Day 1: St. Petersburg (Embark)
Arrive at Pulkovo International Airport. If your cruise package includes a group arrival transfer or if you have purchased a private arrival transfer, you will be greeted by a Uniworld representative and transferred to the ship.
Day 2: St. Petersburg
With its grand Italian architectures and austere Nordic setting, St. Petersburg is a city of canals, palaces and cathedrals that presents a glorious juxtaposition of East and West. See the sights by land as well as water, then experience an art form that is quintessentially Russian—an evening at the ballet. The brainchild of Peter the Great, St. Petersburg was built on 42 islands on the Neva delta, in what was essentially a swamp. The tsar lavished on it all the might, ambition and money at his disposal, importing the finest architects from Italy, the greatest decorative artists and the most celebrated painters: The result is an extraordinarily beautiful city.
St. Petersburg city tour with canal cruise and Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood visit
Russia’s window on the West, St. Petersburg melds exuberant Italian architecture with an austere Nordic setting, all bathed in the dancing light reflected from the waterways that wind through the city. You’ll see magnificent palaces, cathedrals and monuments that fill the historic city center in two ways today—via a panoramic tour and from the water. Travel down Nevsky Prospect (the street was intended to lead from the Winter Palace to Moscow) from the vast neoclassical palace toward the spire of the Admiralty building, and take in such sights as St. Isaac’s Cathedral—real gold sheathes that massive dome—the ornate blue-and-white Smolny Cathedral, the Field of Mars and the state university. Unlike the Italianate architecture of so much of St. Petersburg, the Church of Our Savior on Blood boasts the ornamented onion domes found in traditional Orthodox churches, so its profile is unmistakable.
Water is as omnipresent in St. Petersburg as it is in Venice, casting a unique luminous glow on every gilt dome and neoclassical façade. Three rivers and innumerable canals crisscross the city, and hundreds of bridges span those waterways. Board a canal boat for a cruise down the Fontanka and Moika rivers, where aristocrats built their palaces, and Kryukov Canal, which links the two rivers and where many famous artists and composers lived. This fascinating tour will give you an incomparable view of the city’s beautiful buildings and bridges.
After the tour, you’ll have time for lunch at the place of your choice (your guide will be happy to offer restaurant suggestions, as well as local dishes to try) before exploring on your own. A motorcoach will also be available to take you back to your ship.
Russian theatre ballet performance
No visit to Russia would be complete without experiencing the world-renowned Russian ballet. And today you get to experience Russia’s distinctive style of ballet in the city where it originated. One of the finest gifts of Peter the Great—whose move to modernize Russia included embracing Western dance forms—ballet became the exemplar of Russian culture. From Pavlova to Baryshnikov, the Russian stages have been graced with dancers of extraordinary talent and breathtaking grace. As the orchestra strikes up and the dancers come onstage, you’ll be enchanted by their virtuosic performance.
Note: Throughout your visit to St. Petersburg, the order of sightseeing is subject to change. Venues may be closed unexpectedly for unannounced government functions, holidays or religious observances, necessitating changes in our program.
Day 3: St. Petersburg
Spend your day in St. Petersburg at what many experts consider the finest art museum in the world, the legendary Hermitage, a former residence of the tsars that’s now home to a massive and mind-boggling collection of priceless works of art. Your day in St. Petersburg finds you with an appropriately imperial excursion: a guided tour through the world-famous Hermitage Museum. It is the crown jewel of the city and is located in the former home of the tsars, the Winter Palace.
Founded by Catherine the Great, the Hermitage is one of the premier museums in the world, composed of five buildings and housing some three million works, ranging from the Stone Age to the contemporary. Among the ancient artifacts is a seventh-century Scythian stag made of gold, along with numerous other astonishingly beautiful pieces from the nomadic cultures of Russia. Nearly all of the Western European masters, from Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo to Édouard Manet and Auguste Rodin, are represented, and there is also an extensive collection of Russian art and artifacts. The impressionist collection, a closely guarded secret for five decades, is now world famous. Following your tour, St. Petersburg is yours to explore on your own. Shuttles will be available to take you to and from the ship, so you could spend more time among the marvels of the Hermitage before returning to the ship.
