Best Places To Visit In Russia
Written By Russian Travel Writer Yulia Dyukova, From That’S What She Had
As crazy as it may sound coming from a Russian, I have traveled way more around the USA and Europe than around my own country. There are numerous reasons — or should I say excuses
The enormous size of the country, the high cost of transport and accommodation (if you earn Russian rubles), and the fact that the Russian tourism industry is in its infancy, just to name a few.
Having said that, traveling to the far reaches of my Motherland is a big dream of mine. I have a big list of places to go in Russia. Taking up one-sixth of the planet Earth, Russia boasts diverse natural wonders: from the deepest lake in the world to endless steppes to the forests of taiga. History buffs will love exploring the ancient cities with their bespoke architecture. And culture aficionados will enjoy a visit to Bolshoi for Swan Lake or the enormous art collection at Hermitage.
I start swooning just thinking of all the opportunities! I hope this top 10 list of top places to visit in Russia will inspire you to visit too!
Let’s get the most obvious places to visit in Russia out of the way! If you are visiting Russia for the first time, Moscow should be your number one Russia destination.
The capital of Russia is the most popular city among travelers and for a good reason. The amount of attractions is enough for you to stay for a month, but I’d recommend a minimum of three days to explore the most iconic sites like the Red Square, Kremlin, GUM, and Sparrow hills.
There is a myriad of museums where you can spend time on cold or rainy days, like Tretyakov Gallery and Pushkin State Museum of Fine Art.
If you are visiting in summer, Moscow is an extremely walkable city (like all cities in Russia), so you can wander down Tverskaya street, shop for typical Russian souvenirs like ushanka-hat and matreshkas on Arbat street, and enjoy a stroll in Gorky Park.
Another must-visit Russian destination is, of course, Saint Petersburg, known as the cultural capital of the country.
Moscow and Saint Petersburg have some sort of a rivalry, Saint Petersburg claiming to be the city of intelligentsia, culture, and art, while Moscow is the center of literally everything else from finance to education to entertainment. Piter, as locals call it for short, is an incredibly beautiful city with many canals, bridges, and buildings that look very much like palaces.
There are actual palaces too. Plan to spend at least 3-4 days here as there are a few day trips you can take. For example, visit Tsarskoe Selo where you can marvel at the Catherine Palace with its world-famous Amber Room, as well as explore the college where Alexandr Pushkin, Russia’s most well-known poet, spent his formative years.
The Golden Ring of Russia
Now, I hope you’ll excuse me, but I have to start grouping cities together otherwise we’ll never reach the end of this Russian bucket list!
The Golden Ring of Russia is a ring of ancient cities northeast of Moscow which includes Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Suzdal, Vladimir, Sergiev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalessky, and Rostov Veliky. You can also visit a number of smaller towns located on the way and considered part of the Golden Ring, like Palekh, Plyos, Gus-Khrustalny, Murom, Yuriev-Polsky, Uglich, and Kaluga.
All of these cities played a significant role in the formation of Russian Orthodox Church and feature beautiful architecture of the XII-XVIII centuries, including onion-domed churches, gingerbread houses, and kremlins.
The easiest way to explore all (or majority) of the cities is to buy the Golden Ring tour from a travel agent. They will take you to the major attractions and explain the history behind them. Or you can simply rent a car and drive from one city to another on your own.
The Silver Ring of Russia
The Silver Ring is a group of Russian cities located in the northwest of the country. The Silver Ring is a much younger and less popular route in comparison with the Golden Ring, which only makes it more attractive if you prefer the road less traveled.
There’s no one list of cities that are included in the Silver Ring of Russia, every travel agent offers a different tour. But some of the major cities along the way include: Saint Petersburg, Veliky Novgorod, Staraya Russa, Velikie Luki, Pskov, Vologda, and Cherepovec.
Although it seems like both the Golden Ring and the Silver Ring include a lot of cities, you wouldn’t spend more than a day in each of them, and sometimes you can even cover several smaller towns in a single day.
This mountainous region in Siberia shares its borders with Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia, and boasts over 7000 lakes, Siberia’s highest peak — Mount Belukha, and incredible biodiversity.
The Altai region is one of the most popular tourist destinations in russia year-round. Go in winter if you enjoy adventure sports like skiing and snowboarding. Plan a trip in summer if you prefer hiking, horseback riding, and swimming in the lakes.
Another great reason to visit Altai is its many relaxing spas, Siberian healing treatments, and Russian banya (sauna) with locally gathered herbs and berries.
