Russia’s Romantic Soul: Moscow, Novgorod & St Petersburg

30 Jun – 15 Jul 2019

  • Region:
    • Arts Hub
    • Europe
    • Russia
    • Spring in Europe
  • Status: waitlist
  • Code: 21927

Tour Highlights

  • This tour is led by Dr Adrian Jones, specialised in Russian history, with the assistance of Diane Perelsztejn.
  • Explore the ‘Russian soul’ in politics, religion, society, literature, music and dance, urbanism, art and architecture.
  • Enjoy 3 performances in historic 19th century theatres – the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow and the Mariinsky and Mihailovsky Theatres in St Petersburg.
  • Walk through Moscow’s Red Square to tour Ivan the Terrible’s remarkable St Basil’s Cathedral.
  • Spend a day at the Moscow Kremlin; marvel at the exquisite Fabergé eggs and other Imperial treasures in the Armoury Museum, and enjoy a special visit to the State Diamond Fund.
  • Visit two of the world’s greatest art collections, housing works by Da Vinci, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet and Matisse – the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg.
  • Explore the great collections of Russian Art in Moscow’s Tretyakov Galleries and St Petersburg’s Russian Museum.
  • Investigate the recent history of the USSR with an extraordinary visit deep underground to the Moscow Tagansky Command Post.
  • Journey to Sergiev Posad to the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, one of the most important monastic complexes in Russia.
  • Spend 2 days in historic Novgorod, exploring its old cathedral and Kremlin, its beautiful small churches, and fascinating vernacular wood architecture.
  • Visit the great Romanov palaces: Peter the Great’s Monplaisir at Peterhof, Catherine the Great’s Palace at Tsarskoye Selo and Paul’s Pavlovsk.
  • Cruise the waterways of St Petersburg and visit the Peter-Paul Fortress, the original site of Peter the Great’s new city.
  • Tour the Yusapov Palace, where the luxurious staterooms contrast with the basement where Rasputin was assassinated.
  • Visit the Faberge Museum in St Petersburg, an extraordinary collection of masterpieces from the master jeweller’s studio.
  • Be inspired by the places where Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky lived, worked, set their masterpieces and are buried.

16-day Cultural Tour of Russia

Overnight Moscow (7 nights) • Overnight Train Moscow – Novgorod (1 night) • Novgorod (1 night) • St Petersburg (6 nights).


Travel to Moscow, St Petersburg and Novgorod in July, when the days are warm and long and the boulevards are lined with flowerbeds in a riot of colour. We explore Russia’s profound cultural diversity, from its historic roots in the shadow of the Byzantine Empire through Mongol rule to its emergence as a major European power. Russia’s Orthodox, mystical, Asiatic past is reflected in brilliantly decorated, onion-domed churches like Moscow’s St Basil’s Cathedral and in shrines surrounded by the defensive walls of the Kremlin and Sergeiv Posad Monastery. The Baroque splendour and the calm, grand classicism of St Petersburg, on the other hand, reflect Russia’s more recent European identity. Here we’ll visit the great Winter Palace (Hermitage) and brilliant aristocratic residences like the Yusupov Palace. Outside the city the Catherine Palace, Pavlovsk and Peterhof rival Versailles in regal grandeur. In Moscow’s fascinating Tretyakov Gallery and Pushkin Museum and St. Petersburg’s vast Hermitage, richly coloured traditional icons contrast with some of Europe’s greatest masterpieces, from Van Eyck and Da Vinci to Rembrandt, Cézanne and Matisse. By special appointment we visit the Golden Room Special Collection at the Hermitage, and the Kremlin’s State Diamond Fund. Russia boasts one of the world’s greatest literary cultures and a wonderful music tradition. We visit Leo Tolstoy’s house, and enjoy performances in both Moscow and St Petersburg. Hanseatic Novgorod combines lovely old Orthodox churches with fine, small, merchant churches and one of the world’s best village museums. In contrast we’ll visit Lenin’s mausoleum and a Cold War command bunker with its astonishing tunnel network that shows what power meant behind the ‘iron curtain’. Meanwhile, in Moscow’s and St Petersburg’s street life and in the fascinating New Tretyakov Gallery we’ll assess Russia’s post-Soviet present and future; the New Tretyakov has a vast collection of 20th and 21st century Russian art including Soviet Realism, avant-garde artists such as Malevich, Kandinsky, Chagall, Goncharova and Popova, and the very latest in post-modernism. We’ll also explore Russia’s scenic waterways on relaxing river and canal cruises in Moscow and St Petersburg.


The following itinerary lists a range of key sights which we plan to visit. The daily schedule is flexible as we need to work around the performance times. There is also a great deal of restoration work being carried out throughout Russia and sites may close without warning. You may expect that the daily activities described in this itinerary be rotated and/or modified in order to accommodate alterations in opening hours. In exceptional cases, some planned visits may be changed. Meals included in the program have been indicated as: B=breakfast, L=lunch and D=evening meal. Lunches and dinners included in the tour price will mostly be in Russian style restaurants and consist of 3 to 4 courses.

