Breathtaking architecture and a fascinating history: The best places to visit in Russia

An overview of Moscow

Head to the energetic city of Moscow, Europe’s most populated inland city, lif you’re a fan of architecture and history. Its 800-year-old background means it’s easy to spend days or even weeks wandering through crowded backstreets, open squares and museums and galleries detailing the city’s rich past.
Although many consider it an expensive place to explore, the devaluation of the rouble means Moscow is becoming more and more affordable, especially compared to its western counterparts. [Photo: Getty]

St. Basil’s Cathedral – Moscow

What’s a trip to Russia without a visit to St. Basil’s Cathedral? The building is one of a kind, and for a morbid reason: it was commissioned by the first Tsar of Russia, Ivan Vasilyevich, who alledgedly blinded the unnamed architect after the cathedral was finished. And while it’s easy to appreciate the incredible colours of the domes, it wasn’t always this way. St Basil’s cathedral was white when it was first built with gold tips. It took more than 200 years for the façade and domes to be painted. [Photo: Getty]

Lenin’s Mausoleum – Moscow

A mausoleum might not be the most Instagrammable spot in Russia, but Lenin’s place of rest is filled with history. When he passed away, Lenin reportedly asked to be buried. But general outcry and more than 10,000 telegrams from the grieving public forced the government to keep Lenin’s body on display. The mausoleum is situated on the Red Square, next to the walls of Kremlin. [Photo: Getty]

State Academic Bolshoi Theatre Opera and Ballet – Moscow

A trip to the ballet with a private box will only set you back around £50 for two people if booked in advance. This historic theatre is one of the most renowned ballet and opera companies in the world and features more than 200 dancers. [Photo: Getty]

Tretyakov Gallery – Moscow

For an authentic look into Russia’s art scene, head to the Tretyakov gallery in Moscow. It’s one of the largest in Russia with over 100,000 works of art – icons, paintings, graphics and sculpture – spanning the entire history of Russia. Its collection of realism works from the second half of the 19th century is the best in the country. [Photo: Getty]

Gorky Park, the central park of Culture and Rest – Moscow

When you’ve had enough of the indoors, head to Gorky Park for an afternoon surrounded by flowers and music. When the weather’s nice, the park is filled with musicians and locals alike enjoying the sunshine. If you’re hungry, stop for a bite to eat at one of the cafes and end your visit from above, with a 15 minute ride on the ferris wheel. [Photo: Getty]

An overview of St Petersburg

St Petersburg is Russia’s cultural capital and it’s easy to see why. With more art galleries than you could count, it’s also filled with Soviet history, Russian literature and beautiful parks and gardens.[Photo: Getty]

Inside the Church of Grand Palace in Peterhof, St Petersburg

Make sure to visit the paintings of the Chesma Hall with its French-style interiors and the East and West Chinese Cabinets, decorated with traditional Oriental patterns by Russian craftsmen. [Photo: Getty]

The Kunstkamera Museum, St Petersburg

If you’re a fan of the unusual, the Kunstkamera Museum in St Petersburg is a must-see attraction. Often regarded as one of the weirdest museums in the world, it feaures everything from Siamese twins to giant skeletons. Kunstkamera is also the oldest museum in Russia, opened by Peter the Great in 1727. [Photo: Getty]

The Hermitage – Saint Petersburg

The State Rooms of the Winter Palace are an automatic go-to if you’re a fan of art when visiting The Hermitage museum. With everything from a unique collection of seventh-century BC Scythian gold to some of Picasso’s great Blue Period paintings, this vast gallery features works of art from almost every well-known artist. Whether you’re a fan of Monet, Michelangelo or Gainsborough, you’ll find something captivating. [Photo: Getty]

Cathedral of Our Saviour of Spilled Blood – St Petersburg

This amazing cathedral is another with a blood-thirsy history. It was built after Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881, on the spot where he died. The church was almost entirely funded by the Imperial family and thousands of private donators and was decorated by Russia’s most prominent artists. Before you reach the cathedral, take a moment to stroll down Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s most popular street, for a breathtaking view. [Photo: Getty]

Exterior of famous church of the Savior on Spilled Blood – St. Petersburg

The breath-taking detail on the outside of the church is worth spending at least a few minutes gazing at. [Photo: Getty]