A special Captain’s Welcome Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 4: St. Petersburg
Cross the threshold of the summer residence of the tsars—the lavishly decorated Catherine Palace—where you’ll see opulent staterooms and the near mythic Amber Room, meticulously restored to its former glory. Dine on traditional Russian fare at a local restaurant, then spend the rest of the day exploring on your own. On your final day in St. Petersburg, you’ll enjoy a guided tour through splendid Catherine Palace and Park. Once the summer residence of the tsars, it is a masterwork of rococo architecture. Then, spend the rest of your day on your own exploring more of this beautiful city or join a tour to Peterhof Gardens—a treat for anyone interested in landscape design.
Catherine Palace and Park in Pushkin
First developed during Peter I’s reign, when it was a modest 16-room mansion that he gave to his wife, Catherine (for whom the estate is named), this vast palace owes its extraordinary grandeur to Empress Elizabeth, Peter the Great’s daughter. She lavished enormous sums on it, hiring architect Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli to completely redesign the palace and the finest artists of the day to embellish its interiors. Twenty staterooms are open to the public, each more opulent than the last. The Amber Room was Rastrelli’s masterpiece: Sheathed in panels of amber mosaic (given to Peter the Great by Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia) that were augmented with gemstone mosaics, mirrors and gilding, the stunning room was used to set off collections of amber pieces and fine porcelain. Unfortunately, the original room was dismantled by Nazis and sent to Germany, where the amber panels were lost. The room you see today is the result of a meticulous—and hugely expensive—restoration project that took two decades. Your tour will also take you through the beautiful neoclassical rooms designed for Catherine the Great by her favorite architect, Charles Cameron, and out into the grounds, which boast a lake (with boathouse), grottoes, fountains, pavilions, formal parterres and semi-wilderness areas.
After the palace visit, you’ll enjoy lunch at a local restaurant serving traditional Russian cuisine.
Spend the rest of your day in St. Petersburg exploring the city on your own. You could tour Aleksandrovsky Park, where you’ll find bronze miniatures of the major architectural works of St. Petersburg, along with a tribute to the key architects who designed the buildings. The replicas were created by famous Russian sculptor Alexander Taratynov. You could stroll along the Neva embankments and admire the elegant granite barriers erected to protect the city from flooding, which are adorned with sculptures of sphinxes and lions. The grocery store Yeliseyevsky, on Nevsky Prospect, is a gourmand’s delight. Even if you aren’t in the market for caviar or chocolates, it’s worth visiting just for its marble counters and stained-glass windows.
Day 5: Cruising Lake Ladoga, Mandrogi, Cruising the Svir River
Travel back in time to the 19th century at a reconstructed Russian village populated by talented artisans who make handmade items using old-world materials and techniques. A reconstructed village on the shore of the Svir River, Mandrogi illustrates the traditions and lifestyles of Russia’s past. Other highlights today include a rustic shashlik picnic lunch onshore and a cruise on a pristine freshwater lake. Your ship cruises along the southern shores of Lake Ladoga, a vast freshwater inland sea that was once connected to the Baltic Sea. Islands dot the water while forested nature preserves and beaches line the shores. Relax and enjoy the scenery.
Mandrogi “Village Day” walking tour with shashlik picnic lunch ashore
Day 6: Kizhi Island, Cruising Lake Onega
Ramble through the area known as the Old Village, made up of traditional buildings moved from other locations and rebuilt here, with the Cruise Manager. There was a village on this site in earlier times, but it was destroyed during WWII. The village that stands here now gives international visitors an idea of how Russians lived in the 19th century. It isn’t just for international visitors either; Russians come here to experience life as their forebears knew it, staying in the little cabins, feeding livestock and cooking on wood stoves. Observe craftspeople in the workshops creating beautiful handmade items: miniature Fabergé-style eggs mounted as pendants, Karelian birchwood boxes painted with exquisite scenes and gorgeous dolls in traditional costumes. Stroll from studio to studio, admiring these treasures, and when you are ready for a break, sample the best piroshki in Russia. A highlight of your visit to Mandrogi will be a traditional and rustic shashlik picnic lunch (weather permitting), with shish kebab and all the trimmings, as well as local entertainment.
To approach the wooden Church of Transfiguration from the water, with its multitude of shingled onion domes and unmistakable silhouette, can be, well, a transformative experience. Step ashore for an up-close view of this incredible church—built without a single nail—and explore the island’s famous open-air museum and its 89 traditional wooden structures. Kizhi Island, which seemingly floats between sky and water in the midst of Lake Onega, is home to one of Russia’s iconic sights, the all-wood Church of Transfiguration.
