Most people who visit Russia for the first time will have Moscow and St. Petersburg as definite must-visits. But, around both of these cities, you can find some seriously worthwhile trip destinations that provide an interesting experience and insight into both the royal and rural ways of living in this country.
Moscow and St Petersburg
Start in Moscow, where the main attractions like the Kremlin, Tretyakov Gallery, Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre should all be factored into your tourist schedule – and make sure that you get a ride on the grand metro system. If you enjoy walking, then you must make time to visit the stunning, revamped Gorky Park, and enjoy the scenery along the embankments of the Moscow River. And, be sure to allocate a few days of your trip to visit the serene, historic Russian towns of Vladimir, Suzdal and Sergiev Posad.
You can travel from Moscow to St Petersburg by train, but a good way to break up your journey between these two main Russian cities is by visiting Veliky Novgorod, which has plenty for tourists to see and do. You can explore stunning riverside churches, an amazing outdoor wooden architecture museum, and a magnificent riverside kremlin.
In St Petersburg, the historic heart of the city offers amazing attractions like the Hermitage and Russian Museum which are must-visits, along with a great opportunity to explore by water, cruising along the rivers and canals. St Petersburg is fantastic for foodies as it’s home to some of the best restaurants and bars in Russia, and you can attend memorable, first-rate performances at the Mikhailovsky Theatre.
Northern Russian Lakes
If you prefer traveling on the water, then this water-themed itinerary will be perfect for you. Headed towards the Arctic Circle, you will visit historic towns, beautiful lakes, unforgettable landscapes and beautiful wooden architecture.
Start in Moscow, and follow the Volga River north headed to Tver, where you can make a side trip to the stunning and serene Lake Seliger. Once you reach St Petersburg, you can have your fill of fun and culture then travel by train to Petrozavodsk, where you can reach the gorgeous Lake Ladoga, and visit the island of Valaam and it’s interesting working monastery.
In Petrozavodsk, you can board a hydrofoil that takes you across Lake Onega to the island of Kizhi, an interesting architectural reserve where you can visit amazing attractions like the magnificent Transfiguration Church with it’s unique wooden domes, gables and decor.
Then, visit the Solovetsky Islands, located in the White Sea and home to stunning landscapes and a monastery that features in some of the most brutal scenes from The Gulag Archipelago. Visit the Kola Peninsula for offbeat trails, adventures and fun outdoor activities like fishing. Finally, head to Murmansk where you’ll find the giant concrete soldier Alyosha, and a decommissioned nuclear icebreaker. Visit during the summer, and the sun never sets – and if you go there during winter there’s a high chance you’ll get to see the aurora borealis.
The Trans-Siberian Odyssey
Traveling the Trans-Siberian railway is a classic Russian adventure; not least the part where you get to take your trip on the engineering wonder that spans and joins the world’s largest country together. If you want to end your journey with a party in Moscow or St. Petersburg, the best option is to start your journey on the Pacific Coast and go against the flow.
Before you board the train, the port of Vladivostok is well worth visiting for a couple of days. Heading west overnight on the train, your first stop will be Khabarovsk, a lively city along the banks of the Amur River.
Two more days of train travel, and you can hop off at Ulan-Ude, where Russian, Soviet and Mongolian cultures co-exist. From here, make your way to the steppes where you can spend some time at Russia’s main Buddhist monastery, Ivolginsk Datsan.
Back on the railway, make sure you look out of the window to take in the views of the beautiful Lake Baikal as it follows the southern shores. You can get off here and spend some time basking in the natural beauty – Olkhon Island is a great base for your stay.
As you cross the Urals into European Russia, spend some time in Yekaterinburg – a historic and busy city where you can find some interesting museums and historical sites connected to the last tsar’s murder. Visit Perm; a lively cultural center from which you can visit interesting sites like the Gulag labor camp museum Perm-36, and the ice cave at Kungur.
So, which of these Russian itineraries do you want to do first?
Bryan has visited exactly one more country than his wife, and she won’t let him forget it! Also an avid photographer, he enjoys entrenching himself within the local culture in order to learn more about the people of a place. He is the co-founder of Budget Your Trip and loves a good adventure, an exotic meal, or a passionate conversation about global events.