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 sallow 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, take time to appreciate the elaborately decorated central stations.
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 bloody 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. 10kms 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.
Gulags and snowbound exile? Not anymore! Siberia's capital, Irkutsk lies at the crossroads of centuries' old tea, silk and fur trade routes between Western Russia and China. Sitting on the Angara River, today Irkutsk is a city that possesses a unique historical heritage in the form of dozens of amazing wooden and stone private and public buildings. Places of interest include: Trubetskoy and Volkonsky Decembrist Houses - which are now museums, the Irkutsk Regional Museum which houses exhibits of indigenous tribes, the numerous wooden cabins with beautifully carved exteriors, the Church of the Saviour and also the central markets, which sell delicious snacks! Irkutsk is also gateway to Listvyanka and the beautiful Lake Baikal.
Our pick #4
The Baikal Region
The Baikal region of Siberia is an area of incredible natural beauty. Located on the shores of Lake Baikal , Listvyanka is a charming village dotted with traditional Siberian wooden houses, with a main road that runs right along the front of the lake, making it the perfect base to explore the beauty of Baikal. The deepest lake in the world (1620m) on merits of magnitude alone, Lake Baikal is renowned as one of earth's most impressive natural wonders and known as 'the pearl of Siberia. The expanse of the lake is also astounding, measuring 600km long and 80km wide, it contains more than 20% of the planets fresh water resources! In the winter the lake freezes over, with ice so thick that cars can drive across it! In the summer, its crystalline blue waters are transparent to a depth of forty metres and its shores are ringed with the brilliant colours of seasonal wildflowers. Olkhon Island is arguably the most beautiful of Baikal's 27 islands. It's western shores comprise steppe bounded with dramatic orange cliffs and sheep whilst the island's northern coastline is dotted with indigenous Baikal seal (nerpa).
Our pick #5
Ulan Ude, the capital of Buryatia, is located in the middle of vast Siberian steppes and like most Siberian cities, Ulan Ude was founded during the 17th century . However, as the centre of the Buddhist Buryat culture, it is unlike any of the other stops along the Trans-Siberian railway. Ulan Ude is home to Ivolginsky Datsan, a beautifully restored Tibetan Buddhist monastery which now serves as a centre of Buddhism in Russia. The city also boasts the largest Lenin bust in the world! Most of Ulan Ude's main sights of interest lie on or just off Sukhbaatar Square and can be easily reached on foot. Attractions include the National Modern Art Gallery, the Museum of Natural History with its incredible dinosaur fossils and skeletons, the Winter Palace of Bogd Khaan (where Mongolia's 8th living Buddha and last King lived) and Gandantegchinlin Khiid - Mongolia's largest and most important Buddhist monastery.
Our pick #6
Ulaan Baatar & Terelj National Park
Located in the valley of the Tuul river, surrounded by picturesque mountains, Ulaan Baatar is the laid back provincial capital of a nomadic nation. The capital was largely built with Russian help and bleak, concrete Soviet architecture provides a stark contrast to the Buddhist temples and palaces of Mongolian rulers. The city has a number of interesting sights including Gandan Khiid - Mongolia’s largest Buddhist monastery and the incredible Winter Palace of Bogd Khaan. Just a short distance from Ulaan Baatar is the beautiful Terelj National Park, a wonderful landscape of pine covered cliffs, grassy steppe and giant granite rocks which have been eroded by the elements into bizarre shapes, such as Turtle Rock. In this scenic setting, camp out in a traditional Mongolian Ger and enjoy a host of outdoor pursuits including hiking, climbing and horseback riding.
One of the Seven Wonders of the World and an enduring symbol of Chinese civilisation and genius, the UNESCO protected Great Wall of China was built as a defensive structure to protect China against marauding invaders from the north. Although the present wall dates mainly from the Ming dynasty, some 20 states and dynasties were involved in its immense construction over a period of 2,000 years and followed different routes and building extensions as required. Snaking some 6700 kms across barren hills, deserts, mountains and plateaus, the now partially ruinous Great Wall stretches east to west in northern China and is believed to be the longest man made structure in the world.
Capital of the People’s Republic, Beijing is China’s political, economic and cultural centre. With an awesome history, Beijing was established in 1045 BC and for 800 years served as the capital of several dynasties. Tiananmen Square is the largest public square in the world, which plays host to Chairman Mao’s great mausoleum. Staring out across Tiananmen from above the Gate of Heavenly Peace is the famous Technicolour portrait of Mao. It is through these gates that one can enter the Forbidden City. Built between 1406 and 1420, it served as the imperial palace for the Ming and Qing dynasties and is said to contain 9999 rooms. Residence of the emperors and focal point of the empire, entry was forbidden to all those, except on imperial business until 1911, when the last emperor, Puyi was overthrown. Beyond the city is the Summer Palace. A preserve of the emperors seeking respite from the summer heat, the Summer Palace is set around beautiful Kunming Lake.
On Russia's far Pacific coast, located less than 100 km east of the Chinese border, Vladivostok (Lord of the East) represents the end of the original Trans-Siberian line. An attractively sited city laid out across a series of peaks, peninsulas and islands, it was once the sole preserve of Russia's Pacific Naval Fleet, who filled Golden Horn Bay. Today the doors are open and the city is rising to the challenge of becoming a cosmopolitan destination. Island boat tours, exploration of the garrisons, hiking and rafting are popular here.
If you're travelling on the Trans-Manchurian route through the far northwest of China, the attractive city of Harbin is a top highlight. Thanks to its proximity to Russia, the city displays a European-flair that makes it stand out from other urban centres in China. The standout architectural feature is the stunning St. Sophia Orthodox church with its green domes and Neo-Byzantine features. However, the biggest reason to visit Harbin is for the annual Ice Festival when professional sculptors descend on the city to transform it into a winter wonderland. Monumental sculptures made from blocks of ice and deftly carved snow sculptures take over Harbin and draw visitors from all over the world.