When people think of Russia images of borscht, caviar and vodka come to mind but there is so much more to the country, and a visit, in my opinion, is essential for any traveller. Russia is now a thriving country full of wonderful sights, fascinating history and amazing experiences.
I have been lucky enough in the past few years to travel to Russia a number of times and it certainly is a place like no other.
The two most famous cities are, of course, the capital Moscow and the second-largest city in Russia, St. Petersburg. The two cities are connected by a high-speed railway named the Sapsan and the 650km journey takes about 4 hours. There is so much to see and do in both Moscow and St Petersburg and below is just a taste of what can be experienced with a few days in each city.
Moscow, the largest populated city in Russia, is also home to the government and as such there are some impressive buildings and monuments well worth visiting.
The heart of Russia’s capital is Red Square which is the city's most visited site. Red Square is surrounded by other iconic Moscow sites including the Kremlin, St.Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum.
Moscow’s Kremlin is the biggest active fort in Europe. Once you get behind the 2,235 metre-long kremlin walls, there are five squares to wander around, various buildings to explore and the world’s largest bell and cannon to see. There are a week’s worth of attractions in the Kremlin alone!
The rainbow domes of St Basil’s cathedral are an unmistakable sight of the city. The onion-shaped domes were designed to make the building look like the shape of a flame on a bonfire. The cathedral was commissioned in the 1500s by Ivan the Terrible and according to legend, the Tsar thought it so beautiful he ordered that the architect be blinded so that he would never surpass this creation.
Lenin’s Mausoleum houses a glass sarcophagus with the embalmed body of the legendary Russian revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin. First opened to the public in August 1924, the Mausoleum attracts around 2.5 million visitors every year, who don’t mind standing in line and going through a thorough body search to get into the illustrious building.
A tip for anyone visiting Red Square and the surrounding sites, just outside the Kremlin walls and near the entrance to Red Square is the beautiful Alexander Garden, often overlooked by visitors as it sits outside the Kremlin. Within this garden is a monument to fallen soldiers of WWII including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Every hour is the changing of the guard ceremony and an experience not to be missed.
St. Petersburg was the imperial capital for 2 centuries, having been founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. It remains Russia's cultural centre and is home to the world-famous Hermitage Museum, The Church of our Saviour on Spilt Blood, Mariinsky Theatre and Peter and Paul Fortress.
Undoubtedly St. Petersburg's most famous attraction, and universally acknowledged as one of the world's greatest treasuries of art and antiquities, the Hermitage is reason enough on its own for many travellers to book a trip to St. Petersburg.
The Hermitage Museum now covers several sites but its main collection is housed in the iconic Winter Palace. Here you'll find not only centuries of European fine art and a rich collection of Greek and Roman antiquities, but also the astonishingly opulent 18th and 19th century state rooms of Russia's imperial family.
The Church of our Saviour on Spilt Blood is one of St. Petersburg's most instantly recognizable landmarks, its colourful Russian architecture makes a stark contrast to the elegance of the State Russian Museum next door. This is part of the church's charm, in that it serves to constantly remind the visitor to St. Petersburg that, despite the elegance of most of the city, you are still definitely in Russia.
The place where the city of St. Petersburg began, the Peter and Paul Fortress never actually saw military action, but has taken on a variety of functions over its three-century history, from burial place for nearly all of the Romanov Emperors and Empresses to notorious political prison to the site of key experiments in the development of Soviet rocket technology. All of these aspects of the fortress’s history are celebrated in diverse exhibitions across various buildings that make the fortress an essential visitor attraction.
St. Petersburg's other internationally renowned cultural institution, and for some visitors an even greater draw than the Hermitage, the Mariinsky Theatre has become the undisputed preeminent musical theatre in modern Russia. the Mariinsky Theatre is a world-class venue for ballet, opera and orchestral music.
Both cities offer world-class sites, top of the range accommodation options and a myriad of restaurants and cafes that serve both local Russian cuisine as well as culinary delights from around the world.
With the countries recent experience hosting major sporting events such as the 2018 FIFA World Cup and the 2014 Winter Olympics, the modernisation of Russia has been fast-tracked especially when it comes to catering for international guests and now more than ever is an ideal time to visit and experience this wonderful country.
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