mirror room

Cultural baptism: Russia, how to prepare your visit.

To really get to know Russia, you need to interact with the people there. In the end, there is no real substitute for human interaction. But there are a lot of things you can do to make those meetings go smoother, like learning Russian, develop a common frame of reference and study Russian culture and history. Besides enhancing your stay there, it’s also a lot of fun. As Gustave Flaubert said; “Pleasure is found first in anticipation, later in memory.”

How to prepare for travelling to Russia? We gathered a unique list of books, movies, and music that grant you an insight into Russian culture and that will enrich your travels.

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Alexander Nevsky (Aleksandr Nevskiy 1938)

The movie Alexander Nevsky portraits the failed Teutonic invasion in the 1241 and the successful resistance organised by Alexander Nevsky. This movie by legendary Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein portrays the early medieval times of Kievan Rus.

Brother (Brat 1997)

This gangster movie portrays the wild west 90’s after the fall of the Soviet Union. It’s a low budget movie which quickly gained cult status in Russia. It was followed by the sequel Brother 2. If you like 90s action movies, this is for you.

Leviathan (Leviafan 2014)

Leviathan is a tragic movie dealing with corruption and love in present-day Russia. The film is set in the Murmansk region in the Artic circle. It’s a great film which will leave you utterly depressed.

Our Own (Svoi 2004)

Svoi is a movie set during the beginning of the Great Patriotic War. It deals with the moral dilemmas of war and the different allegiances of people. This was even harder in the occupied parts of the Soviet Union where brutal life under Stalinist rule was replaced by brutal fascism.

Russian Ark (Russkiy kovcheg 2002)

Are you going to the Hermitage museum or are you not able too? Anyway, watch this movie to marvel at all the wonders of the Winter Palace. The movie is filmed in one take and goes through the cities 300-year history.


War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace is the Magnus Opus of Tolstoy and a colossal book. It tells the story of the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) from the perspective of the Russian nobility. This novel is grand in its writing and scope. It is especially interesting for those planning to visit St. Petersburg and its many palaces as a big part of the book takes place here.

Apricot Jam and Other Stories – Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Apricot Jam and Other Stories is a bundle of stories by Nobel Prize winner Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. The stories cover the tumultuous 20th century in Russia. From the Revolution to the Civil War and from the Great Patriotic War (Second World War) to the fall of the Soviet Union. It focuses on the people who are crushed and swept aside by the tides of history. The stories are tragic but also full of dark humour. This book is great to get an overview of the misfortune many people in Russia had to deal with during the previous century and gives some insight into the national psyche it developed.

The Road: Short Fiction and Essays – Vasily Grossman

The Road is another bundle of stories mainly covering the first half of the 20th century, this time written by Vasily Grossman. Vasily Grossman was a war correspondent and wrote first hand reports of many pivotal battles fought by the Soviet Union in the Great Patriotic War. The stories in this book cover the war, it includes the famous ‘The Hell of Treblinka’ a first-hand report of the liberation of the Nazi Death camp. But it also includes fictional stories about live under Communist rule and the hard choices and decisions forced upon its people. A great companion piece to Solzhenitsyn book to help you understand the harsh reality of life in the Soviet Union.

Day of the Oprichnik – Vladimir Sorokin

Day of the Oprichnik is a book that tells a fictional story about Russia in the near future. This dark parody seems to be a satire of present day Russia and the rule by Putin. Read this book because it’s a great work of fiction and also because it will give you an insight into present day Russian politics and its dark machinations.

Memoirs of Catherine the Great – Catherine the Great

Although the Memoirs of Catherine the Great only deal with the time before she became empress, it’s still a very interesting primary source to read. It gives a rare first-hand insight into live at the 18th century imperial Russian court. Read this if you want to know more about the woman who built the beautiful palace outside St. Petersburg and who started the gigantic art collection which formed the basis for the Hermitage Museum.


Leningrad (Rock)

Leningrad makes popular rock music with strong language which celebrates but at the same time parodies contemporary Russian life. Especially their video clips are nice to watch as they play with Russian stereotypes.

Pharaoh (Rap)

Pharaoh is a young an upcoming Moscow rapper. As many rappers, he is mainly concerned with rapping about money and success but with a more nihilistic twists to his songs and videos.

Igor Stravinsky (Classical)

This Russian composer gained fame with his ballets for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Our favourite is The Rite of Spring. Good music to get into Russian Ballet.

Monetochka (Pop)

Monetochka or Liza Gyrdymova, is Russia’s new pop star. The music sounds like what you would expect from 21st century pop music.

Dmitri Shostakovich (Classical)

Shostakovich was one of the most favoured composers of the Soviet regime. Although his relationship with the regime had its highs and lows. He composed ‘Suite on Finnish Themes’ to be played by the victorious Red Army marching through Helsinki. The Winter War was not successful, and it wouldn’t be played until 2001. He dedicated his seventh symphony to Leningrad, the city which would endure the longest siege during the Second World War.

Sergiev Posad by Night

UNESCO World heritage site review: Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad

The Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is a still working Orthodox monastery and a popular site of pilgrimage and tourism. The monastery is the spiritual centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. It is situated in the town of Sergiev Posad, about 75 km north from Moscow and part of Russia’s Golden Ring. The monastery is registered as a UNESCO World Heritage site under the name ‘Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad’. We reviewed this site to let you know if it’s also an interesting site to visit as a tourist.


