10 Places You Must Visit in Russia

You probably don’t need an introduction on Russia. It’s by far the largest country in the world and one of the most misunderstood.

Why?

For a long time it was difficult to get into Russia as a foreigner. Especially as a western foreigner.

And it took a long time after the fall of the Soviet Union for Russia to become a more open country.

David usually has posts about specific things to do in the capital of a country, or in a specific region. When I got the opportunity to write a post for him about Russia, I wanted to do something similar.

But since Russia is so huge, it can be hard to decide where you should go. Especially if you don’t know the Russian language.

So here’s a nice travel plan if you’d like to travel to Russian for about 2 weeks.

It includes:

  • the capital Moscow 
  • the former capital Saint Petersburg (called Leningrad in Soviet times)
  • an excursion to the Golden Ring (8 cities located northeast of Moscow)

Many tourists in Russia only see Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Ask any Russian, and they’ll tell you that Moscow and Saint Petersburg are not good representatives of Russia in general.

It’s like taking a walk in Manhattan and expecting the whole USA to look like that. Ain’t gonna happen.

So let’s dig into this 2 week travel tour.

Moscow

Since Moscow is the capital, and largest city of Russia, a visit to Moscow should be on the list.

If you’ve never been to a city with 15 million+ inhabitants, you’re in for a shock.

I remember the first time I went to Moscow in 2016… 

Just to compare: I’m from the Netherlands and we have a total population of around 17 million people. And our capital Amsterdam has around 1 million inhabitants.

The sheer size of buildings was the first thing that impressed me. And still does to this day. 

Once you arrive from the airport, and drive by car on the MKAD (ringway of Moscow), there’s just an endless sea of huge Soviet living quarters.

Moscow has horrible traffic jams by the way. If you arrive to one of the airports and your hotel is in the center:

  1. take the airport train to the center
  2. walk or take a taxi to your hotel

Uber is called Yandex Taxi in Russia. And is cheap enough to be your main transport (a couple dollars for a 30 minute ride).

So you arrived at your hotel. What’s next?

Even though Moscow is a huge city, the 4 destinations below can be visited in 1 single day.

Red Square

Any trip to Moscow will have the Red Square in it. It’s the center of Russia, and everyone knows it from the news when Putin is giving a talk.

I’m not the guy to give too much significance to historic places and buildings. But the Red Square gives off a specific vibe of power, which is difficult to ignore.

There isn’t actually that much to do there, but it’s located very central, and easy to get to from any metro station.

Things to do here:

  • take pictures of Saint Basil’s Cathedral
  • spend half the day waiting to enter Lenin’s Mausoleum
  • grab a bite to eat in Park Zaryadye
  • walk around in the shopping center TSUM without buying anything (prices are awfully high)
  • go to ‘Kids World’ (Detskiy Mir – a large toy store) and climb to the roof to have a nice view of Moscow center

That’s about it.

Let’s continue to our next destination.

Gorky Park

Let’s take a little walk.

If you go from the Red Square around the Kremlin, at a certain point you’ll see the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour.

Fun fact: 40 years ago here was a public swimming pool.

Now walk around the cathedral and cross the bridge over the river Moskva. 

You should be walking towards a huge monument to Peter the Great.

Cross 2 bridges in total and go down to the right. Continue walking and you’ll come into once of the nicest parks of Moscow:

Gorky Park!

Before there will be some art expositions, and if that’s your thing, you can enjoy those 🙂

The park is a classic Soviet park with lots of little things to do:

  • In summer you can rent roller skates/bikes to go along the river
  • In Winter the park metamorfoses into a huge ice skating rink
  • There’s a lot of nice street food here
  • Take a river excursion along the Moskva river
  • Or just enjoy the nice weather (if it’s summer) on the grass

Hope you enjoyed it. Let’s go to our next stop.

Moscow Metro

Now we need to take the Moscow metro. Leave the park from the Main entrance and walk to the metro station ‘Park Kultury’ (red line 1 towards Kommunarka station). 

The Moscow metro is a work of art itself. Each station in the center has their own sculptures and style. 

That’s why each trip to Moscow should include at least 1 mandatory metro trip. It’s like a museum ticket for less than 1 dollar.

The Moscow metro is a great way to move around as well. Especially if you are in the center and are going to larger landmarks/events etc. Most of the time there is a station close, and that can save you a lot of time. 

So before going somewhere, check if there’s a metro station close (and if there’s one close to your hotel as well). 

Next stop will be Vorobyovy Gory. From there cross the road and go to the right.

Moscow State University

Once you arrive at the viewpoint, there’s a huge building located on your back.

That’s the most prestigious university of Russia:

Moscow State University (MGU)

That’s cool. But the reason why we’re here is because of the viewpoint over Moscow.

