The Golden Ring of Russia: Best Towns to Visit
What is the Golden Ring of Russia?
«Golden Ring» is a ring of the ancient cities located 50-200 km from Moscow. The towns have been called "open-air museums" and feature unique monuments of Russian architecture of the 12th–18th centuries, including kremlins, monasteries, cathedrals, and churches. These towns are among the most picturesque in Russia and prominently feature Russia's onion domes.
Actually, «Golden Ring» is a touristic route, the term has no historical background. It appeared only in the middle of 20th century when famous Soviet photographer chose the most interesting towns near Moscow and described his journey being some kind of Soviet blogger :)
However, each town of The Golden Ring was important center of the medieval Russia and has a lot of architectural monuments of that times.
How to visit the Golden Ring?
There's several Golden Ring towns that are easily accesible if you want to have a look on the medieval Russia and see the real countryside. There's several towns that are not so easy to travel using public transport, especially if you have one day.
However, if you want to see several towns or explore some countryside outside of the towns, you need to have a car or a guide who helps you with transportation.
Top 5: Towns Worth Visiting in the Golden Ring
#1 Suzdal & Vladimir the Great (best choice!)
Number one in our rating! Amazing place to see the real and the rural Russia. Medieval churches and monasteries, wooden architecture, natural landscapes and perfect restaurants of Russian cuisine.
Vladimir is close to Suzdal and give you insight to the typical countryside town. Don't forget about amazing Church on the Nerl River. What's more? During the driving tour, you may visit Yuriev Polsky, nice Golden Ring town off the beaten paths!
Very touristic location because of the famous Lavra, the spiritual center of the Russian Orthodoxes. Be ready to stumble upon every kind of foreigners and palomnics! However, the Lavra itself is really impressive... What's more? You can easily get there by a surburb train.
The city is perfect in a combination with some less visited town as Pereslavl Zalessky.
Nice town that is very close to Sergiev Posad. It's a good choice to see the real countryside in addition to medieval erchitecture not so far from Moscow.
"The capital of the Golden Ring" that is located only 4 hours by train from Moscow. Highly recommended for those who wants to see the large countryside town and a lot of outstanding UNESCO sites.
It's not easy to forget the georgeous citadel of the Rostov, especially its view from the Nero Lake. However, the town is to small to spend there more than a hald of day.
Golden Ring, off the beaten paths: Yuriev Polsky town
The capital of the Golden Ring: Yaroslavl town
Golden Ring Itineraries
1. Two or three-days journey (blue line)
First day we drive to the Suzdal with several stops. We make a first stop in Sergiev Posad to see the famous Lavra. Then we drive to small but beautiful Alexandrov to see less touristic Monastery. After we drive to Suzdal with a 30-minutes break in Yuriev Polsky, another nice town. We spend the night in Suzdal.
The second day we walk in Suzdal, then drive to the famous Church on the Nerl River. After we walk and have a lunch in Vladimir. On the way back, it's also possible to stop at the unique Private Museum where you can touch every exhibit and go to Banya (sauna).
2. Many days journey (golden line)
The itinerary for the many-days tour is always customized according to your wishes. There's a lot of oprion to see more nature / history / abondoned places and so on. If you seek authenticity, we can also drive Soviet military van. More information is here.
The most popular towns of the Golden Ring
Vladimir and Suzdal
Vladimir and Suzdal towns are the most popular touristic location among the Golden Ring. It’s the best destination if you have only one day and want to make the most of your time! They are the perfect combination of churches, natural landscapes and the rural Russia.
Everyone heard about these towns! Your Instagram friends and colleague will easily understand why did you go there :)
The place is NOT easy to get using the public transport. However, here is the way. First, you need to get to the railway station and buy tickets (about 3000 RUB to Vladimir and back). Then you need to take a taxi to see the famous Church on the Nerl River. Then you need a taxi to get to Suzdal town. Then you need a taxi to get back to Vladimir train station and a train to Moscow.
If you want to visit Vladimir and Suzdal, I strongly recommend you to have a driving tour with a guide. Just to understand, our tour starts at 8 a.m. and finish about 10 p.m. If you want to see these towns without the guide, you need two days (or 25-years experience in travelling strange places, haha).
Is this city worth visiting? Yes! Yes! Yes!!! These towns are outstanding even among the Golden Ring. It's not easy to describe their beauty with the simple words indeed. So just go and make great memories!
Sergiev Posad town is the town of one attraction, Trinity Lavra. However, this Monastery is famous all over the world. It is well-known as a spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church making the town the second popular touristic destination after Vladimir and Suzdal.
Many people know about it, so your friend will be still happy to hear about your adventure ;)
Sergiev Posad is easily accessible from Moscow! Just 1.5 hours by a surburb train. The main attraction, Trinity Lavra, is located only 1 km from the station. It is suggested to be the most important Russian Monastery with more than 300 monks living there. It is also the richest monastery in Russia with a lot of tourists from all over the world.
Since Lavra is so popular, it doesn't look like the real Russia… just a touristic spot with expensive food and a lot of people. To see the real Russia, you should spend a couple of hours walking in the town itself. You will quickly see the typical countryside town with its drowsy landscapes, small tree-lined streets with only few cars and smoke from chimneys of wooden houses.
