Russia is one of the world’s most captivating travel destinations, a juxtapositioned jumble of medieval, Soviet, and modern treats from the history-soaked streets of Moscow and vast expanses of Siberia to the fairytale-esque St. Petersburg and the far-flung Vladivostok.
There is so much to see here, but discovering the most famous landmarks in Russia is an excellent place to start…
Unique cities, architectural monuments, inspirational tales, small towns, palaces, parks, forests, art and music, museums, and many customs and traditional rituals remain to be discovered by intrepid tourists. As you would expect from a nation with more than a thousand years of history.
Not to mention that this continent-spanning country is also incredibly well endowed with spectacular natural scenes of thick forests, long rivers, high mountain ranges, and plenty of Arctic Tundra.
There are so many places to explore in Russia; you could spend your life enjoying their richness and scrape only the surface. That is why we created this cheat sheet to guide you on your journey.
But first – what is a landmark?
A landmark is a recognizable natural or artificial feature that typically stands out from its environment and has become a local or national symbol. For modern tourists, a landmark is useful for navigation – in terms of both being a physical waypoint and in trying to help you organize your itinerary.
Getting the off-the-beaten-track is all well and good, but at the end of the day – there are some spots you just have to see when you visit a country. Think about the Canals of Amsterdam or Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Instantly recognizable places you couldn’t miss if you tried. And Russia has more than its fair share…
When approaching a trip to the land of vodka and Matryoshka nesting dolls, you will want to tick off as many famous Russian landmarks as you can – and the best way is to do that is often by renting a car, taking a tour, or using the famous Russian rail system to get around.
There is a lot to explore in Russia — and no list of famous Russian landmarks could ever be exhaustive. But, we have tried to collate the top highlights by putting a call out to our favorite travel bloggers and asking them to amuse us with stories and helpful tips about their most beloved spots.
This way, you have a reasonable frame of reference to inspire your Russia travels from which you could choose a few landmarks that you absolutely cannot miss… or cram as many as humanly possible into a single trip.
If you plan it right — with enough time—, and you might just hit them all. And discover plenty more of your own favourite highlights of Russia while you’re at it!
The Alexander Palace in Pushkin is a unique place to visit near Saint Petersburg. This Russian landmark tells the tragic history of the last Romanov tsar and his family.
The palace is located in the village of Pushkin, once named Tsarskoye Selo – Tsar’s Village – because of the royal summer palaces. The most famous of them is Catherine Palace, which draws many visitors to the small village. The Alexander Palace is definitely worth a visit as well, though it lacks the splendor you might think for a Romanov palace.
It was home to the last tsar Nicolas II, his wife Alexandra, and their children. It was their favorite place to live, far away from the busy court life in Saint Petersburg. It’s one of the reasons the royal couple wasn’t popular at all in the Saint Petersburg society.
When the Russian monarchy was overthrown, and the tsar abdicated, he and his family lived I house arrest in the Alexander Palace. When I visited the palace in 2015, it showed a unique insight into their private family life. The children’s rooms were covered in religious icons, and the tsar’s study was well preserved. All very sober, as the tsar family despised the usual court splendor the Romanovs are known for.
The palace is under renovation since 2015, and ever since, the date for its reopening has been postponed. It is now planned for early 2022.
By Maartje and Sebastiaan from The Orange Backpack
The Bolshoi Theatre is a landmark theatre in Moscow built initially by architect Joseph Bové for ballet and opera performances and inaugurated on 20 October 1856, the coronation day of Tsar Alexander II. The Bolshoi building has been recognized as one of Moscow’s key sights ever since.
Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera are among the oldest and most famous ballet and opera organizations globally and today is the largest ballet company in the world, with more than 200 performers.
The theatre’s main building has been restored and renovated many times in the course of its history. It is a living testament to Russian artistic achievement and is so famous the neoclassical façade is depicted on the 100 rubles banknote. In 2011, the Bolshoi was re-opened following a massive six-year renovation. The reconstruction included the restoration of original acoustics (squandered during the Soviet era) and the revival of the original imperial decoration of the Bolshoi.
A symbol of Russia popular with tourists worldwide, you will not find ‘cheap tickets’ here as you can in other world-class theatres around Russia and places like Minsk and Riga. The Bolshoi Theatre prices are more comparable with Western performances and is especially the case for ballet. Tickets are around 15,000 rubles (≈$230) (for seats in the orchestra or stalls), but it is still well worth seeing a production in such a historic landmark of Russia.
The nondescript green doors of Bunker-42 in Moscow may not be as recognizable as the Kremlin or St. Basil’s Cathedral. However, it’s a landmark in Russia you won’t want to miss visiting!
