With 17, 075,400 sq kilometers (6,592,850 sq miles) Russia is the largest country in the world -- twice as large as either the United States of America or the Republic of China. Russia is bordered by Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus and the Ukraine to the north and west; Georgia and Azerbaijan to the southwest; and Kazakhstan Mongolia and China to the south.
Not to be outdone by the grandeur of its historic cities, Russia boasts some of the most diverse countryside to be found. In the north are tracts of forests, lakes, marshes and tundra - with many possibilities for skiers, hikers and campers. In the south, the Caucasus Mountains are a spectacularly beautiful range with year-round skiing, mineral water spas, and lush, alpine meadows. Though winters can be long and cold near the Arctic Circle, most of Russia possesses a moderate climate in the spring and summer, particularly along the Baltic Coast.
Why take an incentive group to Russia?
There are many unique opportunities for discovering this rich and sophisticated country full of history, culture, and cuisine. The major cities easily handle group sizes of 20-300 people, with the rural areas more suitable for smaller, intimate groups of 20-75 people. Staying in the major cities and taking day trips into the countryside is suggested for first time visitors. Programs can be held year-round. The nature of the program will be custom designed depending upon the weather and activities of each region. Special arrangements can be made for meetings and incentive programs. There are many extraordinary mansions and palaces that can be used for large dinners and special events from 50 to 300 people. To avoid heavy traffic in Moscow, arrangements can be made to use a police escort in the special emergency lanes of the streets.
Russia, the world's largest country, covers almost twice the area of the United States, reaching from Moscow in the west over the Urals and the Siberian plains to the Sea of Okhotsk in the east. The border between European Russian and Siberia (or Asian Russia) is formed by the Ural Mountains, the Ural River and the Manych Depression. European Russia extends from the North Polar Sea across the Central Russian Uplands to the Black Sea, the Northern Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. Siberia stretches from the West Siberian Plain across the Central Siberian Plateau between Yenisey and Lena, including the Sayan, Yablonovy and Stanovoy ranges in the south to the East Siberian Mountains between Lena and the Pacific coast including the Chukotskiy and Kamchatka peninsulas.
History & Culture
"Nowhere is there a country where there is such diversity of races, of customs, of religion as in Russia." Tsar Nicholas
The capital of the Russian Federation, Moscow, was founded in 1147. Archeological evidence suggests that a settlement has existed on this site since the Neolithic Era. With 12 million people, Moscow is one of the largest cities in the world as well as a major Russian seaport. Ten rivers run through the city connecting it to five seas: the White, Baltic, Azov, Black and Caspian. Through the centuries Moscow has been invaded and burned by her enemies many times. Each time the Russians were able to retake the city and rebuild, each time surpassing its original splendor. No victory was more bittersweet for Napoleon when he marched on the capital with French troops in 1812. Russians had abandoned the city and the French marched in only to be denied their prize by a series of fires that started simultaneously throughout the city. Moscow's citizens destroyed most of their city and their stores of food in order to deny Napoleon his victory. With winter coming, Napoleon was forced to pull out less than a month after he arrived. Moscow's citizens feverishly rebuilt the city in just a few short years.
Moscow is built in a circle around Red Square the focal point of the city. Once a market square, Red Square has long been a gathering place for Moscow's citizens. Ivan the Terrible publicly confessed his crimes, built St. Basil's in the 1550s to commemorate his victories, and executed numerous suspected enemies in Red Square. In 1698, two thousand of Peter the Great's palace guards were executed here en masse after an unsuccessful mutiny attempt. Soviet rulers chose Red Square for their military parades. The name Red Square (Krasnaya Ploshchad in Russian) does not refer to either communism, the color, or the blood that has been shed on the site. Krasnyy originally meant "beautiful" and only in the 20th century did it also come to mean "red" also.
