Moscow, Russia Catherine's Palace - St. Petersburg, Russia

Essential Russia (12 Days)

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

Featuring Extraordinary Experiences:

  • Private Tour of the Kremlin’s Grand Faceted Palace and Terem Tour of the Bolshoi Theater
  • Hermitage with a Curator
  • Visit the Hermitage Storage Chambers
Day 1
Arrival | Moscow

Midday arrival into Moscow where you will be met by your private driver. Please note this flight is not included in program cost. Your driver will be waiting for you just outside of baggage claim. Transfer to your deluxe hotel located in the center of the city.

After some time to rest, your guide will meet you near the concierge desk in the lobby, for an overview walking tour of the neighborhood, including Red Square! Be sure not to miss the newly rebuilt church and Imperial Gates at the south end of Red Square- they were both destroyed under Stalin and only recently have been rebuilt in their original splendor. Your guide will also show you the stunning St. Basil’s Cathedral. This magnificent church-museum was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and was completed in 1561.

Later today you will have the opportunity to experience the fascinating interiors of the Moscow Metro stations, ornately decorated with beautiful paintings, carvings and chandeliers! The Moscow Metro was created as complex of monumental structures featuring designs of the very best Soviet architects. The stations, most built between 1930 and 1960, are underground palaces, featuring exquisite frescoes, statues, mosaics and stained glass. Each station has its own special theme – our favorite is Teatralnaya. Today this massive public transportation system is one of the largest in the world, carrying over 9 million passengers per day (twice as many as London or Paris!). Your guide will be delighted to show you as many stations as you like.

Day 2
Moscow | Moscow

This morning your guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel for your visit to the vast Tretyakov Gallery. The Tretyakov is located in one of Moscow’s most interesting neighborhoods. This area, called Zamoskvoreche (“beyond the Moscow River”) was originally settled in the 13th century. The small winding streets give this area an almost old-fashioned atmosphere, with historic churches and the mansions of 19th century wealthy merchants.

The Tretyakov Gallery is situated in the former home of Pavel Tretyakov. Your guide will take you through the museum, which houses only Russian artists, from Andrei Rublev’s icons to famous 20th Century Russian painters. Here you can see a timeline progression of Russian icons starting from the 16th century through to the 20th century. Each century of icons is arranged in separate halls to convey a clear insight into the development of Russian Icon painting.

After your tour of the gallery, your guide has arranged for a visit to the adjoining private chapel of the Tretyakov family, the Church of St. Nicholas. This small, intimate chapel is where the entire family of the wealthy Russian merchant and art collector would attend private services. Here, you will have the chance to see Russia’s most venerated icon, The Theotokos of Vladimir. This icon was a gift of the patriarch of Constantinople to the Grand Prince of Russia in 1132.

To the south of the city lie a number of fortified monasteries, built to defend the city against the Mongols. The most spectacular of them is Novodevichy Convent, constructed in the 16th century. This serene sanctuary houses the lovely Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk. As this is a true convent, appropriate dress is required to enter (shoulders must be covered; no shorts).

You may like to visit Novodevichy Convent’s fascinating cemetery, located adjacent to the convent. It houses the graves of many famous Russians, from cultural figures to political and military dignitaries. Each tombstone is wrought with symbolism and makes for a very interesting and worthwhile visit.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

This afternoon you will be invited for an exclusive and rare tour of the Historic Stage of the Bolshoi Theatre reopened in October 2011 after 6 years of renovations. This tour is schedule permitting, by appointment only and cannot be moved to another time or day.

Note: All services today are on foot. Please wear comfortable footwear.

Day 3
Moscow | Moscow

This morning your guide will meet you in the hotel lobby for the walk to the Kremlin. You will then journey into the Kremlin and through its expansive grounds.

Please note that once inside the Kremlin, there is no place to stop to rest or to have a snack. We suggest a hearty breakfast this morning to tide you over for a late lunch. This is a long day of walking and standing, so please make sure to wear appropriate footwear.

Inside the Kremlin, you will see the largest bell in the world – as well as the largest cannon. Neither was ever used due to the enormous size! Also on the grounds of the Kremlin are three very important churches and your guide will take you through all that are of interest. We suggest you don’t miss the Assumption Cathedral, where all Russian tsars were crowned.

