It would take you several lifetimes to fully explore Russia’s array of historical riches and cultural delights. After all, this is the world's largest country, a place where the average trip can take in everything from a scenic cruise through the canals of St Petersburg to a night experiencing the legendary vodka-fuelled Moscow nightlife. So how on earth do you decide what to see? Allow us to walk you through it.
“I've done a bit of travelling in my time but this tour has got to be the best one so far. Norway is so beautiful, I could look at my pictures all day. Russia: WOW. It's so different from any other country. The local guides there were friendly, funny and astonishingly knowledgeable. The three cities that we visited in Russia, to me, seemed very different from one another. The tour manager was amazing; Danny organised heaps of extra outings for the group and always made sure the special diet people were taken care of during meals. He was also heaps of fun along with the rest of the travellers on the tour. My favourite parts of the tour would probably be the Bobsledding in Lillehammer, the Boat Cruise to Helsinki and visiting Novgorod (because it's a beautiful little town on the river). I'll never forget what an amazing time I had on this tour and I would recommend it to anyone who wants to experience something new and different.”
“Absolutely amazing tour. Had the best time over there everything was sorted out and timed great. The hotels were top quality and the food was great. Our tour manager (Roxy) set the standards so high for our following contiki tour. She did so much for us including "Roxys razzed dazzle tips". Our bus driver (Vania) made me feel very safe with her driving I had her both of my contikis. Roxy + Vania together make such a great team!”
The country that gave the world the Bolshoi ballet, the Moscow State circus and - of course! - vodka is bursting at the seams with possibilities. Here's our top pick of things to do in Russia:
Marvel at the iconic Sagrada Familla in Barcelona.
Gaudi’s majestic creation has been wowing crowds since it first began construction in 1882. Since then, multiple architects have taken up the reins on the project, some honouring Gaudi’s original designs, other’s redefining the creation completely. The multiple and varied facades of the building, plus its sheer size and majesty, make it a must do for any traveller visiting Barcelona.See all trips that visit Barcelona
Indulge in traditional Andalusian delicacies in Seville.
Seville is renowned for its gastronomic offerings, and whilst the traditional dishes may be simple to prepare, they’re bursting with fresh regional flavours. Gazpacho, Pescaito frito and Huevos a la Flamenca are all famed Andalusian specialities, or for those preferring traditional tapas, Seville has around 4,000 tapas bars to choose from – take your pick!See all trips that visit Seville
Live like a King in the Royal Palace of Madrid.
Get a glimpse of life as the other half live with a guided tour of the Royal Palace in Madrid. The largest palace in Europe, the Palacio Real de Madrid is the official residence of the Spanish Royal Family, though is only used formally for state ceremonies. Gorge your eyes on the many works of art by famed Spanish painters as you delve a little deeper into Spain’s rich history.See all trips that visit Madrid
Party till dawn in the clubbing mecca of Ibiza.
Nowhere on Earth will you experience clubbing quite like Ibiza. Home to some of the world’s most infamous clubs, come and join the party as night after night revered world class DJ’s play their hearts out to adoring crowds. Get into the mood with sunset cocktails at Café Del Mar then party till sunrise at Space, DC-10 or Ibiza Rocks.See all trips that visit Ibiza
Bask in sunlight on Barceloneta Beach.
Some cities are fortunate enough to have the perfect city/beach balance, and Barcelona is one of them. Whilst Barceloneta Beach may be man-made, the water is clear and refreshing and the beach is alive with travellers and locals alike chatting, swimming and generally loving life. Spend long leisurely lunches in the surrounding cafes and restaurants, hire bikes or rollerblades or just relax in the sunshine.See all trips that visit Barcelona
Explore the Islamic inspired fortress of Alhambra.
Rising from woods of cypress and elm, the Alhambra reigns supreme on the hillside of Gibraltar. Born in the 11th Century and then further developed over the 14th and 15th century’s, the fortress holds an extensive network of lavishly decorated palaces and irrigated gardens and gives those who visit it a glimpse into the rich history of the Spanish empire and the influence both Islam and Catholicism had on the Alhambra’s design.See all trips that visit Gibraltar
1. Kubana, Kaliningrad – Grab your bathing suit and bring your dancing shoes for Russia's premier seaside music festival. Located on the shores of the Baltic Sea near the seaport city of Kaliningrad, it promises everything a party-loving festivalgoer needs, including some Russian heavy-hitters and a smattering of international acts.
For more information on Kubana, click here.
2. Park Live Festival, Moscow – If you like rock music, you’ll love Moscow's Park Live festival. Past headliners have included Limp Bizkit, The Killers and Marilyn Manson, with the 2015 bill topped out by a two-hour set from Muse. The likes of Royksopp provide an electronic counterpoint to the all those guitars.
For more information on Park Live Festival, click here.
