13 Best Places to Visit in Russia

Whenever I ask people about their dream travel destinations, the majority of them say either Paris, Venice or Barcelona. These cities are genuinely exquisite to visit, but they are also cities that have become too common a travel destination. So, I ask them a different question then, what do they think about Russia? Upon mentioning the biggest nation in the world, most of the people ask about one thing; isn't Russia always freezing?

I always smile and answer; it is cold but not more than Norway or the Netherlands. Part of Russia indeed falls in the arctic circle. However, the majority of it doesn't. Russia is one such nation in the world that is so beautiful that you would think you had landed in a whole different universe. Despite this, it is also one nation that I feel is undervalued by the tourists from every part of the globe, which should be declared as a sin.

Russia, a country that occupies one-tenth of Earth’s land, spans 11 time zones across the Europe and Asia, which are the two continents that the country resides on. The country possesses various geographical features, such as deserts, frozen coastlines and mountains.

Being mesmerised by the Russian marvels and splendour should be on top of every tourist's bucket list. I have a good enough reason for it, well more than a few ideas to be precise.

Let us now know more about the hidden jewels of this nation.

1. Moscow

Moscow is the capital city of Russia situated on a river with a similar name, Moskva. Being the capital, it is the biggest and most advanced city in the country. At the heart of the city is the Kremlin, a giant architectural marvel that is the pride of Russia and has the President's residence in it.

Close to it is the Red Square, where you will see St. Basil's Cathedral, which is a church that will make your jaws pop open. Its appearance resembles Aladdin's castle, but far more colourful and opulent than that of course. Hues of orange and green are dominant in this building that seems almost mythical.

Once you have had your fill of Russian history, you must shop to replenish your energy. GUM is an iconic Russian mall that was built in 1890. It houses all the local and international brands that you can think of. From Louis Vuitton to Tom Ford, you can shop to your heart's desire and then bask in the decadence of the most mouth-watering Russian cakes.

2. Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg is the second city of Russia and the most popular tourist destination. You will think that Moscow's wondrous charm cannot be beaten, maybe so; however, St. Petersburg does give it a fierce competition. Moscow is the capital now, but in the imperial era, St. Petersburg held this title for about 200 years.

St Petersburg is the second-largest city of Russia and one of the world’s major cities. This city is well-known for its impressive architectural landmarks and delightful historical and cultural traditions. This magical city with a long list of major attractions has become one of the most beautiful places in the world.

The art galleries and museums of St Petersburg, exhibit the masterpieces of the world’s best artists. The Hermitage Museum, one of the largest museums in the world is a must-visit during your trip to this artistic city. The interiors of the cathedrals and churches are even more stunning than their outer architecture.

This city was established in 1703 by Peter the Great, hence the same. St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Visitors are attracted to its beautiful canals, the so-called northern lights and the views of the Baltic Sea. The prices are expensive, although perhaps less than in Moscow.

Discover the wonders hidden in this city of Russia that Peter the Great conceived as a window to Europe and was built in record time for the time, despite the difficulties involved in the titanic task. Its palaces and cathedrals, the golden domes that shine with the sun, its bridges over canals and even nature, with its white nights, envelop it in a magical and mysterious atmosphere.

Do not miss some of the most spectacular, such as the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, the St. Isaac's Cathedral or the Kazan Cathedral.

The Hermitage Museum houses one of the most extraordinary collections of art in the world. When you walk through the magical streets of the city you will find hundreds of bridges that connect the islands. Some with elegant decorations, such as the Bank Bridge or the Lions Bridge. Others simpler but no less picturesque, like the Coloured Bridges.

To walk along Nevsky Avenue is to stroll through the history of St. Petersburg. Do not miss Peterhof, who competes in splendor with the Palace of Versailles, in France. Some essential places near St. Petersburg are Tsarskoye Selo, which was the residence of the Russian imperial family, or the idyllic Oranienbaum, another impressive imperial palace.

