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RUSSIA

Russia, the world’s largest nation, borders European and Asian countries as well as the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Its landscape ranges from tundra and forests to subtropical beaches. It’s famous for Moscow’s Bolshoi and St. Petersburg’s Mariinsky ballet companies. Russian culture has a long and rich cultural history, steeped in literature, ballet, painting and classical music. While outsiders may see the country as drab, Russia has a very visual cultural past, from its colourful folk costumes to its ornate religious symbols.

 

VISA REQUIREMENTS

No visa required for SA passport holders

Compulsory Vaccinations Required: No.

Please note: Visa and vaccination information is correct at time of publish and are subject to change

BEST TIME TO TRAVEL

Cultural – The high season for traveling to Russia is May through October. This is the best time to tour Russia and admire its masterpieces like fountains of Peterhof, parks of Pushkin and quaint countryside of the Golden Ring.

However, during summers main tourist routes and attractions are rather crowded and sometimes even impossible to access. So, the best time to visit Russia is in inter-seasons like late spring – early June (This is the season when weather is the most convenient for long hours of sightseeing) and September/October.

AREAS TO VISIT AND THEIR MAIN ATTRACTIONS

MOSCOW

Moscow, on the Moskva River in western Russia, is the nation’s cosmopolitan capital. As one of the most vibrant European capitals, Moscow is a powerful mix of history and edginess, full of world-famous sites and attractions. Russia’s capital has been in existence for more than 800 years and has enough to keep visitors busy for months.

The heart of Russia’s capital, Red Square is arguably Moscow’s most visited attraction. The cobblestone square is surrounded by beautiful architecture, and is the place where most of the city’s (and country’s) history unfolded. What was once a market square where traders would sell their goods is now a key location in the city, surrounded by unforgettable sites such as the Kremlin, St.Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum and other celebrated attractions.

Soak up the archetypal image of Russia’s capital with the glistening rainbow domes of St Basil’s cathedral. The onion-shaped domes were designed to make the building look like the shape of a flame on a bonfire. The cathedral was commissioned in the 1500s by Ivan the Terrible and according to legend, the Tsar thought it so beautiful he ordered that the architect be blinded so that he would never surpass this creation.

The biggest active fortress in Europe, Moscow’s Kremlin offers a week’s worth of attractions. Once you get behind the 2,235 metre-long kremlin walls, there are five squares to wander around, various buildings to explore, 20 towers to learn the names of, and the world’s largest bell and cannon to see.

Moscow’s premier green space, Gorky Park, offers entertainment for every taste: outdoor dancing sessions, yoga and fitness classes all summer, as well as beach volleyball and ping-pong, rollerblading, skateboarding and cycling opportunities, along with segway and boat-rentals. In winter, half of the park turns into one of the city’s biggest skating rinks. The park is also home to an open-air movie theatre and the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art.

Opened in 1856, the legendary Bolshoi Theatre is one of the pest places in Moscow for an evening of entertainment. The building houses two stages, hosting both ballet and opera performances.

One of Russia’s most visited cathedrals, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour is a truly remarkable site. The grandiose cathedral was built in the 1990s where a 19th-century church of the same name once stood, prior to being demolished in 1931 by the Soviet authorities. For 50 years the place had been home to the world’s largest outdoor swimming pool, until the country’s new government decided to rebuild the sacred place. Designed to look like its predecessor, the modern building also contains the icon Christ Not Painted by Hand by Sorokin, which miraculously survived the demolition of the original cathedral.

Moscow underground tour is one not to be missed – with their arched ceilings, grandiose chandeliers and marble tiled walls, stations of Moscow metro are believed to be some of the most beautiful in the word. One of the most expensive projects in the Soviet history, the metro now has 206 stations, 44 of which are considered cultural heritage sites.

ST PETERSBURG

St. Petersburg is a Russian port city on the Baltic Sea. It was the imperial capital for 2 centuries, having been founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, subject of the city’s iconic “Bronze Horseman” statue. It remains Russia’s cultural centre, with venues such as the Mariinsky Theatre hosting opera and ballet, and the State Russian Museum showcasing Russian art, from Orthodox icon paintings to Kandinsky works.

A river cruise is an ideal way to spend a beautiful summer’s day and one of the best ways to discover the city’s landmarks and architecture. St Petersburg has rightfully earned its name of ‘Venice of the North’. In fact, it was originally intended that boats would be the only way to move between the islands; the city’s bridges were built much later. Cruises don’t run during the winter time, as the river is completely covered in ice, so it’s definitely worth a visit during the warmer months of the year.

White lights tour – When St Petersburg was first built, it was designed to be a port city and naval base, which it was for many years. The Neva River remains the city’s main artery, with a multitude of ships sailing down it every day. To allow larger ships to dock, all the bridges over the river are lit up and drawn at night, making for a beautiful view. You can find the schedule for all bridges here.

Climb to the top of St. Isaac’s Cathedral’s colonnade – When constructed in the 19th century, St. Isaac’s Cathedral was one of the tallest buildings in St Petersburg. Even today it remains one of the largest orthodox basilicas in the world. Tackling the 262-step climb is well worth it for the panoramic views of the city. In the summer (May 1 – October 31) the colonnade is open until 10.30pm, so avoid the morning crowds and take in the evening view instead.

When St Petersburg was first founded, it was named a ‘window into Europe,’ thus was built close to water, on the Gulf of Finland. Peterhof was first established as a site where ships could stop when travelling to and from the fortress of Kronstadt. Peter the Great built a modest palace on the shoreline of the gulf. The idea later expanded into a large-scale project of creating a palace complex on the model of Versailles. Although the palace was largely destroyed during WWII and hasn’t preserved its original features, Peterhof is still admired for its magnificent fountain park and is especially great to visit in the summer.

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