One of Russia's unmissable attractions, the reserve is home to dozens of 18th- and 19th-century log buildings, some furnished in period style, which were moved here from Karelian villages during Soviet times. Topped with 30 miniature domes, the magnificent Transfiguration Church is its star. Be aware that renovation works expected to be completed by 2020–21 currently spoil the view somewhat.
Hydrofoils (R2900 return) from Petrozavodsk dock at a landing flanked by souvenir kiosks. From the ticket office, head south into the main reserve.
An obvious coastal path loops around the main attractions, followed anticlockwise by most visitors, starting with the unmissable Kizhi Enclosure (Корпус музея 'Кижи'). It contains a striking pair of churches, their cupolas covered with wooden 'scales', a modest graveyard and an 1862 wooden bell tower. Kizhi's world-famous 1714 Transfiguration Church features a chorus of wooden domes, gables and ingenious decorations to keep water off the walls. Entry isn’t allowed as it’s undergoing extensive renovation. However, the lovely nine-domed Church of the Intercession (1764) next door hosts a rich collection of 16th-to-18th-century icons and a splendid iconostasis.
Directly south of the Kizhi Enclosure, the 1876 Oshevnev House is typical of larger historical Karelian rural homes where house and stable-barn were combined into one unit. Notice the ‘bed cupboard’ and the dried herbs hanging from the ceiling (Old Believers considered tea drinking a sin).
Further south is a black banya, a tiny wooden bathhouse hut so known because there was no chimney to allow the escape of smoke from the heater fires.
Outside the furnished 1880 Elizarov House, a craftsman carves little human and animal figures, while within the Chapel of the Archangel Michael, note the 'sky' – the wooden icons that make up the ceiling. A merry ringing of church bells usually accompanies your visit.
Just south of Schepin House is a working smithy, while in the southernmost Sergiev House an exhibition compares the coexisting worlds of male and female peasants in the late 19th century. Women were in charge of cooking, embroidery, sewing and child rearing, while men worked in the fields and fished. No surprises there.
Further north, the little 14th-century Church of the Resurrection of Lazarus from Murom monastery is the oldest structure on Kizhi – some claim it to be the oldest wooden building in Russia.
An interesting carpentry exhibit en route to Yakovlev House gives a great visual explanation of how wooden buildings were made without nails. The house itself is the most affluent of the lot, with lace tablecloths and a group of weavers who burst into Old Russian song as you walk in.
From here you could return to the dock past a carved wooden cross, a once common roadside waymarker in rural Karelia. Alternatively, stroll on to Yamka. You can also rent bicycles at the entrance to the reserve for R300 per hour. No deposit is required.