Sergiev Posad Trinity Lavra
Main square

Russia’s patron saint Sergius of Radonezh founded the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in 1337. Sergius developed the monastery according to his own charter, that specified which supporting buildings were necessary for the development of a monastery. This charter would be used by his followers to found hundreds of monasteries across Russia.

Serbian monks build the first stone cathedral, the Trinity Cathedral in 1422. In 1476 the church of the Holy Spirit was added to the complex. Several other buildings would be added in the 16th century which also saw the wooden palisade replaced by a stone towered wall. This was finished just in time to help the monastery survive the 16-month long Polish-Lithuanian siege in 1608.

In 1559 the building of the Assumption Cathedral started which would take 26 years to finish. It’s the only place where a Russian Tsar is buried, besides the St. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg and the Moscow Kremlin. The monastery would become one of the wealthiest landowners in Russia and would continue to be that until the end of the 19th century.

In the 17th century churches and buildings continued to be added. This expansion included several palaces and the giant refectory of St. Sergius, the largest hall in Russia at that time. The last major shrine was added in the 18th century by Empress Elizabeth who also commissioned the 88-meter-high bell tower.

Many patriarchs of the Russian Orthodox church are buried in the monastery. It functioned as their headquarter until 1983 when it was moved to the Danilov Monastery in Moscow.


Beauty 4/5

Sergiev Posad Assumption Cathedral
Assumption Cathedral

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is the embodiment of stereotypical Russian Orthodox architecture. It is colourful with soft salmon pink contrasted by hard dark blues and a range of other colours. The insides are filled with fresco’s leaving no spot untouched. Golden icons stare at you from all directions. The site is extravagant and in good condition. Although the site is over the top, we rate this site a 4 mainly for being so photogenic and pleasing to the eye.

Uniqueness 3.5/5

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius has an important place in the Russian Orthodox Church. It’s almost on the same level as the Vatican is for the Roman Catholic Church. Apart from this important place in history, the site feels a bit generic. This generic feeling is caused by the fact that most buildings are 18th-20th century restorations aimed to conform to the stereotypes of Orthodox architecture. If you travel the Golden Ring you will see more stunning examples of Orthodox architecture. This results in a score of 3.5 on uniqueness.

Experience 3/5

Sergiev Posad Bell tower

The site is an active monastery and a pilgrimage site. So, catering to tourists, especially international ones, is not the most important function. There are just some signs with the names of the different buildings in Russian and English. The rest of the information you will have to find in a guidebook or on the internet.


The complex is accessible by wheelchair. There are smooth brick walkways to make getting around easier for everyone. Sadly, most churches have high stone stairs without ramps. There is a lack of overall signages and there are none for the visually impaired.

Value for money:

Access to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius monastery is free, so the value for money is great.
This all results in a 3 for the experience.

Location 4/5

Sergiev Posad by Night
Sergiev Posad by Night

Sergiev Posad lies 75km north of Moscow, an hour and a half drive if the traffic isn’t too busy. There are several train connections which also take around 1.5 hours. Sergiev Posad is part of the Golden Ring and as such is on many tourist itineraries. So, chances are high that you’ll visit it when you’re on an organised tour of Russia. This results in a score of 4 for location.

Overall rating 3.5/5

The site is photogenic and beautiful, but so are a lot of the other sites of the Golden Ring. The tourist experience isn’t that great because of the lack of information, as is the accessibility of this site. But it’s not that far from Moscow and fairly easy to include in your itinerary especially if you’re doing Russia’s Golden Ring. This all results in an overall score of 3.5

Kizhi Pogost

UNESCO World heritage site review: Kizhi Pogost

Kizhi Pogost is the most important tourist destination in Russian Karelia. But is it worth the visit? Globazine reviews this UNESCO World Heritage Site, exploring its history, beauty, uniqueness, and experience. Continue reading to learn more!

Kizhi Pogost is not a single building but three different ones. The pogost is the area within the wooden enclosure. Within this enclosure are two churches and one bell tower which together form Kizhi Pogost.


Kizhi Pogost Church
Kizhi Pogost Church

The religious significance of the island goes back further than the present-day churches. Before Christianity came to this area, pagan rituals were performed here. The earliest reference of churches on the island is 1496, then there were also two churches and one bell tower within the pogost. Lightning hit these buildings in 1693 and as a result they burned down.

The main building is the ‘church of the Transfiguration’. This church has 22 domes and is 37 meters high. It was the second church rebuild in the pogost and was finished in 1714. This church is the summer (Preobrazhenskaya) church for services during the summer since it’s not heated.

The winter (Pokrovskaya) church, the Church of the Intercession was the first church to be rebuilt and was finished in 1694. It would be rebuilt several times until it got its final present-day 9-dome shape in 1764.

The belfry, or bell tower, was only rebuilt in 1862 but deteriorated so fast that it needed to be rebuilt once again twelve years later. The surrounding fence serves no defensive purpose but only marks the area of the pogost.

The area started to function as an open-air museum from 1951 when monumental wooden buildings started to be transported to Kizhi.

Beauty 4.5/5

Kizhi house
House near the water

Situated on a green island in Lake Onega in Russian Karelia, Kizhi Pogost is a perfect sight. It naturally fits in with its surroundings. Whatever the angle, this wooden church looks the part. The design is simple but beautiful. This results in a 4.5 out of 5.

