Russian dolls (Shutterstock: see main credit below)
Article Words : Wanderlust team | 10 April

The Wanderlust guide to the best of Russia

It’s big. It’s intimidating. And the writing is tricky to understand. Here’s your guide to one of the most fascinating countries on earth: Russia

Russia, the world’s biggest country, is (predictably) huge. Spanning 11 time zones, it can take days to travel from one city to another. Don’t even think about tackling it all at once unless you’ve got a serious amount of time on your hands.

Moscow, home of fairytale pepper-pot churches, Red Square, Lenin’s tomb and some great nightlife is an obvious pull. So too is St Petersburg: its Heritage Museum is an embarrassment of riches that will have you wandering open-mouthed from one masterpiece to another.

Away from the big cities is the real Russia. Relax in the spa town of Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus Mountains, go rafting or skiing in Siberia or play some real-life ‘Risk’ in Kamchatka: it’s famous for extreme sports.

Or simply catch a train and take it all in as it rushes by.

St Basils (Shutterstock.com)

St Basil's Cathedral on Red Square, Moscow (Shutterstock)

Looking for inspiration?

In a country as vast as Russia there are no end of possibilities. You could be enjoying an artistic weekend in St Petersburg one moment, the next, heading to the vast Altai region, where spacecraft fall from the sky and Buddhism and shamanism mix. You may wish to sample the distinct personalities of each of Russia’s 22 federal republics or experience shock and awe on the Kamchatka peninsula, where the forces of nature are monumental and the scale immense. Lake Baikal, the world’s largest fresh water lake, beckons too. As does the elusive Siberian tiger.

Russia is not short of challenges. Which one will you take?

More information

An artistic weekend in St Petersburg – Jeremy Head

Altai, Russia: Where worlds collide – Rob Bright

Exploring Russia's federal republics – Mark Stratton

A fiery tour of Russia's Kamchatka peninsula – Chris Moss

Beyond Baikal – Neil McGowan

Earning your stripes: searching for the Siberian tiger – Mark Carwardine

Trans Siberian carriage (Bryn Thomas)

All aboard the Trans-Siberian Express!

The Trans-Siberian Express is the world’s ultimate train journey, a 10,000 mile, seven-and-a-half day journey from Moscow to Vladivostok – virtually the entire length of this massive country. And that’s not to mention the myriad of ‘branch’ lines that can take you further into Siberia or south into Mongolia and China.

Thankfully, Bryn Thomas is on hand with the ultimate guide to this ultimate train ride – which includes everything from booking your ticket to the places you should get off and stay a while. He has also written a more personal account of his journey to give you an idea of the tastes, sounds and adventures that lie ahead.

Anthony Lambert weighs in with his advice on getting the most from this epic rail journey. And local Russian journalist, Anastasia Malyugina, reveals the four places you should break up your journey to get a taste of the real Russia.

More information

Trans-Siberian: a guide to the ultimate train journey – Bryn Thomas

Trans-Siberian: From Russia with love – Bryn Thomas

How to take on the Trans-Siberian – Anthony Lambert

10 stops on the Trans-Siberian railway – Bryn Thomas

4 stops you must make on the Trans-Siberian Express – Anastasia Malyugina

Russian birch grove (Shutterstock.com)

Russian birch grove in winter (Shutterstock)

White Russia

There’s something magical about Russia under snow. The country sits under a blanket of pristine white and even the apartment blocks take on an enchanting air. The Russians too, it seems, are invigorated by the sub-zero conditions.

It is certainly Jeremy Head’s favourite time to visit the country. He recounts a journey to Karelia, in Russia’s north-west, where wooden churches, frozen lakes and spirit beliefs create a land straight from a children’s fairy story. It’s also where the more adventurous can tear through magical landscapes on snowmobiles, if so inclined.

Carol Donaldson, on the other hand, wintered in Bubonitsy, working on a volunteer project aimed at changing Russian attitudes to wolves. She helped feed wolf cubs, tracked and monitored the wild population, and drank a lot of vodka. It comes with the territory in Russia, it seems.

On a more practical note, Henry Turner reveals how to stay warm in Siberia. He has lived there as an expat, so he knows all the tricks.

More information

A winter's tale in Karelia, Russia – Jeremy Head

Snowmobiling in north-west Russia – Jeremy Head

Wolves and vodka in Russia – Carol Donaldson

How to stay warm in Siberia – Henry Turner

Russian babushkas (Peter Moore)

Russia's secrets revealed

Russians have a particular way of doing things, and they are not always immediately apparent to a visitor. Who knew, for example, that the cheapest meal in Moscow is to be had at the local exotic disco? Peter Moore certainly didn’t until a couple of babushkas set him straight.

Thankfully, Steven Neish is on hand with a crash course in Russian weirdness to help you navigate through that initial cultural shock. Of course, you may become enamoured with the Russian way of life and want to stay longer. In that case, you need to read Thom Wheeler’s 8 top tips for working in Russia.

More information

Fancy a cheap meal in Moscow? Try the exotic disco – Peter Moore

A crash course in Russian weirdness – Steven Neish

8 top tips for working in Russia – Thom Wheeler

A writer's guide to understanding St Petersburg – Eva Stachniak

The Cauldron, Kamchatka (Sergey Gorshkov)

Capturing it all on film

As befits the world's largest country, there are a lot of open spaces in Russia. In many parts a railway line is the only sign of civilisation. How best to capture this vast emptiness? Look for the point of interest, says Steve Davey, and make it your focus.

If it’s inspiration you’re after, check out Sergey Gorshkov’s photo of the Cauldron on the Kamchatka peninsula. He also explains how he captured such a dramatic image. Take a look at the photos taken by our readers on their travels in Russia too. They are truly amazing.

More information

Photography tips: shooting open spaces – Steve Davey

The Cauldron, Kamchatka, Russia: Story behind the photo – Sergey Gorshkov

Readers' photos from Russia

Alta Republic (Shutterstock.com)

Altay Republic, Russia (Shutterstock)

Everything you need to know

Ready to start planning your trip? Our Russia travel guide is the place to start. Make sure you drop by the Russia essential info page as well, for more everyday (but equally vital) information. And we’ve rounded up the latest travel news from Russia too.

If you have a particular question about Russia, pop over to the myWanderlust Forum where our knowledgeable community are ready to spring into action and share all that they know. Or check out the questions that have already been asked about Russia. The answer to yours might already be there.

More information

Russia travel guideWanderlust Team

Russia essential infoWanderlust Team

Latest travel news from Russia

Forum posts about Russia

Community content about Russia

Bearded Russian (Shutterstock.com)

Bearded Russian in winter (Shutterstock)

Ready to go?

Here’s a selection of fantastic tours offered by our partners. This city breaks in Moscow and St Petersburg to wild adventures in the remote Altai and Kamkatcha regions, there’s something to suit every taste and budget.

More information

Our Trip Finder can help you find adventures in Russia

Main image: Colourful Russian dolls (Shutterstock)