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.
Home to the mighty Kremlin, legendary Red Square and iconic St Basil's Cathedral, Moscow is not only the capital of Russia, but also the political and cultural heart of the country. Red Square is home to some of the city’s most recognisable landmarks and is a fascinating place to see all that is old about the city, colliding with the new. Within Red Square travellers will find the fantastical St Basil’s Cathedral, the iconic Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the glitzy Neo-Russian facade of the GUM shopping mall. As well as boasting some of the country’s most recognizable landmarks, Moscow is also home to internationally acclaimed museums and art galleries, respectable retail havens in the form of malls, markets and boutique-style shops, and hundreds of restaurants and cafes serving a wide variety of cuisine.
An enchanting city with a rich and fascinating history, St Petersburg is the Jewel in Russia’s Imperial Crown. It was from here that the aristocrat tsars ruled over Russia for two centuries until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Today remnants of the city’s grandiose past can be seen in its beautiful historic centre. Made up of a series of canals this UNESCO World Heritage site is dotted with elegant baroque bridges, impressive rococo architecture and spectacular palaces. Visit the fabulous Winter Palace - once home of the tsars, where you will find the world famous Hermitage collection. Explore Peter and Paul Fortress - the oldest building in the city, with its impressive baroque interior. 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 city of 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 with 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. A short drive from from the city 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. Being one of the oldest towns in the country, this pretty town is of historic interest and was 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 past 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 picturesque 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 32km out of town you can stand with one foot in each continent at the Europe-Asia border marker! Yekaterinburg is 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 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, where a cross marks the spot the Romanovs bodies were discarded. Yekaterinburg is also a great place to get away for an active break with the Ural Mountains right on its doorstep - in winter there is dog sledding or ice fishing and in summer hiking through the lush taiga forests is an absolute 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 centuries 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. In Cathedral Square is the magnificent Assumption Cathedral, which despite being destroyed by fire in 1185, was immaculately restored and is a breathtaking sight. 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 spas and retreats. Virgin woods, superbly clean lakes and pristine rivers makes Karelia perhaps one of Russia's best kept hideaways.