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.
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.
Housed in the suitably opulent Shuvalov Palace, the Fabergé Museum is a tribute to legendary Russian jeweler Peter Carl Fabergé. The St. Petersburg highlight showcases Russia’s treasured series of Fabergé eggs alongside a dazzling collection of Russian art, jewelry, and artifacts.
An architectural landmark and one of Russia’s most prestigious venues, the Bolshoi Theatre is home to the world-famous Bolshoi ballet and opera companies. With a legacy dating back to the late 18th century, the theater hosts regular performances of classics such asLa Traviata,*Carmen,Swan Lake, andThe Nutcracker*.
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.
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.
Lenin’s Mausoleum is the current resting place of Vladimir Lenin, the former leader of the Soviet Union. Lenin’s embalmed body has been on display since he passed away in 1924 and his tomb has been visited by millions. Located near Red Square in the center of Moscow, the tomb is a small granite building that features elements derived from ancient mausoleums such as the Step Pyramid in Egypt and the Tomb of Cyrus the Great in Iran. Although a bit morbid, a visit to Lenin’s Mausoleum is considered a must for visitors to Moscow.
St. Petersburg’s preeminent opera and ballet venue, and home to the world-renowned Kirov Ballet, Mariinsky Theatre has long been at the center of the city’s rich arts scene. Built in 1859 by architect Albert Cavos and named after Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the theatre saw a host of prestigious performers grace its stage during its pre-Revolution heyday, including dancers like Vatslav Nizhinsky, Matilda Kshesinskaya and Anna Pavlova, and opera singer Fiodor Shaliapin.
The Mariinsky Theatre’s present-day building was restored in 1944, after being damaged during in the Siege of Leningrad, and features a 1,625-seat auditorium. Today, the historic theatre is accompanied by the Mariinsky Theatre concert hall, or Mariinsky II, an incongruously modern building that opened next door to the original theater in 2007.
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.
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.
More Things to Do in Russia
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.
Once a Soviet-era amusement park, Gorky Park (Park Gorkogo) has reinvented itself in recent years as one of Moscow’s most popular public green spaces. More than 300 acres (120 hectares) of parkland stretch along the Moskva River, featuring walking trails, botanical gardens, and recreational areas.
Long considered to be the lifeline of St. Petersburg, the Neva River (Reka Neva) flows through the capital city from Lake Ladoga in northwestern Russia, eventually making its way to the Gulf of Finland in the Baltic Sea. Visit this historically important waterway to learn about the region’s history and see the city sites.
With its underground network of trains and tunnels stretching for more than 190 miles (305 kilometers) across 200-plus stations, Moscow’s metro system covers a lot of territory. It’s more than just a transport hub though. Many metro stations are architectural landmarks, built in Soviet times and dubbed "the palaces of the people."
Located on parklands overlooking the Moskva River, Kolomenskoye is an open-air museum that brims with architectural gems. Just south of Moscow, the 15th-century UNESCO World Heritage Site once served as a summer residence for the Grand Dukes of Moscow and Russian Tsars.
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.
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.
The looming yellow cathedral tower and star-shaped fortifications of the Peter and Paul Fortress dominate St. Petersburg’s riverfront, rising up from the shores of Zayachy Island. Built by Peter the Great in 1703, the fortress boasts a long history, having served as a military base, royal burial site, and political prison.
The Kubinka Tank Museum is the largest museum in the world of armored vehicles. Located just outside of Moscow, it houses more than 300 tanks and vehicles from throughout the 20th century. One of the most unique vehicles on display is the German super-heavy tank prototype known as the Panzer VIII Maus—one of just two made and the only one still in existence.
Other exhibits include the Troyanov heavy tank and a Karl-Gerat self-propelled artillery, as well as single and limited edition prototypes from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union and Cold War era tanks that were war trophies from the Middle East, Africa, Vietnam and Latin America. The vehicles are displayed throughout seven hangars, including four for Soviet and Russian armor alone, divided into heavy, medium, light and wheeled vehicles hangars. In 2000, all of the old vehicles were repainted in their original manner by Russian historical specialists.
The Bronze Horseman is a statue of Peter the Great on a horse. Catherine the Great had the statue built in the late 1700s to honor Peter the Great as the founder of the city of St. Petersburg. She commissioned the French sculptor Etienne-Maurice Falconet who had spent a long time studying the movements of horsemen on reared mounts. The horse stands on a rock meant to represent a cliff. This huge block of granite weighs more than 1,600 tons and took more than nine months to transport from the Gulf of Finland.
Visitors can still see an inscription on the stone that says "to Peter the First from Catherine the Second” in Latin on one side and in Russian on the other side. The statue faces west to represent Peter “leading Russia forward” because he drew inspiration from countries in the west. Legend has it that St Petersburg can never be taken by enemy forces as long as the statue remains standing in Senatskaya Square. You will often see newlyweds having their wedding photos taken in front of the statue.
Russia’s most famous street—the Champs-Élysées of St. Petersburg—runs for 3 miles (5 kilometers) through the city’s historic center from the Admiralty Building to Alexander Nevsky Lavra. Some of the city’s most impressive buildings line the street, including the Kazan Cathedral, Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood, and the Grand Europe Hotel.
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.
With its gigantic golden dome coated with over 220 pounds of gold and an impressive red granite portico, St. Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sobor) looks more like a palace than a cathedral, and it’s no surprise that the eye-catching masterpiece is among St. Petersburg’s most visited attractions. Commissioned by Tsar Alexander I in 1818 to mark the defeat of Napoleon, the magnificent cathedral took over 40 years to build and still ranks among the largest domed cathedrals in the world, with a capacity for up to 14,000 worshipers.
Set on the banks of the Neva River, the cathedral’s extravagant design was the work of French architect Auguste de Montferrand, blending Renaissance, Baroque and Neoclassical elements, and sparing no expenses. The cathedral interiors are equally lavish, featuring painstakingly sculpted reliefs, grand bronze doors and a colonnaded iconostasis adorned with semiprecious gems.
Today, the cathedral is only occasionally used for worship, instead serving as a museum and housing an impressive collection of 19th-century fine art and mosaics. For many visitors, the highlight is climbing the 300 steps to the cathedral's colonnade, from where the views expand over the city.
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.
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- Things to do in Moscow
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