The largest country in the world, Russia covers a vast swathe of the world’s inhabitable land and stretches from Scandinavia and Eastern Europe all the way to North Asia. While much of the country consists of endless plains, there are lots of different landscapes on show, with huge mountain ranges such as the Altai and Urals lying next to the Volga, Ob, and Lena rivers. Its 37,000 kilometer-long coastline adds yet more diversity.
Tucked away amongst all of this are world-class cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, as well as incredible natural sights such as Lake Baikal, Mount Elbrus, and the Kuril Islands.
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Central Russia makes up the historic heart and homeland of the country. It is here in the extreme west of Russia bordering Europe that you’ll find its glittering capital Moscow.
While the massive metropolis with all its beautiful architecture, fascinating cultural landmarks, lavish art galleries, and more is undoubtedly the main draw, the surrounding region has a wealth of interesting and impressive architectural and historical sights which are well worth checking out.
The Golden Ring is the most popular circuit to do. This takes you to cities such as Sergiev Posad, Suzdal, and Vladimir, all of which are blessed with beautiful buildings, Orthodox churches, and marvelous museums. In addition to this, there are lots of hidden gems for you to discover, with the charming village of Bogolyubovo and the national parks at Meschera just some of the stupendous sights that Central Russia has to offer up.
Bordering both Scandinavia and the Baltic countries, Northwestern Russia is home to a vast array of different landscapes. Endless forests, glimmering lakes, and lively cities give way to remote, desolate lands and the freezing world of the Arctic wastelands.
The main city in the region, Saint Petersburg, has long vied with Moscow for supremacy. It is arguably the country’s cultural capital, boasting a myriad of art galleries, theatres, museums, and a dazzling array of impressive architecture – as is best exhibited by its three enormous Tsarist palaces.
Other important cities to see in Northwestern Russia are Novgorod and Pskov, while Arkhangelsk and Murmansk are the places to head to if you want to explore the cold Arctic regions or the Barents Sea. Another must-see sight is the island of Kizhi on Lake Onega, which is famous for its delightful open-air museum and beautiful wooden churches.
With the Black Sea lying to one side of it and the Caspian Sea to the other, Southern Russian is a fascinating place to visit, as the mountain ranges in its south are full of different people, cultures, and customs. Elista, for example, is a fantastic city to visit; it boasts a number of Buddhist monasteries and is the capital of the only Buddhist region in Europe.
As it is blessed with the warmest climate in the country, the region is a very popular holiday destination. The fantastic beachside resort town of Sochi offers up the best of both worlds, as you can enjoy lots of great watersports in the summer and go skiing in the nearby mountains in winter.
Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don, and the spa town of Mineralnye Vody are some of the other interesting cities that you can visit in Southern Russia. Wherever you go, you’ll be greeted with beautiful scenery all around you, whether that’s in the shape of shimmering waterways or towering mountains.
Bordering Georgia and Azerbaijan, the North Caucasian region is an exhilarating place to visit. Its many mountains, valleys, and gorges are home to nearly 50 different ethnic groups, each with their own distinct language, culture, and customs.
As such, it is very different from the rest of Russia. In years gone by, several independence movements and local conflicts made for quite an unstable situation. Now however, more and more visitors are flocking to see its incredible sights and outstanding natural beauty.
Although its magnificent mountains such as Mount Elbrus – the tallest in Europe – are undoubtedly the main draw, the North Caucasian region has much more to offer. For a slice of ancient history, the city of Derbent remarkably has more than five thousand years of history for you to explore.
As the region also borders the Caspian Sea, there are some lovely beachside towns and resorts for you to check out, such as Makhachkala and Izberbash. Dombai is excellent for winter sports, and lots of people go hiking, climbing, or skiing in the captivating, mountain-filled Teberdinsky Nature Reserve.
Mostly made up of the Volga Basin and centered around the river of the same name, this wonderful region is home to some of Russia’s most important cities, and acts as the industrial heartland of the country.
For instance, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, and Volgograd count amongst the country’s largest and most important cities. Each has a wealth of interesting monuments, historical sights, and cultural landmarks for you to explore. For those interested in a bit of battle history, Volgograd was the setting for one of the 20th century’s most important and devastating wars – the Battle of Stalingrad.
While industrial cities and towns dominate the region, there is some lovely nature on show at Samarskaya Luna National Park. A popular pastime among both locals and visitors is to take a scenic cruise along the Volga River, which takes you down into the Caspian Sea.
Separating east from west, the region is named after the Ural Mountains that run through it and stretch all the way from the Arctic Circle right down to Kazakhstan. As they pass through various geographic zones, the landscapes on show are very diverse. While most of the mountains are forested, other parts are full of glittering lakes and rivers, while yet others are home to steep cliffs and gorgeous gorges.
Consequently, the region is a delight for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. You can go hiking, climbing, and camping in the mountains, while horse riding and skiing are also very popular.
While it is undoubtedly one of Russia’s most beautiful regions, Ural also has some fantastic cities ripe for exploring, with Yekaterinburg, Ufa, and Chelyabinsk the most alluring.
Any mention of Siberia immediately brings up images of endless Arctic wastelands and frozen, uninviting tundra stretching away into the distance. While the region certainly is vast, it is actually a lot more diverse than people imagine.
In the west, for example, there are swampy plains which give way to beautiful forests before you find towering mountains in the east. Here lies Lake Baikal, one of the deepest lakes in the world and nicknamed ‘the Pearl of Siberia.’ As such, it is only in the northern realms of the region that you find the frozen tundra as it is popularly imagined.
Bordering the Arctic Ocean in the north and Kazakhstan, China, and Mongolia in the south, Siberia has many different sides to it. It’s also home to two of the longest rivers in the world in the shape of the Ob and Lena. Novosibirsk, Irkutsk, and Omsk are some of its largest cities, and many travelers use them as a base from which to explore the astounding nature that surrounds them.
Russian Far East
Encompassing over a third of Russia’s vast territory, the Russian Far East is an enormous area which, for the most part, is very cold and unwelcoming. Yakutsk – the world’s coldest city – lies at its frosty center.
Due to its remote location and small population, the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Most of it lies untouched and unspoiled, far away from Russia’s main population centers in the west. The Pacific coastline, for instance, is stunningly beautiful, while the National Parks of Kamchatka boast towering mountains, imposing volcanoes, and steaming geysers.
Alongside rivers, lakes, and mountains, the region also has some beautiful islands such as Atlasov and Wrangel, which provide a myriad of fantastic outdoor activities for you to throw yourself into. In addition to all this, cities such as Vladivostok – the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway – are very multicultural due to the unique cultural make-up of the region.
Nestled away between Poland and Lithuania, Kaliningrad Oblast is actually an enclave on the Baltic Sea. As it was once part of Prussia, it is very distinct from the rest of the country.
A very popular holiday destination, the region has lots of fine sandy beaches and lovely resort towns for visitors to enjoy. Kaliningrad, Pionerskiy, and Svetlogorsk draw tons and tons of holidaymakers to their shores every year. Due to its long coastline, Kaliningrad Oblast has lots of great watersports, with swimming, sailing, and scenic boat trips all very popular.
One of its most incredible natural sights is the Curonian Split, a 98-kilometer sandy peninsula that is very long and narrow and separates the Curonian Lagoon from the Baltic Sea.