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

Essential Russia with Golden Ring (12 Days)

Sail down the beautiful rivers
Sail down the beautiful rivers

Featuring Extraordinary Experiences:

  • Private Visit to the dome of Christ the Holy Redeemer Cathedral Private Home
  • Visit & Dinner with a Local Family in Suzdal
  • VIP Entrance to Catherine Palace
  • Amber Room Workshops at the Catherine Palace

Download a PDF version of the itinerary here.

For custom luxury travel and tours to Russia, please contact one of our travel experts.

Download PDF itinerary here

Day 1
Arrival | Moscow

Today arrive in Moscow. Please note this flight is not included in program cost. On arrival your private driver will be waiting for you outside of customs and baggage claim.

You will be transferred to your centrally located hotel, just steps from Red Square and the Kremlin and across the street from the Bolshoi Theater. The rest of the day and evening is at leisure.

Exeter Services: Airport Transfer (one included)

Hotel: Ararat Park Hyatt

Day 2
Moscow | Moscow

This morning you will meet your private driver and guide in your hotel lobby and enjoy a short drive to 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 the 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.

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, Red October Chocolate Factory 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 located just above your head! It's the ultimate Moscow city tour from the top of the highest peak of central Moscow.

Next you will stroll across the bridge to the other side of the river where you will walk through the Graveyard of Fallen Monuments – a collection of some of the sculptures removed from Moscow after the fall of the Soviet era. Your guide will then 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. To end your afternoon touring you will visit the famous Gorky Park where you will board the Radisson River Boat for a cruise down the Moskva River. This cruise offers a great opportunity to see and photograph the city from a different angle. Following your days touring you will be transferred back to your hotel where you have the remainder of your day at leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide, Vehicle & Driver (8 Hours)

Day 3
Moscow | Moscow

This morning you will meet your guide in your hotel lobby and enjoy a short walk to the Kremlin and through its expansive grounds. Here you will see the largest bell in the world – as well as the largest cannon. Neither was ever used due to their 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.

While here 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. Note: An appointment is required for visits to the Armory Museum. Once confirmed, these are not able to be changed.

Also included in your Kremlin visit today is entry into the Diamond Vaults. 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!

After a break for lunch, payable locally, you can explore some of the surrounding neighborhood with your guide. In Red Square, be sure not to miss the rebuilt church and Imperial Gates at the south end of the square; they were both destroyed under Stalin and are now rebuilt in their original splendor. Your guide will also show you the stunning St. Basil’s Cathedral, an iconic symbol of Moscow. This magnificent church-museum was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible and was completed in 1561. Rumor has it that Ivan had the architect blinded so he would never be able to design anything as exquisite again!

To end your day you will want to experience the fascinating interiors of the Moscow Metro stations, ornately decorated with beautiful paintings, carvings, and chandeliers! The Moscow Metro was created as a 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 before escorting you back to your hotel where you then have the remainder of your evening at leisure.

Special Note: All of today’s touring today is on foot and involves both walking and standing. Please wear comfortable footwear.

 

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Ararat Park Hyatt

Day 4
Moscow | Moscow

This morning you will meet your driver and guide for a visit to the Tretyakov Gallery, 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 the industrialist and great art collector, 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 (Repin and Aivazovsky). This is one of the world’s greatest collections of Russian art.

Next you will make your way to the south of the city where you will find several 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. Located adjacent to the convent, you may like to visit Novodevichy Convent’s fascinating cemetery. Novodevichy is the most beautiful of the semicircle of fortified religious institutions to the south of Moscow. Its cemetery, located adjacent, 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.

Finally, on your way back to the hotel you will visit the new Zaryadye park boasting sweeping views of the Red Square and St. Basil Cathedral. With 32 acres of recreation space right in the very center of the city, the park is located steps from Red Square. Designed by Diller, Scofido & Renfro, architects who created the New York Highline, the concept is described as ‘wild urban’ – with the park merging historical streets with nature. For many years the area was the site of the largest hotel in the world (the Hotel Rossiya) however the area has since remained vacant for many years after hotel was demolished over a decade ago. Your guide will then walk with you back to your hotel where you have the remainder of your day at leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle & Driver (6 Hours)

