Top 10 Locations in Russia
Top 10 Locations in Russia
Welcome to ‘foreign’ Russia
In his book “The Genius of Place”, the famous writer Pyotr Vail wrote: “The stereotypes where inevitably lies the route of any journey, if you are not a path breaker, of course, and you are not a path breaker, of course, are the clusters of human experience, the concentrate of historical wisdom”. If St Petersburg’s Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood deserves a star on the tourist map, then surely the church around the corner, which does not, is less of an attraction? No tourist should disregard guidebooks and their tips from experienced tourists, or they will be left disappointed at not having seen some spectacular sight or other which everyone else has. Or in other words, you will have missed something significant that would help you better understand the place you’re visiting. That’s why it’s important to know which places to visit during your visit to Russia in order to ”get to know the Russian soul”, and make sure your visit is an unforgettable experience.
Since the collapse of the USSR, foreign travel around Russia has increased a lot, and visitors have already developed their own impressions and lists of places to visit. And they there’s plenty that makes Russia interesting and different from other countries besides “vodka-balalaika-matryoshka dolls”. The Russian National Tourist Office has listened to their preferences and compiled the following list of the most popular destinations.
1. St Petersburg - The cultural “Northern Palmyra”
Many of Petersburgers do not consider themselves Russians, but rather as Europeans. They go to Finland every weekend, they give their cafes and hotels Finnish names and distinguish 100 shades of grey in clothes. Yet by building the Peter and Paul Fortress, Peter the Great aimed to protect the city from the Swedes. As well as the Hermitage with its baroque and rococo styles, and Voltaire’s library which was bought out by the educated Catherine, foreigners also enjoy visiting the Kunstcamera Museum. After looking at two-headed dogs and embryos preserved in alcohol, they go to the monument of Peter the Great which is surrounded by a fence of champagne bottles. No matter how many times the place is cleared of them, newlyweds still hang their “trophies” on the fence. Palace Square is at its best at night, whereas the interior of Saint Isaac’s and Kazan Cathedrals look better in daylight, when rays of light play on the mosaics and paintings. However, the best mosaic collection is in the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. If you want to get a feeling for the city, you should go and see a ballet in Mariinsky Theatre, watch the bridges raise, take a stroll along Nevsky Prospect, and don’t forgetto go into backstreets, as in Venice. There is a reason why the city is called the “Venice of the North”.
2. Moscow – magnificence and poverty the Russian way
In contrast to St Petersburg, Moscow is a city of wide avenues and massive Soviet buildings – from the Lenin Russian State Library which has 275 km of shelves, to Stalin skyscrapers representing Stalin’s Empire style. All tourists, however, go to see the Kremlin and Red Square first, not the building of Lomonosov State University. Having originally been a market and an execution yard (the place of bread and circuses), Red Square is now the first port of call for foreign and local tourists. Even today, it is the centre of Moscow life, allowing you to plunge into the history of the city quickly and easily. Here you can visit the Mausoleum, the Russian Historical Museum (which formerly housed the Lomonosov State University), and multicoloured Saint Basil’s Cathedral, whose architect is said to have had his eyes poked out so that he could not recreate it, and TsUM (Central Universal Department Store) where the prices start with three-digit figures. When you go to the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, don’t forget that this is a Cathedral, so please dress accordingly. You will not be allowed in with bare stomachs and backs. However, if you forget, you can visit Tverskaya Street which is famous for its fashionistas, boutiques and night life.
3. Kazan – the oldest capital city
Kazan is officially called “the third capital of Russia”. In 2005, the city turned 1000 years. Despite its impressive age, the oldest Annunciation Cathedral, Kazan Kremlin, and the core of the old city, the Old Tatar Settlement and iconic buildings of the century-before-last, are still preserved in the centre of the city. There are also many modern architectural monuments in Kazan. The symbols of Kazan are the “Frisbee” of the circus and the modern Qolsharif Mosque. You can see how Christianity and Islam coexist in the architecture of Kazan. The decoration of Orthodox churches contains elements of Asian pomp. Raifsky Bogoroditsky Cathedral has a miracle-working icon of the Mother of God of Georgia, which is kept with special reverence.
4. The Golden Ring – onion-domed churches
Fans of Russian Orthodoxy who wish to experience the calm and profundity of the Russian faith often go on tours around cities which are famous for their unique monasteries and churches of the 12th-17th centuries. These cities have rather poetic names: Sergiyev Posad, Alexandrov, Kostroma, Pereslavl-Zalessky, Uglich, Ivanovo, Yaroslavl, Rostov Veliky, Suzdal and Vladimir.
5. Novgorod Veliky – its own architect
The history of the city is closely connected with the history of Russian statehood, of which one of the pillars is Orthodoxy. For this reason, you can find lots of churches, monasteries and other places of worship in Novgorod Veliky. The most extraordinary is Sofiysky cathedral, which was built in the 11th century. It contains the remains of six Russian saints and many important icons, including the miracle-working icon of Our Lady of the Sign.
6. Volga cruise – music playing on board
The music plays almost constantly on the top decks. Events and discos are held here. At night, the motorboat travels quickly, whereas during the day, it stops in cities along the way. In Volgograd you can visit Mamayev Kurgan and see the giant statue of the Motherland. In Astrakhan you can buy fish and watermelons if you go during the season. And in the warmer months, you can swim in the Volga.
7. Lake Baikal – the pearl of Siberia
The oldest and deepest freshwater lake on the planet with unique, untouched flora, fauna and tasty omuls which the locals catch and then cure by smoking. Walking along the area’s ecological routes and communicating with the locals who are untouched by civilisation will help you immerse yourself in nature. You can also visit an inhabitable Buryat yurt.
8. Yekaterinburg – traditional churches and Soviet avant-garde
The city combines two in one – ideal for those who want to see traditional Orthodox churches alongside the architectural style of the builders of the “new world” who tried to destroy these very churches. Yekaterinburg has the biggest collection of monuments of Soviet constructivism, standing side by side with traditional museums (the Museums of Local Lore and Art History). There is also a Keyboard Museum, too.
9. Sochi – from all-Union health resort to the Olympic capital
Besides the Olympic complex, you can enjoy the remains of what several generations of ordinary Soviet workers have enjoyed for many years. These are sanatoria, wellness activities, walks along the waterfront, swimming in the sea, an arboretum, fresh mountain air, tropical flowers, humming-birds, and the world’s tastiest khachapuris!
10. Trans-Siberian Railway – “I will come back!”
You need strong nerves to go on a train journey around Eurasia. Not everyone can spend almost a week in an enclosed space on wheels. However, those brave souls who do make the journey are rewarded by seeing 80 cities, the Volga River, Ural Mountains, Baraba steppe with its ominous clouds, Yenisei River, Barguzinsky Mountains, the woods of Siberia, Khekhtsir Range and Lake Baikal. Your journey will leave you with vivid memories, while the constant motion of the train will stay with you for days after.
Many foreign visitors have fond memories of these unique places, and their albums are full of photos from their journeys to Russia. Sometimes, it seems that foreigners travel around Russia more than the Russians themselves. So how many places from this list above have you visited?