The Golden Ring of Russia is a group of historically important cities and towns northeast of Moscow. The name comes from a series of essays on ancient cities published by the journalist Yuri Bychkov in 1967 and titled “Golden Ring”. Later on the term was adapted to describe a group of more than a dozen cities in different Oblasts (regions), located along a circular (ring) route. The abundant heritage that includes churches, monasteries, Kremlins and citadels has made the Ring, Russia’s prime tourist destination.
The cities and towns part of the Golden Ring of Russia have different sizes and structures. Some of them are more like villages, while others are relatively large cities. Since there were many different lists including different places, Soviet authorities created an official list which includes the following eight: Sergiev Posad, Pereslavl Zalessky, Rostov Veliky, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Suzdal and Vladimir. The first three are towns, Suzdal is a village and the other four are midsize cities. The ones closer to Moscow are very popular with tourists.
Travelling around Russia can be challenging, if we exclude Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Few people speak English and almost all signs are only written in Russian Cyrillic. The easiest way to visit some of the places is by an organized excursion, where buses take you from Moscow to the exact place. As usual, Happy Frog does not advise this type of travel, since you’ll be surrounded by crowds and won’t be able to experience the place at all. Attending an evening mass at an ancient monastery and having a walk by the local street are truly unique experiences that give you an insight into Russia’s countryside life.
Taking these obstacles into account we suggest you do the following:
- Book a train ticket to Yaroslavl, Rostov Veliky and Vladimir on Russian railways’ official website. There is an English version and if you need help Happy Frog will be happy to assist you.
- Long distance trains to Yaroslavl and Rostov and suburban trains to Sergiev Posad leave from the Yaroslavskiy Train station.
- Most trains to Vladimir leave from the Kurskiy Train Station.
- Travelling between the Golden Ring cities is more complicated, and requires some level of Russian or a translator. It can be done by buses but these might show up full, and no tickets can be bought in advance.
We have divided the best four places into two: Vladimir + Suzdal and Sergiev Posad + Rostov Veliky. It’s better to visit them in two different trips. Local buses connect Vladimir and Suzdal. Sergiev Posad and Rostov are connected by an interchange train in Alexandrov. We stayed at fantastic hotels, which you can book through us (at no additional cost to you). There are good restaurants pretty much everywhere. Contrary to western propaganda Russians are nice and hospitable and the only problem might be the language barrier.
One of the largest cities in the Golden Ring and the capital of medieval Russia, Vladimir has a couple of first class attractions. The Golden Gate from the 12th century, which survived the Mongol invasion, is Russia’s only preserved medieval gate. The golden domed Dormition Cathedral was the mother church of all of Russia during the 13th and 14th centuries. Saint Demetrius’ Cathedral is another outstanding example of medieval heritage. Don’t forget to check the views from the terrace surrounding the cathedrals; it’s like staring at an ocean of land, breath taking!
We stayed at Monomakh Hotel, comfortable accommodation within walking distance to most attractions and a lovely terrace to enjoy the views.
With a population of around 10000 Suzdal is the smallest place in the route. The village is completely authentic and seems to be untouched by the rising number of tourists. It is surrounded by small hills you can easily climb to enjoy the view. The beautiful Kamenka River runs through the centre, with several medieval monasteries and charmingly decorated wooden houses scattered everywhere. Its highlights are the 10th century Kremlin and the massive 14th century Saviour Monastery of St. Euthymius.
We stayed at Svetly Terem Hotel. It was a great decision, since it’s out of the noisy roads. Bikes can be rented nearby to tour the village.
Sergiev Posad is the most popular destination inside the Ring due to its proximity to Moscow and its famous monastery Trinity Sergius Lavra. More than 50 structures inside the monastery were built by the country’s best architects in the 15th – 19th centuries. During the day it is completely occupied by tourists but at night only locals and a few visitors stay to soak up its incredible atmosphere. If you have time you should also explore its small streets dotted with trees and cute wooden houses.
Our boutique Hotel Russkiy Dvorik was fantastic. It offers views directly to the monastery and the most delicious breakfast we had in Russia.
One of the hidden gems of the Ring and one of the oldest Russian cities is Rostov Veliky in Yaroslavl Oblast. Its enormous architectural heritage, outstanding location by the gorgeous Lake Nero, and lack of tourists make it a first class destination. Please keep the secret; we don’t want masses of tourists. The centrally located Citadel of Rostov (sometimes wrongly called Kremlin) is packed with outstanding 15th and 16th century churches. Two other great monasteries, on both city edges, together with magnificent wooden houses complete the panorama.
Selivanov Hotel is set next to the river in an old mansion. We took the room on the third floor to indulge in the views. The hotel is pretty authentic and Russian.