Uniqueness 4.5/5

Wooden churches once were a common sight in northern Russia. But fire, destruction and neglect has destroyed most of them. Of the remaining wooden churches, none look so typical Russian Orthodox as Kizhi Pogost. But at the same time, its strangely different because of the wooden building material. If you don’t have the opportunity to visit Kizhi, try to visit the wooden churches of Suzdal, so you at least get an impression of Russian wooden churches. On uniqueness, Kizhi scores a 4.5 out of 5.

Experience 4.5/5

Kizhi farmers
Farmers working the field

Most people will get to Kizhi by boat, probably by hydrofoil. This is an exhilarating ride across a remote part of Russia. Apart from Kizhi Pogost, the island houses many other wooden structures kept here for preservation. This gives a good insight into how life used to be in this part of the world. During the summer season, people will exhibit typical professions, while traditionally dressed. There are a lot of signs in both English and Russian to explain the function of the different buildings and its origins. The staff usually is willing to tell more about the buildings, although language can be a barrier. There are audio guides available in English, Finnish, French and Chinese.


The biggest hurdle for people in a wheelchair is getting to the island. The hydrofoils are cramped with limited facilities and extra space. There are alternatives, such as helicopter rides, but these are far more expensive. Contact the operators to get more information about the possibilities.
The island itself has hardened walkways between the different buildings. But most buildings have wooden stairs without ramps as an entrance. The audio guide can be used by the visually impaired to get information about the site.

Value for money:

Going to Kizhi is relatively expensive as you need both transport to the island and an entry ticket. Altogether this is around 50-euro pp. This is reasonable value for money as you get an exciting boat ride and a visit to a unique museum-reserve.

Location 2.5/5


The best place to explore Kizhi from is Petrozavodsk which is 5 hours away by train from St. Petersburg. There are a limited number of trains per day and the train schedule makes it impossible to go here as a day trip. There are night trains to St. Petersburg and Murmansk. From Petrozavodsk, it’s another 1.5 hours by boat to get to Kizhi. So, it takes at least 1.5 days to visit this place. There are some organised tours from St. Petersburg, but most stick to the city and the surrounding palaces. The difficult reachability results in a 2.5 for the location.

Overall rating 4/5

Kizhi Pogost is a beautiful place that is a unique experience in Russia. Compared to other Russian tourist sites it’s well developed and friendly to tourists, providing a pleasant experience. The only downside is the relative remoteness of the site. This leads to an overall score of 4.

Kizhi Pogost
Sergev Posad

Here are the 9 highlights of the impressive Golden Ring

Moscow has its many ring roads driving you crazy while circling this huge metropolis. But a couple of hours outside Moscow lies another ring, the Golden Ring. This imaginary circle links several ancient Russian cities. These Golden Ring cities, once were the heart of Russian culture and power before the supremacy of Moscow. Most of these cities have been spared the devastation of the Second World War and Communism. They offer a rare opportunity to travel back in time to medieval Russia. And they make for ideal day trips from Moscow.

As it’s a circle, you can choose which way to go. We choose to go counter-clockwise as this maximizes our time and divides the days evenly. It’s also possible to do the Golden Ring by public transport but it’s easier to go by car. Alternatively, you can also join one of the organised golden ring tours. Most of the roads are in good condition and signage is both in Cyrillic and Roman alphabet. Since every phone is a sat nav, there shouldn’t be too many obstacles to navigating the Golden Ring. If you’re going to rent a car, try to get one in the eastern part of Moscow.


1. Vladimir

Assumption Cathedral

The first stop is Vladimir some 180km east of Moscow. Expect a lot of traffic inside Moscow and on the M7 towards Vladimir. This will be one of the busiest parts of the Golden Ring road. If you leave early, you can be in Vladimir in the early afternoon.
Vladimir is said to be founded in 1108. During the second half of the 12th century, Vladimir experienced its Golden Age. This Golden Age lasted until the Mongol invasion of 1237. The Golden Horde sacked the city in 1238 and the city never truly recovered.

Assumption Cathedral

There are two cathedrals which survived all this carnage, both belong to the World Heritage of UNESCO. The most important one is the Assumption Cathedral. Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky built the cathedral in 1158. Inside some of the original 12th-century murals have been restored. This cathedral was the place where all Grand Princes of the Grand Duchy of Vladimir were crowned until Moscow became the seat of the Grand Princes in the 14th century. From then on, the coronations would take place in the Assumption Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, which is a loose copy of this one.

Cathedral of Saint Demetrius

Cathedral of Saint Demetrius
Cathedral of Saint Demetrius

The second cathedral is the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius. It served as a private chapel of Grand Prince Vsevolod III Yuryevich and was part of his palace. Usually, most of the splendour of a cathedral is on the inside, but this cathedral stands out for its exquisite exterior. The stone caving of this cathedral is one of the best in Russia.

Golden Gate

The Golden Gate of Vladimir is the only surviving ancient city gate in Russia. Although much of the present-day building is the result of the 18th-century reconstruction by Catherine the Great.

