Things to Do in Russia - page 3
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.
One of the few churches that survived the city’s Communist years, the St. Nicholas Naval Cathedral remains an impressive sight with its fairytale-esque white and ice-blue façade capped with five glittering gold cupolas. Commissioned by Empress Elizabeth in 1753, the cathedral’s fanciful Baroque design was the brainchild of architect Savva Chevinskiy and was named in honor of Saint Nicolas, the protector of the seamen.
Located at the heart of the 18th-century sailors’ quarter, the church was affectionately nicknamed the "Sailor’s Church" and served as an important naval center, from where pre-voyage prayers and blessings were made. Today, the two-story church remains a place of worship, as well as a popular tourist attraction, with visitors flocking to admire its magnificent paintings and gilded iconostasis, pay their respects at the memorials of lost seamen and take in the views from the belfry.
Guarding the western end of Nevsky Prospekt, St. Petersburg’s busiest shopping boulevard, Anichkov Palace is one of the street’s oldest buildings, occupying a scenic spot on the Fontanka River waterfront, fronted by the landmark Anichkov Bridge. Commissioned by Empress Elizabeth in 1741, the royal residence was designed by architect Mikhail Zemtsov, and added to over the years by architects like Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli and Karl Rossi.
Despite changing hands many times throughout the years, Anichkov Palace remained a royal residence until 1917, when it was nationalized in the aftermath of the October Revolution and used temporarily to house the St. Petersburg City Museum. Currently, the palace is used as a center for children’s after-school activities and is closed to the public, although visitors can still explore the small onsite history museum or arrange a private tour.
Also known as Russian State Pushkin Academy Drama Theater, the Alexandrinsky Theater opened in 1832 and is the home of the oldest theater company in Russia. It is one of the most famous theaters in St. Petersburg, second only to the historic Mariinsky Theater. The theater building is also considered to be one of the finest works of architect Carlo Rossi. However, inside the theater, only carvings on the Tsar’s Box and a few other boxes remain from Rossi’s original design.
Named after Empress consort Alexandra Feodorovna, the theater was one of the largest in Europe when it opened, with space for an audience of nearly 1400. It has been the site of the premieres of many of the top Russian dramas, including the works of Alexander Griboedov, Alexander Ostrovsky and Anton Chekhov.
One of several churches in Cathedral Square inside of Moscow’s Kremlin, the Assumption Cathedral is arguably the most important. Constructed between 1475 and 1479 at the request of Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow, it is regarded as the mother church of Muscovite Russia.
It was long the place of coronation for the Romanov tsars, and it was the burial place for Moscow metropolitans and patriarchs of the Orthodox Church. Designed by an Italian architect, the cathedral was built with five domes and became a model for other churches throughout Russia with its colorful frescoes that dominate the interior and its impressive iconostasis that dates back to 1547. The tsars often added icons to the iconostasis from the cities they conquered, and the oldest of those, from the 12th century, was brought to Moscow from Veliky Novgorod after it was captured in 1561. Near the south entrance to the cathedral, you can see the throne of Tsar Ivan IV.
Catherine the Great was loved by the people of Russia, and her reign is often referred to as the golden age of Russia. Alexander II wanted to honor the empress and had the Monument to Catherine the Great built. The sculpting began in 1862 and wasn't completed until 1873. The statue shows Catherine the Great wearing an ermine coat. She carries a laurel wreath in her left hand and a specter in her right hand. Around her neck she wears the order of St. Andrew.
There are nine other statues towards the base of the monument, and they represent the sphere of influence of the Empress, including Prince Griogory Potemkin and Field Marshall Alexander Suvorov. The only other female statue aside from Catherine is Princess Catherine Dashkov who was the founder of the Russian Academy of Science. The statue of Catherine the Great was replaced by a statue of Lenin after the 1917 Revolution, but it was put back again after the end of the Soviet regime.
