Covering more than one-eighth of the inhabited world, Russia is the largest country in the world with a complex history of powerful Tsars and warlike Cossacks that oversaw some of the most turbulent events which led to Russia becoming a world power. From conquest to politics, Russia has a history of extremes that come to life as you explore the various cities with their lavish palaces, astounding architecture and masterful works of art.
Each of the major cities in Russia has its own vibrant personality to discover through delicious national dishes and thriving neighbourhoods, although you should still make time to enjoy a Russian Ballet performance. This prestigious form of dance remains popular to this day and is still performed on a regular basis for adoring yet respectful crowds. Delving into Russia’s deep history and energetic present is an incredibly rewarding experience, taking you on a journey that will leave you thoroughly entertained.
Nowhere else in Russia will have such an overpowering sense of history than in , Russia’s sprawling cosmopolitan capital. Home to the Red Square, the symbolic centre of Russia, and the awe-inspiring Kremlin complex which sit in the heart of the city, there’s a distinctive sense of majesty and scale within the capital and its abundance of grand, ornate buildings to marvel over. The famous Bolshoi Theatre can also be found to the north of Moscow’s centre where the world renowned Bolshoi Ballet and Bolshoi Opera originated. You’ll find beauty in even the most commonplace locations, like the iconic metro stations with their marble walls, glittering chandeliers and grand halls, as well as places like Gorky Park with a blend of gorgeous monuments and luscious greenery which brings this city park to life.
As a strategically placed port city on the Baltic Sea, briefly saw itself as the location of the country’s imperial capital after being deemed so by Peter the Great in 1703. You can see the legacy this left within the splendour of imperial buildings such as the Peter and Paul Fortress – hub of military power and infamous prison, and the Hermitage – the Tsars’ winter palace. The marvelous golden dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral and the richly decorated towers of the Church of the Holy Blood provide further evidence of just how lavish Russian architecture can get. If you get tired of the city sights then the Peterhof, summer home of the Tsars, is the perfect place for an outdoor wander with its beautifully landscaped gardens and amazing “grand cascade” of 176 fountains.
The picturesque Karelian village of Mandrogi was devastated in the wake of World War Two, destroying the beautiful wooden buildings which had remained largely unchanged for years. Following significant restoration funded by a Russian investment group, Mandrogi was given a new lease on life while the izbas (wooden houses) were constructed as closely to their original counterparts as possible. A wander along the cobbled streets toward the artisan quarter is like stepping back in time, showcasing traditional crafts like matryoshka dolls, where you can soak up the ambience and tranquillity.
The imposing red walls of the Kremlin serve as a boundary for the huge fortress complex, complete with battlements looking out over the Moskva River. All this was originally to keep the Grand Kremlin Palace protected – even the complex’s name, Kremlin, translates as ‘fortress inside a city’. Despite its practical purpose, the walls and original towers were built by Italian master craftsmen who added ornate flourishes, exemplified by the Kremlin stars and decoration on the Spasskaya Tower. The grounds of complex has plenty of beautiful features of its own worth checking out, such as the manicured gardens which providing bursts of colours and the Ivan the Great Bell Tower with its shining domes.
One of the most recognisable buildings in all of Russia is Pokrovsky Cathedral, commonly referred to as St Basil’s Cathedral. Originally ordered to be constructed by Ivan IV – Ivan the Terrible – the cathedral commemorates the victory over Kazan, which represented the last grip of the Mongol Empire within Europe. This symbolic building has gone by many names over the years as its primary use shifted, but the colourful domes at the tops of each tower have been ever-present since the reign of Catherine II and remains a symbol of Russian Orthodoxy and patriotism within the country to this day.
Set within the sprawling splendour of the former Winter Palace, the Hermitage Museum houses an unparalleled art collection surrounded by fascinating architecture and ornate decorations. The Hermitage was established around 1764, when Empress Catherine II obtained a large art collection of particular merit which only grew from there. Across the five buildings that now comprise the museum, there are over 100 rooms which contain over 3 million works of art and culture artefacts from around the world. Within this collection are several masterpieces created by the likes of Leonardo di Vinci, Monet and Matisse, each of which holds a particular artistic magnetism.
Russia’s cuisine can be summarised in two words – hearty and wholesome. Home cooking plays a big role in Russian life, and lots of different influences can be felt from all the different regions that border Russia like Central Asia and East Asia. Stew and soups remain a big part of the national diet, packing in filling ingredients and full flavours that’ll satisfy any belly through cold winter nights. Stroganoff is one of the dishes which has a wide international appeal, usually favouring sautéed beef and a rich savoury sauce, although many variations can now be found around the world. Pierogi are delicious filled dumplings which have seen a growing popularity in some parts of the world, channelling all the delights of comforting home cooking and should be sampled on any trip over to Russia. In terms of drinks, Vodka has strong associations with Russia and with good reason – visiting any of the distilleries or bars in the major cities shows how seriously the Russian people take this spirit.
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