Moscow - 7 nights

Day 1: Sunday 30 June, Arrive Moscow
  • Optional Evening orientation walk

Participants taking the ASA ‘designated’ flight from Australia will arrive in Moscow in the afternoon and will transfer directly to the Hotel Peter I. If you are travelling independently to Moscow, ASA can arrange a private transfer for you, or you should take an officially marked taxi to the hotel. In the early evening Adrian will lead a short orientation walk in the area of the hotel. (Overnight Moscow)

Day 2: Monday 1 July, Moscow
  • Red Square (incl. exterior of Lenin’s mausoleum)
  • St. Basil’s Cathedral
  • House of the Romanov Boyars
  • Early Welcome Dinner at Godunov Restaurant
  • Evening performance of Verdi’s A Masked Ball at the Bolshoi Theatre

This morning, after a welcome meeting and tour briefing, we visit Red Square and the Cathedral of St Basil. We explore the general layout and physical development of Red Square and its important place in the history of Russia, its function as a grand parade ground, and its meaning as a symbol of Tsarist and then Soviet power. At one end of this great urban space is the Cathedral of St Basil, Ivan the Terrible’s 16th century masterpiece. St Basil also a strictly symmetrical plan, but this is disguised by the extraordinary variety of its coloured, patterned domes that make the building seem asymmetrical and almost capricious. On another flank of Red Square, opposite the Kremlin, we shall also visit the emporia that have been opened in the 19th century arcades encompassing the Red Square.

Close to Red Square is the House of the Romanov Boyars, an unusual historic building believed to be the birthplace of the Mikhail Romanov in 1596, the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty. Romanovs moved to live in the kremlin once they had assumed the crown, but Nicholas I restored the old Boyar palace and opened it to the public. Reopening after a recent extensive restoration, visitors can gain an insight in to lives of Russian nobility during the 16th and 17th centuries.

We return to the hotel for some time at leisure to rest and freshen up before an exciting evening program. We come together for an early dinner at the Godunov Restaurant before attending a performance of the opera A Masked Ball by Giuseppe Verdi at the Bolshoi Theatre’s Historic Stage. Overnight Moscow) BD

Day 3: Tuesday 2 July, Moscow
  • Cathedrals and Palaces of the Kremlin
  • Armoury Museum, Kremlin
  • State Diamond Fund
  • Late lunch at ‘Kormcha’ Restaurant

Moscow was founded in 1147 by Suzdal’s Prince Yury Dolgoruky. It became Russia’s capital in the 15th century, lost this status in 1712 to St Petersburg, and then regained it in 1918 after the Bolshevik Revolution. Whereas St Petersburg is an ideal city of a particular epoch, in Moscow’s Kremlin we encounter art and architecture from a number of periods. This 90-acre brick fortress, constructed for the tsars by Italian master builders, encloses four cathedrals (Cathedral of the Assumption; Cathedral of the Twelve Apostles; Cathedral of the Archangel Michael; Cathedral of the Annunciation), and the Church of the Deposition of the Robe. Since the 15th century the Kremlin has stood for the centralisation of power in Tsarist and Soviet Russia. Its complex of churches and palaces speaks of the autocratic fusion of church and state in which even the aristocracy was ‘enslaved’ to the tsar. In Soviet times, and especially during the Cold War, the Kremlin gained a special meaning in the West as a place of secretive rule, but this was true also of the Tsarist period, when all power was concentrated here.

Our Kremlin visit includes the Armoury Museum, the oldest and one of the richest museums in Russia. This was once the treasury of the Russian State. Here we shall see the sumptuous gold and silver collection accumulated by the tsars, which includes Russian and European masterpieces from the 12th century to the 20th century, and Russian and European arms and armour. Of particular importance is the priceless Fabergé collection that is a highlight of our visit.

After exploring the collection of crowns and thrones, dress harnesses and the important carriage collection, we shall be taken on a specially arranged tour of the State Diamond Fund. The Diamond Fund is a collection of gems and jewellery dating back to the Russian Crown treasury instituted by Peter the Great in 1719. Originally located in Moscow, the collection was moved to the Diamond Chamber in the Winter Palace, St Petersburg. All succeeding monarchs added their contributions to the Chamber; a 1922 study by Alexander Fersman identified that 85% of the exhibits belonged to the period from Peter the Great to Nicholas I (1719-1855), while 15% were added by the last three emperors. The preservation, sales and looting of imperial treasures after the Russian Revolution of 1917 is a matter of controversy and speculation. The collection was moved from St Petersburg to Moscow during World War I and the Soviet Diamond Fund was officially established in 1922. The treasure was first exhibited to the public in November 1967. Originally a short-term show, in 1968 it became a permanent exhibition.

