Essential Russia

Travel Partner: Exeter International

Duration | 8 Days

Destination | Russia

Starting Price | $9,250


Many things have changed in the last quarter-century, but the art, culture and beauty of St. Petersburg and Moscow have been beautifully restored and re-imagined. The quality of hotels, restaurants and service levels are also a world away from 1993. Moscow is unrecognizable, with beautiful pedestrianized streets and restored parks. In St. Petersburg, new museums have been created out of historic but dilapidated palaces and new theaters have been built to take Russian ballet, opera and symphony to new levels. This luxurious 8-day program will take you deep behind the scenes into Russia’s history and culture.

Day 1 – Moscow

Overnight – Four Seasons Moscow

Arrive today in Moscow. On arrival your private driver will be waiting for you outside of customs and baggage claim. You will be transferred to the perfectly located hotel, Four Seasons Moscow, just steps from Red Square and the Kremlin and across the street from the Bolshoi Theater. The rest of the day and evening is at leisure.

Time permitting, walk over to brand new Zaryadye Park for sweeping views of the Red Square and St. Basil Cathedral. One of Moscow’s newest sights is the futuristic Zaryadye Park. With 32 acres of recreation space right in the very center of the city, the park is located steps from Red Square. Designed by Diller, Scofidio & Renfro, architects who created the New York Highline, the concept is described as “wild urban” – with the park merging historical streets with nature. For many years the area was the site of the largest hotel in the world (the Hotel Rossiya) and the area had been undeveloped since the hotel was demolished over a decade ago.

Day 2 – Moscow

Overnight – Four Seasons Moscow

This morning your guide will meet you in your hotel lobby to begin your exploration of Moscow. You will have an appointment to visit the famed Armory Museum, including its vast collection of Imperial Russian artwork. Here you’ll see the Kremlin’s world-famous collection of Imperial Faberge Easter Eggs.

We have made special arrangements to take you into the Diamond Vaults inside the Kremlin. You will see Catherine the Great’s scepter with its famous Orlov Diamond and one of the largest collections of diamonds and gemstones in the world! Before leaving the Kremlin, take some time to explore its expansive grounds with your guide. Here you will see the largest bell in the world, as well as the largest canon. Neither was ever used due to their enormous size! We also suggest you don’t miss the Assumption Cathedral, where all Russian tsars were crowned.

After lunch on your own, explore the surrounding neighborhood with your guide. In Red Square, be sure not to miss the rebuilt church and Imperial Gates at the south end of the square. Your guide will also show you the stunning St. Basil’s Cathedral, an iconic symbol of Moscow.

Later, you may want to experience the fascinating interiors of the Moscow Metro stations, ornately decorated with beautiful paintings, carvings and chandeliers. The Moscow Metro was created as a complex of monumental structures featuring designs of the very best Soviet architects. The stations, most built between 1930 and 1960 are underground palaces, featuring exquisite frescoes, statues, mosaics and stained glass. Each station has its own special theme; our favorite is Teatralnaya. Your guide will be delighted to show you as many stations as you like.

Day 3 – Moscow

Overnight – Four Seasons Moscow

This morning, meet your private driver and guide for a visit to the Tretyakov Gallery, located in one of Moscow’s most interesting neighborhoods. This area, called Zamoskvoreche (“beyond the Moscow River”) was originally settled in the 13th century. The small winding streets give this area an almost old-fashioned atmosphere, with historic churches and the mansions of wealthy 19th-century merchants. The Tretyakov Gallery is situated in the former home of the industrialist and great art collector, Pavel Tretyakov. Your guide will take you through the museum, which houses only Russian artists from Andrei Rublev’s icons to famous 20th-century Russian painters (Repin and Aivazovsky). This is one of the world’s greatest collections of Russian art.

After departing the Tretyakov, take a brief overview city tour around central Moscow. You will stop at one of the most spectacular of the ring of monasteries in the southern part of the city, Novodevichy Convent constructed in the 16th century. This serene sanctuary houses the lovely Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk. Located adjacent to the convent, you may like to visit Novodevichy Convent’s fascinating cemetery. This cemetery houses the graves of many famous Russians, from cultural figures to political and military dignitaries.

Alternatively, you may choose to visit the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. The Pushkin is best known for its French Impressionist collection, a group of paintings that were originally acquired by two famous Russian industrialists who lost their paintings after the Revolution. Part of their collection went to the Hermitage and part went to the Pushkin.

The highlight of the museum is the priceless collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings. You’ll find Van Gogh, Gauguin, Picasso, Matisse and more. This is, in our opinion, the true highlight of a visit here and you should be prepared for stairs (there are no elevators).

Later today you will visit the grand Holy Redeemer Cathedral which towers over historic Moscow. The cathedral was demolished under Stalin’s reign for a planned Lenin skyscraper, but eventually became an enormous outdoor swimming pool after construction failed repeatedly. After the fall of Communism, it was decided to reconstruct the cathedral and so Christ the Holy Redeemer was completely rebuilt in 2001. It is a beautiful cathedral and it now stands as it did at the turn of the 20th century. Of particular note are the stunning frescoes that fill the interiors.

After touring the cathedral, a very special guide from the cathedral will join you for a private visit to the dome of the church. After ascending to the top via elevator, you will have the opportunity to view the city of Moscow at 360 degrees, from all four sides of the dome. Standing at 300 feet above the city, the dome provides a fantastic view of the city’s most significant sites including the Kremlin, St. Basil’s, Pushkin Museum, Red October Chocolate Factory and the Moskva River. Turn a corner and you are awarded with views of several of the Seven Sisters buildings. You may even witness the ringing of the bells in the bell towers located just above your head! It’s the ultimate Moscow city tour from the top of the highest peak of central Moscow.

