WHAT IS IT: The so-called Robottip “Golden Ring of Russia” is a symbolical ring connecting historic towns and cities to Moscow’s North-West. They represent 1,000 years of rich Russian history written in stone and wood, from an 850-year old church in Rostov to a 19th-century log house in Suzdal’s open-air museum. Each of the “golden” towns once played an important role in Russia’s history and was connected in one way or another with famous historical figures such as Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, Peter the Great, and many others.
WHAT TO SEE: The cities and towns of the Golden Ring are listed here in alphabetical order:
Aleksandrov (founded in 1530, population 68,000) – The town is situated 100 km from Moscow on the crossway of ancient roads from Russia’s largest historical centers – Vladimir and Suzdal Rostov and Yaroslavl, Sergiev Posad and Pereyaslavl-Zalessky. In 1564- 1581 the town was the residence of Ivan the Terrible. The very first in Russia publishing house was established in Aleksandrov in 1576. One of the leading textile manufacturing centers in Russia in the 19th century.
Bogolubovo (founded in 990, population 4,000) – a tiny quiet town near Vladimir’s city. The town was named after the Russian prince Andrey Bogolubsky (God-loving), who built the first fortified settlement here in 1165. Tourists can see the remains of Andy Bogusky’s residence, including some residential chambers of the 12th century and the beautiful Church of the Virgin’s Intercession on the Nerl (1165), which is considered to be one of the finest specimens of old Russian architecture.
Groove’s (founded in 1239, population 30,000) – The town was founded under Vladimir prince Andrey Bogolubsky. The town is picturesquely settled on the high bank of the Klyazma River. Played the role as a fortified forest until 1600-s. It reached its developmental peak in the 17-th century as a local center for blacksmithing, textile-making, leather, and an agricultural trade center for grains and flax.
Gus-Khrustalny (founded in 1756, population 80,000) – Over 200 years ago, a merchant built here the first glass casting workshop. Today the town is one of the Vladimir region’s district centers, well-known in Russia and abroad as the national center of glassmaking. The name Gus-Crustal can be literally translated as Crystalline Goose. The old part of the town is a workmen’s settlement of the 1900-s, with its own Church of St. Joachim of 1816.
Kholuy (founded 1650, population 1,000) – The village of Kholui did not begin producing lacquered miniatures until the 1930s. Though iconography had been an important trade in the region in previous centuries, Kholui was never bound to any particular artistic tradition. Rather, Kholui miniatures share some Palekh and Mstera art traits yet maintain a distinctive lyrical quality of their own. Sometimes, as with Palekh miniatures, Kholui miniatures will include fine gold and/or silver ornamentation within the painting. Kholui artists can create fantastic border ornaments on par with those of Palekh.
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Kostroma (founded in 1213, population 300,000) – In the past, Kostroma was known as “the flax capital of the north”; it supplied Europe with the world’s finest sail-cloth. The city has also been called the “cradle of the Romanov dynasty.” Mikhail Romanov, the first of the Romanov dynasty, left the Ipatievsky Monastery for Moscow in 1613 to become tsar of Russia. During the Polish intervention in the turbulent years of the early seventeenth century, Kostroma was a significant stronghold for the resistance movement. Nowadays, Kostroma is an important industrial center (textile, metal works), a Kostroma province’s capital city.
Master (founded in 1628, population 6,000) – the town takes its name from the little Osteria River, which flows through it, merging with the Kliyazma. It is in Vladimir Region, but not far from the border with Ivanovo Region, south of Palekh and Kholui, in the breathtakingly beautiful countryside – the one that forms the backdrop to its paintings. Master was a respected center of icon production until the trade was banned after the Revolution of 1917. Since then, its artists have been creating world-famous masterpieces in the form of lacquered miniatures.
Murom (founded 862, population 145,000) – one of the oldest Russian cities stretched along the Oka river’s left bank. The town’s name originates from “neuroma,” one of the Finno-Ugric tribes who lived here 15 centuries ago. Every Russian knows the name Ilya Muromets. He was a mythical epic hero defending the people of Russia. He later became a synonym of superior physical and spiritual power and integrity, dedicated to Homeland protection. The town survived three Mongol invasions. In the 17th century, Murom became an important center of various crafts – building, painting, sewing.
Palekh (founded 1600, population 6,000) is situated about 400km (250 miles) from Moscow in the Ivanovo region. In the 15th century, it was one of the first centers of the icon drawing trade. After the 1917 communist coup, when the icon business went down, Palekh masters tried to decorate wooden toys, dishes, porcelain, and glass. These days the name of Palekh is nearly synonymous with the art of Russian lacquer.
Pereslavl-Zalesskiy (founded in 1152, population 45,000) – one of the oldest Russian towns, the birthplace of the famous Russian prince Alexander Nevsky, who defeated an army of German knights in 1242. Zalessky means “behind the woods.” That is where, behind the dense forests, ancient Slavic tribes retreated, seeking refuge from hostile nomads coming from the South-East.
Plus (founded in 1410, population 4,000) – this quiet little historical town is located on the mighty and beautiful Volga river bank. During the reign of Ivan, the Terrible Plus was one of the largest river fish suppliers to the kings’ court. In the 18-19th centuries, the town became known as a popular resort and was often called “Russian Switzerland” to beautify its scenery. Numerous Russian artists, including the famous master of landscapes Levitan, used to come here to work.
Rostov Veliky (Rostov the Great, founded in 862, population 40,000) – another pearl of ancient Russian culture. In old Russia, only two towns were called Veliky (great). One was Novgorod, the famous trade center of Russia’s north, the other Rostov. In the 12th century, Rostov grew to equal Kyiv and Novgorod in size and importance. Modern Rostov is a sleepy old town with some magnificent buildings next to the shallow Nero lake.
