Best Russia holiday destinations
- Posted by: Elena Killiakova
- Category: Matryoshka’s diary
Where in Russia should I go to spend the perfect winter holidays?
With Christmas and New Year holiday season just around the corner, we thought we would tell you about our favorite destinations, including majestic lakes, mountains, history, and even ecotourism resorts. We encourage you to opt for Russia’s lesser-known cities and nature parks (there’s enough to keep you exploring for weeks!).
Breathtaking Ruskeala park in Karelia
Karelia is a republic in north-west Russia, which is known as one of the country’s most beautiful places. Nature here is breathtaking and more Finnish-looking rather than Russian, with lakes, waterfalls, and trees growing on giant rocks. Ruskeala is a village close to Sortavala, one of the region’s bigger towns. Make sure you visit the Ruskeala mountain park, with a marble canyon that is now a lake with crystal clear water, and another underground lake. If you are visiting Karelia in summer, you can rent a boat, go diving, or hiking. In summer there are light shows on the lake.
Stolby nature reserve in Siberia
On the north-western spurs of the Eastern Sayan mountains, the Stolby nature reserve is one of the most popular tourism destinations in Siberia. The reserve’s main attraction are its rocks and cliffs, called stolby (in Russian) or “pillars”, after their shape. The smallest cliffs are 55 meters high, while the highest go up to 600 metres. Rock-climbing and hiking are popular activities, although for those interested in the local flora and fauna the reserve also offers guided tours of the Siberian taiga that sprawls underneath the rocks: a mix of a hike and a botanical and zoological tour.
Velikiy Novgorod, also known as Novgorod the Great, is often called the “birthplace of Russia”. For a long time, the city was a sovereign principality, founded by merchants and ruled in relative democracy, and the unification of Novgorod with Moscow in the 15th century was an essential step towards a unified Russia. The city is a historic one and the traditional wooden architecture museum of Vitoslavlitsi is a must-visit; the open-air exhibition of Russian izbas (farmhouses) has an ancient tradition of building without nails or metal to hold the wooden planks together. The Kremlin fortress in Novgorod is also one of the oldest in Russia, dating back to the 11th century.
Other places that are worth visiting
- Pertopavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is located on the Kamchatka peninsula in the far east of Russia and is the most eastern town (with more than 100,000 people) in the northern hemisphere. Ecotourism in this region is a new trend, with various activities on offer from mountain and volcano hikes, heli-skiing, sailing and kayaking to fishing and hunting trips. The town is also a foodie destination: Kamchatka crabs and other seafood are known delicacies.
- Kazan. The city of Kazan, in Tatarstan, is over a thousand years old and has always been an eclectic place, balanced between the Russian Orthodox and Muslim cultures with churches and cathedrals neighbouring mosques. One of the city’s landmarks is the Söyembikä Tower in the Kremlin fortress. It’s named after the city’s last queen, Söyembikä, who, according to legend threw herself off the tower, but actually was captured by the Muscovites led by Ivan the Terrible in the 16th century, when the city was conquered. The eclectic food of the region, a mix of Russian and Tatar, is one of the city’s highlights: try the traditional tea with chuk-chuk, a sweet pastry dish.
Lake Baikal. You probably already know that Lake Baikal is the deepest in the world. Many Russians say that seeing the vast “Siberian sea” is a unique experience, and others tell stories of the Baikal monster, echoing tales of the Loch Ness monster. There are several hiking paths and in the summer you can swim in the lake, although the water is cold even in August. The shores are scattered with resorts, hotels and camping grounds, although many of them are of the Soviet times.
Yessentuki. Yessentuki is a name you might see on the shelves of Russian grocery stores around the world: this historical resort town, famous for its mineral and hot springs, gave its name to a brand of a salty mineral water. The town has been a destination for the health-conscious since the 19th century.
Kaliningrad. A tiny piece of Russia in Europe, Kaliningrad used to be called Königsberg, and the architecture in the city’s old town will remind you of Europe and not Russia. Traces of Kaliningrad’s German heritage can be seen in the surviving Brandenburg Gate and the Fishing Village, a tourist attraction with recreated medieval-style buildings. The flea markets here are known to be the best in Russia – many collectors from all over the world come here in hope of finding relics from the second world war. The Amber museum is another popular attraction.
Vladivostok. The Far East is a dream destination for many Russians, and Vladivostok, at the head of the Golden Horn Bay, is the heart of it. The city was founded in the middle of the 19th century. The best place for views is the Eagle’s Nest Hill, the city center’s highest point. This is also a food destination as seafood is abundant here and because of the proximity to the Russian-Chinese borders, it’s almost the only place in Russia where good Chinese food is widely available. The city of Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan marks the end of many summer trips across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. Located at the end of the Muravyov-Amursky Peninsula, Vladivostok is a jumping off point for some of Russia’s southernmost islands which contain many beautiful sand beaches. The islands of Popov and Reyneke, off the coast of Vladivostok, each have pristine beaches that beckon locals and travelers alike during the summer. There is plenty to do in winter, too: from cross-country skiing and ice skating to mountain skiing and ice swimming – there is something for everyone.
- Altai mountains. Ecotourism is booming in the region with new resorts and hotels popping up all over the Altai – known as the ‘golden mountains’. Go on a hike following the routes described in local legends, that are told to the visitors as they go. Sailing, kayaking and fishing are among other activities. Spa treatments are widely available with special saunas in big cedar barrels. Altai is famous for its honey and herbs, and honey treatments and herbal tea ceremonies are also offered at the local resorts.
- Sochi. Long known as Russia’s premier beach town, this city on the Black Sea became known the world over when it hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Sochi witnessed a massive building boom before the Olympics, but it’s still a great place to relax on the beach. It is a city where everyone can find something of interest to them at any time of the year.
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