19 Incredible Places to Visit in Russia
Stretching from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Bering Sea in the east, covering more than 17, 000, 000 square kilometres, Russia is a country of an incredible size and charming beauty. From the bustling megalopolises of Moscow and St Petersburg to the quiet romantic towns of Vladimir and Yaroslavl, from the picturesque winding rivers of Volga and Yenisey to the forested mountain peaks of Ural and Altai, Russia has something to offer even to the most demanding tourist. Looking for fresh ideas for your Russian holiday? Here is the list of our top highlights to see in Russia .
Located at the border where Russia meets Finland, Karelia is one of the most picturesque places in Russia. It combines the charm of Nordic wilderness with the untouched Russian beauty. Cristal clear lakes, waterfalls and trees growing on the cliffs, Karelia has it all. In fact, the two largest lakes in Europe, Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, are located here. You can rent a boat, go diving, hiking, or just enjoy a picnic on the bank. One of the must-see places in Karelia is the 10.7-m-high cascade waterfall, Kivach. A favourite place to visit for poets, writers and even Alexander II, the famous Russian monarch. A perfect destination for those who enjoy energetic holidays.
Sharing its border with Kazakstan, Mongolia and China, Altai boasts more than 7000 lakes, snowy mountains, virgin forests and diverse wildlife. Lake Teletskoye or Mount Belukha are the two gems of the region. Surrounded by the mountains and legends, Lake Teletskoe is one of the deepest and clearest in the world. Here you can enjoy the wilderness not only by hiking but also by taking water, bicycle, air and road trips! Meanwhile, Belukha Mountain is Siberia’s highest peak not to be missed. Listed as a UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage, the mountain is a perfect place to go climbing. However, book your trip in advance as you will need to receive special border permits.
From snow-capped mountains and wild lakes to the city break in the western exclave of Russia. Kaliningrad is a unique mixture of Western traditions and Russian culture. Home to Immanuel Kant, the city is home to many museums, theatres and architectural masterpieces. While in Kaliningrad, do not forget to visit the Curonian Spit, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a special place in Baltic mythology. It will pleasantly surprise you not only by its wild beauty but also by its fauna. Lucky visitors will have a chance to meet the wild deer inhabiting the area.
4 Wrangel Island
Located in the Arctic Ocean, this place is one of the coldest you can find on Earth but in return, you get an amazingly diverse ecosystem. Wrangel Island is home to musk oxen, snow geese, Arctic foxes, polar bears, and many other gorgeous animals and birds. Interestingly, the island was one of the last places where you could find woolly mammoths on Earth. Since 1976 the Island ‘s unique flora and fauna have been protected by the government and were given the status of the Wrangel Island Nature Reserve. Nowadays, it is a popular space for expeditions, photography and science. The island is a beloved place for scientists, nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. If you are looking for a unique and unforgettable travel experience, Wrangel Island is the perfect place for you. But don’t forget your mittens!
5 Elton Lake
Elton Lake is a true natural wonder: a saline lake located not far from Volgograd boasts not only its unusual beauty, but also healing powers. Its salted water, also known as Rapa, is believed to help cure different health problems. For that reason, a spa resort and a sanatorium are located in close vicinity of the lake to help people combine relaxation with healthcare. The lake is known since the times of Ivan the Terrible and has always been a place of interest for many centuries. We recommend going to the lake to see the sunset when the lake acquires a light pink tint, it is the time of day which is very popular with photographers!
6 White nights in St Petersburg
From late May to early June St Petersburg turns into the city of continuous daylight. This romantic, lively period is called Belye Nochi or White Nights when for several summer weeks days become indistinguishable from nights. Do not miss this opportunity to enjoy the city 24 hours! The highlight of White Nights is the annual White Nights of St Petersburg Festival full of night-time fun. It traditionally begins with the “Stars of White Nights” at Mariinsky Theatre, which includes almost daily operas and ballets featuring Russian and international stars. Some events are held outdoors too!
