This week, we traveled east to Staraya Russa, a small town in the center of Novgorod Oblast in Russia. Word on the street is that Staraya Russa is known as the summer retreat of the Russian novelist Dostoevsky. If you are a bookworm, you might be interested to learn that the fictional town of Skotoprigonyevsk in Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov was based on Staraya Russa.
Besides being a peaceful summer escape, Staraya Russa is one of the oldest towns in Russia. In fact, its history dates back to the mid-10th century. Having seen several battles, the town has been destroyed many times under the reign of Ivan the Terrible in the 17th century. Yet, time after time, it has been able to rebuild its distinct wooden houses, churches, and balneological resorts.
Today, Staraya Russa is known for its peaceful rivers, laid-back locals, Dostoevsky sights, and an escape from crowded cities.
36 Hours in Staraya Russa
10:00 AM: Dostoevsky’s House
First on the agenda is a trip to Dostoevsky’s house, where the famous Russian novelist wrote many of his greatest works, such as The Brothers Karamazov.
Propped along the riverbank, Dostoevsky’s house is distinguished by its modest green and white architecture and quiet provincial location. In the memoirs of Dostoevsky’s wife, she describes the beautiful shady garden and paved yard as a spot Dostoevsky often strolled through on rainy days.
Inside Dostovesky’s house, we were surprised to find how well-preserved it was. From the heavy redwood furniture to his photographs and possessions, visitors get a glimpse into the setting in which Dostoevsky wrote his masterpiece.
During your visit, make sure to take a look at Dostoevsky’s handwritten notes and the original editions of Dostoevsky’s published works!
11.30 AM: Dostoevsky Cultural Center
To learn more about distinguished Russian writers and artists, we headed to the Dostoevsky Cultural Center. During our visit to this quaint neoclassical building, we were fascinated by the breadth of exhibitions that ranged from Dostoevsky-centric ones to those that were dedicated to other Russian artists.
1:00 PM: International Selections at Cafe Bashnya
For lunch, head to Cafe Bashnya for great service and quality food. With selections ranging from sushi to pizza, Cafe Bashnya is picky-eater friendly!
2:00 PM: Paintings, sculptures, and more!
Kartinnaya Gallery sits on the grounds of a 12th century-monastery and houses a large collection of paintings and sculptures that were created by artists who frequent Staraya Russa.
On the first floor, visitors can admire the works of Soviet-era painter and Staraya Russa native, Vasily Svarog. Though Svarog mainly dabbled in landscape and portrait early on, his most famous artworks were satirical graphics associated with magazines and posters. As you gaze through Svarog’s artworks, see if you can notice his common theme of glorifying the Soviet system.
Moving on to the ground floor, visitors are also greeted by the works of much-decorated Soviet sculptor, Nikolai Tomsky. Gaining significance after receiving the 1941 Stalin Prize for his bronze memorial to Sergey Kirov, Tomsky began producing and redesigning statues of Lenin — one of which you can find in the gallery!
5:00 PM: Saint Sophia Cathedral
The Cathedral of St. Sophia (the Holy Wisdom of God) is located in the Diocese of Novgorod and Staraya Russa and is the mother church of the Novgorodian Eparchy. Built around 1050 by Vladimir of Novgorod, the Cathedral of St. Sophia sits at 38 meters high and is complemented by five elegant domes. With narrow windows and austere walls, the cathedral reflects the romanesque architecture of Western Europe.
As the oldest icon in the Cathedral, the Mother of God of the Sign, which, according to legend, saved Novgorod in 1169 during the attack by Suzdalians, is displayed inside the Cathedral.
Outside of the church, there are also three famous sets of gates known as Vasilii, Korsun, and Sigtuna. Due to their elegant decorations, these gates also heavily influenced later artists and even the design of the Moscow Kremlin, built under Ivan the Terrible.
8:00 PM: Get your Groove on at Pioneer Nightclub
To end the night on a high note, get groovy at Pioneer Nightclub! Here, you can experience the spirit of the Soviet Era without having to go back in history. This retro club offers a disco, karaoke and everything else in between that allows you to experience the 70s and 80s disco fever.
10.00 AM: Visit the Symbol of Russian Statehood
One of the most famous historical landmarks of Novgorod is the Millenium of Russia, a bronze monument erected in 1862 to celebrate Prince Rurik’s arrival to Novgorod. This monument is a symbol of the beginning of Russian statehood.
Prior to its creation, a competition was held to determine the monument’s design. The winners were artist Mikhail Mikeshin and architect Viktor Hartmann, who collectively created the 15-meter statue to emphasize the tsar’s power. Interestingly, though the monument represents a series of Russian tsars and commanders, Ivan the Terrible is famously left out of the monument because of his role in the 1570 massacre of Novgorod.