Once a man dressed in a Soviet KGB uniform admits you through the vaulted doors, you will descend 18 flights of stairs to this once top-secret, Soviet military complex. Joseph Stalin had commissioned Bunker-42 to be made after the United States created a nuclear bomb. It is 65 meters underground, which was the ideal depth meant to protect Stalin and the top Russian government officials from a nuclear attack.
Now, it’s a museum dedicated to the Cold War that you can tour! To enter Bunker-42, you do need to schedule a tour, and there are several English tours to choose from throughout the day. (Call +7 499 703-44-55 to book your tour.)
Another option for experiencing Bunker-42, if you would rather not do a tour, is to visit the restaurant inside Bunker-42. While I would not describe Bunker-42 as one of the best restaurants in Moscow for food, it is absolutely worth visiting for a drink or two. The restaurant is also located within the bunker and is decorated in the old Soviet-style.
Bunker-42 is a short cab ride away from Moscow’s Red Square (10-15 minutes). However, I recommend taking the metro to get to it, as the closest station is Taganskaya – which is a stunningly beautiful metro station also worth seeing. I also suggest leaving yourself plenty of time to find the entrance before your scheduled tour time, as it is set against a rather ordinary-looking building, that gives no hints to what lies below.
Explored by Lindsey Puls of Have Clothes, Will Travel
If you’re in Moscow and somewhat of an aviation fanatic, the Russian Central Air Force Museum at Monino (around 40km east of Moscow) is a famous landmark of Russian military history that is definitely worth a trip.
Also known as the Russian Federation Air Force Museum, it is the largest in Russia and the best air museum in all of the ex-Soviet Union. In fact, it is one of the world’s top aircraft museums up there with the (far more famous) Canada Aviation and Space Museum in Ottawa, the Palm Springs Air Museum, and, of course, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center / National Air and Space Museum in DC.
The Russian Federation Air Force Museums collection features over 170 aircraft, including conventional planes, helicopters, gliders, and some unusual flying machines. Try counting the stars; you’ll be here all day…
The Central air force museum in Monino consists of one main building where there is information on Russian aviation (though mostly only in Russian) and an indoor hangar featuring several WW2 fighter aircraft. However, outside is an enormous open-air area where hundreds of post WW2 aircraft are stored, which have to be the museum’s main attraction.
Many of the aircraft on display were top secret during and even after the Cold War. Known only by their NATO code names, these aircraft were at the cutting edge of design and aeronautical experimentation. A couple of aircraft on display at the Central air force museum in Monino are still types that are in active service.
Along with military aircraft, there are also a few civilian aircraft on display, one of particular note is the Tupolev 144. Not many people realize that it was actually the Soviets who built and flew the world’s first supersonic airliner. They snuck in 2 months ahead of the Concorde.
From attack to transport, they’re just as impressive. Greeting you at the gate, you can’t miss the Mil V-12, its size is dwarfing, and it’s longer than a Boeing 737. It’s almost unbelievable that this thing got off the ground with its strange design features, but it did and still holds records to this day.
You can even see the Mil V-12, the largest helicopter ever built! The museum is located next door to an active Air Force Base, so you may be lucky enough to see some of the Russian air force’s current inventory buzzing overhead. Fighter jets and transports leaving their dark streaks across the sky, there were probably seven or more circling around every few minutes on the day I was there. Not many museums provide a free airshow along with the ticket!
A place with a difference and plenty of history. The Central Air Force Museum in Monino is the only place in the world you can see some of these machines. To visit the Monino air force museum, simply head to Moscow’s Yaroslavskaya railway station (Russian: Яросла́вский вокза́л, Yaroslavsky vokzal) and ask for a return ticket to Monino (Russian: Мо́нино). It’s about 1.5 hours each way, leaving hourly.
There’s so much to do in St Petersburg, but did you know about the pretty pastel cake shaped church called Chesme Church? It’s well off the typical tourist guidebook path but quite the lovely discovery for those who venture out to take a look at it!
We were so glad we went to see this lovely little gem, and you will too!
About the church, it was commissioned by Catherine the Great for the Chesme Palace and built by court architect Yury Felton as a resting place for the royal family when they traveled to Tsarskoe Selo from St Petersburg. It’s also one of the few orthodox churches that have such a beautiful color and striking architectural build. The official name of the church is St John’s The Baptist Church at Chesme Palace.
It has lasted through many wars and social uprisings with it being used as a labor camp, warehouse, and a burial ground for war heroes from the Siege of Leningrad. Located a quick taxi ride south of St. Petersburg, it’s definitely worth the trip as you’ll be the only tourist there to witness this amazing church!
The best time to go is at sunset when the color of the sun makes the pretty pink color really stand out! You can try going at sunrise also, but the church might be backlit.
