“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” - Leo Tolstoy
While the Kremlin is arguably one of the most visited sites, it isn’t the only thing worth visiting in the Russian Federation. While the country may not pop into your mind as one of the most common destinations for UK holiday goers, tourism in Russia has actually increased by around 20% since 2000. With more and more people choosing to visit Russia, including us Brits, there's never been a better time to visit the largest country in the world! You may be a little tentative about booking a trip to Russia, but don't hold back just because of its reputation. We hope that this article helps to clear up any myths surrounding being a tourist in Russia and that you will begin to see the magic that this fascinating territory can offer.
Russia As A Tourist Destination
Tourism in Russia has grown significantly since the late Soviet times. This began with Russians exploring their own country before international tourism started to pick up as well. So what is it that sparked this newfound interest? With such a rich culture and variety on offer, as you'll see below, it actually makes you wonder why people weren't interested long before now. Which other countries can boast 23 UNESCO World Heritage sites within their borders? And with so many more on the tentative list, it's clear that the country is full of wonders to explore and discover. The most common tourist route is to follow what is known as the Golden Ring of ancient cities, plus cruises on the big rivers such as the Volga, as well as journeys on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. Whatever you decide to do and wherever you choose to go in Russia, you'll be treated to a range of different culinary delights and food sensations, along with a variety of traditions and rituals, all of which we'll talk about in more detail at the end of this piece. Take a Russian language course here.
Useful Information For Travel In Russia
A tourist from the UK will need to sort out visas before they go. The tourist visa application needs to be completed before your trip to Russia so this is not something to be left until the last minute. Visas cannot be purchased at the border. It is also vital that your passport is within date for the duration of your trip too. Regardless of your destination in Russia, you'll need to contact the Russian consulate or embassy before travelling to the country. Additionally, you'll need to have completed your booking for a hotel or travel company in Russia if you're going on a cruise, for example. Generally speaking, Russian visas are quite simple to get but they are of great importance.
Monuments, Museums And Other Symbolic Features
So which are the most important sites and monuments to visit in Russia? What do tourists do when they travel to Russia? Which Russian cities should you visit? You’ll find the answers in this article. However, it should be noted that we won’t be able to talk about all the monuments worth visiting in Russia. The list you have here is just a select few, mainly aimed at anyone who hasn't visited the country before and wants help and advice for planning their itinerary, so don't forget to do your own research and discover the parts of Russia that interest and excite you. Whether you're going to Siberia, St Petersburg, Irkutsk, Vladivostok, Novgorod, etc., travelling around Russia as a tourist is a great and unique experience.
Kremlin and Red Square
When you travel to Moscow, you’ll probably notice that the Kremlin and Red Square are top of your list of things to visit. The Kremlin is home to the State Kremlin Palace (the seat of the Russian government).
- The cathedrals in the Kremlin, especially the Dormition Cathedral, is a symbol of the Russian Orthodox faith.
- The Kremlin Armoury is home to a museum and a collection of jewels and diamonds.
- The Great Kremlin Palace, which includes the State Kremlin Palace.
- Administrative buildings
Take Russian classes London here. These monuments can be accessed through the Ploshchad Revolyutsii metro (blue line), Okhotny Ryad (red line), or Teatralnaya (green line). Don’t forget that you can enjoy Saint Basil’s Cathedral or the GUM department store. Around Christmas, you can also enjoy the market and ice skating. There’s also the nearby Bolshoi Theatre. Find out more about the most popular Russian cities to visit.
Lenin’s Mausoleum, A Historic Russian Symbol
Just by the Kremlin on Red Square, Lenin’s Mausoleum is home to the tomb of the Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution and the Soviet Union. The building itself was completed in 1930 but you will have to be really patient if you want to visit as the opening hours are really restrictive, the queues are long. You can only visit between 10:00 and 13:00 on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. You should really show up around half past eight.
The Ostankino Tower, A Unique Russian Monument
At 540 metres high, this is Russia’s first radio Radio broadcast tower as well as the third largest active broadcast tower in the world. There are 15 television channels still being broadcast. You can find the “7 Clouds” restaurant for a meal with an incredible view. The tower is accessible from the VDNKh metro station. You’ll need to buy your tickets in advance on the tower's website and show up 30 minutes beforehand in order to go through security. There is also a museum to visit if you want to learn more about radio.
The Monument to the Conquerors of Space
Right next to the VDNKh metro station, you can find the Monument to the Conquerors of Space. This impressive monument is 110-metres high and was erected in honour of the Soviet space programme. Did you know that the Soviets were the first to send a man into space? Yuri Gagarin is very famous in Russia.
