Russia’s in the news a lot, but most of our images of it are hopelessly outdated Cold War cliches. The largest country in the world has 6.5 million square miles of mind-blowing mountains, lakes, dense forests and thriving cities. Here’s a selection of experiences to have in the nation.
Editor’s note: These spots are all taken directly from travelstoke®, a new app from Matador that connects you with fellow travelers and locals, and helps you build trip itineraries with spots that integrate seamlessly into Google Maps and Uber. Download the app to add any of the spots below directly to your future trips.
Travel the world’s longest and most famous train ride. Start in Moscow and make a number of stops on the way to either Vladivostok or Beijing through Mongolia.
Baikal is the world’s deepest freshwater lake. If you come in winter, the lake will be completely frozen, peppered with picturesque cracks and bubbles of air. I’d recommend hiring a four wheel drive and cruising over the ice, you won’t forget that in a while.
The Circumbaikal Railway
To see more of Baikal you can take a Circum-Baikal railway. It does not actually circle the whole lake but it gives you a chance to get away from the more touristic places and find your own secret spot.
Curonian Spit separates Curonian Bay from the Baltic Sea. I recommend visiting The Dancing Forest — one of the strangest natural phenomena on Earth. The unusual pine forest is made of trees of various shapes, most of them twisted in circles and spirals, along the ground.
When in Russia, you won’t escape Red Square. So make it a little more entertaining. Every year Moscow builds skating rink on its central square. If you happen to be there, join the locals in one of the most popular winter activities!
The Russian North might seem very stern, but here you can see one of nature’s greatest miracles — aurora borealis. Kola Peninsula behind the polar circle is the best place to see it, but if you are lucky you might even spot aurora borealis near St.Petersburg.
The Valley of Geysers
Kamchatka Peninsula is on the bucket list of most Russians. The Kamchatka River and the surrounding central side valley are flanked by large volcanic belts containing around 160 volcanoes, 29 of them still active. The hazardous beauty of around ninety geysers and the highest active volcano in Russia gave the area its nickname: the Land of Fire and Ice. You can reach The Valley of Geysers only by helicopter, but it is absolutely worth the effort.
Kronotsky Nature Reserve
The Kamchatka brown bear, also known as the Far Eastern brown bear, is native to the Anadyrsky District, the Kamchatka Peninsula, Karaginskiy Island, the Kuril Islands. One of the safest times to view bears in the wild is Kamchatka during salmon spawning season.
Mount Elbrus is the highest peak in Europe, and one of the Seven Summits. It’s located just in Russia, though it is only a few miles/kilometers from the border of Georgia. Though Elbrus is the highest summit in Europe, it is one of the technically easiest of the higher peaks on the continent.
Muscovites take their metro for granted, but they really shouldn’t as it is not only super efficient and fast it is also stunning. The 44 stations are part of the cultural heritage of the city.
Visit the coldest inhabited locality on the planet, Oymyakon village, where the average temperature in winter is -50F and lower.
Now the main residence of Romanov dynasty, Winter Palace, is one of the largest museums in the world. While walking through Winter Palace it is easy to imagine yourself in belle epoch, dancing minuet or waltz.
Your experience of St.Petersburg won’t be complete without viewing the drawbridges. During June-July 22 bridges in St.Petersburg are drawn, cutting the connection between two parts of the city.
Cosmonaut Training Center
Once communist space program was top secret. Now it is possible not only to learn all the details about space exploration, but you can visit the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center.
Banya (Russian sauna) is one of the oldest traditions of the country, dating back to the 10th century. There are public banyas in large cities, but locals prefer to have their own private banyas. An important part of the experience is socializing, after banya it is common to have take tea.
The Ural Mountains
The Ural Mountains are probably the richest mountain range of their size in the world. Trekking in The Urals requires a guide as the terrain is varied and the weather can change quickly without warning.
The Iset River
Visit Yekaterinburg, the hometown of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin. Yekaterinburg is not only Russia’s forth-largest city, it is like a piece of conceptual art with a fascinating historical sub-text.
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