On one side of Red Square is the Kremlin, a unique complex of architectural monuments surrounded by ancient red brick walls crowned with 19 towers. In the center of the Kremlin is Cathedral Square with the Cathedral of the Assumption, once the site of royal weddings and coronation ceremonies. Prince Yuri Dolgoruky built the first wooden Kremlin in 1156. Stonewalls were added later during the reign of Prince Dmitry Donskoy. The architectural ensemble of the Kremlin seen today appeared in the 15th century when the seat of Orthodox religion was moved to Moscow. Several Italian architects were invited at that time to reconstruct the Kremlin, including its cathedrals and chapels. "Kremlin" is a common word meaning "fortress"; kremlins are found in many other cities.
The Armory Chamber, founded in 1511, is one of the oldest museums on the Kremlin grounds. The present building dates back to the 1850s and houses a priceless collection of richly decorated weapons, armor, the Russian Tsars' crown jewels, carriages, thrones, furniture, Royal gowns, jewelry and the famous collection of Faberge Easter Eggs. The Armory also contains the Diamond Fund, a gem collection of the treasury's most precious items, including unique diamonds and gold nuggets from Siberia, rare emeralds and sapphires, and the invaluable crown of Catherine the Great which is adorned with more than 5,000 diamonds.
Ivan the Terrible, to commemorate the conquest of the Tartar City of Kazan on the Volga River, constructed St. Basil's (Intercession) Cathedral in the 1550s. The tradition of building a church to commemorate an important military event is the explanation for the existence of over 3,000 churches in Moscow before 1917. St. Basil's cathedral boasts the traditional onion-shaped domes and tent-style roofs of ancient Russian wooden churches. St. Basil was constructed in stone, decorated in rich colors, bright tiles, and is a striking example of the exotic grandeur of old Russian architecture. Today the Cathedral is a museum housing an exhibition on the history of its construction.
The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts was built in the Neo-classical style in the late 19th century and houses one of the world's largest collections of Western European Art. Of particular interest are the French Impressionist halls featuring works by Monet, Cézanne, Degas and Van Gogh.
The Novodevichv (New Maiden) Convent's architecture dates from the 16th and 17th centuries. The complex was originally built as a fortified monastery surrounded by brick walls with 21 towers. Many notable figures are buried in the old cemetery within the convent walls including Gogol, Chekov, Prokofiev, and Shaliapin.
The imposing Bolshoi Theater was built by Osip Bove in 1824 and is home to the internationally renowned Bolshoi Ballet and Opera. The Bolshoi Ballet itself was founded in 1773 as a dancing school for the Moscow Orphanage. Much later, Tsarist patronage (and French and Italian teachers in the 19th century) raised the status of ballet to one of higher prestige. The atmosphere of this 18th century theater is magical, with its glittering, six-tier auditorium.
The blue and white mansion now known as the House of the Russian Army (formerly Catherine's Cottage), was built as a home for the Saltykov family in the late 18th century. During the reign of Catherine the Great the home, with its quaint French garden, was turned into a school for young ladies of noble Russian parentage. The recently restored interior, with its theater, music salon and drawing rooms evoke the grandeur of the past.
The Golden Ring
The Golden Ring is a circle of towns and villages northeast of Moscow which preceded the capital as the cultural and political heart of Russia. The towns are a stunning example of early Russian craftwork Many of the towns provide a glimpse of peaceful country life as it has been lived throughout the villages of European Russia.
Perhaps the best known town of the Golden Ring is Suzdal, officially protected against industrial development. This little town boasts over 50 protected buildings, and is a well-preserved example of ancient architecture. Its small size provides an amazing glimpse into rural Russia's past. First mentioned in 1024, Suzdal was briefly the capital of the Rostov-Suzdal principality in the early 12th century. In subsequent centuries it became an important monastic center, and more than 30 beautiful churches adorn the town.
The town of Sergiev Possad (formerly Zagorsk) was founded in the 14th century. The town centers on the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius, one of the finest examples of early Russian architecture, and the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church. Among the Monastery's treasures are the white stone Trinity Cathedral, with icons painted by Russian masters, Andrei Rublev and Daniel Chorny, and the Museum of Applied Arts. The Museum displays ancient embroideries, gold and silver tableware, palace furniture, and tapestries dating from the 17th to 20th centuries. Sergiev Possad is also the center of the handmade toy industry, and home to the Toy Museum which has an impressive collection of toys beginning in the Bronze age.
