By Erin McQuilkin
Russia. The name remains as captivating as ever. A land at the edge of the known world. Within its enormous borders lie historic cities with exquisite architecture, pastoral villages and untouched wilderness.
The warmth of the comradely people combined with world-class shopping and an occasional vodka fueled wild night guarantee an incomparable trip. We check out what there is to see and do in the Motherland.
Historical Gems and Unparalleled Art
The centres of Moscow and St Petersburg are full of renowned sights like the Kremlin, Red Square and the famed mausoleum of Lenin. Alongside these illustrious squares, the iconic onion domes of nearby churches can be seen on every street, Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral is one of the best known.
Some of the world’s top art museums are also found in Russia thanks to Catherine the Great and other collectors. The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, The Tretyakov Gallery, The Russian Museum and The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts all rank amongst the best collections in the world. A veritable art lover’s paradise.
Nature In Her Glory
The land of Baba Yaga is the world’s largest country covering 6.6 million square miles from Europe to Asia. This massive nation contains the globe’s largest forest reserves, known as “the lungs of Europe,” 41 national parks and 101 nature reserves. Travelling to Russia would not be complete without a visit to one of these natural treasures.
Travellers can ski snow-kissed Sochi in the Caucasus mountains or trek the volcanoes and enchanted forests of Kamchatka alongside sleuths seeking brown bears. Venture further south to find the otherworldly Lake Baikal, the jewel of Siberia and the largest, deepest and oldest freshwater lake in the world, where you will also discover the magical Olkhon island.
Activities to Try in The Land of the Tsars
A trip on the legendary Tran-Siberian Railway is an unmissable experience when visiting Russia. It’s a once in a lifetime ride, so lay back and let yourself unwind as forests of noble trees and tiny villages pass before your eyes.
Another opportunity not to overlook while in Russia, the birthplace of classical ballet, is a night of dance or opera at the Bolshoi theatre. If you’re lucky, you can catch one of the Russian classics like Swan Lake or The Nutcracker at this celebrated locale.
After all the activities of the day, it is time to sample the exuberant nightlife of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Both cities have party scenes that burn through the midnight hours with dance clubs, trendy bars, pubs and an unending supply of liquor.
Local Must-Try Dishes
In global cuisine, Russian food is often ignored, but locals know their traditional dishes can delight any palate. Some of the best local treats to savour include fresh blini’s (buckwheat pancakes), the world-famous salty roe known as caviar, and pelmeni (a kind of steamed dumpling). Due to the chilly weather, borsch—a beet and garlic soup—and beef stroganoff are two earthy dishes you can find in restaurants across the country.
And of course, don’t forget the refreshingly tart sour cream which can always be found on the dining table. With this rustic gastronomy, you can always imbibe vodka, a cornerstone of Russian culture, or if you’re lucky enough to find it, the fermented and sour kvas.
Shop Til You Drop
Shopping is epic in Russia, with a mix of markets, local designers and luxury shopping malls to peruse. Whether you’re looking for bargain hunting, up-and-coming designers or big-name brands, this country has them all.
Top shopping malls include the GUM and the TSUM in Moscow, both offering luxury brands and incredible design, or the Okhotny Ryad Shopping Centre for a more modest price tag. For local designers check out Saharok, a concept jewellery store by Svetlana Efremova where each piece is one of a kind or comb through the Petra lingerie store, full of provocative Moscow designs.
Daily Budget for Your Journey
Contrary to the stereotype about Russian extravagance, it is possible to rove here on a conservative budget. In general, an allocation of $25 to $45 USD per day covers mid-range travel expenses, with meals an average of $10 to $20 USD and hotels ranging from $20 to $50 USD.
The complexity of Russia is as wide as any sea and its meaning as deep as an ocean. Go explore what this fabled country has to offer, but be prepared to be bewitched and beguiled by the land of the firebird and its mythical spirit.