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10 Things to do in Russia

Looking for the best places to visit in Russia? Our ultimate guide shows you the best things to see and do in Russia

Russia. The name alone is intriguing enough for most of us to plan a trip to this fascinating country. As to be expected from the largest country on earth, there is a ton of places to visit, tourist attractions and things to do in Russia. The staggering variety of landscapes, people and cultures make Russia an incredibly exciting country to visit.

Stretching from Eastern Europe all the way across Asia until it reaches the Pacific Ocean in the Far East, Russia is many different things to many different people. Whether you’re looking for world-class museums, history, art, culture, adventure, solitude, vibrant cities or bleak arctic landscapes, Russia has it all. Deciding which places to visit in Russia will probably be the hardest part of your trip.

To visit the tourist attractions in Russia, especially Moscow and St Petersburg, independently is surprisingly easy and you could do most things by yourself. However, some places to visit in Russia require you to take a tour. Also if you don’t speak or at least read Russian, having someone show you around will be much more enjoyable.

If you’re looking for the best places to visit and the best things to do in Russia, you are in the right place. So pour yourself a cup of tea (or vodka if you prefer), and start planning a dream trip to Mother Russia- she is patiently waiting for you.

10 Things to do in Russia
10 Things to do in Russia
10 Things to do in Russia

10 Things to do in Russia


Best Tourist Attractions in Russia

BEST TOURIST ATTRACTIONS & THINGS TO DO IN RUSSIA (OUTSIDE MOSCOW & ST PETERSBURG)

Of course, no trip to Russia would be complete without seeing the splendours of Moscow and St Petersburg. Those looking for fun in Russia will find it here without a doubt. Whether your idea of fun is exploring funky neighbourhoods, hitting the bars or cafes, or watching a world-famous ballet, Moscow and St Pete’s have it all – and more!

St Petersburg is the cultural heart of Russia and it is a stunningly beautiful city. You definitely need to see the incredible collection of art in the Hermitage while in St Petersburg. You will also enjoy a canal cruise through the Venice of the North.

The cathedrals, architecture, food, palaces and gardens are on par with that of the rest of Europe, yet it won’t cost you nearly as much as it does in Western Europe.

Moscow is grand, and as the political and religious heart of the country, it’s easy to see why it’s the most popular place to visit in Russia.

The Kremlin, Red Square, and relics from the Soviet era are sure to be on top of the list of most visitors. One of the best things to do in Moscow is taking a metro tour from one over-the-top station to the next.

But don’t stop there. If you’re planning to see Russia beyond the Red Square, here is a list of the best things to do and the best places to visit.

Ride a T-34 Tank Just Outside Moscow

10 Things to do in Russia

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to ride in a real Soviet tank? You can find out when you visit Moscow! A couple of different tour operators in Moscow will take you just outside the city to experience riding on/in a T-34 tank! The T-34 is a Soviet medium tank that was introduced in 1940 and famously deployed during World War II against Operation Barbarossa.

In addition to the tank ride, these tours also allow you to fire 10 blank shots from the Russian weapon of your choice, such as an AK-47. You can also learn how to disassemble and reassemble an AK-47. Where else in the world can you do that?

Be aware, you are not allowed to bring your camera with you on the ride, though, as both hands are needed to hang on! You will also be dressed in helmets and protective clothing provided by the tour company. This protects you against scrapes from tree branches.

For this tour, the tank ride is approximately 1 km…so, not very long at all. You go through the woods and then back. You get the option of sitting on the outside of the tank or inside (not claustrophobia friendly!). This tour is by no means cheap either, but it is a unique experience to have in Russia! How many people can say they have ridden a real Soviet tank while in Russia?


See the Northern Lights in Murmansk

10 Things to do in Russia

If you’re travelling to Russia in the winter, Murmansk in the Kola Peninsula should not be missed. During the winter you can see one of nature’s best shows, the Northern Lights, and Murmansk is the cheapest place on earth to do so.

Murmansk sits on the shores of the Arctic Ocean and is the biggest city in the world located above the Polar Circle. Being so far north makes Murmansk suitable for seeing the midnight sun in summer and the aurora borealis in winter.

During the short winter days, you can go and see the Defenders of the Soviet Arctic During the Great Patriotic War Monument (locally known as the Alyosha Monument). At 35m tall, this colossal Soviet statue is the second biggest in Russia after the Motherland Statue in Volgograd. Another interesting activity is to go check out the is Lenin, a decommissioned Soviet nuclear-powered ice breaker that has been turned into a museum ship.

