Spanning nearly two continents and 11 time zones, Russia is country full of wonder and surprise. The Russian Far East and Siberia are synonymous with remoteness, while St. Petersburg’s elegance evokes memories of long lost Czars. Moscow’s Kremlin and St. Basil’s Cathedral are quintessential symbols of this enormous country.
Traveling in Russia means scaling down to the regional level. Find something that interests you, be it for example European Russia, the Urals, or the Far East. This guide aims to offer a few suggestions for novice travelers. You can use it as a launching pad for further exploration.
It is overwhelmingly likely you will arrive in Russia in either Moscow or St. Petersburg. These two extraordinary Russian cities should be on anyone’s travel list.
Moscow is Europe’s largest city and the political, economic, cultural, and scientific center of Russia. The city is arrayed with a series of concentric ring roads, and many Muscovites denote locations with respect to these rings. Moscow is home to stunning architecture as well as lots of beautiful green spaces. If your time is limited, spend most of it within the Garden Ring. At the heart of Moscow is the famous Moscow Kremlin, which houses the home and offices of Russia’s president. Tour the inner grounds and visit the impressive cathedrals there.
Afterwards, wander around Red Square where you can see the famous Kremlin Wall, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the tombs of other Russian dignitaries. Opposite the Kremlin across Red Square is the GUM Department Store, head in here for some shopping and souvenir hunting. Afterwards, wander down to the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, which is recognized as the world’s finest example of Russian architecture. From here you can walk or take transit to Gorky Park, a large central park along the Moscow River. At night, nearby Arabat District is a great place for food, drinks, and more shopping.
St. Petersburg is Russia’s window into Europe. Peter the Great wanted a place from which Russia could trade with the major European powers. St. Petersburg grew rapidly during the 18th century as a result. In 1732, the city became the capital of Russia and would remain so until the October Revolution in 1917. Because of its northern latitude, it is known as the land of the midnight sun. In summer, residents fill cafes and restaurants late into the night as they enjoy the abundance of daylight hours.
St. Petersburg’s many attractions are relatively concentrated and walking is typically the best way to get around. Be sure to visit the Winter Place, which houses part of the world-famous Hermitage Museum, the world’s second-largest art museum. Soak in the palace’s grandeur and marvel at the assorted tastes of Russia’s many czars. From here wander through Alexander Garden before exploring up Nevsky Avenue. Many of the city’s landmarks are clustered around Nevsky Avenue including Kazan Cathedral, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and St. Michael’s Castle. You can easily fill up a few days in this area alone, so don’t worry, you won’t be without things to do here.
Irkutsk / Lake Baikal
For travelers wishing to venture to Eastern Russia, the areas around Lake Baikal are nothing short of breathtaking. The administrative capital and largest city in the region is Irkutsk. Dubbed the “Paris of Siberia,” don’t pass up the city sights in your haste to get to the lake. Start in Kirov Square with a walk around, then be sure to visit nearby Epiphany Cathedral. Work your way to 130 Kravtel and see the beautiful recreation of Siberian timber houses. Finally, if you’re looking for another sightly building, Kazan Church is well worth the visit.
Lake Baikal is the region’s prime draw. It’s the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume, containing nearly a quarter of the planet’s total freshwater supply. Stunningly beautiful, Lake Baikal is a treasure as much for its remoteness. Travelers who venture here earn their merit badges. The climate around the lake features four distinct seasons. In summer the mountains and grasslands are verdant green, autumn brings golden hues across the countryside, in winter the lake freezes over, before the spring thaw sees a return of warmth and life. This is a place to experience nature’s majesty.
Travelers from Asia may find Vladivostok more accessible than destinations in European Russia. As Russia’s Asian port, there is a fascinating blending of cultures here. The areas around Sportivnaya Harbor are a great place for a stroll or a dip in the water on hot summer days. Vladivostok Railway Station is the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway. The station is a symbol of Russian engineering and has some railway heritage artifacts on display. If you’re interested in naval history, check out the Submarine C-56 memorial where you can tour a decommissioned Russian submarine. Finally, snap some pictures of the city’s famous modern bridges, which were built by the Russian government in an effort to promote regional integration and development.
Russia’s is nearly unimaginable in its size. Long a destination for travelers attracted to its exoticness, Russia has a lot to offer. Whether you confine yourself to the megacities in the west or the natural wonders in the east, there is something to discover while on the road in Russia. Let the horizon be your guide as you set out to explore the vastness of this beautiful country.