Getting there: flights from major world cities to Moscow and St. Petersburg
What to see: Moscow, St. Petersburg, Black Sea coast
Currencies: Russian ruble
Official language(s): Russian
its own identity as it straddles the cultures of Europe and the
Far East, Russia has always been a conglomeration of times zones,
climates and cultures.
Even the two
major tourist centers, Moscow
and St. Petersburg, are a contrast in city dynamics - with the capital more Asiatic in feel and temperament, and St. Petersburg a more carefully laid-out European metropolis.
No longer a communist country, today Russia has all but abandoned most travel restrictions - leaving ample opportunity for exploring the country in its entirety including resorts along the Black Sea coast and the Altai and Caucasus mountains to the south.
At the height of the summer travel season, Moscow is where most visitors first find themselves in a whirl of associations with famous spy novels and Hollywood movies.
In reality, Moscow is a thriving modern metropolis of 11 million and, like the country itself, can be overwhelming in scope.
In Moscow, discover English-
speaking vendors all along the
mall on Arbat Street.
Like any big Western capital, the best way to get around the city is by using the city's vast Metro system to take in various Moscow must-sees:
Finally, no visit to Moscow would be complete without a panoramic vista high atop Sparrow Hills offering a picture-perfect view of the Russian capital.
Shopping in Moscow
Also don't forget a shop-til-you-drop excursion at GUM (pronounced goom), the city's world famous department store.
You'll also won't want to miss a stroll down Arbat Street, the city's main pedestrian mall lined with elegant street lampposts, a holdover from days when the neighborhood was the most exclusive and posh in all of Moscow.
The arcade at GUM
For the ultimate in Russian kitsch, also put Izmaylovo Market on the to-do list (Metro stop: Arbatsko-Pokrovskaya) for a dazzling array of souvenirs offered from seemingly endless rows of vendors. Items on sale including everything from traditional matryoshka dolls to Russian fur hats. There are also odd, interesting bits of junk that may take several days to browse through.
Although trains may still make the 500-mile run from Moscow to St. Petersburg overnight, today high-speed express lines from Moscow's Leningradsky Station can whisk visitors to Russia's second city in a single afternoon.
St. Petersburg from the Neva River
Half the size and population of Moscow and more European in look and feel, Russia's "gateway to the West" is filled with Old World beauty and grandeur most notably seen in its main attractions, the Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace.
After catching your breath from the sheer size and scope of the Hermitage, get ready for more cultural tours in a Russia's "museum central" dedicated to a variety of interests -- from traditional Russian art to antique dolls to the history of photography.
Besides museums, also check out St. Petersburg's churches and palaces beginning with the city's second main attraction, the Peter and Paul fortress which also encompasses the stunningly beautiful St. Peter and Paul Cathedral.
The Hermitage, St. Petersburg
At the height of the travel season, rub elbows in St. Petersburg with hordes of other tourists visiting the Peterhof Palace and its marvelous dancing fountains built by Peter the Great in response to a visit to Versailles.
Of course, no one is allowed to leave the city unless they have at least a dozen or more photos of the iconic Bronze Horseman statue representing Peter the Great astride his great steed in the middle of Senate Square.
For a more ghoulish attraction, try the Alexander Nevsky Monastery cemetery to pay tribute at the gravesites of Dostoevsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and other notable Russian writers and composers.
DID YOU KNOW? Russia Travel Fun Facts
• With room enough to seat 700 (and 200 outside), the McDonalds restaurant in Moscow's Pushkin Square is one of the largest in the world.
• The name Krasnaya Ploschad or Red Square has nothing to do with communism, but derives from the word "krasnyi", which once meant "beautiful".
• The Hermitage in St. Petersburg is home to around 70 cats. The tradition began in 1745 with a decree by Empress Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, to help guard against mice.
• During the summer from from mid-June to early July, St. Petersburg experiences 21 "white nights" when the sun never really sets. As local tour operators boast - more daylight means more time for sightseeing.
More about Russia travel & tourism around the Web:
On the Web,
discover more about Russia and its people at top sites offering
helpful guides to hotels, shopping and restaurants, as well as
major and off-the-beaten-path attractions, facts and travel tips,
photo galleries and virtual tours ....
travel guide - Wikitravel - Here's a complete guide to major attractions in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and other major cities & regions with photos, maps, insider tips on hotels, customs, and travel etiquette.
Travel Guide to Russia - Check out this guide from Geographia.com with in-depth coverage of major attractions with suggested itineraries, overviews of transportation and getting around, practical travel & safety tips.