Russia, once the largest and most powerful member of the former USSR, remains a fascinating country to visit. It is a country of contrasts, from great subtropical beaches to bitterly cold winter regions in the north.
The east may have fewer people, but its lovely cities are among the most interesting in Russia and can hold their own against the west. Russia is steeped in history everywhere a traveler goes, from vicious battles to great classical music and literature.
Here’s a look at the best places to visit in Russia: Number 10. Yekaterinburg Yekaterinburg has been the setting of numerous important events in Russia’s history. It is here that the Romanovs were executed and Boris Yeltsin came to power.
Lying next to the Ural Mountains, the city was once the object of a gem rush, as miners poured into Yekaterinburg hoping to make their fortune. Nowadays, it has lots of historical and cultural sites for visitors to enjoy.
With a growing economy, many bars and cafes are springing up and there is a fantastic gastronomic scene. Number 9. Sochi Sochi on the Black Sea is a great winter sports destination and, in fact, it hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Despite winter snow, Sochi offers a subtropical climate and great beaches, making it a key part of the Russian Riviera. The resort city makes a great summer and winter getaway for Russians. Strolling along the pedestrian-only sea embankment is a pleasant experience.
From here, you can go hiking in Agura Valley or head to the nearby ski resorts in the mountains – where the Olympics took place. Number 8. Veliky Novgorod Lying on the banks of the Volkhov River, this ancient city was the first capital of Russia all the way back in the 9th Century.
Set on an important trade route between Central Asia and Europe, Veliky Novgorod thankfully avoided being destroyed in the Second World War, so most of its fantastic monasteries and monuments are intact.
The medieval heart of the city is fascinating to explore, and numerous old churches can be found. The 11th Century St Sophia’s Cathedral is just one of many highlights, alongside St George’s Cathedral, the oldest monastery in Russia.
Number 7. Vladivostok Mountains and bays surround Vladivostok, making it a stunning beautiful city in Russia’s east. The last stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway, Vladivostok is the country’s largest port on the Pacific Ocean; it is just a jump away from North Korea and China.
Some lovely architecture can be found interspersed amongst Soviet-era buildings. A city on the move, new theaters and cultural attractions are opening up in Vladivostok, while its fantastic restaurant scene is perfectly complemented by trendy cocktail bars and pumping nightlife.
Number 6. Nizhny Novgorod With the Volga and Oka Rivers running through it, Nizhny Novgorod is most famed for the spectacular hilltop kremlin looking out over the spot where the two tributaries join. Although it is understandably the highlight of what is on offer, the city has more than enough to entertain visitors for a couple of days.
There are some great museums and restaurants for tourists to enjoy, as well as lovely views of the surroundings. From here, you can go on a scenic river cruise to some of the villages and towns nearby.
Number 5. Lake Baikal Many travelers on the Trans-Siberian railway make plans to stop at Lake Baikal, the deepest and oldest lake on Earth. Lake Baikal holds around 20 percent of the world’s fresh water and is considered one of the clearest lakes in the world.
Located in Siberia, the 25-million-year-old lake is surrounded by beautiful mountain ranges. Known as the Pearl of Siberia, Lake Baikal is home to several resorts, making the area a popular vacation destination.
Number 4. Kazan Kazan is sometimes referred to as the Istanbul of the Volga because it is a city where European and Asian cultures meet. The capital of Tatarstan is a lovely city where church tower and minarets fill the skyline.
Also known as the third capital of Russia, after Moscow and St. Petersburg, Kazan residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living in Russia. Sights to see include the remains of the Kazan Kremlin that was destroyed by Ivan the Terrible and the Kul-Sharif Mosque, named after a man killed defending Kazan from Ivan.
Number 3. Golden Ring The Golden Ring strings together several cities outside of Moscow that fill the senses with awe. Picturesque countrysides filled with cherry orchards, quaint cottages, onion-shaped domes and iconic churches that contain the country’s oldest art make this region a special place to visit.
One of the oldest regions in Russia, today it is very popular with tourists who want to experience a bygone era. The traditional way to view the cities and towns makes a counter clockwise loop beginning and ending in Moscow.
Number 2. Saint Petersburg Only founded in 1703, Saint Petersburg’s tumultuous history has seen it change names numerous times. The former capital from which the Tsars once reigned hosted the Communist Revolution and was later sieged by the Nazis.
With a Western European feel to it, elegant palaces and grand cathedrals are abundant in the city, while lovely, leafy parks make it a simply beautiful place to wander around. Rivers and canals cut through Saint Petersburg, and delightful bridges cross its waterways.
Not to be missed is the spectacular art collection at the Hermitage Museum. Number 1. Moscow As the capital of Russia, Moscow is the most important city in Russia, but not just for political reasons alone.
This city of more than 12 million is also well known for its artistic endeavors, including ballet, symphonies and art. Onion-shaped domes of historic churches fill the skyline. The stately Kremlin and impressive Red Square, one of the largest squares in the world, are sights not to be missed, as are statues of Lenin and Stalin, controversial leaders in the 20th century.
Further evidence that Moscow’s past wasn’t always squeaky clean can be seen in the Gulag and Cold War museums.