After being closed to the rest of the world during the USSR years, Russia these days is well and truly open to tourism and the sheer scale of the country is somewhat incomprehensible, covering nine time zones. However, a first visit to the country would not be complete without a visit to the two capitals and the relationship between today’s capital Moscow and the old capital St Petersburg is a fascinating one for visitors.
Moscow dominates modern Russia, providing an insight into contemporary society, whereas in St Petersburg, it is the past that is seductive, its historical treasures, such as the Hermitage, the Winter Palace and the Marble Palace, making it one of the world’s most beautiful cities. While St Petersburg might win the beauty stakes, the two cities battle over which is the cultural capital – with both boasting formidable literary, art, ballet, opera and theatre traditions, as well as an abundance of superb musicians. Moscow does have historic Red Square with Lenin’s Tomb, the fascinating red brick Kremlin and splendid Annunciation Cathedral with its exquisite 16th century frescoes and icons, and the lurid onion-shaped domes of St Basil the Blessed.
Moscow also provides easy access by road to the Golden Ring, a group of ancient wooden Russians towns that are perhaps the most picturesque in the country, and is a departure point for travel to delightful Gorodets, a traditional town on the Volga River, monumental Lake Baikal, Yekaterinburg and the majestic Urals Mountains and chilly Irkutsk in Eastern Siberia. From St Petersburg you can visit the country’s first capital, Novgorod, a peaceful tree-lined city, surrounded by lovely countryside. Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea, with its windswept coastline and lofty sand dunes, is also worth visiting if you’re exploring the Baltic countries.