When you think of Central Russia, you might picture the centre of the country, but it is not quite so. It is actually located in the country’s extreme west, which is considered to be the European part of Russia. The word “central” reflects region’s historical, political and economical importance. It is truly the country's core.
The capital of Russia, Moscow, is a fascinating city with 860-years history. With Red Square, Russia’s heart and soul, the Moskva river, majestic Kremlin, the onion-shaped domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral - country’s true icon, and plethora of other architectural gems, it never ceases to amaze and inspire.
To the East of Moscow lies the Golden Ring, a string of Russia’s oldest towns and one of the most popular touristic routes. Most notable towns, which constitute the Ring and contain some of the Russia's most sacred sites, are Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Suzdal, Vladimir, Sergiev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalessky and Rostov Veliky. These cities preserve memories of events of paramount importance for Russia’s history.
The Golden Ring route is known for ancient churches, kremlins, gingerbread cottages and largely unspoilt scenic countryside. It presents to the traveller the quintessentially russian image of the quiet and peaceful life in province.
Counter-clockwise route is considered to be the best route. This route starts from the capital and continues with Vladimir, Suzdal, Kostroma, Yaroslavl, Rostov Velikiy, Sergiev Posad and Pereslavl-Zalesski. These cities are relatively close to each other. If you go from one city of the ring to another, you will eventually return to the place that you started with. Should you wish to journey along the circuit, you can rent a car or use buses and trains.
Your first stop would be Vladimir, located 179 kilometers to the east of the capital. It is a proud and old town. The population is approximately 378 thousand people. In fact, were it not for Mongol invasion, Vladimir could have been the capital today, because prior to the invasion it was the true center of Russia's political and cultural life. It also is Trans-Siberian route’s first stop.
Although there are plethora of sights, including mesmerizing old churches, museums and monasteries, what is most enchanting about this city is its tranquil, textbook-Russia atmosphere and sharp contrast with Moscow’s both hecticness and grandiosity.
Suzdal is a peaceful town located 38 kilometers to the north of Vladimir. Its population is approximately 13 thousand inhabitants. The industries are banned here, so that nature and architecture heritage are kept intact. This town’s lush and blooming atmosphere encourages to take long walks, with its ancient monasteries and beautiful churches offering dreamy views.
It is possible to free camp alongside 'Kamenka' river which parts the town, or near a monastery.
Ivanovo, a relatively big city with a population of approximately 450 thousand inhabitants, is located 70 kilometers to the south of Suzdal. It is a canonical Russian industrial city with grey apartment buildings, dirty streets and polluted air. Relics of the Soviet times remain untouched. You can pass through this city without stopping, unless getting the taste of industrial Russian province is your wish.
Kostroma is peaceful and very welcoming. It is located 120 kilometers north of Ivanovo, at the confluence of two rivers, Volga and Kostroma. Kostroma is inviting for an early-morning or late-evening walks. The Kostroma’s must-see is the Ipatiev's Monastery on the riverbank.
The next stop is Yaroslavl’, named after knyaz Yaroslav Mudry, who is the founder of the town, begins its history in the early 11th century. It is now Golden Ring’s biggest city. Like Ivanovo, it is an industrial city. However, it is of utmost interest thanks to its history, architectural heritage, and city life.
The next on the list is Rostov Velikiy, a truly ancient town; its history starts 4 thousand years BC. It is when the earliest tribes had settlements near the “Nero” lake, on which the town is located. Up to the 11th century, this land was populated by the Finnic Merya people, Rostov’s founders. The tribe disappeared, due to slow assimilation with south-comers, the Slavic people. Nowadays Rostov Velikiy is a rather small and charming town. It bears a strong resemblance to Suzdal. In addition they are both placed at practically the same distance from the capital.
Pereslavl-Zalesskiy is mostly famous for its monasteries, its ancient churches, and the boat built by Peter the Great. Also, you should not miss the chance to visit “Pleshcheevo Lake” national park.