Sometimes the church is open to visitors, but it depends on the schedule of the church. Either way, you’ll love it so much!
The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in the city of St. Petersburg is an unmissable attraction in Russia. We visited the church during our family trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and it remains one of my favorite places in Russia. I love visiting interesting architecture, but as an outdoors enthusiast, I am rarely spellbound by a human-made structure.
However, the late 19th century Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood was one of those rare man-made features that stopped me in my tracks. The de-consecrated church lies on the banks of the Griboedov Canal and can be easily reached by canal boat, public bus, or by a short walk from the nearby Nevsky Prospekt metro station. The church was constructed on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated in March 1881, hence the given ‘spilled blood’ name.
The exterior of the Cathedral is intricate, ornate, and colorful, reminiscent of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. The church looks like it belongs in the pages of a fairy tale. But it is the interior of the Cathedral that will take your breath away. The entire interior of the church, from the stone floor to the interior of the high curved domes, is decorated in tiny stone mosaic pieces that together make up vivid, colorful scenes from the Bible. Every inch of the church is covered in rich-toned, detailed mosaics – there is an estimated 7,500 square meters of mosaics.
The intricate artistry is incredible, and it is easy to see why this magnificent church took 24 years to build. The church is a very popular attraction, so visit early to avoid large crowds.
Explored by Sinead from Map Made Memories
If you happen to visit Russia, include Chita in your itinerary. Around 6 hours from Moscow by flight, Chita is a beautiful and historic place. Though there are many things to do in Chita but a visit to Datsan Monastery is a must-do in the list.
Aginsky Datsan is also an attraction of Chita, Datsan, which means a Buddhist university monastery in the Tibetan tradition. Located in Amitkhasha village, the monastery is painted in a proverbial Buddhist style. In a Datsan generally, there are two departments, philosophical and medical, and monks are taught different layers of it.
In Buryat Buddhism, the terms Datsan and ‘Buddhist monastery’ are similar. Aginsky dastan is no different and is a place of cultural heritage of federal significance. Initially, the Datsan had Russian church architecture. It also had elements of Tibetan, Chinese and Russian styles in its structure. It was rebuilt in the middle of the 19th century with roof & pillars being repaired.
Slowly the Datsan became the largest Buddhist monastery in the Transbaikalia region and later became famous for its medical, philosophical, and astrological schools even in far off areas. People of Buddhism faith from distant places such as the other side of Russia, Mongolia, China, and even Myanmar and Thailand visit this monastery to study and offer their prayers. Even non-Buddhist people visit the monastery for its architecture and grandeur. There is a separate section for the students.
The best way to go to Datsan is by road, as it is around 150 KMs away from the town of Chita. You may pray at the monastery, and there is also a souvenir shop. You may want to have the fun of meeting the healers and astrologers.
Explored by Nisha and Vasu from Lemonicks.com
During our epic Trans-Siberian railway adventure discovering the gay side of Russia, we stopped over at Ulan Ude for a few nights. Ulan Ude is a city over in East Siberia, east of the famous Lake Baikal, and close to the Mongolian border. What makes Ulan Ude so memorable for us was the giant head of Lenin! This is literally a gigantic sculpture of the renowned Soviet leader’s head, located right in the heart of the city in the main square. It’s truly a sight to behold.
The bronze Lenin Head sculpture of Ulan Ude is 7.7 meters (over 25 ft) high and weighs around 42 tons – making it the largest head sculpture in the world. It was built in 1970 and installed as part of the celebration of Lenin’s 100th birthday. The statue has become an iconic symbol of Ulan Ude – beyond a touristic landmark; it’s a common meeting spot as well as a popular backdrop for wedding photos.
It’s a common joke amongst locals in Ulan Ude to refer to the Lenin Head statue as the “world’s largest Jewish head” because when it snows, the top of the statue collects a circle of snow, which makes it look like a giant white kippah on a male head.
The Lenin Head statue is officially called “Pamyatnik V. I. Leninu,” and it is located in the main square of Ulan Ude, in front of the Buryatia government building. You can get to Ulan Ude either by a loooong train ride from Moscow – 3 days and 18 hours to be exact (4,420km 2,746 miles)! Alternatively, you can fly to the Baikal International Airport from Moscow (6 hours), which is 12km (7.5 miles) west of the city center.
Explored by Stefan and Sebastien from the Nomadic Boys
When it comes to beautiful religious buildings and churches to visit in Russia, there really is an endless list of possibilities. But one place that should definitely go on your must-visit list is the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in the town of Sergiev Posad.
Located about 45 miles northeast of Moscow, Sergiev Posad is part of Russia’s “Golden Ring,” a cluster of historically important towns and cities. Here, the historically important part is the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, the most important monastery in Russia. Dating back to the 1300s, the Trinity Lavra is the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church, and is still home to hundreds of monks.