The Saint Isaac Cathedral, the Symbol of Saint Petersburg
If you’re looking for an authentic Orthodox Russian cathedral, Saint Isaac’s is exactly what you’re looking for. It was completed in 1858 after 40 years of work and is as impressive on the outside as it is on the inside. There are over 400 kilos of gold, 16 tonnes of marble, a tonne of bronze, and 500 kilos of precious stones. Each of the columns weighs 114 tonnes. You should get your tickets ahead of time to avoid the queues on the day. If you want to see Saint Petersburg, the Neva, the port, etc., you need to climb to the top of the cathedral. There are only 262 steps between you and an incredible view.
The State Hermitage Museum, an Authentic Monument to Russian History
With 233,000 metres squared and 3 million objects, the State Hermitage Museum is the world’s biggest museum in terms of exhibitions. It was founded in 1764 and is an important part of Saint Petersburg. The State Hermitage Museum is also known for its international cooperation. Did you know that 4.2 million tourists visit the museum every year? You could wait up to 4 hours in the queue if you don’t plan ahead. Get a guided visit if you want to get the most out of this important site.
Kul Sharif Mosque, Kazan
The second largest mosque in Europe, Kul Sharif is a religious building in the heart of the Kazan Kremlin, in Tatarstan’s capital. This is also a Muslim museum where prayers are recited each day. The mosque dates back to the 16th century and was destroyed by Ivan the Terrible. Curious tourists can visit the mosque for free, as long as they cover their face and legs and there are staff on hand to help.
The Golden Gate, Vladimir, an Authentic Russian Town
When you travel around Russia, you can travel back in time, especially when walking around the streets of Vladimir. It’s in these streets that you’ll see one of the most symbolic monuments, the Golden Gate. It was built in 1164 and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Golden Gate was initially a defensive measure.
Immanuel Kant's Grave, Kaliningrad
If you want to visit a monument that’s steeped in history, you should visit the tomb of Immanuel Kant. You can find it by the Königsberg Cathedral.
Livadia Palace, Crimea
The Livadia Palace was a summer home of Nicholas II, Russia’s last tsar and is just a few miles from Yalta, Crimea. For a long time, it was an imperial residence. Did you know that it hosted the Yalta Conference in 1945 at the end of the Second World War? Nowadays, the palace is home to archives, although these can’t be viewed by the public.
The Shisselburg Fortress
If you want to get away from the city, you should head towards Lake Ladoga to Shisselburg, 22 miles from Saint Petersburg. The fortress was built in 1323 and is now a museum dedicated to the Second World War and its function as a prison during the tsarist period. Make sure you budget for your trip to Russia!
The Yekaterinburg Keyboard Monument
This isn’t a monument as such but rather an open-air art piece. This sculpture was made in 2005 by Anatoly Vyatkin and is 30 times the size of a traditional keyboard. It’s worth a visit if you find yourself in Yekaterinburg. Don’t forget that before you go to Russia, you’ll need the appropriate visa! Before your departure, you'll need to sort out accommodation, get your Russian visa, ensure your passport is still in date, and pack for your trip. If you're doing something like taking the Trans Siberian Railway, you might want to contact a tour operator before you go.
The Mariinsky Theatre
The Mariinsky Theatre is a spectacular venue for opera and ballet, with a magnificent interior. The Mariinsky Theatre is famous all over the world as “the cultural capital of Russia”. Some of the most famous opera singers, ballet dancers have contributed to the long history of the building, one that covers three main periods: the Russian Empire, the Soviet period and modern Russia. The Mariinsky Theatre is set to close in 2019 for renovation so check before you plan a visit around seeing this beautiful (but faded) masterpiece of architecture!
Intangible Russian Attractions
So far, we've listed a number of sights that will thrill, amaze and wow, but what about one of the biggest attractions of all - Russia's rich and varied culture?
Family And Religion
Russian culture places very high value on family; marriage and family are sacred to Russians. In some ways, locals are threatened by anyone outside of the family, unsure if they can trust them without some strong family connection. But, it's no wonder. The Soviet rule certainly left its impression on the country, ending in 1991. During their rule, families were very dependent on one another and close friends almost joined the family. When it comes to spiritualism, religion has always been very important to Russians, particularly during oppressive times when families turned to their beliefs for reassurance and comfort. More than half of the population of Russians follow the Russian Orthodox Church, with Islam being the second largest religion yet there are thousands of known religions across the territory. After Christianity and Islam, the next most popular religion is Tengrism, a form of pagan, animistic and shamanic religion.