The easiest way to get to Altai is by taking a flight from Moscow to Gorno-Altaisk, the capital of Altai region, then rent a car and explore on your own while staying in charming cabins and at eco-resorts overnight.
Lake Baikal is currently my biggest obsession and #1 on my travel wish list! It is hard to describe the lake without using a whole bunch of superlative adjectives.
It is the deepest lake in the world; it holds the largest volume of fresh water — more water than North America’s Great Lakes combined. Lake Baikal is also considered one of the clearest bodies of water in the world: on a good day; you can see up to 40 meters into the lake. And, at the age of 25-30 million years, Baikal is also the most ancient lakes.
With all that said, Baikal is not about the numbers, but about pure beauty. You can visit it both in summer and winter, but I strongly recommend the months of February – March.
In winter Baikal freezes providing mind-blowing views of the lake and surroundings. The ice is so clear you can see inside. You can also make a hole in the ice and drink clean, fresh water of the lake through a straw! And don’t get me started on all the ice-skating, sledding, and driving a car on ice if you like extreme adventures.
Located in the far east of Russia, Kamchatka peninsula takes up an area of about 100 000 square miles with the Pacific Ocean on its eastern coastline and the Okhotsk Sea on the western one. Despite its enormous size, the population of the peninsula is less than half a million people, most of whom live in the capital of the region — Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.
The rest of the land is uninhabited wilderness with 160 volcanoes (some of which are still active) that were named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Due to the fact that very few tourists make it this far east in Russia, the infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired, and it’s easiest to explore the region with the help of a travel agent.
This is one of the best destinations in Russia if you love to admire wildlife and bird watching. It’s here you are also likely to spot a brown bear as well as enjoy fishing in rivers, relaxing in hot springs, and visiting geysers.
Although I lived for most of my life in the region of Ural, I was born in a small town in the northernmost territory of European Russia — Kola Peninsula. The peninsula is located almost entirely above the Arctic circle and has Finland and Norway as its neighbors to the west.
Despite what you might imagine, the winters are not too bad, with temperatures around −10 °C (14 °F) in January. Summers are warm, but not particularly hot.
While in the Kola Peninsula, make sure to visit its most populous city — Murmansk — which features one of the largest ice-free ports in Russia as well as the world’s only fleet of nuclear-powered icebreakers.
You can even explore one of the top things to see in Russia – the Lenin Icebreaker, which was launched in 1957 and was the world’s first nuclear power surface ship. Lenin was converted into a museum ship in 2005.
The Arctic nature is beyond beautiful. The city of Kirovsk is an excellent base to explore Khibini Mountains. If you want to see the Arctic’s coastline, drive to a tiny fisherman village Teriberka. In winter come for skiing, dog-sledding and watching the Northern lights.
In summer — experience the polar day, hiking in the mountains, or mushroom and berry picking.
The name must sound familiar since the 2014 Olympic Games were held in Sochi. Precisely because of the Olympic Games the whole region went through a total make-over which means better roads, comfortable hotels, and all in all better infrastructure for tourism.
In comparison with many other Russian cities, traveling here is a breeze.
Sochi is a Black Sea resort that boats a perfect combination of mountains and beaches. You can ski in winter and sunbathe in summer. I should warn you, though, that the beaches are mostly rocky, not sandy, which is an acquired taste. Sochi is one of the most popular summer destinations for Russians.
Trans Siberian Railway
Not a destination per se, but one of the interesting things to do in Russia is also a major dream for many people around the world — taking Trans-Siberian railway end-to-end which means spending seven days in the train! Let me tell you a secret: no Russian ever dreamed of traveling on Trans-Siberian the whole way. Here’s why!
While for most of the tourists riding a train for almost 6000 miles is a once in a lifetime opportunity, for Russians it’s just a normal way of going places. Trains are still much cheaper than planes, so that’s how the absolute majority of people travel.
Usually, Russians choose the most basic option — “platscart” — which means a dormitory-style compartment with bunk beds. Lots of fun if it’s your first time. Not so much if that’s how you travel your whole life.
This is not to discourage you, but I always find it funny when people ask me if I had done the full length of Trans Siberian. The answer is: why would I do that? The whole journey takes up seven days, but it doesn’t mean that you have to be on the train for seven days straight. You can make stops along the way and explore the cities and nature.
This list of top places to visit in Russia is far from being complete, but that’s a good starting point!
If you are planning your first trip to Russia, don’t try to cover it all in 10 days. Plan to spend a few days in each destination and don’t forget that traveling from one city to another might take many hours.
You are about to explore the biggest country in the world — take your time and enjoy the ride (even if it’s on a bunk bed of a Trans-Siberian train)!