The largest country in the world, Russia is a land of contrasts: timeless villages and cottages juxtapose with modern cities, incredible riches with the down-to-earth life in the countryside, the northern tundra and taiga with the beaches and steppes of the south, the mountains of Kamchatka with the plains of the west.
Ancient cities like Novgorod speak of a trading nation rich in natural resources while the Tsars left behind opulent palaces and a tradition of ballet and theatre. The imperial elite's treasures are now on display in magnificent museums such as St. Petersburg's Hermitage and Moscow's Kremlin. Churches and monasteries dot the landscape, and are particularly prominent in the Golden Circle.
Come and discover this fascinating country with us.
best time to travel
The best time to travel to Russia is May through October. May sees the new growth of spring, including beautiful tulip displays in Moscow and St. Petersburg. June and July are famous for the "white nights" when days are long and in the north it never really gets dark. October has fall colours and is a quiet time to visit.
places to go
A city created from a wilderness by Peter the Great was given its original name back after seven decades as Leningrad. Nicknamed Venice of the North, it is set along the banks of the wide Neva river and bisected by canals, a city of palaces, churches and museums. The State Hermitage Museum holds the largest and perhaps one of the most famous collections of art in the world, while outside the city, Peterhof Palace and Gardens and baroque Catherine's Palace with its famous Amber Room, are meant to impress. St. Petersburg is known for its "white nights" around the summer solstice when days are long and the sun barely dips below the horizon. A ballet performance at the Mariinsky Theatre is a must for those interested in the performing art.
In Russia's far north, within the White Sea, lie the remote Solovetsky Islands, home to a famous 15th century Russian Orthodox monastery. Visit during summer and you'll be spellbound by its natural beauty, even though the islands once housed some of the earliest Communist-era prisoner camps.
Known as the birthplace of Russia, it was here that Viking king Rurik proclaimed the Russian state in the 9th century. A bustling town at the centre of a network of trading routes, traces of its past can be found in its Kremlin and in St Sophia's Cathedral, Russia's oldest church.
Russia's capital has found a new energy since the fall of Communism and with its friendly populace, this is one city that will impress you. Wander across Red Square, hemmed in between the walls of the Kremlin, the spires of St Basil's Cathedral and the shops of the GUM arcade, and you'll feel like are in the heart of Mother Russia. The city is a center for the performing arts, with the Bolshoi Theatre the most famous attraction. To get from one site to another, don't forget to ride the metro, one of the world's deepest and famous for its beautiful stations.
The oldest and largest town on the famous Golden Ring, Yaroslav lies on the banks of the Volga and is famous for its ancient monuments, onion domed-churches as well as the Transfiguration Monastery.
One of Russia's oldest cities, Rostov the Great sports one of the finest Kremlins in the country outside Moscow. With a kilometre-long white-washed wall it sits atop a hill overlooking the picturesque town itself.
One of the most beautiful towns on the Golden Ring, Suzdal has some beautiful monasteries as well as the five-domed Cathedral of the Transfiguration. The Field Museum of Wooden Architecture is a lovely open-air museum of ancient churches, houses and windmills.
Vladimir, the city of the Golden Gates, is famed for its UNESCO protected architectural masterpiece of the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius, a true medieval gem and one of the finest in Russia.
A main centre for the Russian Orthodox Church Sergiev Posad's Trinity Monastery of Saint Sergius sports a great bell tower and beautiful golden domes.
A mix of Slavic Orthodox people and Tartar Sunni Muslims make up the bulk of the population of this ancient city, older even than Moscow. Nicknamed 'Istanbul on the Volga', this is a city where East meets West, and where Orthodox domes and spires compete with minarets to form one of the most interesting skylines of Russia. Kazan also has a magnificent Kremlin Fortress.
Known as the town where the Romanov family, the last Tsars of Russia, was executed, that single fact makes up but one facet of its fascinating history. A convenient stopover point along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Yekaterinburg deserves at least a day of exploration.
Irkutsk, a popular stopover along the Trans-Siberian Railroad, was historically a place of exile for the country's elite during Tsarist times. Today it is a pleasant city known as the ‘Paris of Siberia’, with beautiful 18th century churches and log houses decorated with intricate wooden lace-work and brightly painted shutters.
Lake Baikal is the world's largest freshwater lake by volume and also its deepest, containing nearly one quarter of the world's fresh surface water, more than all of the North American Great Lakes combined. It also has a reputation as the clearest and oldest lake on Earth and you may find it is also one of its coldest! As a nice break on your travel through Siberia you can stay in the lakeside village of Listvyanka, a popular summer resort famed for its traditional houses, and beautiful wooden church.
One of Russia's most important ports, Vladivostok boasts a beautiful setting and is known for its multitude of beaches and bays along the Pacific coast. Perhaps most famously it is the terminus of the Trans Siberian Railway.
