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:

  • Tour of the Bolshoi Theater
  • Hermitage with a Curator

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

Day 1
Arrival | Moscow

Arrival into Moscow, where your private driver will be waiting for you just outside of customs. Please note this flight I s not included in program cost.

You will be transferred to the perfectly 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 may want to visit the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. This is the largest museum of European art in Moscow and is a must-visit. The Pushkin is best known for its French Impressionist collection—a group of paintings that were originally acquired by two famous Russian industrialists who lost their paintings after the Revolution. Part of their collection went to the Hermitage and part went to the Pushkin. The museum is now split between two buildings. You can visit one or both!

The main building of the Pushkin museum contains copies (yes, copies!) of ancient statues and sculptures that were to help the education of art students. You’ll also find a collection of Western European art.

Later you will visit 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. 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, 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.

Afterward stroll with the guide 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.

Next walk through the famous Gorky Pak that is just across the street. There you will board the Radisson River Boat to cruise down the Moskva River which will be a great opportunity to see and photograph the city from a different angle.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle & Driver (4 Hours)

Hotel: Ararat Park Hyatt

 
Day 3
Moscow | Moscow

This morning your guide will meet you in the lobby of your hotel for a walking tour of Soviet Moscow. Your guide will walk you through downtown Moscow. Your guide will point out many famous historical landmarks and will tell you about the fascinating secrets of the former KGB and their notorious practices that were associated with these unassuming facades.

Later today your guide will take you into 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.

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

Included in your Kremlin visit today is a privately guided 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 time to have lunch on your own, 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!

You may 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.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Ararat Park Hyatt

Day 4
Moscow | Moscow

This morning 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.

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. 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.

Later today walk over to brand new Zaryadye park for sweeping views of the Red Square and St. Basil Cathedral. One of Moscow’s newest sights is the futuristic Zaryadye Park. With 32 acres of recreation space right in the very centre 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) and the area had been empty since the hotel was demolished over a decade ago.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours); Vehicle & Driver (4 Hours)

Hotel: Ararat Park Hyatt

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.

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.

Exeter Services: Train Station transfer (Moscow); Vehicle Driver & Guide (Golden Ring)

Hotel: Pushkarskaya Sloboda

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 house a museum. Another interesting visit is the Convent of the Intercession, widely known as a place of lifetime exile 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.

Exeter Services: Vehicle, Driver & Guide

Hotel: Pushkarskaya Sloboda

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

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

Upon arrival in St. Petersburg you will be transferred to your hotel. Evening is at leisure in St. Petersburg.

Exeter Services: Train Station transfers (Golden Ring; St. Petersburg)

Hotel: Astoria

 
Day 8
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

This morning 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.

Today’s visit to the Hermitage Museum will take you to another world; a time when Catherine the Great commissioned whole buildings to house an ever-growing collection of the world’s finest art. The former Winter Palace now spans just about every artistic period and holds the largest collection of art in the world.

Later today you will visit the recently opened General Staff Building, 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. This is now the home of the Hermitage’s contemporary art collection, including its collection of French Impressionists.

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.

The rest of the afternoon will be at leisure to explore the city with your guide. You will enjoy a walk along the famous Nevsky Prospect – St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare. The 3-mile-long Nevsky prospect was laid out in 1710, making it one of the city's first streets connecting different bends of the Neva River. St. Petersburg's most famed street starts at the foot of the Admiralty building and runs all the way to the Alexander Nevsky Lavra. 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. Your guide will be happy to provide information on any of the buildings you are interested in along the way.

Exeter Services: Guide (8 Hours)

Hotel: Astoria

Day 9
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

Today you will see 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.

Next you will see the Catherine Palace and its fabled Amber Room. You will enter through the main gate with your guide avoiding all the lines.

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 still continue.

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. This tour is by appointment only and cannot be moved to another time or day.

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

Hotel: Astoria

Day 10
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

This morning your guide 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.

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 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.

This afternoon, weather permitting, you will have 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: Astoria

Day 11
St. Petersburg | St. Petersburg

Today we recommend visiting 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. When the weather cooperates in the summertime, a special treat is to take the express hydrofoil either to or from Peterhof. The one-hour 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.

Peterhof Palace (or Petrodvorets in Russian) is often called the Russian Versailles due to the prominence of the gardens and fountains. Walk through the gardens to see Peterhof’s most enchanting treat- the trick fountains of the gardens.

Later you may 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.

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.

If you are interested, 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. You will also be able to taste honey fresh from the comb - and probably will never want honey from a jar again! Countless varieties of pickles and a myriad of spices from the Caucasus will keep you fascinated in this unique environment.

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

Hotel: Astoria

Day 12
Departure | St. Petersburg

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

Exeter Services: Departure Transfer

Meet a ballerina in St Petersburg
Extraordinary Experiences
VIEW VIEW page

Extraordinary Experiences

Discover our insider access Extraordinary Experiences.

VIEW PAGE
Exeter Team
The Experts
VIEW VIEW page

The Experts

Meet the Experts that will make your trip extraordinary.

VIEW PAGE
Rovinj, Istria
View Our Destinations
VIEW VIEW page

View Our Destinations

Our specialty is in the countries that link East & West, both in Europe, and between Europe & Asia.

VIEW PAGE
Family travel
View Our Trip Types
VIEW VIEW page

View Our Trip Types

How do you like to travel? View your choices here.

VIEW PAGE