The Winter Palace is somehow the counterpart of the Kremlin, and all the imperial rulers used to reside here. Its location makes it even more beautiful, on one side are the waters of the Palace Embankment, and the other hand has Palace Square. It is one of the most prominent monuments in the country with over 1800 doors and about 1900 windows. Even though now it houses the Hermitage Museum, it was once the home of Peter the Great.

For all the theatre lovers, St Petersburg provides plenty of entertainment. The Mariinsky Theatre is a historic theatre that hosted the premieres of the magnum opus in Russian opera. At present, about 22 sopranos, including Anna Netrebko, are listed and enchant the audience.

You must have visited many museums in your lifetime, but have you gone to one that sails. Yes, the Cruiser Aurora is a museum ship. It was built in 1900 and fought in the Russo-Japanese War and survived. Now it symbolises the Russian History to all its visitors, intriguing.

3. Novosibirsk

The name of the city is had to pronounce for a non-Russian, but you will not regret visiting it. The city is located in southern Russia, with the Ob river going through its centre. It is quaint yet magnificent. The Novosibirsk Zoopark is the gem of this city. It is every wildlife protector's dream and an animal lover's haven.

It is a zoo cum scientific institution that had been working diligently since 1947 to be the saviour of endangered species. With about 11000 animals rescued and bred, it has accomplished high accolades. NOVAT or the Novosibirsk State Academic Theater of Opera and Ballet will provide you with the best destination for a romantic getaway with your partner. With Dmitri Jurowski's music, be prepared to be serenaded to the moon and back.

4. Murmansk

In the trip to the corners of Russia it is essential to visit the largest city in the world located north of the Arctic Circle, also called the capital of the Russian Arctic. This name is due to the fact that the great expeditions to discover the Arctic continent started from this point just 300 kilometers from Nuorgam, the northernmost town in Finland.

It is a region that can see thermometers inside at -25 degrees Celsius, although in coastal areas the temperature is softer due to the influence of the Gulf Stream. The port of Murmansk is the only one in the world that has several atomic icebreakers capable of fragmenting the Arctic ice masses.

In addition here you can see polar nights, a phenomenon that takes place between the month of December and January where the Sun does not appear at any time of day. All this is compensated with the unique beauty of the aurora borealis that can be observed in its fullness during the polar nights.

The tour will take you from Murmansk to Teriberka through a snowy landscape that merges with the waves of the sea, and you will find it impossible to assure without mistake if what you see is sea foam or snow perched on the shore. The trip can be covered by dog sled or snowmobile to the city of Teriberka, where a controversial Russian independent film entitled Leviathan, directed by Andrei Zviáguintsev, was filmed.

Military enclave during the Second World War, the history of the city has always been linked to the army and armed conflicts. So much so that one of its main monuments is the Alyosha, a giant statue of 90 meters high in the shape of a Soviet soldier in tribute to the Russian resistance during the Nazi invasion in the area where it is located.

If you like shipowners, you can visit the world's first nuclear-powered icebreaker ship. With an autonomy for two years provided by the uranium, it was used by the Russians for the exploration of the Arctic for 30 years.

Murmansk is located in the geographic area known as the Kola Peninsula and has the deepest artificial hole ever created by man. This hole is called Kola Well, and was created in 1962 after drilling the Earth's crust for almost 13 kilometers into the interior of the planet. To make your trip a most complete experience, since you have known the bowels of the Earth, why not climb up to the Khibiny Mountains to see the world from above?

In this region is the city of Kirovsk, where every year there is a concentration of ice sculptures that fight not to melt until approximately the month of April. The ice show is incredible with the size of the doors of some works allows a human being to enter without having to bend over.

A visit to the Geological Museum of Apatity will make you realize it, because even the name of the city where it is located - Apaty, just 20 kilometers from Kirovsk is dedicated to the greenish mineral of apatite.

5. Listvyanka

Although Listvyanka is a small city that grew on the shores of the Baikal lake, it is still a hyper touristy place especially in summer.

