Mighty Russia - the largest country in the world, spanning across nine different time zones, is as vast as it is diverse. With a multitude of lavish palaces, Soviet-era relics and famous cities to explore it's often hard to choose where to go on any stealthy Russian adventure. To help you make this tricky decision, we've listed eight of the very best places to visit in Russia below....
Capital of Russia, home of the mighty Kremlin and the legendary Red Square and the city that inspired dozens of spy novels. This amazing city began as a small provincial outpost but has become the cutting edge epicentre of Russia, with a fascinating history and a hedonistic night scene. In Red Square, feast your eyes upon the intensely coloured onion domed St Basil's Cathedral – the subject of countless postcards and an enduring symbol of Russia. You can also pay your respects to the father of Communism, Lenin, whose embalmed body has laid in the Square's eerie mausoleum since his death in 1924. Not to be missed, and opposite the mighty square is the golden domed Kremlin, Russia’s political powerhouse, where many infamous tyrants and dictators have conducted their business including Ivan the Terrible and Stalin. There is so much on offer in this exciting capital, including internationally acclaimed museums and galleries, markets, boutique shopping and restaurants, it’s hard to know where to start! Getting around Moscow is easy using the metro system which was a gift to the Soviet people from Joseph Stalin and a tourist attraction in itself.
St Petersburg - the jewel in Russia’s Imperial Crown, is an enchanting city with a rich history and elegant buildings, formed around a series of canals. It was from St Petersburg that the Autocratic Tsars ruled Russia for two centuries until the revolution in 1917. If it is history you like, then there is plenty in this grandiose city to keep you entertained. Visit the fabulous Winter Palace - once home of the Tsars, where you will find the world famous Hermitage collection, one of the biggest art collections on earth! Explore Peter and Paul Fortress with its impressive baroque interior - the oldest building in the city, which up until 1917 was a political prison that housed the likes of Trotsky. Take a look around St Isaac’s cathedral – one of the world’s largest cathedrals and the beautiful Church on Spilled Blood, which was built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was murdered in 1881. You can also pay a visit to the spectacular Summer Gardens at palatial Peterhof, which overlooks the Gulf of Finland and Catherine Palace at Tsarkoe Selo.
Located in the north west of Russia, just 30km from Estonia, the ancient and historical Pskov with its fortified riverside Kremlin and Trinity Cathedral is a firm favorite amongst tourists. Pskov dates back as far as 903, making it as old as the country itself. Pskov has retained much of its medieval outer-town walls and is crammed full of tiny, picturesque churches and fabulous examples of Byzantine architecture. Within the Kremlin's crumbling walls, is the gorgeous Trinity Cathedral, which is definitely a highlight of any visit to Pskov. Standing at 256 feet tall, the cathedral has a gilded domed roof, which can be seen from 30km away on a fine day, making it a prominent landmark. A short drive from Pskov brings you to the beautiful little settlement of Pechory, famed for its monastery, where you can explore the peaceful grounds of this still-working cloister which is home to over 70 monks. The monastery was founded in 1473 when the first hermits settled in local caves. If monastic law permits, enter the spooky burial caves where over 10,000 monks bodies lie in coffins, piled on top of each other in the tunnel walls.
The ancient and provincial town of Novgorod is en route from St Petersburg to Moscow and a popular pit-stop. This pretty town is of historic interest; being one of the oldest towns in the country, and once the leading political and cultural centre of Russia, when Moscow was just a small provincial outpost. Explore the once powerful Kremlin in Novgorod which is now a relic of the town’s once political significance. In the centre of town you will find the Cathedral of St Sophia, which is possibly the oldest building in Russia, and the Church of Our Saviour-at-Ilino with its breathtaking frescoes. Just out of town visit the pictureque 12th Century Yurev Monastery and enjoy a scenic boat trip down the Volkhov River.
Yekaterinburg is the first major stop in Asian Russia on the Trans-Siberian and the gateway to the Ural Mountains. Just 32 kms out of town you can stand with one foot in each continent at the Europe-Asia border marker! Known as City of the Romanovs, as it is synonymous with the murder of the Romanov family in July 1918. During a visit to this colourful city you can visit the Byzantine-style Church on Blood which reveres the Romanovs and is close to the partially demolished house where they were executed. Out of the city, you’ll find the beautiful Monastery of Martyrs – Gamina Yama, a cross marks the spot where the Romanovs bodies were discarded. Yekaterinburg is also a great place to get away for an active break with the Ural Mountains on the doorstep - in winter there is dog sledding or ice fishing and in summer hiking through the lush taiga forests is a must.
Suzdal is a small, picturesque town in the Vladimir region, which is officially protected against modern developments, and loaded to the hilt with old buildings such as the Kremlin and Cathedral. Dating back to 1024, ancient Suzdal forms part of the Golden Ring, with stunning medieval architecture and an astounding number of churches and monasteries, making it a major religious centre in Russia. Suzdal, with its pretty meadows and livestock that graze freely along the grassy lanes, retains the feel of a small pastoral village, despite the host of impressive buildings and a population of over 12,000 people. It is not hard to see why the town is so popular with tourists; in the beauty stakes Suzdal is unrivalled!
Vladimir, founded in 1108, was Russia’s capital for nearly two centuries before giving way to Moscow. It forms part of the ‘Golden Ring’ of ancient towns, dating back from the 12th to 17th Century, that have great historic, architectural, and religious significance in Russia. It is entirely possible to see the major sites of interest within a day; namely three beautiful landmarks, the Golden Gates, The Assumption Cathedral and St Dmitry Cathedral. The most prominent symbol of the city is the striking Golden Gates; built in 1163 to form part of the cities defenses, this impenetrable tower with its huge oak doors, is located at what was then the main entrance to the city. The Golden Gates now house Vladimir’s military museum which has some interesting exhibits, once you’ve conquered the very steep staircase! The city cathedrals, are arguably amongst the most beautiful buildings in Russia. In Cathedral Square is the magnificent Assumption Cathedral, which despite being destroyed by fire in 1185, was immaculately restored and is a breathtaking sight, with its white stone walls and golden domed roof. The Cathedral of St Dmitry is equally impressive; a white stone carved masterpiece, built by Prince Vsevolod III.
Karelia stretches from the White Sea coast to the Gulf of Finland. Carved out by a glacier thousands of years ago, it contains the two largest lakes in Europe, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega. Karelia is a beautiful region of hills, lakes, rivers, forest and steppes. The rich, lush landscape makes it possible to enjoy a whole host of outdoor leisure pursuits - hike, bike ride, sail, white water raft, swim, horse ride or pamper yourself in one of the many health spa and retreats. Virgin woods, superbly clean lakes and pristine rivers makes Karelia, perhaps one of Russia's best kept hideaways.
Located by the Gulf of Finland, 80 km south of Helsinki and just a short hop from St Petersburg lies Tallinn, the charming capital of Estonia. With a medieval Old Town, a jumble of medieval walls and turrets, needling spires and winding, cobbled streets full of cafes, bars and shops, Tallinn cannot fail to enchant. A must see is the Toompea (Cathedral Hill), the seat of the central authority: first the Danish captains, then the Swedish and Russian governors, today the Estonian government and many embassies.