The ultimate guide to Russia's Golden Ring

Legion Media
Want to see the real Russia? Then forget about Moscow and St. Petersburg, and head instead for the Golden Ring. We list each city’s must-dos and sees.

The famous Golden Ring tourist trail was first etched on the map by journalist Yuri Bychkov in 1967. He was the one who conceived the idea of traveling from Moscow to Yaroslavl and Kostroma, then on to Vladimir and Suzdal, and returning to the capital via Rostov Veliky and Pereslavl-Zalessky.

All these points on the map literally sparkle with the golden domes of ancient churches. Bychkov made the journey himself, and wrote about it in a series of essays in the newspaper Soviet Culture, inventing the term “Golden Ring” in the process, which has since became a trademark.

Let’s follow in his footsteps as we make this fascinating journey for ourselves through the Ring’s most alluring cities, which preserve the oldest and deepest secrets of Russia’s centuries-old history. From princely feuds, the invasion of the Golden Horde, the Polish intervention, and the Time of Troubles to the Soviet campaign against religion. 

Moscow 

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V 70 km (45 miles)
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Sergiev Posad

Recommended time – one day

The main sight in this city in Moscow Region is the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, an enormous monastery of incredible beauty. It was founded by one of the main Russian saints, Sergius of Radonezh. Some of its churches date back to the 14th century. You definitely need to visit the main Trinity Cathedral, whose walls were painted by legendary medieval icon painter Andrei Rublev.

Read more about what to see in the city 

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V 70 km (45 miles)
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Pereslavl-Zalessky

Recommended time – half a day

Originally built as the capital of ancient Rus, the city is a tourist attraction in itself (largely a wooden one), featuring more than 20 museums, churches, and monasteries — don’t even try to see all the sights at once. Select your preference: cozy museums full of Russian cookware, ancient Orthodox churches, or the place where Peter the Great trained his first flotilla and a ship he built himself still stands. Or maybe you want to ride a handcar?

Read more about Pereslavl here

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V 60 km (37 miles)
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Rostov Veliky

Recommended time – a few hours

On the banks of the majestic Lake Nero stands a huge 17th-century kremlin, once the residence of the city’s metropolitan bishop. There is also the large, beautiful Assumption Cathedral, inside which a splendid 18th-century baroque iconostasis is preserved, not to mention ancient chambers full of church antiquities and icons, and a “heavenly” garden (modeled on one in Jerusalem) where you simply must try the local sbiten (mead).

Read more about what to see in the city

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V 90 km (55 miles)
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Uglich

Recommended time – a few hours

Slightly off the actual Golden Ring, on a bend on the Volga River, is a snug little town famous as the place where the last heir of Ivan the Terrible, 8-year-old Tsarevich Dimitry, was murdered.

You can find out about this episode and other key milestones of Russian history in the local kremlin, where all the town’s main sights are concentrated. Don’t forget to take a stroll along the Volga embankment, and admire the cruise ships and the imposing hydroelectric power station.

Read more about Uglich here

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V 90 km (55 miles)
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Yaroslavl

Recommended time – one day

The “capital” of the Golden Ring, and the largest of all its cities. It was founded by Prince Yaroslav the Wise on a picturesque spit at the confluence of the Kotorosl and Volga rivers (it was in fact the first ancient Russian city to be built on the Volga).

The stunning churches and monasteries, antiquities museums, parks, and theaters will keep you busy. But start your day with a visit to the former Transfiguration of the Savior Monastery, or the Yaroslavl Museum Reserve.

Read more here

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V 85 km (52 miles)
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Kostroma

Recommended time – one day

This city is famous for its historical flax production, as well as the place where the first Romanov tsar was crowned. Be sure to go to the Ipatiev Monastery, marvel at the Pozharnaya Kalancha building on Susaninskaya Square, walk through the shopping arcade (one of the largest in Russia), and, last but not least, feast your eyes on the mighty Mother Volga.

For the full Kostroma guide click here

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V 100 km (65 miles)
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Ivanovo and Plyos

Recommended time – one day

From Kostroma it’s a short trip to Plyos, where you should definitely climb the hill from where painter Isaac Levitan created his famous landscapes. You can also admire the Volga once more, and buy a work by a local artist or a souvenir painted in the Palekh style.

And leave a few hours to explore Ivanovo — an industrial city, quite young compared to the other Golden Ringers. Here you will feel the spirit of Soviet constructivism.

Read more what to see in Ivanovo here - and find our guide for Plyos here

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V 80 km (50 miles)
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Suzdal

Recommended time – one day

The most beautiful city on the Golden Ring, and hence its most touristy. Despite that, the spirit of old Russia is ever-present here. Don’t miss the chance to take part in a folk festival or learn first-mouth about Russian cuisine in one of the many restaurants. And be sure to visit the Suzdal Kremlin and the numerous churches and monasteries, as well as the Museum of Wooden Architecture. We advise that you book an overnight stay in advance.

Read more here

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V 35 km (20 miles)
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Vladimir

Recommended time – one day

On the approach to Vladimir, coming from Suzdal, it’s recommended to stop over in Bogolyubovo, home to one of the most beautiful churches in all Russia — the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl, which stands in the middle of a meadow. Also visit the Svyato-Bogolyubsky Convent.

Vladimir was once the capital of North-Eastern Rus and the rich and powerful Vladimir-Suzdal principality. There are several sights dating back to the 12th century: the small Dmitrievsky Cathedral, famous for its bas-reliefs carved in the form of animals, saints, and fairytale characters, the awe-inspiring Dormition Cathedral, and the Golden Gate — the ceremonial entrance to the city and all that remains of the ancient fortress wall.

Find our guide for Vladimir here

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V 190 km (118 miles)
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Moscow 

(and here is 50 things you must do in Moscow)

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