Visitors are welcome to the monastery, where they can marvel at the blue and gold onion domes atop the Cathedral of the Assumption, pass by the tomb of St. Sergius in the Trinity Cathedral, and admire all the gold details, carved icons, and interior frescoes that the Russian Orthodox Church is so well-known for. You definitely don’t want to miss the interior of the Refectory Church, either, which is simply stunning.
The monastery is a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its architecture and historical significance, making it a no-brainer to visit for anyone curious to learn more about Russia.
You can get to the Trinity Lavra independently by bus, train, or car from Moscow, but I would probably recommend booking a guided day tour (either just to the monastery or as part of a longer Golden Ring tour) if you want to fully understand what you’re seeing while there.
Explored by Amanda of A Dangerous Business Travel Blog
Kazan is one of the most beautiful and interesting cities you can visit in Russia. The capital of the Republic of Tatarstan is located only 700 km east of Moscow (that’s close in Russian standards), and the main reason to visit Kazan is the UNESCO listed Kremlin.
The historic citadel was built in the 16th century, under the rule of Ivan the Terrible, in the place where the castle of the Khanate of Kazan used to stand. There are numerous monuments you can find in the Kremlin – the Annunciation Cathedral from the 16th century, the leaning tower Söyembikä (the highest building in Kremlin), or the Tatarstan Museum of Natural History.
The highlight of the place and the absolute must-visit place in Kazan is Kul Sharif Mosque – the impressive masterpiece that looks like straight from a fairy tale. This is one of the largest mosques in Russia and in Europe, and it is indeed really big. The building was finished in 2005, to commemorate the 1000th birthday of the city, and the mosque stands in the same place where the old mosque used to be. Be sure to visit the mosque inside too; it’s beautiful!
If you can, you should come to Kazan Kremlin twice, in the daytime to visit all the important sights and in the evening, to enjoy the place without too many tourists and to fully appreciate its beauty. Visiting Kremlin is one of the best things to do in Kazan.
Explored by Kami from Kami and the Rest of the World
Kizhi Island is one of the most unique and interesting landmarks in Russia! It is located just south of the Arctic Circle and is one of the coolest hidden gems in Europe!
It is found on a small island in Lake Onega and is a popular spot to visit from Saint Petersburg. To get here, you either need to drive [it is quite a distance], take the overnight train, or go via boat or cruise. If you are taking a river cruise, your cruise may stop here, and it is popular with tour groups and schools.
The visit to this famous Russian landmarks is worth it, though as you will feel transported to another world! Kizhi Island is a UNESCO heritage site, and it is easy to see why. The buildings are constructed solely out of wood and nothing else. They date back to the 18th century! The Church Of The Transfiguration is the most striking and beautiful building on the property, but Kizhi Island as a whole is very cool.
This island has great historical significance because it was a defense against the Swedish and Polish during the 17th century, and several important peasant revolts took place here between 1769 and 1771.
There are various other buildings from the old settlement that you can visit and tour, such as Banyas and farm buildings, and it is very interesting to go on a tour to learn more about the history of the iconic Kizhi Island!
Explored by Victoria Yore of Follow Me Away
Lake Baikal is surely the most famous natural landmark in Russia, and for a good reason. It’s the world’s oldest and deepest lake, and also its all-around largest freshwater lake, which makes it all the more surprising that this vast lake completely freezes over in winter!
This is Siberia, after all, and temperatures here are bitterly cold, not only in winter but also for much of spring and autumn. So, the best time to visit Lake Baikal is in July and August, especially if you’re hoping to do some outdoor activities like hiking, kayaking, or (if you’re really brave) swimming.
Foreigners rarely make the long trip out to this isolated reason solely to see the lake. The most common way to visit Lake Baikal is as part of a longer trip across the whole country on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Although the lake is not directly on the train line, so whether you’re arriving by train or by air, you’re jumping-off point will be the Siberian city of Irkutsk. From there, it’s about a 70-kilometer trip by minibus to the lakeshore town of Listvyanka.
Many visitors don’t get any further than this, but I recommend continuing on to one of the smaller villages to really experience the peace and quiet of this beautiful landscape. Since there are no roads from Listvyanka apart from the one heading back to Irkutsk, you’ll need to either hike or take a ferry to continue your journey. There are grand plans to build a hiking trail called the Great Baikal trail that may one day follow the entire circumference of the lake.
For now, though, it only goes as far as Bolshoye Goloustnoye, and even that is a bit dangerous in parts. If one day of hiking is enough for you, I recommend walking from Listvyanka to Bolshiye Koty, which is about 25 kilometers, and staying overnight at the lovely Lesnaya 7 Hostel there.