Karelia & Petrozavodsk
Karelia is a vast wilderness stretching from St. Petersburg to the Arctic Circle. Bordered by Finland and the White Sea, its landscape is a mosaic of forests, marshes and lakes. With 60,000 lakes, Karelia boasts the two largest in Europe, Ladoga and Onega. This area is well suited to kayaking and river rafting.
Tourists visit Petrozavodsk, the region's capital, to view the collection of old Russian wooden buildings on Kizhi Island and the remarkable Church of the Transfiguration. With its 22 domes and not one nail, the Church of the Transfiguration is considered the flower of Russian Wooden Architecture.
St Petersburg, the Venice of the North, is Russia's second largest city. It is a full of historical splendor with churches, palaces, and museums all within walking distance of each other. In contrast to Moscow, St. Petersburg, built by Peter the Great in 1703, was intended to serve as a "window to the west", and retains a European flair. St. Petersburg remained the capital during 200 years of Tsarist Russia.
During the White Nights of St. Petersburg, in June and July, the city remains in twilight and takes on an ethereal quality. The granite quays, Neva River bridges, the palaces and cathedrals, mazes of streets, and the squares become covered with a mysterious mist. The longest days, June 21 and 22, contain almost 19 hours of sunlight.
"Whenever I see a straight avenue, I know that Peter has been here. You may easily imagine that I feel myself a foot higher, in walking a path which has been cleared for me by an Emperor!" Andrew Swinton, 1789
One of the grandest museums in the world, the Hermitage, consists of five historic interconnected buildings (including the Winter Palace, once the home to the Royal Family). It contains over three million exhibits of what has been called the best art collection in the world. The museum exhibits are enhanced by the splendor of the ornate buildings, with their regal facades, frescoed halls, and floors enhanced with marble, wood and mosaic patterns. Not just limited to Russian art, one can view ancient Egyptian artifacts, Mongolian relics, and works by Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Picasso, Rembrandt, and the recently unearthed rooms that once housed Tsar Peter the Great.
Just across the Neva River from the Hermitage is the Peter and Paul Fortress the historical core of St. Petersburg. The Fortress served as a political prison for two hundred years, and its more famous inmates were Dostoevsky, Gorky, Lenin's elder brother (Alexandr ulyanov), and Leon Trotsky. The Fortress Cathedral is the burial place for most of Russia's Tsars and Tsarinas from the 17th century on.
Located in the heart of St. Petersburg, near the Winter Palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress, is the Grand Duke Vladimir's Palace. Built in the 19th century for the son of Tsar Alexander II, the palace is a stunning example of the Florentine Palazzo style of architecture. The exquisite interiors are perfectly preserved in their original magnificence and splendor and have never been restored.
The Church of the Savior on the Blood (officially named the Church of the Resurrection of Christ) ) is located in the center of St. Petersburg, and is an excellent example of Russian architecture and decorative art of the end of the 19th century. The church was erected on the site where Tsar Alexander II was fatally wounded in 1881, hence its more common name. The canal was diverted so the exact location of his attack can be memorialized. The church is decorated after the style of the 17th century Muscovite Tsars and boasts richly adorned mosaics, precious stones, enamel tiles, ornate icons, and canopies.
>Better known as the Kirov, the Mariinsky Theater was built in 1860 as an opera house and named for Tsar Alexander II's wife, Maria. Once home of Sergei Diaghilev's Ballet Russe where many of the finest dancers in the world debuted, from Vaslav Nijinsky and Anna Pavlova to Rudolf Nureyev, Natalia Makarova, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. No visit to St. Petersburg is complete without catching a performance at the Mariinsky.
