Looking at an atlas you’ll notice Russia is pretty large. You may even be surprised to realize that it spans across 11 different time zones and covers an area that’s nearly twice the territory of Canada. But is Russia worth visiting? It’s a question on many people’s minds when they’re putting their bucket list together, and honestly, it really is one place that should end up on it.
From its wonderful Slavic spirit to its marvelous architecture and incredibly vast landscapes, Russia is a place of wonder, awe, and culture like no other.
Aside from being the world’s largest country, Russia is also famous for having the longest railway – The trans-Siberian railway, the world’s second-largest art museum, and of course, vodka. For many, the thought of Russia will conjure up a lot of stereotypes from movies but when you look past all that, it’s a country steeped in history and traditions.
We’ve put together a guide of the seven best things that make Russia worth visiting. Things that make Russia unique and enchanting in ways we wouldn’t normally think.
Table of Contents
Things To Do
Throughout Russia, there is a wealth of things to do from walking and bike tours to museums, railways, churches, and amusement parks. One of the most iconic things to do in Russia is to visit Moscow’s Krasnaya Ploshchad, or Red Square, as it is more widely known. The plaza has drawn crowds for centuries and is known to Russians as the front yard of rulers. On the contrary to its name, Red Square is in fact a rectangle that stretches 800,00 square feet.
While in Russia, you may also want to visit the Trans-Siberian railway, the world’s longest network of railways connecting Western Russia to the Russian Far East. Its total length is over 9,289 kilometers and starts in Russia’s capital, Moscow, and ends in Vladivostock. Carrying on with the theme of trains you’ll also find Moscow’s metro to be extravagant and a work of art when it comes to interior design. It’s be exalted as the ‘Palace of the People’ and is truly something to behold.
It was opened in 1935 to link Moscow and the neighboring Moscow Oblast cities and was the first railway in the Soviet Union. What started out as one 11km line and 13 stations is now over 400km long and has roughly 214 stations, making it the longest underground railway outside China, and the fifth-longest in the world.
You wouldn’t have been to Russia or experienced its true beauty if you had noticed or visited the many museums scattered across the country. The most famous being the State Hermitage Museum, which is home to over 2.7 million exhibits. This museum is best explored with a private guide to help you get ahead of the queues and offer some added information for each exhibit. Other museums include the Kazan Kremlin and the Faberge Museum. But that’s not all, Russia is filled to the brim with activities that every day will be completely different, and you’ll need several weeks if not multiple trips to experience it all.
Russian culture places high value on the homeland and family. While outsiders looking in may think of Russia as a rather drab country, upon further inspection you’ll notice that Russia actually has a very vibrant and visual cultural past. From its colorful folk costumes and glorious buildings to its ornate religious symbols. Communism in Russia left many individuals highly reliant on family support which often required them to combine efforts in order to survive. The Russian population is estimated at around 144,000,000 and is home to at least 190 ethnic groups according to the BBC.
While the official language in Russia is Russian, many also speak English as a second language. There are also more than 100 minority languages spoken in Russia with the most popular being Dolgang. Other minority languages include Tartar, Ukrainian, Bashir, Mordvin, Chuvash, and Chechen. Religion is also a primary feature in Russian life and there are nearly 5,000 registered religious associations in Russia. The top three most popular religions being the Russian Orthodox Christians, Islam, and Tengrism. Religion is not something you necessarily associate with Russia, but it becomes very apparent once you notice all the churches dotted around.
Food and Drink
When you think of Russia the first thing that’s bound to enter your head is Vodka, and while this is a very popular alcoholic drink in Russia, it’s not all Russia has to offer. Other popular drinks include tea, beer, Kompot, Kvass, Mors, and Medovukha. While Russian tea has very little to do with Russian and a lot to do with southern ingenuity, it still makes for a comforting warm-up on chilly days. It was the preferred beverage of the upper-class Russians in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.
Kompot, like tea, is a sweet non-alcoholic beverage that can be served both hot or cold, depending on the season and the tradition. It is made by cooking fruit such as strawberries, sour cherries, plums, rhubarb, apples, peaches, apricots, or raspberries in a large volume of water, often with sugar or raisins as additional sweeteners. Sometimes other spices such as cinnamon or vanilla are added for additional flavor. Another traditional drink that is made from rye bread is the traditional fermented Slavic and Baltic beverage called Kvass and can sometimes be flavored with fruit like strawberries or raisins and even herbs such as mint.
