St. Basil's Cathedral
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Although Red Square draws a healthy crowd of visitors thanks to the vibrant spires of the plaza's St Basil's Cathedral, the sheer expanse of Russia almost guarantees there are plenty of other sites around the nation to explore. Due to its staggering size, Russia manages to span several environments including semiarid steppes to Arctic tundra and taiga forest landscapes, making it a veritable outdoor playground punctuated by fascinating cities with centuries of history.
Altai Mountains, Lake Teletskoye
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Touching Russia, China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, the Altai mountain range reaches almost 2000 kilometres across the remote corners of all four countries. Almost 1500 glaciers are frosted into the range and over 70 unique mammals, such as the rare snow leopard, roam the surrounds freely. The “golden” Altai also encompasses taiga (a coniferous forest biome), steppe, valleys and meadow environments, constantly challenging explorers as they make their way through this vast and surprising region.
Bolshoi Theater, Moscow
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The classical ballet company has an undisputed tradition of excellence. Its home is this magnificent theatre, which was unveiled in 1856 after three previous versions of the theatre were destroyed in separate fires in less than 50 years. Distinctive for its gleaming white columns and neoclassical façade, the Bolshoi Theatre hosts opera as well as ballet performances but it’s the latter that consistently steals the spotlight. It was here, for example, that Tchaikovsky’s famed Swan Lake and The Nutcracker made their debuts, in 1877 and 1892 respectively.
Café Pushkin, Moscow
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Akin to stepping into an aristocratic time capsule, Café Pushkin on Tverskoy Boulevard is jammed with heritage elements, harking back to a time in the late 18th century when namesake poet Alexander Pushkin would wander the very same street. Floor-to-ceiling bookcases overflow with leather-bound books, antique telescopes and spyglasses, along with a selection of vintage carriage clocks.
Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg
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Another example of inventive, colourful Russian architecture, this cathedral has five seemingly jewelled-covered domes and was built to commemorate the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. But the colour and intricacy extends further than the façade – there are over 7500 square metres of mosaics depicting prominent biblical figures and scenes covering almost every inch of the inside.
The Church of the Transfiguration and the Intercession Church, Kizhi Island
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This pair of intricately crafted wooden churches on the bucolic isle of Kizhi is worlds apart from the more regal offerings from non-rural Russia, making them some of the country’s most distinctive creations. Erected in the 18th century, both churches are constructed without a single nail and rely on clever, interlocking wood pieces.
Russian Ministry of Agriculture building, Kazan
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Also known as the “Palace of Farmers”, this outpost could pass as another administrative building if not for the impressive almost 20-metre-tall bronze tree built into the grand archway entrance. Throwing a significant shadow into the building’s lobby, the tree reminds any visitors of the structure’s purpose and at night, when the entrance glows green, evokes a connection with nature.
The Idiot Restaurant, St Petersburg
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Named for Fyodor Dostoevsky’s novel The Idiot, this very Russian restaurant on the edge of the Moyka River serves up classics such as blinchiki, caviar and pelmeni with a vegetarian twist. If you’ve come to Russia to act like a Russian, a visit to this bohemian restaurant, with its ramshackle interiors, should do the trick: every visitor gets a warm welcome in the form of a vodka shot.
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Sub-arctic and covered in snow for the majority of the year, it’s unsurprising only a few thousand tourists make it to this remote far-eastern Russian peninsula to explore. Nonetheless, the 1250 kilometre-long Kamchatka Peninsula is well worth the difficulty, with its unrivalled natural beauty and the spectacle of more than 15,000 brown bears that wander the area on the hunt for salmon. It’s home to the largest active volcano in the northern hemisphere, as well as the pristine Valley of the Geysers.
Northern Lights on the Kola Peninsula
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Aurora borealis is an elusive sight but on the 69th parallel, just above the Arctic Circle, your chances of catching a glimpse are much more promising. The Kola Peninsula is as wild and unforgiving as isolated environments come, with a severe, almost sunless winter that reaches depths of -14°C. It’s those perpetually dark days that reap the most benefits for Northern Lights hunters however, with the best months to see this unique phenomenon being mid-September to mid-March.
Komsomolskaya Metro, Moscow
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Despite being bunkered under three of Moscow’s busiest railway stations, Komsomolskaya Metro retains its museum-like beauty and sumptuousness. With eight glittering ceiling panels or intricate mosaics, wide marble arches and ornate bronze chandeliers more suited to a castle ballroom, this commuter station transcends its function to remain one of the country’s most impressive odes to Soviet era architecture.
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This alpine meadow may resemble Switzerland but it's actually Lake Kucherla in Siberia, near the Kazakhstan border. Peaks in this region reach almost 3000 metres, bordering the 50 kilometre stretch of water snaking through the valley - which actually hosts 43 separate stunning lakes.
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In southern Siberia, north of the Mongolian border, Lake Baikal glistens with one fifth of the world’s fresh water. It’s biggest claim to fame, apart from its obvious beauty? It is the world’s oldest and deepest lake – 25 million years old and 1620 metres deep, to be exact. Known to scientists as “the Galapagos of Russia” due to its abundance of unusual freshwater fauna, Lake Baikal is home to animals as unique as the adorable nerpa (the world’s only freshwater seal) and the Baikal omul fish.
Peterhof Grand Palace, St Petersburg
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Originally conceived as Russia’s answer to Versailles, this sprawling structure was completed in 1721 and remains in pristine condition. Inside, the palace beams with magnificence, from the chandelier-roofed Throne Room to the broody, art-plastered Portrait Room, where gilded wall panelling, mirrors and chairs catch the light at every turn. It’s the Ballroom, however, that steals the show: ornamental and dripping in gold, it takes only a little imagination to picture the kinds of parties that occurred.
The Winter Palace, St Petersburg
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On the banks of the Neva River, this palatial museum was once the seasonal residence of Russian monarchs before the October Revolution in 1917. With a mint-coloured exterior, gold-gilded window architraves and sweeping staircases fit for royalty, this Baroque building is frozen in a time of excess and splendour.