Spanning 11 time zones, the world’s largest country by area, Russia fascinates visitors with its turbulent history, huge geographical distances, ethnic diversity, and rich culture of arts, literature, music, ballet, and drama. Whether you like historic cities, walled fortresses, awe-inspiring palaces, centuries-old monasteries, thriving arts, or idyllic countryside, your trip to Russia will be rewarding, memorable, at times overwhelming, but never boring.
Most visitors to Russia understandably focus on the two cities with the highest concentration of historic and cultural sites: Moscow – the vibrant, modern, and cosmopolitan capital; and St. Petersburg – the former seat of tsars and emperors and the country’s historic and cultural heart. With international airports welcoming flights from many destinations, Moscow and St. Petersburg are the main entry and exit points. In addition, both are popular ports of call for river cruises on the Russian waterways and St. Petersburg is a major stop on many Baltic Sea voyages.
As a bare minimum, you would need 5 – 7 days just to cover the highlights of Moscow and St. Petersburg. In Moscow, one full day is usually devoted to the iconic Red Square and the Kremlin complex with its historic cathedrals and the Armory Museum with an astonishing collection of imperial artifacts, jewelry, and weapons. Based on your individual interests, the next day in Moscow could focus on modern / military history, visits to the Tretyakov or Pushkin art galleries, and end with an evening performance at the famed Bolshoi Theater. On to St. Petersburg on a high-speed train, you will experience the imperial grandeur of Catherine Palace with the legendary Amber Room, the summer palace complex at Peterhof with its landscaped parks, gilded statues, and trick fountains, the immense collections of the Hermitage Museum, and the Peter & Paul fortress and cathedral – the resting place of the Russian tsars and emperors.
With 2 – 3 extra days to spare, for a taste of the ‘real’ Russia, travel through the countryside northeast of Moscow and explore the historic towns of the Golden Ring, some of which were founded as early as the 11th century and are steeped in history and traditional culture. Sergiev Posad, Vladimir, Suzdal, and Yaroslavl are among the best-preserved of these medieval settlements, featuring centuries-old monasteries, ornate onion-domed cathedrals, wooden architecture, and traditional handicrafts.
Want to wander further afield? Jump on a plane from Moscow to Irkutsk and tour the areas around the Lake Baikal. Once a thriving river port which profited from the trade between Moscow and Siberia, Irkutsk is now a main base for exploring Baikal – the world’s deepest freshwater lake and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Spend some time hiking in the forested hills around the lake or take a boat to Olkhon - Lake Baikal's largest island, to take in the pristine nature and unique wildlife.