Due to the tense internal security environment and lack of commercial flight options in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine, travel to the whole of Russia is strongly discouraged and foreign nationals still in Russia are advised to depart as quickly as possible.
The world's largest country offers it all, from historic cities and idyllic countryside to artistic riches, epic train rides and vodka-fuelled nightlife.
Historic & Contemporary
If ancient walled fortresses, glittering palaces and swirly-spired churches are what you’re after, focus on European Russia. Here, Moscow and St Petersburg are the must-see destinations, twin repositories of eye-boggling national treasures, political energies and contemporary creativity. Within easy reach of these cities are charming historical towns and villages, such as Veliky Novgorod, Pskov and Suzdal, where the vistas dotted with onion domes and lined with gingerbread cottages measure up to the rural Russia of popular imagination.
Arty & Adventurous
Whether you’re a culture vulture in search of inspiration from great artists and writers or an adventure addict looking for new horizons to conquer, Russia amply delivers. Tread in the footsteps of literary greats, including Tolstoy and Pushkin, on their country estates. Ski or climb lofty mountains in the Caucasus, go trekking or white-water rafting in the Altai Republic, hike around Lake Baikal, or scale an active volcano in Kamchatka – the variety of possibilities will make your head spin.
Off the Beaten Track
Russia’s vast geographical distances and cultural differences mean you don’t tick off its highlights in the way you might those of a smaller nation. Instead, view Russia as a collection of distinct territories, each one deserving separate attention. Rather than transiting via Moscow, consider flying direct to a regional centre such as Rostov-on-Don, Irkutsk or Yekaterinburg and striking out from there. With a welcome spread of Western-style hostels and hotels around the country and the ease of booking trains and flights online, it's simple to organise this kind of trip yourself.
A Riddle Worth Solving
We won’t lie: bureaucracy and occasional discomfort and inconvenience, particularly away from the booming urban centres, remain an integral part of the Russian travel experience. However, a small degree of perseverance will be amply rewarded: one of the great joys of travel in Russia is being swept away by the boundless hospitality of the people. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Winston Churchill both wrote famous lines about Russia being an enigmatic riddle. Embrace this conundrum and you, too, are sure to find yourself swept away by a passion for Mother Russia.
These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Russia.
On the northern side of Sobornaya pl, with five golden helmet domes and four semicircular gables, the Assumption Cathedral is the focal church of pre-revolutionary Russia and the burial place of most of the heads of the Russian Orthodox Church from the 1320s to 1700. A striking 1660s fresco of the Virgin Mary faces Sobornaya pl, above the door once used for royal processions. If you have limited time, come straight here. The visitors' entrance is at the western end.
The Armoury dates to 1511, when it was founded under Vasily III to manufacture and store weapons, imperial arms and regalia for the royal court. Later it also produced jewellery, icon frames and embroidery. To this day, the Armoury contains plenty of treasures for ogling, and remains a highlight of any visit to the Kremlin. If possible, buy your time-specific ticket to the Armoury when you buy your ticket to the Kremlin.
This is Moscow’s premier foreign-art museum, split over three branches and showing off a broad selection of European works, including masterpieces from ancient civilisations, the Italian Renaissance and the Dutch Golden Age. To see the incredible collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, visit the 19th & 20th Century Art Gallery. The Museum of Private Collections shows off complete collections donated by private individuals.
The Hermitage fully lives up to its sterling reputation. You can be absorbed by its treasures for days and still come out wanting more. The enormous collection (over three million items, only a fraction of which are on display in 360 rooms) almost amounts to a comprehensive history of Western European art. Viewing it demands a little planning, so choose the areas you’d like to concentrate on before you arrive.
At the southern end of Red Square stands the icon of Russia: St Basil’s Cathedral. This crazy confusion of colours, patterns and shapes is the culmination of a style that is unique to Russian architecture. In 1552 Ivan the Terrible captured the Tatar stronghold of Kazan on the Feast of Intercession. He commissioned this landmark church, officially the Intercession Cathedral, to commemorate the victory. Created from 1555 to 1561, this masterpiece would become the ultimate symbol of Russia.
The Grand Palace is an imposing building, although with just 30-something rooms, it is not nearly as large as your typical tsarist palace. From the start of June to the end of September it is open to foreign tourists only between noon and 2pm, and again from 4.15pm to 5.45pm (to 7.45pm on Saturdays), due to guided tours being only in Russian at other times (it is quite possible to leave your group, however).
Moscow's answer to London's South Bank, Krymskaya Nab (Crimea Embankment) features wave-shaped street architecture with Scandinavian-style wooden elements, beautiful flower beds and a moody fountain, which ejects water randomly from many holes in the ground to the excitement of children and adults alike. It has merged with the Art Muzeon park and its motley collection of Soviet stone idols (Stalin, Sverdlov and a selection of Lenins and Brezhnevs) that were ripped from their pedestals in the post-1991 wave of anti-Soviet feeling.
This imposing, stone-walled monastery is the heart and soul of the Solovetsky Islands. Founded in 1429, it has played various roles throughout its existence: a hermit's retreat, a vibrant religious community, a rebel enclave that held out against the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, a fortress victorious against British warships, a gulag for the Soviet Union's damned and a museum. Revived post- perestroika, it flourishes once more as a spiritual institution.
The apex of Russian political power and once the centre of the Orthodox Church, the Kremlin is the kernel of not only Moscow, but of the whole country. From here, autocratic tsars, communist dictators and modern-day presidents have done their best – and worst – for Russia. Covering Borovitsky Hill on the Moscow River's north bank, it's enclosed by high walls 2.25km long (Red Square's outside the east wall). The best views of the complex are from Sofiyskaya nab across the river.