Celebrate the New Year, Russian-style

Experience the festive spirit – and spirited festivities – of the Russian New Year on this special Russian Highlights adventure. See Moscow’s famous Red Square and St Basil’s Cathedral under a layer of snow and vodka-toast the old year out with a Russian family, then toast the New Year in with champagne. See the glittering treasures of the Armoury Museum, visit the Russian Santa’s residence in Veliky Ustyug and be shown the sights of grand St Petersburg. This small group trip offers an unparalleled opportunity to witness Russia during this special time of the year.

Start
Moscow, Russia
Finish
St Petersburg, Russia
Countries
Russia
Themes
Explorer
Code
WBSW
Physical rating
Cultural rating
Ages
Min 15
Group size
Min 1 Max 16
Carbon offset
357kg pp per trip


Highlights

  • Admire the treasures on display in the Armoury Museum
  • Marvel at Peter the Great's architectural legacy
  • Share a New Year's vodka toast with a Russian family in Suzdal
  • Visit the Russian Santa's home in Veliky Ustyug
  • Visit a communal apartment in St Petersburg and have a tea party and pancakes with a local Family.

Itinerary

This Russian adventure begins in the capital. Perhaps arrive a few days early to uncover the secrets of a city where the remnants of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union brush up against the modern world. After a group meeting at 6pm, take to the snow-covered streets for an orientation walk and maybe share your first Russian meal with new friends. Experience the wintry charm of the Red Square, dripping with light, as skaters glide across an ice rink.
Today, with a local guide by your side, enter cobbled Red Square, where beautifully decorated Christmas trees stand tall next to the brightly coloured domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, the opulent GUM Department store, the fairy-tale building of the State Historical Museum, and the imposing walls of the Kremlin. From the days of Ivan the Terrible to the military parades of the Cold War, the square has long been at the heart of Russian history. Catch a glimpse of revolutionary leader Lenin at his austere eternal resting place before entering the Kremlin grounds, home to the oldest and most important churches in the country, and where many Tsars and Tsarinas are laid to rest. Walk through the soaring towers and cathedrals of the political and spiritual heart of Russia before entering the Armoury Museum, home to an eye-bulging former royal collection of ambassadorial gifts, Faberge eggs, coronation robes and glittering jewels. Afterwards perhaps take the metro to see elaborately decorated stations unlike any other. From sculptures depicting the glory of the soviet days to ornate chandeliers and stained glass windows, these are the 'Palaces of the People'.