Explored by Wendy Werneth from The Nomadic Vegan
The Lakhta Center is an 87-story skyscraper located in the northwestern Lakhta neighborhood of Saint Petersburg. While it is not yet a famous landmark of Russia (due to only just being completed), it stands 462 meters high and is sure to become more well known in the next few years.
This is because not only is it now the tallest building in Russia and the tallest building in Europe, but it is also the fourteenth-largest building in the world. It’s just taller than the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur and 10 meters shorter than Central Park Tower in New York. It is still 366 meters short of the Burj Khalifa in the UAE, however.
The construction of the towering Lakhta Center began in 2012, and the building topped out in 2018. Prior to this, the Vostok Tower of the Federation Towers in Moscow was the tallest building. The Lakhta Center is planned for large-scale mixed-use development, consisting of public services and offices, including the news headquarters of the Russian energy corporation Gazprom. Somewhat ironically, it is also one of the five most environmentally sustainable skyscrapers in the world.
The opening date of the project will be decided after the completion of the finalization and landscaping, but is expected to be in late 2020 when there will be a free public viewing deck that tourists can visit, along with open spaces for sculptures and exhibitions. A twist spire that thrusts skywards, the Lakhta Center is a beacon of modern Russia – and is worth planning a few hours to go and explore (even if you cannot get inside just yet).
The Moscow Kremlin, or just *the* Kremlin, is a defensive complex in the middle of Moscow, facing the Moskva River to the south, the Saint Basil Cathedral, and Red Square to the east, and the Alexander Garden to the West.
It is one of Russia’s most famous landmarks and even used metonymically to refer to the government of the Russian Federation, like how the “White House” is used to refer to the Executive Office of the President of the United States. Throughout most of Russian and Soviet history, the Kremlin has resided at the center of it all. It is an emblem of both Russian and (for a time) Soviet strength and control and was made the President of the Russian Federation’s primary dwelling after 1991.
More recently, to prevent the disturbances to Moscow traffic generated by motorcades, President Vladimir Putin commissioned the Kremlin helipad’s construction in 2013 and now commutes using a Mil Mi-8 helicopter. Thankfully, particular attention was exercised in determining the helipad’s position so as not to threaten the architectural majesty of the Kremlin.
The Kremlin’s octagonal red brick walls and its 20 towers (19 with spires, in case you want to count) were installed at the end of the 15th century when a group of Italian architects assembled in Moscow at the request of Ivan III (the Great). Among the most prominent buildings, the Savior (Spasskaya) Tower, which leads to the Red Square, was constructed in 1491 by Pietro Solario, who planned most of the other buildings; its bell tower was incorporated in 1624–25. The clock’s chimes are transmitted by radio as a time signal across all of the eleven (yes eleven) time zones of Russia.
The St. Nicholas (Nikolskaya) House, initially built-in 1491 and reconstructed in 1806, is also on the Red Square front. The best way to visit and explore the Kremlin today is with the Moscow Kremlin Museums, separated into eight parts. It is one of the most visited museums globally, and you should allow at least a full day to fully appreciate the history and scale of world events that have taken place here.
Mount Elbrus is one of the most famous natural landmarks in Russia. It’s situated in the Caucasus Mountains in the southwest of the country, near the border with Georgia.
Elbrus is the highest mountain peak in Europe and one of the seven summits, seven highest mountains on each continent. The mountain was formed over 2,5 million years ago. Elbrus has two summits; the western summit (the highest) – 5 642 m, the eastern summit – 5 621 m. Both summits are dormant volcanoes, which makes Elbrus the highest stratovolcano in Eurasia.
Elbrus was ascended for the first time in 1829. Nowadays, conquering Elbrus is on the bucket list of many climbers from all over the world. The way to the top is very challenging. On the summit day, climbers start their ascent between 12 am, and 1 am in the pitch dark. It takes about 8 hours of walking in knee-deep snow and cold wind to reach the summit.
The tough climb is rewarded by spectacular views of the Caucasus Mountain range from the top of Elbrus. July and August is the best time for climbing. In summer, Elbrus and the surrounding mountains are a popular place for hiking and rock climbing. In winter, many people come here for snowboarding and skiing. There are several cable cars and ski lifts here, including one on Elbrus that takes tourists to Garabashi Station at an altitude of 3800 m.
The best and quickest way of getting to Elbrus is to fly to Nalchik, and from there, take a minibus or a taxi to Terskol or Azau. Both towns are gateways to Elbrus. It’s possible to get to Nalchik by train from Moscow or Saint Petersburg, but it’s a long 2-day journey.
Explored by Campbell & Alya from Stingy Nomads
Peterhof, sitting on the banks of the Baltic Sea, is a sight not to be missed. Of all the stunning palaces around St Petersburg, the UNESCO World Heritage site of Peterhof is surely the most beautiful.
