St. Petersburg, Russia

Russia is a vast and mysterious land with a long history, a fascinating culture and an intriguing place in today’s world. The world’s largest country, Russia extends over much of northern Eurasia, covering 11 time zones. Russian river cruises are exciting journeys through her rich history and colorful culture, as well as through the beautiful scenery beside the rivers. Viking River Cruises guests discover the epic sweep of Russia’s history, explore grand cities decorated with monuments to important historic events, and cruise past landscapes dotted with towns unchanged for centuries alongside the rivers.

A river cruise is the perfect way to experience Russia’s two great cities: Moscow, with its onion domes, many monuments and extraordinarily elaborate Metro system, and St. Petersburg, with its European-style buildings, streets and bridges. The quaint traditional villages in Russia’s Golden Ring, best accessed by river cruise, are also part of Viking River Cruises itineraries along both the Upper and the Lower Volga River. You can experience Russia hassle-free as you cruise along Russia’s most important and historic waterways. River cruises provide a perfect opportunity to explore the captivating chronicle of this nation.

Russia’s history began thousands of years ago with scattered nomadic tribes and invasions by Huns and Turkic Avars. Between the 7th and 5th centuries B.C., Iron Age settlements formed along the Upper Volga, Valday and Oka Rivers, while Turkic Khazars settled the Lower Volga steppes region along with Varangians and Slavs, the earliest people to be called “Rus.” In the 10th and 11th centuries A.D., this state of Kievan Rus grew and prospered, opening trade routes between European Crusaders and the Orient. Turkic invasions pushed the Slavic people north. In the 13th century, the Mongolian “Golden Horde” invaded; known as the Tatars, they killed about half the population of Russia and held sway there for some three centuries. The Novgorod Republic retained a degree of autonomy and, led by Alexander Nevsky, repelled Germanic invaders during the Crusades.

In the early 14th century, a powerful successor to Kievan Rus developed: the Grand Duchy of Moscow. It annexed rivals like Novgorod and eventually became the basis of the modern Russian state. Ivan III (“Ivan the Great”) eventually threw out all invaders, became “grand duke of all the Russias,” and repelled all further attacks by Crimean Tatars and other Turkic peoples. Ivan IV (“Ivan the Terrible”) ruled from 1533 to 1547, when he was crowned the first Czar. Imperial Russia continued until Russia’s involvement in World War I precipitated the Russian Revolution in 1917. This ushered in the Soviet era, a powerful regime which lasted for most of the 20th century but eventually collapsed in the early 1990s.

Russia’s literacy rate is over 99%, and its cultural contributions include literature (Pushkin, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn), music (folk and classical—Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich), ballet (Bolshoi, Nureyev, Baryshnikov), cinema (Battleship Potemkin) and sports (Olympic and otherwise).

There is much for visitors to see in Russia, especially in its two great cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. Moscow, Russia’s capital, boasts some 2,500 historical and architectural monuments, 70 museums, 50 theaters, 4,500 libraries and 540 colleges and research institutions. Travelers generally visit Red Square, with the brightly painted and gilded onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral, the tomb of Vladimir Lenin and the massive 120-year-old GUM department store, the nearby Kremlin, and of course the city’s world-famous Metro system. St. Petersburg provides visitors on river cruises gentler and more graceful pleasures with its romantic canals, baroque palaces and lovely avenues and squares designed along European lines. The Hermitage is not to be missed—it is both the historic Winter Palace and a world-class art museum with an extensive collection of works ranging from da Vinci and Michelangelo to Cézanne and Picasso.

One of the main river cruise attractions is a ring of ancient cities northeast of Moscow known as the Golden Ring cities. These famous sites, including Yaroslavl, Uglich and Sergiev Posad, played important roles in Russian history, most significantly in the formation and development of the Russian Orthodox Church. They are now functioning open air museums, with 12th- to 18th-century kremlins, monasteries, cathedrals and churches, liberally decorated with bright onion domes, on display. Guests on Russian River cruises will tour these charming and historic sites along the way.