We shall explore the gorgeous fresco cycles and icon collections of the Cathedral of the Archangel and the Cathedral of the Assumption and you will be introduced to the rituals that took place in these beautiful churches. We will also visit the Patriarch’s Palace and be shown Ivan the Great’s Belltower, the Tsar Bell and the Tsar Cannon. After our visit to the Kremlin we shall walk to the nearby ‘Kormcha’ restaurant for a late lunch (2.30pm). The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. Please note that refreshment facilities are not available within the Kremlin complex. (Overnight Moscow) BL

Day 4: Wednesday 3 July, Moscow
  • Old Tretyakov Gallery
  • Moskva River Cruise

Today we visit the Old Tretyakov Gallery, which boasts the finest collection of icons in Russia. It includes extremely rare works of the Kiev School (including a famous mosaic of St Demetrius of Thessalonika), the Byzantine School (including a 12th century Byzantine image, the Virgin of Vladimir, originally deemed to have been painted by St Luke), and works from the School of Vladimir-Suzdal’, the Pskov School, the Novgorod School and the Moscow School. This wonderful collection gives an excellent overview of the development of the art of the icon painter that followed the adoption of Byzantine religious culture by Russians. You will also become aware of the fact that, despite stylistic differences, icon painting in Russia has demonstrated an extraordinary continuity and unity of theme and treatment over the centuries. This is due to its liturgical meaning and artists’ adherence for centuries to handbooks giving very exact rules for representation. You will also, however, be struck by the gorgeous, rich colours of these paintings, with a Byzantine love of luminous, lustrous courtly and ecclesiastical ritual. This appeal to the senses fell on fertile ground in Russia, and, arguably, faint echoes of it can be felt in the Romantic ‘colourism’ of Russian 19th-century orchestral music.

In the late afternoon we will take a cruise along the Moskva River, past many of the city’s greatest monuments. This grand river offers famous vistas of the powerful Kremlin walls above which protrude the lustrous domes of its cathedrals. (Overnight Moscow) B

Day 5: Thursday 4 July, Moscow
  • Cathedral of Christ the Saviour
  • Pushkin Museum & Museum of Private Collections

This morning we shall take the metro to visit the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour – a huge structure that was initiated by Tsar Alexander I to celebrate the Russian defeat of Napoleon in 1812. The building was finally inaugurated in 1860 and showcased the work of the country’s finest painters, mosaicists and stonemasons. The life of the cathedral was short, for in 1931 the site was chosen by Stalin as the location of the monumental Palace of the Soviets and the beautiful church was razed. The monument’s rich building materials were salvaged for use in the elaborate decorations of the Moscow metro stations and the foundations were dug for the massive new building. However, due to flooding from the Moskva River and the outbreak of World War II the project was never completed. Under Nikita Khrushchev the flooded foundations were transformed into the world’s largest open-air swimming pool, called the Moskva Pool. In 1990, following the end of Soviet rule, the Russian Orthodox church applied for permission to rebuild its church. Work on the new cathedral commenced in 1994 and the massive, faithfully reconstructed church was consecrated in 2000, funding having been provided by private citizens.

Nearby is the Pushkin Museum and Museum of Private Collections that combine to form Moscow’s most important European art museum. This collection is similar to that of the Hermitage in St petersburg, with Classical and Oriental antiquities, Italian, Spanish, Flemish, German, Dutch, French and English art from the 14th to the 18th centuries, and a fine collection of Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Of particular note is the Matisse Room with three masterpieces from his Morocco series. We shall end the day’s activities within the museum so that you may stay on to explore more of its collection. (Overnight Moscow) BL

Day 6: Friday 5 July, Moscow – Sergiev Posad – Abramtsevo – Moscow
  • Trinity Lavra of St Sergius, Sergiev Posad
  • Abramtsevo Artists Colony

Today we drive to Sergiev Posad. The Trinity Lavra (monastery) of St Sergius at Sergiev Posad was founded in 1345 and rebuilt after the Mongol invasions of the following century. It became increasingly important, gaining the status of lavra in 1744. We shall visit the monastery to study its unique architecture. Its founder, the most significant church figure of the 14th century, was not a metropolitan but a humble monk, Sergy of Radonezh (1314-92). Around his hermitage, in the wilds 70km north-east of Moscow at the place subsequently named after him, was to develop one of the greatest of Russian monasteries, dedicated to the Holy Trinity (and eventually also to its saintly founder).

After lunch we drive the short distance to the nearby village of Abramtsevo where we tour a fascinating artists colony, established in the late 19th century as part of the Slavophile Movement that celebrated Russia’s rich folk traditions in art, literature and music. After touring the complex we shall return to Moscow where dinner will be served at the hotel. (Overnight Moscow) BLD

Day 7: Saturday 6 July, Moscow
  • Novodevichy Convent & Cemetery *
  • Underground Command Post Tagansky

This morning we visit the Novodevichy Convent, once a convent for noblewomen, which was founded by Grand Prince Vasili III in 1524. The monastery is, in fact, a fortress that, like other monasteries surrounding Moscow, was integral to the city’s defence system. We shall tour the monastery to see such monuments as the Cathedral of the Virgin of Smolensk, with a distinctive bell tower dating from 1690. The cathedral itself was built in 1525 and contains 16th-century frescoes, as well as a magnificent late 17th-century iconostasis. There is also a convent that was a place of exile for noblewomen who were either in mourning or in disfavour, including Sophia, Peter the Great’s sister who instigated a coup against him from here in 1698. The waters that flank the brilliant white and red walls and sparkling domes of this beautiful complex are said to have inspired Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. We shall also visit the Novodevichy Cemetery where many famous Russians are buried, among them Chekhov, Gogol, Prokofiev, Skriabin and Shostakovich.

