Things to Do in Russia - page 2
Art enthusiasts visiting St. Petersburg will already have the State Russian Museum at the top of their itinerary and the prestigious gallery doesn’t disappoint, with an incredible 400,000 exhibits dating back as early as the 10th century. This is the world’s largest and finest museum of Russian Art, as well as Russia’s first state-owned art museum, and walking its halls is like taking a journey through the country’s art history.
The museum was opened in 1898 inside the grand Mikhailovsky Palace and its collection has steadily grown, amassing a large number of private art collections and religious art confiscated during the Russian Revolution. Today, the extensive exhibitions are housed in a complex of palatial buildings including the Benois Wing, the Stroganov Palace, St Michael's Castle, the Marble Palace and the Mikhailovsky Gardens.
The Admiralty Building is one of St. Petersburg's oldest structures. It was built by Peter the Great and originally served as a dockyard. It once housed the Admiralty Board, which was in charge of ship building and eventually became part of the ministry of the navy. Some sections were built in the 1700s while other additions were constructed in the 1800s.
Unfortunately visitors today won't be able to see the building in its original state. Many of the statues were destroyed in 1860 when the Orthodox church declared them to be pagan. The building was also damaged during the blockade of Leningrad and was attacked by the Germans in World War II. The Admiralty Building does still have lots of sculptures and reliefs to admire. There is also a 240 foot golden spire with its weather vane, a little ship, that sits on top of it and is one of the city's most recognizable landmarks. The original is in the Naval Museum, so the one you see here today is a replica.
For an inside look at the extravagance of the Russian tsars, pay a visit to the Kremlin Armoury. Housed in a mid-19th century building inside the Kremlin, the Armoury Chamber displays a wide variety of items from the tsars’ treasury, including ancient state regalia, ceremonial dress and the largest collection of gold and silver by Russian craftsmen.
Spread out over nine halls on two floors, the Armoury is home to more than 4000 items of applied art of Russia, European and Eastern countries of the fourth to the early 20th centuries. On display are Russian gold and silverware, including works by Petersburg and Moscow masters and the famous Faberge eggs. You will see European and Oriental ceremonial weapons, guns crafted in Persia and Turkey and Russian arms dating back to the 12th century. Exhibits also feature ambassadorial gifts from Germany, England, Sweden, Poland and France, including a unique collection of English Renaissance silver and French dinner and tea sets.
Novodevichy Convent & Cemetery comprise one of Moscow’s most beautiful attractions. Also known as the New Maiden’s Convent, the convent may be best known as the place where Peter the Great imprisoned his half-sister Sofia after deposing her and taking over as tsar of Russia. He later confined his first wife to the convent as well. Originally built as a fortress in 1524 to commemorate the conquest of Smolensk, the convent features 12 battle towers. Most of the current buildings, however, date to the late 17th century, when the convent was substantially rebuilt.
The largest and most important church in the convent is the five-domed Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk. It was finished in 1525 and contains impressive icons dating to the 16th and 17th centuries. Almost as impressive as the Cathedral is the red and white Church of the Assumption, built in 1680.
Fittingly for a drink that dates right back to the 12th century, the perfect place to sample Russian vodka is located in St Petersburg’s former military stables and is part of the Museum Quarter project to protect the historic buildings of the city center. Exhibitions at the Russian Vodka Museum romp through the story of the spirit’s production and its cultural importance, detailing its rise in popularity and refinement from a drink for medieval peasants to the favorite tipple of the Russian aristocracy in the 19th century. Displays include shot glasses, an enormous collection of unusual vodka bottles, posters from previous advertising campaigns and ancient equipment used in distillation. All visits to the museum terminate with a tasting of several different flavored vodkas accompanied by Russian snacks known as zakuski – ‘little bites’ of caviar, salads, pickles, smoked meats or fish normally served with flatbread as hors d’oeuvres before dinner.
The vast, open spaces of Revolution Square lie just north of Moscow’s fabled Red Square in the Tverskoy District and the two are connected by the twin spires of the Resurrection Gate, which was first built in 1535 and restored in 1945 after the end of World War II. Revolution Square is so-named thanks to its role as a gathering place during Russia’s socialist revolution in 1917 and in recent times has once more been the hub of dissension under the rule of Putin; however visitors are more likely to find it full of market stalls selling souvenirs than protesting crowds.
In a pedestrianized public square surrounded with monumental pre-war architecture, the standout building is the vast, red-brick edifice of Moscow City Hall. Built in Russian Revivalist style in 1890, this was originally home of the ruling Duma, which was disbanded after the Revolution in 1917.
Originally named the Decembrists’ Square, after the December 1825 uprising, Senate Square (Ploschad Dekabristov) is one of St. Petersburg’s most famous public squares, encircled by some of the city’s top attractions. Linked to the central hub of Palace Square by the 407 meter-long Admiralty building – the one-time Russian Naval Headquarters – Senate Square is also home to the grand Senate Building and the early 19th-century Cavalry Manege, now home to the Central Exhibition Hall, and backs onto the grounds of the gold-domed St Isaac’s Cathedral.
The unforgettable centerpiece of Senate Square is its Bronze Horseman statue, one of the most iconic symbols of St. Petersburg. Commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1778, the statue is the work of French sculptor Étienne Maurice Falconet and depicts a horseback Peter the Great atop the “Thunder Stone,” an enormous cliff-like pedestal fashioned from a single piece of red granite and weighing in at around 1,500 tons.
