03/20/2015 06:04 EDT | Updated 05/20/2015 05:59 EDT

Why Russia Should Be on Your Bucket List

Russia has been in the news quite a bit recently.

From Edward Snowden the whistleblower who put his own freedom at stake to reveal shocking abuses by the U.S. intelligence agencies, to the country's successful bid for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, we've seen many sides of this large and complex country.

Here's why now is the time to visit Russia and scratch this intriguing country off your bucket list in 2015!


St. Basil's Cathedral, Red Square. Credit: Maureen Mulligan

Escape the Cold in Sochi

Many Russians are still stunned why they won the bid for 2014 Winter Olympic and Paralympic Games held at Sochi since it is often associated with Russia's southern mentality characterized by palms and a hot climate and nothing of the nail biting cold of winter. In fact, Sochi is the unofficial summer capital of many Russians wanting to get a respite from winter cold in mainland Russia.

Caucasian mountainous tribes, who all fell under the control of many great civilizations such as the ancient Greek, the Abkhazian, the Romans, the Ottoman, and the Byzantine empires, once inhabited what is now Sochi. Be sure to visit some of the landmarks of ancient civilizations such as the Bronze Age table-stones and medieval Byzantine temples.

Wander Around the White Nights Festival in St. Petersburg

As in northern destinations around the world, in St. Petersburg the sun shines nearly the entire day and the nights never get too dark. Called the "White Nights," this period typically lasts from June 11 to July 2. Considered a reward for all of the darkness during the winter months, Russians celebrate this period with a series of events and festivals around St. Petersburg.


Fountains at Peterhof, outside St. Petersburg Credit: Maureen Mulligan

Most people can be found walking around this beautiful city, touring the historic city center, the river Neva, and the numerous small canals on foot even after midnight. This is the perfect time to travel to Russia, as you literally have more hours in the day to fit in sightseeing, tours and enjoy the many restaurants late into the night.

Marvel at Moscow's Red Square

When travelers think of Russia, the first image that comes to mind for many is the iconic lit-up fairytale-like domes of St. Basil's Cathedral at the southern end of Moscow's Red Square. Red Square is considered to be the very heart of Russia, and comes to life at night by the glowing red stars atop the Kremlin towers.


The Cathedral of the Annunication (Kremlin) Credit: Maureen Mulligan

St. Basil's came to be in 1552, when Ivan the Terrible captured the Tatar stronghold of Kazan on the Feast of Intercession. He commissioned this landmark church, officially the Intercession Cathedral, to commemorate this victory.


The Ivan the Great Bell Tower (Kremlin) Credit: Maureen Mulligan

Moscow is a thriving city that exudes prosperity and wealth. And with this comes some of the world's best restaurants and nightclubs. Garage, a long time favorite, has since 1998 created a unique atmosphere for a weekly party graced by actors, producers and only the hottest DJs.

Experience Russia History and Culture by Touring the Golden Ring

Located just northeast of Moscow, a series of ancient towns including Vladimir, Suzdal and Kosroma are known as the Golden Ring. With their iconic temples made of white stone, these cities and towns are located relatively close to each other and literally form a ring, making them easy to explore. In addition to history, when visiting the Golden Ring you can experience a more provincial, traditional Russian way of life.

Overall, Russia's highlights are worth seeing for yourself and 2015 is the year to make this trip happen!


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