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WOW travel guide to visit Russia

WOW travel guide to visit Russia

Shivangi

We feel that Russia has a wow factor that is difficult to spot elsewhere. From the Romanovs to Rasputin to Revolution, a visit to Russia makes history come alive! Moscow and St. Petersburg are the perfect places to start and in case you can allow for more time, the fairy tale region known as the Golden Ring makes a great addition to your experience.

We recommend that you avoid serpentine lines and crowds that are typical of the tourist season from June to September. Instead go just before the season begins - between late April to mid May would be ideal.  This way you will experience the world's largest country in tranquility, away from the pressure of crowds.  

Contents

WOW wanderer at Peterhof in St Petersburg in 2017 

9 Perfect Days in Russia - Travel itinerary

  • Day 1 | Arrival in Moscow - Depending on when you land up in Moscow, minimise jet leg by keeping active until 7 or 8pm. Plan to visit The Arbat, Moscow’s oldest surviving street. A long pedestrian boulevard of cafes, shops and stalls, where street musicians bring the place alive and artists are eager to caricature.
  • Day 2 | Moscow  - Vladimir - Suzdal - The White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal are unique examples of heritage Russian architecture through years of history.  A short drive from Vladimir, Suzdal has its own Kremlin fortress, many monasteries and monumental Orthodox churches.  You can also visit the Market Square and the open air Museum of Wooden Architecture.
  • Day 3 | Suzdal - Kostroma - Yaroslavl -  Kostroma is one of the largest cities on the Golden Ring and its main highlight is the Ipatievsky Cathedral, the place where the Romanovs started their reign. You will also love the views of Yaroslavi's striking onion domes. Remember to spot the Volga, Europe's longest river while you are here. And Yaroslavl is located on the Trans Siberian route, so you could continue your journey from here to to Vladivostok.
  • Day 4 | Rostov - Zagorsk -  Moscow - Rostov is one of the oldest towns in Russia, a walled area that includes a fortress, monasteries and churches. While Zagorsk is the Soviet-era name for the town of Sergiyev Posad known as the heart of Russian Orthodoxy. The 14th century Trinity Lavra Monastery is still active today.  Nice to exchange notes with the monks, if they are in the mood for it.
  • Day 5 | Moscow sightseeing - Even if you have a few hours in Moscow, don't worry - many of the visitor attractions are within walking distance of each other and the Moscow Metro (decadent tile-work and bronze chandeliers) is fast, gorgeous and brightly lit, you can travel fast and cover maximum in a short while. Red Square is home to some of the most recognisable Moscow buildings, such as Saint Basil's Cathedral with its nine domes, commissioned by Ivan the Terrible. Lenin's mausoleum is located on the west side of Red Square, while the entrance to the Kremlin is from the Red Square itself.  
  • Day 6 | Moscow to Saint Petersburg on Sapsan - The Sapsan Bullet Train named after the Peregrine Falcon ( fast flying bird) is the smartest way to travel between Moscow and Saint Petersburg. (takes about 3.5 hours).  When you reach the most European of Russian cities, experience the soul of Russia by taking in a ballet performance of Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky - ''It would not be St Petersburg unless somewhere in town -  There is a Swan expiring gracefully on the stage.''
  • Day 7 | Day out in Saint Petersburg - Cross the Neva river to reach Peter and Paul Fortress, the city's birthplace, built by Peter the Great. Here the large cathedral houses the tombs of almost every Tsar since Peter. Your next stop is St Issac's Cathedral, which is famous for its Vatican-like golden cupola hoisted up by giant columns. Head through the bronze doors to take in the beauty of the mosaics, vibrant paintings and gorgeous stained glass windows.  Climb the nearly 300 steps up to the top of the cathedral, and be rewarded with incredible panoramic views of the city. The last stop for today is the Faberge Museum, that is privately owned by the House of Faberge and houses the most expensive Imperial Easter eggs in the world!  
  • Day 8 | More time in St Petersburg - The Hermitage Collection contains over three million items spread across 120 different rooms. You could spend days in here and not fully appreciate whats's on offer. So makes sense to follow a guided tour that takes in some of the most popular works - Michelangelo's Crouching Boy - the unfinished marble statue, Raphael's Madonna and Child, Leonardo Da Vinci's Madonna masterpieces. These are a must.  Stop for a selfie at the Museum's main staircase, with its sweeping balustrades of marble, glided frescoes, granite columns and classical sculptures. (but you need to be really quick, Hermitage caretakers at every corner will shout and ask you to move on) Move on to the Church of Spilled Blood even if your legs are killing you! Because it's one of St Petersburg's iconic sights.  By now time to head back to your hotel and quickly recharge for your last evening.  Perhaps The Nutcracker at Mariinsky Theatre. Tchaikovsky's other master piece.
  • Day 9 | Saint Petersburg - Board the flight back home or you have the option to board the Trans Siberian Railway, since you are already in this part of the world. Another idea is Kamchatka, quite possibly you've never heard of this one. Kamchatka is raw wilderness between Siberia and the Bering Sea, no roads, so accessible only by helicopter. Watching the Kamchatka bears is an experience earned and here you can see the salmons as well. And volcanoes.
WOW PRO Tip - When you visit old Russian towns, (part of the Golden Ring) you find yourself travelling back in time. The easiest way to get to these places is by the high speed train from Moscow. When you return to Moscow after the Golden Ring, a great idea to visit GUM, the largest department store in Russia. Rich and milky Soviet style ice-cream is available - get a cone and continue the window shopping.
St Basil Cathedral in Moscow, WOW trip 2018

Best Places to Visit in Russia

1.Moscow - capital of Russia.

