In a country as large as Russia, there are a lot of things to see and do. In fact, once you have your Russian visa, touring around the country can take months. Winston Churchill’s once said that “Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. This remains valid even to this day. Most tourists head to either Moscow or Saint Petersburg, while most of this giant piece of land remains vastly unexplored. However, the fact that most people visit these two cities doesn’t mean that there aren’t any other vacation spots in Russia that are worth visiting. In fact, I would go as far as to say that Saint Petersburg and Moscow are two cities that are very different from the rest of Russia.
If you venture away from these cities and try to talk with some locals telling them how much you learned about Russia during your trip to Moscow or St. Petersburg, you’ll likely be told: “My friend, you know nothing about Russia“…
The goal of this article is exactly that; to show you that there are places in Russia beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg. Places that will give you a glimpse of the “real Russia”. Let’s start:
Stolby Nature Reserve
Located in Siberia, this nature reserve holds one of the world’s most notable rock formations. Even the smallest cliffs are 55 meters high and the highest ones are as high as 600 meters. Needless to say, rock climbing and hiking are the most popular activities in the reserve, but you can also discover the rich as well as diverse local flora and fauna, and explore the taiga. Another unique experience you can have here is staying in the charming wooden cabins in the forest.
Thought to be one of the most beautiful places in Russia, the northwestern Republic of Karelia is an endless stretch of lush green forests, scenic waterfalls, lakes, and trees that grow on giant rocks. The republic also houses one of the most beautiful national parks in Russia; the Ruskeala Mountain Park that features an underwater lake, an endless stretch of greenery, an abundance of crystal-clear lakes, and of course the real gem of the region- the Ruskeala marble quarries. It’s a great destination year-round with a lot of activities you can indulge in. During the summer, you can rent boats, relax at the beach, and go diving, while in the winter, you can go hiking, skiing or just enjoy the winter vibes of Ruskeala…
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is one of the easternmost cities in Russia and one of the most isolated cities in the world. The city is home to more than 100,000 people and is a great place to visit for nature lovers. The area is famed for fishing, hunting, kayaking, sailing, and of course, the giant volcano towering over the city. If all this isn’t a reason enough to visit, you should also know that Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is also a great foodie destination. Here, you’ll find the finest Kamchatka crabs and the city is also famous for its seafood delicacies.
Velikiy Novgorod, Novgorod
Often referred to as the “Birthplace of Russia” and “Novgorod the Great”, Velikiy Novgorod is one of the most important historic cities in the country. As such, the city has a lot of places that history lovers will love, including an 11th-century fortress, one of the oldest churches in Russia, and the wooden architecture museum of Vitoslavlitsiis. The city was a sovereign principality for centuries before it was unified with Russia in the 1400s. That’s why the architecture and appearance of the city are a bit different from most Russian cities. All this makes Veliky Novgorod one of the best vacation spots in Russia.
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In a city dating back more than 1,000 years, you will find the perfect balance between Muslim and Russian Orthodox cultures. Kazan is one of the rare places in Russia where you can see Orthodox Christian churches neighboring mosques. This makes Kazan one of the most culturally diverse cities in Russia. And just like everything else in this city, Kazan’s food is a delicious mix of Russian and Tatar cuisine and one of the highlights of the city. Having all this in mind, it’s no surprise that the number of tourists in Kazan is increasing dramatically and the city recently branded itself as “the third capital of Russia”.
Yessentuki is world-wide famous for its mineral hot springs. Also, mineral water from this city is available in health stores around the globe. The natural mineral springs made Yessentuki a very popular vacation spot among the Russian elites and the city has been a resort town since the late 19th century.
Words do very little justice to the grandiose Lake Baikal, the largest and deepest lake on Earth. Beware if you want to take a dip in the lake, though; the water is freezing cold, even during the warmest summer months. However, that doesn’t stop tourists from visiting and making the Baikal Lake one of the most popular year-round tourist attractions in Siberia. A lot of people prefer visiting in the winter because the lake is completely frozen, surrounded by an endless stretch of white, and visitors can safely walk on top of it and even take sleigh rides across the lake.
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Sochi, Krasnodar Krai
Sochi became very famous after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics and it’s surely one of the best winter destinations in Russia. However, many people tend to forget that Sochi also has some amazing beaches and it’s a great summer resort. In fact, Sochi spans over 145 kilometers along the coast and it’s the second longest city in the world. Do you want to learn more about this beautiful city? Check out the article I wrote about the best things to do in Sochi.