6. Olkhon island

The Olkhon island transmits an unique atmosphere. Something you should not miss is a visit to Cape Khoboy, at the north end of the island, overlooking Lake Baikal and Cape Burkhan. The rocks overlook the Maloe More, a small sea that separates the island from the west side of the Baikal. It is one of these mythical places around the world that travelers hope to reach someday.

7. Irkutsk

Take the Trans Siberian railway. Fares are affordable. Expect to pay from US$400 for a four berth compartment on the train for Moscow to Vladivostok. This is a six night journey. Stop off at several cities along the way for a few days each. You’ll need to book separate tickets for each leg and reserve in advance.

During the multi day trip, you’ll see endless passing forests, lakes, rivers, wooden houses and a procession of freight trains passing in the opposite direction. You may strike up conversations with your fellow passengers. You’ll visit the dining car for a beer or meal. You’ll snooze during the day and may be disturbed during the night: the train ride can be bumpy and you won’t get all the sleep you want.

There’s a real sense of achievement as you travel the length of Russia, crossing 7 times zone and several sizable Arctic flowing waterways with their impressive bridges. You pass close to the border of China and Mongolia, you’ll cross the Urals and follow rivers for hours on end. There are cities to visit including Ulan Ude or Irkutsk.

Khuzhir, the largest town, is the nerve center of the shamans of the north, in the middle of the steppe, the horses and the Buryats. Go in a marshrutka (a kind of minibus) from Irkutsk. If one is traveling through Russia with the Trans-Siberian Railway on the Irkutsk-Ulan Ude route, an intermediate stop can be made in Slyudyanka.

The beauty of Angasolka is tranquility. You have to take the local train from Irkutsk to Sluydyanka and get off at Temnaya pad. It can also be reached by hitchhiking.

8. Sochi

The Elbrus is a sleeping stratovolcano located in the western part of the Caucasian mountain range, in Russia near the border of Georgia. It is the highest point in Europe with 5642 meters above sea level. It is the highest mountain in Russia and the Caucasus mountain range, which, together with the Ural mountains mark the traditionally accepted border between Europe and Asia.

The Elbrus is infamous for its brutal winter weather, and the attempts at the summit are few and far between. The climb is not technically difficult, but it is physically demanding due to the altitude and frequent high winds.

The ascent to Elbrús begins in the village of Terskol and continues up the Baksan Valley. From Azau, the last village in the valley, you can use two cable cars and a dangerous chair lift. Right at the end of the chairlift is the Barrels refuge, a group of strange metal shelters at an altitude of 3,800 m.

Terskol, inhabited by the Balkarians, is a quiet place that is moved more than anything by the tourism referring to activities that go from trekking to snowboarding, skiing and mountaineering. Its main street is populated mostly by hotels, some abandoned and others that have a timid presence in the landscape.

Unlike Chamonix in France, you feel a more natural, less commercial environment. It is really a town that was preserved in the authenticity of its people.

9. Yakutsk

Although it’s not within the Arctic Circle, the far inland location gives the city wilder highs and lows. Eastern Siberia, dominated by the Sakha Republic, is known as the pole of cold of the northern hemisphere. This is the place people in East Asia think up when they hear frozen wasteland. Welcome to Oymyakon, a village where students are expected to attend class till temperatures reach minus -52°C (-62°F).

The remote Siberian village is considered to be the coldest permanently inhabited settlement in the world. Located deep in the heart of Siberia, thousands of miles east of Moscow, the Russian village of Oymyakon has registered the coldest temperature outside Antarctica for any permanently inhabited location: -71.2 °C (-96.2 °F).

In the village, however, the cold that could freeze your eyeballs hasn’t stopped life. One of the coldest places in the world, the village is home to about 500 people. Mobile phones usually don’t work in the freezing weather, and no crops can be grown here. The central market is full of fish and meat as the crops do not grow there. The village lies in Oymyakonsky District of the Sakha Republic.

