Russia – Top 10 Hidden Gems
There’s so much to see in Russia! Where to start? Here are a few suggestions to inspire you...
1. Tretyakov Gallery, Zamoskvorechie District, Moscow
The Tretyakov Gallery contains masterpieces from many accomplished Russian artists that have never been viewed outside the country, in particular works from the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) movement. Enjoy lyrical landscapes, portraits of key historical figures, landmark works and more, in a collection that spans 1000 years. As well as paintings, there are beautiful exhibitions of famous icons and jewellery. Enter via a side laneway through a small castle built in 1905.
2. Circum-Baikal Railway
This leisurely train tour, running to and alongside Lake Baikal, is one of the best ways to enjoy the beautiful countryside of the region. Lake Baikal is the largest and deepest freshwater lake in the world, containing 20% of the world’s unfrozen fresh water. There are many opportunities to stop and sightsee during the tour; you can even get off and walk with the train at some points. Enjoy breathtaking mountain scenery and tranquil water views and explore little villages with original carved wooden buildings.
3. All-Russia Exhibition Centre
This attraction was originally known as the VDNKh (the Exhibition of the Achievements of the National Economy) and is a fascinating insight into the rise and fall of communism in the USSR. The vast park, a series of huge pavilions connected by wide paved streets, represents Russia’s views on education, health, agriculture, technology and science as they were during the Soviet era. Like many sights in Russia, it is huge, ornate and majestic, being over 2km long and 1 km wide. Visit to immerse yourself in Russia’s Soviet past.
Irkutsk is the nearest large city to Lake Baikal (though it is still some 70km from the lake). Originally it served as eastern Siberia’s trading centre to China, Tibet and Mongolia, trading furs and ivory for silk and tea. Like much of modern Russia it has been developed, but it is still possible to explore intricately-carved wooden buildings alongside examples of Soviet-style architecture and high domed cathedrals.
5. Grand Cascade, Peterhof
The Grand Cascade is a series of waterfalls, fountains and beautiful golden statues leading from the Peterhof Palace down to the sea. Peterhof Palace is often called ‘the Russian Versailles’ – Versailles was in fact the inspiration for Peter the Great, on whose orders Peterhof was laid out. The Grand Cascade has 64 different fountains and over 200 statues and decorative friezes. Memorable for its beautiful sculpted gardens, statues and buildings.
Sea Canal and the Grand Cascade, Peterhof
6. Taltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture, Irkutsk
This open-air museum has many fine examples of the original architecture of the indigenous people of the Siberia region. It is also a chance to experience the culture of the people of the Baikal region - Russian, Buryat, and Evenki. There are exhibits and information on the customs, culture and daily life of people in the region in the 19th and 20th centuries, as well as many folk festivals and performances of traditional dances. Exhibits include an authentic summer and autumn camp from Evenki, a wooden water mill, a communal grain house, and a schoolhouse.
Sometimes known as the ‘Third Capital’, Kazan’s history has a unique mix of Muslim Tatar and Christian Russian cultures. Kazan was originally built either by the Muslim Volga Bulgars in the early Middle Ages, or the Tatars of the Golden Horde in the mid-15th century (there are few surviving records). Due to its long and chequered history, Kazan is known for its many different architectural layers including original wooden buildings, ornate Baroque styles, classicism and Soviet-era design. Key attractions include the preserved settlement of the Old Tatar Village, the Annunciation Cathedral built in 1552 and Bauman Street, Kazan’s answer to 5th Avenue, where you can watch the locals promenade, eat, drink and shop.
8. Mariinsky Theatre (Kirov Opera and Ballet)
The Mariinsky Theatre is the home of the world-class Kirov Opera and Ballet and also hosts many fine performances from other artists including singers, soloists and symphony orchestras. The theatre itself is a beautiful building that astonished audiences with its sheer size when first built. It features ornate decorations and friezes, including the wonderful royal box of Catherine the Great. Going to the theatre is a much more formal occasion in Russia than at home, so dress up! Shows can be booked on their website.
9. Kupetz Eliseevs Food Hall, St Petersburg
Enjoy the exquisite decorations, or try the cafes that sell delicious pastries and cakes, chocolates, caviar, tea, wines and spirits - wonderful food. The Emporium is located in a beautiful example of Art Nouveau architecture, and stocks all manner of gourmet delights including traditional Russian food.
10. Dacha Tour
Find out where Russians disappear to in the summer with a tour of a Russian dacha (summer house). Experience the real Russia; enjoy beautiful cottage gardens growing fruit, vegetables and flowers, taste homemade vodka and share a home-cooked meal with a local. Dacha gardening has provided food to Russians for more than 1000 years, and even today, the small local Dacha gardens provide almost half of Russia’s vegetables.