An absolute giant of a country, Russia spans an amazing 12.5% of the worlds inhabited land area and sits across two continents, stretching from Eastern Europe to North Asia. The fusion of these two distinct cultures comes together to form a country of epic proportions. Spanning an amazing 11 time zones, it is the world’s 9th most populous country with a population of around 146.77 million people, most of which live in the west of the country, leaving a major part of the interior largely uninhabited. The country borders a huge number of countries, from Norway in the northwest corner to North Korea and China in the East, and is separated from the U.S. state of Alaska, by only 82 kilometres, through the Bering Strait.
The huge metropolis and capital city of Moscow, contains some of Russia’s most iconic buildings and architecture, whilst the other most visited city, St Petersburg, is a cultural centre filled with artistic treasures and relics of the Russian Empire. Other notable cities include Nizhny Novgorod and Yekaterinburg. Although a tour of Russia will often only scratch the surface of this enormous country, the treasures to be found in the most popular cities and sights will leave all visitors with a sense of wonder at the unique culture and fascinating history of this global giant.
Sights in Russia
Travellers on a holiday to Russia will no doubt desire to soak up the charms of its most iconic sights. Moscow’s Red Square, a huge square in the city centre, stands out as the ultimate spectacle for the multi-coloured patterned dome of the St. Basil Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the mighty State Historical Museum and the iconic GUM Department Store, all of which are located on the square. It is most famous as an urban space that acted as the focal point for many of the demonstrations and parades of the Soviet-era and in recent years has been the stage for various high-profile music concerts. After Red Square, the Kremlin complex is considered another of the capitals unmissable highlights, today the official residence of the President, and houses several important buildings, including the Grand Kremlin Palace, once the home of the Tsars and a number of cathedrals, towers and palaces. Another of the most popular tour routes in Russia is the prestigious Golden Ring, a tourist route northeast of Moscow which passes through towns and cities such as Suzdal, Yaroslavl and Vladimir and beautifully showcases the country’s rich cultural and architectural heritage. In the grand city of St. Petersburg, the Hermitage Museum, which abounds with masterpiece artworks, and the Winter Palace, the historic residence of the Russian Emperors, stand out as two of city’s highlights. A package holiday to Russia is the best way to immerse yourself in the splendour of the country’s imperial era and delve into the turbulent history of the past century still so evident in the city’s architecture and atmosphere.
History of Russia
Many visitors to Russia are attracted by the countries wealth of history, a subject of extensive study and interest, ranging from Tsardom to Communism. The medieval state of ‘Rus’ emerged in the 9th century and soon after the state adopted Orthadox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, a religion which still plays a big role in the lives of many Russians today. This marked the beginning of a long fusion between Byzantine and Slavic cultures, which has had a strong influence on Russian identity.
Centuries of Mongol invasion from the East were followed by a a reunification of the nation under the Grand Duchy of Moscow, and by the 18th century, the mighty Russian Empire was firmly established, with possessions stretching as far as Finland, Alaska and modern-day Turkey, occupying one-sixth of the world land mass. Perhaps the most romanticised era in Russian history is that of the imperial years of the Tsars between 1721 and 1917, when many of the grandiose buildings and palaces, in Rococo and Baroque architectural style, dating from this period. The reign of Catherine the Great in the 18th century is considered to be the Golden Age of this era.
In the 20th century, the Russian Revolution of 1917 saw the abdication of Tsar Nicolas II and the end of the ruling Russian aristocracy. The October Revolution of the same year saw the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, take power in the country and marked the beginnings of the world’s first Communist State. From 1922 until 1991, the USSR played a huge role in the global politics of the century and made fantastic technological progress such as launching the first man, Yuri Gagarin, into space.
The country is also famed for being a powerful Allied Power during the Second World War. 1991 marked the dissolution of the Soviet Republic, as the USSR became the Russian Federation and granted self-governing independence to 12 republics. Today, Russia has a federal government and a huge economy, with rich oil and gas reserves. Anyone with a keen interest in history will find a holiday to Russia to be an enriching and eye-opening experience, as you explore the country’s most iconic centres of historical significance.
Nature in Russia
It’s almost impossible to characterise the landscapes of Russia, due to its immense size and variety of climates and scenery. In fact, the majority of the country is comprised of vast open plains in the interior of the country, known as the ‘Russia Plain’, where there are very few communities and nature has been left to develop at its will. In the north of the country, you can expect to find landscapes of snowy, inhospitable tundra and heavy coniferous forests. Russia is home to the largest forest reserves in the world, which act as the ‘Lungs of Europe’.
With over 37,000 kilometres of coastline, stretching along both the Pacific and Arctic Oceans, there are a number of fishing communities who inhabit some of the most inhospitable parts of the country, such as on the Kola Peninsula, which lies almost entirely within the Arctic Circle and is known as a salmon fishing destination. The highest mountain in Russia, and consequently the whole of Europe is Mount Elbrus, which measures a staggering 5,642 metres high and is located in the Caucasus mountain range, in the south of the country, close to the Georgian border.
From the icy Subarctic climate in the Siberian regions to a Subtropical climate in the areas around the Black Sea Coast, the country’s weather is as varied as its landscapes, ensuring there is something to suit everyone on a tour of Russia. Nature lovers will also enjoy the numerous Natural World Heritage Sites, of which there are 11, including the virgin forests of Komi and the Kamchatka Volcanoes, described as the most outstanding volcanic region in the world. The Brown Bear is the symbol of the country and can be found in the country’s most heavily forested regions. Reindeer, arctic fox and polar bears inhabit the northern tundras, whilst Amur tigers and leopards can be found in the far eastern regions of the country, and in the Zov Tigra National Park.
Russia boasts a rich cultural heritage, with many of its literary and artistic masters enjoying global fame. Poet Alexander Pushkin considered the ‘Russian Shakespeare’ is thought to be the founder of modern Russian literature. Names such as Dostoevsky and Tolstoy are known throughout the world for their contributions to literature, with works such as War and Peace, Anna Karenina and Crime and Punishment still selling millions of copies worldwide.
Russia is also famed for its performing arts, in particular, Ballet, with Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet Company considered to be one of the most elite ballet groups in the world. With a diverse culture, owing to the 190 ethnic groups which comprise the population, Russian folklore and traditions remain a big part of peoples lives, as does the Russian Orthodox Church, with around half of the population identifying themselves as followers of the faith. Visitors on a package holiday to Russia are able to admire the rich craftsmanship of the country, something which has been passed down through the generations and purchase traditional gifts such as the iconic matryoshka dolls, elaborately painted and a classic symbol of the country.
A global giant, with a history, culture and natural attractions to match, a trip to Russia is an eye-opening journey where you can walk in the footsteps of the Tsars, get to grips with the country’s immense history and experience the diverse landscapes of this colossal nation.