Is this city worth visiting? Khm... just to "check-in". Maybe. But it's better to choose another nearby destination to make a trip more memorable. For example, you can visit Pereslavl Zalessky town (for example, during our private tour).
Pereslavl Zalessky is an ancient town that combines romantic vibes of patriarchal Russian province with prosperity and bustling of Moscow region. Pereslavl is perfect for those who wants to see the ordinary life of the countryside on the background of numerous medieval churches and monasteries surrounded by ancient earthen berm.
In th 18th century, Pereslavl finally turned into the typical provincial town. Even the railroad bypassed it, destroying the last hopes of its flourishing as an industrial or business center.
Moreover, Pereslav has been never restructured using any urban plans, that's why its center lookes like a mess of various private houses with chaotic planning and the single well preserved earthen berm in addition.
Despite more and more cars and cottages, Pereslavl has a persistent vibes of the countryside. What a nice place to see the province as it is!
The place is must-see if you a fan of railroads and train. Pereslavl is famous by its museum of narrow-gauge railways where you can ride the small steam locomotive. It's one of the few places where the world of the narrow gauge is preserved. Is this city worth visiting? Yes!
Don’t confuse it with Rostov-on-Don!
Rostov is one of the oldest in the country… but who cares? 100 years more, 100 less… it's the Golden Ring. So why Rostov is famous? Just look at the photo of its gorgeous citadel made from the water of the Lake Nero. It looks impressive! It looks like a fairytale. My first thought was… khmmmm, it seems that someone add too much domes to that place in the Photoshop!
What's more? Rostov have a very special vibes of beautiful countryside town. Serene calm of the Lake Nero, rigorous and elegant monasteries, quit streets and majestic Kremlin help you escape the everyday bustle. Time doesn't fly here, just leisurely walks. Perfect place to contemplate the moment.
Rostov is easily accessible… Only 4 hours in train or bus and you are here! Seems a little bit long? But it's Russia, all European part is flat and huge. You will be extremely surprised to know that a lot of people live in Rostov and work in Moscow. Rostov is a very small town, so just go at the direction of the highest church and you will reach the citadel.
Is this city worth visiting? Yes! Actually, the trip seems a little bit weird if you do not visit some nearby towns as Sergiev Posad, Alexandrov, Pereslavl and even Yaroslavl.
The pearl of the Golden Ring called after one of the most famous Russian Lord, Yaroslav. It has more than 800 Russian architecture monuments and a lot of UNESCO world heritage sites. Recently, the town celebrated its 1000th birthday. City center combines architecture features of the last 500 years… market stalls, merchant's mansions and, surely, churches with typical emerald domes standing on the bank of Volga River. Yaroslavl pretends to be the capital of the Golden Ring!
In opposite to many Golden Ring towns, Yaroslavl is really big… almost 600 thousands of people live there. So if you want to see how majority of Russians live, you should visit it. You don't need to go far from the center. The ordinary life of people will be staggered and combined with amazing monuments of medieval architecture and other heritage. Five-block houses, local cafes owned by immigrants, huge malls crowded by people, bad roads full of potholes, traffic and fresh construction of ancient running water. A perfect insight into the real Russia!
What's more, Yaroslavl is easily accessible by train with only 3 hours of outstanding experience. We recommend to spend the night there not to do anything rush. Moreover, it's easy to visit other nearby towns – Rostov and Kostroma to do your best in exploring the countryside. Don't forget to find the time and cruise the Volga River, mother of all Russian Rivers (especially, if we forget about Ob', Enisey and Lena rivers, haha). Is this city worth visiting? YES!
Kostroma is a typical provincial town quite far from Moscow. Rare tourists come here… only some lucky people who enjoy the real Russia after taking the many-days package. Is Kostroma famous? Be sure, rare Russian knows its history or even location. However, it has a strong romantic vibes of typical countryside town where ordinary (and extraordinary) people sleep, eat and go to work.
So what is the most interesting Kostroma features? Be sure, its medieval architecture is awesome. Besides ancient churches, there's amazing museum of wooden architecture. Perfect place to spend several hours wondering on the local life of people centuries ago. Elk Farm is another place to spend the day. The farm is just past a small village so you'll also get to see what real rural Russian life is like. And feed and touch the elk. FEED AND TOUCH! Amazing place, be sure.
Kostroma is not far from Moscow comparing to the Russian distances… only 6 hours by train. But since Kostroma is the outermost town of the Golden Ring, it's better to visit it as a part of your many-days route. Yaroslavl is the closest town to Kostroma located in 2 hours by train, so it's must-see place to fulfill your Kostroma trip. Is this city worth visiting? Mmm, as an addition to other Golden Ring towns - yes!
Another not so famous even among Russian typical provincial town quite far from Moscow. Moreover, for 90% of Russians Ivanovo is a town of brides and that is all. The point is that Ivanovo had the largest clothing manufacture in Soviet times. So a lot of women, especially young ones, worked there waiting for their «prince on a white horse» (another cultural phenomenon).
However, Ivanovo is interesting for constructivism lovers. This is a very special architecture style with a lot of geometric patterns, strict shapes, and monolithic design. The real classic of proletariat.
How to get there? Ivanovo located in the middle between Suzdal and Kostroma, so if you want to travel the Golden RING, you will have not choice but to visit it. Is this city worth visiting itself? Not sure!