Russian Holidays and Traditions
Some noteworthy dates and traditions are as follows:
- Russia has traditionally always been a fan of folk tales deriving from various Slavic myths and traditions, with many colourful and complicated characters. For example, the 'Baba Yaga' is said to be a witch-like old lady living in the woods in a house resting on chicken legs, surrounded by bones. Take from it what you will... Legend has it, though, that the 'Baba Yaga' can be either be good or bad, terrifying or friendly.
- Russia Day, celebrated on June 12, marks the day that the Russian parliament formally declared Russian sovereignty from the USSR back in 1990.
- Finally, while many Russians celebrate Christmas Day on December 25th, some consider January the 7th as a public holiday, according to the Julian calendar used by the Russian Orthodox Church.
Many will already be aware of how much of a role ballet has in Russia's history. The Bolshoi Ballet, founded in 1776, is a classical ballet company based at the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow which has gained recognition throughout the world. The Mariinsky Ballet in Saint Petersburg is another famous ballet company in Russia. There could be no other more cultural way to discover this beautiful country than going to the ballet where it all began! While you're at it, teach yourself about Tchaikovsky, the 19th-century Russian composer behind the famous "Swan Lake". There are several museums across Russia, including his childhood home, which showcase some of his personal belongings and musical artifacts. If you want to make the most of this experience of a lifetime and book to watch a ballet, Saint Petersburg is the perfect place with roots deeply placed here. Ballets were, for a long time, the primary form of entertainment for noblemen and many gathered to appreciate its beauty. Prima ballerinas were the A-listers of their time, with everyone wanting to be like them and take their photographs. Culture Trips states that:
"Now we can benefit from the great history of Russian ballet with a variety of shows from which to choose. For the audience getting their first taste of ballet, a good choice would be a classical Russian ballet, such as Swan Lake or The Nutcracker, both composed by prominent Russian composer Pyotr Tchaikovsky. The latter is a Christmas-themed one that is a very popular choice during the winter season. There are also a number of ballets based on literature, such as Shakespeare’s love story of Romeo and Juliet, composed by Sergei Prokofiev, or Don Quixote, with music composed by Ludwig Minkus. A fairly recent addition to the literary repertoire is the ballet Anna Karenina based on the novel by Leo Tolstoy. Other prominent Russian ballets include La Sylphide and Giselle. Of course, the final choice depends on the theatre’s program at the time, as not all ballets are on show simultaneously."
So, now you know what to go and watch, it's time to think about where and when. The Mariinsky Theatre is probably one of the best and most iconic places to see the ballet in Saint Petersburg, with its grand appearance both inside and out. It held its first premieres in the 19th century and is still regarded as the best in the city, however, more restoration work is planned for 2019 so be sure to check before you go planning any holidays around a trip to the ballet here. That said, The Hermitage Theatre is another imperial venue yet much smaller in size and stature (however nice and intimate). Moreover, the Mikhailovsky and Aleksandrinsky Theatre are both options, with the latter being better known as a drama theatre but still offering the opportunity to see ballet from time to time. The summer, when the days are long and the nights are short, is one of the best times to go to the theatre, with a great selection of shows featuring famous artists available to see throughout the season. You should be aware that when the season ends, so from around August to September, many theatre troupes go on tour or go on break, so you won't have such a variety of choice if any. Winter is also a good time to visit, however, with a number of festive Christmas-themed shows on and bursting with Christmas spirit. When it comes to buying your tickets, most large theatres sell tickets online which means you can check availability and book your tickets at the same time as booking your trip, ensuring that you don't miss out on this unmissable attraction.
Other Things To Consider When Travelling To Russia
Before you travel to Russia, you might want to learn more about the basics of the language. On Superprof, you can find private tutors offering Russian lessons. There are three types of tutorials available on the platform: private tutorials, online tutorials, and group tutorials. Private tutorials are usually the most expensive option but they also offer the highest level of teaching and tutorials that are tailored to the individual. Online tutorials are generally cheaper as the tutor has fewer expenditures and can schedule more tutorials per day since they don't have to travel. Finally, group tutorials are even cheaper because the cost is divided among the students but you won't get the lessons tailored to each individual student. If you're thinking about becoming a tutor, you can create a profile on Superprof. Tutors who offer quality tutorials and tailored lessons won't tend to have any problems finding students as your profile will quickly fill up with glowing reviews. If you're looking to entice students, we recommend offering the first hour of tutorials for free so that potential students can see what you're capable of and you can talk about the different types of tutoring you offer. Don't worry if your students end up going to Russia, either! You can continue tutoring them as long as you both have decent internet connections through online private tutorials.