Moscow may not be the top choice for your typical European summer holiday. But it is an interesting destination to explore. Historical and heritage architecture, Lenin's mausoleum, the seat of the Bolshoi Ballet Company, wholesome and hearty meals - plus the vodka and champagne - and Moscow is better than first glance.

Must visit in Moscow

  • Saint Basil's Cathedral - This is the multi coloured onion domed church which you see in all photographs, prominently located on the Red Square. Best seen from the outside, so you can skip waiting in the queue to to enter.  
  • Christ The Savior Cathedral - Located on the banks of the Moskva River, it is a few blocks away from the Kremlin. The original Russian Orthodox Church was destroyed during the Communist regime of Stalin and years later it was reconstructed on the same site. This cathedral is beautiful inside and outside.
  • Kremlin & Red Square - Located on the Red Square, the Kremlin is the largest medieval fortress in the world and it is a given that you must visit here. It houses four palaces and four cathedrals and you should look out for the largest bell and canon in the world. Visit the gold roofed  Cathedral of the Annunciation inside the Kremlin.  
  • Kremlin Armoury Spread over two floors are displays of Russian gold and silverware, ceremonial weapons, coronation dresses, crowns and thrones of the Tsars and even the Royal Carriage of Catherine the Great.  One of the highlights is the Trans Siberian Egg, made of gold, silver, green, blue and orange enamel with onyx and velvet for lining. The miniature train is made of gold, platinum, diamonds, rubies and rock crystal!  

The Winter Palace in St Petersburg, WOW trip in 2018

2. Saint Petersburg

Founded by Tsar Peter the Great as Russia's 'window on Europe' it is easily the most beautiful city in Russia. Walking around the city is like wandering through a living museum. St Petersburg also has a network of stunning canals and bridges, so a leisurely cruise is recommended during your stay. During the White Nights, you could watch the spectacle of the Neva Bridges Opening, usually between 2 to 5am. Navigation season in St Petersburg is between April and November.

Must visit in Saint Petersburg

  • State Hermitage Museum - The second-largest art museum in the world after the Louvre in Paris, The Hermitage Collection contains over three million items spread across 120 different rooms. So makes sense to follow a guided tour that takes in some of the most popular works - Michelangelo's Crouching Boy - an unfinished marble statue, Raphael's Madonna and Child, Leonardo Da Vinci's Madonna masterpieces.
  • Church of the Savior of the Spilled Blood -  Five fairy tale onion domes constantly attract visitors to this church,  exuberantly decorated with Italian limestone and semi precious stones like mountain crystal and topaz.  Was built in memory of Tsar Alexander II who was assassinated at this very spot and hence the name. It has one of the largest Christian mosaic collections in Europe and you must visit both inside and outside.
  • Peter & Paul Fortress - History buffs will love this place - The Romanovs are buried in the Cathedral over here.  Occupying a prominent position on the banks of the Neva River, the fortress has a number of fabulous buildings for you to admire.  Peter the Great chose this special location - a small island in the estuary of the Neva River.  From its star-shaped defensive fortifications, the city of Saint Petersburg slowly spread and grew around it.
  • Peterhof Grand Palace -  Commissioned by Peter the Great as a direct response to the Palace of Versailles, Peterhof is located just 25 kms from Saint Petersburg in the Gulf of Finland. It is the former summer residence of the Tsars and more interesting than the palaces themselves are the vast gardens and fountains. When you do visit, make it a leisurely one so you can feel the freshness of nature and enjoy.
  • Catherine Palace - Located in the town of Pushkin, some 30 kms south of St Petersburg, is this stunning Rococo palace, also one of the summer residences. The Russian Baroque style is eminent, with richly decorated interiors including the world famous Amber Room. As you walk through the chambers, you can feel the spirit of Catherine the Great and her daughter Empress Elizabeth.

3. Golden Ring

This is a road trip through the heart of Russia. Small historical towns, tiny cottages, ancient onion domed churches,  liberally dot the picturesque countryside, making this a special region to visit.  Developed by the Soviets as a route for the tourists, the region collectively represents over a thousand years of Russian Orthodox history.