2. Church of the Intercession on the Nerl

Church of the Intercession on the Nerl
Church of the Intercession on the Nerl

Just outside Vladimir lies a beautiful little church. The 12th century ‘Church of the Intercession on the Nerl’ was also built by Grand Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky and looks a lot like the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius in Vladimir. It lies on an island in the Nerl river and is not reachable by car, so you must walk there. It’s a 15-minute walk through the flower-filled floodplain. The church is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List as part of the site White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal.

3. Suzdal


Some 35km to the north lies Suzdal, the ancient capital in a time when Moscow was just a small outpost. Suzdal was founded around 1024 and became the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal Principality in 1125. The capital moved to Vladimir in 1157 but it remained an active trade hub even after the Mongolian invasion. Suzdal was annexed by Moscow in 1392. From the 16th century onwards it became a religious centre. First, it was sponsored by the Tsars. Later, wealthy merchants tried to outdo each other by building dozens of churches. Thirty of these churches remain until this day.


Suzdal Kremlin

The Kremlin is the oldest part of Suzdal and dates back to the 10th century. This Kremlin can be seen as the predecessor of the more famous one in Moscow as it was from here that Grand Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy fortified Moscow and laid the basis for the Kremlin there.

Saviour Monastery of Saint Euthymius

The monastery was founded in 1352. Originally it had a wooden palisade but that was destroyed by the Poles. Nowadays it has a red brick wall from 1640. The monastery also had a prison, from the 19th century onwards this became its main function. Its most notable prisoner was the German field marshal Friedrich Paulus who was imprisoned here after the surrender of the 6th Army at Stalingrad. Both the Kremlin and the monastery are part of the UNESCO World Heritage.

4. Plyos

Statue of Levitan overlooking the Volga

From Suzdal northwards, the road is much quieter. The next stop is Plyos, this small town on the banks of the Volga wouldn’t be that interesting if it wasn’t for the residence of Isaac Levitan. Levitan was one of Russia’s most famous landscape painters and painted many of his paintings in this town and its surroundings. There is a nice museum exhibiting his works. On top of a hill stands the ‘Wooden church of the resurrection’. From here you will have a marvellous view of the surrounding hills and the mighty Volga. And you will understand where Russian painters such as Levitan got their inspiration from.

5. Kostroma

Rurikid Prince Yury Dolgoruky also founded Kostroma in 1152. It became part of the Duchy of Moscow in the 14th century and served as a refuge for the grand dukes in time of danger. Mikhail Romanov spent 13 years in exile here, until he was offered the Russian throne and started the Romanov dynasty.

Ipatievsky Monastery

Ipatievsky Monastery

The monastery is the main sight of Kostroma. It was founded in the early 14th century. It was in this monastery that Mikhail Romanov lived and excepted the Russian throne. His wooden house is still preserved and can be visited. Many of the buildings here were sponsored by the Romanov who paid tribute to the place where they rose to power.
In the centre of the city lies the Susaninskaya Ploshchad square. Here lied the Kremlin until a great fire destroyed most of the city in 1773. Catherine the Great redesigned the city including the great central market with all its arcade just south of the square.

6. Yaroslavl


Further upriver lies Yaroslavl. This industrial city was a place of early Viking activity in the 9th century. Yaroslavl the Wise, Grand Prince of Kiev, founded the city at the turn of the 11th century. It remained a small trading town in the Principality of Rostov until 1218 when it became its own principality. It would remain independent until 1463 when it was absorbed by Moscow. Nothing remained of this time as the Golden Horde razed and burned the city a couple of times. The city saw more destruction in the 20th century. First in the Russian Civil war and later in the Second World War by German bombing. What remained or was restored now is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2005.

Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour

The oldest buildings of Yaroslavl are in the ‘Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour’. The monastery itself was founded in the 12th century but the oldest remaining buildings, the Holy Gate and the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, date from 1516.

Annunciation Cathedral

The Annunciation Cathedral dates to 1215, the present-day building, however, is a 2010 reconstruction as Communists destroyed the original cathedral in 1937. Next to the cathedral lies the new Strelka Park, a popular spot for Russians to spend their evenings walking along the Volga.

John the Baptist Church

Monastery of Saviour and Saint Jacob
John the Baptist Church

The most beautiful church in Yaroslavl and one of our all-time favourites is the ‘John the Baptist Church at Tolchkovo’. It lies on the other side of the river surrounded by industrial buildings. Nevertheless, it’s worth the detour. The church has 15 domes and extensive frescoes inside. Sadly, the frescoes look like they are deteriorating due to mould and water damage. So, visit this church now when it’s still in decent shape and contribute to the funds to care for the building. This church is also depicted on the banknote of 1,000 roubles.

7. Rostov

As we head south towards Moscow, we drive towards Rostov. Nowadays a sleepy provincial town, but one of the oldest cities in Russia. The main sight is the beautiful Kremlin.



The Rostov Kremlin was founded in the 12th century but most buildings are from the 17th century. The Kremlin is dominated by the Assumption Cathedral with a big bell tower. The largest bell weighs a stunning 32,000 kilos and is named Sysoy.

Monastery of Saviour and Saint Jacob (Spaso-Yakovlevsky Monastery)

On the outskirts of the city alongside Lake Nero lies the Spaso-Yakovlevsky Monastery. This colourful monastery was founded in the 14th century but the oldest building is from the 17th century. You can climb the walls for a great view of the lake and the monastery itself.

