A holiday to Russia reveals a world of fascinating intrigue, where Tsars in gilded palaces once ruled over a land so vast it can scarcely be imagined. At roughly twice the size of the United States, it covers everything from snow-capped mountains and silvery forests to the beaches of the Black Sea and the endless Siberian tundra. And, despite being open for tourists for several decades, there's something enigmatic about a journey here – it almost feels taboo.
Those who choose to explore this beautiful country will be rewarded with impossibly scenic countryside and magnificent cityscapes, depending on where you go. The cosmopolitan capital of Moscow, home of the Kremlin, the Red Square, and Lenin's Mausoleum, is perhaps more military-minded than the enchanting St Petersburg; the latter is a haven of glittering palaces and museums bursting with rare artwork. Along the Golden Ring, picturesque churches and historic buildings sit alongside glassy rivers and deep lakes in some of the country's prettiest settlements. And, at the other end of the country, Vladivostok peeks across at its Asian neighbours, the exuberant cultural centre of the Russian Far East.
The best way to cover ground is undoubtedly the Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express. Connecting east and west from Moscow to Vladivostok, you'll see everything from the Ural Mountains to Lake Baikal and Mongolia as you traverse the country's great interior. If you want to get a sense of the vastness of it all – with gourmet dining and steward service as standard – this is the way to do it. It is considered one of the world's most spectacular rail journeys – and for good reason.
Of course, if time is more limited, or if Russia by rail just isn't for you, a shorter city break offers plenty of room for fascinating cultural experiences. Wander through networks of palaces once owned by emperors, take in views of various domed towers and stop for refreshments in bustling teahouses. Come evening, sample caviar and vodka in any number of elegant bars before retreating to a luxury hotel – there are no shortage of historic properties to choose from in any of the major cities. It's all very regal – and perhaps everything you're looking for from your next luxury holiday.
From riding a bike through the peaceful streets of Suzdal to walking across the Red Square in the shadow of the Kremlin, you can have almost any experience you wish in Russia, ranging from the ever-so-laid-back to the ultimate in adventure travel. The truly daring can trek across the jagged Caucasus Mountains and conquer Elbrus, Europe's highest peak. Or, you can take on the ever-evolving Great Baikal Trail, encircling Lake Baikal past coniferous forest and slow-moving rivers. On the edge of the Black Sea, you can take it slower, relaxing on golden sand beaches in quiet seaside towns, against a backdrop of breathtaking scenery.
Of course, it's not just about the great outdoors. Visit Moscow's world-renowned Sanduny Baths for a traditional banya steam bath followed by an icy plunge, or shop for souvenirs and Soviet relics at the quaint Izmailovsky Market. In St Petersburg, you can join the elite for a performance of the ballet at the famed Mariinsky Theatre, or wander through the private apartments of the tragic Romanovs at the State Hermitage Museum. Russia's cities offer all this and more, waiting to be explored over a perfect weekend, or a multi-centre trip.
Alternatively, step aboard the opulent Golden Eagle Trans-Siberian Express to see another side to Russia's splendour. From the comfort of your luxury cabin, the country's unique topography rushes past. You'll pause at big cities and remote villages in one special journey. And, while Russia's Siberian wilderness is virtually a no-go in winter, the Trans-Siberian Express takes it in its stride, pausing along the way for romantic horse-drawn sleigh rides and to watch ice fishing on frozen Lake Baikal.
Although vast, Russia's high season is always summer, and while this is a beautiful time to travel – particularly on the Trans-Siberian Express through Mongolia – it can be crowded. Spring and Autumn offer all the scenery with less of the crowds, so you can enjoy the countryside – and the cities – in relative peace. And, in winter, although the interior seems mostly impenetrable, the magic of a snow-dusted St Petersburg is hard to ignore.
Russian Giants: Moscow & St Petersburg
6 days from £1,990 pp incl. flights
Get to know the Russian giants – Moscow and St Petersburg – on this stylish twin-centre break, complete with private guided touring and two of Russia's most luxurious hotels.
Highlights of St Petersburg
5 days from £1,410 pp incl. flights
Explore St Petersburg's gilded opulence, taking in Catherine's Summer Palace, the Hermitage Museum and the elaborate Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood.
Golden Eagle: Trans-Mongolian Express
13 days from £14,270 pp incl. flights
Following the route of the traditional Trans-Siberian Express, the equally epic Trans-Mongolian Express crosses Russia from Moscow in the east, through the Urals and across the steppe, via the sublime Lake Baikal to enter Mongolia.
Golden Eagle: Trans-Siberian Express
15 days from £13,565 pp incl. flights
This legendary great rail journey across Russia takes just over two leisurely weeks with a night each in the start and end cities and a dozen nights on board the luxurious Golden Eagle.