The riches of Russia are as extensive as its geography – it’s the world’s largest country with a fascinating cultural heritage and more varied landscape than you could ever find time to explore.
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The cities are full of artistic treasures, and the countryside is serene and dramatic, with remote communities that demonstrate the vast cultural diversity and natural variety of this intriguing land. Russia’s cities have plenty to explore, from wonderful museums and monuments to Russia’s historic past, to vibrant restaurants and exclusive bars that tempt you in for a vodka-fuelled party. Russians are passionate, fiercely traditional and offer boundless hospitality to visitors – it’s an extraordinary country that can be hard for visitors to fathom, but your perseverance will be rewarded ten times over.
Food and drink
Dining in Russia has experienced its own revolution in the past 20 years. Until the 1990s the only restaurants were stiff and formal affairs with starched linens, visited only on special occasions. But 21st century Russia offers a world of dining options, from casual bistros serving local and international cuisine, to cool and fashionable restaurants serving caviar with a touch of Russian style. Historically Russian food was designed for surviving long winters, with rich and hearty dishes like Beef Stroganoff accompanied by bread and potatoes. If you prefer something a little lighter, traditional Borscht is a delicious beetroot soup served with sour cream. Vodka is an important part of Russian culture, and you may well be asked to take part in a complex vodka-drinking ritual if you have a night out with the locals!
Russia has embraced the market economy over recent years, making it a great shopping destination for visitors. Russia’s new class of wealthy and well-heeled do their shopping in the designer stores and couture houses of Moscow and St Petersburg, whilst locals rummage in the department stores and outdoor markets for wines, ceramics, glassware, jewellery and toys. Caviar and vodka make great value souvenirs, along with delicate Lomonosov porcelain and Fabergé eggs from St. Petersburg and matryoshka dolls and fine china from the Izmailovsky Market in Moscow.
If you want to learn about Russia’s history, you’ll find everything you want in the museums and monuments of Moscow. However, if you want to understand the country’s culture, you need to visit St Petersburg. It’s a wonderful and engrossing showcase of Russia’s art, literature, architecture and nightlife, and will help you truly understand the country that gave the world philosophers and writers like Tolstoy and Pushkin. Modern Russia is fuelled by a new wave of creativity and drive, yet Russians hold tight to their deep-rooted set of values and traditions. Hospitality is very much part of Russian culture, so visitors can expect to receive one of the warmest welcomes in the world.
Russia is immense, and has one of the worst road safety records in the world, so hiring a car and driving yourself is not recommended. However Russia’s trains are well-maintained and efficient, whether you’re travelling between cities or taking a grand trip from Moscow to Beijing on the Trans-Siberian Railway, though the stunning landscape of Mongolia. Bus travel is common in Russia, and many locals will think nothing of taking a bus to a city 5 or 6 hours away, but long distances are between cities are best covered by air. Once you’re in the cities, you’ll find good metro, tram and bus services that will take you anywhere you need to go.
Things to watch out for
Russia has some wonderful resorts away from the cities that attract fewer tourists, although they’re popular with Russians enjoying a holiday! The Black Sea coast resort of Sochi offers both seaside attractions and opportunities to ski in the nearby mountains – the resort hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics, and has been spruced up accordingly. Lake Baikal is known as ‘the Blue Eye of Siberia,’ it’s the oldest and deepest lake in the world, and a beautiful spot to explore.