It is now over two decades since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. This afternoon we explore 20th-century Soviet history with a visit to a fascinating Soviet-era site, the Underground Command Post Tagansky. Built in 1951, this super-secret bunker served as the command post, the main artery of communication for the Soviet Union in the event of a nuclear war. It was built to withstand direct hits and ensure that normal telecommunications would continue to function in the worst-case scenario. We enter from a nondescript building near the Taganskaya metro station. Upon passing this well-disguised entrance you are issued an identity card with a picture of yourself in a gas mask. We pass by a 6 ton concrete door which slides open to reveal a small set of stairs which we descend. After 22 flights of stairs (we will take the elevator) we reach the command centre. Here soldiers run a Geiger counter over each of us us to test if we are contaminated with radiation. The bunker we have now entered is essentially a network of tunnels, totalling 7,000 square meters. In these tunnels 2,500 members of a survivor community could live and work. The bunker supplied everything they needed, including sleeping quarters, a canteen and bathing facilities. There was also a stockpile of food. You will be able to develop a vivid understanding of Cold War paranoia in Russia, the counterpart to much of the Western propaganda with which many of us grew up. The presentation is personable and not without flashes of typical Russian black humour. (Overnight Moscow) BL

* Note: The Novodevichy Convent is currently being restored and large sections are under scaffolding.

Overnight Train: Moscow to Novgorod

Day 8: Sunday 7 July, Moscow – Novgorod
  • Leo Tolstoy’s home
  • New Tretyakov Gallery
  • Dinner at Leningradskaya Hilton Hotel

We start today with a visit to Leo Tolstoy’s home, which became a museum in 1928. The interior of the house, in which Tolstoy lived for most of his life, is as it was in 1910. The great writer produced most of his wonderful literary works here. The original furnishings, works of art, and the library that belonged to the writer’s family, provide an extraordinary, vivid introduction to Tolstoy’s life and social and intellectual ambience.

The State Tretyakov at 10 Krymsky Val, commonly known as the New Tretyakov Gallery or Central House of Artists, is a vast collection of 20th and 21st century Russian art. In addition to Soviet Realist art, the gallery showcases Russian avant-garde artists such as Malevich, Kandinsky, Chagall, Goncharova and Popova, the modernists and the post-modernists.

We then drive to the Leningradskaya Hilton Hotel that is housed in one of Stalin’s ‘Seven Sisters’ buildings. Before sitting down to a group dinner, we will be taken on a short tour of some of the public areas of the hotel (subject to final confirmation), giving us a glimpse of the grand monumentality of Stalinist Empire Style architecture and interior design.

After dinner we shall proceed to Kesky station to take the overnight train to Novgorod. (Overnight Train Moscow – Novgorod) BLD

Novgorod - 1 night

Day 9: Monday 8 July, Novgorov
  • Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture
  • Yuriev Monastery & Cathedral of St George (exterior only)
  • Kremlin & St Sophia Church
  • Yaroslav’s Court
  • Icon Exhibition and Archaeology Museum

Early this morning we arrive in Novgorod and shall transfer to our hotel where we will check-in to our rooms and freshen up before having breakfast. At 9.00am we shall commence our visit of Novgorod. Novgorod (literally ‘New Town’) was founded in the 9th century by Norsemen who established the embryonic Russian state. By the 12th century the city, called ‘Lord Novgorod the Great’, was Russia’s biggest. Independent of Kiev, this quasidemocracy whose princes were hired and fired by a citizens’ assembly, had a strong, simple style of church architecture, icon-painting and folk music. Spared by the Mongols, Novgorod suffered at the hands of Moscow. Ivan III of Moscow attacked and annexed it in 1477, and Ivan the Terrible razed the city and slaughtered at least 27,000 people for conspiring with the Swedes. The founding of St Petersburg in 1703 marked Novgorod’s eclipse as a trading city. Today, it is a regional centre (pop. 190,000) with one of Russia’s best-preserved medieval kremlins and some outstanding religious and secular architecture from the 11th to 19th centuries.

We begin, this morning, by driving a short distance out of the city to the Open Air Museum of Wooden Architecture, where interesting examples of historic wooden churches and domestic architecture from the region have been collected. We shall see the nearby 12th century Yuriev Monastery and the Cathedral of St George. We shall then return to the city centre. Across the Volkhov River from Novgorod’s old Kremlin is Yaroslav’s Court. This area comprises two blocks of architectural remnants as well as several surviving buildings. Here we shall explore the remains of old Novgorod’s market, an array of churches sponsored by the 13th to 16th century merchant guilds, a ‘road palace’ built in the 18th century as a rest stop for Catherine the Great, and the court Cathedral of St Nicholas (1136).

