A Destination Guide to Russia for Every Type of Traveller
Hotel in Dombai | © Mikhail Pogosov / Shutterstock
Russia is full of spectacular beauty, dazzling cities, rugged wilderness and World Heritage listed sites. It’s a true gem to explore and is brimming with sights and things to do, which makes it tricky to know where to start. We’ve done the hard work for you – here’s our guide on where to go visit, based on your interests.
The land of comfort foods, such as soups, dumplings, lashes of mayonnaise and pancakes, Russia offers up filling, rich foods designed to keep people warm through winters. As the capital of Tatarstan and Russian hipsters, Kazan has all this and more. It is the place to go for authentic traditional Tatar cuisine, such as the honeyed national dessert and treasure, chak-chak, or any one of their moreish pies and pastries. There are many places that serve up delicious Tatar fare, but for a cheap quick meal in a Soviet-style canteen try Dom Chaya, on the city’s main drag. Hipsters don’t stray far from strong coffee and potent libations, so the city is abound with small coffee shops, craft beer bars and cocktail lounges.
Dom Chaya – Ulitsa Baumana 64, Kazan, Russia, +7 843 292 56 54
For beer aficionados
Not far from Moscow, the satellite town of Zhukovsky has become somewhat of a destination for lovers of craft beer. Hoppy booze has come a long way from the days of Soviet stalwart, Zhigulevskoye, which was brewed out of the Zighuli Brewery in Samara. One of the breweries leading the current craft beer wave is Odna Tonna, or One Tonne, which has a bar attached to brewery that pulls a varied crowd. Each weekend beer aficionados of all sorts who are keen to try the unusual and unconventional flavour mixes the brewery are known for.
Odna Tonna – Ulitsa Gagarina 48, Zhukovskiy, Russia
Russia is a party destination, where late nights are fuelled by vodka, beer and loud tunes. You are almost guaranteed to have a wild night out in most towns and cities, so it is hard to narrow it down to one location. Here are some of the standouts, depending on what sort of night owl you are.
Samara has cultivated a healthy scene for the more alternative crowd. Emos, metalheads, goths, punks and even just your average joe have taken to some of the city’s most well-known late night establishments that play different kinds of tunes. If in town for World Cup 2018, you can’t go past sticky carpet legend Podval, for live music and alternative djs that work the crowd into a sweat in the mosh pit until the early hours.
Laid back and cool, with a wealth of students keen to party all night long, Kazan’s nightlife has a hipster flavour to it that rivals St Petersburg. Along the city’s artery, Bauman Street, there is a gamut of sports bars, pubs, bars and clubs to explore, or wander through the back streets to unearth some of the city’s more hidden late night gems. For the ultimate hipster place, try a late night cocktail at Mr Willards, that is, if you can get in.
The Black Sea is Russia’s number one summer destination, and for good reason Blue skies, azure waters lure holiday makers into relaxing under the warm summer sun. Of the Black Sea destinations, Sochi is Russia’s number one resort town and is full of clubs, hotels, indulgent restaurants and a whole lot of glamour. Nearby, but slightly (slightly) more sedate, Gelendzhik still offers all the luxury and splendour of a resort town, but a little more chilled. Smaller than Sochi, it still has pristine water, prime for working on your tan, but sun-seekers can also escape into conifer forest and mountain walks to break up the lounging around.
Sochi | © bolotina-o / Pixabay
The immense capital of a grand nation, Moscow can be a sensory overload. But for those who embrace this epic city, the cultural offerings are dizzying. Home to grandiose constructivist architecture and design, as well as awe-inspiring monuments that pay tribute to past national achievements, Moscow satiates history buffs and hits the spot for design and art. The glut of theatres, galleries and museums offer world-class performance, ballet, dance, classic arts as well as contemporary art. A wealth of restaurants and cafés, from the cheap and cheerful to the extravagant, are guaranteed to satiate the ravenous, no matter what cuisine you’re after – and the slew of nightspots promise to send you off into night time adventures, no matter what kind of bar, clubs or pub you are into.
Worker and Kolkhoz Woman | © Evgeni Tcher / Pixabay
Russia’s second city is also a destination rich in culture and steeped in history, and for the classics lover, it is unmissable. In the grandeur of the former Winter Palace, the Hermitage houses a first class collection of art, from the ancient Egyptian right up to the renaissance period. It also houses a healthy collection of cats. And while Moscow may have the Bolshoi Theatre, the Hermitage and Mariinsky Theatres are purveyors of outstanding ballet and opera in their own right and rival the capital’s iconic theatre with their repertoires of classics such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.
