Step into a riveting history of tsars and Bolsheviks, architects and spies, and encounter Russia’s fascinating contemporary culture. Alongside private guides, discover the urban treasure troves of Moscow and St. Petersburg, resplendent with gilded domes and pastel palaces, and home to world-class museums like the incomparable State Hermitage. Venture into the bucolic countryside to explore the Golden Ring, a loop of enchanting villages lined with gingerbread houses and crowned by whimsical onion domes; and glimpse dacha culture in the Karelia region.
Land in Moscow and transfer to your historic hotel, located in the heart of the city near the Kremlin and Red Square. Settle in, then meet your private guide in the lobby for a welcome drink and short orientation. Enjoy the rest of the day at leisure.
Set out on a private tour of Moscow, beginning in Red Square at the iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, crowned by whimsical multi-colored onion domes. See the State Duma building, where Russia’s lower house of parliament meets; the Bolshoi Theater; and the notorious Lubyanka prison, former headquarters of the KGB. Step into the grand Cathedral of Christ the Saviour and the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent, and gaze up at the war monuments in Victory Park. Take in sweeping views of the city from Lomonosov Moscow State University and the Sparrow Hills. This afternoon, peruse pre-revolutionary Russian art at the world-class State Tretyakov Gallery.
Begin the day with a visit to the mighty Kremlin, the locus of Russian and Soviet power since the 13th century and a World Heritage site. See its three cathedrals where tsars were baptized, crowned, and buried; examine the collection of imperial treasures at the Armory; and marvel at the glittering crown jewels housed in the state Diamond Fund. Later, descend into the Moscow Metro to tour its opulent stations, some of which resemble royal art galleries. Then ride the train to the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics for a specially arranged visit with a Russian cosmonaut.
Embark on a private driving tour of the famous Golden Ring, a loop of enchanting medieval towns studded with defensive kremlins and ornate churches. Your first stop is Sergiev Posad, presided over by the blue onions domes of the World Heritage-listed Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius. Step into this 14th-century Orthodox monastery, known as the pearl of Russian religious architecture. Visit the Gefsimansky Chernigovsky Skit convent before continuing on to the picturesque towns of Pereslavl-Zalesskiy and Yuryev-Polskiy. Settle into your hotel in the heart of Suzdal, widely regarded as the “jewel” of the Golden Ring.
Founded in 1024, Suzdal is brimming with well-preserved monuments, churches, and traditional Russian architecture. Explore the city with a private guide, beginning at the Suzdal Kremlin. Discover historic buildings housed within the citadel’s 11th-century walls, including the Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral and the archbishop’s chambers. Step into the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius; then tour the Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life. After lunch, travel outside the city to visit Saints Boris and Gleb, an ancient church in Kideksha.
Return to Moscow, stopping en route in Vladimir, known for its carved white-stone buildings. These white monuments, together with those in Suzdal, make up a World Heritage site. Examine the intricate engravings on the façade of the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius. Then, depending on the day of your visit, you’ll either see the Museum of Crystal, Lacquer Miniatures and Embroidery or the Old Vladimir Museum. Continue to Moscow and board the high-speed train to St. Petersburg, arriving in the evening.
Designed by Peter the Great’s favorite European architects, St. Petersburg was conceived as Russia’s link to the western world. Begin your exploration of the city at St. Isaac’s Cathedral, whose glittering dome is covered in 220 pounds of gold. Step inside to examine columns faced with lapis lazuli, and climb to the colonnade walkway if you wish. Drive into the heart of St. Petersburg, stopping to see the famous Bronze Horseman statue and tiny Vasilievski Island. Tour the Peter and Paul Fortress, the city’s original citadel and burial site for many of Russia’s tsars, including Peter the Great. Peruse the art at the State Russian Museum, and tour the Fabergé Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of Fabergé eggs.
Venture outside the city to Pushkin, home to the country estate of Catherine the Great. Originally built in 1717 by Catherine I, the palace was almost completely destroyed by the Germans during World War II, and has been expertly restored into an architectural treasure. Alongside your private guide, discover the renowned Amber Room, clad with dazzling panels of amber. Enjoy a traditional Russian lunch at a nearby restaurant before returning to St. Petersburg. This afternoon, visit the Monument to Heroic Defenders of Leningrad and the Church of the Savior on the Spilled Blood, built as a tribute to Tsar Alexander II who was felled by a bomb on this very spot in 1881.
This morning, take a thrilling hydrofoil ride (weather permitting) to the site where Peter the Great built his country estate, Peterhof—perched on a ridge by the Gulf of Finland. Stroll the vast palace gardens, brimming with statuary and more than 150 fountains, and designed to rival the gardens surrounding Versailles. Tour Monplaisir Palace, the first structure built on the estate. This afternoon, venture into the Karelia region to visit the Kronstadt naval fortress. Then get a glimpse into dacha culture—the holiday country cottage lifestyle of city-dwellers. Visit historically significant cottages, and savor a traditional Russian dinner in the dacha of a St. Petersburg resident.
Enjoy a full day to explore the world-renowned State Hermitage Museum with a private guide. Originally a small, private palace gallery established by Catherine the Great, the Hermitage is now home to one of the largest art collections in the world and includes works by masters like da Vinci, Michelangelo, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Picasso, and many others. After dinner on your own this evening, enjoy a performance at one of St. Petersburg’s premier theaters.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport to catch your flight home.
This trip has an activity rating of light; travelers should be physically fit and comfortable walking or standing for extended periods, navigating uneven or slippery terrain, and climbing stairs without handrails. Excursions include city walking tours and visits to historic sites and monuments, and easy hikes.
Throughout the expedition, you’ll stay in accommodations selected for their exceptional quality, location, and character.
Top private guides will accompany you throughout the trip, and local experts will meet with you along the way as described in the itinerary.
National Geographic Private Expeditions are specially crafted itineraries designed for independent travelers that combine guided excursions, fascinating insights into culture and wildlife, and top accommodations. These trips are designed to fit into your schedule. You choose your desired departure date, and we’ll make all the arrangements.
Prices are per person based on double occupancy and do not include international airfare to/from your destination or internal flights during the expedition. Single traveler prices are available upon request. Surcharges may apply to certain travel dates based upon international or local holidays, as well as local events and festivals. All prices and fares are quoted in U.S. dollars and subject to change. See the terms and conditions for this trip for more information.
This expedition is available from April through October. This expedition will not be offered from June 8-July 17, 2018 due to the FIFA World Cup in Russia. For 2019 inquiries, please call our travel specialists.
A US Department of State travel advisory for Russia is currently in effect (travel.state.gov). We expect to operate this trip as planned, but will continue to closely monitor events in the region and will alter the itinerary if necessary.