Russia is the largest country on earth and full of famous and unknown sights. Everyone knows Moscow and Saint Petersburg, at least from photos. But Russia is above all a country for explorers, a great unknown. We take you on a journey through Russia and show us our top 20 tourist attractions in Russia, which includes some well-known, but also some unknown sights. By the way, if you click here, you will go directly to our practical Russia travel tips.
Kremlin and Red Square in Moscow
The Kremlin is, in a way, the nucleus of Russia and the oldest part of Moscow. Here, throughout history (at least when Petersburg was not the capital), all the threads came together. Over the centuries, a gigantic complex was created, including churches, palaces and treasuries. Leaving the Kremlin, one stands in Red Square and finds an abundance of sights here as well. It is quite creepy to pay a visit to old Lenin in his mausoleum on the Kremlin wall. St. Basil’s Cathedral, on the other hand, with its colorful spires, is the very symbol of Russia. Opposite it stands the impressive History Museum. And across from the Kremlin wall stretches GUM, an iconic shopping temple where there is nothing you can’t find.
The total contrast to the magnificent buildings in the center can be experienced in Moscow City. It is located only about 5 km from the Kremlin, which is a stone’s throw in a city like Moscow. Work began here in the mid-1990s on Moscow’s modern business and banking center, which has since surpassed all superlatives. Of the ten tallest buildings in Europe, eight (!) are located here, at least until the Varso Tower in Warsaw is completed. But let’s get back to Moscow City: A walk here is primarily something for photography and architecture fans, with viewing platforms offering fabulous views of the city. The fact that Moscow City is not yet a mature neighborhood is also noticeable; in the evenings, there is (still) relatively little going on here by Moscow standards.
South of the center is the old tsarist residence Kolomenskoye. In architectural history, the buildings erected here marked a milestone, as they meant a departure from the Byzantine building forms common until the 16th century and were instrumental in the development of a “Russian style” in architecture. You can explore snow-white stone churches, old wooden churches and a picturesque wooden palace here. The most beautiful building is the Ascension Cathedral, which commemorates the birth of Ivan the Terrible and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
Hermitage and Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg
Let’s stay focused on World Heritage Sites, but change the city and go to Saint Petersburg, perhaps the most beautiful city in Russia. The number of sights in St. Petersburg is so large that we could easily list 100 objects here. But since we have to limit ourselves, we want to highlight the Hermitage, perhaps the most interesting museum in the world. More than 3 million objects are in the fundus. Picasso, Rubens, Rembrandt, Da Vinci & Co. are presented in a uniquely beautiful setting. History was also written here. The Winter Palace, the former main residence of the Tsar, was stormed by the Bolsheviks during the October Revolution, which was later heroized as the “Storming of the Winter Palace” and marked the beginning of communist rule in Russia.
Nevsky Prospekt in Saint Petersburg
Nevsky Prospekt is the main traffic axis of Saint Petersburg and the most famous street in the country. The street was created in the 18th century and is home to numerous magnificent buildings from the tsarist era. On its sides rise magnificent cathedrals and idyllic canals, beautiful Art Nouveau stores and high-class shopping temples. In short, it will take you hours to walk the 4.5 km long street, because there is so much to discover that you could easily fill an entire vacation just exploring Nevsky Prospekt and its surroundings.
The surrounding area of Petersburg also offers numerous opportunities for discovery. Especially the palaces of the tsars stand out here. The most beautiful of them is Peterhof. The summer residence of the tsars is also known as the “Russian Versailles” and is in no way inferior to its French model. The cascading fountains with their golden statues are among the most famous Russian sights and the palaces house several museums that you should plan at least one day to explore.
The Amber Room in Catherine Palace
The Catherine Palace in Tsarskoye Selo also served as a residence for the tsars during the summer months. The baroque building is strongly reminiscent of St. Petersburg’s Winter Palace. Destroyed by the Wehrmacht during World War II, it was impressively rebuilt after the war. The highlight of the magnificent palace is the Amber Room. The original was lost during the war, and to this day there are numerous legends about its whereabouts. Today, however, you can admire a reconstructed version of the Amber Room, which is in no way inferior to the original and can be called one of the most beautiful art objects in the world with a clear conscience.
Far to the east of Petersburg lies Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe. Here there are countless islands, including the elongated Kishi Island. On it there are several churches, one of them is the Transfiguration Church. It is considered to be the only multi-domed church in the world of wooden construction. The 22 Russian onion domes are among the most beautiful things Russia has to offer. But also the other buildings on the island will not disappoint you, because you can expect more than 60 historic wooden buildings, which are now combined into an open-air museum.
South of the Kola Peninsula stretches the White Sea. The Solovetsky Islands are located in the middle of this bitterly cold tributary of the Arctic Ocean. Here stands a monastery that is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but it was also here that Russia’s first large prison camp was established, which became exemplary for the Soviet Gulag system and inspired Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s Archipelago Gulag. But also the nature knows to inspire and stone-age stone labyrinths still puzzle scientists here. As you can see, there is a lot to discover on the Solovetsky Islands!
Mount Elbrus is the highest peak of the Caucasus and is located not far from the Georgian border. It is 5642 meters high and thus the highest mountain in Europe, if you still count the Caucasus as part of Europe. For a long time the mountain was considered taboo, because Persian spirits, the Divs, are said to have lived here (see also our article on Rasim Babayev, the Caucasus Picasso). Today you can easily go up to 3500 by cable car and ski here, but Elbrus and the Northern Caucasus are also ideal as a hiking area.
