The Best Places to Visit in Russia


The vast nation of Russia straddles Europe and Asia. It was once ruled by the czars of the Romanov family in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, then transformed into a Communist state under Lenin and later Stalin. Now, it’s the world’s largest country with a diverse population of over 120 million people and one of the strongest economies in the region.

Most foreign travellers fly into Moscow and then connect to St Petersburg on a daytime high-speed train such as the Sapsan (which takes around four hours). For overland journeys within Russia, a comfortable seat in economy class costs about US $70; business-class is twice as much.

While the majority of Russians are ethnically Russian, many different groups live in the country and follow different religious and cultural traditions. Some 122 official languages are spoken, with the most prevalent being Russian and Ukrainian. The capital, Moscow, and its northern counterpart St Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), are cosmopolitan cities with beautiful historic architecture. The Golden Ring is a popular itinerary that combines these two must-visit destinations.

In the far north, the Yamal Peninsula straddles the Arctic Circle and was once so inhospitable that even Stalin built his prison camps there. Today, the town of Salekhard – literally ‘edge of the world’ in the local language – offers a glimpse of the indigenous Nenets’ resilient culture and ancient shamanistic religion. It’s possible to visit the region on a guided tour, although obtaining a visa requires plenty of advance planning.

Across Siberia, permafrost covers 4 million square miles (10 million square km), making settlement and road building difficult in large areas of the country. It’s mostly found in the forest-tundra zone, but it also extends down to the taiga of southern Kamchatka and the Maritime Region.

Karelia is another mystical destination for intrepid travellers. The primordial forests of Kivach Nature Reserve and Ruskeala Mountain Park create an enchanting fusion of natural and man-made beauty, and in the winter the woods are enchanted playgrounds for dog sledding and snowmobiling.

As of February 2022, the EU has banned all flights to and from EU airports and overflying EU airspace by aircraft registered in Russia. However, this doesn’t affect passengers on a customised private or small group tour with a Russian operator. Alternatively, some European airlines offer direct routes to St Petersburg and other cities in Russia from other international hubs. It’s worth checking airline schedules regularly to see what’s on offer.