A 45-minute hydrofoil journey from St Petersburg will find you arriving at this Russian landmark dubbed the “Versailles of Russia,” and it is quite evident to see why it has earned this title.
From the moment you set eyes on the cascading waters that lead from the boat dock to Peterhof palace, you will be enraptured by its opulence.With a dazzling yellow façade and gold onion-domed turrets, you can see why Peter the Great built Peterhof to show the world of his power and wealth. And then there is the spectacle that is the Peterhof fountains and statues.
250 golden statues and 150 fountains are situated in front of Peterhof’s Grand Palace, with the centerpiece being a golden statue of Samson fighting a lion; the epitome of Imperial Russian power over its subjects.
The life-size golden statues dazzle in the sunshine and offer the visitor a glimpse of the opulent lifestyle held by the Russian courtiers over the centuries. Four water levels known as the “cascades” make their way steadily down from the palace to the sea. Peterhof’s grand interior, though only consisting of 30 rooms, is bedecked with treasures and Russian antiquities fit for the likes of Peter the Great and his predecessor Catherine the Great.
Peterhof is a must-see attraction in Russia, but it does get busy, and so a guided tour is recommended. Your guide will be able to fast-track you into the palace and give you lots of interesting stories that you would otherwise be unaware of. However, in winter, the fountains do not function, due to extreme weather conditions, and so the best time to see them in all their glory would be in Spring and Summer.
Peterhof Explored by Angela Price of Where Angie Wanders
Not technically a single famous landmark of Russia, but seven, which form distinct features on the Moscow skyline. Stalin’s so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ are still amongst some of the tallest buildings in Europe.
A cluster of seven Stalinist-style skyscrapers in Moscow were designed in a bewildering mix of Russian Baroque and Gothic styles between 1947 and 1953. These buildings are, somewhat ironically, said to be influenced by the Municipal Building in Manhattan — not that you’ll ever hear the Russian officially admit it.
In fact, when Stalin called for their design and construct, he said, “We won the war … foreigners will come to Moscow, walk around, and there are no skyscrapers. If they compare Moscow to capitalist cities, it’s a moral blow to us”.”
The seven-sister buildings were the tallest in Europe when they were completed, and the Moscow State University’s main building maintained its status for almost 50 years as the tallest in Europe until 1997.
As glorious as they are to look at, the buildings are far heavier than American skyscrapers of the time, with limited use of technology and experience ensuring they were completed with a far higher-cost per square-meter. For example, each of the seven sisters is based on a steel frame with masonry infill, as opposed to reinforced concrete structures common already in the West at the time. These imposing edifices to Stalin and communism’s brute consumed so many resources that they effectively halved housing construction rates in Moscow for the five years of their construction.
The seven dotted around Moscow are Hotel Ukraina, Kotelnicheskaya Embankment Apartments, the Kudrinskaya Square Building, the Hilton Moscow Leningradskaya Hotel, the main building of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the main building of Moscow State University, and the Red Gates Administrative Building. Other former USSR and former Soviet Bloc countries also have Stalinist skyscrapers like the Latvian Academy of Sciences in Riga or Hotel Družba in Prague.
However, none are in quite the same league as the Seven Sisters.
When people hear the word “Kremlin” they automatically think of the famous architectural wonder located in Moscow, while, in fact, there are close to a dozen amazing Kremlins around the country. “Kremlin,” in essence, is an old fortress that was built to protect the heart of town from the invaders. There used to be about 400 Kremlins in Russia, but most of them were destroyed, unfortunately.
The Kremlin in Smolensk was built in 1594-1602. It was a very important fortress because the city of Smolensk was always the Westernmost outpost of Russia and would be the first one hit by enemies. The overall length of the walls of this Kremlin was about 4 miles, but only half of that length is preserved nowadays.
It used to have 38 towers, but only 17 are left standing today. But even with all this destruction, Smolensk Kremlin is still a beautiful and educational landmark to visit.
One of the towers, “Gromovaya” tower, now houses a history museum where you can see how the fortress was built and the information on various battles that the city was involved in. The museum also has a very interesting exposition where you can see various old weapons, cannons, and old military uniforms. From the tower, you can get on the top of the fortress wall itself and take a short walk that sort of gives you a feeling of what it was like to be the fortress’ defender.
If you have a chance, definitely visit at least one of the Russian Kremlins.
Saint Basil’s Cathedral, whose official name is the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat or Pokrovsky Cathedral, is a Christian church in Red Square in Moscow, Russia. Not only is it one of the famous landmarks of Russia, but it is also viewed as a cultural symbol of the country.