Notes: On occasion Lenin's Mausoleum and Red Square may be closed to the public during regular opening hours without prior warning. As Moscow's premier tourist attractions, tickets for the Kremlin and Armoury are in high demand, and the Moscow Tourism Administration sets strict quotas to control visitor numbers. Time in each area is also limited to 90 minutes, with any exceptions possibly resulting in the guide losing their license. While we appreciate that some travellers would like to spend longer in the Armoury Museum, we ask for your understanding that the guide is under pressure to keep to the schedule. The Diamond Fund isn't included in your tour, but after the Kremlin and Armoury there may be time to visit. Entrance tickets can be purchased in the ticket office at the Armoury. The Diamond Fund is open for visitors from 10am-1pm and from 2pm-4pm. Thursday it is closed.
This morning, leave the big city behind and head east by private transfer to the countryside and Suzdal (approximately 4 hours). The town is a main stop on Russia’s legendary Golden Ring, the circle of towns that played an important part in the formation of the Russian Orthodox Church and hold the memories of significant events in Russian history. The fairytale-feel historic small town of Suzdal is filled with contrasting examples of early Russian architecture, where onion-domed monasteries stand next to decorative little wooden cottages. Here there are opportunities to drink mead by the riverside with a symphony of cathedral bells in the air, and peek inside the crumbling churches that line the narrow streets and alleys, made even more magical beneath the snow. Tonight you’ll make new friends for the year ahead with a homestay in the city’s quiet streets. Lend a hand with the preparation of a traditional Russian feast and ring in the New Year with your hosts. Wave goodbye to the old year with a shot of vodka and toast to the new one with champagne. After the bells chime midnight, wrap up warm and head outside. Stroll the streets to greet neighbours and offer them best wishes for the coming year.
Get to know the town a little better today with a walking tour of this ‘open-air museum’, where old buildings and churches sprout like mushrooms. Take in the sights – the grandeur of the Kremlin, the carved stonework of the Cathedral of the Nativity, the trading square, market and monasteries. Afterwards perhaps explore the museums housed in the Spaso-Evfimiev Monastery, where hours can be spent and that is just as impressive as Moscow’s Kremlin. Otherwise, maybe walk the length of the frozen river, spanned by snow covered wooden footbridges, where men fish in the ice and children slide along on sleighs. Warm up in a local cafe with some hot tea, pancakes or the Suzdal specialty of medovukha, a honey-based spiced mead.
Continue north on the Golden Ring of ancient towns to Kostroma (approximately 3 hours private transfer). The town on the Volga river was a retreat for the powerful of the surrounding region and its wealth of art and architecture is a testament to that – religious buildings, folk wooden architecture, and baroque and classical touches. In Russian legend the town is the birthplace of Snegurochka, or The Snow Maiden, who has become an essential part of New Year celebrations as a helper to the Russian Santa Claus. Today it is a calming retreat on the banks of the river Volga. Take some time to walk along the quiet central streets, relax, and maybe sample the local cuisine. Today you could explore some of the local museums – there’s the Traditional Crafts Museum, the Literary Museum, the United Arts Museum and a unique museum dedicated to the Russian 17th century folk hero and martyr Ivan Susanian, who came from the town. For something different, why not visit the log house of Snegurochka, the granddaughter of the Russian Santa Claus, which has an ice room where the temperature is always below freezing. While The Snow Maiden is away, the cabin is looked after by house elves, who explain the folk traditions to visitors.
In the morning explore the city’s wealth of architecture with a local guided walking tour. Wander through 18th century trading arcades, now home to shops and a market selling the local specialties of linen, woodworking and jewellery, and pass buildings like the Fire Tower (the symbol of the city) and the Guardhouse. Walk through the structures of the stunning riverside St Ipaty Monastery, which includes the Spaso-Preobrazhenskaya church, reportedly made without a single nail. Continue on to the outdoor Wooden Architecture Museum to learn about traditional handicrafts and building techniques. This afternoon you will transfer to the city of Yaroslavl (approximately 1.5 hours) and climb aboard to ride the rails deep into the heart of the country. You’ll experience the unique adventure of Russian train travel overnight to Yadrikha, the closest station to Veliky Ustyug (approximately 15 hours).

