Russia, the world’s largest country, is steeped in history, arts and culture, and its capital Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world. Other popular cities in Russia are St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novogorod, Sochi and Kazan.
Russia has seen many dynasties and revolutions. It started as Kievan Rus in the 9th century and was founded by Rurik. Eventually, Kievan Rus disintegrated with the Mongol invasion in the 13th century. Grand Duchy of Moscow, a vassal to the Mongols, was established post the invasion and by this time, Russia had adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine empire as its religion. Finally, in the 14th century, Ivan III overthrew the Mongol control and claimed the Byzantine empire as his own and adopted the double headed eagle as Russia’s coat of arms.
The Rurik dynasty ended with the deaths of the sons of Ivan IV, also called Ivan the terrible. Mikhail Romanovich was appointed as the Tsar of Russia 15 years later to mark the beginning of the popular Romanov dynasty which included many popular rulers such as Peter the Great (founder of St. Petersburg which was the capital city for over 200 years) and Catherine the Great. It was finally overthrown after the two revolutions in 1917.
Bolshevik party, led by Vladimir Lenin took control of the country and eventually in 1922, the Soviet Union was formed. Joseph Stalin took over ultimate control of the USSR in 1924 after Lenin’s death. Following a period of severe economic stagnation, the USSR disintegrated into 15 countries in 1991, of which Russia is the largest country.
Art, Culture & Science
Russia takes pride in its literary and cultural history and there are several monuments, museums and metro stations dedicated to them. Let’s see if you can recognize any of the following greats – Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Leo Tolstoy, Anton Chekov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky.
Apart from arts and culture, Russia also boasts of many scientists. Dmitri Mendeleev, Ivan Pavlov and Sergei Korolyov are known to be amongst the greats in their respective fields varying from chemistry, psychology and astronomy.
Best Time to Visit
Planning a trip to Russia can be a little overwhelming. Hence, it’s important to know what exactly you’d like to do in Russia before deciding on when. Assuming you are planning a trip mainly to Moscow and St. Petersburg – the two most popular cities in the country, the high season for travel in Russia is May through October. However, it’s usually packed with tourists. So, we recommend visiting Russia in late June or early fall.
Things to do in Russia
As I said before, because Russia is such a huge country, there are a lot of things to do and it offers every kind of traveler something unique. For example, there are hiking tours and trips to Lake Baikal for the nature lovers. There are unique museums, grand palaces and majestic cathedrals for architecture and history enthusiasts. The Hermitage museum, erstwhile Winter Palace, in St. Petersburg is the 2nd largest museum in the world after Louvre, Paris. The metro stations in Moscow and St. Petersburg are themselves museum-like. For travelers looking for an amazing nightlife, Moscow and St. Petersburg have one of the best party scenes in the world. There are awesome secret bars and quirky pubs to explore in both the cities. Between Moscow and Saint Petersburg, while both are gorgeous cities, the former offers a great insight into Russia’s history with beautiful cathedrals and monuments of historical significance, the latter offers a completely different experience with its new more modern and vibrant culture. Of course, any Russia itinerary is incomplete without a tour of the Red Square and Kremlin in Moscow and the Hermitage and the canals in Saint Petersburg. For people looking to explore Russia beyond these popular cities, the Trans-Siberian train that runs across the length of the country from Moscow in the west to Vladivostok in the east, offers spectacular views of the rolling Russian countryside.
Food and Transport
We are salivating just writing about Russian food. Piping hot Borscht, creamy Veraniki – a Russian dumpling filled with mushroom and mashed potato, fluffy pancakes, spicy tawook kebabs are the highlights of Russian cuisine. Georgian Kachapuris are quite delicious too. Other recommended cuisines to try are Uzbek and Kazhak. When it comes to beverages, the range of beers you get at different bars is amazing; you get everything from Russian to Belgian to English to German. It goes without saying that you must try the super delicious Russian vodka. Again, you get vodkas of different kinds and flavors. Check out our top 5 restaurants to eat at in Moscow/St. Petersburg.
It’s very easy to get around in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. While Moscow’s metro is extensive and hence, is the easiest way to get around the city, St. Petersburg’s metro doesn’t have that reach. Hence, you can use the trams and buses to get around St. Petersburg; both the trams and the buses operate at a very high frequency, so there isn’t much waiting time for either. In St. Petersburg, there are hop on hop off cruises that you can use. If you don’t want to use the public transportation, then there is always Uber in both Moscow and St. Petersburg. There are many ways to travel within Russia between different cities – flights, high speed trains (sapsan), overnight trains, etc.
People and language
Contrary to the popular belief, Russians are very friendly. There were a lot of instances where a few Russians went out of their way to offer help with directions/ information. However, please keep in mind that not many Russians know English, especially the older generation. Hence, apps such as Google Translate will come in very handy. Additionally, do learn a few useful Russian phrases. It will go a long way if you can speak a few words in Russian when you interact with the locals there.
Russian currency is Rouble and the smaller denominations are Copecks.
1 ruble = 100 Copecks
A lot of places accept credit/debit cards and there are ATMs at a lot of places, so you need not carry a huge amount of cash with you.
We spent a grand total of 14 days in Russia, during the second half of the FIFA World Cup 2018. We spent 7 days in Moscow and 7 days in St. Petersburg and 7 days in each city aren’t not enough. There were so many things of interest to us and we couldn’t cover everything. Our trip included visits to places of varied interests from must see places such as the Red Square & Kremlin in Moscow, Hermitage museum & Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg to off the beaten path places such as Soviet Era Arcade Games Museum in Moscow, Vodka Museum in St. Petersburg to experiencing the night life at a secret bar in Moscow and a pub crawl in St. Petersburg. Click here to go through our itinerary.