Open-air Museum of Wooden Architecture
Be sure to come up on deck as the ship approaches Kizhi Island. The silhouette of the amazing Church of Transfiguration looms out of the water, its multiple onion domes impossibly intricate—and utterly unmistakable. After the ship docks at the island, a guide will take you through the famous open-air museum, which features 89 fascinating samples of traditional wooden architecture. Very simple wooden structures represent the first settlements on Kizhi, which appeared between the 10th and 12th centuries, but the jaw-dropping UNESCO- designated Church of Transfiguration is the ultimate in Russian fairytale architecture. Its 22 shimmering shingled domes were built without a single nail in 1714. Less ornate log and shingle buildings from throughout Northern Russia have been assembled here—cottages, barns and windmills, as well as churches—to create a window into the architectural heritage of the region. You can see what life was like for 19th-century inhabitants of the region in a re-created peasant house furnished with items typical of the time and place.
Later, relax onboard as your ship cruises through the second-largest lake in Europe. Fed by 58 rivers, Lake Onega has 1,369 islands and is bordered by the Republic of Karelia on the west, north and east, and by Leningrad Oblast and Vologda Oblast on the south. A great inland sea that creates its own weather, just as the Great Lakes in the United States do, its shores are lined with birch forests. You may think this wild and beautiful country is uninhabitable—and indeed it has few inhabitants—but people have lived along these shores for thousands of years, as petroglyphs carved into the granite on the eastern shore attest.
Day 7: Goritsy (Kirillov)
Beyond Russia’s major cities lies a completely different world—the fabled land of Mother Russia, celebrated for centuries in art, songs and great works of literature. Explore two rural villages today for an authentic and unforgettable glimpse of everyday life in a Russian provence. Two tiny villages are your destination today. Goritsy, a farming settlement on the Sheksna River, and Kirillov, which may be small but has extraordinary churches linked to the tsars.
Intimate look at daily life in a Russian province
Travel a short distance to the banks of Lake Siverskoye, where one of the most beautiful monasteries in the country, St. Cyril, has stood fast against the ravages of war and politics for 600 years. Sturdy fortress walls that kept out Polish and Lithuanian invaders—but not the Bolshevik revolution—enclose a complex of 11 churches. Though the monastery was disbanded in the 1920s, monks have returned, so part of the complex is now a museum and part is an active monastery. Within the monastery’s museum you will find some exceptional icons depicting the history of St. Cyril.
You’ll also tour the small community nearby and gain a unique perspective on everyday life in this part of the world.
Note: Goritsy and Kirillov are located in a rather remote part of Russia, and while Uniworld always endeavors to provide the finest transportation, you may find that motorcoaches in this area do not meet our usual standards.
Day 8: Cruising Lake Rybinsk, Yaroslavl
Relax onboard the ship as you travel across Lake Rybinsk, formed in 1941 between the upper Volga River and its tributaries. At the time of its construction, it was the largest man-made body of water on earth. Arrive in Yaroslavl. Often called the “Russian Florence” and considered one of Russia’s most beautiful cities of the Golden Ring, Yaroslavl stretches for miles along the confluence of the Volga and Kotorosi rivers. Credit for Yaroslavl’s well-designed, UNESCO-protected city center goes to none other than Catherine the Great, who was even more than a mighty Russian ruler—she was a forward-thinking urban planner as well. Visit an Orthodox church and a lively market.
Yaroslavl city tour
Day 9: Uglich
Stroll through Yaroslavl’s UNESCO World Heritage–designated city center, which reflects both its late- medieval roots and, with its wide, tree-lined streets and attractive parks, the urban planning ordered by Catherine the Great. Step inside the exquisite Church of Elijah the Prophet, a masterpiece of Orthodox architecture whose interior is covered in frescoes, from the floor to the top of the domes high overhead. Along with religious imagery you’ll see scenes of daily life—peasants harvesting hay, weddings, animals—that give you a sense of how ordinary people lived in this area during the 17th century, when the paintings were made. At the outdoor market, where you’ll find locals shopping for fruits and vegetables, you can taste some of the excellent local cheeses or purchase a bottle of Russian vodka.
Heading south on the Volga, you’ll come to one of the loveliest cities of the Golden Ring, as the group of towns that played significant roles in Russian history are known. As you approach the delightful and picturesque town of Uglich in the afternoon, be prepared for a panorama of magnificent architectural monuments.