From here you can see the entire Moscow center.

On the left there will be Moscow City (Moscow’s business center). In the middle you will see Luzhniki stadium. It looks more impressive in real life 😉

Alright. That was it for Moscow. Let’s now see some real Russia.

Golden Ring

The Golden Ring is a collection of 8 cities/villages located northeast of Moscow. I couldn’t really find 100% sure why it’s called the Golden Ring. But these cities are all very closely linked with the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church. And each city has a lot of churches (some of them with golden domes on top).

You can take a tour on the Golden Ring by:

  • Car
  • Bus
  • Boat

If you don’t speak Russian or have a Russian speaking friend, it’s better to go on a guided tour. Though if you’re feeling adventurous, you can also just rent a car and go for it.

Each city has its own charm, but the following 3 have something special.

Suzdal

Suzdal is a small village that almost has more churches than inhabitants. I’m kidding of course.

Suzdal has 10.535 inhabitants and 305 monuments, among which 30 churches. That’s a lot.

Walking through the city feels as if walking through a museum.

There are many things you can do here:

  • swim in the little river if it’s warm
  • take a lot of pictures of churches
  • buy homemade medovukha (alcoholic drink made from honey)

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl is one of the bigger cities in the Golden Ring. It’s similar to the cities Kostroma and Ivanova, but with more cultural things. It’s located next to the Volga, so you can also swim in summer.

It’s a nice refreshment from the bigger cities to see how life is in smaller Russian cities.

Things to do here:

  • Swim in the volga
  • Take a walk in the riverside park
  • Go to the mini soviet theme park on an island

Rostov

Rostov is another small town with a large history – it’s one of the oldest towns in Russia. The main sigh here is the fact that it’s Kremlin has been turned into a museum. So you can literally take a walk through history.

Apart from that, there isn’t that much to do here. So it’s a good place to visit on your way through for a couple of hours.

Saint Petersburg

A visit to Russia isn’t complete without a visit to Saint Petersburg. It’s officially the largest city located that high up north. One of the most interesting statistics about the city I found was that it only has ~130 days in the year when the ground is NOT frozen.

That’s more than 7 months of cold.

I find the Netherlands to have a cold climate, and we have maybe 2 weeks of frozen ground every year.

Now, everyone’s cold tolerance is different. Still, there’s one good reason to travel to Saint Petersburg in summer:

White nights.

Because the city is located so far north, for a couple of weeks in June, the sun barely goes down.

Imagine walking down the streets in the sun, getting a drink or an icecream somewhere and hearing street musicians play. A regular summer day like it is everywhere.

Except for the fact that it’s 1 o’clock at night.

I understand for most people planning a trip requires balancing work, money, free time and more.

But if you have the opportunity to plan your trip around June, Saint Petersburg is absolutely the most beautiful.

Alright, let’s talk about some of the interesting things to see in this city.

Peterhof

Peterhof is the Russian Versailles.

It’s a huge 4.000 ha place on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg with a huge garden and palaces. 

It was built approximately 300 years ago, and if you have the time to travel there, absolutely worth it.

Peter and Paul Fortress/Hermitage/Kazan Cathedral/Savior of the Spilled Blood

These are the 4 most famous things in the center of Saint Petersburg. They’re all located close to each other, so it’s easy to see them all in 1 day. Except for the Hermitage. If you’re interested in art, it can take up to several days to see all the paintings and art in the museum.

Pyshechnaya

The final place to visit is Saint Petersburg’s most famous Donut place: Pyshechnaya. It’s located in the center as well, so you can make a quick pit stop there while exploring the center.

The reason why this place is so popular is because it still has the Soviet style. It was founded in 1958, and hasn’t changed that much throughout the years.

The reason why I haven’t mentioned specific Russian restaurants, is because there are so many of them. And virtually every one delivers tasty food.

So if you’re looking for some specific Russian food to try, I recommend you go for:

  • Shashlik: meat skewers from the Caucasus
  • Plov: rice dish from Uzbekistan
  • Borsh: beet soup from Ukraine
  • Khinkali: Big dumplings from Georgia
  • Salat olivier: Egg, vegetables and mayonnaise salad from Russia

Russia has been one of my favorite countries so far to travel to. I’m a bit biased because my girlfriend is from there. But I highly recommend everyone to at least once travel to Russia. Especially since it’s a country that few people have visited, now is a good time to see it, as it’s becoming easier to fly there. More people are also starting to speak English, and you can simply book hotels/apartments on Booking/AirBNB without a language barrier. Same goes for taxis with Uber/Yandex taxi.

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About the author: Arie Helderman is a Dutch guy who has been learning Russian since 2016. He gives other foreigners advice on how to learn Russian at learntherussianlanguage.com, and has a YouTube channel Ари говорит по-Русски.

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