Russia is a huge country. Spanning over 5500 miles from west to east, many people forget that there’s more to this colossal expanse of land than just than just Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. Slowly and steadily, Russia is become a must-visit destination – whether it be to visit arty St Petersburg, up-and-coming Kazan, ride a cross-continental train or for world-class skiing – Russia seemingly has it all.
Not many places can boast as much change as Russia has witnessed in the last 25 years. Since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the fall of Communism, she has gone from strength to strength. The country has just hosted the Winter Olympics is Sochi and will be home to the football World Cup in 2018 – both competitions will change the landscape even further and increasingly put Russia on the international travel map.
Scotland-based tour operator, IntoRussia, have been sending people there since 1938 – whether that was under the guise of the newly-named Russian Federation or the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). While the big two of Moscow and St Petersburg remain the major attractions, many travellers are getting more and more interested in discovering other parts of this vast region.
Kristi Rorison, Director of Outgoing Business at IntoRussia, told the Travelling Times: “Moscow and St Petersburg still remain our best-selling destinations and they are becoming more and more accessible and popular to the west. Having said that, people have always been very keen on the Trans-Siberian Express but more and more are now attracted to that because it is something different. There’s also other places like Kazan; the capital of the Tartar Empire and has a really strong history but also has a modern side, for example, the football team Rubin Kazan are very popular. There’s also Yekaterinburg, where the last tsar was executed with his family in 1918 – so there’s lots of history and culture there.
“Lake Baikal is the deepest and freshhest source of water in the world and more and more nature travellers want to see that. Something else which has opened in the last few years is adventure tourism in the far east of Russia; where you can go bear watching and view volcanoes from helicopters. You can go cruising now on the east coast which was never accessible before. There is a lot to see and most people think of Moscow and St Petersburg but those who do their research will discover there’s so much more to Russia.”
Although doors have been opened to welcome tourism, there are some areas off the beaten track which are more difficult for both locals and travellers to access.
She adds: “The country definitely has the infrastructure to cope with tourist groups, but what I would say they have is the infrastructure set up in select areas, for example, Moscow and St Petersburg are very accessible now by air and train travel. Anything on the route from Moscow to Vladivostok is quite accessible and you can travel on to Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Lake Baikal and Vladivostok itself, where you can move onto Japan from there.
“Where it isn’t that accessible is in the north, south and Siberia. Roads there are not in very good condition; there are lots of cities and towns in Russia which are very difficult to access for anybody, let alone foreign tourists.”
Russia has had its fair share of bad press this year; but as the curtain comes down on the Winter Olympics, the country is sensing that the negative coverage it has generated will soon become a thing of the past.
Kristi added: “The Olympics has given them a chance to show what they are capable of and how powerful they are as a nation. The fact that they hosted the Sochi Olympics has brought in a lot of positive media coverage opposed to the negativity which the western press have always managed to report on.
“There have been many changes in Sochi, even in the last couple of years in preparation for the Olympics. Traditionally, Sochi has been a resort for Russians where people would go down to the beach or the Black Sea. So perhaps it has given the area a western style of attraction. Because they had prepared for the Olympics, they have spent an absolute fortune in Sochi and buildings have been sprouting up everywhere. A lot of money has been pumped into it and it has seen a lot of change.”
To discover more about Russia, play Kristi’s interview below (please note interview is embedded in Flash so may not play on Apple devices).
IntoRussia provide bespoke holidays and tours to all areas of Russia and beyond. Click here for more information.