8. Pereslavl-Zalessky

Some 70km to the south lies Pereslavl-Zalessky. This lakeside town is the birthplace of Alexander Nevsky who would successfully battle German and Swedish invaders. And Lake Pleshcheyevo is considered the birthplace of the Russian fleet. Here Peter the Great built his toy fleet and developed his obsession for the sea.


Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour

The Kremlin is little more than a grass ring, but within is one of Russia’s oldest buildings, the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour from 1152. It’s a small church in a similar style as the little, but beautiful, churches of Vladimir.

Botik Museum

Just outside the town lies the Botik Museum, dedicated to Peter the Great’s toy fleet. One of the buildings houses one of the two remaining ships, the rest was destroyed.

9. Sergiev Posad

The last stop is Sergiev Posad. Named after Russia’s patron saint Sergius of Radonezh, it is the holiest town in Russia. Until 1983 it was the seat of the Russian Orthodox church.

Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius

Sergiev Posad by night
Sergiev Posad by night

The spiritual centre of the city and of Russia is the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius monastery. It was founded in 1337 and grew ever greater until the Russian revolution when it was closed. Nowadays it’s once again an active monastery.
The monastery is colourful and photogenic. The most important churches are the Trinity Cathedral built in 1422 and the Cathedral of the Assumption built in 1585. Here you find the grave of Tsar Boris Godunov.

Now we have completed the Golden Ring and most of its highlights. It’s time to return to Moscow and its big city life.

Golden RIng

The best things to do in the vibrant city of Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg was the brainchild of Tsar Peter the Great. Once a swamp, now it’s a beautiful bustling city on the Finnish Gulf. There is a lot to explore. The two major tourist attractions are the palaces and the museums. This combination comes together in the Hermitage Museum, this winter palace is one of the greatest museums in the world.

So, to do this city justice stay for at least three days. Let us guide you to spend these days wisely.


Day 1 Saint Petersburg

The first day in Saint Petersburg is a full one with a schedule that would take at least 8 hours to complete. So, if you want to create some extra time, skip the Stroganov Palace, the Marble Palace is the better of the two city palaces.

Kazan Cathedral

Kazan Cathedral
Kazan Cathedral

Since Kazan Cathedral is free and opens early, this is the best place to start your exploration of Saint Petersburg. The cathedral is loosely modelled after the Saint Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican. Inside Russians will line up to kiss a copy of our Lady of Kazan. The original was a 13th Century Icon brought to Russia from Constantinople. The cathedral is consecrated to this Icon.

Nevsky Prospekt

Kazan Cathedral lies along Nevsky Prospekt, the main road through the city centre. It’s a good place to watch people, do some souvenir shopping and have a drink. It’s just a short walk from the cathedral to the Stroganov palace.

Stroganov Palace

This beautifully restored pink palace is part of the Russian Museum. You can buy a combination ticket for the Stroganov Palace, the Marble Palace, and the Russian Museum. It was in the kitchen of this palace that the famous beef Stroganoff was invented. The palace is also a good first introduction to the splendour of upper class living in pre-Soviet times.

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood

Cross the street and walk to the Griboyedov Canal, walk northwards on the left bank for a better view of the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. The long name refers to the assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II here in 1881. The inside of this church is decorated with beautiful mosaics.

Russian Museum

Just behind the church lies the Russian Museum. This museum houses the largest collection of Russian art in the world. You’ll find great medieval icons and paintings by Russian greats like Ilja Repin and Kasimir Malevich.

Summer Gardens

When you’re done with all the art, spend some time leisurely walking through Mikailovsky’s Garden. Cross the Moyka river and continue your walk in the beautiful Summer Gardens. The Summer Garden is the city’s oldest park and began as the private garden of Tsar Peter the Great. Take the northern exit and head to the Marble palace a couple of meters to the west.

Marble Palace

The Marble Palace gets its name from all the different forms of marble used in the construction and decoration of the 18th Century palace. It houses different art collections and temporary exhibitions.


After the head towards the Neva and take the Trinity Bridge to cross it. From here you have a great view of the waterfront of the city.

Peter and Paul Fortress

On the other side of the bridge lies the Peter and Paul Fortress. This is the oldest site in the city. From this fortress, the rest of the city evolved. Climb the ramparts for more great views of the river and the city.

Peter and Paul Cathedral

Peter and Paul Cathedral
Peter and Paul Cathedral

The oldest landmark of the city and the island is the Peter and Paul Cathedral. The cathedral has the highest Orthodox bell tower in the world with a height of 122 meters. The cathedral also houses the tombs of most Russian emperors, from Peter the Great to the last Tsar Nicolas II and his family. The grave of Anastasia is one which is particularly often photographed.

If you have some energy left, go to the Erarta Museum which is open until 22.00 every day but Tuesdays when it’s closed. So, this is a good thing to do in the evening to maximize your time. On Wednesday and Friday, the Hermitage museum is open until 21.00. So, if you’re in Saint Petersburg on those days either get a head start or finish things you have missed before by visiting the Hermitage museum in the evening.

Erarta Museum

The Erarta Museum is an excellent contemporary art museum which focuses on Russian contemporary art. The museum has a good flow and a good mix of art, so everybody should find something to their liking.

