Almost everyone is back to school or work after the summer holidays and preparing for another Moscow winter. With the weather closing in, I can think of nothing nicer to do than reflect on the holidays that have just ended… and begin planning for next year!
Most expats are keen to leave Russia when summer rolls around, as visiting home is probably a priority. However, if you have no real reason to leave Russia, then the biggest country on earth has a lot to offer during the summer months. In fact, if you haven’t spent a full summer in Russia, then you really haven’t seen the best this country has to offer.
In this post, I will run through some of the nicest places to visit in Russia during the summer months. You can start to imagine the sunshine on your face as Autumn continues apace outside your window!
No post about Russian summer holiday destinations can be complete without Sochi. Sochi is the most popular Russian beach resort and gets around 4 million visitors annually – almost all of them Russian. If you can believe it, this number is less than in Soviet times, when as many as 5 million people visited the famous health spas annually. This is mostly due to foreign travel being so much more accessible now. However, with the sanctions and the high quality of infrastructure installed for the Olympics, Sochi is seeing a real resurgence in popularity.
The beach in Sochi is mediocre at best, consisting of pebbles rather than sand. You will find accommodation of a decent standard though and it is easy to find decent restaurants. I think the nicest attractions in Sochi are in the mountains behind the beach resort, in places like Rosa Khutor. While I definitely wont be going back every year, I can definitely recommend a trip to Sochi. It is a real authentic Russian holiday experience.
You can get to Sochi by plane in just 2 1/2 hours, or take a train (takes approx. 24 hours).
Despite all of the political turmoil surrounding Crimea, it is still a very interesting holiday destination. While the beach resorts of the peninsula were every bit as famous as those of Sochi in the past, they have not received the same level of investment. Visiting the hot spots in Crimea such as Sevastopol and Yalta is a more ‘raw’ experience. The infrastructure and tourist amenities are of quite a low standard.
What Crimea lacks in development, it makes up for with the a real sense of adventure. There is just something about the small ramshackle mountain villages and poorly maintained country roads that elicits excitement of the unknown. While you will see many young Russians backpacking and hitchhiking all over Crimea, foreign tourists are rare. You will be lucky to find an English speaker or English restaurant menu in the whole time you are there, but almost everyone you meet will be welcoming and friendly.
The easiest way to access Crimea is by flying to Simferopol, though you can cross from Kerch to the peninsula via ferry.
3. Moscow’s Golden Ring
For shorter getaways closer to Moscow, you can’t beat the famed Golden Ring cities. These smaller historic cities ringing the capital give you the chance to sample rural Russian life without straying too far from modern amenities.
All of the golden ring towns are well served by trains out of Moscow and are suitable for weekend getaways.
Kazan is Russia’s third largest city and is the capital of the Federal Republic of Tatarstan. This majority Muslim enclave in the heart of Russia has its own distinct culture and cuisine. It is a great showcase of Russian multiculturalism. Many people do not full grasp just how ethnically and culturally diverse Russia is until they go somewhere like Kazan, which is like stepping into another country altogether (albeit a country that still speaks Russian).
Trains run from Moscow to Kazan a number of times daily, with overnight trains being by far the most popular choice.
Kamchatka is about as far as you can go while still remaining in Russia. This far eastern peninsula is well worth the effort though. This largely untouched wild environment contains an extension of the mountainous volcanic mountains that run down the spine of the Japanese archipelago. This creates unmatched natural vistas, as seen at the top of this page.
For many years, it was close to impossible for regular tourists to access the wilds of Kamchatka, as one of the only reliable means of transportation was expensive helicopter trips. While you will still probably need to take a helicopter ride or two, the area is really beginning to open up and gain popularity among Russians seeking some nature and adventure. When in Kamchatka, dont forget to sample the amazing local seafood!
As for getting there, you could visit Kamchatka as the culmination of a Trans Siberian railway trip, but it is easier just to fly!
These are just a few of the many exciting destinations that you can visit during a Russian summer. Next year, instead of defaulting to an overseas trip, pause for a moment and consider sampling what Russia has to offer outside of bustling Moscow.