Russia is a massive country with a mighty history. Its glittering palaces and Soviet-era buildings are reminders of a former world power, while enchanting Siberian towns transport visitors back in time. And it’s not just about size – Russia has an incredible wealth of culture, from the works of Dostoyevsky and Pushkin to the graceful art of Russian ballet.
With 26 UNESCO World Heritage sites and vast wildernesses, there’s more than enough to discover in Russia. But to really appreciate what makes this heart-stirring country so unique, travellers should look beyond the cityscapes and into the heart of the nation.
Russia is more than just a land of frozen tundra and brisk vodka; it is a place where the people are incredibly friendly. They display a great generosity towards their guests and are eager to show off the best of their homeland. While some critics point to negative aspects of society, most Russians are very proud of their country and would defend it fiercely.
Many people who travel to Russia are impressed by the country’s cultural scene, which is a fusion of European and Asian traditions. St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum houses one of the largest collections of European art, and no trip to Moscow is complete without a visit to the Kremlin and its gilded halls. For music lovers, there is the Bolshoi Ballet and many other outstanding opera and symphony companies.
In addition, there are plenty of opportunities to see the country’s natural beauty, with the vastness of Siberian taiga forests and volcanic moonscapes in Kamchatka offering the chance to explore unspoilt wildernesses, or witness the natural phenomenon of polar bears roaming near the shores of Lake Baikal. Russia’s history is also a source of fascination, whether exploring the battles between Catherine the Great and the Ottoman Empire over access to warm water ports or the ongoing question of where Russia stands in the post-Soviet system of international relations.
If you’re planning to take in some of the sights, it’s wise to plan ahead and book tickets online. For example, if you want to visit the Hermitage in Moscow, it’s possible to avoid queues by buying tickets online ahead of time. This is particularly important for popular attractions, like the Armoury Chamber where you can see tsars’ crowns and other royal treasures. It’s also worth downloading the Yandex app, which is a local equivalent of Google and provides all sorts of useful information, including maps of the city, public transport routes, and food delivery services (similar to Uber Eats). Avoid taking services from ‘illegal taxis’ when arriving at the airport; they don’t represent official airport taxi companies and often overcharge. The only exception to this is in the capital, where a taxi stand is usually located in the arrival hall and authorised cabs are easy to spot. In other cities, it’s often possible to find a cab in the street. However, this is not always a safe option and you may need to negotiate the price with your driver.