Last updated on March 29th, 2019
What’s our next blogging destination? Correct, Russia! In this post, I teamed up with some really great travel bloggers to collaborate on the post about the best cities to visit in Russia. Even though I’m Russian and I lived in Saint Petersburg all my life until 3 years ago, I haven’t travelled around my own country a lot, so I needed help from people, who did.
Russia is the biggest country in the world and there are so many places to visit and explore. There are plenty of lakes, National reserves, islands, forests, mountains… I will need to create a separate post about the Ultimate Russia Travel Bucket list including all these spots. In this post, however, I will focus on the best cities in Russia. What makes all these cities the best ones to visit? Well, first of all, their beauty, historical value, landmarks, natural surroundings and infrastructure.
Before we start, I wanted to share with you my guide to travelling to Russia: here’s everything you need to know when going to Russia. In this post, you will find out, how to get from Moscow to St. Petersburg and vice versa and here’s a list to the best Russian dishes that you need to try on your trip to Russia! Finally, here’s a post that reveals how much does it cost to travel
Let’s get started with the best cities to visit in Russia:
Number one destination in Russia: Saint Petersburg
As I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, Russia, of course, I placed St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is the capital of culture and art and it’s one of the best places in the world to see a Ballet performance. You can read THIS post to find out, where and how to see ballet in St. Petersburg.
And here’s more – St. Petersburg is one of the few cities in Russia that you can visit visa-free. No matter which passport you hold, if you arrive by ferry from Tallinn, Estonia or Helsinki, Finland and stay for 72 hours or less, you don’t need a visa. Find more about this visa-free policy here. Also, here’s my best possible itinerary for 72 hours in St. Petersburg.
Moscow – the most visited city in Russia
Moscow is the capital of Russia and it’s world famous for the Red Square that became almost a symbol of Russia. Unlike St. Petersburg which is a very European city built by the best European and Russian architects of the 18-19th centuries, Moscow is a more traditional Russian city. Moscow is way older and it’s a great place to learn more about Russian history, culture and traditions.
Moscow is one of the biggest cities in Europe and there are plenty of things to do. If you only have a couple of days in Moscow, I recommend checking out my itinerary for 2 days in Moscow.
Sochi – tropical paradise and the top skiing destination in Russia
Chances are, that you’ve heard of Sochi as the place, where Winter Olympics in 2014 took place. Many people get surprised when they find out that Sochi is one of the warmest cities in Russia and it’s located in the South, on the coast of the Black Sea. It has the same climate as Varna or Golden Sands in Bulgaria and it’s really hot in summer. However, Sochi is located close to the really tall mountains (Rosa Peak is the highest – 2300 m), so it’s a perfect destination for skiing in winter and hiking and swimming in summer. If you’re interested in visiting Sochi, you can read my post about things to do in Sochi in summer and in winter.
Nizhny Novgorod – a historical city and the home to the best EDM festival in Russia
Nizhny Novgorod is another great city to visit in Russia. Just like Moscow, it’s a historical city and it has a large Kremlin (not as impressive as the one in Moscow though, but still very beautiful). Nizhny Novgorod is significantly cheaper than Moscow, St. Petersburg and Sochi (read this post to find out how much does it cost to travel in Russia) and it also has a great EDM (Electronic Dance Music Festival) held every July with some of the world’s top DJs coming to a village near Nizhny and perform for 3 days.
The Festival is called Alfa Future People and here’s my review of it, when I visited it a couple of years ago (and saw Martin Garrix live, yay).
If you’re interested to find out, what can you do in Nizhny Novgorod, head to THIS post about the best things to do in the city.
Yekaterinburg – a gem between Europe and Asia
Most tourists in Russia only visit two places in the country – Moscow and St. Petersburg. While I enjoyed both cities, I took the opportunity to visit some of the less-discovered places in Russia as part of my trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Therefore, I planned a stop in Yekaterinburg and visited the city for a few days before continuing my trip further East.
One of the best places to visit in Yekaterinburg is the Church on the Blood. This church doesn’t only look impressive but is also a great place to learn more about its cruel history, since the Russian tsar with his family was murdered right where the church is built. Further, make sure to have a look at the very new and modern Yeltsin museum which is certainly worth a visit. For a panorama view of the city, head to the top of the Visotsky Observatory.
Just outside of Yekaterinburg, you’ll also find the “official” border of Europe and Asia, which is marked on the ground. While the monument isn’t, in particular, special, it’s still a popular trip for tourists, and you can take a fun picture with one leg in Europe and one leg in Asia. I certainly enjoyed my visit to Yekaterinburg and can recommend stopping there for at least two days.
Submission from Patrick from Germanbackpacker.com
Veliky Novgorod – the best for history buffs
History buffs shouldn’t miss Veliky Novgorod, Russia’s oldest city, known as the birthplace of Russia. This beautiful town makes a great stopover between St. Petersburg and Moscow; the quickest and easiest way to get there is by train. Veliky Novgorod, which means Novgorod the Great, is also commonly known as Novgorod.
