From the Varangians through the Tsars to the Soviets, Russia has had a long, rich, and sometimes tumultuous history. Get to know the world’s largest nation on this 17-day tour of Russian history, culture and art.
We begin with the historic towns of the Golden Ring, which preceded Moscow as the political and cultural heart of Russia, stopping to admire such marvels as the iconic Trinity Monastery of St Sergius and the storybook town of Suzdal.
Our tour next takes us to Moscow, which since the 14th century has been the seat of Russian power. Here we’ll walk through Red Square, visiting the Kremlin’s cathedrals and its famous Armoury and Diamond Fund, and we’ll explore the magnificent collections at the State Tretyakov Gallery and Pushkin Fine Arts Museum. We finish in St Petersburg, where we take in the incomparable Hermitage art museum, the lavish palaces of imperial Russia, and national treasures like the Fabergé Museum and St Isaac’s Cathedral.
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From the world’s great collections of the Hermitage Museum to the exquisite creations of Carl Fabergé, explore a treasure trove of history and art amongst St Petersburg’s ornate palaces.
Witness the opulent lifestyle of the Tsars with a tour through the sumptuous apartments and interiors of the magnificent Catherine Palace, the summer residence of the Empress Elizabeth.
Admire the heart and soul of Russia at Moscow’s iconic Red Square. Explore its famous red walls, flanked by the onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, and the GUM, the former state department store.
Survey the mighty Kremlin and the red heart of Russia. Steeped in history and myth, it was the seat of government, former residence of the Tsars and the centre of the Russian Orthodoxy.
The tour begins Friday 16 September at 6pm, at the Armega Hotel Domodedov
The tour ends on Sunday 2 October, after breakfast.
Friday 16 September – Arrival Moscow
Our tour begins at the Armega Hotel Domodedovo. There will be a light dinner available in the hotel this evening. Overnight Moscow Domodedovo Airport (D)
Saturday 17 September – Sergiev Posad
We depart Moscow early this morning for the town of Sergiev Posad and Russia’s holiest of holies, the beautiful Trinity Monastery of St Sergius. Founded by St Sergius, Russia’s patron saint, the monastery is a glorious ensemble of blue and golden cupolas. Closed by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 Revolution, it was re-opened after World War II as a museum, working monastery and the residence of the patriarch. From Sergiev Posad we travel to Suzdal, our base for the next three nights. This evening we gather for a welcome dinner. Overnight Suzdal (B, L, D)
Sunday 18 September – Suzdal
Suzdal is one of the best-preserved towns of the Golden Ring, a group of ancient towns that preceded Moscow as the political and cultural heart of Russia. With its clusters of 17th- and 18th-century whitewashed churches and its streets of low wooden houses with traditional carved eaves and windows, Suzdal is a living museum protected against any industrial development. We explore it at leisure today and enjoy lunch prepared by a local in their home. Overnight Suzdal (B, L)
Monday 19 September – Vladimir
Today we visit Vladimir, founded by Vladimir Monomakh in 1108; after Kiev was sacked in 1169, it became the capital of all Kievan Rus. Although Vladimir eventually gave way to Moscow as the capital of Russia, the grand prince continued to be crowned here until the 15th century. We visit the Golden Gate of Vladimir and the Crystal Museum. On our way back to Suzdal we visit the Church of Intercession of Nerl, a symbol of medieval Russia situated on a lake in a water meadow. This evening we gather for dinner and a folk performance. Overnight Suzdal (B, D)
Tuesday 20 September – To Moscow
We depart Suzdal this morning for Moscow, arriving in the afternoon. After settling into our accommodation, Matthew will lead a brief orientation walk around the vicinity of the hotel. Overnight Moscow (B, D)
Wednesday 21 September – Red Square
Our tour commences with a visit to the iconic Red Square, a vast cobbled area flanked by some of Moscow’s most famous sites, including St Basil’s Cathedral with its brightly coloured onion domes. Also in Red Square is Lenin’s Mausoleum, where the former leader’s body remains on display to the public, and GUM department store with its elaborate façade – designer stores having replaced the queues of the Soviet era. This afternoon we visit the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour on the Moskva River for wonderful views to the Kremlin. Dinner this evening is aboard a cruise on the Moskva River. Overnight Moscow (B, D)
Thursday 22 September – The Old Tretyakov Gallery
No visit to Moscow is complete without a ride on the metro, and this morning we see some of the elegant stations decorated in frescoes and lined with marble. Stalin employed some of the Soviet Union’s finest artists to decorate the stations. We visit the Tretyakov Gallery, home of the world’s greatest collection of Russian art. Among the exhibits are The Trinity by Andrei Rublev and the Vladimir Icon of the Mother of God. This afternoon there is an optional visit to the Tolstoy Estate Museum dedicated to the writer’s home life. Overnight Moscow (B)
Friday 23 September – The Kremlin
Today we visit the Kremlin, seat of the Tsars, headquarters of the Soviet Union and now the residence of President Vladimir Putin. Since its foundation in 1156, the Kremlin has been a symbol of the power of the State. We visit the churches in Cathedral Square, among them the most important church in Russia, the Cathedral of the Assumption. Also in the Kremlin complex is the State Armoury, which showcases the wealth accumulated by Russian tsars over many centuries and the Diamond Fund, which boasts among its jewels the famous Orlov diamond presented to Catherine the Great by her lover Count Grigory Orlov. Overnight Moscow (B, L)
