Russia map & highlights

The only time trains have been late in Russia is when the leader of China visited in 2001 and schedules were paused to allow him speedy passage to the capital. It’s this sort of efficiency in the face of harsh conditions that has forged such confidence of character in Russia’s people and no trip is complete without meeting at least a couple of the locals. The art and architecture of Moscow and St Petersburg can only be topped by the phenomenal scenery of the Russian Far East – an expedition cruise will take you to this wilderness, or why not ride the Trans Siberian Express to compare both sides of this huge nation?
Chukotka & Wrangel Island

1. Chukotka & Wrangel Island

The Chukotka Autonomous Region in Russia’s Far East is the size of France and England together, yet the majority of Russians know little about this wilderness. Just 50,000 people live here, alongside brown bears, reindeer and Arctic foxes, while on nearby Wrangel Island, numerous polar bears and walruses live. Small ship cruises bring you close to the wildlife and indigenous inhabitants.

2. Irkutsk

The heart of Eastern Siberia and the gateway to Lake Baikal, 70km away, this is a key stop-off on the Trans Siberian railway. There’s impressive original timber architecture, including churches and the traditional houses once inhabited by liberal aristocrats exiled from Moscow in the early 19th century, all complemented by a lively café scene. The Central Market is a great place to stock up on local goodies.
Kamchatka & Kuril Islands

3. Kamchatka & Kuril Islands

The high cost of travel and shrinking local population keeps Kamchatka as inaccessible as ever – it’s best explored on an expedition cruise. By late summer, the tundra is ablaze with colour, nibbled by reindeer, with fat bears heading to the river for one last salmon. From here, cruise along the temperate, volcanic Kuril archipelago, for trekking through bamboo forests and exceptional bird watching.
Lake Baikal

4. Lake Baikal

650km long and 80km wide, Lake Baikal is the oldest, deepest and clearest freshwater lake on the planet. You can walk on its thick ice in winter, while in summer, swim, fish or take a boat trip. Visit via the Trans Siberian Railway and try a homestay with a traditional Russian ‘banya’ or sauna, to dip your toe in a little further.

5. Moscow

Russia’s imposing capital is endowed with iconic architecture and UNESCO sites, with St Basil’s Cathedral and its colourful domes perhaps the most memorable of the lot. It’s just one highlight of Red Square, a must-see that’s also home to the Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum and the department store Gum, but venture further afield to find Gorky Park, Novodevichy Convent and the Pushkin Museum.
North Caucasus

6. North Caucasus

This is wild Europe, a landscape of peaks, medieval villages and ancient customs, at the fringes of Moscow’s control. North Ossetia boasts striking scenery, while formerly inaccessible republics of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, more associated with conflict than tourism, are opening to visitors. Mount Elbrus, Europe’s highest mountain, visits to Cossack villages and the medieval defence towers of Ingushetia are a few highlights.

7. Novgorod

Founded in the 9th century, Novgorod the Great (Velikiy Novgorod) is one of the oldest cities in Russia and the birthplace of its democratic and republican traditions. It’s been a major center for trade, literacy and the Orthodox church and its cathedral, bell tower, clock and monastery are all the oldest in the country. Visit the Vitoslavlitsy museum of wooden architecture while here, too.

8. Pushkin

This town, 25km south of St Petersburg, is home to Tsarskoe Selo – the Tsar’s village – and the astonishing Catherine Palace and gardens. Designed with the kind of opulence and excess that makes Versailles look dowdy, the Amber Room is its highlight. Dismantled by the Nazis and lost in East Prussia, it has recently been restored to full bling. The Lyceum School where Pushkin studied is nearby.
Siberian tigers

9. Siberian tigers

With a population of around 550, the Siberian, or Amur tiger has seen a resurgence in southeastern Russia due to major conservation efforts in the mountains and forests bordering Khabarovsk, just 30km from China. Winter snow reveals the clearest tiger tracks and undertaking a safari to spot these beautiful beasts with professional zoologist guide is a unique natural adventure.
St Petersburg

10. St Petersburg

If Moscow is mean and moody, St Petersburg is bright and light; a more cosmopolitan alternative to its big sister some 800km south. A grand collection of pre-revolutionary buildings across 42 islands has UNESCO’s approval stamped all over, with the Hermitage, the Kunstkamera Museums and the Peter and Paul Fortress are the jewels of this picturesque city on the banks of the Neva.

11. Suzdal

The diamond in the Golden Ring of historical towns, Suzdal is an idyllic gem. Bypassed by the Trans Siberian Railway and, seemingly, by time itself, this former royal capital has hardly changed in 250 years. It boasts over 200 architectural monuments, with the Kremlin and the Nativity Cathedral, topped with blue domes, the highlights. At Torgovaya Ploschad (Market Square), shop for berries, honey and souvenirs.
Trans Siberian Railway

12. Trans Siberian Railway

Spanning two continents and incorporating over 9,600km of track, this is the world’s longest railway. There are three lines which make up the route: Siberian, Mongolian and Manchurian, with the more commonly used, the Trans Siberian, taking just over six days to reach Vladivostok from Moscow, with opportunities to hop off en-route.

13. Yekaterinburg

The capital of the Ural Mountains, Russia’s fourth largest city was built as an industrial center and a fortress on the Europe-Asia border. Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed here in 1918 – where the Cathedral of Blood now stands – and it’s the home city of Boris Yeltsin, first president of Russia. The 52nd floor of the business center is the place for panoramic views.

Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Russia or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Russia sample itineraries

Trans Siberian rail journey (11 days):
Moscow > Irkutsk > Lake Baikal

Celebrated cities (7 days):
Moscow > St Petersburg > Pushkin

Taste of Russia (8 days):
Moscow > Suzdal > Novgorod > St Petersburg

Kamchatka cruise (13 days):
Anadyr > Egvekinot > coast and islands > Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy

Kuril Island expedition cruise (13 days):
Sakhalin Island > Sea of Okhotsk > Kunashir Island > Kuril Archipelago > Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy

Travel times in Russia

The following times give you a rough idea of the travel times between the main attractions in Russia.

    Moscow to St Petersburg: 8hrs overnight train or 3.5hrs Sapsan high-speed train Moscow – Irkutsk on Trans Siberian railway: 80 - 87hrs Moscow to Suzdal: 4hrs by road Moscow to Novgorod: 8hrs by train St Petersburg to Novgorod: 4hrs by road Ulan Ude (Lake Baikal) to Vladivostok: 55hrs by train
Written by Joanna Simmons
Photo credits: [Page banner: Harald Deischinger] [Chukotka & Wrangel Island: Boris Solovyev] [Irkutsk: Baikalsky] [Kamchatka & Kuril Islands: Natalia_Kollegova] [Lake Baikal:  Sergey Pesterev] [Moscow: Nikita Karimov] [North Caucasus: Sergey Norin] [Novgorod: Alexey Komarov] [Pushkin: Jesus Abizanda] [Siberian tigers: pxhere] [St Petersburg: Puja Lin] [Suzdal: Ludvig14] [Trans Siberian Railway: Typehistorian] [Yekaterinburg: Vaiz Ha] [Travel times in Russia: sivakovdenis]