Notes: Trains on this journey are simple but comfortable. You’ll travel 2nd class on this trip. There's a toilet/bathroom at the end of each carriage with a small sink and cold water. An attendant is assigned to every carriage to look after your comfort and safety (although service standards can vary greatly). Each compartment has four bunks with luggage storage space inside. Bedding is provided, although some travellers still prefer to bring their own sleeping sheet. There's hot water available for making drinks or instant meals, tea and coffee. Sometimes snacks and drinks are available for purchase on board and most trains also have a dining car although with a limited menu. Please note that in many cases, due to high demand for tickets on this route, the group is not always together. It's likely that at least some members of the group will be sharing compartments with other travellers, either foreign or local, particularly if your group does not divide evenly into four. A brief word about drinking on the train: Social drinking is common on trains in Russia and can be an enjoyable way to meet local people as well as interact with your fellow Intrepid travellers (in moderation). While alcohol is often available for purchase on the train, spirits (including vodka) should only be consumed in the dining car. While we certainly want all our Intrepid travellers to have a great holiday it's important that you show due respect for your fellow group members, and keep in mind that many of your local companions use the train as a means of transport to get home or to work.
Depending on the seasonal train schedule, you will either arrive in Yadrikha early morning or mid afternoon. From there it's around a 50km transfer to Veliky Ustyug. This small provincial but picturesque town was well off the map until the powers that be declared it to be the official home of Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus. Ded Moroz, or Father Frost, waits in his log cabin in the dense tiaga forest through the summer, reading the letters from all Russia’s children. He then delivers them their gifts at New Year instead of Christmas, and in person rather than leaving them under a tree. He often wears blue rather than red and can be seen with his granddaughter, Snegurochka. Be on your best behaviour for a tour of the Ded Moroz residence, and perhaps do some gift buying yourself from the local handicrafts workshop, full of Russian-style Christmas kitsch. In the afternoon, drive 30km hours to the village of Kuznetsovo where there are traditional Russian homes. Here you’ll join in some very traditional Russian village folk games. Later, return to your hotel in Veliky Usyug.
Today you’ll enjoy a walking tour of Velikiy Ustyug, visiting the local church and learning more about the Russian culture, and its orthodox history, dating back to the introduction of Christianity in the area 1,000 years ago. Use some free time to explore the town – wander along the left bank of the river Sukhona and look at the Museum of History, Art, and Architecture. Then return to Yagrikha to load up on supplies for the long but exciting train journey to the imperial capital of St Petersburg (approximately 24 hours).
Sit back and relax in your warm compartment as the train travels through the winter landscape on the way to St Petersburg. Get out the cards, read a book and share a chat, or a drink, with the locals and learn more about their culture. The train schedule can vary greatly for the trip from Yadrikha to St Petersburg, but currently you will arrive in late evening on Day 9. A living museum, St Petersburg is a blend of baroque European architecture and Russian royal history, built by the Russian tsar Peter the Great whose legacy can be felt in its enigmatic streets and showcase cathedrals and museums. After arriving and decamping to your central hotel, maybe head out for a walk along Nevsky Prospect to stretch out your train legs. Perhaps attend a local Russian Orthodox Church service – it is Christmas Eve after all.
Take the day to explore this beautiful city brimming with historic centres, including one of the world's premier art collections at the Hermitage museum, and stroll through the perfectly preserved Winter Palace ballroom and throne room. Perhaps climb aboard a boat to see landmarks from a Neva river cruise, browse the Udelnaya flea market or climb the belfry of Smolny Cathedral for a rare high view of the city. Maybe gorge yourself on culture with a world-class performance at the Mariinsky Theatre. In the evening make new friends with a visit to a local family’s home to see how the average Russian lives and finish your New Year adventure with a traditional tea party. Not all family members speak English but your leader will be on hand to interpret and with their warm hospitality you'll be feeling like one of the family in no time.

Notes: Please note that the Hermitage is closed on Mondays, and in the high season (May-Sep) there can be very long queues. In order to avoid waiting and to make the most of your free day it's possible to book tickets online in advance: www.hermitagemuseum.org. Remember to book a show in advance by booking the tickets online. Some useful Internet sites for ballet, opera, exhibitions etc. in Moscow and St Petersburg are www.mariinsky.ru, www.bolshoi.ru and www.ticketsofrussia.ru. In particular we recommend you see what's playing at the Bolshoi and Mariinsky, as it may be difficult to get tickets when you are there, especially during White Nights in St Petersburg.
This Russian winter journey comes to an end today. There are no activities planned and you are able to depart the accommodation at any time.
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Inclusions

Meals
8 breakfasts1 dinner
Transport
Boat, Metro
Accommodation
Homestay (2 nights), Hotel (5 nights), Overnight sleeper train (2 nights)
Included activities
  • Kostroma - Wooden Architecture Museum
  • Moscow - Kremlin & Armoury Guided Tour
  • Moscow - Lenin's Mausoleum
  • St Petersburg - Tea party with local family
  • Velikiy Ustyug - Ded Moroz's House, Village Visit & Walking Tour

Dates

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Trip notes

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