Russia stretches from the shores of the Baltic to the Sea of Japan, spanning 11 time zones and covering an eighth of the earth’s land surface. Although this monster of a country brings together a myriad of landscapes, cultures and ethnic groups, it’s in the European heartland where Russia’s turbulent history has been forged. From the Vikings to the Tsars, from Lenin to Putin, there has rarely been a dull moment in the story of Russia. This legacy is visible in the country’s rich architectural heritage, from the onion domes of St Basil’s to the brutalism of the communist era, and Russia is also home to cultural treasures such as the wonderful Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg. This is the country that gave the world the writing of Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, the music of Stravinsky and Shostakovich, and the art of Malevich, Kandinsky and Chagall.
St Petersburg is a key stop on any tour of Russia, an elegant European-facing city crisscrossed by canals and filled with splendid palaces and museums. Moscow can seem harsh in comparison, but there is a sense of power and history concentrated in the capital that few other world cities can match. Beyond the Ural Mountains stretches the endless expanse of Siberia, a vast region best explored by train on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. Stop-offs along the way include Yekaterinburg, last resting place of the Romanovs, and beautiful Lake Baikal, although a big part of the adventure is the train itself. Many travellers turn south at this point and head for Mongolia and China, but the Russian Far East is a truly unique destination for those who make it that far, home to spectacular volcanic scenery, abandoned Soviet military bases and abundant wildlife.