The village sign reads ‘Omyakon, The Pole Of Cold’. It’s been nick named so by the people. Most toilets are built outside, because the frozen ground makes it impossible to build indoor plumbing. Local farmers keep cows warm at night by tucking them away in their barn. The only working shop in Oymyakon provides the villagers with everything they need.

Cars can only be placed in heated garages. The ones left outside must keep running, otherwise they won’t restart. The Road Of Bones is the only route to Oymyakon. It is named after the Oymyakon River, whose name reportedly comes from the Even word kheium, meaning unfrozen patch of water; place where fish spend the winter. The cold does, however, make the whole village look like a winter wonderland.

Here, day length varies from three hours in December to twenty-one hours in June. So you’ll have to be quick if you want to go sightseeing in the winter. And although winters in Oymyakon are long and excessively cold, summers can sometimes become hot. In June, July and August temperatures over 30 °C (86 °F) are not rare.

10. Petrozavodsk

Severodvinsk is the birthplace of the Russian nuclear submarine fleet. This is where the famous Sevmash plant is located.

11. Kazan

Kazan, is both a capital and a provincial city, both Russian and Tatar. Kazan has a cultural history and an underground rapid-transit system. And Volga river. And a world-class football stadium. And a Kremlin. The only thing truly missing is an extreme climate. Although it can get very hot and very cold in Kazan.

12. Krasnoyarsk

Norilsk, at 69.2 degrees North, tends to have the coldest annual temperature. It’s one of three cities with over 100,000 residents in the world that lies entirely in the Permafrost zone (the others are Yakutsk and Vorkuta). Temperatures average about -10 C here. Very few trees grow in this area, and none to the north of the city.

13. Lake Baikal

Rent a car at the airport of Irkutsk. The distances there are large and if you're going to travel by bus, you're gonna miss a lot. If you're planning to come not in summer, make sure you have a 4x4. Go to Maloe More. It is quite far from Irkutsk, but it's worth it. You can stay a few days there. Talk to the locals, they are a great bunch. Foreign languages may be a problem, though. Talk to them anyway.

Visit the 130 kvartal in Irkutsk for some souvenirs and a dinner in a nice restaurant. Go to the Olkhon Island, it's majestic. The ferry is free both for cars and for pedestrians. Eat 'pozy' or 'buuzy' and make sure you try the ‘Khuitsaa’ soup.

Lake Baikal is the deepest and the largest lake in the world and the oldest lake in the world in terms of geological formation. Its deepest point is some 1,642 metres below the surface and has a shore length of about 2100 km. Its records do not end here, it is also the world's oldest lake, having formed an astounding 25-30 million years ago. Could it be possible that the dinosaurs drank its water?

There is one more, and the Baikal Lake is also considered one of the world's clearest lakes. Impressive, right? The lake also boasts rich biodiversity. It is the home of hundreds of species of both flora and fauna from the tiny snails to giant Baikal Seal. Its most well-known endemic is the Baikal seal, or nerpa - a majestically globular creature which is the world’s only species of freshwater seal and the smallest pinniped alive today.

The lake also has three whole families of endemic fish. Of these, the most common and interesting one is the golomyankas. Also known as Baikal oilfish, they have no scales, no skin pigment, no pelvic fins, no swim bladders, and no cone cells in their eyes. About 70% of the fish in Baikal are either of the two species of golomyanka.

One of the lake’s most alien creatures - the acanthogammarids are an endemic family of large, spiny amphipod crustaceans, and they look downright bizarre.

From hiking the terrains surrounding the lake to driving your bikes on the 140-centimetre-thick sheet of ice on the lake surface, it offers plenty of activities to tourists as well.

Enriching your feed with all the Russians magnificence in a straightforward blog would be next to impossible. However, you must have gotten a fair idea about what Russia can offer you.

Paris is a place for couples, the most sought-after honeymoon destination, and so is Ibiza; however, Russia is a country that you can visit with your partner, your parents and your kids.
Kalyan Panja