We shall explore the Kremlin, with a visit to the Cathedral of St Sophia, (1050), one of the oldest buildings in Russia. Its west doors, captured from the Swedes, have fascinating cast-bronze biblical scenes. The icons within date back to the 14th century. Adjoining the cathedral is the 15th century belfry and 17th century clock tower. We shall visit Novgorod’s excellent museum, housed in the Gothic Chamber of facets with fine Novgorod icons and other treasures. You will be able to distinguish the characteristic features of the Novgorod icon school in the museum’s collection. We shall also see the bronze Millennium of Russia Monument, unveiled in 1862 to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Prince Riurik’s arrival here. Dinner will be at the hotel. (Overnight Novgorod) BD

St Petersburg - 6 nights

Day 10: Tuesday 9 July, Novgorod – Peterhof – St Petersburg
  • Leningrad Siege Memorial
  • Museum of the Defence and Siege of Leningrad (time permitting)
  • Peterhof

We drive north today to St Petersburg via the grand country residence at Petrodvorets (Peterhof), which looks out on the Gulf of Finland. On the outskirts of St Petersburg we pass the moving memorial to the Siege of Leningrad during World War II, when the Germans invested the city for nine hundred days. Thousands died in this most dreadful episode of the war, and of Russian history. If time permits we will visit the Museum of the Defence and Siege of Leningrad which has exhibitions not only of the military aspect of the siege, but also tells the tale of the civilians caught in the city and their struggle for survival. Exhibits include an example of the daily bread ration (125 grams for a civil servant and his family), diaries, clothing and other personal belongings of those who survived the siege and those who did not.

Peterhof (1711-1714) is located in the area of the German lines during the siege of Leningrad. It had been the summer residence of Peter the Great but was greatly expanded by Rastrelli, the Italian architect of the Hermitage and Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin). Peterhof is surrounded by some of the most magnificent gardens in Russia. Of particular importance is the Lower Garden, the centrepiece of which is the Grand Cascade that is mounted by gold statues. We shall not tour the interior of the Rastrelli palace, for we shall be touring the magnificent palaces at Pushkin and Pavlovsk, but rather visit Peterhof’s jewel, Monplaisir, the charming small summer palace in Peterhof’s grounds, that Peter the Great designed by and for himself. Monplaisir which, true to Peter’s taste offered a mixture of grandeur and homely comfort, was completed by 1723. It became the Emperor’s preferred retreat, where he entertained only his closest friends and advisors. Its rooms are almost entirely panelled in oak, and contain an interesting collection of 17th century art, much of which comes from Peter’s own collection. Among the highlights is the delightful Lacquered Gallery, the creation of which required Russian icon-painters to spend months studying Chinese lacquering. The result is an extraordinary mixture of black, gold and red panels with a distinctly Russian accent. The Assembly Hall, which was the main reception room and used for riotous banquets in Peter’s time, is decorated with latticed panels representing Africa, America, and Asia, and intricate rococo coving.

After our visit we then board a hydrofoil and travel to St Petersburg where we shall stay for the final six nights of our program. (Overnight St Petersburg) BD

Day 11: Wednesday 10 July, St Petersburg
  • Hermitage including the Golden Room’s Special Collection
  • Performance of Spartacus at the Mihailovsky Theatre

Today we begin our visit to the Hermitage with the palatial areas of the complex and consider the state rooms in relation to the history of the Romanovs and their opulent court life.  The ground floor holds collections on Primitive Culture and Art, Culture and Art of the Soviet East, and Oriental Culture and Art. On the first floor are the magnificent State Apartments, the most important interiors of the Winter Palace, and British and German Art. On the second floor are the superb Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and School of Paris collections.

We shall also make a visit (by appointment) to the Golden Room Special Collection with its focus, the extraordinary collection of Scythian and Greek gold and silver from the Caucasus, Crimea and Ukraine, one of the greatest collections of art from the 7th- to the 2nd century BC.

We will spend some time in the Small Hermitage, which holds beautiful apartments and the personal collection of Peter the Great, as well as West European Applied Art (11th – 15th centuries), Early Netherlandish Art, and Romanov Portraits. We also visit the Large Hermitage, which houses Classical Antiquities, the Italian Schools (13th – 18th centuries), Flemish and Dutch paintings (15th – 18th centuries), and masterpieces of the Spanish School (16th – 18th centuries). After a formal tour of the palaces and key parts of the collections, you will have ample time to explore sections of particular personal interest.

This evening we attend a performance of the ballet Spartacus by Aram Khachaturian at the beautiful, historic Mihailovsky Theatre. (Overnight St Petersburg) B

Day 12: Thursday 11 July, St Petersburg
  • St Nicholas Cathedral
  • ‘Bronze Horseman’ statue
  • Morning Tea at the Hotel Angleterre
  • St Isaacs Cathedral
  • Peter-Paul Fortress, Zayachy Island
  • Canal & River Cruise

St Petersburg is one of the youngest capitals in Europe, founded by Peter the Great in 1703 after the Great Northern War with Sweden. Its monumental centre is one of the great urbanistic ensembles of the world, and one of its most explicit expressions of power in architecture. The city incorporates grand prospects flanked by majestic Baroque and Neo-Classical buildings, a number of which house major museums.

The naval cathedral of St Nicholas is topped with golden Baroque domes and was one of the very few churches that remained open throughout the Soviet era. We shall also see the wonderful statue of Peter the Great, known to locals and foreigners alike as the Bronze Horseman. Commissioned by Catherine the Great as a move to associate herself with this great tsar and the city’s founder, this masterful work by Étienne Maurice Falconet shows Peter the Great astride his rampant horse atop a stone pediment, a conqueror, leader and visionary.

After a refreshing morning tea at the Angleterre Hotel, we visit A. Montferrand’s huge St Isaacs Cathedral (1858). This is one of the finest architectural monuments of the 19th century and was formerly the principal cathedral of the Russian capital. It is a vast, centrally-planned Neo-Classical structure, topped by a huge gold dome and able to accommodate about ten thousand worshippers. The interior of the dome is particularly spectacular. The cathedral’s huge size can be gauged from some statistics. It has 112 solid granite columns weighing up to 114 tons each, and about 400 reliefs and bronze sculptures.

