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Top Destinations for 2017: Russia

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Russia remains one of those destinations, which, despite its relative proximity, offers unique and exciting experiences worlds away from our own culture.

Russa

To get a sense of the sheer size of this country, consider this: Russia stretches over two continents and a whopping 11 time zones.

As such, there’s huge variety for every kind of traveller: from the buzzing city of St. Petersburg, rife with energy and peculiar places to go, to grand, historic Moscow, to the summer resort of Sochi that housed the 2014 Winter Olympics, to the world’s deepest lake, and all the way to the Far East with the beautiful Kamchatka peninsula.

As of now, the most popular destinations remain St. Petersburg and Moscow, and while they are definitely worth visiting, there’s much more of Russia to explore!

Where to go

The best place to start your journey into Russia is St. Petersburg. An incredibly young city compared to old European capitals, St. Petersburg is probably the only city in the world to make a name for itself so quickly.

It was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, who had the intention to make it the capital. But today it’s just Russia’s cultural capital, housing numerous museums, including the country's second largest art museum, The Hermitage; incredible palaces, cathedrals and monuments.

One of the symbols of St. Petersburg and one of the masterpieces of world architecture is St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It’s an incredibly tall building, rising to a whopping 101.5m, and it’s one of the world’s largest domed buildings. The best part is that you can climb to the colonnade (43m), from where you can enjoy a panoramic view.

If you’re planning to visit The State Hermitage, do dedicate a whole day to enjoy it, as it is enormous. The museum occupies seven buildings, and its collections has around three million works of art and monuments of culture. It also offers lectures, excursions in different languages, special tourist programmes, and there’s also disabled access.

Situated a short distance from St. Petersburg, the towns of Peterhof and Pushkin are also definitely worth a visit. Peterhof includes the Palace and Park Ensemble of XVIII-XIX centuries, the former royal countryside residence. Peterhof contains 173 fountains and four cascades, which are an engineering masterpiece, as they operate without pumps, relying instead on natural elevation and pressure.

Pushkin houses the Catherine Palace, the former imperial palace and one of the largest close to St. Petersburg. The most interesting place in the palace is the famous Amber Room, built in the beginning of the 18th Century and lost during World War II. In 2003, it was restored to its full glory, but the fate of the original exhibits is still unknown.  

Although Moscow isn’t as beautiful as St. Petersburg, it’s also a sight to see. One of its world famous sights is St. Basil's Cathedral, but it also goes by many other names. It’s made up of nine chapels, each of them dedicated to a saint. In 1990, it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The cathedral stands close to the Kremlin, the oldest part of the city, and the main social, political religious and historical complex of Moscow. It spans numerous historic buildings, and is the current residence of the Russian President.

Next to the Kremlin, Red Square houses the Kazan Cathedral, the State Historical Museum, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the GUM department store. While you are in Moscow, take some time to travel on the underground, as the stops themselves are a work of art.

Other places worth visiting in Russia include Sochi, the best summer and health resort in Russia and location of the 2014 Winter Olympics; the Golden Ring, a popular tourist route that goes through a few ancient towns north-east of Moscow; the world’s deepest lake Baikal, where the sun shines all year round, the air is incredibly clean and fresh, and you can enjoy sunbathing and mild weather with little rain.

 

What to do

Try a quirky museum…

Want to learn more about Lolita's author, and avid butterfly collector Vladimir Nabokov? Visit his childhood home. Are you an avid fan of Russia's most famous drink? St. Petersburg's got you covered. 

... try Russian food…

The Russian fast food chain Teremok offers cheap and easy local food dishes. You can find them anywhere: and Blini (Russian pancakes filled with various toppings) and Syrniki (Russian dessert made with cottage cheese) are an absolute classic.

… embrace your sporty side…

Sochi, as well as the Altai mountains, offers cheap and environmentally clean resorts, where you can let  and try a range of activities, including climbing, snowboarding, hiking, trekking, cycling, diving, rafting, swimming and many more. On 3rd April, the Formula 1 Russia Grand Prix will take place, and in November Sochi will be home to the Sambo World Championship. 

… experience a wonderful meeting of European and Asian cultures...

Kazan, sometimes referred to as the Istanbul of the Volga, is unique in that it’s one of those rare cities, where European and Asian cultures meet, with a skyline dominated by  both church domes and minarets. Take a walk in this lovely, busy city, and find peculiar places like the Cat Monument or the Dragon Monument, the puppet theatre, the many speciality museums, and so much more.

 ... visit the deepest lake in the world... 

Although it's relatively hard to reach - you have to fly from Moscow to Irkutsk, and then travel a couple of hours by bus or shuttle, - visiting Baikal is worth it, because it has so much to offer. The best time to travel is from May through October. Summer is the best time for hiking, excursions, fishing, riding jeeps across the coast and swimming. In winter, most people come to ski, but there are other options like riding snowmobiles, skating, and mountain skiing.  

... or experience flying in zero gravity. 

A short distance away from Moscow, the Gagarin Astronauts Training Centre (GATC) offers an unforgettable tour where you get to look at the centre where Sputnik, the first satellite was put together and where astronauts still train. Bear in mind, however, as this is still a functioning centre, you will have to set up a tour in advance. 


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