Approximately 15 miles south of St. Petersburg lie the ornate palaces and relaxing parks of Pushkin. Formerly called Tsarskoye Selo (Tsar's Village), the city was renamed in honor of Russia's favorite poet, who studied here in 1937. The centerpiece is the vast Catherine's Palace, built in the Baroque style between 1752 and 1756 by the architect V.V. Rastrelli. Catherine the Great had many of the interiors remodeled in the classical style by Scottish designer Charles Cameron. The Palace remained in use by various Tsars until 1917 and was completely ruined by the Germans during WWII. To date the exterior and more than 20 rooms have been skillfully restored to their previous splendor.
The spectacular Petrodvorets (Peterhof) Palace, the "kingdom of fountains," is on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland and 18 miles from St. Petersburg. Set amid magnificent gardens, Peterhof is reminiscent of Versailles and was only used by royalty for state occasions. Peterhof's famed fountains, with their statues of gold are fed by a unique system (partially engineered by Peter the Great) of underground tunnels that stretch for miles beneath the grounds. The Grand Palace was originally built for Tsar Peter I, enlarged for Empress Elizabeth, remodeled by Catherine the Great and almost completely destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. Meticulous restoration has returned it to its full splendor. The pendulous chandeliers and paintings are originals, as they were fortunately removed prior to German occupation. Seven museums on the grounds are open to the public during the spring.
The River Volga, meandering over much of European Russia, has been the major waterway of the region for over a millennium. While the cities of the middle and lower Volga are primarily industrial ports, the upper river is decorated by more ancient cities. Cities of interest include Kazan (founded in the 13th century and one of the oldest Tartar cities), ulyanovsk (the birthplace of Vladimir ulyanov, known to the world as Lenin), Astrakhan and Rostov-on-Don (near the remains of a 3rd Century BC Greek colony).
Stretching from the Black Sea to the Caspian Sea, the dramatic Caucasus Mountains make up Russia's southern border. Rising from the western end of the Baxan Valley, on a northern spur of the Caucasus range is Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. Elbrus is a perfect area for beautiful walks, hikes, year-round skiing, and mineral water spas.
Where the Caucasus meets the Black Sea is Russia's holiday coast, with the main resort in Sochi. At the eastern end of the Caucasus sits Dagestan, a complex city with an Asian flavor. In Dagestan, meaning "Mountain Kingdom," one can hear over 30 languages spoken by its citizens, who are divided into 81 nationalities. This great diversity is a result of its position as a main migratory corridor between the Caspian and the Caucasus.
The Urals, Siberia and the Far East
Founded in 1651 as a Cossack Garrison, Irkutsk reflects the Asian influences of nearby China and Mongolia. Destroyed by fire in 1879, the city's architecture dates from the gold rush of the 1880s. Brick mansions, grand buildings and shops filled with luxury goods caused Irkutsk to be known during that time as "the Paris of Siberia." The town is situated on the banks of the Angara, the only outflowing river from Lake Baikal.
Lake Baikal is the "Pearl of Siberia". A lake bigger than the country of Belgium, it is not only the world's deepest lake, with a depth of 1,637 meters (over a mile), it is the world's most ancient lake. Scientist's have calculated its existence to be somewhat over 25 million years. A unique ecologically area, Baikal sports many species of plants and animals that have evolved in relative isolation from the rest of the planet. Between 70% to 80% of plants and animals are found nowhere else. Ushkan Islands, in the center of the lake, is home to freshwater seal colonies. Olkhon Island is the site of primitive rock drawings and the burial place of an ancient Siberian tribe whose members are thought to have been ancestors of indigenous North Americans.
Yakutsk began as a garrison town and today is a major scientific center for permafrost research. The countryside surrounding Yakutsk is home to a variety of landscapes, from alpine meadows to moss-covered tundra, with sandy deserts near the Arctic Zone.
Khabarovsk is the largest industrial center of Siberia. Intermingled among its 1930s-era Constructivist architecture are red brick houses with roofs curiously shaped like pine needles. Though only 25 km from China, the town has a warm, European feel, with its leafy, tree-lined main boulevard.