Hotel: Ararat Park Hyatt

Day 5
Suzdal | Suzdal

This morning you will meet your driver and guide in the hotel lobby. You will then be transferred to the train station to catch the high-speed train to Vladimir. Your guide will travel with you. Business Class or better 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 you will meet your driver for a tour of this charming city. Tucked into a green valley and surrounded by forests and lakes, Vladimir is said to be the father of Russian cities. Founded in 1108 by Vladimir Monomakh, Prince of Kiev, the city quickly became the capital of the principality. Vladimir reached its peak in the latter half of the 12th century under Prince Andrew Bogolubsky before the Mongol invasions quickly destroyed the city during the 13th century when it was pillaged twice by the hoard of invaders. After its destruction the capital of the principality was moved to a small settlement called Moscow some 180 km away. Vladimir is the perfect location to view early Russian architecture and has become a popular tourist destination along the Golden Ring. One of the most famous sites in the city is the Holy Assumption Cathedral, built in 1160 and remains one of the few churches that survived the fires of the Mongol invasion. Here you will notice a combination of gothic and neoclassical influences, this cathedral was ground breaking for its time and used as a model for many future cathedrals.

You will then continue to Suzdal where you will check in to your hotel and spend some time relaxing at leisure.

Tonight, a special dinner has been arranged in a private home in Suzdal- a simple, but traditional Russian meal ofnaturalfoodsfromthedachagarden. Followingthischarmingexperience,youwillbereturnedtoyourhotel.

Exeter Services: Train Station transfer; Private Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Pushkarskaya Sloboda

Day 6
Suzdal | Suzdal

Today you will explore the provincial life of Suzdal. You will begin with a visit to the Suzdal Kremlin where you will find 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.

Next you will want to 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 surrounding region.

There were once fifteen monasteries and convents in Suzdal, but today only five survive. Today you may visit as many as you wish! The most interesting however is the Spaso-Yevfimieyev Monastery, whose buildings house amuseum. AnotherinterestingvisitistheConventoftheIntercession,widelyknownasaplaceoflifetimeexile for women of aristocratic birth.

If you are interested, end the day with a sampling of homemade Russian mead at the Suzdal Mead Factory. Sold across Russia in small brown bottles, this local factory makes a wide variety of this medieval drink. You may choose to sample as many as you like, all spiced with different flavors, including hops, juniper, pepper and even horseradish. You will then be returned to your hotel where you have the remainder of your day at leisure.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Pushkarskaya Sloboda

Day 7
Vladimir - St. Petersburg | Vladimir - St. Petersburg

Today you will be met in the hotel lobby and transferred to Vladimir train station to catch your train to St. Petersburg. Business class or better tickets are included in program cost.

Upon arrival in St. Petersburg you will be met at the train station and transferred to your hotel. You then have the evening at leisure.

Exeter Services: Train Station Transfers

Day 8
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

This morning you will meet your guide in the hotel lobby for a short walk to Palace Square. The focal point of this ensemble is the Winter Palace - an architectural masterpiece of the Russian Baroque and the royal residence of all the Russian Emperors (except Paul) until the 1917 Revolution. The existing Winter Palace is based on three earlier versions, the first two of which were rather modest and were erected under Peter the Great. After his death, the palace was repeatedly expanded and redesigned, most notably by the famous architects Domenico Trezzini and Bartolomeo Rastrelli.

Here you will find and explore the Hermitage museum with its largest collection of art in the word.

You will then visit the nearby 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. You then have the remainder of the afternoon to explore the city with your guide. You may enjoy a walk along the famous Nevsky Prospect – St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare. Some of the main sights lining the Nevsky Prospekt include the Stroganoff Palace, the huge neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, the Art Nouveau Book House (Dom Knigi), some 18th-century churches, a monument to Catherine the Great, the Russian National Library, and the Anichkov Bridge with its horse statues.

You will then be escorted back to your hotel where you have the remainder of your evening at leisure.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Rocco Forte Hotel Astoria

Day 9
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

This morning you will meet your private driver and guide in your hotel lobby and depart for the nearby Peter Paul Fortress: the birthplace of St. Petersburg. After walking through the many gates and across the bridges and moats, you can begin to feel the late 18th century era that required such fortification. 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 the Great.

Afterward visit the Kunstkammer - the first museum in Russia, established by Peter the Great on the Neva riverfront facing the Winter Palace. It first opened to the public in 1714 with the main purpose of collecting and examination of natural and human curiosities and rarities. Today, the museum’s collections, some of which might seem rather gruesome, contain roughly one million artifacts and reflect the diversity of traditional cultures in the Old and New World.

