Top Russian Destinations to Visit in 2020

Top Russian Destinations to Visit in 2020

TravelWorker

When the Russian newspaper Izvestia reported at the end of January that the government was considering extending the maximum length for tourist visas from 30 days to six months, it was met with a great deal of excitement in the travelling community.

 

Though the Russian Federation is nowhere near as difficult a country to travel to as the Soviet Union was, the bureaucracy involved in applying for a tourist visa, coupled with the short period of time the visa is valid for, has ensured that Russia remains one of the more difficult European countries for Westerners to visit.

 

According to news reports inside Russia, the change in rules is being floated as a way to bolster tourism to a country that contains some of the world’s most stunning natural and historic sites, but whose strongly natural resource based economy is struggling to achieve real growth.

 

Should the new visa regulations go through, here are six of the most exciting destinations foreign tourists should seek out if they want to truly understand this beautiful, ancient, and famously complex country.
 

1. Red Square and the Kremlin

 

If Russian history has an epicentre, surely it is Red Square and the Kremlin complex. Just as the Washington Mall encapsulates the history and ideals of America, no trip to Russia is complete without a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site.

 

Inside the famous red walls of the Kremlin Walls, you’ll find yourself at the heart of Russian power going back to the time of the first Muscovite Tsars — a complex of buildings that is still synonymous with Russia’s government today.

 

The buildings open to visitors include:

 

  • The Ivan the Terrible Bell Tower
  • The Armoury Chamber
  • The Arkhangelsk Cathedral
  • The Assumption Cathedral
  • The Annunciation Cathedral

 

Once you exit the Kremlin through the imposing Spassky Tower, you’ll find yourself on equally historic ground, standing in front of the legendary St. Basil’s Cathedral, whose colourful onion domes are practically synonymous with Russia herself.

 

Wandering Red Square, you’ll discover the Lenin’s Tomb (where the embalmed corpse of the famous revolutionary is still on display) and The State Historical Museum. If you’ve had your fill of historical sites, you can engage in retail therapy at GUM, one of Russia’s most iconic and upscale shopping centres, and a place of great historical significance in its own right.
 

2. The Hermitage Museum

 

After the Revolutions of 1917, the Winter Palace — the famous St. Petersburg home of the Romanov dynasty — was transformed into the second-largest art museum in the world. Commanding an imposing presence along the Neva Embankment, the Hermitage Museum is a must-see for any tourist visiting Russia.

 

The museum’s history goes back to the 18th century, when it began as Empress Catherine the Great’s private collection of antiquities. Over the years, as Russia expanded to become one of the most powerful empires in the world, the museum acquired a stunning range of classical antiquities, decorative arts, and canvases from around the world. Indeed, the Hermitage today boasts the largest collection of paintings in the world.

 

But visiting the Hermitage isn’t just about seeing the collections. The museum itself is an architectural masterpiece that gives visitors an intimate look at the opulence amid which the Romanov Tsars lived for two hundred years.

 

Whether you want to see your favourite painting in real life, or simply want a glimpse into the world of one of the most powerful families in history, the Hermitage Museum is a great place to get lost for an afternoon.

 

3. The Altai Mountains

 

No visit to Russia is complete without a stopover in St. Petersburg and Moscow, but the country offers a lot more than museums and art galleries. The Russian Federation is the largest nation in the world, covering over seventeen thousand square kilometers, so there’s plenty for nature-lovers to explore as well.

 

From the frozen tundra of the north to the balmy shores of the Black and Caspian seas, from the vast woodlands of the European west to the steppes and mountains of Siberia, Russia contains a wealth of environmental wonders. But few can compare with central Asia’s magnificent Altai Mountains.

 

The Altai Mountains rise where Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia meet, and they offer a wonderland of spectacular peaks, high-altitude lakes, and rare wildlife. Reaching the Altai Mountains is easier than its ever been (travellers can fly direct from Moscow to the region’s capital, Gorno-Altaysk) but their remoteness makes them one of the most pristine natural wonders of the world — as recognized by UNESCO’s designation of the Golden Mountains of Altai as a World Heritage Site.

