The word “diversity” holds great prominence when it comes to describing Russia. Vast mountains, deserts, beaches, geyser fields, heritage sites, palaces, icy lakes, stunning art and architecture; the country is a museum on its own. Here are some of the most beautiful spots to visit there.
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1. Lake Baikal
When it comes to breaking records, Lake Baikal is hard to beat. This massive high-altitude rift lake in Siberia is the oldest and deepest lake in the world—reaching a maximum depth of 1,642 meters and an estimated 25 million years of age. Baikal is also the largest freshwater lake in the world—over 20 percent of the world’s fresh water is in this lake.
Although Lake Baikal is considered one of the clearest lakes in the world, this is particularly noticeable in winter, where, in some areas, it’s possible to see up to 40 meters down into the water—even though much of the lake’s surface freezes over for up to five months of the year.
For about a month around August, the lake’s water temperature can reach around 16 degrees Celsius, making it suitable for quick dips or short swims. During the rest of the year, however, it usually stays under five degrees Celsius.
In summer, Lake Baikal is a famous destination for kayaking, boat cruises, and island hopping to discover shorelines and beaches. In winter, when the lake freezes over, visitors can cross-country ski across sections of it and visit the frozen Tazheran Steppes caves.
The Altai Mountains in Siberia extend from Russia into China, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. Traditionally inhabited by different ethnic groups involved in horse husbandry and forestry, it is also a very popular tourist destination for both locals and travelers. Together with a number of natural reserves and lakes, the Altai Mountains are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There’s a lot of untouched beauty in Altai, where frozen rivers and snowcapped mountains attract cross-country skiers and other outdoor lovers in winter, as well as hikers (the area around Aktru Glacier is especially popular for trekking), kayakers, and climbers in summer. More unusual activities, including diving, cave exploring, and herb and mushroom picking, can also be pursued here.
The Denisova Cave in Siberia is particularly significant because of the bone fragments, artifacts, and even prehistoric horses that have been here—some dating back 50,000 years.
The resort town of Belokurikha is a popular starting point for Altai adventures, and many tourism agencies offer organized trips from here.
3. Olkhon Island
One of the world’s largest lake islands, Olkhon is covered in steep mountains, lush forests, and taiga. The island is in Eastern Siberia and has a small permanent population that consists mostly of local Buryats, a Mongolic indigenous group who believes the island to be a powerful spiritual place.
Tourism has become a growing industry on Olkhon Island, with visitors coming over to explore places such as the coastal sand dunes and the abandoned Peschanaya Village and former Soviet labor camp nearby.
This area is also famous for its “walking trees,” an unusual phenomenon that causes strong winds to uncover tree roots on the beach and gives them the appearance of a standing person.
There are several semi-urban settlements on the island, with Khuzir being the largest and the one offering homestays for visitors who want to stay over. The village also houses the small but interesting National History Museum of Revyakin, which chronicles life on the island as far back as Neolithic times.
Located in the Russian Far East, the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky is surrounded by volcanoes (including the active, snowcapped Koryakskaya Sopka volcano) and cannot be reached by road. Those who take on the challenge and get here, however, will discover an active city center with tons of monuments, squares, and churches. The city lies right against Avacha Bay, a great place for a waterside stroll and to catch a whale watching tour.
Tours to the volcanoes should be at the top of your list if you visit here, but skiing on Krasnaya Sopka mountain and a visit to the world’s only Museum of Salmon are also must-dos.
The small but unique Vulcanarium Museum here offers a unique insight into the world of volcanoes and probably your only chance ever to touch lava.
What makes Karelia special? Anyone would say without a doubt: its nature. If you are tired of big cities, churches, and museums, Karelia, with its splendid landscapes and lakes, is the best place for an active holiday or a tranquil getaway.
The Republic of Karelia is a region near Saint-Petersburg bordering Finland, the unique place where Finnish and Russian culture and nature mix together. It’s not populated much, that’s why is it the place where you can find incredible corners of pristine natural beauty.
Instead of focusing on urban sites, tourists are recommended to explore the Dagestani countryside: mountain ranges, ancient historical sites and villages. These provide spectacular scenery for visitors who seek to interact with nature’s peace and tranquility.
The best tourist sites are located within two to three hours drive from Makhachkala. Usually, one-day guided tours are what it takes to properly visit a place. You most likely won’t find any information online, however, and the best way to learn what’s on offer is to ask the staff at your hotel. Places to visit might include the village of Kubachi, which is famous for its local jewelry makers; the ancient Kala-Koreish Fortress; the gorgeous Sary-Kum dune, and the very ancient and Russia’s southernmost city of Derbent.