Following a break for lunch, payable locally in the small village of Pushkin, you will set off for an exploration of Catherine Palace and its fabled Amber Room. This palace was originally designed in the 1750s in the Rococo style by the famous architect Rastrelli (who also designed many of St. Petersburg’s grandest buildings like the Winter Palace, parts of Peterhof, the Stroganoff Palace, and the Smolny Cathedral) for the Tsarina (Princess) Elizabeth, who named it after her mother Catherine I—Peter the Great’s second wife. Later, Catherine II (the Great) commissioned the Scottish architect Charles Cameron to re-design the palace’s interiors in the then- fashionable Neo-Classical style. After Catherine the Great’s death, the palace remained largely unchanged for over a century until the Second World War when the Nazi army, retreating after the unsuccessful siege of Leningrad, destroyed the palace almost completely. After the war, the magnificent palace and its interiors were thoroughly and painstakingly rebuilt, but renovations at some parts continue.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

During the busy summer months, we highly advise to arrange VIP entrance to Catherine Palace. Historically, our guides could skip the lines with groups of two or less, but we are finding this to be increasingly difficult.With the included VIP entrance, you will enter through the main Golden Gates of the palace with your guide avoiding lines that can have a wait time of well over 2 hours. You’ll be met by a palace representative and taken through the main gates to a private reception area before beginning your tour.

Exeter International Extraordinary Experience

While visiting Catherine Palace, you will also be invited into the Amber Room workshops where craftsmen rebuilt the famous amber panels lost in World War II.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Rocco Forte Hotel Astoria

Day 10
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

This morning you will meet your driver and guide who will take you to see one of the largest collections of purely Russian art at the Russian Museum (the former palace of Grand Duke Michael). We suggest you start at the ancient Russian icons (including a tremendous collection of Rublevs) and end with some of the most famous 20th Century Russians- including Kandinsky. Of particular note is the rarely-seen Repin collection- including Imperial portraits that were hidden during the Communist period. Repin paintings have the feel of French Impressionists but are uniquely Russian.

Next you will stop at St. Petersburg’s first Fabergé Museum, a must see, that has opened at the Shuvalov Palace on the Fontanka Canal. 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.

Following a break for lunch, payable locally, 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 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. Finally, weather permitting, you will enjoy a private boat tour of the canals of St. Petersburg. This is one of the most enchanting ways to explore the city, as you take in the sights while gliding along the canals and rivers of the city, past the Winter Palace, the Mariinsky Theater, the Summer Gardens, and many other important sights. The boat ride is an optional excursion and is not prepaid. Your guide will make the arrangements for you if you are interested and you can pay for this excursion on site.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Rocco Forte Hotel Astoria

Day 11
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

This morning you will meet your driver and guide in your hotel lobby and set off for the Oranienbaum and its hidden gem: the Chinese Pavilion. Unlike many of St. Petersburg’s palaces, the Oranienbaum was spared during World War II. The exquisite interiors of the Chinese Pavilion, including a gallery of magnificent ceremonial rooms, have therefore remained virtually intact since the date of its construction in 1769 as the personal palace of Catherine the Great. The Chinese Pavilion is only open in the summertime and is weather-dependent. This palace will close unannounced due to inclement weather.

Afterward you will visit Peterhof, to see first-hand the palace’s countless fountains and gardens. Peterhof Palace (or Petrodvorets in Russian) is often called the Russian Versailles due to the prominence of the gardens and fountains. While walking through the gardens watch out for Peterhof’s most enchanting treat- the trick fountains that randomly squirt water and unsuspecting visitors! While strolling through the lower gardens of Peterhof, you will come to one of Peter the Great’s favorite buildings, including his very personal residence, Mon Plaisir (“my pleasure). This tiny palace has low ceilings (which Peter preferred) and sits directly on the banks of the sea. This was his summer palace and was often used on his way coming and going to Europe through the harbor at Kronstadt. Before leaving today you will want to 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. Please note: todays visit will focus on the palace grounds and fountains and does not include entrance into the palace. When the weather cooperates in the summertime, a special treat is to take the express hydrofoil either to or from Peterhof. The thirty-minute ride takes you out of the city traffic and into the Baltic Sea! Your guide will go with you on the hydrofoil and your driver will meet you at the palace. Cost of hydrofoil is included in your tour.

If you are interested on your way back to your hotel your guide will take you to the Kuznechny Market. This is the best of St. Petersburg’s local markets and is a hive of activity with aggressive vendors pressing you to taste every vegetable and fruit imaginable.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Rocco Forte Hotel Astoria

Day 12
Departure | Departure

Today meet your private driver and assistant for transfer to the airport for your onward flight. Please note this flight is not included in program cost.

Exeter Services: Departure Transfer with assistance

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