Saturday 24 September – Bolshoi & Pushkin Museum
This morning we enjoy a tour of the iconic Bolshoi Theatre and discover the theatre’s history, view the 19th-century interiors and learn about the advanced technologies employed in the productions today. In the afternoon we visit the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, which houses a large collection of works by 19th- and 20th-century masters and impressionists. Tonight, enjoy a performance at the Bolshoi Theatre. Overnight Moscow (B)
Sunday 25 September – New Tretyakov & Gorky Park
The ten years either side of the Russian Revolution were, artistically, the exciting era of the Russian avant-garde, which included such artists as Malevich, Chagall, and Kandinsky. Today, we tour the New Tretyakov Museum, which houses a superb collection of the works of all these artists, as well as a large collection of Soviet Realism. A short walk from here brings us to Gorky Park – a vast pleasure ground that is Moscow’s answer to Central Park. Spend the afternoon people watching or join an optional tour of the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, one of the world’s foremost contemporary art venues. Overnight Moscow (B)
Monday 26 September – To St Petersburg
After check-out we make our way to Leningrad railway station to board the fast train for the journey to St Petersburg. After settling into our accommodation and dinner in a local restaurant, Matthew will lead us on a walk to view some of the sights in the local area. Overnight St Petersburg (B, L, D)
Tuesday 27 September – Touring St Petersburg
This morning we depart by coach on a city tour of St Petersburg, commencing at the Peter and Paul Fortress. Here we visit the Romanov Mausoleum, the burial place of all Russian tsars from Peter the Great to Nicholas II, and the Trubetskoy Bastion, Tsarist Russia’s answer to the Bastille. This afternoon we visit St Isaac’s Cathedral, whose gilded dome dominates the St Petersburg skyline while its facades are decorated in sculpture and red granite columns. Afterwards, we walk to the Bronze Horseman in Senate Square, commissioned by Catherine the Great in honour of Peter the Great. The statue’s name comes from the poem by Aleksander Pushkin. Overnight St Petersburg (B)
Wednesday 28 September – The Hermitage
For most people, St Petersburg is inextricably connected with its great art museum, the Hermitage, housed in the Winter Palace. Formerly the residence of the Tsars, it was taken over in July 1917 by the Provisional Government as its headquarters. This led in turn to the Palace’s storming by the Bolsheviks, who nationalised the collection. The first part of our day is spent uncovering the many galleries and exploring the amazing collection housed in the museum. In the afternoon, we visit the Hermitage’s collection of impressionist and post-impressionist art, housed across the square in the modernist interiors of the General Staff Museum. Overnight St Petersburg (B)
Thursday 29 September – A Tale of Two Murders
Today we visit Yusupov Palace, one of the most beautiful private palaces in St Petersburg, which contains a series of sumptuously decorated rooms. It was here that Rasputin was murdered in 1916 in disputed circumstances by Prince Felix Yusupov. Shortly after Rasputin’s murder, the Soviets came to power and confiscated the palace from the Yusupov family. This afternoon we explore the canals of St Petersburg by boat before visiting the distinctive Church on the Spilled Blood. The elaborately decorated church was erected on the site where Alexander II was mortally wounded in 1881. The interior is covered with an outstanding array of mosaics. Tonight enjoy a performance at St Petersburg’s renowned Mariinsky Theatre. Overnight St Petersburg (B)
Friday 30 September – Catherine Palace
This morning we depart for the suburban palace known as Tsarskoe Selo, the “Tsar’s Village”, now formally called “Pushkin”. Here, we visit the magnificent Catherine Palace. Built for Empress Elizabeth by Rastrelli in 1752, it was named Catherine in honour of Catherine l, wife of Peter the Great. The palace was badly damaged during the German occupation of World War ll, but it has since been restored. Inside the palace, our tour takes us through the gentlemen-in-waiting’s dining room, the Great Hall, State Dining Room, Crimson and Green Pilaster rooms and the portrait room. We also visit the legendary Amber Room which was restored and re-opened in 2004. Afterwards, we explore Palace gardens designed by Charles Cameron as a classic English landscaped garden, and one of the most beautiful park ensembles in Europe. Returning to St Petersburg, we visit the Leningrad Blockade Memorial which poignantly evokes the 900-day siege of Leningrad (1941-1944) and acts as an important reminder of great hardships endured by its people during World War II. This afternoon we take tea in the elegant Rotunda Lounge at the historic Astoria Hotel. Overnight St Petersburg (B, AT)
Saturday 1 October – Fabergé
Our day commences at the Carl Fabergé museum. Located in the Shuvalov Palace, the museum houses the world’s largest collection of works by Fabergé including nine of his famous imperial Easter eggs. This afternoon there is an optional visit to the St Petersburg’s Russian Museum, with its outstanding collection of Russian avant-garde art. This evening we gather for our farewell dinner including a vodka tasting. Overnight St Petersburg (B, D)
Sunday 2 October – Departure
A late check out is available for passengers departing on flights leaving later tonight. Matthew will be happy to advise on optional activities during the day, including an excursion to Peterhof with a local guide. (B)
Dr Matthew Dal Santo
A writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator, with Honours degrees from both Sydney and Cambridge Universities.