 

Visitors can spend their time hiking, mountain climbing, and kayaking, or they can Siberian ibex, argali, wisent, and even snow leopards, or they can learn about local traditions of herding and horse-husbandry from the local peoples who call the Altai home.
 

4. The Golden Ring

 

If Moscow and St. Petersburg contain some of the most famous artistic, archaeological, and cultural artifacts from Russian history, the Golden Ring is where visitors will find the oldest and most stunningly preserved parts of Russia’s history, from Sergiev Posad’s legendary Trinity-St. Sergius Lavra monastery complex to the tranquil Volga-side city of Kostroma.

 

The Golden Ring comprises a circle of historical cities and towns spread out across Russia’s Central Federal District, and while there is no definitive list of sites that comprise the Ring, most itineraries include stops at:

 

  • Sergiev Posad
  • Rostov the Great
  • Pereslavl-Zalessky
  • Yaroslavl
  • Kostroma
  • Ivanovo
  • Suzdal
  • Vladimir

 

A trip around the Golden Ring is also a great way to see ordinary Russian life up close. From the beautiful plains and birch forests to the picturesque izba houses that are a staple of village architecture, visiting the cities of the Golden Ring will give you an unparalleled view of Russia as it was — and Russia as it is today.

 

5. The Middle Volga

 

The heart of Russia may lie in the fertile black earth belt that stretches south from Moscow, but the Volga River — which flows 3530 km from Valdai Hills to the Caspian Sea — is its soul.

 

For travellers who want to savour the cultural diversity of Russia, the Middle Volga (stretching from its confluence with the Oka in Nizhny Novgorod in the east to the point where it meets the Kama in the west) is one of the most fascinating regions of the country.

 

Home to the Chuvash, Mari, and Tatar peoples, the Middle Volga is the site of some of the most dramatic scenes in Russian history, like Ivan the Terrible’s legendary siege of Kazan, and boasts some of the country’s most ancient archaeological sites.

 

Today, it is a rich tapestry of different cuisines and cultures. Whether you want to feast on horse kebabs in one of Kazan’s chic restaurants and enjoy multi-layered pancakes deep in the forests of the Mari Taiga, look at mammoth tusks at a local museum or go kayaking on the mighty Volga itself, the Middle Volga has something for everyone.

 

6. The Caucasus and the Black Sea Coast

 

For many outsiders, “the Caucasus” brings to mind scenes of internecine violence and endless conflict. And while it is true that some parts of the Caucasus region (especially the eastern republics of Dagestan and Chechnya) are not particularly safe for travellers, within Russia the Caucasus is famous as a tourist destination for its many resorts, delicious fruit, and natural beauty.

 

Travelling to the Caucasus in the spring, summer, or fall is a great way to enjoy the lush forests and famous mineral water spas of the Caucasus foothills, or go swimming at one of the many fine Black Sea beaches. If winter sports are more to your liking, the Caucasus boasts more than its fair share of slopes, from the famous Krasnaya Polyana resort to the inimitable Gudauri.

 

If a lazy day on the beach is more your scene, a visit to Sochi or Anapa is a pleasant escape from the busy cities of the north. The resorts of the Black Sea also provide a wonderful opportunity to explore another side of Russian history, and to learn more about the fascinating mix of cultures that make up this distinct region.

 

For travellers who want to explore another side of Europe, Russia has long been an irresistible destination. World famous for its art, literature, and music, Russia is also a place of stunning natural beauty and remarkable ethnic diversity.

 

Should the visa changes come through, 2020 could be the perfect year for visitors to explore Russia as it truly is — a vast, complex, and surprisingly hospitable place that rewards travellers who want to an authentic cultural experience.

 

And if you want to make it the trip of a lifetime, be sure to include on your itinerary such unforgettable destinations like Red Square and the Kremlin, the Hermitage Museum, the Altai Mountains, the Middle Volga, and the Caucasus and Black Sea.

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