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Officially known as the F.M. Dostoevsky Literary Memorial Museum, this museum celebrates the life of Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky. It was opened in 1971 in the apartment where he lived first in 1846 and again from 1878 until his death in 1881. Notably, it is also where he penned his last novel, the Brothers Karamazov. The interior has been reconstructed based on recollections of Dostoevsky’s wife and friends and includes memorabilia donated by his grandson. A literary exhibit focuses on Dostoevsky’s life and work, while exhibit halls occasionally display contemporary art. The museum library holds about 24,000 volumes and museum collection also includes a large collection of graphic and applied art and a collection of photographs.
Every November, the museum hosts a conference on Dostoevsky and World Culture. It also hosts bus and walking tours of St Petersburg focused on Dostoevsky’s works and the city.
A highlight of a visit to the Kremlin, the Diamond Fund shows off the most ostentatious of the Russian imperial jewels. Originally housed in a small room in the Winter Palace in St Petersburg, the collection of jewels begun by Peter the Great grew quickly, especially after a large contribution by Peter’s granddaughter, Empress Elizabeth I. The collection moved to Moscow in 1914 to protect it from the Germans and was kept in a vault underneath the Kremlin.
When it was reopened in 1926, two-thirds of the collection were auctioned off (contrary to Peter’s instructions) to support the government. What remained was put on display for high ranking officials and dignitaries in 1967 and was only opened to public after the fall of the Soviet Union.
The impressive collection features Catherine the Great’s coronation crown from 1762, the world’s largest sapphire, the famous 190-karat Orlov Diamond, one of the world’s largest gold nuggets weighing 3.6 kilograms.
Opened in 2004, the Gulag History Museum is the only museum in Russia devoted to Joseph Stalin’s legacy of terror in the early to mid-20th century. Founded by a former labor camp prisoner, it tells the stories of the creation of the first labor camps in 1918, the formation of the Gulag system in the 1930s, the expulsion of Germans from the Volga region and the mass deportations in the 1940s. To give visitors a small sense of what the camps may have been like, the museum features a reconstruction of some aspects of the camps, including a barracks, a punishment cell, an investigator’s office and a guard’s watchtower.
Visitors will also learn of the personal stories of gulag victims, with exhibits displaying documents, letters and memoirs of those sent to the camps by Stalin, as well as a collection of art by former gulag prisoners. Contemporary artists have also contributed pieces of art with their interpretation of the labor camps.
Alexander Pushkin was Russia’s most celebrated poet and the Pushkin Museum and Memorial Apartment is a lasting memorial to his life and work. Located in one of the oldest stone mansions in St Petersburg, the apartment museum is just two blocks from Nevsky Prospekt on the banks of the Moika River. A fine example of a nobleman’s apartment in the 1830s, it became a museum in 1925.
The carefully preserved apartment is where Pushkin lived in 1836 and 1837 and where he died after being wounded in a duel. The centerpiece of the museum is Pushkin’s study, where objects belonging to his family, friends and contemporaries are on display. Visitors can also see Pushkin’s writing desk, a death mask, a lock of his hair and other personal items. In the basement of the building are exhibits on the history of the house, Pushkin’s life in St Petersburg in 1836, and the duel that killed him.
No visitor to Russia should leave without experiencing a traditional Russian bathhouse, and the Sandunovsky Baths may be the best place to do so. Founded in 1808, this bathhouse is the largest and most impressive in Moscow, with high ceilings, marble staircases and gold frescoes throughout the interior. It also features a beauty salon, restaurant and laundry service. Called the “czar of bathhouses,” the Sandunovsky Baths are frequented not just by tourists but by Russian businessmen and socialites alike.
To follow the traditional Russian routine, head to the steam room for about 10 minutes, then jump into a pool of cold water and then do it all over again. Take a break in between to have a snack, enjoy a beer or sip a cup of tea. You might also get “beaten” with birch twigs while in the steam room—another longstanding Russian tradition. The women’s side of the baths today feels more like a modern salon, with other typical spa treatments also available.
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