While it’s possible to visit as a day trip from St. Petersburg, this charming city deserves one or two nights. Novgorod is a popular weekend destination for St. Petersburg residents, so try to visit during the week if possible.
Must-see sights include Novgorod’s Kremlin or fortress, originally known as the Detinets, one of the oldest surviving kremlins in Russia. Inside the K
Across the river from the Kremlin are more fascinating ancient churches like the 14th-century Church of the Transfiguration of Our Savior, world-famous for its frescoes by Byzantine master Theophanes the Greek, and the 17th-century Cathedral of Our Lady of the Sign, with more beautiful frescoes. It’s also worth hopping on a local bus for the short journey to visit the 11th-century St. George’s Monastery as well as Vitoslavlitsy, an open-air museum of traditional Russian wooden houses.
Ingrid Truemper blogs at Second-Half Travels
Yaroslavl – best for visiting Russia beyond the big cities
Yaroslavl is one of the most charming Russian cities to visit for foreigners trying to get a taste of Russia beyond the big cities. This city along the Golden Ring is recognized by UNESCO for its beautiful historic city center, which was designed during the rule of Catherine the Great. Within the city, you’ll find colorful pastel hours, beautiful monasteries, and drop-dead beautiful churches likely to take your breath away.
Although Russia’s main cities are more famous, Yaroslavl is a great way to get away from the crowds as this city has much of the beauty and none of the madness that you’ll find in Moscow or St. Petersberg. Most of the tourists are Russians, so you’ll find affordable food as well as hotels within the historic city
Submission from Karen from Wanderlustingk.
Volgograd – a city, where you can learn a lot about WWII
Volgograd, a city in southwest Russia formerly known as Stalingrad, played an extremely important part for Russia in WWII and, as a result, has an incredible history to explore while visiting. One of the main attractions is Mamayev Kurgan, a memorial hill that is home to the well-known The Motherland Calls statue, as well as other monuments. There, it’s possible to learn more about Russia’s WWII history, as well as see a Changing of the Guard. Another attraction is the Panorama Museum, where there is a 360-degree depiction of the Battle of Stalingrad.
Beyond the WWII history, Volgograd is also a really cool city to hang out on.
Located on the Volga River, it’s lovely to walk the Volga Embankment or take a river cruise. Volgograd is also home to some of the best Russian craft beer bars that we experienced on our trip. There are plenty of bars and restaurants, as well as some awesome cafes (we recommend Café Voronka!). Volgograd was the city that made us realize that there is so much more to Russia than people realize, which is why we recommend it for anyone visiting the country.
Submission from Kelly & Sean from A Pair of Passports
Kazan – a different piece of Russia
From the moment I’ve seen a picture of Kazan Kremlin I knew I have to visit this city during my trip to Russia. The stunning old fortress with numerous historical buildings, including cathedrals and a mosque. Kazan Kremlin made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List in the year 2000, and this place itself is already a good reason to visit Kazan. But as it quickly turned out the city has much more to offer and deserves at least a few days of your time. As the capital of the Republic of Tatarstan Kazan is often referred to as the “Third Capital of Russia”. Here you can learn about the Tatar culture and try their delicious cuisine. In Kazan you can also find a Museum of Soviet Life, showing daily life objects from the times of USSR – visiting this place is a great way to travel back in time. But the thing I enjoyed most about Kazan was the vibrant atmosphere and strolls down the main pedestrian street – Bauman – and around the embankment. While in Kazan it’s also worth going for a trip to Temple of All Religions – a unique complex that looks like from a fairy tale and combines the architectonic elements of a few religions.
Submission from Kamila from My Wanderlust
Ulan-Ude – a Buryatian gem
If you formed a triangle between the two ends of Lake Baikal and the Mongolian border, Ulan-Ude would be right in the middle. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that the city is a rich mosaic of both traditional Russian culture and Buryatian Mongolian culture, and it is this multicultural that makes Ulan-Ude one of the best cities to visit in Russia.
Most visitors are introduced to the city’s Russian culture when they first lay eyes on the Ulan-Ude’s monolithic Lenin head sculpture. Standing twenty-five feet tall and weighing more than forty tonnes, this is the world’s largest Lenin head (and an increasing rarity, as many cities and towns have continued to tear down similar statues since the fall of the USSR). Personally, I was especially interested in the Buryatian culture, so I spent a day exploring the Ivolginsky Datsan, a temple complex that marks the heart of Russian Buddhism. During my visit I met a local musician who spoke with the temple’s monks, and they allowed me access to an interior temple where the body of Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov, a monk who died in 1927, has been miraculously preserved.
Ulan-Ude has a number of other regional museums, stunning churches and restaurants serving hearty local cuisine, but I will always remember it as the city where Russian and Mongolian cultures exist in perfect harmony.
A submission from Carly from Fearless Female Travels
I hope you enjoyed this post about the best cities to visit in Russia. Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask!