European Russia stretches from the borders of Belarus and Ukraine to the Ural mountains, over 1000km east of Moscow; even without the rest of the vast Russian Federation, it constitutes by far the largest country in Europe. Formerly a powerful tsarist empire and a Communist superpower, Russia continues to be a source of fascination for travellers. While access is still made relatively difficult by lingering Soviet-style bureaucracy – visas are obligatory and accommodation usually has to be booked in advance – independent travel is increasing every year, and visitors are doubly rewarded by the cultural riches of the country and the warmth of the Russian people.
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Where to go in Russia
Moscow, Russia’s bustling capital, combines the frenetic energy of an Eastern city with the cosmopolitan feel of a Western one. With its show-stopping architecture – from the tsarist palaces of the Kremlin and the onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, through the monumental relics of the Communist years, to the massive building projects of today – and the impersonal human tide that packs its streets and subways, the metropolis can feel rather overwhelming. By contrast, St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, is Europe at its most gracious, an attempt by the eighteenth-century tsar Peter the Great to emulate the best of Western European elegance in what was then a far-flung outpost. Its people are more relaxed and friendly, and its position in the delta of the River Neva is unparalleled, giving it endless watery vistas. Visible – often ostentatious – but uneven wealth creation in both cities has made them twin figureheads for Russia’s recent high-speed renaissance.
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