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Russia: Volga - European River Cruise Routes
"Discover the stunning architecture and unique cultural heritage of Russia's most interesting cities on a Volga River cruise". That's what they claim, and to a large extent it's justified. The development of numerous man-made canals now makes it possible to travel from Red Square (or close to it) in Moscow to the historic waterfront of St Petersburg by combining routes along the Volga River, the Moscow Canal and other waterways.
The Volga River, at 2,293 miles, is the longest river in Europe. Exploring the natural highways of Russia with a cruise down the imperial rivers and lakes is one of the best, and certainly the easiest, ways to get a real feeling for the country outside of the main centres.
Not that you'll miss out on the better-known attractions on these river cruises: there's a determined emphasis on the opulence and history of Russia, its imperial cities, spectacular art and architecture, e.g. "see opulent palaces of Russian czars, visit ancient monasteries, and tour magnificent cathedrals...", "see the grand monuments and opulent palaces of the Czars..."
Moscow and St Petersburg tourist sights covered
Most cruises include two nights in Moscow, "city of golden onion domes and Gothic skyscrapers" and a similar period in St Petersburg, "conceived by Peter the Great to evolve Russia from the 'Dark Ages' into the 'Enlightened Age'."
It's true that Moscow has a lot of gold-domed monasteries, but there's also Red Square with its Karl Marx Monument, GUM department store and Lenin’s Tomb (see it before they bury him), the Kremlin, the Armoury and St. Basil’s Cathedral (the scaffolding and green net has now gone). On the river, the gigantic (300ft tall) new monument to Peter the Great is truly awesome kitsch, while the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a sprawling Russian Orthodox church on the northwest bank of the Moscow River is an exact reproduction of the original 19th-century cathedral, which was dynamited by Stalin in the 1930s to make way for the biggest skyscraper in the world (never built).
In St. Petersburg, centuries-old historic sites such as the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Hermitage Museum with its extraordinary collection of art are a given, while the famous navy ship Aurora that signaled the attack on Winter Palace in 1917, the culmination of October Revolution, is worth visiting.
"The Golden Ring" is the key to the itinerary
'The Golden Ring' is one of the oldest Russian trade routes. It goes to the north-east of Moscow and forms a circle, with many interesting ancient Russian cities and towns along the way, full of history and unique Russian architecture of the XII-XVII centuries. Most Volga cruises visit the Golden Ring cities of Yaroslavl and Uglich, one of the oldest towns in Russia, and and sail through the largest lakes in Europe - Onega and Ladoga.
Kostroma is another Golden Ring city, where the streets fan out from a central square in a classical 18th and 19th C layout and you can see medieval peasant homes and the golden dome of Ipatievsky Monastery and museum.
If this sounds all a little academic, that may be because there tends to be a greater emphasis on providing educational opportunities on these cruises, with river boats boasting onboard experts and lectures on Russian history, culture and economy.
OUR ADVICE: concentrate on the ship you want to travel on and the route you want to travel, rather than the tour aggregator (of course, there's also price!). Be sure to check out our "Things to watch for" page too!
Next page: a typical Volga river cruise route in Russia