Veliky Novgorod is one of Russia’s oldest cities and one of the most historically important. Located four hours south of St Petersburg, along the banks of the Volkhov River, it’s a must see for anyone visiting Russia. The beautiful countryside and quaint Kremlin is the perfect antidote to the large, imposing architecture of St Petersburg and Moscow. A trip here is a great way to experience a more rural side to Russia with the best of bustling city life to boot as it’s full of local markets and cafes. Recently travelling on our Russian Revolution tour, this is how I spent the day in this provincial city.
St Petersburg to Novgorod
Leaving behind St Petersburg, it is interesting to see the city architecture slowly melt away as another side of Russia appears. The scenery becomes increasingly verdant and the imperial soviet-style buildings change into rustic summer houses known as Dacha. Once we arrived at our beautiful accommodation, we quickly relaxed into country life with a traditional Banya. Similar to a sauna but much hotter, tension and stress is released from your back by gently slapping yourself with the branches of a birch tree. Definitely an interesting experience!
After a great night’s sleep, we began our day with a traditional Russian breakfast with dishes of meats, cheese, porridge and pickles. The first stop of the day was at the Vitoslavitsy Museum of Folk Wooden Architecture. This collection of classical buildings from the Novgorod region demonstrates how life was centuries ago. The dwellings were not only designed as a living space but also as a place to keep animals, perform work duties and store food during the bitterly cold winter months. One of the most memorable pieces of architecture is a spectacular church with iconic orthodox domes created out of wooden shingles with the steep roof designed to eliminate snow build up. The museum itself is a stunning building with beautifully ornate windows and hand-crafted decorations adorning the front of the house.
Where it all started
After exploring the museum we headed to the centre of the city for the Kremlin, a testament to Novgorod’s history with the carefully crafted iron gates marked with the year of the city’s establishment of 859. The Kremlin walls stretch to 1,500 metres with nine of the towers still standing today. Standing in front of the gates, it’s easy to imagine how intimidating this impressive structure would have been to anyone attempting to enter the fortress. Inside the Kremlin stands the cathedral of St Sophia which was built in the early 12th century and is said to be the oldest in Russia, and most certainly the oldest functioning cathedral.
From here we visited the monument to end all monuments, the Millennium of Russia. Erected in 1862 to celebrate the millennium of Rurik’s arrival to Novgorod, the bronze sculpture is comprised of three layers of influential figures from Russian history. The top layer displays important milestones in the country’s history including the formation of the Russian Empire, presented by an angel showing Peter the Great the way to St Petersburg.
After 24 hours in Novgorod
A charming, picturesque and intriguing town, my stay in Novgorod provided an understanding of the cultures and traditions of the Russian people. When visiting Russia, it is so easy to be struck by the imperial prowess of St Petersburg and the Soviet might of Moscow but Novgorod was a great place to take a moment and unwind before moving on to conquer the next big city. It’s in cities like Novgorod where true Russian culture shines through.
Tempted by the history of this Russian countryside city? Visit Novgorod and the Land of the Tsar’s other incredible destinations on one of our Russia group tours.