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Where Should You Go During Your Time in Russia?

By Jess, published on 17/05/2019 Blog > Languages > Russian > Cities to Visit in Russia

“I do not like Moscow life. You live here not as you want to live, but as old women want you to.” – Alexander Pushkin

It’s true that Russian cities are a symbol of life in Russia, as fascinating as they are baffling. There’s a lot to discover in the land of the Tsars, the biggest country in the whole world. With 31,657 cities and towns, Russia is around 70 times bigger than the UK. 

But while around 10,000 British tourists visit Russia each year, more than 90% of them only go to Moscow and/or St Petersburg as part of their travels. But why is this so? Perhaps if we knew a little more about the great advantages of visiting different Russian regions or about the kindness in the hearts of many Russians then we’d be a bit more adventurous.

For instance, did you know that there is a day, called Subbotnik, when residents volunteer to sweep up and tidy the streets?

Also, did you have any idea that Russians are such animal lovers? A ‘lucky’ bronze sculpture of a dog with a shiny nose can be found at Ploshchad Revolutsii metro station, plus the country also has a monument to Laika, the dog that went to space in 1957, and a statue of a hare, located in St Petersburg, to commemorate the large number of hares that once lived on the island (Peter and Paul Fortress). And there’s more! Russia’s The Hermitage museum, also in St Petersburg, has around 70 cats living inside it which guard its treasures against rats and mice!

If you take the time to read our articles on the unmissable cities in Russia, however, you’ll see that there’s much more to Russia than just the two famous cities mentioned above.

In this article, we’re going to look at where you should go when travelling to Russia.

Moscow, the Unmissable Russian Capital

The Russian capital is a mix of modern and historic. That said, it wasn’t always the capital city. It wasn’t until 1917 that Moscow, having been replaced by Saint Petersburg, became the economic and political centre of the country again.

What should you visit in Moscow? Moscow is a must-see for anyone travelling to Russia. (Source: Mistery08)

Nowadays, the city is an important tourist destination with UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as the Novodevichy Convent or the Saint Basil’s Cathedral. As beautiful as they are, the icicles hanging from the gutters in Moscow in winter are so lethal that officials have to cordon off pavements to keep passersby safe!

Speaking of the cold… only lower the flaps on your traditional fur hat (Ushanka) if you dare as it is seen as quite pathetic if you do so with the weather still above -20 degrees Celsius!

This is a dynamic city with some shops open 24 hours a day and others closing between 9 and 10 in the evening! Bars and restaurants are open all night and there are even nighttime cruises on the Moskva River allowing you to see the Russian countryside. You may even bump into Vladimir Putin during a visit to the Kremlin.

Unfortunately, though, because of the hustle and bustle all day long the traffic in Moscow is pretty horrific. So much so that wealthy locals have been known to buy pretend ambulance vehicles in order to beat the rush. Not that we’re saying you should bend the law at all.

Although things are much better now, Russian police are still notorious for chasing down foreigners with the aim of getting them into trouble, using “paperwork infringements” as their excuse. Be sure to carry your documents with you at all times just in case you get on the wrong side of the law (however, it is also believed that more than half of Russian officers will be easily persuaded with a bribe…). Like we say, though, those days are looking to be behind us now. And ‘Proshchay’ to them!

Did you know that Moscow is home to one of the biggest and busiest underground railways in the world with 224 stations?

Some of Moscow’s most popular attractions:

  • The Kremlin
  • Lenin’s Mausoleum
  • The Ostankino Tower
  • The Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

However, the greatest attraction of all has to be Red Square, or Krasnaya Ploshchad in Russian. The open square sits beside the historic fortress and centre of government known as the Kremlin and has been a symbol of the city since the late 15th century. Having always been a market area, the square has also housed churches, libraries, universities, a theatre and a printing house.

What’s most fascinating, though, is that Red Square was once the scene of many demonstrations, riots, parades, speeches, and even executions, so you can bet that a lot has gone down in this wide open space, and not all of it good! But isn’t that what we all love when we visit historic places, to know that it had some deep significance and that you are standing on the same ground, as those who were being executed for their sins all those many years ago, for example? Well, except for the fact that its old cobblestones have since been replaced, so at least you can rest assured that you won’t be standing on anyone’s blood!

But it’s not just its history that gets tourists flocking to visit it, it’s also a beautiful place full of character. At its southern end, is the nine-towered Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed which is an attraction in itself, towering over the new granite paving stones.

Find out how to budget for visiting Russia.

Saint Petersburg, Russia’s “Venice of the North”

“Western, European, accessible”, this is how a lot of tourists see Russia’s second largest city, Saint Petersburg.

