Photo by Skif-Kerch licensed under CC
We look at some of the must-see sights in Russia's famous cities of Moscow, St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.
Russia is opening up to Western tourists in the most fantastic ways with hotels, infrastructure and visitor experiences improving incomparably compared with 20 or 30 years ago. In 2012, more than 25 million tourists visited Russia, with most going on to visit the major cities of Moscow and St Petersburg.
It's no wonder Russia is such a hot tourist destination with sights such as Red Square and Hermitage Museum. Here are some of Russia's best sights.
Moscow - from the Red Square to the Kremlin
If you're visiting Moscow, you're most certainly advised to stay inside the Garden Ring (the major motorway on the edge of the city). Moscow suffers from terrible traffic, but from within this area, you'll be able to walk comfortably from the Red Square to the Kremlin, and this makes a huge difference. The Moscow Metro is however certainly worth travelling on, if only to see the fabulous art, mosaics and chandeliers.
The Kremlin is without a doubt the most powerful symbol of the Russian state. Within its impressive walls you'll find opulent palaces, churches and the famous Kremlin Armoury Museum - where resides the Fabergé egg.
It's also home to the Terem Palace, which used to be the home of the Russian tsars and is currently the official residence of the President of Russia.
Moscow is a theatre city and has over 50 theatres to choose from, with a show for everyone. The Bolshoi Theatre is the most iconic, showcasing fabulous ballet and opera.
Equally numerous are the churches, revived and used once again since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Gorky Park is home to a variety of attractions, including a fairground and in winter it’s flooded to create an ice rink as well as cross-country skiing trails. It has, somewhat inevitably, featured in several films about the Cold War.
St Petersburg - the Venice of the North
St Petersburg, a total contrast to Moscow and often called the Venice of the North, is lit almost 24 hours of the day in summer, creating the famous white nights.
The city is based around the Neva River, with quiet waterways running into it. The historical buildings create an atmosphere of romance and mystery, somewhat different to the austere and more forbidding feel in Moscow.
Of course, it's full of utterly unique artistic delights, many to be found at the Hermitage which really will take a day to even begin to appreciate. The place is a collection of buildings and parks, containing the imperial family’s Winter Palace, which is magnificent.
The Kazan Cathedral is a wonder to behold as is St Isaac’s Cathedral, now, in the main, a museum and testament to the Russian Orthodox form of Christianity.
The Mariinskiy Theatre, or Kirov, is simply the most memorable place to watch a ballet or opera, and the audience who dress in their finest clothes to mark the occasion are worthy of a glimpse too.
Nevskiy Prospekt is the street to visit, with boutiques and cafes where the entire world of Russian characters appear to be shopping and strolling.
Yekaterinburg in the Urals has long been intertwined with the history and demise of the last Romanov Tsar, Nicolas II and his family. The Church of the Blood has been built on the spot where they were supposedly murdered and stands as a symbol of the death of Russian traditions and beliefs stretching back centuries.
Ganina Yama is also a memorial to the Romanovs, with 7 chapels representing the 7 people killed, all within a monastery complex.
In July, starting on the 16th, the city becomes filled with visitors who come to commemorate the Romanovs' final journey from the railway station until their untimely deaths.
The first post-communist leader Boris Yeltsin was born here, and in 2011 a giant obelisk was raised in memory of his 80th birthday.
Being in the Urals, it's easy to get involved in winter sports here too, skiing and dog sledding to name but a few. And being in Russia, there are churches filled with icons and great beauty throughout the city. For more information about visiting Russia, see Cox & Kings.
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