Must see attractions in Western European Russia

  • Top ChoiceSights in Veliky Novgorod

    Novgorod State United Museum

    Within the kremlin walls is this must-see museum that houses three strikingly comprehensive exhibitions covering the history of Veliky Novgorod, Russian woodcarving and Russian icons. The latter contains one of the world's largest collections of icons, with around 260 pieces placed in chronological order, allowing you to appreciate the progression of skills and techniques through the centuries. The English audio guide (R200) is recommended if you want to get the most out of a visit. Downstairs in the history section (with minimal English signage), birch-bark manuscripts are displayed, some of them 800 years old. The letters, documents and drawings by people of all ages and social classes indicate that literacy was widespread in medieval Novgorod. The woodcarving exhibits include everything from the mundane (kitchen utensils and furniture) to more elaborate religious objects.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Veliky Novgorod

    Cathedral of St Sophia

    This is the oldest church in Russia (finished in 1050) and one of the country's oldest stone buildings. It's the kremlin's focal point and you couldn't miss it if you tried – its golden dome positively glows. St Sophia houses many icons dating from the 14th century, but none are as important as that of Novgorod's patron saint, Our Lady of the Sign, which, the story goes, miraculously saved the city from destruction in 1170 after being struck by an arrow. The cathedral's domes were probably added during the 14th century – they are perhaps the first example of this most Russian of architectural details. The west doors, dating from the 12th century, have tiny cast-bronze biblical scenes and portraits of the artists.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Veliky Novgorod

    Veliky Novgorod Kremlin

    On the west bank of the Volkhov River, and surrounded by a pleasant wooded park, the kremlin is one of Russia’s oldest. Originally called the Detinets (and still often referred to as such), the fortification dates to the 9th century, and was rebuilt with brick in the 14th century; this still stands today. The complex is worth seeing with a guide; arrange one through the tourist office. You can walk part of the kremlin walls for views over the complex and the city. Boat tours operate from the kremlin's pier.

  • Top ChoiceSights in Veliky Novgorod

    Church of the Transfiguration of Our Saviour on Ilyina Street

    This compact church is famous for housing the only surviving frescoes by legendary Byzantine painter Theophanes the Greek (1378) – they came close to extinction when the church served as a Nazi machine-gun nest. Restoration has exposed as much of the frescoes as possible, though they are still faint, and a small exhibit upstairs includes reproductions with explanations in Russian. The church closes on the last Thursday of the month and in wet weather.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Vitoslavlitsy

    Vitoslavlitsy is an evocative open-air museum of 22 beautiful wooden peasant houses and churches, some dating back to the 16th century, and the highlight being the soaring Church of the Nativity of Our Lady (1531). What makes these buildings all the more remarkable is that they were all constructed without nails. There's a cafe on the grounds, plus a good souvenir shop and craft sellers. Opposite Vitoslavlitsy is the rustic, charming Yurevskoe Podvore. The hotel's attached restaurant prepares traditional Russian food (meals R600 to R1000). Buses 7 and 7A (R22) run here from opposite the Novgorod tourist office. The bus route goes in a loop; it first stops at St George's Monastery and then outside the museum, 600m further on, before returning to town.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Millennium of Russia Monument

    This gargantuan 16m-high, 100-tonne sculpture was unveiled in 1862 on the 1000th anniversary of the Varangian Prince Rurik’s arrival, a moment heralded as the start of Russian history. It depicts 127 figures captured in heavy bronze, including rulers, statesmen, artists, scholars and a few fortunate hangers-on. The women at the top are Mother Russia and the Russian Orthodox Church. Around the middle, clockwise from the south, are Rurik, Prince Vladimir of Kyiv (who introduced Christianity), tsars Mikhail Romanov, Peter the Great and Ivan III, and Dmitry Donskoy trampling a Mongol Tatar. In the bottom band on the east side are nobles and rulers, including Catherine the Great with an armload of laurels for all her lovers. Alexander Nevsky and other military heroes are on the north side, and literary and artistic figures are on the west.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    St George’s Monastery

