Before even beginning to plan a trip to Russia, many travelers feel overwhelmed by the country’s sheer size and diversity of landscapes and sights. To visit some of this giant land’s best attractions in a single week, consider spending time in one of Russia’s two biggest cities.
State Russian Museum
Built as Imperial Russia’s showcase capital, St. Petersburg contains many of the country’s best-known attractions, including the impressive State Russian Museum. Housed in a building designed by architect Carlo Rossi, the museum contains a collection tracing the history of Russian art from Byzantine church paintings to 20th-century avant-garde video presentations. The collection contains nearly half a million artworks, including masterpieces by Ilya Repin, Alexei Venetsianov, and Ivan Shishkin. Don’t miss the museum halls, displaying nearly 6,000 religious icons.
Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood
Include Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood in your Russia itinerary to discover a building boasting over 7,500 sq m (80,000 sq ft) of wall and ceiling mosaics, more than any other religious structure in the world. Easily recognized by its iconic onion domes, the church claims a prominent spot on a canal dug in the early 18th century. You’ll need a permit to photograph the stunning interior; pick up your ticket and permit at the administration booth just inside the church entrance.
State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace
The cherry on top of nearly every visit to St. Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace serve as the city’s prime cultural attraction. The massive palace once provided a home for Russian emperors and today displays priceless works by Goya, Degas, Rubens, Leonardo, and Michelangelo. Founded by Catherine the Great in 1764, the museum houses the world’s largest collections of paintings, only a small portion of which remains on permanent display. See the highlights on a guided tour in your native language.
St. Petersburg Side Trips
Enhance your Russia vacation and get a new perspective on St. Petersburg by taking a few side trips outside the city. Head to Peterhof to see a series of World Heritage-listed palaces and gardens, or visit Vyborg to see a medieval citadel that once protected a trade route to the Baltic Sea.
For most visitors Russia begins and ends at Red Square, located at the heart of Moscow. The vast plaza offers easy access to many of the city’s major sights, including a series of landmark buildings representative of the city’s rich cultural and artistic heritage. Most of Moscow’s major streets originate right at this World Heritage-listed square, making it an ideal spot to get the feel of the city and start your tour of its biggest attractions.
The official residence of the Russian president, Moscow Kremlin overlooks Red Square and includes five palaces and four cathedrals. Recognized as a World Heritage Site, the giant complex sits on the northern bank of the Moscow River and includes a protective brick wall stretching for just over 2 km (1.2 mi). Take a few photos of the exterior from the opposite side of the river, and then join a guided tour of the citadel’s museums, housing vast collections of Russian state regalia, arms, and armor.
Don’t be surprised to find that Moscow Metro not only remains one of the easiest ways to get around the city, but also offers you a chance to see a network of elegant stations decorated with lavish chandeliers and intricate mosaics. Indisputably one of the Communist era’s finest architectural and engineering achievements, the subway stretches for more than 300 km (200 mi) and serves over nine million passengers daily. Purchase a 90-minute ticket to tour the metro’s finest stops.
Moscow Side Trips
To enrich your Russia sightseeing experience, venture outside Moscow and discover a sprawling countryside of pristine rivers, dense forests, and quiet villages. You can visit Leo Tolstoy’s estate at Yasnaya Polyana, or explore the circle of towns (including World Heritage Sites) dotted along the “Golden Ring,” a series of historical settlements preserving the country’s cultural heritage and prominently featuring the quintessentially Russian onion domes.
Mother Russia’s Treasure Trove of Art and Culture
To discover Russia’s finest cultural and artistic attractions, devote at least one week to Moscow or St. Petersburg. Plan a trip to Russia with one or both of these cities in mind, and create a vacation experience that’s sure to charm, surprise, and enlighten.