St Petersburg canals

Venice is probably the first city that comes to mind when you think of canals, but it’s worth taking a trip through St Petersburg via the water to see the sights from a whole new perspective. Built across the marshlands of the Neva River delta, St. Petersburg is interlaced with around 100 canals with a total length of 300 kilometers and over 800 bridges crossing them. When deciding on a boat, go for the smallest one possible to truly experience the smaller canals throughout the city that the larger, more commercial ones can’t fit through. [Photo: Getty]

Winter Palace – St Petersburg

From the 1760s onwards the Winter Palace was the main residence of the Russian Tsars. Magnificently located on the bank of the Neva River, this Baroque-style palace is perhaps St. Petersburg’s most impressive attraction. Until 1917, it was home to the Russian royal family and, even though they’ve since moved on, the palace continues to dominate Palace Square with its brightly coloured exteriors.[Photo: Getty]

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky – east Russia

Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is the place to go if you’re a fan of the outdoors. It’s the most eastern town on the northern hemisphere and can only be accessed by a flight from Moscow. While nature is its main point of interest, with volcanos, mountains and an extensive variety of wildlife, it’s also filled with history and is regarded as the industrial, scientific, and cultural centre of the Kamchatka Krai area.[Photo: Getty]

Ruskeala lakes – Karelia (north-west)

Ruskeala, Karelia, is thought to be one of the most beautiful places in the world. It’s perfect if you need a break from city life and fancy being surrounded by almost nothing but nature. This republic, in north-west Russia, is more Finnish than Russian influenced and is a great spot for hiking. Take a trip to Ruskeala mountain park to see the crystal clear water and marvel at the light shows during the summer months. [Photo: Getty]

Shamanka Rock – Khuzhir (south-east)

Even if you’re not a fan of the cold, Lake Baikal should be on your list of places to visit if you’re in Russia for an extended period of time. Found in the south-east of the country, it is the largest freshwater lake in the world. Shamanka Rock is one of the most popular place for travellers in the area during the summer, or visit during the winter for seal-spotting and sports on the frozen surfaces.[Photo: Getty]

Zelenogradsk – Kaliningrad (south-west)

Zelenogradsk is a city resembling a far more traditional Russia than Moscow or St Petersburg. Sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania, it’s filled with eclectic sights like the museum of skulls and skeletons, the Murarium – another quirky museum with a cat theme, and various obscure monuments. It’s one to visit if you’ve seen the sights and are coming back for more. [Photo: Getty]

Altai mountains – bordered with Kazakhstan

The Altai mountains sit right at the bottom of Russia and border with Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia. They’re the place to go if you’re a lover of spas, due to the wide variety of luxurious treatments on offer and the picturesque surroundings. Stay in a log cabin at the foot of the mountains or take a midsummer hike from the village of Tyungur to the Belucha mountain for sights more calming than you’ve ever seen before. [Photo: Getty]

Sochi (south-west)

You might recognise this Russian Riviera for playing host to the 2014 Winter Olympics. And the area is still renowned for its love of water sports. There’s a skating palace, a ski resort and various ice domes to keep you busy during the day. In the evening, take a stroll to the lighthouse to watch the sunset over the water. [Photo: Getty]

Russia might not be high up on your list of holiday destinations – but it should be. The largest country in the world, it spans 11 time zones over a stretch of 6,000 miles. The vast expanse of land means it’s possible to go from gazing at world famous artefacts to trekking volcanos or being surrounded by history in only a matter of hours.

Because Russia has something for everyone. Whether you’re an art fanatic or a lover of the outdoors, it’s possible to busy yourself for days on end with entertainment.

Head to St Petersburg for incredible architecture and enough canals to make Venice envious. If you’re a fan of history, bustling streets and open squares, take a trip to the country’s capital, Moscow.

And, once you’re done with the two major cities, venture outside and experience a whole other side of Russia. Check out the depths of Siberia with its huge array of wild animals to the crystal clear lakes of Ruskeala, before taking a boat trip out in the world’s largest fresh-water lake to Shamanka Rock, Khuzkir.

Non-stop flights to Russia are around 3 hours 15 minutes to St Peterburg and 3 hours 45 minutes to Moscow. Booked in advance, they can be found from £80.

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