It’s no surprise a country as vast as Russia has a lot of top-of-the-bucket-list travel destinations. Truly, this is a country of immense natural splendour. From ancient mountain ranges to ocean-sized lakes, from remote rugged wilderness to picturesque countryside, here are some of the most beautiful spots to visit in the world’s largest nation.
Sandwiched between three mountain tops and fertile alpine meadows, Lake Kardyvach’s beauty is topped off by cascading waterfalls. It is just 44km (27mi) away from the popular Krasnaya Polyana in the Sochi region, and a good hiking destination for those adventurers who want to dip into Russia’s remoteness.
Craggy cliffs and serene bays mark Olkhon Island’s coastline, the largest island in Lake Baikal. Tucked away in Siberia’s vast wilderness, it is an important shamanic site for the Buryat people who are indigenous to Siberia.
A short drive out of Vladivostok – a city less than 500km (311mi) from the borders of both North Korea and China – Ussuri Bay is a unique anomaly of nature. Over time, thousands of discarded bottles and broken bits of glass have been smoothed over by Mother Nature, and now appear as multicoloured pebbles lining the rugged shoreline.
Sergiyev Posad’s numerous shiny onion domes pop out over the quaint surrounding countryside. An easy day trip from Moscow, the town is one of eight that make up the Golden Ring and is home to the Unesco World Heritage-listed Troitse-Sergieva Lavra monastery, which is considered to be the spiritual centre of Russia.
The northwesterly region of Karelia is known for its lush beauty, and the scenery surrounding the small town of Ruskeala is the region’s crowning glory. Ruskeala Mountain Park is a water-filled ravine, where holidaymakers can boat, hike and swim.
The 2014 Winer Olympics put Krasnaya Polyana’s snow-capped mountains on the map and they remain a popular ski destination today. It is a scenic drive from Sochi up to the mountain village of the same name, from which the world-class ski fields and views can be accessed.
In Russia’s northwest, the remote Solovki archipelago in Onega Bay in the White Sea used to house a notoriously grim gulag during Soviet times. Now, however, ancient cemeteries and old monasteries lure travellers to these windswept islands.
In the Republic of North Ossetia-Alania, an ancient cemetery attached to the village of Dargavs remains, built into the dramatic, misty mountainside. Also called the City of the Dead, there are over a hundred stone tombs where villagers used to bury their dead along with their possessions and clothes.
The Altai Republic is one of Russia’s most beautiful regions and this mountaintop lake is one of the region’s must-sees. Along the shoreline of this 70km (43mi) lake are steep gorges, rugged rockface, caves, waterfalls and beautiful bays.
Russia’s most westerly enclave is home to Germanic architecture, a Baltic coastline and a green Birch forest. It is the Russian gateway to the windswept Curonian Spit.
Another beautiful spot in Karelia, the 18th-century wooden churches that sit on the banks of Onega Bay’s Kishi Island are Unesco World Heritage-listed. It is estimated that the structures were built in 1713 (a clock tower was added in the 19th century) and they remain quality examples of medieval northern Russian and Scandinavian architecture.
Technically located in a suburb of Russia’s second city, St Petersburg, the grounds and architecture of Peterhof Palace is a lavish display of baroque design and style. Often referred to as the Russian Versailles, the elaborate estate was built during Peter the Great’s reign.
Domed churches and monasteries are scattered up and down Russia, but only a few are as rich in religious iconography as St Petersburg’s Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood. Built in the late 19th-century, the church is covered in intricate mosaics inside and out.
The Caucasus mountain range in Russia’s south, near the Georgian border, boasts the highest peak in Europe. A dormant volcano, Elbrus reaches 5,642m (18,511ft) above sea level and offers spectacular views for experienced mountaineers and eager amateur adventurers.
Almost completely within the Arctic Circle, the Kola Peninsula boasts the midnight sun in summer and brilliant displays of the northern lights in winter. The port city of Murmansk is an ideal base from which to depart into the wilderness of low mountains, tundra, abandoned villages and lakes.
The Kamchatka Peninsula was dubbed ‘The Land of Fire and Ice’ thanks to a string of over 160 volcanoes, 29 of them still active. The peninsula’s main city, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, is flanked by two and is far more accessible than the volcano belt itself.
Mount Belukha is the highest peak in the Unesco-listed Golden Mountains of Altai. While climbing the peak requires mountaineering skill and experience, there are trekking trails for beginners as well.
Another Caucasus snow-capped peak, Dykh-Tau hulks over the Bezengi Valley, which is known as the ‘Russian Himalayas’ because it contains the highest snow tops in the region. Its altitude and remoteness means only a smattering of people live in the valley and even less attempt to climb the majestic mountain.
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