It’s home to architectural and historic treasures such as the Peterhof Palace. When Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703, plenty of European artists came and spent time in the city.

Did you know that the Peterhof Palace was Peter the Great’s summer residence and its Baroque architecture was designed to rival that of the Palace of Versailles?

You’ll be surprised at how many people in the city can speak English, French, or German. The city offers a historical and cultural view of Russia and is a great place to visit if you love photography. If you’ve got time, you can also take the boat over the Helsinki in Finland.

You should have a look for the Chizhik Pyzhik statue that apparently brings good luck if you can land a coin on it without it falling into the water.

Some of the most popular attractions include:

  • The Admiralty Building
  • The Saint Petersburg Canals
  • Saint Isaac’s Cathedral
  • The Russian Cruiser Aurora
  • The State Hermitage Museum
  • Kazan Cathedral
  • The Church of the Saviour on Blood

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!

Kazan, the Capital of Russian-Speaking Tatarstan

Russia’s third city, Kazan, is the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan, one of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation. It enjoys greater political and economic autonomy than the rest of the country.

What can you do in Kazan? Kazan is a fascinating city in Tatarstan. (Source: Staropramen)

The city is dynamic and has hosted plenty of international sporting competitions including the 2014 World Fencing Championships, 2015 World Aquatic Championships, and 2018 World Cup matches. The view from Kazan Kremlin is unmissable.

Kazan is one of Russia’s oldest cities and was founded in 1005!

Something else that is age-old is the tradition of giving flowers to residents in odd numbers. Even numbers should only be given in the case of death and there could, therefore,be some awkwardness if this etiquette isn’t understood or followed.

Some of the most popular attractions include:

  • The Kul Sharif Mosque
  • The Temple of All Religions
  • The Bolaq Canal
  • The Annunciation Cathedral

Vladivostok, the City Dominating Eastern Russia

Vladivostok is a city in the very east of Russia. It’s one of the country’s biggest port cities and is near the borders with China and North Korea. This is an essential place to visit if you want to enjoy Eastern surprises and Soviet heritage.

The Kamchatka crab (red king crab) is one of the local delicacies and definitely worth trying.

Some of the most popular attractions include:

  • Vladivostok Port
  • The Russky Island Oceanarium
  • Zarya Center for Contemporary Art
  • The Egersheld Lighthouse
  • Korabelnaya Embankment

Sochi, Russia’s Activity Centre

You have to visit this city by the Black Sea near the Caucasus mountains.

What is there to do in Sochi? Sochi is both a beach town and a winter sports resort. (Source: InessaTokmina)

Sochi is far from just a winter sports resort. It’s just a few miles from Abkhazia, a partially-recognised republic on the eastern coast of the Black Sea.

Sochi enjoys both snowy mountains in the winter (this helped when it hosted the Winter Olympic Games in 2014) and warm beaches in the summer. Spas are also accessible throughout the year! Whether it’s for sport of relaxation, you’re spoilt for choice.

Did you know that Vladimir Putin has a dacha (a type of summer home) in Dagomys outside of Sochi?

Sochi isn’t the only place where you can ski. The Telegraph wrote in 2016 about plans for a new war-themed ski resort, barbed wire and burnt-out tanks included, located east of Moscow. “According to The Hollywood Reporter, Mikhalkov – whose film Burnt by the Sun won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar – is building a war-themed ski resort in south-western Russia. It will be situated in the Volga region near Nizhny Novgorod, east of Moscow and not far from the Kazakhstan border, where some of Mikhalkov’s previous movies have been filmed.”

If you find skiing stressful enough already then imagine the panic of skiing through the aftermath of a Russian warzone!

Some of the most popular attractions include:

  • Sochi Promenade
  • Pushkin Avenue
  • The Maritime Hotel
  • Sochi Art Museum
  • The Caucasus Nature Reserve

Suzdal and Vladimir, Authentic Russian Towns

Let’s dive into Russian history by visiting Suzdal and Vladimir. Both are in the Vladimir Oblast and it’ll only take you a couple hours and rubles (Russia’s currency) to get from one to another. Expect Russian architectural beauty from the second you arrive. The Golden Ring of Russia is a group of cities to the northeast of Moscow.

Not to be missed:

  • Dormition Cathedral, Vladimir
  • Suzdal Kremlin and the Cathedral of the Nativity
  • Monastery of Saint Euthymius, Suzdal

Irkutsk, the Gateway to the Russian-Speaking World

This city is a timeless place.

