The largest country in the world, Russia is often overlooked as a tourist destination. However, it is a far more culturally and historically rich country than many believe, whilst offering some of the world’s most stunning and unique scenery. In bustling urban centres Moscow and St. Petersburg, one can glimpse the country’s extensive treasure trove of cultural and historical riches while in far-flung regions like Siberia, the country’s sheer size and beauty become instantly apparent.
Red Square, Moscow
The main hub of the city, Red Square is very much the centre of the city, containing a number of important cultural and historical landmarks. Most significant of which is the Kremlin, the official residence of the Russian President. The former residence of Russia’s monarchs-the Tsars-the Kremlin is a heavily fortified complex dating back to the 15th Century. The most recognisable building is Saint Basil’s Cathedral, a visually-striking, multi-coloured building dating back to the mid-16th Century. Commissioned under the command of Ivan the Terrible following the capture of Kazan, the cathedral was a key icon of Russian Orthodoxy for many centuries. Following the rise of Communism and by extension the policy of state atheism, the church was secularised as a public museum, a function it serves in the present day. The Lenin Mausoleum is another important historical site as the burial site of Vladimir Lenin, a key figure in Russian political history as the first leader of the Soviet Union. Also of interest to visitors and locals is GUM, a large department store with an impressive, grandiose facade.
Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow
Built in the early 19th Century, the Bolshoi Theatre is an iconic venue and the heart of the eponymous Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera, both of which are amongst the most esteemed in the world. Known as much for the prestige of its ballet and opera companies as it is for its neoclassical exterior, designed by the notable architect Joseph Bove. The Bolshoi Theatre is amongst the most recognisable buildings in Russia, and one of the country’s most important cultural centres.
Located on the outskirts of Moscow, Kolomenskoye is a former royal estate known for a variety of distinct, magnificent historical buildings. The most well-known of these is the White Column of Kolomenskoye, or the Ascension Church, which dates back to the early 16th Century, having been built in 1532 in honour of Ivan the Terrible. The Ascension Church is one of the most magnificent religious buildings in the entirety of Russia, its unique stone design standing out from many other churches built in the same time, which often adhered to Byzantine architectural influences. The 390-hectare complex consists of a variety of other buildings from various time periods, and is a good place for to can marvel in the extensive history of Russia.
Pushkin State Museum of the Arts, Moscow
Moscow’s pre-eminent art museum, the Pushkin specialises mainly in European art although it also has a considerable collection of antiques. Initially purposed as an archaeological museum, the Pushkin boasts a substantial collection of Hellenistic artefacts. Named for the seminal Russian poet Alexander Pushkin, the museum was built just prior to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution. With a rich, diverse collection of art and artefacts, the Pushkin is one of Moscow’s most important cultural institutions.
Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
One of the most magnificent museums in Russia and indeed the world, the Hermitage is exceeded only by Paris’ Louvre as the largest arts museum on the planet. Founded in 1764 by Catherine the Great initially as a means to house her extensive art collection. The Hermitage is one of the most spectacular museums on the planet, with a collection of over 3 million items, divided across a number of smaller museums. Without a doubt Russia’s pre-eminent cultural institution, the Hermitage Museum is simply unmissable for those visiting St. Petersburg.
Winter Palace, St. Petersburg
One of the six buildings housing the immense collection of the Hermitage Museum, the Winter Palace was also one of the most significant palaces in the Imperial Russia period. With it’s clear Baroque and Rococo influences, the Winter Palace is arguably the definitive physical legacy of Imperial Russia, its enormous scale designed to reflect the sheer size and power of the Russian Empire. Since the heights of Imperial power, the Palace has remained a site of immense historical significance, as the location of the Bloody Sunday Massacre of 1905, a major catalyst in the escalation of hostilities towards the Tsarist autocracy, and most importantly as the birthplace of the Soviet Union, having been stormed by the Red Army in 1921. Due to its visual magnificence and historical importance, the Winter Palace is without a doubt one of the standout sights to see in Russia.
Church of the Saviour on Blood, St. Petersburg
One of the last major architectural contributions of the Russian Empire, the Church of the Saviour on Blood was built in memory of Alexander II, upon the location of his untimely assassination in 1881. The church took over twenty years to build, completed in 1907. One of the major historical sites in the city of St. Petersburg, the Church is one of the most visually magnificent in the country, its multi-coloured exterior standing out amongst its surroundings.
Peterhof Palace, St. Petersburg
A vast complex of palaces and gardens, Peterhof Palace is often likened to Russia’s answer to Versailles, and for good reason. One of the most spectacular sights in Moscow, Peterhof Palace dates back to the reign of Peter the Great in the early 18th Century, for which it is named. Noted for its magnificent Baroque design and opulent and expansive gardens, Peterhof Palace is one of the city’s most unmissable cultural experiences.
City of the Dead, Dargavs
One of the more unusual and sombre tourist sites in Russia is the Dargavs City of the Dead, a vast necropolis with a plethora of burial sites dating back to a number of different periods. The earliest of which is believed to date back to the 12th Century, although this is a source of debate. It is generally avoided by locals due to the morbid folklore surrounding the area but it is one of the most haunting and spectacular sights in the country. Despite few tourist visiting due to its inaccessibility, for those who make the journey, it is a richly rewarding experience.
Lake Baikal, Siberia
The world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Baikal is located in the Southern region of Siberia is one of the most spectacular natural sights in the whole of Russia. In recent years, it has b come an increasingly popular tourist destination, catering to nature enthusiasts, hikers and those seeking a more relaxing experience. Nicknamed the ‘Pearl of Siberia’, it is not difficult to see why.