Alexandra Kalinina is a Moscow-based journalist, photographer and radio host. She is also a mastermind behind Wondergo travel app and Weestory art project. A few years after graduating from Moscow State University Alexandra moved to the Russian Far East and fell in love with the region to which she keeps going back again and again.
Mainly the fact that you don’t need to preplan anything, you can just set off to practically any city or town spontaneously because it became so easy to buy tickets and accommodation online, and plan your day using various travel apps and websites. Besides, Russia offers a great range of leisure activities. Whether you prefer a chic resort, a city break, a photo tour or maybe cultural, sports or food tourism, hunting or fishing, hiking or kayaking - you’ll easily find it in Russia. Of course, there’re times when you want to go to some remote place and there’s no public transport but use your wits and don’t be afraid to communicate with locals - and you’ll see that everything is possible.
I guess it’d be more honest if I reply to this question in 20 years or so when I visit all the places in Russia that interest me. There’re so many cities, estates and national parks that I like in Russia. In Central Russia, you can find a large number of ancient monuments and cathedrals which survived almost intact. Here you can find French-like places like Arkhangelskoye estate or Mozhaisk and its surroundings, visit picturesque Zvenigorod with its famous springs which flow from an underground lake, explore ancient fortresses of Alexandrov and Kolomna, monasteries in Sergiev Posad and Istra, learn about local crafts and culinary traditions.
In the South of Russia, there’re chic resorts, mountains and eco products. I was particularly impressed by Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus Mountains. In Western Russia, I really like Pskov and Kaliningrad. And in the North, go to St Petersburg and Vyborg - a small town with great cultural vibes. Don’t miss Khanty-Mansiysk in the Ural Region which is best to visit in winter, and Yekaterinburg with its museums and flea markets.
If you decide to go to Siberia, make a stop at Krasnoyarsk and visit its national parks. Other great places to explore in Siberia are Novosibirsk, Irkutsk and Lake Baikal. Summer is a perfect time to visit Yakutsk with its amazing Lena Pillars and Buluus Glacier. The end of August and early autumn is the best time to go to Vladivostok and Nakhodka. There’ Siberian tigers, the sea, the mountains, a blend of Korean and Chinese food which was incorporated into Russian cuisine, and my favourite actinidia, a local variety of kiwi which only grows in this part of Russia.
Somewhere I have never travelled. Probably Taganrog or Kazan.
Moscow and Tver regions are wonderful in summer. Or go to Nakhodka in Primorsky Region - but better check the forecast beforehand as they occasionally have typhoons in summer.
Winter is a good time to take a holiday and go to the Ural mountains, to Siberia or to the Far East. Yes, it’s cold and frosty and sunny, and there’re loads of interesting places to make up for the cold weather. I haven’t been to Sochi since the Olympics and people say that it’s become a superb destinations for winter holidays, although not low-budget ones.
Vladivostok is a very open-minded city. It feels like it absorbs all that is new from the outside but also preserves its own history. Being here I never feel like a stranger. It’s always like coming home.
The people! They’re ambitious and aspiring to make something their city better. Thanks to them new places open up, new festivals and concerts are held every year, new books are being published. I am also inspired by the image of the city. It has incorporated so many architectural ideas from all over the world and yet it hasn’t lost its individuality. Oh, and the tramways. Although they’ve almost disappeared from the city (TG: currently there’s only one tram route left in Vladivostok) and can mainly be seen in the works of local painters, you’re constantly reminded of them by the rails which are still visible on some of the streets.
I really like a tiny garden square in front of Yul Brynner’s house and another one in front of the house known as the ‘Grey Horse’ or 'Seraya Loshad' (TG: a large Stalin-era residential building near the port). I often go to a viewing platform with benches behind the sea port where you can watch huge ocean cruisers such as Diamond Princess coming in and leaving the port, or just read a newspaper in the morning while sipping coffee. I also like the GUM’s (State Department Store) Old Courtyard, the maze of old alleys just off Fokina Street with loads of tiny shops and cafes, the graffiti- and stucco-clad retaining walls in the centre, in Egersheld district and along the 100-letiya Vladivostoka Prospect.