Later, your guide will take you to the famed Armory Museum, including its vast collection of Imperial Russian artwork. You will have the opportunity to see the Kremlin’s unique and intimate collection of Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs. Also in the Armory are many of the most important Imperial thrones and crowns, including the most historic, Cap of Monomachus. We have made special arrangements to take you into the Diamond Vaults inside the Kremlin. You will see Catherine the Great’s scepter with its famous Orlov Diamond and one of the largest collections of diamonds and gem stones in the world!

You will then exit the Kremlin for a light lunch nearby (payable locally), before heading back inside.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

This afternoon you will be among the few ever allowed into the Grand Kremlin Palace to see the Grand Kremlin Palace proper, the Faceted Chamber, and the Terem. The ancient Terem was home to the very earliest tsars, and was the official residence of the Romanovs. The Faceted Chamber, the oldest building in the complex, was constructed in the fifteenth century by the order of Ivan the Terrible. Today, these palaces have been completely renovated at the cost of over $300 million dollars in the 1990’s and are now used by the Russian President for entertaining and hosting State visits and meetings. Some of the rooms, including the Romanov’s Throne Hall and St. Alexander’s Room are unique in the world. Please note that special permission and security clearance is required for this visit. Your passport details will need to be sent to Kremlin authorities at least one month prior to your visit.

Day 4
Moscow | Moscow

Today your guide will take you to the New Tretyakov Gallery, an annex of the Tretyakov Gallery. This huge museum is dedicated to Russian art from the early 1900’s to the present. You will find that most paintings are of the Socialist Realism movement. You may also want to visit the Modernist paintings, which include pictures by many previously outlawed artists.

Outside the museum, be sure to walk through the Graveyard of Fallen Monuments – a collection of some of the sculptures removed from Moscow after the fall of the Soviet era.

Later you will visit the grand Christ the Holy Redeemer Cathedral, which towers over historic Moscow. The cathedral was demolished under Stalin’s reign for a planned Lenin skyscraper, but eventually became an enormous outdoor swimming pool after construction failed repeatedly. After the fall of Communism, it was decided to reconstruct the cathedral and so Christ the Holy Redeemer was completely rebuilt by Mayor Luzhkov of Moscow in 2001, at a budget of over 350 million dollars! It is a beautiful cathedral and it now stands as it did at the turn of the 20th Century. Of particular note are the stunning frescoes that fill the interiors.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

After touring the cathedral, a very special guide from the cathedral will join you for a private visit to the dome of the church. After ascending to the top via elevator, you will have the opportunity to view the city of Moscow at 360 degrees, from all four sides of the dome. Standing at 300 feet above the city, the dome provides a fantastic view of the city’s most significant sites including the Kremlin, St. Basil’s, Pushkin Museum, and the Moskva River. Turn a corner and you are awarded with views of several of the Seven Sisters buildings. You may even witness the ringing of the bells in the bell towers just above your head! It's the ultimate Moscow city tour from the top of the highest peak of central Moscow.

If you are interested in some shopping for chocolate, vodka and caviar, we recommend a visit to the Yeliseevsky Market. This market is just a short stroll from your hotel on Tverskaya Street. It’s a stunning and palatial grocery store and you will find the best Russian vodka, caviar and chocolate – all perfect souvenirs and gifts.

Day 5
Suzdal | Suzdal

Meet your driver and guide in the hotel lobby. You will then be transferred to the train station to catch high-speed train to Vladimir. Your guide will travel with you. Train tickets are included in your program cost.

You will leave Moscow behind and depart to the magnificent cities of the “Golden Ring”- the “Mesopotamia” of Russian civilization.

Upon arrival in Vladimir, meet your driver for a tour of the charming town of Vladimir. Tucked into a green valley and surrounded by forests and lakes, this ancient city was once one of Russia's strongest principalities.

On arrival in Suzdal, you will be transferred to your hotel.

You evening is at leisure. We suggest you enjoy a Banya at your hotel. The Banya is a cleansing tradition in Russia and it involves a steam bath, high heat, cold and an energizing beating with birch branches. (The cost of the Banya is not included. Your guide will be happy to assist you with booking it.)