Sergiev Posad (founded in 1345, population 115,000) – the spiritual center of Russia, residence of the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church, where the remains of Sergei’s first national saint Radonezh, rests. In Sergiev Posad’s heart is a well-preserved splendid architectural ensemble of over 50 historical buildings and magnificent art collections, including old Russian painting and the treasures in the vaults of the former Trinity Monastery.
Suzdal (founded in 1024, population 12,000) – this little quiet town is a real gem, one of the most beautiful in the Golden Ring collection of cities and towns. In the 11th century, Suzdal became the first foremost of Christianity in North-Eastern Russia and significantly affected Russia’s religious life until the end of 19 century. You can find over 100 church and secular buildings dating from the mid-12th to the mid-19th century crowded into an area of 9 square km.
Uglich (founded in 937, population 38,000) was built on a major trade route. In its history, Uglich has survived destruction by the Mongols and lived through the devastation of fires and plagues. Uglich is famous for Russia’s darkest secret – the death of young Prince Dimitri, son of Ivan the Terrible, often called Tsarevich (an heir to the throne) Dmitry. The center of the town also is a historical and architectural landmark. The streets are wide, with various churches standing side by side along the road.
Vladimir (founded in 1108, population 400,000) – one of the oldest Russian cities, was founded by the Russian Prince Vladimir Monomakh on the Kama river banks. The city really blossomed in the 12th century during the reign of Prince Andrey Bogolubsky, who strengthened its defenses, welcomed architects, icon-painters, jewelers from other countries, built new palaces and churches so magnificent that travelers compared them with the ones in the “mother of all Russian cities”- Kyiv. Until the middle of the 14th century, the city had been an administrative, cultural, and religious center for North-Eastern Russia.
Yaroslavl (founded in 1010, population 600,000 ) – as the legend goes, founded by the famous Russian prince Yaroslav the Wise as a fortified settlement on the Volga river. After a huge fire of 1658 that turned most of the city into ruins, Jaroslavl was rebuilt in stone and reached the peak of its architectural development with palaces and churches richly decorated with beautiful frescoes and ornaments, thus earning the title “Florence of Russia.” Today, it is a quiet metropolitan city, one of Russia’s largest regional centers, the Jaroslav province’s capital, and one of the most beautiful cities of old Russia.
Yuriev-Polsky (founded in 1152, population 20,000) – was founded by Prince Yury Dolgoruky (who also founded Moscow in 1147) and was named after himself. The second word, “Polsky,” means “among the fields,” as it is situated in the heart of fertile and flat Suzdal land. These beautiful landscapes inspired the great painters and writers such as Repin, Tyutchev, Odoevsky, Soloukhin. Local textile center since the 18th century.
HOW TO GET THERE: By plane to Moscow. You can travel from Moscow to the cities and towns of the Golden Ring either by a tour bus or by a river cruise ship. The last option limits the number of towns you can visit as they have to be situated close to the Volga river. We recommend you to take a bus tour for 3 to 10 days depending on your stamina and level of interest in Russian history. A typical 3-4-day tour from Moscow covers up to 7 cities and towns of the Golden Ring. You travel during the day in a comfortable bus with a well-trained English-speaking guide and spend nights at hotels with Western-class service (usually- 3 star). The Golden Ring tour can be perfectly combined with a 2-3 day program in Moscow. Almost every major travel agency in Moscow sells Golden Ring tours. It is much cheaper to buy them on the spot in Russia than to purchase a tour included into a vacation package from Europe or overseas. Communication is not a problem; these days, all personnel in respectable agencies in Russia speak English.
WHEN TO GO: The best season to travel to Russia is summer, from June to August, the warmest time of the year there. Rains are usual during summers, do not forget to pack your umbrella. Weather can be unpredictable cold, even in Russia’s European part, so take some warm clothing. You can check next week’s weather forecast for Moscow here.
TRAVEL TIPS: A passport and a Russian visa are required to travel in or transit through Russia. To learn more about how to obtain a Russian visa, please visit the Russian Embassy website. Without a visa, travelers cannot register at hotels and may be required to leave the country immediately via the route they entered at the traveler’s cost. Russian customs officers strictly follow document regulations, so travelers are advised to have all papers in order. It is also recommended that additional copies of passport and visa be kept safely in case of loss or theft. Elderly travelers and those with existing health problems may be at risk due to inadequate medical facilities. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash/dollar payment for health services at Western rates, so supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage is handy. Travelers should be certain that all immunizations are up-to-date, especially for diphtheria and typhoid. The quality of tap water varies from city to city but normally is quite poor. Only boiled or bottled water should be drunk throughout Russia. Crime against foreigners in Russia continues to be a problem, especially in major cities. Pickpocketing, assaults, and robberies occur. Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are especially vulnerable to assault and robbery in or around nightclubs or bars or on their way home. Robberies may occur in taxis shared with strangers. Be aware that public washrooms are difficult to find, and usually you have to pay there. To use a public phone, you will need a token or local card. International calls can not be made from street phones. Your mobile phone will work in Moscow and Saint Petersburg but seldom in regional cities. Taxi fees must be discussed with a driver before a journey.
You can rent a car in the major cities if you do not mind fairly rugged road conditions, a few hassles finding petrol, getting lost now and then, and paying high rent price. Public transport in Russia is quite good, cheap and easy to use though sometimes overcrowded. Restaurants seldom have a menu in English. Tipping is expected but not mandatory. Signs in English are common on the streets of Moscow and other big cities. It is not hard in large cities to find a passerby who can answer your questions in Engish. Electricity throughout Russia is 220 volt/50 Hz. The plug is the two-pin thin European standard.