It’s possible to see the Northern Lights in Murmansk anytime between mid-September and mid-March. Murmansk experiences the polar night (the period of continuous darkness from 2 December to 10 January), and this is the ideal time to see the northern lights in this part of Russia.

The city itself is not the ideal place to see the aurora because of light pollution. The best place in Russia to see the northern lights is in the village of Teriberka north of Murmansk.

This small village on the tundra is where you want to be to see the colours of the aurora dancing in the sky. Stay in a glass igloo at the Aurora Village for a few days, and if you’re in luck, mother nature might just give you a show that you’ll never forget.


Visit Vladimir in the Golden Ring

10 Things to do in Russia

Vladimir is one of Russia’s golden ring cities but is often overlooked by visitors as they head directly to nearby Suzdal. A pity, because Vladimir has just as much to offer. While Suzdal is stuck in time and offers a glimpse of rural religious life, Vladimir is a modern city that has preserved its important historical sights very well.

Vladimir is one of the oldest golden ring cities and it was established by Prince Vladimir in the 12th century. Like most golden ring towns it played an important role in the development of the Russian state and orthodox church. For a short time, it was even the capital of Russia and Vladimir built churches, monasteries, fortified walls, defence towers and medieval gates.

In 1238 tragedy struck when the Mongols conquered Vladimir and left it in ruins. After that, the capital moved to Moscow, but the princes of Moscow did not forget Vladimir. It was rebuilt and renovated and new churches were built in the 16th century.

Nowadays Vladimir is the administrative centre of the Vladimir province. When you walk in its modern shopping streets it could be any city in Russia with great restaurants, cosy cafes and pub bars. However, its picturesque historic centre is a journey back in time. The Golden Gate, the Assumption Cathedral and the Demetrius Cathedral are the oldest structures in Vladimir and still date from the 12th century. 

By high-speed train, Vladimir is less than 2 hours away from Moscow. There are also frequent commuter trains that take slightly longer. It is possible to see Vladimir on a day trip, but it’s better to add another day and include Suzdal as well. Combined it makes for a great weekend away from Moscow.


Climb Mount Elbrus

10 Things to do in Russia

Prielbrusye National Park is located in the Central Caucasus, in southwestern Russia near the border with Georgia. The park occupies 100,000 hectares and it’s one of the largest national parks in Russia. Mount Elbrus is the most famous landmark in the park and one of the main reasons thousands of people come here every year.

The highest of the two peaks of Elbrus reaches 5642 m above sea level. It is the highest mountain in Europe and one of the seven summits, the seven highest mountains on each continent. Conquering Elbrus is on the bucket list of many professional climbers and adventure seekers. In summer climbing to the top of Elbrus or hiking in the surrounding mountains is a popular summer activity in the park. In winter many tourists come here for skiing and snowboarding, There are several ski lifts on the slopes of Elbrus and some other mountains. 

The scenery in Prielbrusye is truly spectacular; turquoise colour lakes, crystal clear rivers, snowy peaks, alpine meadows, mineral springs, and beautiful waterfalls. It’s a real paradise for outdoor lovers. There are several multi-day hiking trails and long-distance treks inside the park. The entrance fee to the national park is about US$10, and a ticket is valid for several days for different routes including climbing. 

The easiest way of getting to Prielbrusye is to fly from Moscow or St.Petersburg to Nalchik and from there take a local bus or a shared taxi to Terskol, the closest town to the national park. 


Take an Epic Train Ride on the Trans Siberian

10 Things to do in Russia

The Trans Siberian spans the length of Russia, travelling from Moscow to Vladivostok in the country’s far east. It travels more than 9200 kilometres, and takes seven whole days to do the entire stretch! There are a few variations to the train – if you want to go through Mongolia, you’ll take the Trans Mongolian, and if you want to end up in China, you’ll be on the Trans Manchurian.

These are routes rather than trains, lots of different trains actually span the route. They vary in quality and modernity; if you book with tourist agencies you’ll generally be put on the tourist trains, which are kitted out for people hunkering down for seven days. However, if you book with local websites or at the station you will be on local trains, where few people are doing the whole journey.