Day 6
Suzdal | Suzdal

Today enjoy the provincial life in Suzdal. More than any other city in the “Golden Ring,” Suzdal will show you a pastoral view of provincial life. Inside the Suzdal Kremlin, you can see the Church of St. Nicholas- a glorious example of Russian wooden architecture and the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin. This white-stone cathedral dates from the beginning of the 13th century.

Today you may also visit the Museum of Wooden and Peasant Architecture. Founded in 1960, this open air museum features outstanding examples of Russian country architecture. You will find windmills, a church and several wooden houses – all from different villages in the Vladimir region.

There were once fifteen monasteries and convents in Suzdal, but today only five survive. You may visit any you wish. The most interesting is definitely the Spaso-Yevfimieyev Monastery, whose buildings houseamuseum. AnotherinterestingvisitistheConventoftheIntercession,widelyknownasaplace of lifetime exile for women of aristocratic birth.

You will have some time this afternoon to enjoy Suzdal on your own.


Tonight a special dinner has been arranged in a private home in Suzdal- a simple, but traditional Russian meal of natural foods from the dacha garden. Dinner consists of three courses, mineral water, coffee and tea.

Day 7
Suzdal - St. Petersbrug | Suzdal - St. Petersburg

This morning meet your guide in the hotel lobby. You will them be transferred to Vladimir’s train station to catch high-speed train to Moscow. Your guide will travel with you. Train tickets are included in program cost.

On arrival in Moscow, you will be met and transferred to another train station to catch the high-speed train Sapsan to St. Petersburg. Train tickets are included in program cost.

Upon arrival in St. Petersburg your driver will meet you for your transportation to your hotel, located in the city center.

Day 8
St. Petersburg | St. Petersbug

You will meet your guide by the concierge desk in your hotel lobby. The greatest museum in the world deserves plenty of time to experience. Today’s visit to the Hermitage Museum will take you to another world- the tsars’ Winter Palace with its collection of the world’s finest art. Your guide will escort you through the main section of the museum, including the Imperial living quarters, the famous Malachite Room and beyond.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

The Hermitage is truly one of the world’s great museums and its vast size can be overwhelming. We suggest allowing a top art lecturer introduce the highlights of the collection to you- a lecturer who actually curates the museum. Today during your Hermitage visit, you will be met by one of the Hermitage’s top curators for a personal tour of the collection. He will be glad to head directly to the parts of the museum that are of particular interest to you, or perhaps show you his personal favorites, including some extraordinary, but normally-missed, pieces. This is a VIP art experience of a lifetime.

Next you will visit the General Staff Building, the Eastern Wing of which is now a part of the Hermitage. Designed by Carlo Rossi, one of the central architects that conceived St Petersburg, the General staff building was the headquarters of the army in Imperial times. At just under 2,000 feet it is the longest building in Europe. The triumphal arch in the centre is topped by a spectacular statue of a chariot of Glory to commemorate the victory of Russia over Napoleon in 1812. (Ask your guide to tell you the story of the fire on January 2001 that virtually melted and destroyed the statue).

This afternoon, your guide will take you into the stately St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Its malachite and lapis lazuli columns are not to be missed! St. Isaac’s was built between 1818 and 1858, by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand, to be one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital. During World War II, the golden dome was painted gray to avoid its being targeted by Nazi fire. For those with strong legs, you can climb to the top of the cathedral’s dome for the finest views over St. Petersburg’s historic neighborhood.

Day 9
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

Spend a day outside of the city to see one of the grandest palaces in Europe: Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin, an extraordinary example of Russian and European architecture.

Your first stop today is Catherine Palace and its fabled Amber Room. This palace was started by Catherine I (Peter the Great’s second wife and not Catherine the Great) and it bears her name. The baroque design is truly a masterpiece and this palace, with its striking blue and gold exterior, is one of the symbols of St. Petersburg. Russian Baroque means gilded statues, gilded mirrors and gilded wall, ceilings and picture frames! The gardens are laid out in the highly stylized French style and are definitely worth a stroll.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

While visiting Catherine Palace, you will be invited into the Amber Room workshops where craftsmen rebuilt the famous amber panels lost in World War II.
You may wish to have lunch today in the village of Pavlovsk at the restaurant, Podvorye. This charming restaurant is made of wood and features lively folk entertainment at lunch. Lunch cost

is not included and is payable locally.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

On your way back into the city you will have the rare opportunity to enter and view the Hermitage Museum’s vast storage chambers. Located in a secure, closed storage facility 40 minutes from the Hermitage, these chambers hold a forgotten gamut of treasures ranging from the Tsar’s kitchen relics and world-class works of art, to royal carriages, original palace furniture, and imperial wardrobes.

