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A nation as immense and diverse as Russia beckons a traveller to get on the road and explore as much of it as possible – as well as rugged coastlines and ancient mountains, there are vast plains, lakes and open steppes to discover. Here’s our pick of the most epic road trips across Russia.
Driving on a lake sounds like an idea that defies all logic, however in the middle of a cold Siberian winter, it is a totally plausible concept. Lake Baikal‘s waters are completely driveable when frozen through, although it can be slow going over uneven passages. Many vehicles travel across the UNSECO World Heritage listed lake each year to get to Olkhon Island. In fact, for a window of time every year, when the temperatures plummet to a consistent -30ºC (-22ºF), a hovercraft or a well-equipped car is the only way to get there.
Taking advantage of Russia’s unique location that spans two continents, the Mongol Rally takes you through steppes, mountains, desert and spectacular scenery across Asia and Europe. It is probably one of the most epic road trips there is. The rally starts either in the United Kingdom or the Czech Republic, and takes participants into Asia, through Mongolia and up into Russia, ending in Ulan-Ude, Siberia. There is no set route, but to finish it takes around three to four weeks, and money raised goes to charity.
The Golden Ring is the name given to a string of historic and picturesque towns north east of Moscow. Spend a couple of days exploring idyllic places like Suzdal, Vladmir and Sergiyev Posad, the heart of Russian Orthodoxy, and then drive north. If you want to take your time and enjoy the scenery, give yourself a week or so to get from Suzdal to Helsinki. Pass through Moscow, Russia’s awe-inspiring capital, and spend a couple of days in St. Petersburg to take in the major sights and enjoy Russia’s most European city, before you cross the border into Scandinavia.
This 1,000-kilometre (621-mile) stretch of road meanders through Siberia, into the Altai Republic towards the Mongolian border. It is also the Siberian leg of the ancient trader route, the Silk Road, which connected Europe to Asia, via Russia, through a network of paths. Journey through sleepy mountain villages and across breathtaking backdrops of snow capped mountains and sweeping open plains. Take in the republic’s rugged, remote beauty, and make sure you don’t miss out on Teletskoye Lake.
From one stunning seaside spot to another, this route ambles through Russia, around Belarus, into Latvia, Lithuania, and back into Russia’s green westerly enclave, Kaliningrad. From Sochi to Kurshskaya Kosa, Russia’s national park on the Curonian Spit, is around 36 hours of straight driving, so definitely breakup the long journey with all the many stops along the way. Highlights on the way are: Sochi’s beautiful azure waters and seaside air, Rostov-on-Don’s cossack heritage, Voronezh’s architecture, Moscow’s Soviet significance, the lush countryside and European stylings of post-Soviet states Lithuania and Latvia. And then, finally, Kaliningrad’s spectacular ruggedness.
This is essentially the Trans-Siberian train route, but with an extra bit tacked on, so you get the full Russian experience. The roughly 9,000-kilometre (5,592-mile) journey will take you from the nation’s most European city, across Siberia to Vladivostok, a sometimes overlooked destination, but charming port town nonetheless. On this epic drive, you’ll discover places steeped in religious, Soviet, and imperial importance. The journey is almost seven days straight on a train, so this is a road trip for when you have time to spare.
The roads can be a bit treacherous above the Arctic Circle, so you’ll want an off-road vehicle for this trip, even though around St. Petersburg they are well maintained. Take a day to make the journey up to Murmansk, the largest city above the Arctic Circle. Once you’ve finished looking around there, head up towards Rybachy Peninsula at the top of the Kola Peninsula, and stop off at Titovka River to enjoy the rapids and waterfalls. If you go in summer you can catch the glorious midnight sun.
A comparatively short trip that will take you into the the Buddhist Republic of Kalmykia from Astrakhan, one of Russia’s most culturally diverse cities that sits upon the Volga River. Amble through rustic villages and rolling plains until you arrive at Lagan, via Elista. In both towns check out all the Buddhist temples that have been built since the fall of the Soviet Union. Off the beaten track, Kalmaykia is one of the most underdeveloped areas in Russia, and the republic’s people, the Kalmyks, suffered heavily during the Soviet regime.
From the Black Sea to Caucasus mountain wilds, this road trip is still epic without being too time-consuming. Drive along the coastal road and then up into the mountains. Once you arrive in Adygea, stay near the Belaya River Canyon for an easy trek out to the Rufabgo Falls. The next day drive across to the Lago-Naki plateau, where you can look out on snow-capped mountains and sweeping vistas of pristine nature, before you take a slow drive back to the coast.
Another great road trip that won’t take a month out of your life, the picturesque towns that make up the Golden Ring are an easy weekend trip from Moscow. Set in idyllic countryside, this cluster of towns is covered in history. There is Vladmir, an old medieval capital, and the charming Suzdal (which is also the probably the best for sleeping options) as well as Sergiev Posad, a place of religious pilgrimage since the 14th century. Magnificent gold-topped domes on top of centuries-old cathedrals hulk over sleepy village life, and the drive between the towns is through lush green fields and dacha holiday homes.
The Amur Highway between Chita and Irkutsk is flanked with imposing mountains. Chita boasts one of the largest Lenin statues in Siberia, and Irkutsk is a popular stop on the Trans-Siberian railway, and so each city is worth an explore either side of the journey. Buddhist temples and rustic villages are scattered between them, and the highway takes you along the southern perimeter of the impressive Lake Baikal, which offers plenty of picnic opportunities. Drive through the heartland of the Buryat people, Russia’s largest indigenous population, and break up the 15-hour journey by stopping off at the capital of the region Ulan-Ude for a few days.