What is there to do in Irkutsk? In addition to the sights in Irkutsk, you can also visit Lake Baikal. (Source: jackmac34)

While this city doesn’t tend to get included in most lists, it’s the main place to access Lake Baikal, one of the country’s most famous sights. Irkutsk is an original place with old buildings made from Siberian wood.

It’ll take you around an hour to get to all the sites of natural beauty and you’ll need between 3 and 4 days to fully appreciate all the different activities. You can get to Irkutsk from Moscow by plane (a flight lasting 5 and a half hours) or by taking the famous Trans-Siberian Railway for around three and a half days (87 hours in total). It holds the record for the biggest fresh-water lake (23,500km2).

Some of the most popular attractions include:

  • Prince Vladimir Temple
  • The Cathedral of The Epiphany
  • The White House
  • The steppes around Lake Baikal

Murmansk, in the Arctic Circle

What about a walk around Russian arctic territory?

The city isn’t very dynamic, notably due to its tumultuous history, particularly in the Second World War. It got its name from the Vikings who settled in the Kola Bay.

Even though it’s not cold all year round, Murmansk is a popular destination in winter as you can observe the Aurora Borealis, go whale-watching in the Barents Sea, or stay in a Russian dacha. This is an unmissable experience if you want to enjoy the Russian banya (sauna) in winter. This is the largest city in the Arctic Circle.

If you are in search of a really cold destination because you love woolly hats and coats, you might dream of going to the coldest inhabited place on the entire planet – Oymyakon – which is found in Russia. But it’ll have to stay in your head! In February 1933, the weather station measured a temperature of −67.7 °C. Ouch! I’ve lost the feeling in my fingers just thinking about the frostbite…

Some of the most popular attractions include:

  • Saint Nicholas Cathedral
  • The Marine Station
  • The Monument for the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic during the Great Patriotic War

There are also cities like Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, and Yekaterinburg, for example. Of course, we could go on forever if we talked about them all!

So which city would you like to go to?

Travel Advice for Russia

Don’t forget that if you want to travel to Russia, you’ll need to sort out accommodation, a Russian visa (which involves booking somewhere to stay), consider getting out with a tour operator before your trip to Russia, ensure your passport is still valid, contact the consulate, etc.

Russia welcomes plenty of tourists every year, so make sure you’ve planned which regions you want to visit, got your Russian visa, made sure your passport is still valid, and you’ve bought your rubles.

You may like to consult the Government web pages for advice on what to do and what not to do when visiting Russia. For instance, see some of the information listed below for visitors to Russia:

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all travel to:

within 10km of the border with the Ukrainian Donetsk and Lugansk Oblasts
Chechnya, Ingushetia and Dagestan and the districts of Budyonnovsky, Levokumsky, Neftekumsky, Stepnovsky and Kursky in Stavropol Krai

“The FCO advise against all but essential travel to:

within 10km of the border with the Ukrainian Kharkiv Oblast
North Ossetia, Karachai-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria (including the Elbrus area)

[…]

Following the nerve agent attack in Salisbury on 4 March 2018, there are heightened political tensions between the UK and Russia. While the British Embassy in Moscow is not aware of any increased difficulties for British people travelling to Russia, you’re advised to remain vigilant, avoid any protests or demonstrations, and avoid commenting publicly on political developments. You may wish to sign up for our email alerts to be notified of any updates to this travel advice.”

Learning The Language

Before you travel to Russia, you might want to learn more about the basics of the language.

See this reassuring message from Mondly.com: “We have some good news: you only need to know a fraction of the total number of Russian sentences to be able to speak Russian fluently. For example, by knowing as little as 100 words you will understand 50% of any text in Russian. That’s right! You don’t have to know the ins and outs of Russian to have a real conversation with someone from Russia.

The secret is to learn Russian the smart way. Start with the most common Russian phrases and expressions and build from there. Learning sentence after sentence, you’ll feel one step closer to fluency. Then, to lock the knowledge in, use the Russian sentences you learned in real conversations.”

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.

Superprof

Superprof is an online platform connecting students to private tutors. The site hosts over six million tutors across the world – teaching in over a thousand subjects, with Russian being among them, of course.

The benefit of private tuition is that it is entirely flexible and tailored to you. If you’re struggling to find a moment in the week to fit in a lesson, your personal tutor will accommodate you. If you want to spend ‘x’ amount of time on one particular area of the language, but feel like you’re pretty strong in other areas, then your tutor will change their lesson plans to suit you.

There needn’t be any more sitting in lessons going over words and phrases you have already mastered. Nor need there be any frantic catching-up whilst you try and figure out what’s going on. A private tutor will go at the pace you need.

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.

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