Deciding where to go in Russia when you only have one week can be a challenge; it is the largest country on earth, after all. For first-timers who want to experience the most iconic attractions in Russia, it should be a no-brainer: Moscow and St Petersburg.
Russia has always been an intriguing destination and famously described by Winston Churchill as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma, almost like a matryoshka doll.
The political capital, Moscow, and the cultural capital, Saint Petersburg, are the outer layers (and often the only layers) that visitors to Russia see first. While one week is not nearly enough to visit Russia, a one-week itinerary of Moscow and Saint Petersburg will show you the best of these smashing cities.
This is a guest post by the Museum of Wander blog
Overview: One-week in Moscow & Saint Petersburg Itinerary
Your one-week trip to Russia can either start in Moscow or Saint Petersburg. Both cities are well connected to the rest of the world by international flights or by trains to the rest of Europe.
This itinerary starts in Moscow and ends in Saint Petersburg, but it can be done in reverse too.
Visitors often find it challenging to decide whether to spend more time in Moscow or St Petersburg when planning their trip to Russia. Both cities are drop-dead gorgeous, so perhaps flip a coin to decide where to stay longer.
History aficionados and those with a fetish for Soviet relics will enjoy Moscow a lot. At the same time, culture vultures will love Saint Petersburg for having among the best museums in Europe, stunning architecture, and a more European vibe.
Here is an overview of your 7-day Russian itinerary:
Day 1: Moscow: Arrive in Moscow, Moskva River Cruise
Day 2: Moscow: Red Square and Kremlin
Day 3: Moscow: VDNKh Park & Cosmonautic Museum
Day 4: Moscow – Izmailovo Market, Metro Tour, Overnight Train to Saint Petersburg
Day 5: St Petersburg: Petrogradskaya & Canal Cruise
Day 6: St Petersburg: Hermitage Museum & City Centre Walking Tour
Day 7: St Petersburg: Day trip to Peterhof Gardens
How to Travel between Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Numerous flights connect the two cities throughout the day, with a flight duration of under 90 minutes. If you’re in a hurry or love airports, this is the obvious choice for you.
Rail enthusiasts have two options. Sapsan bullet trains take less than four hours to complete the 6oo km journey. Taking travel time to the airport, check-in time, and security checks into account, the Sapsan is an excellent alternative to flying.
Several comfortable night trains also run between Moscow and Saint Petersburg in about 8 hours. This is a very memorable way to travel in Russia, and you will save on one night’s accommodation cost too.
The most popular night train is called the Red Arrow, an overnight service once reserved for big wigs and high-ranking officials of the USSR. Today, the Red arrow is the most comfortable and atmospheric overnight train to take and a top choice for tourists.
7 Days in Russia: Day 1 Moscow
Moscow has three international airports:
- Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO)
- Vnukovo Airport (VKO)
- Domodedovo Airport (DME)
All three airports conveniently connect to Moscow by Aeroexpress trains, public buses, and taxis. Consider arranging a private transfer, especially if arriving from a long international flight.
Where to stay in Moscow
A good place to stay during your time in Moscow is the Tverskaya area. The location allows you to walk to the Red Square, Kremlin, and the Bolshoy Theatre. You’ll also find excellent restaurants, cafes, and supermarkets in the vicinity. The acclaimed Cafe Pushkin is not to be missed.
After settling into your accommodation, stroll around Tverskaya and familiarise yourself with the area.
Moskva River Cruise
Before sunset, make your way to Patriarchiy Pier (Kropotkinskaya Metro Station) to board a sightseeing cruise along the Moskva River. This is the best and most relaxing way to get a preview of the sights and famous landmarks that you’ll explore over the next few days.
Day 2: Moscow – Kremlin & Red Square
The Kremlin and Red Square must be at the top of every visitor’s list of things to do in Moscow. If you see only one place in Moscow, make it the Kremlin and adjacent Red Square.
The Kremlin is the political, cultural, and religious heart of Russia. This walled fortress is home to Vladimir Putin, the Russian Federation’s president, and has five palaces, four cathedrals, and several museums.