Saint Basil the Blessed was built between 1554 and 1560 by Tsar Ivan IV (Terrible) as a decorative offering for his decisive campaign, which conquered Kazan and Astrakhan’s Khanates. The Cathedral was devoted to the protection and salvation of the Virgin Mary, but it eventually became known as the Cathedral of Vasily Blazhenny (St. Basil the Beatified) after Basil, the ‘holy idiot of Russia’ who shoplifted to give to the poor and rebuked Ivan for not paying enough attention to the church.
The church was developed by two Russian architect architects, Posnik and Barma, who may have been one in the same person. Records are not clear about a lot of things to do with Saint Basil’s — which is unusual for such an iconic building. Another example of this is the urban legend, that it was designed by an Italian architect who was blinded after so he could not ever build something comparable or equivalent.
Shaped like a colorful flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, or ice cream cones, the design of this Cathedral has no parallels in Russian architecture – making it even more iconic. With the Soviet Union’s demise in 1991, weekly Orthodox Christian services are once again held at St. Basil every Sunday at 10 am. There is also a small museum to visit.
Located in the forested foothills of the Sayan Mountains on the outskirts of Krasnoyarsk lies the Stolby Nature Reserve where enormous stone pinnacles named ‘stolby’ climb above the trees and have become an icon of the region.
In 1925, a small pocket of these unique rock formations was declared as a nature reserve with further areas added over the next 30 years. Today, the Stolby Nature Reserve encompasses hundreds of rocky pillars and spans almost 50,000 hectares. However, just 3.5% of that is accessible to visitors allowing large tracts of the forest to remain undisturbed.
In the past, these large boulders and the forests that surround them acted as a sanctuary for the revolutionaries who would hideout here to escape persecution during the Civil War. Today, it has become one of the most visited national parks in Russia and is a popular spot for rock climbing and hiking.
Located just 30 minutes from Krasnoyarsk, the accessible area of the reserve extends across the top of a mountain plateau, which can be reached either by chairlift or via an access road that weaves through the forest.
The best way to experience the area and find the most impressive stolby is on two feet with a number of fantastic hiking trails meandering through the trees. Some areas play host to tight clusters of the ochre pinnacles that have been likened to stone cities. Visitors should also be sure to climb a few of the stolby to enjoy the best views overlooking the treetops.
The Suzdal Kremlin is one of the most picturesque landmarks in Russia and one that is relatively easy to visit from Moscow. Suzdal is part of Russia’s so-called Golden Ring. A circle of towns that are close to Moscow and that have played an important role in Russian history. Nowadays, Suzdal might be a small rural village, but it is among the oldest towns.
The Suzdal Kremlin developed as early as the 10th century. Almost every town in Russia had a kremlin, and basically, it means nothing more than a fortified city center with the city’s most important buildings. The one in Suzdal is among the oldest intact kremlins in Russia and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.
When it started to grow in the 11th century with the construction of the Kremlin walls and the first city cathedral, Suzdal was bigger than Moscow. But even when Moscow became Russia’s political capital, Suzdal kept its religious importance with several well-respected monasteries and churches.
It was only when the Trans-Siberian railway was built that Suzdal lost its importance. Not being connected to the rail meant that Suzdal remained an agricultural village frozen in time. During the Soviet Union, there was no place for religion either, but the Soviets did realize Suzdal’s tourist potential. That’s why the Suzdal Kremlin was preserved so well.
The Soviets basically turned Suzdal into an open-air museum. The Suzdal Kremlin has a very scenic location in a bend of the Kamenka river. The white churches and monasteries are surrounded by traditional Russian wooden homes. There is a rural atmosphere. In spring, you will see chickens roaming the garden plots, and in winter, the village seems to come from a Russian fairytale.
You can visit Suzdal as a day or weekend trip from Moscow by taking the train to Vladimir. From there, it’s a short bus ride to Suzdal. There is so much to see and do that I would recommend staying at least one night in Suzdal.
Explored by Ellis from Backpack Adventures
One of the most visited attractions of Vladivostok is the Tokarevsky Lighthouse, which was one of the first things we saw after arriving in the city. It was built at the end of the 19th century, and it is one of the oldest lighthouses in the Far East.
Another interesting fact is that this tiny, only 12-meter tall lighthouse was built on the artificial Tokarevsky Split that goes underwater during high tide. You can still walk to the lighthouse in the shallow water if you don’t mind getting your feet wet, but in colder weather, it can be quite a chilly experience.
We were there in summer on a windy and gloomy day. I was grateful that we didn’t have to step into the water as it was low tide, and the top of the split was above the water surface. Make sure you check the tide schedule before getting there, especially if the weather is not so pleasant.
