Russia, as any other country, has a very unique character and the best way to learn about it is to pay a visit. Moscow, the beating heart of Russia, is an excellent place to explore, however, as many capital cities, it may not reflect all the intricacies of the country’s character and it is always a good idea to travel around. Do not have two weeks+ for the full-on Trans-Siberian journey? Then why not try and explore the cities around Moscow, known by the beautiful name of Golden Ring and living up to this promising name! Here is the list of our favourites.
Rostov is one of the oldest Russian towns, first mentioned in 862. It is a quiet pretty place with a beautiful white Kremlin. Those who enjoy Russian cinema will recognize it from the film “Ivan Vasilievich: Back to the Future”, depicting a superintendent of a Soviet block of flats and a small-time burglar travelling back in time by accident and finding themselves in the time of Ivan the Terrible, who in his turn, sent to the 20th century also by mistake.
A few minutes away from the Kremlin you will find the stunning Nero Lake. Here you can either enjoy a walk or have a boat trip to see the surroundings.
Sergiev Posad has a very convenient location if the main destination of your Russian holiday is Moscow. It will only take you 1-1,5 hours to get here and you will not regret your time!
Sergiev Posad is home to the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius, the most important monastery in Russiafounded in the 14th century and one of the most significant spiritual centres of the Russian Orthodox Church. For its amazing beauty and cultural significance, it has also been protected by UNESCO.
Another interesting place worth visiting is the Museum of Toys. Here you will learn about traditional Russian toys and can even participate in a number of exciting workshops including Matryoshka doll painting!
Not far from Sergiev Posad you will find a picturesque Abramtsevo estate. It used to be a popular place among Russian writers and painters, and you can enjoy a very nice walk there if you like outdoors.
Located approximately 3-4 hours away by train from Moscow, Yaroslavl is the unofficial capital of the Golden Ring and the city you will find on the 1000-ruble banknote. The city got its name after its founder Prince Yaroslav the Wise. A son of Vladimir the Great, Yaroslav survived the attacks and managed to defeat his older brother, Sviatopolk, who took the lives of his other brothers and seized power in Kiev looking for supremacy. The city is full of exciting history and stunning buildings filled with the stories and legends of the past. In fact, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site the beauty of which has been recognized globally. Another great feature of the city is its nature. Yaroslavl lies on the bank of the Volga River and boats marvelous scenic views. One of the places to visit is Strelka – the place from which the city started growing (you will find a large stone at the place where the city was created with the words “On this spot Yaroslav the Wise founded Yaroslavl in 1010) and where you can find a lovely park with an embankment as well as the monument celebrating 1000 year of the city (built in 2010).
Known jokingly among Russians as a town of brides, Ivanovo is the youngest Golden Ring city. Ivanovo does However, it does not affect its charm and the place is definitely worth a visit if you want to know more about traditional life style and Russian culture.
So why is Ivanovo called the town of brides? The town became prominent due to its fast development in the field of textile trade (some people even jokingly call it Russian Manchester) into which mainly women were involved. They produced and processed different kinds of fabrics. Therefore, there was a gender disproportion in the town. More than that, the coat of arms of the town is a weaving woman wearing a bridal veil, which added more vividness to the image of Ivanovo as the town of brides.
The town also has pretty curious architecture. The most interesting buildings reflecting it are the ship-building and the horseshoe-building.
Similar to Yaroslavl, Vladimir owes its name to a Russian monarch, however, the opinions split about whether the city was named after Vladimir Monomakh, who inherited the region as part of the Rostov-Suzdal Principality or after another Vladimir: Vladimir the Great, who is known in Russia as an establisher of Russian Orthodoxy.
Vladimir is mostly known for its so called White Monuments, inscribed by UNESCO on the World Heritage List. Among them the breath-taking Assumption Cathedral with its traditional onion domes, one of the first and most influential ones in Medieval Russia, The Golden Gate, which used to serve as a tower over the city's main gate and The Cathedral of Saint Demetrius with its intricate carvings.
The city will be an unforgettable discovery for any history enthusiast and it is located only 2 hours away from Moscow by a fast train.
Next stop is Suzdal, an open-air museum of Russia known for its old traditional architecture and keeping the pre-industrialisation character. It is located only 30-kilometres away from Vladimir and can be easily reached from there. We would recommend an overnight on Vladimir with a trip to Suzdal next day.
One of the best things about Suzdal is that you can explore the whole of it on foot due to its miniature size. Explore the intricate wooden architecture, discover the Spaso-Yefimiev Monastery and treat yourself with berries, sbiten’, medovukha and other Russian specialties at the local market! A great place to buy souvenirs as well!
Even though Kostroma is the furthest from Moscow in comparison to other cities of the Golden Ring (you would have to travel on a sleeper train), it has a fascinating history which will empress any history lover. Among many interesting facts about Kostroma, the city was founded by the same person who founded Moscow i.e. Grand Prince Yury Dolgoruky. It also had a special significance for the Romanovs Royal dynasty because the first Romanov Tsar, Tsar Mikhail, lived quietly here in Ipatievsky Monastery until he was summoned to Moscow to rule, which was a big shock for the young and tender boy he had been.
More than that, lying on the Volga river, Kostroma boast magnificent views and in the surroundings of the city it is possible to rent a boat and go fishing or just relax in the sun on a warm summer day.
Another city founded by the founder of Moscow Grand Prince Yury Dolgoruky. The city boasts beautiful onion domes of its churches and monasteries as well as connections to such important personalities in Russian history as Aleksandr Nevsky and Peter the Great. The former was born here while the latter used to have a toy flotilla in Pereslavl-Zalessky on Lake Plescheevo. It is not a secret that Peter the Great was fascinated by ships and shipbuilding. He even travelled anonymously around Europe pretending to be a sailor – here is where he fell in love with it and where the idea of St Petersburg was conceived. Pereslavl-Zalessky is where he young tsar developed his passion and it keeps a lot of history related to that time.
For outdoors enthusiast Lake Plescheevo is a great place to swim in summer or rent a boat and enjoy fishing. The place is popular with campers and has a lot of tourist bases around.