Day 2 Half-day trip and more Saint Petersburg

Boat ride

Start the second day in Saint Petersburg early and get a ticket for the hydrofoil to Peterhof at the Lion palace pier. You can buy tickets online or at the pier. This is a great way to see Saint Petersburg from the water and the fastest way to get to Peterhof.


Peterhof fountains

If you’re going to visit Peterhof individually it’s best to go as early as possible since it will be busy. Buy a ticket to the park via the official website so you can skip the line once you get off the boat.

The highlight of Peterhof is the Grand Palace. Sadly, you can’t buy individual tickets online. You can decide to opt for a guided tour package. Choose one with good reviews if you choose to do so and expect to pay at least 2.5 times the normal entry price. Otherwise go directly to the fountain show when you get off the boat, it starts at 11.00. Afterwards, do some exploring of the park. Go to the ticket office for the sale of the individual tickets for the Grand Palace a half hour in advance, to avoid long lines. Ticket sale should start at 12.00, check the website for the latest information. If you’re with more people, rotate your waiting spot and explore the surroundings while you wait.

The Grand Palace

Grand Palace

The Grand Palace was completely destroyed by Stalin during the Second World War. After he heard that Hitler wanted to celebrate New Year here he ordered the palace to be bombed. So, the palace and the interior are post-war reconstructions.

Head back to the hydrofoil and try to get back in the city around 15.00. This would give you enough time to get a good impression of the Hermitage museum. It’s too big to see in a single visit for most people anyway. If you go on a Wednesday and Friday, you’ll have more time as it is open until 21.00 on these days. Buy a ticket online to avoid another queue.


Winter Palace
Winter Palace

The collection of the Hermitage Museum is enormous and provides a complete overview of Western art throughout the centuries. The museum started with the collection of Catherine the Great, who was the biggest art collector of her time. Nicolas I expanded upon this collection and opened it to the public in 1852. The collection expanded threefold in Soviet times when many valuable private collections were seized by the state. After the Second World War, even more art was added as the Soviets looted many private and public German art collections.

Winter Palace

Throne room

This results in an enormous museum. So, decide what you want to see and stick to that and the highlights. Our favourites are the Italian and Dutch art and the ancient Egyptian pieces. Another approach is to do everything and systematically explore the whole museum room by room. Adjust your pace to your interests and you should be able to cover the Winter palace side of the museum under four hours.

Don’t forget to pay attention to the palace itself, as its architecture is almost as impressive as the art that it exhibits.

General Staff Building

Whatever you do, don’t forget to visit the General Staff building on the other side of the Palace Square. Although the building is far less impressive as the winter palace the art is exquisite. The General Staff Building houses an amazing collection of Impressionism, Modern, and Contemporary art. Highlights are rooms full of artworks by Monet, Matisse, Malevich and Picasso. But there is so much more. Plan wisely as this part of the museum only has extended visiting hours on Wednesday.

Day 3 Another half-day trip and more Saint Petersburg

Tsarskoe Selo

Tsarskoe Selo lies in the town of Pushkin 25 km south of Saint Petersburg. You can get there by bus and or by train. If you want to spare yourself the hassle of public transport, get a taxi via a taxi app which won’t be that more expansive when travelling in company.

Catherina Palace

Catherina Palace
Catherina’s Palace

The highlight of Tsarskoe Selo is Catherina’s palace. Construction started under Empress Elizabeth and was finished by Catherine the Great in 1796. The interior of this palace is magnificent and well worth it to explore. Getting in requires some preparation though. The easiest way is to buy tickets online. But there are only limited tickets available this way and they usually sell out a month in advance. So, plan well in advance. If they are sold out it’s back to queueing again. Arrive early, the queue starts when the parks open, but the ticket office will only open at 12.00. So, if you’re with company, rotate your stay in line and use the time to explore the beautiful palace gardens and surrounding buildings.

Amber Room

mirror room
Mirror room

The highlights of the interior of Catherina’s Palace are the great mirror room and the mythical amber room. The interior was completely destroyed and looted during the Second World War as was the Grand Palace at Peterhof. It’s still a mystery what the Germans did with the amber. The restored interiors here have a more authentic look than those of the Grand Palace.

Get back to the city by whatever means of transport you prefer. Finish your visit to the Hermitage Museum or go to the Erarta museum if you haven’t been there yet.

Mariinsky theatre

Swan Lake

End your stay in Saint Petersburg with a night out at the Mariinsky Theatre. The theatre itself is worth the visit but the ballet shows are a highlight too. Book tickets in advance to get decent tickets at a good price.

Also visiting Moscow? Then read our 4-day Moscow itinerary!

Saint Petersburg
River view of Moscow

How to spend four wonderful days in the city of Moscow

Moscow is an enormous city, capital of the biggest country in the world and home to more than twelve million residents. It houses about 10 per cent of the total population of a country that covers 1/8 of the Earth’s inhabitable land area.

Most of Moscow is a concrete jungle, but there is so much to see and there are many gems, hidden or ostentatiously present. This is the first city for which three days were not enough for us to cover all its highlights. So, we packed all the highlights in a perfect and a loaded four-day itinerary for you!


Day 1

Red Square

Red Square
Red Square

Start the first day in the heart and centre of the city, the Red Square. This is the oldest part of the city. On one side the Kremlin is situated, the early fortified part and political heart of Russia. On the other side lies Kitai Gorod, which although mostly demolished in the first half of the 20th century, still houses the oldest residential buildings and edifices of Moscow. The square itself is immense. Hopefully, you can admire it without makeshift stands for a parade or other spectacle occupying it.

