As the world’s largest country, Russia is home to a uniquely homogeneous people who, over the centuries, have both resisted and co-opted influences from Europe to the West and Asia to the East. Covering nine different time zones, this great and often misunderstood country requires serious time to explore in any great detail but contains myriad wonders.
Russian Railways is a no-frills service that is nonetheless expansive, affordable and notoriously reliable, even in the deepest, darkest Russian winters. The most popular internal route links Moscow with St Petersburg, and was recently improved by the introduction of Sapsan high-speed trains that cut the 700km (445 miles) journey time down to just shy of four hours.
Known as Leningrad from 1924 to 1991, St Petersburg is a former capital of the Russian Empire and today a unique 21st century city brimming with stunning relics of Russia’s regal past. The city centre is best explored on foot, allowing visitors to seemingly stumble upon the almost endless list of eye-catching landmarks, from the Church of the Savior on Blood to the Winter Palace, home of the world famous Hermitage Museum.
Siberia accounts for nearly three quarters of Russia’s landmass and perhaps unsurprisingly, given the terrain, is today one of the most sparsely populated areas of the world. When exploring the highland tundra and rich biodiversity of the Altai Mountain range you’ll feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of Moscow. The area is a mecca for adventure tourists, attracted by everything from white-water rafting to caving.
Amongst its many record-breaking feats, Russia can boast the longest railway line in the world: the Trans-Siberian Railway. Linking Moscow with Vladivostok, on Russia’s Golden Horn Bay, this route has become the stuff of legend and immortalised in literature, feature film and even theatre.
A dark chapter from Russia's recent past, the gulag prison camps have been largely confined to the history books, dismantled and put well out of reach of tourists. Yet, deep in the Ural Mountains, you can find the remains of Perm-36, the only former gulag that formally accepts visitors. Walk around the former prison blocks and learn more about life for political prisoners in the extensive museum or, better still, arrange a guided tour.
Beach holidays might not be the first thing that springs to mind when thinking about Russia, but the climate can deliver reliable sun through the summer. Sochi and Anapa, two of the most popular Caspian coastal resorts, attract millions of tourists.
Best described as heavy and hearty - think potato, rye bread and meat stews - Russian cuisine boasts a distinct style and unique allure that's fascinated visitors for centuries.
National dishes tend to be simple and centred around root vegetables. Borscht (beetroot soup) is a local delicacy, and pelmeni is another dish universally loved across Russia. These boiled meat dumplings are considered a convenience food and come served with melted butter or sour cream.
Like the locally distilled vodka, kvass is a drink that's become a national symbol. Sour to the taste, it’s made from the natural fermentation of rye bread and has a low alcohol rating, typically just under one per cent.