The Peter-Paul Fortress on Zayachy Island was inaugurated by Peter the Great in 1703 and completed in 1723. It comprises fortifications made up of curtain walls between projecting bastions. Within these fortifications was built the Cathedral of SS Peter and Paul (1712-32). There are also the Grand-Ducal Mausoleum; the Peter Gate; a triumphal arch built by Domenico Trezzini (1717-1718); the Engineers’ Building (now the Museum of St Petersburg Architecture); the Commandant’s House (now the Museum of the History of St Petersburg); the Mint (1798-1806); and the Trubetskoy Bastion, now housing a museum that reconstructs the conditions under which political prisoners were incarcerated. The Cathedral has little in common with centrally-planned Russian churches. Surmounted by a tall spire possibly modelled upon that of Copenhagen’s Exchange, it has an orientated plan with a nave and chancel like a western European church. Within are to be found the Imperial tombs (including that of Peter the Great), a Baroque iconostasis, pulpit and the tsar’s throne. The Grand-Ducal Mausoleum adjacent, houses a museum of the island.

The afternoon ends with a cruise on the Neva and along a number of St Petersburg’s canals. This cruise will give you a vivid understanding of the way in which the city was constructed on delta marshes, leaving a set of rings of canals along which the aristocracy built its palaces. The canals give probably the best viewpoint for the lovely coloured Baroque and Neo-Classical façades of these palaces, whose visual and spatial relation to the water-ways upon which they are located was inspired by Amsterdam’s canal-side houses. (Overnight St Petersburg) BL

Day 13: Friday 12 July, St Petersburg
  • Tikhvin Cemetery
  • Church on the Spilled Blood/Saviour on the Blood (of the Resurrection)
  • Russian Museum
  • Evening performance of Verdi’s Don Carlo at the Mariinsky theatre

This morning we drive to the Tikhvin Cemetery at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, founded by Peter the Great on the mistaken belief that Alexander of Novgorod had defeated the Swedes in this location in 1240. Here many of Russia’s most famous artists, writers and musicians are buried: these include Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, Borodin and Glinka.

We return to the centre of the city to visit the extraordinary Slavic revival Church of the Resurrection (1883-1907), built on the site of the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. This highly coloured revival of traditional Russian ecclesiastical architecture stands in stark contrast to the Neo-Classicism of the period of Catherine the Great. Within, the walls are covered with brilliant mosaics.

After time at leisure for lunch we shall visit the Russian Museum, housed in the magnificent Mikhailovsky Palace, which is one of the country’s two greatest museums of Russian art. Founded by Nicholas II in 1895, the museum has sections devoted to Russian icons and 18th-, 19th- and 20th-century history, landscape, portrait and modernist painting. Its great history paintings give fascinating insights into how Russians rediscovered their own history after a century of focus upon Western Europe. The museum also has some fine early modernist works, especially of Kandinsky.

This evening we attend a performance of Giuseppe Verdi’s Don Carlo at the historic Mikhailovsky Theatre. Founded in 1833 this is one of Russia’s oldest opera and ballet theatres. (Overnight St Petersburg) B

Day 14: Saturday 13 July, St Petersburg – Tsarskoye Selo – Pavlovsk – St Petersburg
  • Catherine Palace at Tsarskoye Selo (Pushkin)
  • Neo-Classical Great Palace at Pavlovsk

We depart St Petersburg to visit two grand summer palaces outside St Petersburg – the Catherine Palace by the architect Rastrelli at Tsarskoye Selo, and the Neo-Classical Great Palace at Pavlovsk. Pushkin was originally called Tsarskoye Selo (Royal Village) when Catherine, wife of Peter the Great, to whom the site was given, was elevated to the position of tsaritsa. The present Baroque Catherine Palace and its magnificent park were built for Empress Elizabeth (1741-1761) and Catherine II (1762-1796). Bartolomeo Francesco Rastrelli, Russia’s greatest 18th-century architect, designed the sections constructed between 1752 and 1756; the interior was much altered by the Scottish architect, Charles Cameron. We shall tour the magnificent complex before taking time at leisure to wander through the extensive park, with its Great Pond, Chinese Theatre, Chinese Pavilion, Chinese Village, Turkish Bath, and other wonderful examples of 18th century park monuments.

In the afternoon we shall visit the Grand Palace at Pavlovsk, built by Charles Cameron between 1782 and 1786 for Catherine the Great, who presented it to her son Grand Duke Paul (Pavel, hence Pavlovsk, ‘Pavel’s place’). Cameron designed the palace in the classical style, and also laid out its extensive park, a splendid example of 18th and 19th century landscape architecture, which we shall stroll through after visiting the palace. (Overnight St Petersburg) BL

Day 15: Sunday 14 July, St Petersburg
  • Fabergé Museum
  • Yusupov Palace
  • Farewell Evening Meal at the Russian Vodka Room Restaurant

This morning we visit the Fabergé Museum, a private collection of masterpieces by jeweller Carl Fabergé and his studio. Housed in the beautifully restored Shuvalov Palace, the well-presented displays include the famous Easter eggs, enamel work and luxurious pieces of jewellery.