Day 4 – St. Petersburg

Overnight – Four Seasons Lion Palace

Enjoy a morning at leisure in Moscow. Later today, you will depart on the luxury, high-speed Sapsan train from Moscow to St. Petersburg (cost of tickets is not included). This 4-hour journey will take you through the picturesque Russian countryside. Upon arrival in St. Petersburg you will be transferred to your hotel.

This afternoon, weather permitting, you will have a private boat tour of the canals of St. Petersburg. This is one of the most enchanting ways to explore the city, as you take in the sights while gliding along the canals and rivers of the city. You’ll pass the Winter Palace, the Mariinsky Theater, the Summer Gardens and many other important sights. Champagne and soft drinks will be served on the boat.

Day 5 – St. Petersburg

Overnight – Four Seasons Lion Palace

This morning your guide will meet you in the hotel lobby to take a short walk to Palace Square and the Hermitage. The museum boasts that it holds the largest collection of art in the world.

The Hermitage is truly one of the world’s great museums and its vast size can be overwhelming. You will be met by one of the Hermitage’s top curators for a personal tour of the collection. The Hermitage collection spans just about every artistic period from Greek and Roman collections to da Vinci and beyond. Touring the museum with one of its curators is truly a unique experience that brings the museum to life.

Later today, visit Peter Paul Fortress the birthplace of St. Petersburg. After walking through the many gates and across the bridges and moats, you will begin to feel the late 18th-century era that required such fortification.

Next, you will see the ornate Church of Spilled Blood on Canal Griboyedova. The church is so named because it stands on the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated on March 1, 1881. Its unique design was inspired by St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. This is the only church in the world covered completely inside and out by mosaics of tiles and precious and semiprecious stones.

Time allowing, the afternoon will be at leisure to explore the city with your guide. You may enjoy a walk along the famous Nevsky Prospect, St. Petersburg’s main thoroughfare. Some of the sights include the Stroganoff Palace, the huge neoclassical Kazan Cathedral, a monument to Catherine the Great, the Russian National Library, and the Anichkov Bridge.

Day 6 – St. Petersburg

Overnight – Four Seasons Lion Palace

This morning, enjoy a private tour of St. Petersburg’s first Fabergé Museum, a must-see housed in the former Shuvalov Palace on the Fontanka Canal. The palace houses the celebrated Fabergé collection of the Link of Times Foundation owned by Russian entrepreneur Viktor Vekselberg. Mr. Vekselberg has assembled the most formidable collection in the world of works by this great Russian master craftsman, best known for his celebrated million-dollar Imperial Easter Eggs. You will then head outside of the city, to the south. You may wish to have lunch at a local restaurant in the village of Pushkin.

Next you will see Catherine’s Palace and its fabled Amber Room. Please note, Catherine’s Palace is one of the most visited sites of St. Petersburg. Standard entrance lines are extremely long year-round. VIP entrance to the Catherine Palace has been arranged for you. You will enter through the main Golden Gates of the palace with your guide avoiding the main entrance line. You will then be met by a palace representative who will whisk you from the main entrance from the gates into the private reception area.

Your tour of the palace will then begin. This palace was originally designed in the 1750s in the Rococo style by the famous architect Rastrelli (who also designed many of St. Petersburg’s grandest buildings). Later, Catherine II (the Great) commissioned the Scottish architect Charles Cameron to redesign the palace’s interiors in the then-fashionable Neo-Classical style. After Catherine’s death, the palace remained largely unchanged for over a century until the second World War when the Nazi army, retreating after the unsuccessful siege of Leningrad, destroyed the palace almost completely.

After the war, the magnificent palace and its interiors were thoroughly and painstakingly rebuilt, but renovations at some parts still continue. While visiting Catherine Palace, you will be invited into the Amber Room workshops where craftsmen rebuilt the famous amber panels lost in World War II.

Day 7 – St. Petersburg

Overnight – Four Seasons Lion Palace

This morning, your guide will take you into the St. Isaac’s Cathedral. Its Malachite and Lapis Lazuli columns are not to be missed! St. Isaac’s was built between 1818 and 1858, by the French-born architect Auguste Montferrand, to be one of the most impressive landmarks of the Russian Imperial capital. During World War II, the golden dome was painted gray to avoid being targeted by Nazi fire. Later you will stop into the famous Yusupov Palace on the banks of the Moika Canal. You will have a private tour of the palace including its famous theater and Arabian Room. Your guide will recount the story of Rasputin’s murder.

Peterhof Palace is often called the Russian Versailles due to the prominence of the gardens and fountains. The view from the palace through the grand colonnade of fountains to the Baltic Sea is one of the true masterpieces of Russian artistry. Walk through the gardens to see Peterhof’s most enchanting treat: the trick fountains of the gardens. The tremendous variety of fountains is one of the principal features of Peterhof, where their extravagance and playfulness indicate the atmosphere of early 18th-century Russia. You will journey underneath the fountains and learn of their remarkable engineering and history.

Day 8 – St. Petersburg

Today you will be met in your hotel lobby. You will then be transferred to the airport to board your onward flight.

Prices are per person, based on two people sharing. Room categories, dates of travel and changes to services will affect the price. Dollar conversions shown (if applicable) will fluctuate throughout the year. Contact the Andrew Harper Travel Office to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.

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