Vladivostok, Primorsky Krai
Located in the far east of Russia, Vladivostok is the largest port in the Pacific Ocean. Once upon a time, Vladivostok was one of Russia’s closed cities and foreigners were forbidden to visit before 1991. Fortunately, that’s not the case anymore. Today, the city is the last stop of the longest railway in the world and a city that offers an abundance of cultural activities. Another reason to visit Vladivostok is the amazing food! The city is located very close to the border with North Korea and China and the food you find here is the ultimate mix of Russian and Oriental cuisines.
Nizhny Novgorod, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast
Nizhny Novgorod is one of the largest but yet most underrated cities in Russia when it comes to tourism. It’s a city with a rich history and heritage and more than 600 monuments and 200 museums to prove that. Some of the other most spectacular sights in the city include the red-brick Kremlin of Nizhny Novgorod, the 13th-century Archangel Cathedral, and a lot of impressive pieces of Russian Revival architecture that can be found across the city.
The Golden Ring of Russia
The Golden Ring area consists of several cities northeast of Moscow that form a “ring” on the map. The name “the Golden Ring” was first mentioned in Yuri Bychkov’s travel essays in the 1970s and has since become a popular tourist destination for people that want to see the best of Russia’s countryside. The region includes some of the oldest cities in Russia, like Rostov Velikiy, Yaroslavl, and Vladimir, a plethora of beautiful gold-domed, old churches, ancient fortresses, beautiful nature, and charming countryside. The Golden Ring is without a doubt one of the most picturesque regions in Russia.
As the largest country in the world, Russia sure has a lot to offer in terms of unspoiled, pristine nature but only a few places can compare to the Altai Mountains. Located in the heart of Asia, the Altai Mountains are the highest mountains in Siberia and home to two absolutely stunning natural parks; the Altai National Reserve and the Katunskiy National reserve. Apparently, Mother Nature was more than generous to the Altai region. Even though the region is the furthest landmass away from salt water in the world, it’s one of the most picturesque places in Russia. Altai is dotted with semi-desert steppes, long stretches of taigas, an abundance of lakes and waterfalls, and over 400 caves.
Located on the Black Sea Coast, Anapa is one of the best summer vacation spots in Russia. Most visitors come to Anapa to relax at its beautiful beaches, but this city has a lot of other things to offer too. The area is also famous for its diverse flora and fauna and a number of archaeological sites, as the city was a part of seven different empires throughout the years.
Vologda is one of my favorite Russian cities that lie off the beaten track. It’s a small but authentic and historic town that is yet to be discovered by the tourist hordes. Vologda’s beginnings date back to the 11th century and today, it’s one of 41 Russian cities declared as historic cities. And there’s certainly a good reason for that. The small town is home to 224 buildings that have been officially recognized as cultural heritage monuments. This is absolutely fascinating if we take into consideration that the area the city covers is 116 square kilometers, meaning that Vologda has more than two cultural heritage monuments on every square kilometer! If that’s not a reason enough to visit, I don’t know what is.
Many people forget that Russia has an exclave in the heart of Europe in the Kaliningrad Oblast. The city used to be the capital of Prussia and as such is an important historic and cultural center with a number of UNESCO Heritage sites, but also one of the most important ports in the Baltic and an area with breathtaking nature and some of the best white sand beaches on the Baltic Coast.
The Kola Peninsula
Overlooked by many, the Kola Peninsula is one of the most peaceful beach destinations in Russia. Sure, the weather is a bit chilly, because the peninsula is located close to the Arctic Circle, but in the summer the days are literally endless. The Kola Peninsula is one of only a few places on Earth where you can still soak on the beach at midnight 9at least for a couple of months). If this doesn’t sound appealing enough, the possibility to witness the Aurora Borealis will probably change your mind.
Located on the Black Sea Coast, the resort town of Gelendzhik is a less-known, quieter version of Sochi. The city has some beautiful sandy beaches, it’s surrounded by lush green forests, and offers a plethora of activities tourists can indulge in. It’s a small peaceful resort town that has everything you need for a peaceful summer vacation.
Located on the oftentimes-forgotten East Coast of Russia, Ussuri Bay is one of the most underrated vacation spots in Russia. In the past, the area surrounding the coast was nothing more than a dumpster for glass bottles from around the country. However, things are different today. Mother Nature worked its magic at the Ussuri Bay, as the ocean waves turned the broken shards into beautiful, colorful sea glass, giving birth to Russia’s one and only “Kaleidoscope beach”.
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Despite the fact that getting a visa for tourists in Russia nowadays is a lot easier, a lot of people still don’t look at it as a popular tourist destination. If you’re one of those people, I hope this article will change your mind…
Did you ever visit Russia? Did this article show you that there are a lot of vacation spots in Russia beyond Moscow and St. Petersburg that are worth visiting? Which were your favorite places? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!
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