3. Wild Mint, Ethnomir settlement – This celebration of world music offers everything from reggae and jazz to afrobeat and beyond. Foodies take note: Wild Mint also hosts the World-on-a-Plate food festival where you can try delicacies from around the globe. Tired of music and food? Check out one of the bazaars for eccentric Russian trinkets or get spiritual in the Green Age area with the many healers and onsite yoga instructors.
For more information on Wild Mint, click here.
4. Usadba Jazz Festival, Moscow – Set in Moscow's Tsaritsyno Park, this family-friendly festival is one of the country's biggest and best loved. A truly international affair, it offers some of the best jazz and world music performers on the planet and some top-notch gastronomy to boot. Be sure not to miss the fabled firework display that closes out the festival each year!
For more information on Usadba Jazz Festival, click here.
5. Alfa Future People, Volga River – This exotic festival takes place on an airfield on the banks of the Volga River near the city of Nizhny Novgorod. As much a celebration of innovation as music, it offers an eccentric mix of international DJs and electronic music acts with extreme sports shows and technological exhibits, including virtual reality headsets, a giant Tesla coil and some robots. Yes, robots!
For more information on the Alfa Future People, click here.
1. State Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg – Delve deeper into the eccentric mind of this artistic genius as you wander through the museum dedicated solely to Dali in his home town of Figueres. Examine his surrealist creations close up as you learn little known facts about this much disputed figure.
For more information on the State Hermitage Museum, click here.
2. Kunstkamera, St Petersburg – Russia's oldest museum was founded by Peter The Great himself and houses a macabre accumulation of animal and human curiosities. Its collection of over 2 million exhibits includes malformed foetuses, freakish body parts and one or two even more ghoulish items which are not for the faint hearted. Make sure you include it on your Russia travel 2015 itinerary.
For more information on the Kunstkamera, click here.
3. Museum Of Russian Vodka, St Petersburg – Russia's most famous export has been an integral part of its culture for centuries. Learn the history and secrets of the Russian national drink then grab a glass and get stuck in!
For more information on the Museum of Vodka, click here.
4. The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow – The Tretyakov basically documents the history of Russian art and features works from the 12th to 20th centuries. Highlights include such seminal works as Kazimir Malevich's 'Black Square' as well as numerous masterpieces by Kandinsky and other Russian artists.
For more information on the Tretyakov, click here.
5. State Russian Museum, St Petersburg – Housed mainly in the magnificent Mikhailovsky Palace, the Russian Museum hosts the largest collection of fine art of any St Petersburg museum. Which is saying something. The lovely palace gardens are perfect for a contemplative post-museum stroll.
For more information on the State Russian Museum, click here.
St. Petersburg Weather
Russia is a vast and multicultural country, so it's no surprise that its cuisine is hugely varied. More famous exports such as borscht and stroganoff are supplemented by a wealth of lesser-known treasures guaranteed to set your taste buds singing, particularly if washed down with a healthy measure of Russian vodka.
Borscht – This hearty beet soup is made with beef, cabbage and potatoes and will warm you up on even the coldest of Russian winter days. Go heavy on the Smetana (Russian sour cream) for maximum authenticity!
Best eaten at – Cafe Pushkin, Tverskoi Blvd., 26A, Moscow
Pelmeni – These classic Russian dumplings are made from extra thin dough, which is packed with meat, onions and herbs then boiled until literally bursting with flavour.
Best eaten at – Stolovaya No 57, Inside GUM (3rd floor), Moscow
Blini – These crepe-like buckwheat pancakes come in endless varieties, both sweet and savoury. Go full Tsar by sampling them with a dollop of black sturgeon caviar.
Best eaten at – Tsar, Sadovaya Ulitsa, 12, St Petersburg
Beef stroganoff – This creamy stew of beef with mushrooms and onions is famed the world over. Smetana (Russian sour cream) is the secret ingredient that makes the Russian version impossible to beat!
Best eaten at – Godunov, Theatre Square, 5/1, Moscow
Syrniki – An indulgent breakfast treat, these fried cottage cheese pancakes are usually served with varenye (a homemade Russian jam) and sour cream.
Best eaten at – Cafe Singer, Nevsky Prospect, 28, St Petersburg
A copy of Gorky Park - There's no more atmospheric location to immerse yourself in Martin Cruz Smith's spine-tingling Cold War crime thriller.
Painkillers - Whether it's the famed Russian Standard vodka or one of the country's many other varieties, Russians like to drink! Be prepared for a hangover or two.
Translation app - Keen to avoid some nasty surprises at the dinner table? Use your smart phone to translate Russian to English.
Travel adapter & voltage converter - Russia uses the standard European 2-pin plugs, so most travel adapter plugs should have you covered.
Sensible walking shoes - Barcelona and Seville in particular have a number of cobbled streets. Ladies don’t be caught out struggling in high heels!
Russian phrasebook - The Russian language is very difficult to learn, so your best bet is simply to learn some common Russian phrases or at least a few Russian words.