As the world's largest nation, Russia has a special draw for visitors from all over the world. The country's size means that there truly is something for everyone here, whether you're interested in historic cities and monuments, dramatic landscapes and scenery, or world-class museums of art, literature, and culture. Obtaining a Russian visa can be a difficult process, but the chance to visit this incredible country is well worth the hassle. It would be impossible to see everything the country has to offer in a single visit, but here are the 25 best things to include in your itinerary.
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The second-largest Russian city after Moscow, Saint Petersburg is filled to the brim with world-class art, culture, and history. The historic city center has the honor of being a UNESCO World Heritage Site; the biggest attraction here is the massive Winter Palace, which houses the Hermitage Museum and boasts a collection of more than three million items that have been collected from all over the world. You wouldn't run out of things to do in Saint Petersburg even if you spent years here, but other highlights include the opera and ballet shows, the many historical monuments, and the boat tours of the canals. Things to Do in Saint Petersburg
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As the capital of Russia and the country's largest city, Moscow is where most visitors get their first real taste of Russian culture. The city is surprisingly cosmopolitan, but it still maintains its traditional charm thanks to the many historic buildings and monuments that dot the streets. A visit to Moscow wouldn't be complete without a visit to the historic Kremlin, which sits in the city center and is surrounded by the well-known Red Square, but visitors should also make sure to take advantage of the many excellent restaurants, bars, and shopping centers that have sprung up in more recent years. Things to Do in Moscow
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Extending into Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and China as well as into Russia, the Altay Mountains are tucked away in a remote area of southern Siberia. The area has plenty to keep adventure-seekers entertained, including horseback riding, glacier climbing, white water rafting, and mountain trekking, but visitors looking for a more leisurely experience can relax in a traditional Russian steam bath or take a drive through the incredible scenery. Guided excursions and group tours are available for almost every activity you might like to do, and many of them include overnight accommodation in a yurt or at a campground.
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Sitting on the northern coast of the Black Sea, Anapa is a resort town known for its beautiful beaches and sunny weather. Most visitors come here to enjoy the sun and sand, but other points of interest include the Anapa Lighthouse, the Gorgippia Archeological Museum, and the Town Theater. The area is also well-known for its wide variety of flora and fauna, some of which can be seen in the nearby wildlife preserve of Bolshoy Utrish. Most of Anapa's hotels and resorts are found on the busy central beach, though accommodation can also be found on some of the beaches outside the city.
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Founded in the 18th century, Barnaul is a small town located only 90 minutes away from the Altay Mountains. It's an excellent place to base yourself if you'd like to spend some time exploring the beautiful mountain range, but it's also a great destination if you're interested in experiencing life in a Siberian provincial town. The locals are known for their friendly, welcoming attitudes, and there are plenty of great hotels, restaurants, cafes, and bars for visitors to enjoy. Other attractions include the Altai Museum of Art, the family-friendly Izumrudny Park, and the Museum of Military History.
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Located near the border of Europe and Asia, Ekaterinburg is the fourth-largest city in Russia. Because of its location in the Ural Mountains, the city is a popular destination for people interested in cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, and exploring the nearby Deer Streams National Park. However, there are plenty of cultural monuments to admire as well, including a wooden monastery known as Ganina Yama, a monument at the border of Europe and Asia, and a series of wooden chapels dedicated to the members of the imperial Romanov family, who were brutally murdered by Bolshevik troops in 1918.
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The Golden Ring is a ring of small historical towns nestled in the countryside to the northeast of Moscow. Many of the towns were important centers of trade and business during medieval times, but today they're better known for their delicious traditional food, their beautiful domed white churches, and the quaint little gingerbread-like cottages that dot the countryside. It is possible to do the entire circuit using the trains and buses, but the best way to ensure you see everything is to take a guided tour or to rent a car in Moscow and drive between the towns yourself.
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The Cossacks founded Irkutsk in the 1660s to serve as a trading post, and it remained an important center of trade well into the 19th century. Today, the city is a popular destination for travelers interested in exploring the Sayan mountains of eastern Siberia and the nearby Baikal Lake. There are also plenty of things to see in the city itself, including a central market filled with fresh fish caught in Baikal Lake, a charming, walkable historic center, several fascinating museums of art and history, and a collection of monasteries and churches that date back more than 300 years.
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Because of its location on the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Poland, Kaliningrad is an often-overlooked piece of Russia. However, it's a fascinating destination for anyone able to incorporate it into their itinerary. The city was formerly the capital of Prussia, and because of this, most of the major historical sights are German in origin. There is an excellent selection of wartime museums and monuments, but once you've had your fill of historical sights, you can head to the nearby resort town of Svetlogorsk or to one of the amber mines or workshops that the area is known for.