Must visit in Golden Ring

  • Sergiev Posad - This pretty Golden Ring town is the only one relatively close to Moscow and is famous for the Trinity Monastery of St Sergius. Even today, it is home to over 200 monks and houses a theological college and an icon painting school. You will recognise the Assumption Cathedral commissioned by Ivan the Terrible -  its striking blue domes with golden stars can be easily spotted during your wanderings. (located 75Kms from Moscow)
  • Rostov-Veliky - Famous for its historic architecture and traditional culture, the thing to do here is to visit the Assumption Cathedral and wait a bit to hear the bells ringing. Later walk around the walled area of the Kremlin, pick up some souvenir Rostov enamel jewellery and indulge in some mead tasting. The gardens, ducks in the pond are all part of the town's typical environment. (located 200Kms from Moscow on the bank of Lake Nero)
  • Suzdal - Often described as an open air museum, Suzdal is clearly the crown jewel and there is a reason for this. The former Soviet Union decided to avoid building any modern structures and tall buildings in order to preserve its old world feel for the benefit of tourists. So today it is filled with beautiful churches and charming wooden houses - the sight of the deep blue onion domes is photogenic and mesmerising. Given a chance we would love to revisit Suzdal.(located 220Kms from Moscow and 23Kms from Vladimir)

4. Siberia  

The historical name of the legendary Trans Siberian Railway is known as the Grand Siberian Route and this epic journey has always been associated with Siberia. There is no railroad longer than it in the entire world. The train in fact runs parallel to Lake Baikal, the lake that is often mistaken for a sea. Lake Baikal is the deepest, oldest and largest fresh water lake by sheer volume. The tunnels that you go through are incredible feats of engineering. Make sure you eat the smoked omul fish when you reach Irkutsk - fresh from the emerald coloured Baikal Lake. It is a delicacy.  Read more about this exquisite Trans-Siberian - Journey.

Can you see Northern Lights in Russia?

Yes indeed you can see them in Russia.  There are a lot of sparsely populated areas in Russia, with little or no artificial lights. Basically vast rural areas in the remote mountains, where you will have maximum chances of spotting the Aurora.

WOW PRO Tip -  You can look for the Aurora at Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula, in Arctic Russia.  Hemmed in between the Barents Sea and the snow coated hills, we suggest the  small fishing village of Teriberka for your Northern Lights search. (Murmansk is the world's largest city, located north of the Arctic Circle, in the permafrost zone)  Read more about the sheer drama of the Northern Lights.
Happy Wanderers from the Trans-Siberian Journey, 2017.

What souvenirs to buy from Russia

  • Matryoshka - The Russian dolls are a set of wooden dolls of decreasing size placed one inside the other. Brightly coloured.  
  • Pavlosky Posad Shawls - These large woollen shawls with vibrant colours and bold designs are worn by Russian women of all ages. Typically designed  with a generous hand tied fringe.
  • Gzhel Ceramics - Gzhel is a traditional Russian folk art consisting of mostly blue and white painting on ceramic.  In case you are keen to visit a production centre, it is 60 kms from Moscow.
  • Rostov Enamels - Enamel jewellery is a type of decorative art. Created from glass, its surface is hand painted by professional artists. Look out for beautiful earrings, brooches, necklaces, boxes with miniature paintings on enamel, specially when you are doing the rounds of the Golden Ring.
WOW PRO Tip -  Other things you can buy in Russia include numerous brands of Russian vodka and champagne. Caviar - in case you have that acquired taste. Russian porcelain in St Petersburg, Alenka chocolate bars (the face of a little girl with a headscarf on the packet cover), Faberge Egg Replicas and Russian Amber, a great fashion accessory. Some Georgian Red Wine if you can locate it.
St Isaac Cathedral, St Petersburg. WOW trip in 2018 
WOW PRO Tip -  White Nights occur in the Northern Hemisphere in summer when day light day may be as long as 22 hours - Basically, you just finish watching the sunset and it is almost time for the sunrise.  The main attraction of the White Nights in St. Petersburg is the opening of the bridges over the Neva River. It happens every night between 1 am and 3 am and some bridges are opened and closed two times during the night. The bridges are opened for ships and ferries, mainly cargo, to go through the city. The famous White Nights during the month of June don’t leave you a chance for sleeping! Because everything is open! 24 hours of the day! Almost.  

WOW wanderers outside St Basil Cathedral, wow trip 2019

Best time to visit - Russia for all Seasons.

  • Summer is one of the best times to visit Russia and the months between June and September are the peak tourist season. So more expensive and lots of crowds! June is best for the White Nights in St Petersburg.
  • Northern Lights viewing are best from September to March, when it is the darkest.
  • April till mid May recommended for less crowds and 15 hours of daylight. So good to go.

Currency - Russian Ruble

Travel Tips

  • Do use the metro to wander in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
  • Russia is safe for solo female travellers.
  • Explore the best nightlife in Moscow.
  • DO expect to spend in Russia. It is expensive, so go prepared.
  • Don't ask for a mixer with your vodka! Vodka is drunk neat in swift shots, not sipped.

We hope you enjoy reading our Russia blog! You should check out our upcoming departure for Russia along with Finland and Estonia.