Russia is infamous for its freezing winters and its expansive towns. Its massive size ensures that it has lots of scenic views and activities for the average traveler. Russia is home to majestic lakes, iconic cities, mammoth mountains, unique culture, and much more. Beyond the usual trails, the country is dotted with hidden gems waiting to be discovered.
Here are Russia’s less-known destinations that are worth exploring.
Valley of Geysers
I was apprehensive about the Valley of Geyser, but it turned out to be a worthwhile visit. This marvelous valley is located in the Kamchatka Peninsula, but surprisingly it was discovered about 100 years ago. The key attractions are spouting water sources, colorful hot springs, and mud pots. The scenery is fabulous, while bears can be spotted in the valley.
Unknown to many people, when it comes to the concentration of geysers, the Valley of Geysers is second to Yellowstone Park. The valley can be accessed via a helicopter ride.
Located in Astrakhan Oblast, Lake Baskunchak is often depicted as Russia’s Dead Sea. The lake has a large concentration of salt and is considered as the largest saltwater in the country. The main activities are bathing in the medicinal mud, swimming in saline water, and enjoying the spectacular views.
The lake is relatively shallow and even dries out during dry months. It’s also odd that there are no birds, plants, or seaweed in the vicinity of this salt lake.
The City of Dead
Outside Dargavs village lies a gothic necropolis referred to as the City of Dead. This name correctly depicts what this creepy place offers. Inside the over 90 chivalric curved-roof crypts lie well-conserved corpses.
Besides the historic cemeteries, the scenery is outstanding. The hilly gravel road made driving an epic adventure.
A must-visit destination in Russia is the city of Volgograd. It’s the site where the most horrific World War 2 battle took place. With each step and each look here, you relive every struggle during this war. However, it’s not an abandoned city, as I had thought. Volgograd has a modern touch since it was re-built from scratch.
The top attraction is Mamayev Kurgan, a massive memorial complex. Here the heroes of the Battle of Stalingrad are commemorated. Other attractions in this city are the Central Station, Pavlov’s House, and Lake Elton.
Among Russia’s cities, Irkutsk is perhaps the most underrated. Many visitors by-pass this destination while traveling on the Trans-Siberian line. The city offers a lot to holiday lovers both in terms of culture and nature. At the heart of Irkutsk is the iconic Spasskaya Church. It houses religious paintings and Siberian iconography.
Irkutsk is also home to the deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal. I enjoyed unforgettable fishing experiences in this grandiose lake. More fun can be found in Sandy Bay, Olkhon Island, and the Small Sea.
Mask of Sorrow
One way of learning Russia’s past is by paying homage to the Mask of Sorrow. This significant Russian monument rests in Magadan, an unforgiving city with permafrost and a harsh climate. The monument is a large concrete face statue with tears oozing from the left eye in the form of little masks.
The 15-meter statue commemorates the many prisoners who were tortured and died in Gulag prison camps between 1930 to1950.
Contrary to belief, Russia isn’t a scary destination and is open to vacationers. Most of the residents advise against engaging in political conversations. I experienced difficulties in communicating since English is not a major language. Russians are also strict about visas and dress codes.