To highlight the importance of the monument, it cost 400,000 roubles for it to be erected, making it one of the most expensive monuments in Russia at that time.
11.30 AM: Catherine’s Palace
À flanc de colline se trouve le village fortifié de Aït-ben-Haddou. ... Cette merveille d'architecture traditionnelle…
Catherine’s palace is a must-see. With snow-white columns, sky-blue walls, and sculptures made with pure gold, Catherine’s palace looks like a real-life fairytale castle.
Located in the town of Pushkin, which is roughly 30 kilometers south of St. Petersburg, Catherine’s palace was the summer residence of many Russian tsars. Although it has undergone many renovations, it’s origin dates back to 1710, when Peter the Great gifted the estate to his wife, Catherine I. By the late 1770s, the palace reflected architectural influences ranging from Chinese, Arabesque to Neoclassical architecture.
As you make your way inside the Palace, make sure to look up as you walk through the ballroom and the chapel to see spectacular painted ceilings!
1.30 PM: Striploin Steak
For great value and friendly staff, head to Steak Club for a mid-day feast! Menu highlights include striploin steak and Italian lavash.
3.00 PM: Afternoon Getaway to Kotlin Island
Venture out to Kotlin Island, which is known as the gateway to St. Petersburg and home of the fortified city of Kronstadt. In Kronstadt, you’ll be able to enjoy the fresh sea breeze as you explore the historical harbors and piers of the port city.
Start your afternoon exploring by taking a trip to Schantz Fort. Schantz Fort was built in 1706 and used as a military base over the years. Though the fort is now empty, it has become a local hotspot for picnics and barbecues.
If you are feeling adventurous, pass through the fort and you will find yourself on a nature reserve of marshland that stretches all the way towards the Gulf of Finland.
Boat Ride from Petrovsky Pier
For another fun activity, take a sight-seeing boat ride for just $11 per person (or 400 rubles). Throughout the ride, you’ll be able to see a collection of landmarks including the Kronshlot Fort, Peter I Fort, Alexander I Fort, Milutin Fort, and the Konstantin Fort.
On your boat ride, don’t miss the Alexander I Fort, the most famous fortress in the Gulf of Finland. One of its most distinctive features includes its black granite cylindrical edifice. This fort has served many purposes including a military facility, plague laboratory, and most recently, the venue for Fort Dance, a famous rave and club event.
As the trip wraps up at the Konstantin Fort, you will find a tourist center, small hotel, restaurants, and museums.
Naval Cathedral of Kronstadt
After the boat ride, head to the Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt to see the principal church of the Russian Navy. Built in 1913, this Russian Orthodox cathedral was dedicated to the fallen seamen.
As seen in many other landmarks on Kronstadt, this historical building also saw many different uses. After the cathedral was closed in 1929, it was transformed into a cinema, the House of Officers in 1939, and the museum of the Navy in 1980. Today, it is officially restored as a cathedral after its reconsecration in 2013.
8.00 PM: Laidback dinner at Polist
Head to Polist to end your day with laid back dinner. As a local favorite, Polist also offers a range of fine appetizers and desserts.
The Perfect Summer Retreat
After our 36-hour virtual journey, we couldn’t help but agree with Dostoevsky that Staraya Russa is the perfect summer escape. It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with its countryside character, serene rivers, and easy-going locals, and we can’t wait to visit it in person.
How to get there
The best way to get to Staraya Russa is either traveling from Novgorod or taking a detour on the way from Moscow to Pskov or Novgorod.
Transport options include rail, bus, and car. By rail, take the Moscow to Pskov route, however, this service is typically limited to one train per day.
Alternatively, you can take a bus that runs hourly from Novgorod and is only a two-hour ride. Lastly, by car, follow the A116 to Shimsk from Novgorod and then take P51 to Staraya Russia (the car ride is about 96km).
Once you arrive at Staraya Russa, you can get around town by walking, taking a taxi, or local bus (1, 4, 6, or 11 to the center).
Where to stay
There are many places that visitors can stay during their travels to Staraya Russa that range from budget, mid-range to luxury. Budget options include Vizavi and Hotel Polist; mid-range options include Boutique-Hotel Truvor and Valeria Guest House; luxury options include Volkhov Hotel and Park Inn by Radisson.
When to go
The best time to travel to Staraya Russa is between late June to mid-August, when the weather is warm.
To enter Russia, visitors will need a Russian visa. To begin the visa application process, you will need to get a visa invitation letter first.
The currency of Russia is the rouble.
The official language of Staraya Russa is Russian, although there are many various languages spoken by Russia’s diverse ethnic minorities.
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