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Kolomenskoye is an ancient royal estate located a few kilometers southeast of Moscow. Perched on a bluff above the Moscow River, the estate served as a summer residence for the Grand Dukes of Moscow and Russian Tsars. In the 1920s, it became home to the first open-air museum of wooden architecture in Russia and today stretches over 900 acres.
One of the highlights of the estate is the Church of the Ascension, built in 1532 and considered to be a masterpiece of both Russian and world architecture, built in white stone with an octagonal “tent” topped by a small dome at the top. Another highlight is the reconstructed Palace of the Tsar Alexey Mikhailovich. Originally built in the mid-17th century, the wooden palace consisted of 250 rooms and a complex maze of corridors – all constructed without using nails, saws or hooks! Empress Catherine the Great demolished the palace in 1768, but a model survived, forming the basis for the full-scale reconstruction in 2010.
Named after Russian author Maxim Gorky, Gorky Park is Moscow’s most famous park, covering 300 acres along the Moskva River near the center of the city. Opened in 1928, it was the first park of its kind in Russia and served as a model for other parks throughout the country. During Soviet times, it was a center of activity for Moscow residents, featuring roller-coasters, a Ferris wheel and other western-style carnival rides, as well as more formal gardens and woodlands.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the park fell into disrepair, but has been completely reconstructed in recent years. Old amusement park rides have been cleared away to make room for a more eco-friendly recreational area. Today, the park features contemporary art displays, new cafes and an open air cinema. Lounge chairs and pillow-shaped bean bags welcome those looking for a little relaxation and free wi-fi is available throughout.
St. Petersburg’s preeminent opera and ballet venue, and home to the world-renowned Kirov Ballet, Mariinsky Theatre has long been at the center of the city’s rich arts scene. Built in 1859 by architect Albert Cavos and named after Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the theatre saw a host of prestigious performers grace its stage during its pre-Revolution heyday, including dancers like Vatslav Nizhinsky, Matilda Kshesinskaya and Anna Pavlova, and opera singer Fiodor Shaliapin.
The Mariinsky Theatre’s present-day building was restored in 1944, after being damaged during in the Siege of Leningrad, and features a 1,625-seat auditorium. Today, the historic theatre is accompanied by the Mariinsky Theatre concert hall, or Mariinsky II, an incongruously modern building that opened next door to the original theater in 2007.
One of several churches standing on Cathedral Square inside Moscow’s Kremlin, the Cathedral of the Archangel was the main burial place for Russian tsars for centuries until the capital was temporarily moved to St. Petersburg. Built in the early 16th century, it represented the culmination of a grand building project initiated by Ivan the Great. Built in a style unique from the other Kremlin cathedrals, the Cathedral of the Archangel features Italian Renaissance design elements, as well as five domes representing Jesus and the four evangelists.
While many of the cathedral’s treasures are now displayed in the Kremlin Armory Museum, the 17th century iconostasis remains, as do many 16th and 17th century wall frescoes, painted by more than 100 different artists. The oldest icon in the cathedral, which depicts Archangel Michael in full armor, dates back to the 14th century.
Moscow’s Kazan Cathedral was built between 1633 and 1636 to celebrate Russia’s liberation from Polish invaders in 1612, the end of the Time of Troubles. Prince Dmitry Pozharsky often prayed to a holy icon of Our Lady of Kazan, to which he attributed his success in removing Polish occupiers. Kazan Cathedral housed the icon for two centuries. In 1936, the church was intentionally demolished as part of a greater plan to remodel Red Square to host military parades for the Soviet Union. Using measurements and photographs of the original church, the All-Russian Society for Historic Preservation and Cultural Organization built a replica of the cathedral in 1993. Services are held within the cathedral twice each Sunday, as well as for vespers on Monday evening.
With its orange-brick façade and gilded church spire, hemmed in by the waters of the Fontanka and Moika Rivers, Mikhailovsky Castle offers an enchanting first impression, but it’s the palace’s somber history that will stick in the minds of visitors. Built between 1797 and 1800 during the short reign of Emperor Paul I, the castle was the result of the enigmatic leader’s near-obsessive fear of being assassinated. Claiming that he was visited in a dream by the Archangel Michael and advised to build a castle on the site of his birthplace, the Tsar did just that – erecting a supposedly impenetrable fortress underlain with secret tunnels and protected by fortified ramparts, drawbridges and a moat. Somewhat ironically, fate stepped in, and just a month after moving into his safeguard the Tsar was murdered in his sleep.
The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is the largest European art museum in Moscow, with over 560,000 works of art. Opened in 1912, it actually has no connection to Alexander Pushkin, the famous Russian poet – it was simply renamed in his honor in 1937 to mark the centenary of his death.
The museum includes an impressive collection of Dutch and Flemish masterpieces from the 17th century, including several works by Rembrandt, as well as Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works by painters such as Van Gogh, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso. The latter are now housed in a new Gallery of European & American Art of the 19th and 20th centuries next door to the main museum building. Many of the museum’s paintings were obtained in the 1920s and 1930s when private estates were nationalized; other works were taken from the History Museum, the Kremlin Museum, the Hermitage and other museums in St Petersburg.
Things to do near Russia
- Things to do in St Petersburg
- Things to do in Moscow
- Things to do in Novorossiysk
- Things to do in Murmansk
- Things to do in Kazan
- Things to do in Sochi
- Things to do in Volgograd
- Things to do in Yekaterinburg
- Things to do in Nizhny Novgorod
- Things to do in Estonia
- Things to do in Belarus
- Things to do in Urals
- Things to do in Volga Region
- Things to do in Southern Russia