European Russia really isn’t a cycling, hiking or beach break destination, but it does boast more history, art, architecture and undiluted atmosphere than you can shake a selfie-stick at.
The historical towns of the Golden Ring, outside Moscow, are like living, open air museums of architecture and Russian orthodoxy, stuffed with elaborate wooden churches and fortified kremlins. St Petersburg on the Baltic coast, meanwhile, is European in feel, with grand palaces lining the Neva River, while in Moscow, the narrow streets of historical Kitay Gorod are just a stone’s throw from Lenin’s mausoleum and Soviet-era squares and skyscrapers. Culturally, where to begin? In St Petersburg, art lovers can roam the Hermitage Museum and admire the Fabergé eggs in the Armoury Museum, while anyone inspired by Russia’s great writers and composers should make for the cemetery at Alexander Nevsky Monastery, where Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dostoyevsky lie. In Moscow, meanwhile, the classical performing arts are among the best in the world, with the Bolshoi a magnet for ballet fans.


Russia’s trains are safe, clean, super reliable and great for meeting local people. From Moscow’s beautiful Metro, with its stations styled as ‘palaces for the people’ to the Trans Siberian, the Daddy of all rail journeys, Russia is a great place to ride the rails. The sleeper between Moscow and St Petersburg features in plenty of trips, or try the express Sapsan service, which takes just 3.5 hours.


Nearly half of Russia is covered by forest, most of it uninhabited, but anyone with a yearning for the wilderness can explore the Russian Far East, experiencing its wondrous wildlife and landscapes without bumping into another tourist. Flying into Khabarovsk kicks off a tiger safari in the southeast, while the Kamchatka Peninsula, Kuril Archipelago and Chukotka region are best explored on a small ship cruise.
Trips way out east are never a budget option and are generally classed as expeditions or experiences rather than garden variety vacations! This is well off the tourist trail, after all. Russia’s eastern seaboard dominates the North Pacific, but it’s largely unknown, inaccessible and isolated. As a result, wildlife thrives here. Against a backdrop of volcanoes and icy rivers, brown bears, reindeer and Arctic foxes roam, while on the coast, walruses flop and polar bears raise their cubs. Man has made it here, too – think gulags and gold mines – but often been defeated by the harsh conditions. Only the indigenous people last the course, and their stories bring a human twist to any Far East adventure.


The largest by volume, oldest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, Lake Baikal is worth experiencing at any time of year. Hop off the Trans Siberian at Irkutsk and in summer, take the ferry to Olkhon Island and hike to Shamanka Rock, or try diving, swimming or a boat trip. In winter, try ice walking – the route from Listvyanka to Bolshie Koty is a perfect 20km day hike.
Photo credits: [Come for the culture: Evgenia Kononova] [Ride the rails: Boccaccio1] [Explore the wilderness: Harald Deischinger] [Make for the lake: amanderson2]
Written by Joanna Simmons
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Harald Deischinger]
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