Russia today is a nation of enormous diversity and tremendous vitality. It is as if the cultural traditions of a century ago have reawakened with a newfound strength ancient cathedrals are being rebuilt and restored, colourful markets hum with activity once again and literature and the arts are quickly regaining the creative renown they enjoyed decades ago.
A new Russia is now in full bloom. The defeat of the Russian Empire in World War I led to the seizure of power by the communists and the formation of the USSR. The brutal rule of Josef STALIN strengthened Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives.
The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV introduced glasnost and perestroika in an attempt to modernize communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into 15 independent republics.
Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the strict social, political, and economic controls of the communist period.
The most important cities on the European side are Moscow, St. Petersburg and Murmansk. This is the heartland of Imperial Russia, and these great and ancient cities often become the focus for most tourists.
However there is much more to Russia, a country that spans eleven time zones and two continents, ending less than 50 miles from North America. Within this vast expanse lie the largest freshwater lake in the world, rivers and forests teeming with fish and wildlife, awe inspiring volcanoes, and towering mountains.
Russia is the largest country on earth, with enormous tracts of land that have been opened to travellers only in the last few years.
Russia has a formidable pool of recreational resources, including natural landscapes of endless variety. Inimitable beauty, monuments of history and cultural heritage, unique engineering structures and unmatched cities, towns and smaller communities.
The most popular tourist attractions are the old Russian cities of Vladimir, Suzdal, Sergiev Posad, Pereyaslavl Zalessky, Rostov, Uglitch, Yaroslavl and Kostroma, the biggest gems of Russias Golden Ring.
Also high on every tourists priority list are itineraries by boat from Moscow to St.Petersburg and the Valaam Island. A central point of religious pilgrimage, or to Kizhi, the wonderland of Old Russian wooden architecture. The Northern Caucasus and the Black Sea coast, to Mount Elbrus, the Ural Mountains and the Altai country, in different natural settings, from the Black Sea coast.