After entering the Kremlin Walls, make your way to Cathedral Square. Along the way, you’ll pass the famous Tsar Cannon and Tsar Bell, renowned for their size.
The architecture in Cathedral Square is outstanding. Here you can see the most beautiful churches and cathedrals in Moscow. Dating from the Middle Ages, these buildings are what sightseeing dreams in Russia are made of gilded onion domes, crystal chandeliers, and floor-to-ceiling frescoes.
After taking in all that Russian Orthodox splendors, also visit the Armoury and Diamond Fund. Here you can overdose on everything that shines and glitters, from crown jewels to Faberge eggs and the world’s largest diamond.
Exit the Kremlin and continue to the Red Square.
Tip: There are a few excellent and affordable Russian and Central Asian restaurants on the 3rd floor of the GUM Department Store where you can go for lunch.
In Red Square, you can visit the most iconic landmarks in the city, if not all of Russia. The most recognizable is the colorful St Basil’s cathedral.
The striking, red building on the opposite side of the enormous square is the State Historical Museum, the country’s largest and most famous history museum.
The modest, pyramid-like structure on the side of the square next to the Kremlin wall is Lenin’s Mausoleum. Line up with the thousands of Russians to see Lenin’s embalmed corpse for a truly …chilling experience.
You can easily spend a whole day at the Kremlin and Red Square. If you still have energy left, the area surrounding Red Square is perfect for simply strolling around aimlessly and taking in all the stunning cityscapes.
Day 3: VDNKh Park & Museum of Cosmonautics
Set aside your second day in Moscow to explore the city’s Soviet attractions.
The best place to bask in the glory days of the good ol’ USSR is to head to the VDNKh Park. This large park was built in the 1930s to showcase the successes and glories of the Soviet Union.
A pavilion for each Soviet Republic, from Tajikistan to Ukraine and every other republic in between, are scattered throughout the park. (You can try some good Armenian wine and brandy at the Armenian pavilion). Each pavilion showcases the culture, agriculture, and economic achievements of the country in true Soviet style.
The park is also an excellent place for a picnic, so bring some food or buy some from the vendors, join the local families and lovers, and enjoy the outdoors.
Nearby, the Cosmonautics Museums commemorates Russian space exploration. The tall, silver monument pointing to the sky can be seen far away, so it’s easy to find.
The excellent museum at the base has thousands of space-related memorabilia, from original spacesuits to the Lunokhod moon rover and other interactive displays.
Day 4: Izmailovo Market, Metro Tour & On to Saint Petersburg
On your last day in Moscow, head out into the suburbs to the Izmailovo Market to shop for that perfect Russian souvenir.
This sprawling market is held throughout the week but is really good on weekends when Moscovites come to sell their unwanted treasures at the flea market. Whether you’re looking for a matryoshka doll, a carpet from Dagestan, vodka, silver or crystal from Siberia, or perhaps a Soviet propaganda poster, you’ll find it at this market.
Moscow Metro Tour
One thing you must absolutely not miss is a tour of the extravagant stations of the Moscow Metro. With mosaics, bronze statues, chandeliers, and marble fittings, it’s easy to see why it’s also called the Palaces of the People.
Going on a small group tour is very convenient, but if you can at least read Cyrillic, it’s also rewarding to do it yourself. Among the best stations to visit are Arbatskaya, Kievskaya, and Ploschad Revolutsii.
At night, say goodbye to Moscow and board your overnight train to Saint Petersburg.
Day 5: Saint Petersburg: Arrival, Petrogradskaya & Canal Cruise
Where to stay in Saint Petersburg:
Petrogradskaya is a fantastic neighborhood to base yourself in when visiting Saint Petersburg. Located just across the Neva River from the Hermitage, Petrogradskaya is less touristy and offers better value, yet Palace Square is just one metro stop away.
Unique attractions in Petrogradskaya like the Central Asian-looking Saint Petersburg Mosque and Sytni farmer’s market are also well worth seeing.
