Russia: home to the biggest expanse of land in the world, boasting a rich culture throughout its diverse landscapes. Exploring this mammoth country can be a huge adventure, and while there’s a lot to be said for its two largest cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is a great deal to be found elsewhere. Beyond its European-adjacent cities, Russia spans many miles, meeting Asia at its easternmost point. While it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the country’s wild natural landscape, it is home to adventure unlike any other and, if you’re planning a trip there any time soon, it might be in your best interests to go off the beaten track a little.
Located in the middle of the hugely popular Trans-Siberian railway that spans Russia and Siberia, Irkutsk is the most frequented spot along the way, acting as a gateway to the east. Swathed in 19th century architecture, historical churches and foodie eating spots, the city is a balance of ancient and modern cultures, offering an insight to the Russia of centuries past. Located within traveling distance of the huge Lake Baikal, the city is a stone’s throw from wild nature, giving you a taste of the brutal power of the country’s rural landscape. Steeped in local culture but open to outsiders, the city is the best of both worlds and might just make you see Russia anew.
The official third capital of Russia, Kazan is one of the oldest parts of the country still entirely intact, dating back an impressive 1,000 years. Thanks to its ancient status, many parts of the city still stand as they once did, acting as shining beacons of the country’s rich past. While many visitors flock to Kazan’s famous Annunciation Cathedral, you would do just as well to take a peek at the Kazan Kremlin or the Old Tatar Settlement. Steeped in architecture and history, Kazan is old Russia at its best.
Surrounded by snow-capped mountains, a network of watery bays and century-old mansions, Vladivostok is one of the most picturesque spots in the whole of Russia. Known unofficially as Russia’s answer to San Francisco, the city is a busy spot along the Trans-Siberian railway, offering tourists a glimpse of the country’s recent past. While the summer months are popular among travelers, the city is best enjoyed during September or October, when some of the most spectacular sunsets can be glimpsed.
Located near popular tourist spot Irkutsk, Lake Baikal is one of the most popular spots in rural Russia. As the oldest and deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal is seriously impressive and might just put your historical expectations in perspective. Visit during the summer months and you will be treated to some of the bluest waters you’ve ever seen, presented against a backdrop of snowy mountain ranges. During the winter, however, the entire lake freezes over and those adventurous enough to brave the icy temperatures can marvel at one of the most unique icy vistas in the world.
Diverse, culturally rich, and expansive, Russia offers travelers so much more than just its two biggest cities — and, if you’re looking for an entirely unique kind of adventure, it might just be the place for you.