Top 10 Cultural Sites in Russia

"Discover Jules Verne’s pick of the best cultural sites in Russia, from the Kremlin in Moscow, to Irkutsk in Siberia, there’s so much to see."

July 2017 • Jules Verne

Top 10 Cultural Sites in Russia

  1. The Kremlin

Perhaps the encapsulation of how Russia is seen in the wider world, the Kremlin’s fortified walls rise up from Red Square. The largest and most famous of the Russian citadels, it contains five palaces and four cathedrals, as well as the Grand Kremlin Palace, the official residence of the President of the Russian Federation.

There are many sites to see in and around the Kremlin, including the largest bell in the world, the Tsar Bell, and The Arsenal, which houses Russian state regalia and diamonds. Lenin’s Mausoleum is also just outside the walls.

  1. St Basil’s Cathedral

One of the best-known landmarks in the world, the colourful domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral dominate Moscow’s skyline. Also known as the Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, St Basil’s sits, proudly majestic on the edge of Red Square. The UNESCO World Heritage site is unlike architecture you will find anywhere else in Russia, and the unique design calls to mind the flames of a bonfire. This startling design is memorable to many in the Western World, as it was used as a visual depiction of Russia during the Cold War.

On entering the Cathedral, visitors will find eight chapels surrounding a ninth larger building. These buildings are connected by a complicated system of passages that visitors can use to explore the entire Cathedral. The site has been part of the State Historical Museum in Moscow since 1934, and houses an extensive selection of religious and secular art.

  1. St Petersburg Hermitage

The Hermitage Museum is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world; it opened its doors to the public in 1852. The sprawling building covers over 4.5 square kilometres. Its impressive size is matched only by its stately architecture and interiors, much of which remains as it was when the museum was founded in 1754 by Catherine the Great.

The collections housed within the museum are as vast as the museum itself, comprising over 3 million items, including the largest collection of paintings in the world. Our favourites of the stunning collections include the Russian art, the impressionist and the post-impressionist collections. There are also fascinating antiquities and prehistoric artworks.

  1. The Winter Palace

The Winter Palace at St Petersburg deserves its own spot on this list, despite forming part of the larger Hermitage Museum. This historic building was the official residence of the reigning Russian monarchs between 1732 and 1917, when the palace was stormed by revolutionaries. It is an iconic symbol of the Russian Revolution.

During this turbulent period, the Winter Palace played a pivotal role, making it fascinating for those interested in the Russian Revolution and the changing political and cultural climate it precipitated. Today, the palace has been restored to its former glory. Gilded and crowned double-headed eagles adorn the walls, balconies and gates, acting as a reminder not only of Russia’s imperial past but also of its revolution.

  1. The Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood

One of the best-known buildings in St Petersburg, the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood was built in the late 19th century on the site where Emperor Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881. The building differs visually from those surrounding it, and references medieval styles in the spirit of romantic nationalism, with its onion-shaped domes and the intricate mosaics that cover the walls and ceilings of the interior.

Today, those visiting the church can see the elaborate shrine erected on the exact place of the Tsar’s assassination, which is lavishly decorated with topaz, lazurite and other semi-precious stones. The richness of the shrine is juxtaposed by the original cobblestones of the old road that can still be seen in the church today.

  1. Catherine Palace at Pushkin

Built in the Rococo style 30 km south of St Petersburg, The Catherine Palace was once the stylish summer residence of the Tsars. It was built in 1717 by Catherine I, but Empress Elizabeth tore down the original structure to build the sugar-coloured confection we can visit today. This enormous palace is 325 metres long, centred around an azure and white Hermitage Pavilion near a lake. The entire building has over 100 kilograms of gold gilding and is crowned by a glittering statue.

Much of this beautiful building has been restored to its former glory; visitors can enjoy the exquisite Golden Enfilade state rooms and glimpse the opulence the Russian monarchy enjoyed during their reign. The manicured grounds are particularly impressive during the hazy summer months.

  1. The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery

Located in the small town of Kirillov on the banks of the Siversky lake, the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery has been an important cultural landmark in the area for over seven centuries. At first glance across the frigid waters, it looks more like a fortress than a monastery, with its white walls and turrets. However, inside there are two separate priories and 11 churches dating back to the 16th century.

Monks still live here, making it one of the oldest functioning monasteries in Russia, as well as one of the largest in the north of the country. Those visiting the monastery today will be able to enjoy a vast collection as part of the Museum of History, Art and Architecture on the grounds.

  1. Krasnoyarsk

Situated on an important junction on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the entire city of Krasnoyarsk is a fascinating cultural site. The author Anton Chekhov described the city as the most beautiful in Siberia, and it is easy to see why. With a rich architectural style within the city, and the large nature reserve known for its giant granite rock formations, this area is as diverse as it is intriguing.

There are many cultural and historical sites to see while visiting, such as the regional museum, which shows the history of the area, as well as the Cultural and History Center, where many of the exhibitions are free.

  1. Irkutsk

The historic city centre of Irkutsk has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its cultural dominance over Siberia. One of the main draws is the beautiful architecture, which can be seen across the inner-city area. The architectural style creatively mixes white, terracotta and green with liberal gilding.  

Find out more about the architecture of the area at the open-air museum of Siberian traditional architecture just outside the city centre. This captivating museum houses many old wooden buildings that have been transplanted from the Angara valley after it was flooded because of dams built in the area.

  1. Kizhi Pogost

The Kizhi Pogost is a UNESCO protected landmark on the Kizhi Island on Lake Onega. The settlement, known as a pogost in Russian, includes two large churches and a bell tower inside a long perimeter fence. Famous for its beauty, the structures have survived since their construction in the 17th century despite being made entirely of wood.

The island of Kizhi is also home to a world-renowned open-air Museum of Cultural History and Architecture, which includes old houses assembled from around Russia and restored to how they would have looked in times gone by. Visiting this unique island gives an unparalleled glimpse into the past.

If you have been inspired to visit Russia, discover this majestic country for yourself on a Jules Verne tour of Russia. Get even more travel inspiration on our blog.