Literary heavyweights, Tsars, revolutionaries and oligarchs - Russia’s epic history is matched only by its tremendous scale.
Covering 17 million square kilometres and 11 time zones, Mother Russia stretches from Eastern Europe and the Baltic Sea, through Siberia to the icy Bering Strait. Within her borders you will find handsome cities and chocolate-box towns, monumental landscapes and a rich culture. In European Russia, both Moscow and St Petersburg are powerhouses of art and culture, where colourful gilded domes sparkle on the skyline and architecture is wrought on a grand scale. Beyond, the largest country in the world stretches out into vast grassland steppes, frozen coastlines and boundless tracts of snow-dusted coniferous forest. Those seeking adventure and stark beautiful landscapes need look no further.
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Top things to do in Russia
There are many wonderful experiences to be had in this vast and ancient country. For further inspiration take a look at the trip ideas put together by our trusted local experts, but in the meantime here are our top things to do in Russia.
Explore "The Venice of the North": St Petersburg
St Petersburg is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. Once Russia's imperial capital, this year-round destination still - despite its tumultuous history - beautifully showcases the grandeur and wealth that was at the country's disposal. Wander alongside the canals that heave earned it its nickname and admire the hundreds of beautiful bridges that criss-cross their waters. The architecture is simply stunning and an abundance of museums, galleries, opera and ballet performances mean that you will never run out of things to do.
Travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway
Hop on board the train in Moscow and have an unbelievable journey traversing the breadth of Russia all the way to Vladivostok. On your travels you will witness the incredible variety of landscapes in Russia, as well as the wonderful cultures and cities within them. Truly a bucket-list experience!
Get to know Moscow in winter
If you want to discover a true winter wonderland, then head to Moscow in December. Watch ice skating shows, go dog-sledding through snow-laden pine forests, enjoy a vodka tasting at an ice bar and have an authentic banya (Russian sauna) experience... We defy you to not leave feeling like you've just experienced something magical.
Lesser known things to do in Russia
While there are many well-known things to do in Russia, what about the lesser-known highlights? Our local experts have shared some of their top tips for where to go and what to do if you fancy a bit of an alternative Russian adventure.
Be dazzled by the Golden Ring
The medieval towns on Russia’s Golden Ring are renowned for their citadels and churches, their historical significance and their atmosphere. There are monasteries and cathedrals, citadels and churches which contain within them the histories of the last thousand years of Orthodox Russia. Head to the northeast of Moscow to uncover its secrets with insider advice from our in-country experts.
The high-altitude Altai
This southern Siberian republic is known as a crossroads of civilisations and it has a plethora of activities and terrains to explore. The Altai mountains offer remote trekking and horse-riding; its Alpine meadows are perfect for camping and hiking; and there are countless lakes including the Altai’s largest, Lake Teletskoye with depths of up to 325m. Much of these habitats are protected by reserves. Keep the binoculars on hand to spot wild argali mountain sheep and the elusive snow leopard or, if feeling adventurous, raft the mountain rivers.
Karelia’s open-air museum
The UNESCO cultural heritage site on Kizhi Island is at the centre of this open-air museum. There are unusual wooden buildings to appreciate including forges, windmills, chapels, barns and houses as well as two historical villages. A highly unusual chance to imagine the cultural and spiritual life and economic activities of peasants back in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The region is surrounded by picturesque pine forests and the taiga (swampy coniferous forests) that’s typical of regions lying between the tundra and Siberian steppe.
When is the best time to visit Russia?
The most popular and best time to go to Russia is during the summer months of June, July and August, where the days are balmy and long. That being said, it can easily be argued that there isn't a bad time to go to Russia, as all the seasons are equally wonderful in their own ways. The snow begins to melt in April and the cool, sunny spring days (right through til early June) are ideal for exploring the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow. Easter is hugely important to Russians making this a very interesting time to visit too. The summer months are popular for the Trans-Siberian Railway, but again this runs year round (even through the frozen months) and you will perhaps find the quieter periods more enjoyable. Autumn (September - October) is a beautiful golden time to visit, and many say that seeing Russia sparkling under blankets of snow over the winter (November - February) is well-worth the plummeting temperatures. Christmas in Russia is on the 7th January, so the sparkling markets are still open early in the year and this is a lovely, quiet time to explore the cities.