The Tokarevsky lighthouse resembles the end of the world – and therefore attracts a lot of tourists and locals as it is a popular wedding photo location too. You can reach Vladivostok by plane or train as we did: we traveled there by the Tran Siberian Railway from all the way from Moscow to Vladivostok.
The lighthouse is 7 km from the city center. To reach it, you either need to rent a car, or you can take a bus (Nr. 60 from the city center) and walk 20 minutes to the tip of the narrow peninsula.
Explored by Katalin & Karol from Our Life Our Travel
Veliky Novgorod is one of the Golden Ring towns of Russia that dates its recorded history way back to the 9th century. Once a thriving trade hub and a town of historical significance, Novgorod has been the place that paved the way for Russia’s formation.
Located almost midway between Saint Petersburg and Moscow, Veliky Novgorod could easily be covered on a day trip from either of these cities. However, it is much convenient from Saint Petersburg, as it takes just a couple of hours of commuting. Yet, the town hardly features in the Russia itinerary of travelers in spite of its rich history.
Veliky Novgorod has quite a handful of UNESCO heritage sites in its kitty. One such UNESCO site is the town’s Kremlin, that has been a witness to major political and regional upheavals. No wonder as it is one of the oldest citadels in Russia.
Today, the walls of the Kremlin house the oldest of Russian churches called the Cathedral of St. Sophia, the Monument to the Millennium of Russian Statehood, and the Novgorod State United Museum. The market place that houses the Yarslov’s courtyard with a few other ancient orthodox churches is located on the other riverside of the town. The two are connected by a bridge constructed over the Volkhov River.
Although Veliky Novgorod looks like a petite town, it has every facility inside its precincts. From a lone railway station to street art and a university to fine-dining, the town is self-sufficient in all aspects. Tourists may even feel a high spotting an Mc Donald’s outlet in this ancient town!
The best season to visit Veliky Novgorod would be autumn, when golden trees and leaves adorn the town all around.
Explored by Meenakshi from Polkajunction
Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg is one of the city’s most iconic buildings. Winter Palace was built between 1754 and 1762 by the project of Bartolomeo Rastrelli as the official winter residence of the Russian Emperor.
In summer, the royal family used to move to one of their summer residences in Peterhof or Tsarskoye Selo. Elizabethan Baroque, a.k.a Russian Baroque is the dominant architectural style of the palace. The palace represents the scale and splendor of the Russian Emperor House. The building is huge; it has 1945 windows, 1786 doors, and the total number of 1500 rooms.
Nowadays, the Winter Palace is part of the Hermitage Museum complex, one of the world’s largest museums. It’s a must-visit place in Saint Petersburg. The interior of the palace is even more impressive than the exterior. The luxurious decoration of the rooms and halls is astonishing; marble and malachite columns, golden ornaments and details, elaborated mosaics, and impressive frescoes. Not to mention an impressive collection of fine art, jewelry, and armor. Out of the hundreds of rooms open for visitors, these are not to miss: the Grand Church, Lodges of Raphaell, St. George Hall, Pavilion Hall, and the Armor Room.
The Winter Palace is the most visited museum in Saint Petersburg. More than 4,6 million people visit it every year. In the peak season between June and August, it gets very busy. The evening is the best time to visit it to skip the crowds. The museum has extended working hours on Wednesdays and Fridays when it’s open until 9 pm.
Explored by Alya & Campbell from Stingy Nomads
Have you heard of Irkutsk? If you have, it’s probably either because you’ve played the board game RISK a lot or you’ve traveled the Trans Mongolian Express. Irkutsk is one of the largest cities in Siberia, a region that most people associate with terrible colds and eternal snow and ice. Don’t worry though, Siberian temperatures can actually be quite comfortable in summer. We visited at the end of May and walked around in a t-shirt!
In any case, one of the best places to visit in Irkutsk is the 130 Kvartal. This lovely pedestrian area in the heart of the city features lots of shops, restaurants, and cafes. Irkutsk is known for its traditional Siberian wooden houses, and in the 130 Kvartal you can find many of these beautiful buildings. Some are original and transported here from other locations in Siberia, and some are recreated. Regardless, this part of the city is a great place to spend an afternoon.
To get to Irkutsk, you can either take a plane, but the best way to travel here is via the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. Once you’ve arrived at the beautiful station of Irkutsk, hop into a taxi (I recommend using the Gett app) for a short 10-minute ride to this district.
One of the best restaurants in the 130 Kvartal is Khinkal’naya, serving up delicious dishes from the Georgian cuisine. We had dinner here not once but twice because there were so many options we wanted to try. If you’re looking for a nice place to stay in the 130 Kvartal, the Kupechesky Dvor is a great hotel housed in a reconstructed Siberian manor and beautifully decorated on the inside.
Explored by Lotte from Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog