Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Russia
An imposing red-brick fortress stretching along the banks of the Moskva River, the Moscow Kremlin is the grand centerpiece of Moscow and one of Russia’s most recognizable landmarks. Originally the seat of the Russian grand dukes and later home to Soviet leaders such as Lenin and Stalin, the Kremlin is now the Russian president’s official residence.
The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is the largest art and cultural museum in the world, with more than 3 million items in its collection—only a fraction of which are on display in its 360 rooms. The main museum complex comprises six historic buildings on the Palace Embankment and includes exhibitions of works of art from the 13th to 20th centuries, as well as Egyptian and classical antiquities and prehistoric art.
One of Moscow’s more unusual attractions, the embalmed body of the Communist revolutionary sits inside a granite and marble tomb on Red Square and attracts a steady stream of visitors. Lenin has been lying in state here since his death in 1924—with the exception of a brief stint in World War II when his body was removed for safekeeping.
Completed in 1561 after it was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, St. Basil’s Cathedral is one of the most recognizable and iconic landmarks in Moscow, and perhaps in all of Russia. Officially named Intercession Church, St. Basil and its nine, colorful onion domes reside on the southern end of Red Square, marking the geometric center of Moscow.
Red Square has been Moscow’s historic and cultural epicenter for centuries, holding everything from a medieval marketplace to Soviet military parades to rock concerts. No visit to the Russian capital is complete without a stroll through the square, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's encircled by some of Moscow’s most iconic landmarks.
GUM is an abbreviation meaning “Main Universal Store”, from the Russian “Глáвный универсáльный магазѝн”. It is the name of a private shopping mall located in central Moscow, just opposite Red Square. The building is a trapezoidal shape, with a steel framework and a glass roof. This made it quite unique at the time of construction, in the 1890s. From 1890 to the
1920s, the Red Square GUM was known as the Upper Trading Rows and served as a State Department Store. It was built to replace the previous trading rows, which were destroyed during the 1812 Fire of Moscow. However, GUM hasn’t always served as a shopping destination.
In 1928, Joseph Stalin converted it into office spaces, and it only reopened as a department store in 1953. It then became one of the only stores in the former Soviet Union not to suffer from consumer goods shortage, often resulting in long shopper queues spilling into Red Square.
From ancient Egyptian art to Byzantine masterpieces, through French impressionism and the Dutch Golden Age; the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts presents one of Russia’s largest and most comprehensive collections of international art. More than 600,000 works feature in the permanent collection, housed in a recently renovated museum complex.
The looming yellow cathedral tower and star-shaped fortifications of the Peter and Paul Fortress dominate St. Petersburg’s riverfront, rising up from the shores of Zayachy Island. Built by Peter the Great in 1703, the fortress boasts a long history, having served as a military base, royal burial site, and political prison.
The oldest cathedral in St. Petersburg and among the tallest orthodox cathedrals on the planet, the baroque Peter and Paul Cathedral sits on the grounds of Peter and Paul Fortress. The building is home to the St. Petersburg Men’s Choir and serves as the final resting place for many of Russia’s pre-revolutionary rulers.
Located on parklands overlooking the Moskva River, Kolomenskoye is an open-air museum that brims with architectural gems. Just south of Moscow, the 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site once served as a summer residence for the Grand Dukes of Moscow and Russian Tsars.
More Things to Do in Russia
With its red and white towers and gleaming gold domes rising up from the banks of the Moskva River, the Novodevichy complex paints a striking picture. Built in the 16th century, the UNESCO World Heritage Site includes the convent where Peter the Great imprisoned his sister Sophia. Its cemetery houses notable Russian figures.
Behind the castle-like entrance of Moscow Zoo lie over 50 acres (20 hectares of purpose-built habitats and some 7,000 animal residents—making it the largest zoo in Russia. Native species abound, including polar bears, wolves, and Siberian tigers, as well as elephants, monkeys, and dolphins.
With its underground network of trains and tunnels stretching for more than 190 miles (305 kilometers) across 200-plus stations, Moscow’s metro system covers a lot of territory. It’s more than just a transport hub though. Many metro stations are architectural landmarks, built in Soviet times and dubbed "the palaces of the people."
An architectural landmark and one of Russia’s most prestigious venues, the Bolshoi Theatre is home to the world-famous Bolshoi ballet and opera companies. With a legacy dating back to the late 18th century, the theater hosts regular performances of classics such asLa Traviata,*Carmen,Swan Lake, andThe Nutcracker*.
Royalty, revolutions, and reformers have swept through Palace Square in St Petersburg, a grand plaza at the foot of the magnificent Winter Palace. Alexander Column dominates the center of Palace Square, which is wrapped by government buildings and remains a favorite gathering place for city-wide celebrations and holidays.
Named after Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin—the first person in space—the Gagarin Research and Test Cosmonaut Training Center was once the top secret base of the Soviet Space Program. Now operated by the Russian Federal Space Agency and open to the public; it provides a fascinating insight into Russia’s long history of space exploration.
Russia’s most famous street—the Champs-Élysées of St. Petersburg—runs for 3 miles (5 kilometers) through the city’s historic center from the Admiralty Building to Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Some of the city’s most impressive buildings line the street, including the Kazan Cathedral, Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, and the Grand Europe Hotel.
Completed in 1811 after ten years of construction, the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan (Kazansky Sobor stands 203 feet (62 meters tall—a stunning example of Russian neoclassical architecture. The structure encircles a small square, and the interior is adorned with the works of some of the country's greatest artists and sculptors.
Founded by Peter the Great in 1710, the Alexander Nevsky Monastery is not just a tribute and final resting place to one of Russia’s great military leaders (and the patron saint of St. Petersburg), but to many of Russia’s most important cultural figures as well. The grounds comprise two baroque churches, a cathedral, and a pair of cemeteries.
Home of the Alexander and Catherine palaces and parks, Pushkin (Tsarskoye Selo) is one of Russia’s most significant and beautiful cultural heritage sites. The imperial family’s former summer residence is a must for first-time visitors to St. Petersburg.
The Port of St. Petersburg is the largest port in northwest Russia, serving as one of the world's most popular cruise destinations and the primary gateway between the Baltic Sea and Russia. Ships docking at the St. Petersburg Cruise Port do so in the heart of the city, at Vasilyevsky Island.
Once the summer residence of the Russian tsars and now a museum, Catherine Palace was named after Catherine I, who had it built in 1717. The structure was later rebuilt into an elaborately decorated Rococo-style palace in 1756 by Bartolomeo Rastrelli under the direction of Empress Elizabeth, meant to rival the Palace of Versailles in France. Today, the palace is famous for its baroque style and neoclassical interior that exemplifies Russian wealth and extravagance. Its main attractions are the Grand Hall, the opulent Amber Room, which is lined with gilded amber wall panels and ornate furniture, and the 1,400-acre (566-hectare) Catherine Park with its masterful landscaping.
It’s easy to see why Peterhof Palace, a magnificent complex of palaces and gardens stretching along the St. Petersburg seafront, is called the Russian Versailles. Fronted by the opulent Grand Palace and displaying a rich variety of architectural styles, this UNESCO World Heritage Site—known officially as the Peterhof State Museum-Reserve (Muzeya-Zapovednika Peterhof)—is one of the city’s most visited attractions.