Top “Provincial” Russian Cities to Visit
St Petersburg and Moscow are the two cities that most foreign tourists will go to when they visit Russia. Most often the case, they may be the only cities that tourists visit. But of course, there is more to Russia than Moscow or Petersburg. Each of the “provincial” cities have their own character, dialect, traditions and oddities that make them worth a visit. The more places you go, the more you learn. Here are a few places that I would recommend a visit.
In 1703, Petrozavodsk was founded by Peter the Great. There, an iron foundry was constructed which would supply the new Baltic Fleet with materials such as cannons and anchors. Today, the small but pleasant city is the capital of the Republic of Karelia. Petrozavodsk has a beautiful promenade along the Lake Onega Embankment, with pretty cool modern sculptures dedicated to the city’s history. The real gem of Petrozavodsk is the wooden monastery on Kizhi Island, about an hour and a half away by hydrofoil. There you can experience a quiet, peaceful, more traditional side to Russia, one that is rare to find outside the major cities.
Yaroslavl is one of the oldest cities in Russia, laying claim to the title of “The Capital of the Golden Ring”. “The Golden Ring” is a ring of cities north-east of Moscow that have borne witness to many important events in Russian history. Yaroslavl is one of the largest of these cities. Yaroslavl can boast of many beautiful, traditional Russian Orthodox Churches, the most famous being the Cathedral of St. Elijah the Prophet. The Cathedral is in the town centre and is famous for its breath-taking iconostasis. You won’t feel any closer to Russian Orthodoxy than here. Other Golden Ring cities are within easy reach of Yaroslavl, making it the perfect base from which to travel to these places.
Quite unlike Yaro or Petro, Sochi is like the new kid on the block. If you’re like me and you’re a bit of a sun-worshipper, go to Sochi. The city is one of the few places in Russia that has a “sub-tropical climate”, meaning that it has mild winters and wonderfully hot summers. Costa-del-Sochi anyone? Sochi is more famous for hosting the Winter Olympics, so quite contradictory to the summer heat, you could have a wander around the “Winter” Olympic Park. Sochi is increasingly popular as a summer resort for Russian tourists, so during the high season in summer it can get expensive. If you can, go in September, as one Russian friend recommended me.
Kazan is a very interesting place. Captured by Ivan the Terrible in 1552 from the Golden Horde, the city is a blend of Russian and Muslim Tartar traditions, a mix between the old and the daring contemporary. Kazan has in recent years been a hive of activity. From its Millennium celebrations in 2005, to hosting the 2013 World University Games and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Kazan has seen a great deal of investment and renovation work. The Kremlin is one of the main sights of the city that benefited from this investment and holds the largest mosque in Russia. Apart from the Kremlin, there are many interesting buildings that you can visit.
I mention good old Vladdy because I think it’s a city that is often passed over. This purely being because it is, well, quite far away… However, for me it is one of the most interesting places I have ever visited in Russia. You are geographically in Asia, but you are undeniably still in Russia. The city retains a somewhat Soviet feel; when we visited, our taxi driver boasted that his city was the Soviet Union’s answer to San Francisco, and to be honest, with its own trams and steep hills and suspension bridge looming over the harbour, it’s a fair comparison. I’d visit in the Summer or Spring, to enjoy the best the city has to offer.
There are many other cities and towns in Russia that are definitely worth a visit. Check out this post brought to you by James and Monika who also ventured beyond the Two Capitals!