Vladivostok, a military and naval base, was opened to foreign visitors in 1990. One of Russia's most attractive cities, the center is arranged on tiers above the Golden Horn Bay. The gateway to the Pacific and the East, the town is also within reach of the Ussuriysk Taiga, a unique habitat for pre-glacial plants, tigers, leopards, bison, boar and bears.
Recreation & Sports
- Horseback Riding
- Rafting & canoeing
- Skiing - Cross-country & downhill
- Spectator Sports
- Troika rides
There are approximately 2,500 hotels in Russia with many specializing in foreign guests. The range spans from very basic accommodations to grand 4 & 5-star hotels in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In addition, there are Bed & Breakfast accommodations with English-speaking families in the larger cities. Camping tours are also offered by a number of independent companies.
Northern and Central European Russia has the most varied climate with mild areas along the Baltic Coast where the summer sun may last nine hours a day, but there are very cold winters. In Southern European Russia winter is shorter than in the north. The southeastern Steppes have hot, dry summers and very cold winters. The north and northeastern Black Sea has mild winters and heavy year round rainfall. Siberia has very cold winters and pleasant summers, although they tend to be short and wet. There is considerable seasonal temperature variation.
Telephone service, facsimile, telex, telegrams, radio (English & Russian language) and television are all readily available. Major hotels also carry satellite television with English-language programming. Most major hotels have Internet access and some have business centers for guest use. Email is very reliable and in common use throughout the country.
Ecology & Environment
European Russia's natural vegetation falls into several categories. Northernmost is the tundra, a land in the grip of permafrost that still manages to grow delicate flowers, lichen, mosses, grasses, and scattered small shrubs. Near the coast seals, walruses, and polar bears live. The inland is the home of lemmings, polar foxes, wolves, and reindeer. After the tundra comes the taiga the evergreen forest of northern pine, fir, and spruce that stretch from the Arctic Circle to the latitudes of Yaroslavl and St. Petersburg. Brown bears, wolves, elk, beaver, lynx, foxes, and a few reindeer can be found in the taiga. Further south from St. Petersburg in the west to the Ukraine is mixed forestland, primarily consisting of birch that houses deer, lynx, wolves and foxes. Below this stretch is the steppe the gently sloping grasslands which run from Hungary to Mongolia. Herds of small saiga, a type of antelope, can still be found in the arid regions around the Caspian Sea. The delta, where the Volga River enters the Caspian Sea, is rich with plant, wildlife, and birds of over 200 species frequenting the area in summer when carpets of delicate lotus blossoms spread across the waters. Wild boar and over 30 other mammal species roam the land. Father south are the alpine regions of the Caucasus Mountains with 6,000 species of plants and a riotous array of summer wildflowers. Animals of the Caucasus include the tur (a type of mountain goat), the bezoar (a wild goat), the mouflon (mountain sheep), the chamois (an antelope), brown bears, and the European bison brought back from the edge of extinction. Many raptors, including the endangered griffon vulture, imperial eagles, peregrine falcons, and goshawks are among the most impressive birds of the area.
220 volts AC, 50Hz
Food & Beverage
Food varies depending on region and time of year and tends to be heavy on meat, potatoes, and boiled vegetables. Salads are composed entirely of tomato and cucumbers. Many familiar dishes such as borscht (beet soup), beef stroganoff, blini, and chicken kiev outshine their Western counterparts. Caviar is plentiful and inexpensive. Moscow and St. Petersburg have a variety of restaurants serving Indian, Italian, Mexican, French ,and North American food.
Chai, a spiced tea without milk, is one of the most popular beverages. Coffee is available with most meals, although quality varies. Also common and readily available are soft drinks, fruit juices and mineral water. Russians tend to drink their vodka flavored with herbs and spices. The most popular brands are Stolichnaya, Posolskaya and Rossiskaya. Reasonably priced Russian champagne is considered quite good, as are imported wines from Georgia, Moldova, the Ukraine, as well as Armenian cognac.
Russia is governed by an executive president and a two-house legislature or parliament, a system ushered in by a formal constitution in 1993. Parliament members are chosen every two years by national election The president serves a four-year term and is elected in direct, universal-suffrage elections.
