Attractions in Russia are mainly linked to the country’s fascinating history and heritage or to its thousands of square miles of natural wonders. Both Moscow and St Petersburg have enough architecture, museums, and landmarks to keep visitors marveling for most of their vacation, but there’s so much more to see from UNESCO sites to the world’s most varied landscapes.
St Basil’s Cathedral
Set on the Red Square in the heart of Moscow, the Russian Orthodox St Basil’s Cathedral is the country’s icon thanks to its colorfully decorated spires and domes. Built in 1555 on the order of the infamous Tsar Ivan the Terrible, the cathedral commemorates the bloody conquests of Kazan and Astrakhan. Now part of the Kremlin UNESCO World Heritage site, its internal core contains eight side churches arranged in perfect symmetry around a central building. Address: Red Square, Moscow Phone: +495-95-298-3304 Website: http://www.sacred-destinations.com/st-basil-cathed...
Overlooking the Moskva River and Red Square, the massive fortifications of the Moscow Kremlin citadel enclose four palaces and four cathedrals. Originally the residence of Russian Tsars, it’s now home to the current President of the Russian Federation. Most of the buildings seen today were constructed in the 15th and 16th centuries on the foundation of earlier structures or in the 18th century for Catherine the Great and all have spectacularly intricate interiors. Address: Red Square, Moscow Phone: +495-6-245-503 Website: http://www.kreml.ru/en/
St Petersburg Winter Palace and the Hermitage Museum
A monumental palace–museum with massive Baroque frontage reflects the power and wealth of Imperial Russia, and was built in 1728 on the site of Tsar Peter the Great’s first palace. Constantly enlarged over the centuries, its Hermitage Museum is the greatest in the world, with over three million priceless artworks and artifacts from Russia, Europe, and Asia, displayed in a magnificent setting. Address: St Petersburg, Russia Phone: +7-495-340-1026 Website: www.hermitagemuseum.org/
The capital city of Tatarstan, Kazan is famous for its ancient Kremlin, set along the banks of the Volga River. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage citadel, containing the beautiful Cathedral of the Annunciation and the Soyembika Tower. Part of Russia since Tatarstan’s surrender to Ivan the Terrible in 1552, Kazan is now a center for culture of the Tartar people and home to the famous Kirov Ballet company. Address: Tatarstan, Russia Phone: n/a Website: www.kcn.ru/tat_en/kazan/
Set in Red Square in Moscow, the mausoleum contains the embalmed body of Vladimir Lenin. Once a place of pilgrimage for Russians, it is still an interesting attraction to visit, especially since the site grants access to the graves of other famous Soviet leaders along the Kremlin walls. Address: Red Square, Moscow Phone: n/a Website: www.aha.ru/~mausoleu/
A slice of Stalinist Russia missed by many tourists, Patriarshi Pridy is a square pond backed by attractive six and seven story apartment blocks. It is located off Mayakovsky Square and Moscow’s main street, Tverskaya Ulitsa, and is best seen in the mornings. For visitors who have read Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita, this is a must-see destination. Address: Central Moscow, Russia Phone: n/a Website: n/a
The Eastern Siberian city of Irkutsk was a refuge in the early 19th century for exiled Russian nobles, artists, and military officers who took part in the revolt against the then-Tsar, Nicholas I. Their ornate wooden homes became a focus for cultural, social, and intellectual life, and are still standing today, surrounded by Soviet-style concrete apartment blocks. Landmarks also remain from the bloody clashes between Royalists and Communists following the Russian Revolution. Address: Eastern Siberia, Russia Phone: n/a Website: http://www.irkutsk.org/
Set in lovely Lake Onega, Kizhi Island is Russia’s largest open-air museum of traditional life and a UNESCO World Heritage site. The complex is historic, cultural, and of natural beauty, and holds 83 reconstructed traditional wooden buildings, including chapels, peasant homesteads, granaries, barns, windmills, and more. Local peasant life in Old Russia is depicted here and the museum’s highlight is the Church of the Transfiguration with 22 domes. Address: Lake Onega, Petrozavosdk, Russias Phone: +7-814-276-5764 Website: http://kizhi.karelia.ru/
Set in a natural forest in Siberia, Novosibirsk Zoo is well-known worldwide for its amazing collection of rare species and its efforts in conservation. Highlights include the heavily endangered Siberian White Tiger, Cape Lions, and other big cats. More than 4,000 animal species are represented, making the zoo a favorite destination for family visits. Address: Ul.Gogolya 15, Novosibirsk Phone: +7-383-224-8766 Website: http://www.zoo.ru/zoose.asp
Set on the Baltic Sea within the Gulf of Finland, Peterhof was the imperial estate of Tsar Peter the Great, and holds several palaces in a glorious park decorated with waterfalls and landscaped by Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi and English designer James Meders. The highlight is the Grand Palace with ornate gilded statues and elaborate interior, fronted by the Grand Waterfall. Damaged during WWII, the palace has been fully restored to its original form. Address: 198516 St Petersburg, Russia Phone: +7-812-450-5287 Website: http://peterhofmuseum.ru/
Known as the Russian Versailles, Tsarskoe Selo sits on the edge of St Petersburg and is famous for its classic palaces, Lyceum, and magnificent architecture. Founded in 1708, its layout and culture were inspired by Tsar Peter the Great and based on European models. The town’s highlight is the Catherine Palace, home to Tsar Peter’s wife, Empress Catherine. It was extensively rebuilt for the Empress Elizabeth some 50 years later under the supervision of famous Italian architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli. Address: St Petersburg, Russia Phone: n/a Website: http://eng.tzar.ru/
Peter and Paul Fortress
The first and most important building raised in the Imperial City of St Petersburg, Peter and Paul Fortress is set on the exact spot where Tsar Peter the Great buried a casket containing a relic of St Andrew as the foundation for his city. Constructed during the war with Sweden, the fortress intended to serve as a buffer against Swedish incursion and naval attacks, but the war ended before the building was even completed. The day of its inauguration became the day the great city was founded with the castle at its historic center. Address: St Petersburg, Russia Phone: +7-812-498-0511 Website: http://www.saint-petersburg.com/peter-paul-fortres...
St Isaac’s Cathedral
Once the largest cathedral in all of Russia, St Isaac’s was founded in 1818 and completed by 1858 under the direction of French architect Auguste Montferrand. Its magnificent gilded dome looms over the St Petersburg cityscape, and its extraordinary facades, statues and exquisite mosaics are a reminder of the wealth of Imperial Russia. Its pillars are made of lapis lazuli and malachite, and the altar is backed by a massive stained glass window. Now a museum, it only holds worshippers for major Orthodox festivals. Address: St Petersburg, Russia Phone: +7-812-315-9732 Website: http://nevsky-prospekt.com/isaacs.html
Best known as the place where the monk Rasputin was murdered by Prince Yusupov in 1916, Yusupov Palace gives a glimpse into the life of the Imperial family in its last days as the rulers of Russia. Highlights include the Moorish Room smothered in mosaics, the secret compartment in the Pool Room, and the fabulous 180-seat Rococo theater that is now a concert venue. The mystery surrounding Rasputin’s murder was never solved and as the story goes, the notorious ‘mad monk’ was first poisoned and shot four times at close range, When his body was found in the river, the autopsy revealed he had drowned. Address: St Petersburg, Russia Phone: +7-812-314-8893 Website: www.saint-petersburg.com/yusupov-palace.asp