After arriving at your accommodation and freshening up, it’s always a good idea to explore the immediate area on foot to orientate yourself. Even if not staying in a self-catering apartment, definitely go to the fantastic Sytni market to stock op on fresh produce, caviar, honey, and baked goods for breakfast.
Peter & Paul Fortress
The most famous attraction on the Petrograd side of the city is the Peter and Paul fortress. After visiting the citadel and cathedral, stroll down to the Neva River beaches, which are popular in summer. From here, you get to see one of the best views in Saint Petersburg with the Hermitage and cathedral domes on the opposite side of the river.
Cross the Neva to the Admiralteyskaya Embankment to board a boat for a canal cruise. Also called the Venice of North, a canal cruise of Saint Peterburg is an unmissable experience. Make sure to take a cruise that will also take you down the smaller canals, such as the Kryukov and Winter Canals.
Day 6: Saint Petersburg: Hermitage and City Walking Tour
The Hermitage, housed in Catherine the Great’s Winter Palace, is the highlight of a visit to Saint Petersburg. The building itself is a visual overdose of gold, marble, opulence, and grandeur, all on a scale that only Russia can pull off.
To take it up a notch, they’ve filled that impressive building with some of the most famous pieces of art in the world!
The art collection consists of millions of pieces and seeing it all will take months. A more realistic time frame for the casual visitor is to set aside at least half a day to enjoy the Hermitage. Make sure to visit the General Staff Building across the square too. This is where the Hermitage’s modern art collection is housed, and the entrance fee is included in that of the Hermitage.
Tip: The Hermitage is the number one attraction in Saint Petersburg, and lines enter get extremely long, especially in summer when cruise ships come in. Buy your entrance tickets online to save you a lot of time and frustration.
City Walking Tour:
When you can’t possibly look at any more Van Goghs or Rembrandts or gold, start your walking tour in Palace Square, in front of the Hermitage. This must be one of the most beautiful squares in Europe.
From here, walk along Nevsky Prospekt (the city’s most famous Street) and admire all the incredible architecture. Soon, you’ll reach the Griboedov Canal, which is perhaps the most beautiful part of Saint Petersburg.
You can visit the city’s best attractions along the canal, such as the Church of Our Savior on the Spilled Blood, the Kazan Cathedral, and the Singer Building.
Back towards the Neva River, look out for the towering golden dome of St Isaac’s cathedral. This is the world’s largest Orthodox church, and it’s quite a sight to see. Even if you think that you’ve seen enough gold and art for one day, the interior of St Isaac’s will blow you away. Also, take the steps up to the roof for a sweeping view across Saint Petersburg.
From here, walk up along the Admiralty Embankment, which will take you back to the Hermitage where you started.
Day 7: Saint Petersburg: Peterhof Gardens
Peterhof Gardens, famous for its over-the-top fountains, is the second most popular attraction after the Hermitage.
When Peter the Great visited Versailles in France, he returned with a vision to create a Russian version, and man, he did quite an excellent job. The palaces, formal gardens, and (yes, you guessed it- GOLDEN) fountains are a sight to behold.
At the center of the fountains, the focus point of the garden is a fountain depicting Samson forcing open the jaws of the lion. This has nothing to do with religion, but in fact, represents Russia’s victory over Sweden.
Tip: Regular minibusses leave from Avtovo Metro Station in St Petersburg and take about an hour to reach Peterhof. You could also get there by hydrofoil, or for convenience – join a tour.
End of your one week trip to Russia
You could fly home on the last day of the itinerary, but it’s probably better to stay one last night in Saint Petersburg. Have one last meal, one last stroll and have a good night’s sleep and then say your dasvidaniya (goodbye) to this incredible country.
One Week Moscow & Saint Petersburg Itinerary: Variations
One week is the ideal length of time for a Moscow and Saint Petersburg itinerary. If you have less time, maybe spend all your time in only one city and really get to know the place, rather than cramming in too much.
With more time, you could consider taking a side trip to the Golden Ring from Moscow, or perhaps continue on to Helsinki or the Baltics at the end from Saint Petersburg.
Regardless of where you go or how long you spend in Russia, the country is sure to leave a lasting impression.