Russia is officially known as the Russian Federation, acknowledging its 21 semiautonomous republics. The rest of Russia is divided into 68 regions and territories. Two-thirds of the republics, regions and territories are in European Russia with the remainder east of the Urals.
Jan 1||New Year's Day|
Jan 7 ||Russian Orthodox Christmas|
Mar 8 ||International Women's Day|
Mar/April ||Russian Orthodox Easter|
May 1 & 2 ||International Labor Day/Spring Festival|
May 9 ||1945 Victory Day|
Jun 12 ||Russian Independence Day|
November 7 ||Day of Reconciliation & Consent|
Russian, with English, French and German spoken by many people.
The unit of currency is the Ruble (rbl).
Theater, concert, and dance performances are the main evening entertainment. Theater repertoires provide a change of program nightly, ensuring a wide variety of entertainment. Additionally, casinos and discotheques operate in all major cities.
Passports & Visas
To enter Russia, citizens of other countries need a passport. In addition, visas are required for citizens of some countries. Please see Travel Advice Contacts below for more information.
Late February/Early March||Goodbye Russian Winter Festival|
St. Petersburg, Petrozavodsk and other Karelia cities
Last week March ||Festival of the North|
Murmansk and Murmansk Region
April/May ||St. Petersburg Music Spring|
May ||Moscow Stars|
June (last two weeks) ||White Nights' Art Festival|
July (2nd Sunday) ||Fisherman's Day|
Autumn (odd numbered years) ||Moscow Film Festival|
Mid November ||Autumn Rhythms Jazz Festival|
December 20 - Jan 8 ||Christmas Musical Meetings in Northern Palmyra|
December 25 - Jan 5 || Russian Winter Festival|
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novgorod, Irtutsk, Vladimr, Suzdal
Kaliningrad: GMT + 2
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Astrakhan: GMT + 3
Izhevsk & Samara: GMT + 4
Perm - Nizhnervartovsk: GMT + 5
Omsk & Novosibirsk: GMT + 6
Norilsk, Kyzyl: GMT + 7
Bratsk - ulan Ude: GMT + 8
Chita, Yakutsk: GMT + 9
Khabarovsk, Vladivostok: GMT + 10
Magadan, Yuzhno Sakhalinsk: GMT + 11
Petropavlosk: GMT +12
Daylight Savings Time (or "summer time") begins on the last Sunday in March and ends the last Saturday in September.
- Hotels in Moscow and other large cities include a 10-15% service charge. Otherwise 10% is customary
The majority of European Russia is flat. The Urals rise only 1900 meters (6,232 feet). Only the Caucasus Mountains in the south rise to major elevations, and contain Europe's highest peak, Mt. Elbrus, standing 5642 meters (over 18,000 feet) high. Siberia hosts 53,000 rivers and more than one million lakes, including Lake Baikal, the world's deepest lake (which also happens to house one-fifth of the world's lake water).
Travel into Russia and within the country
There are daily flights to Moscow from all major European cities, New York, Hong Kong, and other major Asian cities. Several European cities also have daily flights to St. Petersburg. Major airlines with daily flights into Moscow (with some periodic flights to St. Petersburg) include British Airways, Lufthansa, Finnair, Delta, SAS, Aeroflot, Air China (CAAC), Air France, Air India, MIAT Mongolian, Alaska Airlines, Alitalia, ANA (All Nippon Airways), Balkan, JAL, KLM, Korean Air, LOT Polish, Malév, PIA, Sabena, THY (Turkish Airlines) and Transaero. Major airlines have offices in Moscow and somw have offices in St. Petersburg, as well.
Possibly the world's most famous and romantic train journey, the Trans-Siberian Railway (and its connectors) extends from Moscow to the Pacific Coast, through eight time zones and over 9,289 km (over 5,700 miles) of arctic desert, steppe and tundra. The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest continuous railway in the world. The most scenic part of the journey is that between Irkutsk and Khabarovsk.
Note: Russian railway timetables (except for suburban trains) are in Moscow time throughout the country.