Interesting facts about Russia
Russia is a fascinating country. But did you know any of our top facts about it?
- Russia is the world’s largest country by area, covering over 10% of the planet’s landmass.
- Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok is the world’s longest at around 9,200km. It would take a 152-hour non-stop journey to complete it in one go.
- More billionaires live in Moscow than almost any other city on Earth. New York and Hong Kong just pip it to the post.
- Until as recently as 2011, any products that were less than 10% alcohol did not need to be labelled as alcohol in Russia. This might explain why, in the world’s fourth-biggest drinking nation, one in five male deaths is attributable to alcohol.
- Moscow has a restaurant run by twin brothers called Twin Stars. It is staffed entirely by twins and was inspired by an old Soviet-era film.
- Russia has more time zones than any other country in the world.
Insider tips from our local experts
Being local, our experts have an extensive knowledge of the secrets to experiencing the 'real' Russia. Here are a few of their top tips - ask them for other recommendations when you enquire to ensure you have the most in-depth experience whilst on holiday!
Visit in winter…
Russia isn’t everyone’s first choice in winter due to its extreme temperatures and harsh conditions, but our local experts believe it’s the perfect time to get under the skin of the country. Nature is cloaked in soft snow or shimmering ice and with fewer tourists and less activity underway, the true soul of Russia feels more tangible and closer to the surface.
Give public transport a whirl…
Moscow used to be notorious for its traffic gridlock, but the Moscow Metro, Moscow Central Circle, buses, trolley buses and trams have all improved drastically with much modernisation completed or underway. Jump on the jam-packed but beautiful Metro to see how over half the city travels, with a staggering 6.5 million daily users.
Learn a few words of the lingo…
While Russian might seem impenetrable, a few hours spent learning a few useful phrases will be a great ice-breaker with new friends or on those long train journeys. Metro tours and other cultural experiences will be enriched by any efforts at all to speak Russian.
Have a taste of kvass…
This Slavic brew is quite something and it can be bought from street vendors or even the monasteries where it’s made. It’s a slightly alcoholic beverage made by soaking bread or flour in water then adding yeast and flavours such as honey, berries or mint. It used to be sold in barrels from the street as a safer alternative to the water available at the time. It’s now more often sold in plastic bottles and, once fermented, is an unusual, fizzy and sour beverage. Shop versions will last and can be over-sweetened, but smaller-batch versions are more authentic and will therefore go off within a few days.
See Yekaterinburg’s surreal salt mines…
If you have time to explore more than mere highlights of the country, head 1,000 miles east of Moscow to Yekaterinburg. In this mineral rich and now abandoned salt mine up to 650 feet below the city, there are naturally occurring, psychedelic-seeming colours and formations in the rocks of the labyrinthine tunnels and mined caverns. Worth attempting to get a permit for.
What to read before you go to Russia
If you're looking for something to get you in the mood before you set off on your travels to Russia, we've gathered a list of our favourite books to inspire you.
'War and Peace' by Leo Tolstoy
Tolstoy’s novel – though he himself was wary of describing it thus – is regarded not merely as his finest literary achievement but as a central work of world literature. It follows five aristocratic Russian families to chronicle the French invasion of Russia and the Napoleonic era’s impact upon Tsarist society. If this feels too ambitious for pre-holiday reading, the excellent BBC TV adaptation might do the trick.
'Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History' of Russia by Orlando Figes
Figes is a renowned historian and reviews of this history call it magnificent, evocative, rich, splendid and enthralling. This is a compelling and expansive masterpiece that paints a richly textured picture of Russia, its peoples and their cultures. It introduces some extraordinary tales of the individuals that created a nation and held it together, from shocking serfs to Stravinsky.
'Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman' by Robert K. Massie
This masterpiece of narrative biography tells the incredible story of a German princess who became Empress of Russia and one of the most powerful women in history. Catherine the Great dealt with rebellion, war and political upheaval. This book brings her strikingly to life, contextualised by those around her from family and friends to generals, lovers and enemies.
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