Standing in line

One thing you should prepare for when visiting Russia, is standing in line. Ticket systems are not the most efficient and a great part of your time visiting popular tourist attractions will be spent on waiting. To combat this, try to buy tickets online. First check the official website, if they don’t sell them you can try to book through intermediaries. Decide for yourself if they seem trustworthy and if the extra expenses are worth it. The other option is to arrive early, check the cashier opening time and queue at least a half hour in advance. This minimizes your waiting time and some frustration as people will try to skip the line.

Lenin’s mausoleum

Start queuing for Lenin’s mausoleum right after breakfast. It’s only open from 10.00 to 13.00 on every day but Monday and Friday. It’s an eerie and surreal experience as you enter the mausoleum with honour guards silently manoeuvring you forward. Shushing those who can’t keep quiet. You’re only allowed a brief moment to pay your respects or gawk at Lenin’s mummy. No pictures are allowed inside and before you know it you’re back outside, wondering what you have just seen. Now you’re also part of the millions who disrespected Lenin’s final wish to be quietly buried beside his mother in Saint Petersburg.


Spasskaya Tower
Spasskaya Tower

If you’re smart, you’ll have bought tickets to the Kremlin online. Especially the separate ticket for the Armoury since they can otherwise only be bought within small timeslots with long associated queues.

The Kremlin is the fortified political heart of Moscow. Although the word ‘kremlin’ is mostly associated with the Kremlin in Moscow, it’s original meaning is fortified city. You can find many more kremlins in old Russian cities like Suzdal, Novgorod and Vladimir. If you have any time, we absolutely recommend you visiting the kremlins in Russia’s so-called ‘Golden Circle’, which lies close to Moscow.

Assumption Cathedral

The first thing to see inside the Kremlin is the Assumption Cathedral. The earliest building dates back to the end of the 15th century. This is the place where most Russian Tsars were coronated and it is seen as the mother church of Muscovite Russia. The cathedral is also the burial place for most Metropolitans (popes) and patriarchs (bishops) of the Russian Orthodox church. The building has five golden domes and beautiful frescos inside.

Ivan the Great Bell Tower

Verkhospasskiy Sobor
Verkhospasskiy Sobor

If you want, you can climb the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. But you will need a separate ticket to do so. From the top, you will have some nice views of the Kremlin, the Red Square and the Moscow river.

Other cathedrals

Also, visit the Archangel Cathedral, this is the final resting place of many tsars and princes of the Russian empire. And the next-door Annunciation Cathedral with great icons inside.


The Armoury is a must-see if you like shiny objects and opulence. It’s full of silverware, jewellery, armour, weapons, crowns and Fabergé eggs. It also shows original gowns, suits and carriages for the less gold obsessed.

State historical museum

For a better understanding of Russian culture and history head over to the State historical museum. It gives a good overview of Russian history from the prehistory up to the Napoleonic wars at the beginning of the 19th century. Especially the exhibit on medieval Rus and its Viking origin are interesting. The museum itself is lavishly decorated and also houses the biggest coin collection in Russia. If the Napoleonic wars are of specific interest to you, you can visit the next-door War of 1812 museum which focuses on this time.

Saint Basil’s Cathedral

Saint Basil Cathedral
Saint Basil Cathedral

As you exit back unto the Red Square walk towards the iconic Saint Basil’s Cathedral. Construction of this colourful cathedral started in 1555 on orders from Ivan the Terrible to celebrate his capture of Kazan. The church was secularized in 1929 and now is part of the State Historical Museum and owned by the Russian Federation. The inside consists of a labyrinth of narrow vaulted corridors and vertical cylinders of the churches, absolutely worth a closer look.

Kitai Gorod

When you’re done at the cathedral, finish your day exploring Kitai Gorod. This is the oldest part of Moscow, besides the Kremlin. It still has some great historical buildings and churches from the 16th and 17th centuries. Nowadays it’s also a popular place to go for upscale diners and drinks, so enjoy reward yourself as the day of sightseeing comes to an end.

Day 2

Pushkin Museum

Start the second day with a great art museum, the Pushkin museum. This is the main museum in Moscow dedicated to foreign art. Here you’ll find masterpieces from antiquity until romanticism. Highlights are Priam’s Treasure, looted from Berlin, and Dutch Golden Age masterpieces by the likes of Rembrandt.

For spectacular modern art, go next-door to the 19th and 20th century European and American art gallery. Here you can find works by artists like Caspar David Friedrich, Goya, van Gogh, Monet, and many more. You can buy a combination ticket for both museums.

Cathedral Christ the Saviour

Cathedral Christ the Saviour
Cathedral of Christ the Saviour

Across the street stands a gigantic cathedral. This is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour. With a height of 103 metres, it is the tallest Orthodox Christian church in the world. As imposing as the building may be, it’s not that old. The cathedral was finished in 1997, rebuilt in the image of the original one but on a larger scale. The original cathedral was destroyed by Stalin in 1931.

Red October

To the south lies Balchug or Bolotny Island in the Moscow river. On the southwestern tip of the island, you can find the former Krasny Oktyabr’ (Red October) chocolate factory. This red-bricked building houses several art galleries, restaurants, bars and clubs. This is probably a good time to have some lunch before continuing southwards.

