What to see in Russia
Travelling to Kizhi means choosing a unique destination in a magical place. The island - because Kizhi is indeed an island - is found in the second largest lake in Europe: Lake Onega. The landscape that awaits you befits the taiga: a boreal forest made up of the enormous dense conifers that thronged the stories we heard as children. Kizhi is located is Karelia, a region carpeted by forests and punctuated by 5,000 lakes. In Onega alone there are more than 1,600 islands of various sizes.
There's only one way to travel to Kizhi and it means taking a boat from the mainland city of Petrozavodsk, which you can reach by train from Saint Petersburg or Moscow. You may want to spend part of your trip in this beautiful city, which is home to theatres, galleries and museums. One of the most interesting, if you find the sea a source of fascination, is the Polar Odyssey Maritime Museum. Meanwhile the Art Museum of the Republic of Karelia will give you a very general idea of the cultural background of the area.
If you don't feel like entering a museum while waiting for your boat, take a walk by the lake and enjoy the charming wooden houses. The inhabitants of Petrozavodsk often come here, meet each other and spend time in contact with nature.
If you prefer to go straight to the pier, you can take a bus from the train station or call a taxi. It's no great expense.
The whole island can be considered an open-air museum and you can enjoy it at your leisure without any limitations. However, most of the buildings you will visit belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Some, in fact, are still in use and are places of pilgrimage for the faithful. Therefore, try to be respectful: You cannot smoke inside the churches, as this would endanger their wooden structures. If you are cycling, do not leave the marked paths, as the land around the lake and the lake itself are protected. And of course, don't leave any litter behind.
The first unforgettable experience you will have in Kizhi is the journey itself from Petrozavodsk to the island. The journey takes an hour and a quarter and, although the first half of the trip may seem a little monotonous, after the mid-way point the landscape will surprise you, as it becomes a real maze, where the water flows between flat, tree-carpeted islands like large floating plant pots. Try and count how many different shades of ochre, green and blue you can see. The result will surprise you.
The photos of Kizhi that abound on the internet are very evocative. The first thing you'll find when you get to the island are the three main structures. They are all made of dark wood and look as if they emerged directly from the lake. These three structures make up Kizhi Pogost, an Orthodox religious complex declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. These are two churches proper and a bell tower. The latter can and should be visited, since from the tower you can see some great panoramic views of the island.
If there's one thing that characterises Russia, it's the local legends and folklore. In the case of Kizhi Pogost, it is said that its builder, Carpenter Nester, when he finished the work, for which he did not use any nails or other metal, threw his axe into the lake and proclaimed: "Master Nester built this church and the world will know no other like it!"
Kizhi has always been a sparsely inhabited island; in fact, in the mid-20th century its inhabitants abandoned it. But this endangered the preservation of Pogost's three structures, so the Russian government took action and organised the relocation of several iconic buildings from Karelia to the island. That's why Kizhi today has: The Chapel of the Three Saints; the Chapel of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary; the Chapel of the Miraculous Saviour; the Peter and Paul Chapel; and the Chapel of Archangel Michael
Earlier in this post we mentioned that, if you ride a bike, you should not leave the marked paths. This is because you can rent bikes near the place where the boat drops you off on the island. If you hire one you can not only visit Pogost, but also the five chapels, some small villages inland and, of course, enjoy the boreal forest.
If you prefer to walk, you can do that too, but you'll cover less ground.
Karelia is a beautiful area that enjoys the privilege of boasting spectacular landscapes. North of Kizhi are the Solovetsky Islands, the jewel of the White Sea. Here you will enjoy not only a unique ecosystem, but also the beauty of its 15th-century monastery.