I’m currently working on several walking itineraries for my app around the places where I enjoy walking myself. It’s mainly the centre of the city but not its touristy side, mostly the places where only locals go.
I like how they brew coffee in Kofein and Con Tempo.
English bakery called Five O’Clock on Fokina St.
Shönkel. Try their pink burger!
I’d grab food for takeaway and go to the sea.
Try food court at Maly GUM shopping mall or Vysota restaurant.
Well, the best way would be to get in touch with local fishermen and buy fresh fish and seafood from them. You can also try weekend market in the centre of Vladivostok. Other than that, there’re loads of fish and seafood restaurants in town, I recommend checking out Zuma and Port Cafe.
Depends on your expectations and also on how much time you’re going to spend in the city. You can stay in Versaille Hotel or in Hyundai, in Avanta or in locals hostels, there’re quite a few of them but it’s bets to book them in advance as Vladivostok is a touristy city. You can also try renting a flat in a neighbourhood that you like.
A restaurant called 7 Feet inside a yacht club with the same name. There’s a yellow-marked footpath which leads there from the centre. The iconic music place in Vladivostok is BSB Club.
In fact, there’re quite a few local places and names which are only known to people who live there. Say, if you hear someone saying ‘let’s meet up at the Dawn’ (‘Zarya’) they most certainly don’t mean meeting early in the morning but rather meeting in the centre for contemporary art called Zarya on the outskirts of Vladivostok or at the eponymous bus stop in front of it.
Another place to go is , of course, the art nouveau building of GUM (State Department Store) which originally belonged to the German merchants Kunst and Albers. There’re rumours that the Hermitage Museum is currently planning to open a new exhibition hall there.
Don’t miss an old cottage which that was once home to a Russian Explorer of the Far East Vladimir Arsenyev and his family. It’s located on a street named after him and there’s a lovely little museum inside dedicated to his life and work.
I usually go to Maly GUM (Minor State Department Store) on Svetlanskaya St. to buy Royce Japanese chocolate. There’s also a superb terrace on the top floor overlooking the main street. I love local bookshops, you can often find me in a nameless bookshop next to the Grey Horse (Seraya Loshad) bus stop (remember the building I told about earlier) or in The Moon and Sixpence (‘Luna i Grosh’) on Aleutskaya St. Here you can find all kinds of rare books by local writers, buy cool postcards and quirky souvenirs, and pet a cat who lives there. By the way, it feels like cats are ubiquitous in Vladivostok establishments. A book club Nevelskoy also has a cat. And the most famous one lives in the Arsenyev Regional Museum on Fokina St. I also like local teashops, my favourite ones are located on 14 Fokina St. and on 23 Semenovskaya St. For souvenirs made by local designers I’d recommend checking Sunduk on Fokina St. and shops inside the GUM Old Courtyard.
Try Collectioner on Petra Velikogo St. You can find various things here from aircraft instruments to stamps from all over the world. If you’re looking of something in particular it’d be best to ask the shopkeeper who definitely knows everything.
Vladivostok City Day in July (an annual event which celebrates certain years since it was founded), Pacific Meridian Film Fest and Tiger Day both held in September. Also, there’s a cool fair of local designers called Creativespot. It’s held several times a year at Zarya Centre for Contemporary Art, the central square, the GUM Old Courtyard and other spots around the city. Another event to look out for is dragon boat racing, it’s very spectacular indeed.
September! Weather usually settles after the summer typhoons and it’s sunny and dry, and still warm. The summer season here starts a month later and ends a month later than in Central Russia. So if you wish to extend your summer - head to Vladivostok.