We then drive we drive to the Yusupov Palace that occupies a quiet stretch of the Moika River. The palace has some of the finest, most sumptuous interiors of the city. It was once the residence of the wealthy and respected Yusupov family and saw one of the most dramatic episodes in Russia’s history, the murder of Grigory Rasputin. In 1916 a group of the city’s aristocratic élite that included one of the Grand Dukes and led by the prominent anglophile Prince Felix Yusupov conspired to kill the one man who they felt threatened the stability of an already war-torn Russian Empire. Grigory Rasputin, a peasant and self-proclaimed holy man, had gradually won favour with the Tsar’s family through his alleged supernatural powers. His control over the decisions of the family and over the Russian ruler allowed him potentially to manipulate the Tsar and to threaten the aristocracy’s power.

The rest of the afternoon is at leisure. Your may choose to return to the Hermitage to explore further this magnificent palace and art collection. Alternatively you may choose to take the time to stroll along the Nevsky Prospekt, enjoying the commercial bustle of this reinvigorated city. In the evening we meet up for a farewell dinner at the Russian Vodka Room restaurant. (Overnight St Petersburg) BD

Day 16: Monday 15 July, Depart St Petersburg
  • Airport transfer for participants departing on the ASA ‘designated’ flight

Our tour ends in St Petersburg. Passengers travelling on the ASA  ‘designated’ flight will transfer to the airport for the return flight to Australia. Alternatively you may wish to extend your stay in Russia. Please contact ASA if you require further assistance. B


16-Day Cultural tour of Russia

ASA has selected 3 – 5-star hotels that are located in historical centres. All hotels provide rooms with private facilities.

  • Moscow (7 nights): 5-star Hotel Peter the First – located in the heart of the city, a short walk from the Kremlin, Red Square, Bolshoi Theatre and St Basil’s Cathedral.
  • Overnight Train: Moscow to Novgorod – Sleeper compartments for 2 people have side-by-side lower berths and are quite comfortable. The bed is made up and and bathrooms (with toilet and wash basin) are located at either end of the carriage.
  • Novgorod (1 night): 3-star Volhov Hotel – a basic Soviet era hotel with an excellent location not far from the Novgorod Kremlin.
  • St Petersburg (6 nights): 4-star Ambassador Hotel – centrally located close to museums, theatres, restaurants and shops.

Note: Hotels are subject to change, in which case a hotel of similar standard will be provided.

Single Supplement

Payment of this supplement will ensure accommodation in a single occupancy room throughout the tour. The number of rooms available for single occupancy is extremely limited. People wishing to take this supplement are therefore advised to book well in advance.

How to book


Please complete the ASA RESERVATION APPLICATION and send it to Australians Studying Abroad together with your non-refundable deposit of AUD $500.00 per person payable to Australians Studying Abroad.

Passport Details

All participants must provide no later than 75 days prior to the commencement of the program a photocopy of the front page of their current passport.

Single Supplement

Payment of this supplement will ensure accommodation in a double (or twin) room for single occupancy throughout the tour. The number of rooms available for single occupancy is extremely limited. People wishing to take this supplement are therefore advised to book well in advance.

Gallery Tour Map
Physical Endurance & Practical Information
Physical Rating

The number of flags is a guide to the degree of difficulty of ASA tours relative to each other (not to those of other tour companies). It is neither absolute nor literal. One flag is given to the least taxing tours, six to the most. Flags are allocated, above all, according to the amount of walking and standing each tour involves. Nevertheless all ASA tours require that participants have a good degree of fitness enabling 2-3 hours walking or 1-1.5 hours standing still on any given site visit or excursion. Many sites are accessed by climbing slopes or steps and have uneven terrain.

This 16-day cultural tour of Russia involves:
  • Extensive walking and use of the metro in Moscow
  • Long periods of standing, walking and stair-climbing in very large museums and palaces which do not have elevators (eg Hermitage). There is limited seating opportunities in museums and art galleries
  • A 5 and half hour sustained visit to Moscow Kremlin
  • This tour includes the use of audio headsets which amplify the voice of your guide (despite noisy surroundings). This technology also allows you to move freely during site visits without missing any information.
Other considerations:
  • 3 – 5-star hotels with two hotel changes
  • You must be able to carry your own hand-luggage. Porterage includes 1 piece of luggage per person
  • One overnight train between Moscow and Novgorod where you must carry your hand luggage up and down stairs and lift it on/off the train
  • Some late lunches (after 2pm)
  • Moderate intercity coach travel
  • River & canal cruises in Moscow & St Petersburg

It is important to remember that ASA programs are group tours, and slow walkers affect everyone in the group. As the group must move at the speed of the slowest member, the amount of time spent at a site may be reduced if group members cannot maintain a moderate walking pace. ASA tours should not present any problem for active people who can manage day-to-day walking and stair-climbing. However, if you have any doubts about your ability to manage on a program, please ask your ASA travel consultant whether this is a suitable tour for you.

Please note: it is a condition of travel that all participants agree to accept ASA’s directions in relation to their suitability to participate in activities undertaken on the tour, and that ASA retains the sole discretion to direct a tour participant to refrain from a particular activity on part of the tour. For further information please refer to the ASA Reservation Application Form.