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Easily one of the most scenic areas in Russia, Kamchatka is a 1,250-km-long peninsula located in the easternmost part of Russia. The wilderness is almost untouched and the area is very geologically active; there are an incredible number of volcanoes, hot springs, geysers, and even an extraordinary acid lake. The peninsula also boasts the world's southernmost section of arctic tundra, and many tourists come here to fish and hunt. Many of the sights are accessible only by helicopter, although some can be reached by car and on foot. Most visitors choose to base themselves in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, the region's largest city.
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Approximately 10 years older than Moscow, the city of Kazan celebrated its 1000th anniversary in 2005. Because of its rich history and its location between Europe and Asia, the city is a fascinating blend of Russian and Tatar cultures and Muslin and Christian religions. The main tourist attractions are the Kremlin, which boasts an impressive tower and a mosque, and Bauman Street, which offers plenty of cafes, restaurants, shops, and bars. Both of these locations are only open to pedestrians, but double-decker buses are available to take visitors on a tour of all the city's other interesting sights.
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Believed by many to be the most beautiful city in Siberia, Krasnoyarsk sits on the Yenisey River. The stunning Stolby National Park is located only 20 minutes away from the city; many peculiar curved rock formations can be found here, making it a popular destination for rock climbers. Another of the area's main attractions is the Krasnoyarsk hydroelectric dam, which boasts an impressive waterfall that can be reached by jet boat during the summer and by car all throughout the year. There are also several excellent museums, and beautiful flower monuments can be seen throughout the city during the summer.
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Lake Baikal has the honor of being both the largest and the deepest lake in the world, and with an estimated age of 25 million years, it's widely believed to be the world's oldest lake as well. The lake is one of the biggest tourist attractions in southern Siberia, and it's a great destination year-round. The water freezes solid in the winter, allowing visitors to cross-country ski, skate, and take sleigh rides. Summer visitors, on the other hand, will be rewarded with marvelous scenery and the chance to swim in and boat on the world's largest lake.
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Home to more than 300,000 people, Murmansk is the largest Arctic city in the world. The city was only founded in 1916, meaning it has far fewer historical buildings and monuments than most other Russian cities, but it does offer a historical wooden monastery, an interesting navy museum, and a statue dedicated to the defenders of the Soviet Arctic. Another point of interest is the icebreaker Lenin, a nuclear ship that has been turned into a museum. The ship can only be visited on a guided tour, and tours are offered three times a day between Wednesday and Sunday.
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Often referred to simply as Nizhny, the city of Nizhny Novgorod sits at the confluence of the Volga and Oka rivers. Visitors can stroll along the riverbanks, but the best views are had by taking a high-altitude cable car ride from one side of the river to the other. The most remarkable sight in the city itself is the hilltop Kremlin, which offers stunning views of the Volga River as well as a church, a war monument, and an art museum. There are several other fascinating museums in the city as well, including the former homes of writer Maxim Gorky and activist Andrey Sakharov.
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Situated between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, Novgorod is a small but ancient city that is mentioned in manuscripts dating back as far as 859. The city holds a tremendous amount of historical importance, and it boasts plenty of beautiful monuments and religious buildings that have been standing for hundreds of years. Many of the city's main attractions are found in the central Kremlin, which is open to visitors free of charge and can be accessed by pedestrians through two gates. A beach is located right outside the Kremlin, and there are plenty of local boatmen here offering trips up the river.
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Despite being the third-largest city in Russia, Novosibirsk has a surprisingly quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Commonly referred to as the capital of Siberia, the city offers an excellent selection of museums, monuments, art galleries, and restaurants. Other popular activities for visitors include ice skating, visiting the circus, watching a puppet show at the historic Novosibirsk Regional Puppet Theater, and attending a performance at the beautiful Opera House. The city also boasts one of the largest cities in Russia, which is home to many different species of polar bear as well as one of the only ligers (lion-tiger hybrids) in the world.
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Tucked away on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Petropavlovskaost is the second largest city in the world that cannot be accessed by road. However, the city is the main point of entry for visitors interested in exploring the peninsula, and there are plenty of excellent hotels, restaurants, bars, and shops that cater to tourists. A ring of snow-capped mountains and volcanoes surround the city, and most visitors head out into the wilderness to paraglide, ski, or go hunting. However, if you wish to stay in the city, you can take advantage of an excellent selection of museums and interesting historical monuments.