Never heard of Suzdal? In the West, the city of only 10,000 inhabitants is relatively unknown. Suzdal is one of the oldest cities in Russia and part of the so-called Golden Ring. This term is used to describe several ancient Russian cities north of Moscow, which can be considered the cradle of Russian civilization. In Suzdal, time seems to have stopped a bit. Today, a Kremlin, a cathedral with blue domes and a beautiful monastery complex bear witness to the former wealth of the city. Here you can experience the old, pre-modern Russia like in hardly any other place!
Yaroslavl is also part of the Golden Ring, but with over half a million inhabitants it is significantly larger than Suzdal. Beautifully situated on the Volga River, the city is over 1000 years old and was at times something like the capital of the Tsarist Empire. The center resembles a symphony of baroque and classicist buildings and on my first visit to the city over ten years ago, I was sad to move on again, there is so much to see here. By the way, it’s not far from Yaroslavl to Kostroma, where people still speak their own dialect and where the magnificent Sussanin Square is home to numerous classicist buildings.
Kaliningrad and the Curonian Spit
Kaliningrad was formerly called Königsberg and one of the biggest cities of Germany. Königsberg was of great importance for German history and has belonged to Russia since the end of the Second World War. It was heavily destroyed and only in recent years serious attempts are being made to preserve Kaliningrad’s historical heritage. Nevertheless, there is a lot to see in the Russian exclave north of Masuria. From here, you are also close to the Curonian Spit and the Vistula Lagoon, which are separated from the Baltic Sea by two narrow headlands and will delight both beach and amber fans.
Veliky Novgorod is also a city with a rich history. The Kremlin is over 1000 years old and was the center of the eponymous principality and the later Republic of Novgorod. This was something like the northeastern outpost of the Hanseatic League, from here the coveted furs were shipped to Europe. Gaining wealth through trade, some magnificent churches and palaces were built here, most of which are located within the Kremlin walls. A highlight is also the National Monument 1000 Years of Russia from 1862, which commemorates the “beginning” of Russian history with the onset of the Rurikids’ rule over Novgorod.
We are taking a leap into faraway Siberia. Word has spread to the west that there are numerous natural beauties here. One of these beauties is Lake Baikal. At 1642 meters, it is the deepest and also the oldest lake in the world. Its area is bigger than for example than that of the US state of Maryland. A tourist highlight is a visit to Olkhon Island with its high mountains and untouched nature. But also on the shores of Lake Baikal there is a lot to see, especially a unique, and protected landscape.
Derbent may be the place in our list that the fewest people know. Although the city has over 100,000 inhabitants, it is located in the conflict-ridden republic of Dagestan. Picturesquely situated on the Caspian Sea, it reflects the multicultural heritage of Russia with its many peoples like no other place. Derbent has existed since ancient times and over the course of time Persians and Azerbaijanis have left their mark here. Today, Lezgians, Azerbaijanis and Tabassarans live here. And there is a lot to see: Because of its fortress and the old town surrounded by an old wall with its mosques and hammams, Derbent was even declared a World Heritage Site in 2003.
The Statue “Motherland Calls” of Volgograd
Volgograd has been called Volgograd only since 1961. Before that, the city was known as Stalingrad and embodied the horrors of war, but also the turning point on the Eastern Front. Much of the old building fabric fell victim to the German destructive frenzy and it is like a miracle how the city has risen like a phoenix from the ashes. The horrors of the war, but also the Soviet triumph, are recalled by the monumental statue “The Motherland Calls”. With its 85 meters and expressive face, it is considered an icon of Soviet architecture and the symbol of the Soviet struggle against Nazi Germany.
The volcanoes of Kamchatka
The Kamchatka Peninsula opposite Alaska is considered one of the most remote regions in the world. For nature lovers it represents a paradise. Kamchatka is about the size of Montana, but only about as many people live here as in Pittsburgh. The bitterly cold region is best known for its volcanoes, which have been declared a UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site. The most famous of them is the seething Kljutschewskaja Sopka, but in its immediate vicinity there are eleven other volcanoes. But the Valley of Geysers is also a real highlight. Here you can find about 90 hot springs, which blow their boiling hot interior to the earth’s surface.
Ever since Sochi hosted the Olympic Games, everyone knows the city on the “Russian Riviera”. Picturesquely situated on the Black Sea, the city offers something for everyone: you can spend your beach vacation here or visit a Formula 1 race. Above all, however, it is the mountain world in the immediate vicinity that inspires and is a paradise for hikers and winter sports enthusiasts. For this reason, Sochi is one of the most popular Russian vacation destinations and attracts tourists all year round.
The Kul Sharif Mosque in Kazan
The last item on our list of the most beautiful Russia sights is located on the Volga, the lifeline of Russia. With over 1 million inhabitants, the capital of Tatarstan is a feast for the eyes. Just as in Derbent, the multi-ethnic character of Russia is evident here. The Muslim Tatars built many magnificent mosques here over the course of time, of which the Kul Sharif Mosque towers above all others in terms of splendor. Yet it is only about 15 years old! It stands in the middle of the Kazan Kremlin, not far from the Cathedral of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary, and is intended as a symbol of the peaceful coexistence of cultures in this multifaceted city.
Tourist attractions in Russia Book Recommendations
You want to discover the many Russia sights or want to find out more about the country? Then we recommend the following books!
This international bestseller is a true masterpiece and gets very close to what people reffer to as the “Russian soul” by focusing on the cultural history of the country.
- Morel, Thierry (Author)
Planning a trip to Russia? Then the Lonely Planet travel guide with lots of information about tourist attractions in Russia and many practical tips is a good choice.
You want to feel the magic of Saint Petersburg and its surroundings? This book is full of information and beautiful pictures and take you to the glorious past of the Tsar’s empire.
Beautiful book about Soviet metro stations, that are among the most fascinating in the world