Very often when choosing the destination for their debut visit to Russia, international tourists decide to stick to two of the country’s major tourism magnets – Moscow and St. Petersburg. While a weekend spent partying in the capital or a whole week of museum hopping in its northern rival make for an excellent introduction, Russia is just too big, too different, and too fascinating, and to miss out on the rest of it would be like leaving a Michelin star restaurant before the main course. We hope after reading this magazine, you’d be packing your bags to catch the next flight into the heart of Russia, but for those travelers who prefer a little conciseness, here is our (incomplete!) list of reasons to visit the Russian regions.
- To join the beach bums in Sochi and check out the results of the government’s 12 billion dollar investment into the iconic Black Sea resort. Also, go skiing on the state-of-the-art Olympic tracks in Krasnaya Polyana.
- To circle the ten ancient Russian towns of the Golden Ring route northeast from Moscow. Seven of them are UNESCO World Heritage sites
- Russian Regions have the highest concentration of female beauty in the world. Maria Sharapova is from the small Siberian town of Nagyan, Miss Universe Oksana Fedorova was born in Pskov and Christiano Ronaldo’s girlfriend Irina Sheik hails from the Chelyabinsk Region.
- To take the 14-day train journey of a lifetime on the Trans-Siberian Express from Moscow to Vladivostok. Everyone talks about doing it. You actually will.
- To dip your feet in Lake Baikal, the oldest, the deepest, and the clearest in the world. It contains roughly 20 percent of Earth’s unfrozen fresh water and is beautiful beyond belief. Ride a troika across Baikal’s frozen expanse if you find yourself near Irkutsk during the winter months.
- To jump off a helicopter and ski down a dormant volcano in Kamchatka. Film yourself walking the Martian terrain of Kamchatka’s Kronotsky Nature Reserve, or as it is known, the Land of Fire and Ice.
- To meditate in the Subarctic Solovetskiy Monastery, where God has replaced Gulag.
- To kayak your way down the 5,500-kilometer Yenisey River, the largest river system that flows to the Arctic Ocean.
- To go wild moose hunting with the indigenous people of Chukotka.
- To see Volgograd, where over 2 million people died in the bloodiest battle in the history of warfare, the Battle of Stalingrad. Stand at the feet of the Motherland Calls! – one of the tallest and most impressive sculptures in the world.
- To watch the magical glowing Aurora Borealis erupt across the sky in Murmansk, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle.
- To climb and stand on top of Mount Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe.
- To listen to the unique sound of Tuvan throat singing in Tuva. The singers do an excellent job of imitating nature’s sounds from birds to waterfalls.
- To indulge in some authentic Siberian pelmeni, or beef and pork dumplings. Sure, you can find this popular Russian food all over the country, but only Siberians dunk their pelmeni in soup, fill them with cabbage and even jam.
- To go reindeer sledding through the frozen taiga and the valleys of the imposing Siberian Lena River in the Sakha Republic.
- To pray with Buddhist monks in the Ivolginsky Temple in Buryatiya, which was the only Buddhist spiritual center in the Soviet Times. The Temple is famous for the miraculously preserved body of Lama Dashi-Dorzho Itigelov, who died in the middle of meditation here in 1927. Almost seventy years later, his body was exhumed. It showed no sign of decay, even though it was neither embalmed nor mummified.
- To spend a night in a classic yurt in Yakutiya, either with a family of deer breeders or alone, listening to tundra’s whispers.
- To spend a day relaxing in the magnificent 19th century Narzan Spa in Kislovodsk, where the likes of Mikhail Lermontov used to shake off worldly fatigue. Buy a case of the “cure-all” mineral water, famous for its distinguished salty taste, to take home.
- To find out what’s inscribed on Immanuel Kant’s tombstone in Kaliningrad.
- To investigate the mystery of the last Romanovs in Yekaterinburg, where the Russian Royal Family was imprisoned and brutally murdered in 1918. The official version has been disputed by several alleged survivors, some of whom were disquietingly convincing.
- To sweat out your sins and worries in the traditional Siberian banya. The potentially brutal birch-branch “massage” should help with the sins and the subsequent snow-jump is guaranteed to make you feel born again. Once you feel sufficiently purified, start working on the sins again with a glass of vodka, pickled cucumbers, and some fun Siberian company.
- To test your courage at rafting down the Ilgumen rapid and Kadrin break on the Katun River in Altai. Rough, tough, and potentially deadly, this is not for the faint-hearted.
- To test the much more serene waters of Mother Volga, the largest river in Europe, in the luxury of a cruise ship. Opt for a 7-day trip to start out in Moscow and make stops in the picturesque Golden Ring town of Uglich, ancient Yaroslavl, boomtown Nizhniy Novgorod, the happening Tatar capital Kazan, then on to Samara, Saratov, and Volgograd. A Volga cruise is arguably the best place on Earth for drinking sweet Russian cherry tea and absorbing Chekov. Disembark in the world’s caviar capital, Astrakhan to stock up on a couple of cans as a bonus.
- To marvel at the wooden churches of Kizhi Pogost in Karelia. They were built without the use of a single nail in the 17th century.
- To understand the “mysterious Russian soul”. Should you fail, take the advice of the great Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev, which he put in this famous poem about the utter futility of the attempts to understand Russia:
You will not grasp her with your mind Or cover with a common label, For Russia is one of a kind — Believe in her, if you are able.