Some people stay on the train for the entire journey, whereas others disembark at various stops along the way and enjoy some of the highlights of Russia! Places to stop include Yekaterinburg, Novosibirsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk for Lake Baikal. The Trans Mongolian can be used to get from Mongolia to Kazakhstan by train via Russia; from Novosibirsk or Omsk, it’s relatively easy to travel southwards to the border.

While there’s plenty to see en route, the uniqueness of the Trans Siberian Railway is the journey itself. Sitting at the window with a hot mug of tea, watching Siberia speed by, encountering locals and tourists in the cabin, and trying out some local delicacies at each stop is what makes this epic train journey so special!


Take a Cruise on Lake Baikal

10 Things to do in Russia

A visit to Lake Baikal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, should be on every traveller’s Russia bucket list. Lake Baikal is not only the world’s deepest lake, but it also holds the largest volume of fresh water in the world – a staggering one-fifth of the world’s surface freshwater. 

The lake lies just a one-hour drive from the transport hub and city of Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia and is an ideal stop if you are travelling across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Tourists can hire a car in Irkutsk or take one of the many tours on offer.

Visitors to Lake Baikal can walk along the lakeshore, take a trip to remote Olkhon Island and explore charming villages such as Listvyanka with its ornate, wooden Church of St Nicholas.

But to truly experience this enormous lake, visitors need to take a boat trip on the lake itself. There are a variety of cruises offering trips of varying lengths on an array of different sized crafts but to experience the tranquillity and wildlife of the lake, opt for a smaller craft without piped commentary. Alternatively, travel like the locals and use the car pontoons that transport locals to different locations around the lake. 

On a sunny day in Spring or Summer, the lake is ethereal and otherworldly. The rich-toned, blue hue of the water is in contrast to the green, densely wooded hills and mountains surrounding the lake. The water is crystal clear offering exceptional visibility for visitors and on a calm day appears more like a waveless ocean than a lake. 


Ride the Circum Baikal Railway

10 Things to do in Russia

The glorious Lake Baikal is considered to be the deepest lake in the world and is home to fabulous views, wonderful wildlife and some truly Russian experiences.  Until the mid 20th century, the rail tracks that run from Slyudyanka to Port Baikal for 74 kilometres were part of the Trans Siberian.

These days it offers a service that allows you to see some of the stunning Lake Baikal in just a few days.  The track runs through 4 stations and 38 tunnels, ending in Port Baikal where you can take a ferry across to the village of Listvyanka – popular in summer for wildlife tours and a great spot for dog sledding in winter.

The train route is known as the Circum Baikal Railway – although it’s certainly not circular and doesn’t go all the way around the lake, just a small part of it.  You can, however, make your route circular by taking the train to Port Baikal, then a ferry to Listyvanka and then a bus back to Irkutsk.  The route can be undertaken independently or as a tour from Irkutsk.  Tours tend to take the specific tourist train which only runs on certain days and which will make photo stops.  They also allow for hiking part of the rail tracks.

Popular overnight stops are Port Baikal or Listyvanka, where you’ll find local spots to eat and where locally caught smoked omul – a fish from the lake – is a great and tasty delicacy.  This Russian street food is cooked by ladies on grills at the end of their gardens and is worth the trip on its own.  Taking the Circum Baikal in Russia off the beaten track and a great way to explore this part of Siberia.


Visit Kazan, the Third Capital of Russia

10 Things to do in Russia

Visiting Kazan is one of the best things to do in Russia. The capital of Tatarstan, located some 700 km east of Moscow, is a fascinating place, full of history, different cultures, and beautiful places including a UNESCO site.

Kazan is also often called “the third capital” due to its significance in Russia. The city was founded in the 11th century and was an important centre of the Golden Horde in medieval times.

The most important place you can’t miss in Kazan is the UNESCO-listed Kremlin – the historic citadel from the 16th century. On its premises, you will find plenty of famous Russian tourist attractions: the Annunciation Cathedral, Söyembikä Tower (the leaning tower, one of the symbols of the city), the impressive Kul Sharif Mosque, and more.

The heart of the city is the pedestrian Bauman street, always busy with street musicians and strolling people. That’s where you will also find numerous cafes and restaurants. Be sure to try local Tatar cuisine, unique in this part of Russia. Since Kazan is a Russian centre of the Tatar people this is a great place to learn more about their culture and history. On the contrary, you can also visit the cool and quirky Museum of Soviet Lifestyle to see how everyday life in Soviet times used to look like.