Don’t miss the Arsenyev Regional Museum dedicated to the history of the region, and Arsenyev house museum which tells about his life. Try visiting at least one branch of the Vladivostok State Art Gallery (they have several buildings dotted around the city). If you’re interested in contemporary art, you’ll probably like Artetazh Museum of Contemporary Art and Zarya Centre for Contemporary Art. Smaller galleries such as Arka, Novaya Galereya on Semenovskaya St. and the gallery of the Artists’ Union often hold interesting art exhibitions. I’d also recommend visiting a museum located in a World War II-era submarine and another one on an early 20th-century ship called Krasny Vympel moored at Korabelnaya Embankment. In fact, Vladivostok has so many military and fleet museums. One of the most popular is the museum inside the Vladivostok fortress. If you happen to be interested in amber, there’s a small amber exhibition inside the railway terminal.
There’s a superb weekend market on a square next to the town hall where local farmers sell veggies, fruits and berries, honey, bread and fish. Here you can find regional products such as actinidia fruit (also known as Chinese gooseberry), rosehip, hawberries, raspberries, apricots, fern salad, a sockeye salmon, cucumaria with seaweed, etc.
I always buy Bird’s Milk (‘Ptichye Moloko’) sweets made with agar-agar by local confectionary brand Primorsky Konditer. They have many outlets throughout the city where you can also buy chocolate bars with seasalt or seaweed. If you happen to by in Ussuriysk (a city 100km north of Vladivostok) try their Ussuri Balm - it’s a liquor made with local herbs which locals like to add to their tea or coffee when it’s cold. A Korean steamed bun with meat and kimchi called pyan-se is the most popular fast food in Vladivostok and can be found both in street cafes and vendor trailers. Winter is a perfect time to buy smelt fish from local fishermen. You’ll know that it’s fresh by a very peculiar cucumber smell that it oozes. There’re many ways to cook it just don’t try frying it in a hostel, otherwise the whole neighbourhood will know that you’re frying smelt fish, believe me.
Those who like football should probably go to Dynamo Stadium in the centre of Vladivostok. Tsesarevich Embankment is a great place for long walks, roller-skating or yoga. Sportivnaya Harbour is good for jogging (you can follow the yellow-marked footpath). Other beautiful places to go for a jog are the territory of the Far Eastern Federal University on the Russky Island and the seafront outside the city.
There’re many green spots in the centre of Vladivostok. You can walk along the shady Korabelnaya Embankment through Admiralsky, Teatralny, Muravyova-Apostola garden squares and all the way to Sukhanov Park. Make a wish when you pass through the Nicholas Triumphal Gates on your way, stop by the Vladimir Vysotsky monument and listen to his songs from the street loudspeaker, and then pause to admire the view from the Golden Horn Bay. If you have a spare day, go to the Botanical Gardens, to the Sadgorod Zoo or to Primorye Safari Park. The latter is a place where rescued animals live in huge enclosures in their natural habitat. Here you can meet the famous Siberian tiger Amur (the one who got worldwide fame after befriending a goat which was brought for his lunch) and his family. The best thing is that you can watch them from overhead bridges which stretch all around their vast enclosures.
By the Tokarevskaya Koshka lighthouse. Other than that, there’re many scenic bays on Russky island which would make perfect spots for a picnic.
Walk around the centre of Vladivostok, explore Millionka (an old city slum with narrow streets and secret courtyards, where each building has its own story), find beautiful graffiti by local artist group called 33+1, take a stroll along the embankments, go to the lighthouse at Egersheld Cape, find a scallop shell and take it as a keepsake, ride to Russky Island and walk around the Far Eastern Federal University campus and visit the new Oceanarium there. Take a day trip to Primorsky Safari Park. Hop from island to island via Zolotoy, Russky and Amur bridges, ride the cable car and watch the sunrise from the viewing platform on top of the Eagle’s Nest Hill or sunset on Sportivnaya Embankment. Grab hot payn-se bun for takeaway and wash it down with extremely popular here Korean Milkis drink.
Take a ferry to the islands. It’s quite a challenge to get tickets for it in summer. Your other option would be to rent a motorboat. If you’re travelling in winter go to Kometa Sport Resort. It’s perfect for skiing, snowboarding, snow tubing and ice skating.