The best of Russian travel writing


It's not surprising that a nation as massive as Russia has inspired equally vast quantities of travel literature. Whether you're planning to tackle a Siberian winter or you're just an avid armchair traveller, the books on this list should give you some insights and inspiration into this fascinating, and at times, foreboding land.

Russia: A Journey to Heart of a Land and its People by Jonathan Dimbleby. This is the hefty side product of a 16,000km journey the British journalist made for a BBC documentary across the country in 2007 – is a revealing snapshot of a multifaceted country.

Lost Cosmonaut and Strange Telescopes by Daniel Kalder are both blackly comic and serious explorations of some of Russia’s quirkiest and least visited locations. In the former book, the ‘anti-tourist’ author puts Kalmykia, Tatarstan, Mary-El and Udmurtia under the microscope. In the latter, Kalder goes underground in Moscow, hangs out with an exorcist and extends his travels into Siberia to meet with the religious prophet Vissarion.

Motherland by Simon Roberts depicts in inspirational words and stark pictures the photographer’s year-long journey from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad.

Black Earth: A Journey Through Russia after the Fall by Andrew Meier is acutely observed and elegiac. In dispatches from Chechnya, Moscow, Norilsk, Sakhalin and St Petersburg, he paints a bleak picture of the country.

Black Earth City by Charlotte Hobson is an eloquent account of the author’s year studying in Voronezh in the turbulent period following the dissolution of the USSR. The book captures eternal truths about the Russian way of life.

Through Siberia by Accident and Silverland by Dervla Murphy are affectionate, opinionated discourses on the forgotten towns along Siberia’s BAM rail route by one of the world’s best travel writers.

In Siberia by Colin Thubron is a fascinating, frequently sombre account of the author’s journey from the Urals to Magadan in post-Soviet times; it’s worth comparing with his Among the Russians about a journey taken in 1981 from St Petersburg to the Caucasus.

Journey into Russia by Laurens van der Post might have been written 60 years ago, but many of the observations made by the author about Soviet life still seem pertinent today, particularly those about the Russian character.

Imperium by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński is one of the best books about the break up of the Soviet Union. A beautiful book, it details the author's personal encounters with the Soviet monolith, reaching back to his childhood memories of his Polish village coming under Soviet control in 1939.

Feel like adding to this list with your own musings on Mother Russia? Get Lonely Planet's Guide to Travel Writing, and get those insights right!