You may wish to end your day with a visit to the brand new Russian Vodka Museum. This unique institution is located in the historical building of the Horse Guard Regiment Headquarters and Stables near St. Isaac's Square. You will have the opportunity to learn not only about the history of Vodka production in Russia, but also about the significance of this drink in the Russian society and its drinking and dining traditions. The exhibition consists of over thousand items from different periods of Russian history including photos and documents, advertising and "agitprop" posters, vodka labels, bottles and much more. You will surely leave in a great mood as the visit also includes a tasting of different brands of vodka paired with traditional Russian snacks.

Day 10
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

Today you will visit the Peter Paul Fortress: the birthplace of St. Petersburg. As Peter’s original outpost against the Swedes, St. Petersburg was born from this fortress and its historical significance is felt to this day by the presence of every Romanov tomb from Peter I.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

St. Petersburg’s first Fabergé Museum, a must see, has opened at the Shuvalov Palace on the Fontanka Canal, close to the Imperial Anichkov Palace and just a short block from Nevsky Prospect. The palace houses the celebrated Fabergé collection of the Link of Times Foundation owned by Russian Entrepreneur Viktor Vekselberg, which, with its over 1500 choice pieces, now easily outranks the comparatively small collection of the Kremlin Armoury Museum. Mr. Vekselberg has assembled the most formidable collection in the world of works by this great Russian master craftsman, best known for his celebrated million dollar Imperial Easter Eggs.

The private museum is open by appointment only with just a few visitors per hour allowed in. Special access is secured for Exeter International guests, but advance reservations are required.

Later you will see the ornate Church on Spilled Blood on Canal Griboyedova. The Church on Spilled Blood is so named because it stands on the spot where the Emperor Alexander II was assassinated on March 1, 1881. Its unique design was actually inspired by St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. This is the only church in the world covered completely inside and out by mosaics of tiles and precious and semi- precious stones. This is one of the most extraordinary buildings in St. Petersburg and is well worth the visit. During the Bolshevik revolution the church fell into a state of decline, and only recently has it been fully restored to its former glory. Across the street you will find a small souvenir market selling inexpensive Russian handicrafts.

Day 11
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

Today you will travel out to Peter the Great’s summer palace, Peterhof, to see first-hand the palace’s countless fountains and gardens.

You will tour the Grand Palace, Gardens and Grottos of Peterhof. When you walk to the upper gardens, you can enter the Grand Palace. This stately palace overlooks the gardens and smaller palaces, as well as the Baltic Sea. The ornate baroque interiors or the Grand Palace will no doubt amaze you and no one soon forgets the unique Chinese Room filled with lacquer and ancient silk.

Later you will visit the Grottos of Peterhof. The tremendous variety of fountains is one of the principal features of Peterhof, where their extravagance and playfulness indicate the atmosphere of early 18th century Russia. You will journey underneath the fountains and learn of their remarkable engineering and history.

Lunch today is casual and is in the historic Orangery of Peterhof Palace opposite the famous Triton fountain. Although the café located inside the historic building is not a fine dining restaurant, the buffet style restaurant offers hot soups, rolls, salads and other light cuisine. Lunch includes mineral water, and coffee or tea.

Aftertouring,youwillreturntothecityviatheexpresshydrofoil. Thisone-hourridetakesyououtof the city traffic and into the Baltic Sea. Your guide will go with you on the hydrofoil and your driver will meet you back in the city.

Later you will stop into the famous Yusupov Palace on the banks for the Moika Canal. You will have a private tour of the palace including its famous theater and Arabian Room. Your guide will recount the story of Rasputin’s murder. This tour is by appointment only and cannot be moved to another time or day.

Day 12
Departure | St. Petersburg

Transfer to the airport to meet your onward flight. Please note this flight is not included in program cost.

Meet a ballerina in St Petersburg
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