The beauty of Lake Baikal has been mesmerising tourists and local alike for centuries. The deepest lake in the world, it attracts visitors with its crystal clean waters and untouched nature. It will pleasantly surprise those keen on hiking as it is surrounded by many hiking paths known as the Great Baikal Trail. The best way to explore it would be to stop at the village of Listvyanka located in close vicinity to the lake and the start of the Great Baikal Trail. Apart from stunning nature, here you can enjoy a number of local museums and a local market with traditional food! You can also rent an all-terrain vehicle or a bike at Baikal-Visit Info Center or go dog-sledging in winter.
8 The Urals
Running from the Kara Sea in the north to Kazakstan in the south the Urals divide Europe and Asia. The Urals are known as the “treasure box” of Russia for their beauty and abundance of natural recourses such as coal, gold, semi-precious stones and more. The region has always inspired writers and poets and was visited by Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak and Pavel Bazhov, famous Russian writers. When exploring the region do not forget to visit Zyuratkul National Park, a Russian National Park located no more than 200 km away from Chelyabinsk. Zyuratkul National Park is famous for its unique Zyuratkul Lake, known as “Ural Ritsa” for its clear water and breath-taking landscape.
9 Kola Peninsula
Lying almost completely inside the Arctic Circle, Kola Peninsula is a place of unique natural beauty bounded by the White and the Barents seas. The Peninsula is a perfect place to visit for adventure travelers looking for extreme and unusual environments: mountains, forests, endless tundra and wonderful natural life will not leave you indifferent.
10 Lake Ladoga
Located not far from St Petersburg (about 40 kilometers to the east), this amazing lake is definitely worth a visit. Lake Ladoga is the largest in Europe and one of the biggest lakes in the world: 6,700 square miles (17,600 square km) in area and 136 miles (219 km) long with around 660 islands! The lake played a historical role during the WWII saving many lives. During the Siege of St Petersburg (known as Leningrad during the Soviet Era) from 1941 to 1943, Lake Ladoga was the only hope of the confined population as it connected the area with the rest of the Soviet Union. It was used to supply the population with food and evacuate the sick and wounded when possible.
11 Caucasus Mountains
Separating the Black and the Caspian Sea, Caucasus mountains are known for their unspoilt nature, fresh air and for hosting the Winter Olympic games in 2014. Mount Elbrus remains one of the main highlights of the region. It is known as the highest mountain in Europe and has been fascinating its visitors for centuries with its picturesque snow peaks and natural beauty! The Elbrus races, international skyrunning competitions ranging from 8 to 77 kilometres in length, regularly takes place in the mountains attracting people from all over the world. The Elbrus mountain has several climbing routs available for true adventure seekers.
12 Black Sea
If you associate Russia with cold weather and snow, think again! Black sea will be a pleasant surprise for you. In this popular beach resort in Russia the weather can go higher than 30 degrees in summer! The region is known for its health resorts, vibrant nightlife and beautiful embankments teaming with local food stalls, street entertainers and quirky shops. The most popular resorts of the region are Sochi, Adler, Anapa and Gelendzhik. Black Sea is also a great treat for active holiday makers. If your idea of fun goes beyond spending days lying in the sun, you can explore diving, surfing and a lot of massive water parks in almost every resort city! While exploring the coastline, you will also come across many secluded beaches perfect for romantic holidays!
Located at the base of the Caucasus this place is home to the best health resorts in Russia. Yessentuki boasts a number of mineral springs at least 20 of which have proven medical value. In fact, one of the most famous mineral water chains has the name of Yessentuki – the place of its origin. Another interesting fact about Yessentuki is its Greek heritage. The city is considered to be the cultural capital of Russia’s Greek population and around ten percent of the modern population have Greek roots.
If you are visiting Yessentuki, do not forget to pay a visit to Lake Tambukan. This lake with bitter-salt water is widely used for mud cures in Yessentuki. The positive effect of the waters and the climate of the region on health have always been very well-known, and the place became a favourite retreat for prominent Russians such as Feodor Chaliapin, Anton Chekhov, and Leo Tolstoy.
