Russia

Leading Hotels of the World_Russia Map

Seven Days in Moscow & St. Petersburg

Winston Churchill once said: "Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma." Whether visiting during the White Nights of summer or snowy winter wonderlands, the country is a force to be reckoned with--and the kind of place that you'll be shocked you didn't discover sooner.

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Day 1-3: Moscow

Moscow

Upon arrival in Moscow, refresh with a walking tour of the historic Red Square and gaze at the iconic Saint Basil's Cathedral (skip the dreary and touristy Lenin's Mausoleum). In cold weather, follow well-heeled Muscovites to the G.U.M. Department Store, with its stunning glass vaulted ceiling. To achieve the Russian winter look, visit the sumptuous fur showroom of Helen Yarmak and emerge dressed like an extra from Doctor Zhivagho. Have dinner at the see-and-be-seen Vogue Café.

Begin day two in the Kremlin's Cathedral Square and tour the Assumption Cathedral, where tsars were crowned; the Armory Museum, where Fabergé eggs are stored; Patriarch's Palace's wall of icons; the Cathedral of Archangel Michaeli; and the fort's splendid gardens. Then, move on to the Diamond Vaults, which include Catherine the Great's scepter. In the evening, have dinner at Cherdak, located in the attic of an old townhouse on Kuznetsky and attend a performance at the recently renovated Bolshoi Theatre. If you'd rather eat after the theater, head to the 24-hour Café Pushkin, modeled after a 19th-century private home, where classic Russian fare is served.

Even if you’re touring Moscow with a car and driver, take a detour to visit one of the city’s magnificent metro stations, many of which contain original decoration and working chandeliers. On your final morning in Moscow, tour the Tretyakov Gallery, which boasts one of the world's greatest collections of Russian art from Medieval times through today. For a taste of the new Moscow, head to the former Red October chocolate factory, today a contemporary hot spot with hip restaurants like the modern Bar Strelka, which boasts incredible city views, or Bontempi, where the chef sources local Russian ingredients to create Italian fusion fare. Art aficionados should also allot time to visit Daria Zhukova's Garage Center for Contemporary Art.

Day 4-7: St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg

The fast train from Moscow to St. Petersburg takes four hours, a journey that will go by quickly for those reading Robert K. Massie's Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman, a crucial primer on Russia's most spirited royal. Upon arrival, get your bearings via a short city tour, noting the Bronze Horseman statue of Peter the Great, the Strelka and the grand Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg's main shopping street. Have dinner at the city's oldest restaurant, Palkin, where borscht is the specialty.

Day two should begin with an excursion to the countryside, with the first stop at Pavlovsk Palace, an Imperial residence that dates from the 18th century. Stop for lunch at the local restaurant BIP in the Pavlovsk village and then visit the Catherine Palace (formerly Pushkin Palace), home to the famous Amber Room. If there is time, drive west to the Peternoff Palace. Back in town, have dinner at Mansarda overlooking spectacular views of St. Isaac's.

Spend at least a half-day at the Hermitage, the complex commissioned by Catherine the Great to hold the royal art collection, one of the world's most extraordinary. If you were to spend just thirty seconds looking at every one of its more than 3 million treasures it would take close to three years to see everything. Highlights include the Gold Treasure Rooms and the thirty rooms of Italian art from the 13th to 19th centuries. (Tip: pre-book tickets online to skip the museum's long lines). After this history lesson, seek out the city’s contemporary art scene at Loft Project Etag and Erarta galleries and at the Nory Museum.

Head back to your hotel to change into formal eveningwear to see a dance performance at the Mariinsky Theatre. The historic building, previously known as the Kirov Theatre, was where Tchaikovsky debuted The Nutcracker, and its ballet company remains one of the world’s most acclaimed troupes. End the day with a straight vodka, in the Russian style, at the Grand Hotel Europe's famous bar--a favorite of Dostoyevsky.

On your final day in St. Petersburg, visit the Yusupov Palace, the famous venue of Rasputin's murder and the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. Finish the afternoon at the Kuznechny Market, where visitors and locals shop for honey, pickles and spices. Head to LowFat Studio and Lyyk Design Market to take a peak at Russia's funky new design inspirations. For your last Russian evening, in winter, have dinner at the cozy and fun Sadko, and take a sleigh ride back to your hotel. In warmer weather, board the Volga-Volga, a restaurant aboard a riverboat that travels the canals of St. Petersburg, and watch this Russian beauty illuminated.

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