Dr Matthew Dal Santo is a writer, historian and foreign affairs commentator who currently resides in Copenhagen, Denmark. Born in Sydney, Matthew lived most of the past fifteen years in Europe. The current focus of his interest is Russia. From 2014 to 2017, Matthew was Danish Research Council Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen, with a grant to study how Russians think of themselves in the light of their history 25 years after the collapse of Communism and 100 since the 1917 revolution. He is particularly interested in how the revival of Orthodoxy has encouraged the return of the age-old idea of ‘Holy Rus’ as well as rehabilitation of the culture and achievements of Imperial Russia, as for example in the canonisation in 2000 of the last tsar, Nicholas II, and his family as saints. Matthew has travelled extensively in the Russian-speaking world, from Moldova, Ukraine, and Belarus to Siberia and the Russian Far East. He is currently writing a book called The Romanovs and the Redemption of Putin’s Russia: Remaking Holy Rus. Before returning to academic work, Matthew was briefly a policy officer with the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Matthew has a PhD in Ecclesiastical History from the University of Cambridge, where from 2005 to 2008 he held the Lightfoot Scholarship. In 2007 he was elected Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge’s leading college, and was appointed Associate Lecturer in the award-winning Faculty of History. Matthew also has an MPhil from Cambridge and a BA (Hons I) from the University of Sydney, where he won the University Medal in 2004.
In addition to English, Matthew speaks Danish, French, Italian and Russian.
We asked Matthew, what motivates him to lead a tour to Russia?
“I lead Academy Travel’s annual Russia tour. This is something I really enjoy. My aim with the tour is not only to provide people the opportunity to visit Russia’s famous historical sights and great collections of art in St Petersburg and Moscow, but also a chance to engage first-hand with the way the identity and world view of this most perplexing of countries has been transformed in the two and half decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union. My lectures take a close look at Russian history and politics, with the aim of showing how ‘Putin’s Russia’ (so-called) is still grappling with processes set in motion hundreds of years ago, often in ways that have a deep effect on Russia’s often difficult relations with the West.
Coming from a long line of teachers, I also find the training and development tours that I lead for the NSW History Teachers’ Association a great source of pleasure and inspiration. Of course, Russia is a very big country and my view is that too few people ever get to its vast reaches east of the Urals.”
Unless otherwise stated in the itinerary, our tours include the following:
All accommodation at properties mentioned in the itinerary
Land travel by private air-conditioned coach. Taxis may also be used for short trips on some tours. Some city stay tours may involve local transport
Lunches and dinners indicated with the letters L and D in the itinerary
Beer, wine and soft drinks at sit-down lunches and dinners. Picnic and light lunches may not include alcoholic drinks
Services of tour leader throughout tour
All entrance fees to sites mentioned in the itinerary
Local guides at some sites
All tips for drivers, local guides and restaurants for included meals
On international tours only
Costs involved in obtaining visas for countries visited, where required, and when stated as included
Background talks on tour, site notes and online resources
Any flights mentioned in the itinerary that take place during a tour
Some trips may be made by public transport such as high-speed train and subway
What is not included in the tour price?
Our tours do not include the following:
Air or land travel from your home city to the tour start/end points
Local taxes and airport levies that we are not able to prepay on your behalf. We will advise you of these charges (if any) before you depart
Lunches and dinners not specifically indicated with the letters L or D in the itinerary
Personal expenses such as passports, laundry and phone calls
Costs associated with any activity mentioned as “optional” in the itinerary, or any suggested free time activity
Airport Transfers on international tours
Tours may begin at either the arrival airport or the first hotel. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, and arrive before the tour commences, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers
Tours begin either at the arrival airport or the first hotel, depending on the itinerary. If you have booked your international flights with Academy Travel, we will provide airport to hotel transfers to the closest main city on your arrival, and to the closest airport at the end of the tour. These may be either individual or group transfers.
We require all tour participants to have adequate insurance coverage.
For domestic tours, Medicare and your private medical insurance should be used to cover any medical expenses.
Domestic travel insurance is available and strongly recommended to cover non-medical expenses such as cancellation.
For international tours, we require you to have comprehensive travel insurance. Prices vary according to your age, your pre-existing medical conditions, the countries you are visiting and the length of your journey abroad.