The Kamchatka Peninsula hangs like a forlorn appendix off the bulk of Siberia. It is a remote wilderness of volcanoes, snowy mountains and rushing rivers, visited by only the most intrepid of travellers. Walrus, brown bear, and Steller's sea eagle are often seen along the coast.
Separating the Barents and Kara seas, the two islands that make up Novaya Zemlya is an Arctic wilderness inhabited by lemming, Arctic fox, seal, walrus. Polar bears make an occasional appearance.
Franz Josef Land
The northernmost archipelago in the world, Franz Josef Land was not discovered until the late 19th century. Bowhead whales and Atlantic walrus are often seen in the waters surrounding the islands, while on land polar bear and numerous sea birds make their appearance.
Walk Red Square
If you are old enough to remember the mighty Soviet military parades on Red Square, walking across Moscow's Red Square will hold a certain magical appeal. But even without those memories, gazing up from the cobblestone square at the spires of St Basil's and the walls of the Kremlin is a memory not easily forgotten.
For more than two centuries the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg has been the place to see some of the world's best performances of ballet, opera and orchestra. Meanwhile, Moscow's Bolshoi Theatre is amongst the oldest and most renowned ballet and opera theatres in the world.
White Nights of St Petersburg
With the sun barely dipping below the horizon, the months either side of the summer solstice is a wonderful time to visit St. Petersburg. The White Nights Festival is an annual summer festival of classical ballet, opera and music.
Discover art treasures
The State Hermitage Museum holds the largest and perhaps one of the most famous collections of art in the world, containing the works of masters like Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Raphael, Velazquez, Rubens and Rembrandt, as well as contemporary pieces by Matisse and Picasso.
Ride the rails
A trip from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg along the Trans Siberian Railway is perhaps the world's most classic rail journey. Without stopping the journey would take 7-8 days but of course there are plenty of stops to be made: Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Kazan, Yekaterinburg and Moscow come to mind. But even on shorter journeys you will have a great experience and you will find the Russian people wanting to meet with you, curious as they are about people from other countries.
Chill in a banya
Considered an important part of Russian culture, visiting a banya (sauna) is a great way to relax, meet people and cleanse oneself.
Visit a monastery
Russia is awash in some of the most beautiful monasteries in the Orthodox world. The Golden Ring east of Moscow is home to some of the country's finest and most important ones.
Dance the night away
Russian nightlife is something to behold. Dress to the nines and join the throngs as they celebrate life like no other people can.
Shop in opulence
Moscow's famous GUM department store is Russia's most iconic. A far cry from the days of Communism, the beautiful galleries along Red Square today include luxury shops such as Louis Vuitton and Prada, as well as a great shop selling gourmet food, wine, chocolate, and classic Soviet products.
So many Kremlins
Known from the nightly newscast, the Kremlin in Moscow is the most famous in the country. Yet almost every historic town in Russia sports a Kremlin, which is traditionally a citadel. Novgorod, Rostov Veliky, Suzdal and Kazan are but some of the places to discover these compounds which often house beautiful old churches.
Ride the Metro
Moscow's metro is one of the world's deepest and famous for its beautiful stations.
Discover a palace
The Tsarist regime built many beautiful palaces near St. Petersburg. Peter the Great built Peterhof, situated on the shores of the Gulf of Finland, as a direct response to his visit to the Palace of Versailles in France. Several palaces adorn the magnificent grounds.
Empresses Elizabeth and Catherine the Great built the vast baroque Catherine Palace in the 18th century and the interior is home to some magnificent rooms, including the famous Amber Room. Catherine the Great also had a hand in the building of nearby Alexander Palace, the preferred residence of the last Russian Emperor, Nicholas II
Indulge your inner gardener
Two palace gardens outside St. Petersburg demand your attention. First and foremost there are the gardens at Peterhof, arguably some the finest in Europe, what with its multitude of golden statues, fountains and the masterpiece of the Grand Cascade. Meanwhile the extensive gardens at Catherine's Palace, warrant a few hours of wandering to explore the multitude of statues and flower beds.
Take a cruise
Be it an Arctic or Pacific expedition cruise, a Volga river cruise or a White Nights cruise through the canals of St. Petersburg, Russia is a great country to explore from the water.
Up to the Arctic
Travel overland to the remote Solovetsky Islands or by expedition cruise ship to Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land and discover Russia's Arctic region - tundra, taiga, glacier and arctic desert make up a large part of the Russian territory and loom large in the national psyche.
Hike the mountains
The Caucasus and Ural mountains as well as the shores of Lake Baikal and the northern Solovetsky Islands offer plenty of hiking opportunities.
Look for bears
Join an expedition cruise to Franz Josef Land to look for polar bear, or a discovery cruise to Kamchatka to look for brown bear and find out what a natural paradise remote Russia is.
Trek amongst active volcanoes
Kamchatka is a remote wilderness of volcanoes, snowy mountains and rushing rivers, visited by only the most intrepid of hikers. Bears outnumber locals, and some really remote trekking takes you amongst Eurasia’s highest active volcanoes.