The State Hermitage Museum | © quinntheislander / Pixabay
Bask in the splendour of Russia’s size and natural beauty from the comfort of a carriage on this epic and highly lauded train route. The week-long journey is spectacular in any season, offering views of Siberia‘s vast wilderness and Russia’s changing landscapes that last as long as the day. Brisk and efficient conductors run the train and man the samovars, ensuring that a cup of strong sweet tea is never far away. The sleeper cabins are from bygone times, as is the enjoyably kitsch dining cart, where you can share a tipple of vodka with new friends. Get off at any one of the stops to break up the travel, or stock up on supplies and snacks such as dried fish and pickled cucumbers sold by hawkers on the platforms.
Trans Siberian | ©neverbutterfly/Flickr
The Westerly enclave of Kaliningrad is abound with nature escapes and picturesque towns shrouded in ridiculously idyllic scenery. Boarded by Poland, Lithuania and the Baltic Sea, the region’s coastline is one of windswept rugged beauty. On the Russian side of the Curonian Spit, the Kurshskaya Kosa National Park is a 98 kilometre (61 mile)-long stretch of rolling sand dunes and twisted trees. As a region that has been heavily disputed throughout history, there are several ruins of old fortresses that still carry battle scars. Try Balga if on the hunt for an overgrown medieval fortress.
Above the Arctic circle, the land of fire and ice is absolutely for the intrepid traveller and for those who want to work for their rewards. Home to the smoke-billowing Volcanoes of Kamchutka, made up of World Heritage listed sites and 160 volcanoes (29 of them still active), this spot provides a dramatic and breathtaking backdrop to a remote and isolated land. Part of the volcano range is the Valley of Geysers, a cluster of ninety-odd geysers and hot springs, making it the second largest collection of geysers in the world. Found in a 6 kilometre (3.7 mile)-long basin that is so remote, it is only really accessible by helicopter. Oh, and for the ultimate thrill seeker – heli-skiing is available in Kamchutka.
For water babies
An outrageously stunning lake in the middle of the Siberian wilderness, Lake Baikal is spectacular in both in the depths of winter and the height of summer. The lake’s immensity is part of its appeal. Vast, and seemingly endless, it is the largest fresh water lake in the world and an inland sea. In winter, take a hovercraft, or even drive across the lake when it has frozen solid, when the temperature is steady around the -30°C ( -22°F) mark. In summer, the Great Baikal Trail is a network of hiking paths that circle the vast lake and the largest island on the lake, Okholn Island has hiking and camping, as well as the option to sleep in a yurt in the summer.
Okholn Island, Lake Baikal, Russia
Lake Baikal landscape with an old railway bridge | © Nikitin Victor / Shutterstock | © Nikitin Victor / Shutterstock
Yekaterinburg and Perm, the first and second cities of the Ural Mountains, have developed strong artistic sensibilities beyond their gritty industrial facades. Both cities were hubs of industry during Soviet times, and so while neither has the beauty of St Petersburg or Kaliningrad, their unidealised streets inform the artistic practice that goes on there. Thanks to a former mayor, in addition to the public sculptures permanently dotted around the city, Perm now has a contemporary art museum and runs an annual White Night festival that sets the city ablaze with art and culture. Since 2010 Yekaterinburg has hosted the Ural Biennale, and the inaugural festival was held in the Printing House, one of the city’s many iconic constructivist buildings. Still young, the festival hosts leading and emerging contemporary artists from Russia and around the world including Jenny Holzer, Slavs and Tatars and Doug Ashford.
For history buffs
Modern Russia is drenched in history, so no matter where you go, you will stumble across a Soviet relic or an artefact or tale from when Russia was a land of Tsars and great Mongol empires. However, if you had to choose…
Capital of Tatarstan, Kazan is a vibrant mix of Eastern and Western culture, of Christianity and Islam faiths, as well the old world and modern Russia. It is also the place to get up to speed on the ancient Tatar people and the mighty Golden Horde, the expansive Turkic-Mongol empire that reined over a sizeable chunk of Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia in the 13th and 14th century. Many of the sights in the World Heritage listed Kremlin, relate back to the Tsarist clashes of the 16th century when the region was brought into empirical Russia’s realm. The surrounding countryside also has a wealth of Tatar culture in its ancient ruins and medieval fortress towns.
Once the nucleus for the mighty Soviet Union, the measures of Moscow’s Soviet importance haven’t dissolved over time. A monolithic city, fitting for the former socialist state, to stroll around it is an education in Russia’s Soviet past. The Kremlin, epicentre for both the USSR and the Russian Federation, sits next to the infamous Red Square, home to St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s mausoleum. Along side the litany of constructivist buildings and monuments that reflect the grandiose aims of the State, Stalin’s Seven Sisters punctuate the skyline, architectural reminders of the former leader’s competitiveness and distain for the West. And all of this before you get to one of the many museums dedicated to preserving Russia’s Soviet legacy, such as Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva (VDNK), the former exhibition centre and park.
VDNK, Prospekt Mira 119, Moscow, Russia