even though they share the same region, these cities are quite different from each other.
Volgograd is the largest city in the Volga Region and mostly known for its WWII heritage. Once known as Stalingrad, here you will find the iconic statue of The Motherland Calls. The city’s Stalinesque grandeur can be seen in its expansive boulevards and public buildings. Kazan and Nizhny Novgorod are located about 400km away from each other. Kazan’s claim to fame is its UNESCO world heritage listed Kazan Kremlin, where lies another popular site of the city – Kul Sharif Mosque. Other than that Kazan is a mixture of Asia and Europe and famed for being older than Moscow. Nizhny Novgorod is sometimes referred to as the “third capital” of Russia and the country’s fifth-largest city. Similar to Moscow and Kazan, it also has a Kremlin, which is located in a hilltop and offers amazing views of the meeting point of Volga and Oka rivers. Here, you can see a cluster of museums including the popular Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum. You can also arrange river excursions to its nearby towns.
The Ural Mountains is the home to Zyuratkul National Park – a remote quiet park. Famed for its excellent hiking and climbing the Zyuratkul range and swimming the Lake Zyuratkul, the park offers great photo opportunities amidst its striking landscape.
Russia’s Western European region is located, well, in the west of the country and can be reached from both Moscow and St Petersburg. Birthplace of many great minds like Tolstoy and Turgenev, this is an ancient region in the country that is dotted with cultural and archaeological treasures. The region’s major destinations include Veliky Novgorod, Smolensk and Yasnaya Polyana. Veliky Novgorod, nicknamed as the “Birthplace of Russia”, is a beautiful city and home to the oldest church in Russia – Cathedral of St Sophia. Together with a UNESCO world heritage listed historic center, the city attracts many visitors from St Petersburg – which is located only about 200km away. Smolensk, on the other hand, is popular for churches like the hilltop Assumption Cathedral, picturesque parks like the well-manicured Lopatinsky Garden and striking architecture of the 16th-century Smolensk Kremlin. Even though the name Yasnaya Polyana is quite familiar to the players of PUBG, it has nothing to do with war or video games. Instead, it is famous as the birthplace of Leo Tolstoy and you can visit the writer’s home, which is now turned into a museum.
Jaw-dropping natural beauty is the main forte of the country’s Northern European region. This is where you should come to enjoy the natural phenomena of northern lights and the midnight Sun. Yes, you can watch the midnight sun from St Petersburg too, but watching it in this region amidst its beautiful nature, gives you an unforgettable experience.
When you are here the islands of Kizhi and Solovetsky and the Kola Peninsula are the best places to explore and experience the region. Kizhi Island is located in Lake Onega and can be visited on a ferry from the nearby city of Petrozavodsk, which will give you 4 hours to explore the island before returning back to the city. It might sound less, but it is the sufficient amount of time to explore this 5-sq-km island and its 15th-century architecture. The Solovetsky Islands group is a UNESCO world heritage site and located in the Onega Bay of the White Sea. Most people come here to visit its namesake monastery and learn the history of its former USSR prison camps. Keep in mind that it is still quite remote and a trip to here is nothing less than an adventure. Earlier, when we talked about the region’s best northern lights and midnight sun sightings, the place we had on mind was Kola Peninsula. Located almost completely inside the Arctic Circle, this striking peninsula offers excellent wilderness and picturesque towns.
The Russian Caucasus region is located near the border of Georgia. This mountainous region boasts striking ethnic diversity, breathtaking scenery, spa towns and excellent ski resorts. Here, you will get a chance to meet the highest mountain in Europe – Mount Elbrus. With a difficulty level ranging from easy to moderate, many people visit the region with the sole purpose of climbing the mountain. Along with mountain climbing and skiing, the reason also offers great trekking, horse riding, white-water rafting and paragliding. When Russia organized the 2014 Winter Olympics, Krasnaya Polyana was the location that hosted all the ski events and since then, it has become a paradise for ski lovers. Sochi, located on the Black Sea coast, is the main city in the region. Sochi is Russia’s favourite resort city and known for its beautiful palm-fringed white-sand beaches.
Siberia is a massive region in Russia and can be divided into two parts – Eastern and Western. The region’s terrain is covered with tundra, forests, lakes and mountain ranges. It is the home to the deepest lake in the world – Lake Baikal. There are plenty of excellent hiking routes around the lake, which are collectively known as the Great Baikal Trail. The lake’s Olkhon Island is the third-largest river island in the world and one of the best places in the region to unwind. Lake Teletskoye is another popular lake in the region and known for its scenic views and boat rides. The historical city of Irkutsk makes a great base for exploring Lake Baikal. It is the de facto capital of Eastern Siberia and features 19th-century architecture, churches and great eating and accommodation options.
Siberia’s largest and Russia’s third-largest city Novosibirsk is a quiet destination with a cluster of museums,monuments, galleries and an iconic cathedral. In Siberia, you will come across the longest railway line in the world – the Trans-Siberian Railway Network, which runs from Moscow to Vladivostok. Novosibirsk, along with Irkutsk, makes an important pitstop in the Trans-Siberian train journey.
The Far East region of Russia is located between Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia and the Pacific Ocean. This is the country’s one of the least explored regions and offers an off-the-beaten-track vibe. The Kamchatka peninsula is the most scenic location in the region and features rivers, hot springs, volcanoes and snow-capped mountains. Far East’s main cities are Vladivostok and Khabarovsk. Though both cities boast striking architecture, they are quite different from each other. While Vladivostok is one the country’s most important commercial ports and naval bases and has an island and sandy beach dotted Pacific coastline, Khabarovsk is known for its riverside setting, verdant surroundings and vibrant nightlife.
Away from the mainland, Kaliningrad is tucked in between Poland and Lithuania along the coast of the Baltic Sea. The city is known for its German and USSR heritage and European culture, architecture and nearby beaches. Kaliningrad’s charm lies within its leafy parks, excellent museums and historical enclaves. With good public transport and friendly locals, the city offers a traveler-friendly atmosphere and good eating and accommodation options.
When you plan a trip to a country that stretches out to two continents and almost touches a third one, you can probably imagine how epic your experiences will be. From mountains to beaches and world-class cities to picturesque countryside, Russia has everything you could ever ask for. Together with excellent food and vodka-fueled nightlife, you will certainly fall in love with this unique country.
Russia is the largest county in the world.