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Visit Moscow and St Petersburg: First-Time Travellers’ Guide

  • Planning to visit Moscow or St Petersburg? Get expert travel advice and tips to plan your own Russian adventure
  • Must-see sights in Moscow including the Red Square, the Kremlin and the opulent Bolshoi Theatre
  • Discover stunning landmarks in St Petersburg including the Winter Palace and the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood

If you’ve decided that now is the perfect time to visit Moscow and visit St. Petersburg and are looking for a holiday rich in culture, you can rest assured that Russia’s twin capitals won’t disappoint. Steeped in culture, history and with some of the world’s most famous sights, a tour of these epicentres of Russian life is a trip of a lifetime.

Visit Moscow – the city’s must-see sights

Set on the banks of the Moskva river, Moscow is the cultural heart of Russia with a vast collection of historical and contemporary sights. So much so that it can be hard to know where to start on a visit to Moscow. Thankfully, most of its key landmarks are located in the city’s walkable centre which is easily navigable on foot.

Visit Moscow – Red Square

Located in the heart of the city is Moscow’s – and Russia’s – most iconic landmark: Red Square. All Moscow tours come to this 400m-by-150m area of cobblestones which sees thousands of tourists each year. It’s no surprise why; this UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to an incredible collection of buildings that provide windows into the country’s turbulent and fascinating past.

Stood majestically at the southern end is St Basil’s Cathedral, with its striking multi-coloured domes. It was built from 1555–1561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible, the first tsar of Russia, to commemorate his victory over the Tatar city of Kazan. At night, its fairytale-like facade is even more dramatic. Step inside to see its maze of corridors and tiny chapels and you may be lucky enough to catch a performance by its resident chamber choir.

visit moscow st basils cathedral

St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

Visit Moscow – the Kremlin

Located on the west side of Red Square stands the Kremlin, the world’s largest medieval fortress. Commissioned in the 15th century by Ivan the Great, it houses no less than four cathedrals and five palaces – the most impressive of which is the Grand Kremlin Palace. Most guided tours to Moscow will include a palace tour in their itinerary, where you get exclusive access to its grand halls, Royal Family private rooms and impressive Armoury collection with its 4,000-piece collection of crowns, imperial jewels and royal clothing.

If you only have time to visit one cathedral make it the Cathedral of the Dormition, also known as the Assumption Cathedral. Located on the Kremlin’s central square, it was built between 1475 and 1479 by an esteemed Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti. Inside, its walls and ceiling are adorned with beautifully detailed 15th to 17th-century frescoes.

visit moscow kremlin

Visit Moscow – Bolshoi Theatre

Just a ten-minute walk north from the Kremlin is Moscow’s most famous theatre, the Bolshoi. The Bolshoi hosts a range of ballet and opera performances of Russian and foreign works. It’s worth visiting simply to admire the opulent building, from the Imperial Foyer with its hand-painted grisaille ceilings, to the grand main stage with its gigantic crystal chandelier.

visit moscow bolshoi theatre

Bolshoi Theatre, Moscow

Visit St Petersburg – the city’s must-see sights

The former capital was founded by Tsar Peter the Great, whose intention was to create a Russian city that would rival Paris and Rome for its architectural beauty. There is no denying that his wish was realised. The city is home to some of the world’s most remarkable buildings, many of which are located within the compact city centre.

Visit St Petersburg – Winter Palace

Set on the banks of the Neva river – the city is spread along its banks and across the islands of its broad delta – is St Petersburg’s most famous building: the Winter Palace. Most escorted Russia tours include the former imperial palace as part of their itinerary.

The official residence of the Russian Emperors from 1732 to 1917, it boasts beautiful interiors, from its State Gala Staircase – decorated with red velvet carpet – to its Imperial Chapel. However, today the palace is best known for housing the extensive collections of the Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage has almost three million exhibits. The collections are as varied as they are expansive, with masterpieces by Matisse and Picasso alongside archaeological finds from Siberia and Central Asia. Allow plenty of time to explore its various rooms.

visit st petersburg winter palace

Winter Palace, St Petersburg

Visit St Petersburg – Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood

This dazzling church, with its five colourful domes, is the most lavish in St Petersburg. Its name references the assassination of Alexander II; in 1881 revolutionaries threw a bomb at his royal carriage in the very place where the church now stands. Designed by some of the most celebrated 19th-century Russian artists, the interior is decorated with over 7,000 square metres of mosaics, some remarkably intricate. Don’t forget your camera.

visit st petersburg church of the saviour on spilled blood

Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, St Petersburg

Visit St Petersburg – Peterhof Palace

This is a key sight for many St Petersburg tours, with visitors eager to see what has become known as the ‘Russian Versailles’. Indeed, the Parisian palace was the inspiration behind the Peterhof, commissioned by Peter the Great in the early 18th century. While its display of fine art in the Throne Room is certainly impressive, it is the 1,500 acres of formal gardens that prove to be the highlight for many visitors. While away an afternoon admiring the perfectly pruned topiary, bronze statues and fountains. The Grand Cascade, consisting of 64 fountains ejecting 30,000 litres per second, is an incredible sight.

visit st petersburg Peterhof palace

Peterhof Palace, St Petersburg

Travel tips for a visit to Moscow and St Petersburg

Whether you plan to visit Moscow or St Petersburg on a holiday to Russia  – or even both cities – it’s worth knowing what to wear and the local customs to be aware of.

  • Dress appropriately – While Russia tends to have very cold winters when plenty of warm layers are essential, summers can be pleasantly warm and are often humid, with temperatures rising above 20°C. Downpours this time of year are common, so pack an umbrella or waterproof jacket, even when visiting in July.
  • Food and drink – If you’re looking to experience the local cuisine do some research before you travel so you are not restricted to eating borscht (beetroot soup) every day. Solyanka soup, with its distinct spicy and sour flavour, is a delicious alternative. Don’t drink the tap water. You can instead buy bottled water in any supermarket, or bring a reusable bottle with a filtration system, like Water To Go bottles.
  • Customs – When visiting Russian Orthodox churches avoid wearing bright colours and shorts or skirts. Long dresses and trousers are acceptable. Women should cover their heads, too.
  • Currency – The Russian unit of currency is the ruble or rouble. You can exchange your pounds before you travel or once you arrive – there are banks and currency exchange offices throughout Moscow and St Petersburg.
visit moscow solyanka soup

Solyanka soup

Visit Moscow and visit St. Petersburg – see for yourself

Packed with amazing architecture, world-class art galleries and splendid palaces, Russia’s twin capitals are a haven for culture lovers – all you need to do is get there. Check out Riviera Travel’s range of Russia tours to start planning your trip.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.

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