Varied and wacky, vast and extravagant, Russia is the largest country in the world. Composed of over 114 million people, with 1,156 years of history and spanning 11 time zones, Russia is home to a rich cultural diversity and endless unique natural wonders.
From huskies roaming the icy Siberian mountains to the natural light show of the Northern Lights; from the domed wavy roofs of St.
Basil’s Cathedral to the world-famous works of art in the State Tretyakov Gallery, the list of reasons to visit this spectacular country is endless (but don’t worry, I didn’t remember any). than 15. Let’s immerse ourselves in this country, just like the Russians do in the icy pools of the banyas.
1. Understand the Size and Scope of the Offer
The facts you already know: 1,156 years of history, 114 million inhabitants, 11 time zones. It is the scale of this country that makes it the ideal destination for every type of tourist.
The more adventurous will explore the mountains and lakes for hiking, skiing and other water sports, while culture enthusiasts and ground-level experiences will visit the country’s 1,110 cities. Tourists will always feel like they haven’t explored enough – and that’s what underlies all the other reasons on this list.
2. Unravel the Complexity of Culture
Russia is rich in stories to discover. Such a large country drains in its wake centuries of enormous history, contrasting cultures and a long political past. From the complexities of the Byzantine Empire to the development of the Soviet Union, to the cultures of the hundreds of ethnic minority groups identified in Russia, including some indigenous peoples with their own dress code, religious traditions and even their own language.
3. Admire the Architectural Splendor
The cities of Russia boast opulent architecture and unique design around every corner. In Moscow, the oldest city in Russia, even metro stations bear witness to the grandeur of the country’s palaces, Stalin having requested that the stations be designed as “people’s palaces”. Don’t forget to take the metro to Red Square, where you will discover the extravagant architecture of the former Russian Empire.
Meanwhile, the former capital of St. Petersburg is considered the cultural epicenter of Russia. Here you will find a dizzying mix of styles: the Yelagin and Mikhailovsky Palaces which, with their neoclassical columns and structures, recall the period of Antiquity, the House of Soviets in St. Petersburg which, of course, sends passers-by an imposing image of Soviet architecture and finally the Winter Palace, former home of one of the tsars, famous for its sumptuous baroque style.
4. Cross the Red Square in Moscow
This part of Moscow alone deserves an article (and not just because I decided to do so). All of the country’s major highways and streets of Moscow stretch back to the cobblestones of this breathtaking site. After entering the famous onion bell towers of Saint Basil’s Cathedral and knowing that you have not accidentally landed on a film set, you will have plenty of time to explore the attractions of the square.
From this unique location, you can visit the Lenin Museum and admire the most famous mummy in the world, shop at the GUM department store and lose yourself in the contemplation of its skylight roof, then take a tour of the fortified complex of the Kremlin, consisting of five palaces, four cathedrals and the iconic red brick towers of the Kremlin. In fact, it might take you a day or two to complete your tour of Red Square.
5. Traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway
Tired of exploring all those ornate palaces? Go beyond the classic sights and hop aboard the Trans-Siberian Express . This 5,752-mile scenic rail route from Moscow to Vladivostok crosses the plains of Siberia and stops at some of Russia’s most fascinating landmarks. The entire route takes six nights.
In winter you will stroll along the frozen shores of Lake Baikal, while in summer you will get there by train to see the sunlight glistening across its vast surface. On board this train, you will be able to eat and enjoy free wifi, although you will probably be too engrossed in the outdoor setting to watch a Netflix movie.
You will also need to find time to finish reading the thick book “War and Peace” (we will talk in more detail about Russia’s impressive literary influence below).
6. Excursions Through Fascinating Landscapes
Admiring all of these spectacular landscapes from the train window is therapeutic, but what about seeing them in the field? During your trip aboard the Trans-Siberian, do not miss Lake Baikal (the largest in the world). In addition, a stop in the surrounding nature will be the perfect opportunity to stretch your legs, whether you spend a few hours or a few days.
Altitude enthusiasts will appreciate Mount Elbrus, one of Russia’s most popular hiking destinations due to its impressive views, featuring trails for both absolute beginners and thrill seekers.
7. A winter Stay to See the Sky Light Up
This item is a must-have on your list. In the heart of nature, you will observe a celestial explosion in the colors of the aurora borealis. This dazzling spectacle of natural light, a phenomenon caused by the solar wind, is nature’s magnificent reward for making people forget the endless dark nights and the biting cold of the far north above the Arctic Circle. The Kola Peninsula is considered one of the most accessible places to enjoy the exhibition. You could also book villas & apartments if you consider to stay for more days.
8. Suspend Time through Endless Art Collections
Art lovers will always be short of time in Russia. Visit the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow where you will discover more than 180,000 all-Russian works of art, ranging from the 11th to the 20th century. At the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, you will revel in more than 3 million works of art and artefacts with the assurance of being able to admire the most famous painting of all: The Return of the Rembrandt’s prodigal son.
9. Discover the Medieval Towns of the Golden Ring
The Golden Ring, a popular tourist route in Russia, passes through the main medieval towns and villages which, for the most part, have not yet been affected by modernity and industrialization. You will discover the spiritual history of the Orthodox Church, immortalized in this ancient sphere of Russia, taste cuisine from a long cultural tradition and be able to try your hand at ancient arts and crafts.
10. Explore the Labyrinth of Rivers of Russia
Russia has around 100,000 rivers that meander in and out of major cities and towns. Navigating these rivers in the company of a tourist guide is one of the best ways to visit the country, where, over the landscapes, you will discover ancient fables and local historical tales.
11. Purify Yourself in a Russian Banya (Sauna)
After so much exploration, go relax like the locals with a dip in a Russian spa. One of the most popular recreational activities in Russia, the banya spa is accessible in any major city. Here you can indulge in a traditional steam bath or an invigorating treatment, involving the laying of twigs and brushed eucalyptus on your body to stimulate circulation and release tension.
12. Bask in the Sochi Sun
Russia might not be your first choice for a sunny getaway, but the city of Sochi is still a popular summer resort for many Russians. Located along the Black Sea, this subtropical city is dotted with streets lined with palm trees. You will discover Russian museums and architecture in the heart of green forests in the heat of the sun.
13. Opt for the Classic While Discovering the Traditional Russian Ballet
Ballet is a cause of national pride in Russia. Very strongly linked to the history of the country, the ballet was, for centuries, a form of privileged entertainment for the Russian nobility.
Russia is today the birthplace of the most skilled ballet dancers in the world and its style is said to be unique. Nowadays, ballet is no longer only intended for the nobility. Reserve a seat at the Bolshoi Theater and experience a one-of-a-kind evening.
14. Attend a Cathartic Russian Play
Known around the world for his famous realistic plays by Anton Chekhov, Russian culture is just as serious for theater as it is for ballet. Despite its relatively short history in the theater world, Moscow, considered one of the world’s greatest theatrical capitals, today has more than 70 theaters.
15. Browse the Works of Literary Geniuses
Any book lover will surely appreciate a trip to the sources of some of the most famous geniuses in literature: War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol, Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, to name a few.
Take a literary journey through Russia, visiting the museums dedicated to each of these authors. Some walking tours in St. Petersburg will even include stops at Crime and Punishment sites. If you need a break, bring a book of poetry by Alexander Pushkin and read “The Land of Moscow” in the very place that inspired it.