Practical Information

Prior to departure, tour members will receive practical notes which include information on visa requirements, health, photography, weather, clothing and what to pack, custom regulations, bank hours, currency regulations, electrical appliances and food. The Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade website has advice for travellers see:


On the overnight train from Moscow to Novgorod, there is very limited space for storing a suitcase in the train compartment (under the berth), and there is not enough space to open a suitcase within the confines of the compartment. Therefore, for this overnight journey group members should take an overnight case with them for use on the train. Please do not bring any more luggage than you can comfortably carry on your own. We strongly advise that all luggage should be suitable for being wheeled independently.


Australian passport holders require a visa to visit Russia. The process of applying for a Russian tourist visa is complex as it requires documentation from each hotel for each group member. When applying for a visa, travellers must have proof of valid travel insurance including cover for emergency medical evacuation. An ASA travel consultant will we happy to assist you with your visa application.

Tour Price & Inclusions

AUD $9590.00 Early-Bird Special: Book before 30 September 2018

AUD $9790.00 Land Content Only

AUD $2360.00 Single Supplement (includes twin-share cabin during overnight train to Novgorod)

For competitive Economy, Business or First Class airfares and/or group airfares please contact ASA for further information.

Tour Price (Land Content Only) includes:
  • Accommodation in 3 – 5-star twin-share rooms with private facilities
  • Overnight rail travel from Moscow-Novgorod (2-berth compartments)
  • Meals indicated in the itinerary where: B=breakfast, L=lunch & D=evening meal
  • Drinks at welcome and farewell meals. Other meals may not have drinks included.
  • Transportation by air-conditioned motorcoach
  • Moskva River Cruise (Day 4); Hydrofoil Peterhof – St Petersburg (Day 10); Canal & River Cruise St Petersburg (Day 11)
  • Airport-hotel transfers if travelling on ASA’s ‘designated’ flights
  • Porterage of one piece of luggage per person at hotels (not at airports or train stations)
  • Lecture & site-visit program conducted by local guides & ASA’s tour leader
  • Tour handbook
  • Tickets to 2 performances (usually 1 in Moscow, 1 in St Petersburg)
  • Entrance fees
  • Use of audio headsets during site visits
  • Tips for the coach driver, local guides and restaurants for included meals.
Tour Price (Land Content Only) does not include:
  • Airfare: Australia-Moscow, St Petersburg-Australia
  • Personal spending money
  • Airport-hotel transfers if not travelling on the ASA ‘designated’ flights
  • Luggage in excess of 20 kg (44 lbs)
  • Travel insurance
  • Russian visa.
Terms & Conditions

A deposit of $500.00 AUD per person is required to reserve a place on an ASA tour.

Cancellation Fees

If you decide to cancel your booking the following charges apply:

  • More than 75 days before departure: $500.00**
  • 75-46 days prior 25% of total amount due
  • 45-31 days prior 50% of total amount due
  • 30-15 days prior 75% of total amount due
  • 14-0 days prior 100% of total amount due

**This amount may be credited to another ASA tour departing within 12 months of the original tour you booked. We regret, in this case early-bird discounts will not apply. We take the day on which you cancel as being that on which we recieve written confirmation of cancellation.

Unused Portions of the Tour

We regret that refunds will not be given for any unused portions of the tour, such as meals, entry fees, accommodation, flights or transfers.

Will the Tour Price or Itinerary Change?

If the number of participants on a tour is significantly less than budgeted, or if there is a significant change in exchange rates ASA reserves the right to amend the advertised price. We shall, however, do all in our power to maintain the published price. If an ASA tour is forced to cancel you will get a full refund of all tour monies paid. Occasionally circumstances beyond the control of ASA make it necessary to change airline, hotel or to make amendments to daily itineraries. We will inform you of any changes in due course.

Travel Insurance

ASA requires all participants to obtain comprehensive travel insurance. A copy of your travel insurance certificate and the reverse charge emergency contact phone number must be received by ASA no later than 75 days prior to the commencement of the tour.

Final Payment

The balance of the tour price will be due 75 days prior to the tour commencement date.

Limitation of Liability

ASA is not a carrier, event or tourist attraction host, accommodation or dining service provider. All bookings made and tickets or coupons issued by ASA for transport, event, accommodation, dining and the like are issued as an agent for various service providers and are subject to the terms and conditions and limitations of liability imposed by each service provider. ASA is not responsible for their products or services. If a service provider does not deliver the product or service for which you have contracted, your remedy lies with the service provider, not ASA.

ASA will not be liable for any claim (eg. sickness, injury, death, damage or loss) arising from any change, delay, detention, breakdown, cancellation, failure, accident, act, omission or negligence of any such service provider however caused (contingencies). You must take out adequate travel insurance against such contingencies.

ASA’s liability in respect of any tour will be limited to the refund of amounts received from you less all non-refundable costs and charges and the costs of any substituted event or alternate services provided. The terms and conditions of the relevant service provider from time to time comprise the sole agreement between you and that service provider.

ASA reserves the sole discretion to canel any tour or to modify itineraries in any way it considers appropriate. Tour costs may be revised, subject to unexpected price increases or exchange rate fluctuations.

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