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Russia

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
As the largest country in the world, there is a vast amount to see and do in the miles and miles that make up Russia. The shockingly cold and historically rich country is never totally uncomplicated for tourists, but it will be nothing short of the most fascinating trip you could ever take. It is a very different place which throws you deep into an exhilarating and new experience.

Before leaving

Manic Moscow

The country's capital city combines both the energetic attitudes of eastern cities with hustle and bustle at every turn, with a very cosmopolitan western attitude which makes it a wonderful place to visit. There is so much to see and experience in Moscow, starting with the impressive Red Square and ending with the stunning architecture of the old tsars' palace. Red square is the Lenin's resting place and the heart of mother Russia. Turning the corner, you will find yourself at the entrance to the Kremlin, a place heavily associated with the Cold War and other infamous connotations. It is a medieval fortress, home to a multitude of stunningly designed palaces and armouries. Each individual dome and building will amaze you. You are able to check it out, but with maximum security which is quite an experience in the first place. Along with being a major Soviet site, it contains a lot of Imperial relics too which are just as interesting. To top off the political tour, the Izmaylovo market is the place to pick up plenty of Soviet souvenirs and an interesting place in itself.

The Winter Palace is definitely a location not to be missed, not only as the Imperial palace and the historically fundamental site of the Communist revolutions, but also because it is absolutely stunning architecturally. Along with the very important political sites, there are the awe-inspiring, dramatically beautiful cathedrals located in the centre of the city. St. Basil's Cathedral located in the Red Square is the iconic symbol of both Moscow and Russia, the multi coloured, renaissance architecture bringing thousands of visitors to the city month to come and gasp at the truly incredible, original style. Do not forget to travel via the metro at least once to truly experience the beautiful transport system for the proletariat. Chandeliers, sculptures and plenty of historical Soviet propaganda will make you feel as though you have stepped into a parallel universe.

The sights of St Petersburg

The imperial capital of Russia is intriguing to visitors due to its stark difference from Moscow. A different, beautifully grand imperial palace greets you at every turn through the impressive city, showcasing the real heritage of Russia, and the country's history long before the communist revolution. The Tsars' summer palace, known as Catherine's palace is located a few miles outside the centre of St Petersburg but it is well worth finding a cheap bus fare or taking a taxi to see the over the top, baroque style palace. There are stunningly ornate palaces now used for other purposes too, so while you are checking out the oldest and largest art collection in Russia at the Mikhailovsky palace, you will also be gazing at the elaborate golden decorations and marble flooring. From incredibly ornate churches, on the inside and the out, to impressive museums, you will have jam-packed days in St Petersburg. The Church on the spilled blood is dazzling and a location you cannot just walk past without going into. As one of the most recognised monuments related to Russia, the inside is barely ever mentioned, while it really should be. Designed in the 18th century, it has an exceptionally lavish interior with many different coloured gothic illustrations and impressive flooring, making it one of the most original churches in the world.

The rest of Russia

There are many other beautiful cities in Russia worth considering travelling to, like Rostov, Sochi, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Belgorod and Vladivostok in the east. All cities offer very different but admirable aspects, all rich in history of the country's growth and most importantly the travelling through Russia which can be a wonderful experience in itself, seeing the magnificent views out of the window as you pass on the traditional railway tracks, or in a car. The idyllic countryside is incomparable due to its sheer vastness and the idea of crossing borders with Germany on one side and China the next is sometimes unfathomable. The possibilities are endless in Russia, whether you want to see the Northern Lights in the most northern part of Russia passing through some of the most bitterly cold weather conditions, or visit the eerily isolated towns on the southern borders, you can truly see the grand landscapes and the vibrant, changing people as you move around.

Natural goodness

Russia is home to some of the most amazing natural wonders. Due to its enormous size, there is everything from ice, to volcanoes, to desert formations. The Burlinskoye salt lake is situated in the southern region of Altai Krai and is a shimmering lake with many different colours radiating out of its waves. The Lena Pillars, also known as Lena's Stone Forest of Yakutsk, are natural rock formations lining the banks of the river Lena in eastern Siberia which have eroded from the other rock formations further inland. Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest lake in the world, and has to be one of the clearest you will have ever seen, a true natural wonder consisting of around 20% of the whole world's unfrozen water surface. Two-thirds of its varied species do not exist anywhere else in the world, and the 'Pearl of Siberia' is a celebrate UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Trans-Siberian Express

One of the most famous railway routes in the world is an experience like no other. A train pulling magnificently lavish, warm carriages stops in many different places or at least passes through an abundance of Russian towns you probably would never have time to attempt to visit. There is a huge variety of different journeys that are possible to cater to your trip, and many different companies that offer the Trans-Siberian style adventure so it is possible to do it on a budget. It is hugely recommended to travel on the famous, historical railways that changed the country's economy and communication systems in order to fully understand the entirety of the country. Plus the views that you will rush past are phenomenal!

