Given Russia’s long history of volatility and turbulence, you wouldn’t think you’d find beauty here. But you’d be wrong. Some of the most beautiful buildings in the world can be found here. As you tour these amazing landmarks in Russia, you’ll note the tsars definitely didn’t stint on luxury. There is beauty in the land, too, from picturesque islands in rivers and lakes to the great lake itself, Baikal.
1. Catherine Palace
The stunning structure that stands in Tsarskoye Selo, also known as Pushkin, today isn’t the original Catherine Palace that was built in 1717 by Catherine of Russia. A later empress had that summer residence of Russian tsars demolished in 1752 and replaced with a gold-plated stunner. Completed four years later, the new Catherine Palace featured 220 pounds of gold covering the exterior and statues on the roof, making it a shining example of Rococo architecture. Catherine the Great later ruled from amidst this opulence. The Germans destroyed Catherine Palace in World War II, but enough records existed to restore it to its former glory.
2. Mayakovskaya (Moscow Metro)
Beauty isn’t normally associated with things underground, but that’s what makes Mayakovskaya, a stop on the Moscow Metro, so intriguing. A stop on the Zamoskvoretskaya Line, Mayakovskaya is considered one of the most beautiful subway stations in the entire Moscow Metro system. It’s a place you’ll look up to. Literally. The ceiling features 34 mosaics detailing 24 hours in a Soviet day. Gleaming floors and Art Deco columns run the length of the station. The Art Deco station, named for a Russian poet, was used as an air raid shelter during World War II.
3. Winter Palace
Once the official home of Russian rulers, the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg today houses the outstanding Hermitage Museum. The present Winter Palace isn’t the original built by Peter the Great in 1708; indeed, there have been four Winter Palaces. What stands today is far from the log cabin Peter built. St. Petersburg’s most famous building today is ornate, with a greenish façade and roof topped with statuary. The inside is just as ornate and opulent. But all was not peaceful for the imperial residents. The Bloody Sunday massacre took place here in 1905, followed by further violence during the 1917 Russian Revolution.
4. St Basil’s Cathedral
Ivan the Terrible’s reputation wasn’t exactly stellar reputation, but one thing for sure, he could build beautiful churches. In 1555, he ordered a church built on what is now Red Square in Moscow. Today, the church is known as St Basil’s Cathedral, but officially it’s Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat. The Russian Orthodox building, which originally incorporated eight other churches, has a unique Byzantine design. With its onion domes of varying heights, it resembles the flames of a bonfire. Lenin liked the church, Stalin didn’t and ordered it demolished. Saved at the last minute, it is a museum today.
5. Kizhi Island
You may find yourself humming the Song of the Volga Boatmen when you visit Kizhi Island. It’s an island in Lake Orega on the Volga River waterway. More importantly, Kizhi Island is home to an outstanding collection of picturesque wooden churches. Once an important lumber and mining town serving 100 villages, residents began abandoning the island until only two log churches and a bell tower remained. These became the basis for one of the best open-air museums in Russia. Other historic buildings were added, but the star remains the Transfiguration Church with its 22 domes.
6. Peterhof Palace
In 1721, Peter the Great ordered a palace built outside St. Petersburg on the site of a palace a nobleman had started seven years earlier. It soon evolved into a collection of palaces and other ornate buildings. Peter died four years later, but his daughter Empress Elizabeth continued with the construction. The Grand Palace is incredibly lavish, especially the ornate Ceremonial Staircase, from floor to ceiling. Plenty of gold is used both inside and out. Rich fabrics and wallpapers abound. As you walk over them, note the design work of the wooden floors. Craftsmanship through is superb.
7. Moscow Kremlin
The Moscow Kremlin ranks up there with the White House and Buckingham Palace as one of the great official residences in the world. Located near Red Square in central Moscow, the Kremlin is much more than just a place where rulers live. It’s a fortified complex that includes four palaces and four cathedrals, and is enclosed by a towered wall. The Kremlin, which overlooks the Moskva River, dates back to the 14th century, though it wasn’t as big then. If you read spy novels, you know that much intrigue involves Moscow’s most famous building. This intrigue is nothing new. It started with the tsars.
8. Lake Baikal
It’s a long journey across Russia from Moscow to southern Siberia to see one of the greatest natural landmarks in Russia. Lake Baikal, however, is worth the trip. It’s the world’s largest freshwater lake by volume, holding a fifth of the world’s unfrozen fresh water. Plus, at more than a mile deep in some places, it’s the world’s deepest lake. And, at 25 million years old, it is considered the world’s oldest lake. Thousands of kinds of flora and fauna, some found only here, call Lake Baikal home. Oh, the lake is quite scenic, too, with mountains arising out of the deep blue water.