If you have extra time go to the Temple of All Religions, located outside of the city. It serves as the universal temple with elements of all the main religions in the world and is such a unique place. With all these great things to do in Kazan, you won’t be bored there for sure! 


Eat Like a Russian

10 Things to do in Russia

Moscow is the heart of Russia, so it is a wonderful place to experience the food and culture from many regions around the country.  A great way to discover new foods and sample the best is to take a food tour.

A top choice is the Danilovsky Market, which actually includes foods from other former Soviet republics such as Georgia as well as more remote Russian regions like Dagestan.  There has been a market on this site for hundreds of years, though the current building, shaped like a domed tent, is recent.  There are stalls of fresh produce and prepared food from around the world, with a heavy emphasis on Russian and former Soviet dishes. 

A classic food tour of the market includes pork dumplings in soup, raw lard (pork belly fat), and blinis and caviar.  Even if these are not foods you usually eat, this is an opportunity to be adventurous and try new things.  You can also try horse jerky and a Dagestan pie made with flatbread.  

You will also have the chance to sample Russian cheeses, Georgian walnut and grape juice candy and different flavoured cordials to drink.  Russian food is heavy on pickles, and you can sample pickled leeks, pickled garlic, pickled cucumbers and much more. 

Taking a food tour at the beginning of your trip is not only a great introduction to the local cuisine, but it can also give you ideas about dishes that you could try more of in restaurants throughout your trip.  The overall awareness of Russian food that you gain can in turn help make you even more adventurous in your food explorations throughout your trip.


Learn About the Romanovs in Pushkin

10 Things to do in Russia

Visiting the Alexander Palace in Pushkin is the highlight of a trip to Russia. It offers you a great insight into Russian history, as this was one of the Romanov summer residences.

Perhaps many Romanov palaces in Russia are more beautiful than the Alexander Palace, including the more famous Catherine Palace just around the corner. But none of them tells history as the Alexander Palace does.

It was constructed by Tsarina Catherine the Great, but its most famous resident might be the last tsar. Nicholas II choose the palace as his favourite summer residence to escape Saint Petersburg and court live with his beloved family.

Hiding for the public and court life was one of his many mistakes and his reign eventually ended with a bloody revolution. The Alexander Palace switched from home to prison for Nicholas, his wife, four daughters, son and loyal staff. The family was executed later on in another location.

The palace displays the home of the last tsar and his family, including the children’s room, some of their personal items and the tsar’s study. It gives you a glimpse of the private family life of one of history’s most tragic rules.

Visiting the palace makes a great day trip from nearby Saint Petersburg. Combine it with the Catherine Palace next door for a Romanov-themed day out. You could join one of the many tours to Catherine Palace, but most of them don’t visit Alexander Palace too. It’s much more fun as well to visit Pushkin on your own by taking public transport. You’ll never forget your ride in the public minivans (marshrutkas).

Visit a Buddhist monastery in Siberia

10 Things to do in Russia

A 6-hour flight away from Moscow is a beautiful town called Chita. Chita is well known for several historical monuments and events and is also a stop along the Trans Siberian railway. One of the many things to do in Chita is a visit to Datsan Monastery.  

Datsan is a term used for Tibetan Buddhist university monasteries in Mongolia, Siberia and Tibet. The Aginsky Datsan Monastery is located in Amitkhasha village, around 2 hours drive from Chita town.

Aginsky Datsan is a place of significant cultural heritage. The Datsan used to be an Orthodox church, but it was rebuilt and adapted in the 19th century to a small temple. The design was influenced by Tibetan, Chinese and Russian styles. Today the monastery is painted in the traditional Buddhist style with bright colours, which gives it a definite oriental flavour.

Over time the Datsan became the largest Buddhist monastery in the Transbaikalia region. It’s well known throughout Siberia and farther afield for its medical, philosophical and astrological schools. Monks and students from as far away as Tibet and Mongolia visit the Datsan. The Datsan is not as big and grand as those in Tibet but it has a more homely, approachable feel to them.

Aginsky Datsun seems to stand in the middle of nowhere but there’s a steady flow of locals. Russian visitors and tourists from all religions visit the monastery for its architecture and grandeur. 

You may pray, offer a few coins at different idols and there is also a souvenir shop. If you are interested, you may be interested in meeting the healers and astrologers.

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