Famous French author Alexandre Dumas once described the Volga as “the Queen of rivers.”
For thousands of years, the longest river in Europe has played a central role in Russian life. If you want to explore real Russia, the itinerary from Moscow to St Petersburg is a fascinating way to get into the heart and sole of this great country, which once existed behind an iron curtain, but which today is a throbbing centre of capitalist enterprise.
From the swirling onion domes of Moscow’s Red Square to the gold-topped architecture of St Petersburg, The Volga provides an endless variety of sights and sounds that capture a culture as deep and exciting as any.
A third of Russia’s population live in the Volga basin, with many of the country’s greatest cities springing up along its banks.
The Volga originates in the Valdai Hills, 225m above sea level just north-west of Moscow and 320 kms south-east of St Petersburg. It has many tributaries and flows through the most densely populated parts of the country before reaching the Caspian Sea.
The Volga Delta and the Caspian Sea are famous for the superb fishing grounds and is the centre of Russia’s caviar industry. Savouring this great dish, synonymous with billionaires, with blini pancakes is an experience not to be missed.
Length: 3690 kms
Days needed to sail: eight to 15 on average.
Cities visited: Moscow, Uglich, Yarodlavi, Kuzino, Kizhi, Mandrogy and St Petersburg.
The Volga freezes for most of its length for three months each year. Most cruise itineraries are scheduled from May to October.
River cruise lines: Many cruise lines ply The Volga
Top sights and attractions
Visit Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, one of the world’s prestigious museum of Russian fine art. With a collection of 170,000 works of art spread over several buildings, you will be able to get a taste of Russian icons, water colours and paintings. There are exquisite portraits of the country’s famous authors and composers including Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Alexander Pushkin.
The charming, ancient city of Sergiyev Posad in north-east Moscow is renowned for the 14th-century Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, home to 300 monks. Entry to the monastery complex with its distinctive blue and glittering, gold onion domes and interior frescoes has strict dress code rules – no shorts are allowed, shoulders must be covered and women must cover their heads with a scarf or hat.
Explore Kizhi Island, known for its unique collection of wooden structures including a cathedral of 22 domes that was built without the use of a single nail.
There’s also the ancient town of Uglich, founded in 1148, where you will visit the Church of St Dmitry on the Blood, the site where Ivan the Terrible’s son was mysteriously killed.
In Yaroslavi, you can shop for handcrafted souvenirs and view the detailed frescoes of the Church of St Elijah the Prophet.
No visit to Russia is complete without tasting its homemade soup, the borscht, the nationally renowned beet soup. Finish off your meal with something sweet. Sample popular Russian desserts like the “kisel”, a red berry soup or the “oladi”, a thick pancake served with cream and jam.