St Petersburg, also known as Russia’s most Westerly-looking city is indeed its most European, but delve a little further beyond its borders and this is where you’ll start to uncover the ‘real Russia’. Centuries of grizzly history underpinned by unforgiving regimes, and a climate to chill even the toughest have produced surprisingly friendly and open people, although you will need to learn a few words of Russian before you go.
Just a morning’s drive from St Petersburg will find you in Novgorod, a World Heritage listed site, and self-proclaimed ‘birthplace of Russia’. Take a free tour of the Kremlin and then tour St Sophia’s Cathedral with its meringue-like roof and high arches over 35 metres above the ground.
When you’ve had your fill of cultural activities including the Fine Arts Museum, then head for the Volchov Most River Complex where you can rent a boat or catamaran, play a spot of badminton or even swim in the pool. For outdoor lovers, there is also a rope park where you can walk and swing at heights of up to 11 metres.
3 h 37 min
This charming port town dates back to 753 but was transformed into a thriving citadel in 862 with the arrival of the Vikings. Its strategic location meant that it was one of the most important trading routes through what is now Northern Europe and Western Russia.
Visit the 16th century fortress which still stands strong today, as well as several historic churches and monasteries including the Assumption Cathedral, an impressive red brick pre-Mongol period property displaying hundreds of years of religious history. There is also a museum exhibiting over 500 artifacts excavated from the town and beyond, into the realms of Eurasia at large.
2 h 33 min
This quaint little town still looks largely the same as in the 1300’s thanks to its collection of Medieval buildings clustered around the centre. A stay at the famous Old Estate & Spa will bring you face to face with Pskov’s charm, and leave you beautifully located to explore the town on foot.
Don’t miss a visit to the Kremlin, which impressively has only been defeated twice in its long history, and still has remnants of ancient churches within its crumbling grounds. Also worth a look is the Old Town Market, which is a short stroll across the footbridge from the hotel and stocks all manner of trinkets to help you remember this picture-perfect place.
4 h 35 min
A modern city with a plethora of cultural activities on offer, Petrozavodsk is a must for any road trip in Northwestern Russia. Not only does it have some wonderful architecture including the House of the Mining Chief and the enigma that is ‘Round Square’, but the city lends itself to walking enthusiasts, with most sights within easy walking distance, so park that car and explore on foot.
If you’re visiting in the summer you can take advantage of the schedule of exhibitions, music festivals, sporting events and concerts, many of them taking place outside.
6 h 22 min
The town of many names, having previously been known as Yamburg, Yam and Yamma; Kingisepp has faced a tumultuous past under both German and Russian occupation. However, the scars have all but healed and the people of modern day Kingisepp have an optimistic and friendly disposition so it’s the perfect spot to brush up on your Russian.
St Catherine Cathedral is the main draw of this busy town, which marks the rough halfway point between St Petersburg and Estonia’s capital Tallinn. The cathedral towers above the surrounding landscape, marking its authority with perfectly formed domes and spires.
2 h 27 min