Our Editorial team's advice

Of course Russia may be one of the most difficult countries to visit, but also one of the most wonderful. The colossal size of the place makes it extremely difficult to narrow down your selection of cities or sites that you would like to, or should see. It is best to stick in one region and travel around there to get a grasp of the extremely different culture that makes up Russia and its contrasting way of life. If you want to visit both Moscow and St Petersburg it is not difficult to flit between the two, and by making the trip from one to the other you are able to not just be in the main cities.

Avoid speaking about politics or radical issues because it is not worth the trouble, or the arguments. Despite some people being very open minded and fascinated by the western world, a lot are brainwashed by a very different ideology which should not be argued with, especially if you are trying to have an enjoyable holiday. You have to accept that although they may not be right, you are visiting their country and disagreeing with the regime is a strict offence, so it is important to just be vigilant.

The weather is extreme in the differing seasons. In the winter, as you can only imagine it is bitterly cold. Do not underestimate their Russian winters; they will be unbearable if you are not prepared with all the required layers and a very thick coat. The further north you get the further into the unimaginable depths of freezing temperatures. While in the summer, the central cities can be sweltering! The sun is shining a lot of time and it is especially hot in the southern regions of the country. St Petersburg is a place you will love to spend time in during the spring and summer period to truly experience the beautiful blossoming flowers and hugely long days that induce the famous 'White Nights'. The romantic evenings are spent drinking long into the night and dancing in the beautiful squares of the imperial treasure because the northern sun barely sets, giving plenty of time to enjoy the many festivals that pack out the city and live nocturnally in the romantic lull of the barely setting sun.

Reviewed hotels

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Our journalists' reviews for you 15 hotels Russia . Take a look at our hotels, their facilities or their value-for-money score according to your departure dates so that we can find the best offer to suit you Russia . Book a hotel Russia it's never been so simple !

Reviewed Hotels

Traditions

The cultural traditions are almost as romantic as you would have imagined, the joyful yet melancholy expressions of the Russian soul and the relative seriousness. The eclectic combination of Mediterranean attitudes in the cosmopolitan cities, with interests in high fashion and art, while a huge influence from the Asian borders too coming through in discipline and attitude. It is a fascinating place where there is such a rich history it is hard not to stop and ask people numerous questions. As many people do associate the stereotype of vodka with Russians and their way of life, once you visit you will realise it did not come out of nowhere! It is a huge part of their traditional culture and day to day life, and do not be surprised if in a small town you are offered a home-brewed batch. Always be careful, vodka runs through their blood and it may be extremely difficult to keep up! There are contrasting social classes, like there are in many places, but in the larger cities the traditional treatment through class differences sometimes becomes quite obvious. The Russians are hugely proud people, which is important to honour. There are many breathtakingly beautiful churches and cathedrals which are also a fundamental part in the construction of the Russian culture due to the importance of the Orthodox Church. To many people, religion is seriously important so it is always important to be respectful. Do not leave before picking up an ornate hand-painted Russian doll, it will be a souvenir for life.

What to see

The Kremlin , Russia
The Kremlin
The Red Square , Red Square , Russia
The Red Square
Kitai Gorod , GUM , Russia
Kitai Gorod
Russia : Explore

Food

It is possible that people definitely underestimate the art of the Russian cuisine. They have many traditional methods and recipes that people have been living by since the time of the Tsars. During the winter delicious and originally flavoured soups and stews are exceptionally popular to warm the body. Meat is a very common main course all over the country, but in the western cities the dishes are very well prepared, often in their traditional Russian style of a ragout with dumplings but with a more modern, Mediterranean twist. Caviar and blinis are still very much part of the Russian cuisine, made to perfection in the freshest, most delicious way you will have ever tasted as the creators of the world-famous canapé. Despite the coastal areas of the country, fish is reserved for special dates in the Orthodox calendar and this has been maintained as time has gone on.

Russian sweets are sometimes an acquired taste but delicious nonetheless. Pastila are very similar consistency to Turkish delight, but have different ingredients of fruit purée, egg whites and slots of sugar to make up a doughy combination of a powdery biscuit and a cake. A Soviet time speciality is called Birds' Milk Cake which is a thin layer of sponge cake with a thick marshmallow layer iced with chocolate.

Souvenirs

The list of things you should bring back from Russia mainly consists of Vodka ? as many bottles as you can carry ! Boxes of caviar are also worth buying, but be careful if you get them on the street as you risk getting ill. Matriochkas (Russian dolls), chapkas (fur hats) and traditional military badges with Lenin's red star are all good ideas as well. With regards to luxury goods try and bring back clothes, alcohol, cigarettes or perfume. Traditional handmade crafts like wooden trinket boxes, porcelain figurines, amber necklaces embroidered scarfs, samovars and Caucasus rugs, as well as mink or fox fur coats are all worth packing in your suitcase too. But be careful, taking antiques out of Russia is strictly prohibited. Well-known department stores like Goum (the largest in Russia, located in the Red Square), Tsoum and BHS Moscow all provide a good selection of products. If you're in Saint Petersburg, Gostiny Dvor ? the city's most famous shop definitely merits a visit.