When visiting Russia sampling some of their traditional foods is a must. One of their most traditional and probably strangest dishes for an outsider is Borscht. This dish is a beet soup that is full of vegetables and meat and is typically served with a dollop of sour cream. It’s a staple in many Russian families. Another traditional Russian dish is Pirozhki, which are small baked buns filled with cabbage, cheese, potatoes, or meat. In many restaurants across Russia, you will also find caviar or irka served on dark crusty bread or with Blini (Russian pancakes). Blini can also be served rolled up with a variety of fillings, ranging from jam to cheese and onion and even chocolate sauce.
Russian architecture has a very Byzantine feel and takes influences from eastern roman and pagan architecture. In traditional Russian architecture, wood was featured very heavily and was often carved into different shapes as well as colored to add decorative elements to the buildings. During the 19th century, bricks were used in almost all Russian architecture and some examples of this include the State Historical Museum in Moscow.
Another feature of Russian architecture is narrow windows that are also quite tall, and tend to be in the shape of strict geometrical form and the upper part of the windows are usually shaped in a slight arch. You’ll also notice that arches are everywhere. In the doors, windows, and even ceilings of most Russian buildings. A fantastic example of Russian architecture at its finest is St Basil’s Cathedral in Red Square, Moscow. The building is a mix of decorated facades, bright colors, multiple arches, and is known as one of Russia’s most popular cultural symbols.
There’s more to Russia than its buildings. Russia is also home to around 50 national parks, the world’s largest freshwater lake, and thousands of species of wildlife. The Eurasian brown bear is Russias official national animal and was chosen as their symbol because it shows many different characteristics. Other wild animals that can be found in Russia include the Siberian Tiger, the Arctic Fox, Polar Bears, Eurasian Lynx, wild boar, and red deer.
According to National Geographic, there are an incredible 50 national parks to choose from, and each one provides a different level of protection. Some have very strict rules and regulations. Although difficult to get to, many tourists flock to the Kamchatka Peninsula due to its snow-covered peaks, wild nature, deep fast-flowing rivers, and beautiful natural hot springs. All across Russia is rugged terrain, lush green mountains, volcanoes, beaches, and some incredibly picturesque lakes.
One of Russia’s most famous lakes is Lake Baikal. It’s the oldest existing freshwater lake on earth and the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume. The lake is surrounded by mountains, some of which rise more than 6,600 feet above the lake’s surface. Plant and animal life in and around the lake is rich and various. There are between 1,500 and 1,800 different animal species in the depths of the lake and hundreds of different plant species living on the surface and near the lake. It’s most definitely a sight that makes Russia worth visiting.
Art and Literature
Russia has undergone huge political and social changes over the past few centuries. It also publicly celebrates its rich artistic and literary heritage. St Petersburg is seen as the capital of culture in Russia and you’ll often see performances for Chekhov advertised. Chekhov is known as one of the best Russian playwrights. Ballet at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky Theaters are also well worth the visit if you can get to a performance.
Russia is also home to some of the most spectacular art collections and notably the world’s largest inside the State Hermitage Museum. The museum has over 3 million items in its collection and attracts tourists and art enthusiasts from around the world. You can see a lot of art in the architecture around Russia too as all buildings are unique and interesting to look at. If you look hard enough around St Petersburg, you’ll notice it wears its literary legacy with pride. The buildings are peppered with plaques and monuments to Russian poets and novelists. Several writers’ homes have been transformed into state museums and the most intriguing of them is Lolita author Nabokov’s apartment. It offers a glimpse of the communal living style of the Soviet period.
The Russian People
When some mention Russia, most people think of spies and your stereotypical Russia Babushkas, but actually, the Russian people alone should be a reason to visit. Russians are actually some of the most hospitable people you will ever meet. They love inviting guests into their homes, and if a Russian friend invites you for tea, you’re advised not to eat beforehand as they will spread the table with almost everything they have available in their house you can eat. When visiting friends or family in Russia you should never arrive empty-handed, it’s just one of several traditions and cultural traits the Russian people have.
If you take a look around, you’ll often notice that most Russians will not have a smile on their faces. This is not because they are unwelcoming towards you, they just generally don’t smile at strangers and are not accustomed to smiling unless there is a reason to smile. They also believe it is insincere to conceal bad moods and life issues under a cheerful expression. However, don’t let their expressions think they don’t like to talk. Russians freely express their opinions and love a good chat and they have a great sense of humor. They will often use citations from popular soviet comedies and are very capable of joking at their own expense.