Following my series about Russia, I describe in this article the best itineraries to be done in this vast countries, from my own experience and personal researchers while on the field, and while talking with other travelers.
Itinerary 1: Moscow and around
Many people will only have a week to dedicate to visiting a country. And in a country as big as Russia, that means traveling very little distances. Limiting a visit that short will constrain to focus on Moscow and St-Petersburg. This is the itinerary that I have personally done in 2010, arriving by plane in Moscow and leaving the country on the western border into Estonia.
Moscow deserves 2 to 3 days to visit all of its highlights, including the Kremlin, the Red Square, and the St-Basil Cathedral. Moscow Subway is also a must, and can easily be taken to go around the city. From there, you can decide to concentrate on the Golden Ring, ancient cities close to Moscow that can be done in 2 or 3 days. Those are Vladimir, Suzdal and Sergiev Posad. Take note that Moscow is a very expensive city, and personally, I preferred what St-Petersburg had to offer.
On the way to St-Petersburg, if you have extra days, Novgorod is a nice city to stop, to make the 650 km between St-Petersburg and Moscow less painful. The train is not cheap by the way, count at least 100$ to 150$.
In St-Petersburg, I would personally allow the most time, as sightseeing is endless! There is so much to see and so much time to enjoy the beauty of the architecture, easily making it the most beautiful city in Russia. You can also plan some time around St-Petersburg to go to Petrodvorets and even maybe Tsarskoe Selo Pavlovsk.
The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia
Itinerary 2: The East and Caucasus
From St-Petersburg, I would go south and include Moscow, just as explained in itinerary 1. Counting an extra week, you will have time to explore the Caucasus. From Moscow, you can head to Nizhny Novgorod and include Samara on the way, a very nice city full of beaches on the shore of the Volga River. There are cruise ships leaving from there that many Russians take part. Kite Surfing is also possible on the river, which felt more like a beach destination than a Russian city when I was there in July. Include Volgograd to visit Mamayev Kurgan, the tallest women statue in the World.
Continue South to enter the Caucasus, from Roston on don and straight to Krasnodar. I personally preferred going straight to Sochi, which has experienced heavy development in the last few years with the Olympics. There is a lot to do in Sochi in the summer, tourism is booming and it seems like the most happening city in Russia!
If you are lucky enough to have a double entry visa in Russia, I would include a visit to South Ossetia. I haven’t been there myself, but I have heard so much about it from Russian friends that I imagine it as a little paradise with incredible beaches and endless wine reserves.
For the more adventurous, go to Crimea, which I had the chance to visit while it was still part of Ukraine.
Itinerary 3: The Trans-Siberian
This is the dream trip. Like described in my previous article in details, you can do one of two itineraries of the trans-Siberian. The first is from Beijing to Moscow, the Second is from Vladivostok to Moscow. I personally started in Mongolia and went east, then flew back to Krasnoyarsk to go all the way to Sochi. I liked the idea of doing the whole Territory, so that motivated my choice. I highly recommend planning the trip on your own, purchasing tickets online, which leaves the most flexibility to stop at cities of your choice on your way.
The Railroad of the Trans Siberian, Somewhere in Siberia
Stops that I recommend are Novosibirsk, the Capital of Siberia. Krasnoyarsk was also amazing. Vladivostok is a must, definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Russia. Khabarovsk is pretty nice too, people were very friendly. Yekaterinburg in the Ural region is also an important center of culture and has many historical sites to visit. Volgograd is interesting, as well as Samara. Out of the city, I haven’t been and that is on my “to go” list are: Irkutsk, Tomsk, and Kazan.