Uglich walking discovery tour with Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood
Green, blue and silver onion domes top colorful churches along the Volga, announcing that you have arrived in Uglich. Like other Golden Ring cities, it was founded in the Middle Ages and played a major role in regional trade and politics in the 16th century, but it is chiefly known for the death of Prince Dmitry, the 10-year-old son of Ivan the Terrible whose murder was blamed on Boris Godunov. Legend, history, art and mystery come together under the blue domes of the Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood, so named because it was built where the child’s body was found. Inside you’ll see magnificent frescoes dating from the 1700s and icons from the 17th and 18th centuries, painted by the finest imperial icon artists, and you’ll learn a little about Prince Dmitry, whose tale has been told in Russian fiction and opera for centuries.
The ship docks within walking distance of the town, so you may browse through charming local shops and stroll along the promenade where vendors offer a great selection of souvenirs. You might want to take in Wonderful Assumption Church; with its three octagonal spires and onion domes, it is an outstanding example of 16th-century Russian Orthodox architecture.
Day 10: Moscow
If Russia is “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” as Churchill famously said, then Moscow presents an intriguing starting point for cultural discovery. See the city’s most iconic sights (as well as some under-the-radar secrets) with a savvy local expert, both above ground and below. Glamorous, grand, gorgeous and sometimes maddening, Moscow is Russia’s principal city. Founded in 1156, it was the capital of the medieval nation. Moscow lost its status as capital to St. Petersburg under Peter the Great, but it never lost its significance to Russia, and it has reestablished its dominance over the nation’s culture, politics and economy during the past century.
Moscow city tour
It can be difficult to get a handle on this vibrant and sprawling capital, which amazes visitors with its stunning contrasts. A panoramic tour with a knowledgeable local guide will introduce you to the most famous sights: the Kremlin, Bolshoi Theatre, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and Tverskaya Street, which are all close together in the heart of the historic city. Sparrow Hill, on the right bank of the Moscow River, gives you a fabulous view of the city below, as well as of the Moscow State University. A bit farther afield, you’ll see such landmarks as the New Maiden Convent, Bow Hill and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior.
Step off your motorcoach for a short walking tour of Red Square, the historic heart of the nation; it has, over the centuries, been the site of national celebrations, coronations, executions, hand-to-hand battles and May Day parades glorifying Communist might. These days you are more likely to find huge rock concerts or large-scale fashion shows held on the square itself, but the mystique of the space remains intact, and any visitor can sense echoes of its tumultuous history.
You’ll notice many restaurants in this busy neighborhood; choose one to experience a typical Moscow lunch with the locals—your knowledgeable guide will happily recommend venues, as well as dishes you should be sure to try.
Tour of the metro and Arbat Street
It may be the most famous subway system in the world because of its lavishly decorated 1950s stations, which have marble walls, chandeliers, mosaics paying tribute to Soviet icons and bronze fittings. The Moscow Metro has developed into a huge network since it was begun in 1935, with 11 lines and approximately 170 stations, and it’s growing all the time. Nine million people use it every day; it’s the fastest and easiest way to get around this sometimes chaotic city, whose traffic jams are just as terrible as any other major city. Let an expert show you how to use this system, so you will feel confident using it when you explore on your own. One of the handsomest stations, Arbatskaya, is convenient to Arbat Street, which is also on your itinerary today. First mentioned in Moscow’s records in the 15th century, Arbat Street is now a pedestrian shopping area lined with handsome buildings where many famous writers (including Tolstoy) once lived. Novelists, poets and dissidents frequented it during the Soviet era, and its cafés and bars remain popular. These days it’s a great place to watch street performers and shop for souvenirs.
Note: Throughout your visit to Moscow, the order of sightseeing is subject to change. Venues may be closed unexpectedly for unannounced government functions, holidays or religious observances, necessitating changes in our program.
Day 11: Moscow
Adventures await with a whole day in Moscow to explore on your own. Spend the day in Moscow exploring on your own. Return to yesterday’s favorite sites or discover new treasures in this world-class city. You could visit the Pushkin Literary Museum to learn more about Russia’s most famous poet or tour one of the houses in which Leo Tolstoy lived. Perhaps you’d like to take a stroll along Kuznetsky Most, which for centuries has hosted Moscow’s most fashionable shops. Shuttles will run from the ship to the city center for your convenience.
A special Captain’s Farewell Reception and Dinner will be prepared for you this evening.
Day 12: Moscow (Disembark)
You have sampled culinary delights, explored history and experienced the best of life along the Volga River. Now the journey comes to a close and it’s time to disembark the ship. If your cruise package includes a group departure transfer or if you have purchased a private departure transfer, you will be transferred to Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport for your flight home. Your Uniworld adventure may be over, but we know you’ll enjoy the memories you’ve made for years to come.