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.
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.
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.
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.
While the magnificent Winter Palace is now home to the immense State Hermitage Museum, part of the original royal residence—known as the Winter Palace of Peter the Great (Peter I)—has been preserved, allowing visitors a glimpse of the emperor’s grand living quarters and personal items.
Towering 1,772 feet (540 meters) over Moscow’s All-Russian Exhibition Center (VDNK), the Ostankino TV Tower is one of the tallest structures in Europe. Visitors come to take in the view from the city’s highest observation decks, including an open-air platform that’s open only during the summer, or dine at the revolving restaurant.
Housed in an imposing horseshoe-shaped brick building, the Military Historical Artillery Museum is an impressive structure. The central courtyard is flanked by armoured tanks, and the Russian flag rises proudly from the roof. Inside, the museum houses one of the largest collections of military equipment in the world.
The grand epicenter of the Kremlin and the official residence of the Russian president, Moscow’s Cathedral Square (or Sobornaya Square) takes its name from the trio of magnificent cathedrals that stand watch over the plaza—the Cathedral of the Dormition, the Cathedral of the Archangel, and the Cathedral of the Annunciation.
More Things to Do in Russia
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.
Hidden beneath the unassuming façade of a residential building, Bunker-42 was once one of the USSR’s best-kept secrets—a nuclear bunker buried 197 feet (60 meters) underground. Now preserved as a museum, the site offers insight into Soviet-era Russia and the Cold War.
Housed in imposing red-brick barracks along the Kryukov Canal, the Central Naval Museum is one of the world’s largest maritime museums and dates back to 1805. More than 700,000 items make up the huge permanent collection, offering comprehensive insight into Russia’s maritime heritage and military prowess.
Cats have long played a part in St Petersburg’s history, beloved by Peter the Great and credited with keeping rats (and disease) at bay during the long siege of WWII. The State Hermitage Museum famously has its own resident cats, but the ultimate destinations for cat lovers visiting the city are the Republic of Cats Museum and Cafés.
Catherine the Great was loved by the people of Russia, and her reign is often referred to as the golden age of Russia. Alexander II wanted to honor the empress and had the Monument to Catherine II (Pamyatnik Ekaterina II) built. The sculpting began in 1862 and wasn't completed until 1873. The statue shows Catherine the Great wearing an ermine coat. She carries a laurel wreath in her left hand and a specter in her right hand. Around her neck she wears the order of St. Andrew.
There are nine other statues towards the base of the monument, and they represent the sphere of influence of the Empress, including Prince Griogory Potemkin and Field Marshall Alexander Suvorov. The only other female statue aside from Catherine is Princess Catherine Dashkov who was the founder of the Russian Academy of Science. The statue of Catherine the Great was replaced by a statue of Lenin after the 1917 Revolution, but it was put back again after the end of the Soviet regime.
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.
Nikolaevsky Palace is one of St. Petersburg’s lesser-known palaces, but its striking neoclassical facade and unique architectural features make it well worth a visit. The historic palace also plays host to the popularFeel Yourself Russian! show—a showcase of traditional Russian music and folk ballet.
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.
The Mariinsky is St. Petersburg’s most notable theater, home to the Kirov Ballet (now known as the St. Petersburg Mariinsky Ballet in Russia, and a venue for opera and classical music. As well as the 19th-century building, modern additions have added to the performance space. Arts and culture lovers shouldn’t miss seeing a performance, such as Swan Lake or Anna Karenina.
St. Petersburg’s most iconic site after the Hermitage Museum, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is known for its elaborate façade and brightly colored onion domes. Officially the Church of the Resurrection of Christ, the magnificent church was built on the site where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881.
With an elegant Baroque façade that stretches along the Neva riverfront, the 18th-century Menshikov Palace is a striking sight. The building—which is one of the oldest in St. Petersburg and was once home to Prince Menshikov—houses part of the world-renowned State Hermitage Museum art collection.
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.