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Perched on the banks of the Volga River, Samara is the capital of a region that shares its name. The city was closed to visitors right until the dissolution of the USSR, meaning that the tourist infrastructure is not as developed as it is elsewhere in Russia and visitors are advised to arrange their accommodation well in advance. The Tourist Information Center offers a guided tour of the city every Saturday afternoon; the highlight of these tours is a visit to Stalin's Bunker, which is closed to individual visitors. During the summer, the best way to see the city is by taking a river cruise.
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Sochi became internationally famous for hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics, but the city is also Russia's biggest summer resort destination. Most visitors come between May and September when the weather is warm enough to swim and relax on the beaches. However, visitors who come during other times of the year can still enjoy the many museums, monuments, and Stalinist-period buildings, including Stalin's Summer Residence. The city is also a great place to base yourself if you're interested in exploring the beautiful Sochi National Park, which offers a good number of spectacular caves, waterfalls, mountains, and wildlife.
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With a length of 5,772 miles, the Trans Siberian is the longest railway in the world. The railway was constructed between the years of 1891 and 1916; it was originally intended to connect Moscow with the city of Vladivostok in the Far East, but today it is one of the most exciting and scenic ways for visitors to travel through the country. Only sleeper car tickets can be purchased for the longer journeys, and the trains typically stop every three to four hours so that passengers can get off to stretch their legs and grab a bite to eat.
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Located in eastern Siberia, the city of Ulan-Ude is one of the most interesting stops along the Trans-Siberian Railway. The city is a fascinating blend of Asian and Russian cultures, and visitors can marvel at everything from the largest Lenin head in the world to a Buddhist lama temple that offers panoramic views of the city. The area is also notable for being the historical home of the Buryati people; visitors can sample their traditional cuisine at one of the many street stalls and learn about their history and culture at the Ethnographic Museum of the People of Transbaikalia Culture.
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The city of Vladivostok is one of the most important commercial ports and naval bases in Russia, but it's also a charming city that offers plenty of interesting things for visitors to see and do. Tucked between the rolling hills of the Russian Far East and the sandy bays of the Pacific, the city has plenty of pleasant walking trails and beaches ideal for swimming. The most popular beach by far is the beautiful Golden Horn Bay, over which stretches a giant 1.3-mile-long suspension bridge that has become one of the most notable landmarks in the city.
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Hidden away in the northeast of the country, Vologda is an authentic Russian town that has yet to be discovered by crowds of visitors. Despite the city's relatively small size, visitors will never have a hard time finding food, accommodation, or entertainment. First mentioned in the year 1147, the city has a rich history that can be seen in the many beautiful monuments and historical buildings scattered throughout the city. One of the most popular sights is the Kremlyovskaya Square and Sophiysky Cathedral; for a small fee, visitors can climb the bell tower to get excellent views of the town.
25 Best Places to Visit in Russia
- Saint Petersburg, Photo: Courtesy of Vladimir Sazonov - Fotolia.com
- Moscow, Photo: Courtesy of scaliger - Fotolia.com
- Altay, Photo: Courtesy of irinabal18 - Fotolia.com
- Anapa, Photo: Courtesy of datsko - Fotolia.com
- Barnaul, Photo: Courtesy of Tina_Jeans - Fotolia.com
- Ekaterinburg, Photo: Courtesy of 1599685sv - Fotolia.com
- Golden Ring, Photo: Courtesy of Delphotostock - Fotolia.com
- Irkutsk, Photo: Courtesy of saiko3p - Fotolia.com
- Kaliningrad, Photo: Courtesy of Anton Gvozdikov - Fotolia.com
- Kamchatka, Photo: Courtesy of SergeyKrasnoshchokov - Fotolia.com
- Kazan, Photo: Courtesy of r_andrei - Fotolia.com
- Krasnoyarsk, Photo: Courtesy of lex_geodez - Fotolia.com
- Lake Baikal, Photo: Courtesy of serge-b - Fotolia.com
- Murmansk, Photo: Courtesy of tsuguliev - Fotolia.com
- Nizhny Novgorod, Photo: Courtesy of Sergey - Fotolia.com
- Novgorod, Photo: Courtesy of yulenochekk - Fotolia.com
- Novosibirsk, Photo: Courtesy of simanovskiy - Fotolia.com
- Petropavlovskaost, Photo: Courtesy of Julia Mashkova - Fotolia.com
- Samara, Photo: Courtesy of Coprid - Fotolia.com
- Sochi, Photo: Courtesy of seafarer81 - Fotolia.com
- Trans Siberian, Photo: Courtesy of fototehnik - Fotolia.com
- Ulan-Ude, Photo: Courtesy of saiko3p - Fotolia.com
- Vladivostok, Photo: Courtesy of voldemar992 - Fotolia.com
- Vologda, Photo: Courtesy of Irina Papoyan - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Zarya Maxim - Fotolia.com