    Set amid peaceful marsh and lakelands a 15-minute bus ride south of the Veliky Novgorod town centre, the picturesque St George’s Monastery makes for a relaxing excursion. Founded in 1030 by Yaroslav the Wise, the monastery functions as a theological school. It features the heavily reconstructed Cathedral of St George and a clutch of 19th-century add-ons. Catch bus 7 or 7A (R22 one way), which depart on the opposite side of the road from the tourist office.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Yaroslav's Court

    Across a footbridge from the kremlin are the photogenic remnants of an 18th-century market arcade. Beyond that is the market gatehouse, an array of churches sponsored by 13th- to 16th-century merchant guilds, and a 'road palace' built in the 18th century as a rest stop for Catherine the Great. The 12th-century St Nicholas Cathedral is all that remains of the early palace complex of the Novgorod princes, from which Yaroslav's Court (Yaroslavovo dvorishche) gets its name.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Belfry

    The belfry, with its enormous steel bells, has a small bell museum and an observation platform providing good photo opps of the Cathedral of St Sophia on one side and fine views across the beach and river on the other. You can combine a visit with the kremlin wall walk (combo ticket adult/child R300/150), though views are arguably good enough from the belfry.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    St Nicholas Cathedral

    The 12th-century Kyiv-style St Nicholas Cathedral is all that remains of the early palace complex of the Novgorod princes, from which Yaroslav’s Court gets its name. The cathedral holds church artefacts and temporary exhibitions of local interest. Downstairs you can see fragments from the church’s original frescoes.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Kokui Tower

    The 41m-tall Kokui Tower was built in the 18th century, and a climb up its narrow stairs provides panoramic views across the kremlin complex and the city. It was closed indefinitely at the time of research as it was undergoing restoration.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Chamber of Facets

    Part of a palace built in 1433, this Gothic chamber once housed Novgorod's Supreme Court and was the scene of many ceremonies and soirées, not all of them pleasant. Ivan the Terrible reputedly slaughtered tablefuls of noble guests right here, wrongly believing they were plotting against him. These days, you'll find religious artefacts, some fine ancient craftwork, and frescoes. The gorgeous interior, recently renovated, is worth the admission price alone. In a separate exhibition on the 2nd floor are glittering pieces from Novgorod’s gold treasury, some dating back to the 6th century AD.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Novgorod Regional Folk Arts Centre

    You can participate in two-hour workshops (in Russian only) on producing Russian crafts at this arts centre on the grounds of the former 15th-century Zverin Monastery (Зверин-Покровский монастырь); book ahead at the tourist office. There's also a small craft shop on-site. Also on the monastery grounds is the tiny Church of St Simeon. The arts centre is on the right as you approach the grounds, and the church is around the corner past the military base.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Centre of Musical Antiquities

    This small but lovingly maintained museum houses a wonderful collection of traditional folk-music instruments specific to Novgorod and around, including replicas of instruments dating back to the 10th to 15th centuries and found during excavations. The centre hosts performances on weekends. To find it, follow ul Ilina away from the river and turn left into ul Mikhaylova and first left.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Kremlin Wall Walk

    Walk part of the kremlin walls for views over the fortress, out to the beach and across the sparkling river. Tickets are sold at the belfry; you can get a combo ticket for both (adult/child R300/150), though the views are arguably better from the belfry.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Cathedral of the Nativity of Our Lady

    Legend has it that St Anthony took just three days to sail down Europe’s rivers from Italy to Novgorod on a rock in 1106. You can view the supposed boulder, which apparently has healing properties, at the entrance to this church on the grounds of the Antoniev Monastery.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign

    While the outside of this 17th-century Moscow-style complex has seen better days, the interior is festooned with frescoes painted by masters from Kostroma in the Golden Ring. The cathedral occasionally hosts choral concerts.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Hall of Military Glory

    Novgorod boasts status as a City of Military Glory and has the museum to prove it. Wax statues and bas-reliefs tell the stories of the city's heroism from ancient Rus to modern times.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Fine Arts Museum

    A strong provincial collection of paintings by 18th- and 19th-century Russian artists, as well as temporary shows. The 3rd floor features Novgorod artists.

  • Sights in Veliky Novgorod

    Church of St Simeon

    This tiny church in the former Zverin Monastery grounds has colourful frescoes that form a religious calendar.