Krymskaya Naberezhnaya

Krymskaya Naberezhnaya

When you cross the river once more you get a better view of the gigantic statue of Tsar Peter the Great which lies on a little island in the river. As you make your way towards Gorki park along the Krymskaya Naberezhnaya embankment, you pass a garden filled with statues of old Soviet leaders. These statues were removed from their original pedestals after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now they have a new home in this sculptures cemetery.

You will pass the gigantic New Tretyakov Gallery, which you can visit on the last day, so you won’t overload with art. But if you’re as art insatiable as us, you can also visit it now.

Gorki Park

On the other side of the Garden ring road lies Gorki Park. The full name gives you an idea of what to expect here – Maxim Gorki’s Central Park of Culture and Leisure. So, leisurely enjoy the green escape from the city noise. Watch people enjoy themselves, go for a boat trip or bike ride, and finish the day with a visit to the Garage museum.

Garage Museum of Contemporary Art

The Garage Museum of Contemporary Art is a contemporary art museum where you can find both Russian contemporary art and exhibition of international contemporary artists. The experience depends on the exhibition that is on but is overall very good.

Day 3



Start your third day at the free to enter Kolomenskoye museum-reserve. This is an UNESCO world heritage site and ancient royal country estate. It lies on top of a hill overlooking a bend in the Moscow river.

It’s a 4 square kilometre picturesque park with some beautiful original buildings and some reconstructed iconic Russian wooden buildings such as wooden churches, gatehouses and palaces. The oldest and the most iconic building is the Ascension church from 1532.

Although the park itself is free, most of the buildings require a separate entrance fee. So, decide what you want to see from the inside, and just marvel at the rest from the outside. The reserve is immense and spread out, so go early as it is one of the few things in Moscow which opens early and expect to spend 2 to 4 hours here. You can get here easily by taking the subway to Kolomenskaya station.

Novospassky Monastery

Go north to Novospassky Monastery. This 15th-century monastery is free to enter. The imperial Romanov family built the main transfiguration cathedral in the 1640s. The frescoes inside show the history of Christianity in Russia and the Romanov family tree. During Soviet times the monastery was turned into a prison, since then it has been returned to the Russian Orthodox church and restored.

VDNKh (Vystavka Dostizheniy Narodnogo Khozyaystva)

conquerors of Space
Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics

Continue your way northwards and head over to VDNKh. As you exit the metro station you’re greeted by the 100-meter-high ‘To the conquerors of Space’ monument. This monument celebrates the launch of the Sputnik. The base of the monument houses the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics. Visit this museum if you want to learn more about the Soviet Space program.

The ‘Exhibition of Achievements of National Economy’ (VDNKh) shows the achievements of the Soviet Unions, its republics and their workers. The park has numerous palaces dedicated to the different Soviet republics and industries. At the centre of the park are two huge opulent fountains gilded in gold with precious gems. Other things you can find in this park are the Buran space shuttle, a rocket and fighter jets.

Day 4

Tretyakov Gallery

Tretyakov Gallery
Tretyakov Gallery

Begin your last day with the huge Tretyakov Gallery. It has an enormous collection of pre-revolutionary Russian art. Highlights of the museum are the paintings by Ilya Repin and the numerous 12th-century Icons.

New Tretyakov Gallery

From the Tretyakov Gallery, it is a 20-minute walk to the New Tretyakov Gallery. This gallery houses the 20th-century Russian art collection of the museum. Highlights are the works of our favourite artist Malevich, and also Goncherova, Popova, Kandinsky and Chagall. And don’t forget its big collection of socialist realist paintings.

Novodevichy Convent

Novodevichy Convent
Novodevichy Convent

Cross the river and take the number one subway from the Park of culture station to Sportivnaya station. From here it’s a 10-minute walk to Novodevichy Convent. The construction of this convent started in 1524 as a commemoration of the conquering of Smolensk by Vasili III in 1514. It’s main building therefore is the Smolensk Cathedral. The convent was also a place where ‘troublesome’ women from noble families were sent to spend their days in exile.

Novodevichy Cemetery

If you like wandering around cemeteries, the Novodevichy Cemetery next to the monastery is the best one in Moscow. Here you’ll find the tombs of Nikita Khrushchev, Boris Yeltsin, Anton Chekhov and Sergei Prokofiev, just to name a few.

Museum of the Great Patriotic War

Now go to the Victory Park with the victory monument, the victory museum and an exposition of military equipment. Here you can get some understanding of the huge suffering the Soviet Union endured during the Great Patriotic War (World War II). The centrepiece of the square is the 141.8-meter obelisk. Every 10 centimetres represent one day of the war.

Behind the obelisk is the museum of the Great Patriotic War. It houses dioramas of all the major battles the Soviets fought as well as impressive memorial halls. The story of the war is retold with a light show.

At the back of the museum in the southwest corner of the park is the Exhibition of Military Equipment and Weapons in the Open Air. If you’re interested in this kind of stuff be sure to visit it. Here you’ll find over 300 different World War II era pieces of military equipment from trains to tanks, to boats and planes.

Now you’ve seen the highlights of Moscow. But there still is much more to see. Moscow is definitely a city to come back to.

What to do in Moscow