14 Virgin Komi Forests
The Virgin Komi Forests is the largest virgin forest you can find in Europe and therefore it boasts unique incomparable flora and fauna. In fact, the territory is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is home to more than 40 mammal species such as brown bear, sable and elk, 204 bird species such as erne and fish hawk, 16 fish species, the most rare of which are the ice age relics Lake Char and the Arctic grayling. Its pointy fur trees and pure waters will charm any nature enthusiast and will charge any visitor with its energy and harmony.
Subject for many jokes among Russian speakers in the European part, Kamchatka is located quite far from touristy, densely populated cities. Nevertheless, the place boasts incomparable beauty and is known as a place of bears and volcanoes. If you are travelling to Kamchatka, Avachinskaya Sopka is a must-see. This active volcano located only 30 kilometers away from the capital of peninsula, Petropavlovsk – Kamchatsky and last erupted in 2008. You can see it, majestically towering, from any point in the city making an amazing view for visitors and residents of the city alike. Another place to see is the Valley of Geysers - the second largest concentration of geysers in the world. Only reachable by helicopters, it is one of the main gems of Kamchatka, full of hot springs, waterfalls and lakes. See the steam rising over the cold land – Kamchatka is a land of contrasts indeed!
16 Charsky Sands
Charsky Sands is a natural wonder hidden in the seemingly endless forests and mountains of Siberia. This mysterious place is also known as the most unusual desert on the planet surrounded by forests, rivers and mountains. This most northern desert in the world will surprise you with its warm golden-orange colours in the middle of the icy steppe and towering snowy mountains. An amazing blend of the two seemingly incompatible sceneries make Charsky Sands an outstanding discovery for any nature enthusiast and adventure lover.
Image: musatych, Wikimedia Commons
17 City of the Dead
This place is for those not for fraidy cats. Surrounded by myths and legends this necropolis is spooky and enchanting at the same time. Located not far from the village of Dargavs, it comprises 99 different tombs and crypts, some of them may be as old as 12th century. The crypts have quite a unique look to them reminding you of mushrooms scattered around the hill, they have curved roofs going inwards in steps with a pointed peak at the top. There are few roads leading to the area and for that reason it is not widely visited by the locals of the surrounding villages or tourists. Another reason is the legend, that those who dare walk in, would never come back out alive.
18 Stolby Nature Sanctuary
‘Stolby’ means ‘pillars’ in Russian language and the sanctuary has this name because of its pillar-shaped rocks of volcanic origin. If you are fond of hiking and climbing, this ecological nature reserve will not leave you disappointed. The regular Stolby visitors call themselves "stolbists", and the activity of going to the place as a whole is known as "stolbism" by the local people.The site is known for its dramatic complexes of rocks some of them being open to tourists and sports enthusiasts from all over the world. Don’t like hiking? Take the all-year-round chairlift to enjoy the amazing views from the top!
19 Lena Pillars
Similar to Stolby, Lena Pillars are a spectacular breath-taking rock formation located along the banks of the Lena River in far eastern Siberia. Protected by Greenpeace this place is also on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The pillars are composed of Cambrian limestone rock formed more than 500 million years ago making it a special place for archeologists, biologists and nature lovers. The pillars are the product of the region’s extreme continental climate where annual temperature ranges by almost a 100 degrees Celsius (from –60 °C in winter to +40 °C in summer.
Related links and articles:
Our adventure tours to Russia - https://into-russia.co.uk/tour-packages/adventure-tours
Greenpeace on Lena Pillars - http://www.greenpeace.org/russia/en/campaigns/world-natural-heritage/nature-park-lena-pillars/
Russia travel blog - http://russiatrek.org/blog/
Excellent articles on Russian art, culture and travel - https://theculturetrip.com/europe/russia/
Breath-taking photos of Stolby Nature Sanctuary - http://russiatrek.org/blog/nature/stolby-nature-sanctuary-in-krasnoyarsk/