The Golden Ring, a group of historic cities northeast of Moscow, is known for kremlins, monasteries and churches preserved from the 12th–18th centuries. There are eight principal cities (plus several more that have come, especially as tourism in Russia has grown, to market themselves as part of the Ring). Thus, it’s impossible to see it all in a weekend – but fellow SRAS student Kim and I sure did try!
For maximum efficiency, we took an overnight train from Moscow to Kostroma, a BlaBlaCar from Kostroma to Yaroslavl and a bus onwards to Rostov. Time spent out of Moscow totaled about 44 hours.
A map of the major Golden Ring cities and some of the major roads that connect them.We arrived in Kostroma at 6:52am on a Saturday. Founded in the middle of the 12th century by Yury Dolgoruky, Kostroma was sacked by the Mongol army, captured twice by the Polish and the place where the Moscow delegation offered Mikhail Romanov the Russian crown – ending the “Time of Troubles.”
Before accepting the crown, Mikhail Romanov lived in Kostroma’s Ipatievsky Monastery. Although most of the buildings date from the 16th and 17th centuries, the monastery itself was founded in 1330 and disbanded after the October Revolution in 1917. Inside, you can find the Museum of Wooden Architecture, the Bogoroditsky Cathedral and the Spaso-Preobrazhenskaya Church (which was constructed without a single nail!). One of the museums features a film from the early 20th century showing Tsar Nicholas II and his family at the monastery shortly before the 1917 Revolution. Entry costs 50 rubles, and women are expected to wear a monastery-provided overskirt in addition to covering their heads.
The monastery is situated on the banks of the Kostroma River, which freezes and is suitable for ice fishing during winter. Although we went in the beginning of April, and I wouldn’t call the river strictly “frozen,” we found fifty or so fishermen on the river. Seeing that plenty of folks had walked on the ice before us, we decided to follow suit and see if we could cross all the way to the opposite side. Five steps in, the ice began to crack. Three steps later and my feet were submerged. We opted for the land bridge!
Before heading to our next destination, we took a stroll around the city center to see the Church of the Savior in the Ranks, a green-domed building steps away from the central rynok (marketplace), the Fire Watchtower and a gigantic statue of Lenin. If you’re really looking for a unique experience, don’t forget to check out the Kostroma Moose Farm, where the Soviets tried to domesticize the moose before World War II.
Less than two hours and 150 rubles later, we found ourselves in the heart of Yaroslavl – a UNESCO World Heritage city located at the confluence of the Volga and Kotorosl Rivers. Founded in 1010 as an outpost of Rostov Veliky, Yaroslavl was incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1463. The founder of Yaroslavl (Yaroslav the Wise, of Kyiv) and its coat of arms (a bear holding an axe) are depicted on the front of the 1000 ruble note, while the city’s St. John the Baptist Church is on the back.
Founded in the 12th century, the Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Savior is often mistaken for kremlin as it’s one of the best-fortified monasteries around. Entrance to the grounds (40 rubles with student ID) does NOT include entrance to the churches, museums and exhibitions. We didn’t realize this and only bought entrance to the grounds. Although we enjoyed walking around, our experience would have been fuller with entry to some of the buildings.
After lunch and a stroll through the city center, we took the bus to Rostov Veliky and checked into a room at the Trinity-Sergiev Varnitsky Monastery we found using Booking.com. We went to bed early and exhausted after a long day of travel.
We spent the next day exploring Rostov Veliky. First mentioned in the year 862, this town is one of the oldest in Russia. The Rostov Kremlin is considered one of the most impressive (outside of Moscow) and is featured in the classic Soviet movie Ivan Vasilievich Changes Professions. Although Rostov was the smallest of the towns we visited, it ended up being our favorite for the intimate and authentic feeling. After exploring the kremlin and walking along the nearby Lake Nero, we hopped on a bus and found ourselves in Moscow’s VDNKh in time for sunset.
It’s easy to forget about the world outside of Moscow while you’re living inside the ring road, and it’s incredible how much the socio-economic landscape changes within just a few hours. Some of the people we encountered along the way (particularly the fishermen) had never spoken to Americans before, and their enthusiasm to interact with us really made the trip worthwhile. If you’re looking for a taste of true Russian life but can’t stray too far from Moscow, the Golden Ring is a wonderful opportunity to wrap your mind around Russia’s size and history.
Moscow – Kostroma: $14
Kostroma – Yaroslavl: $3
Yaroslavl – Rostov: $5
Rostov – Moscow: $10
- In-city taxi/busses: $7
- Lodging: $10 each
- Food: $10
- Entertainment: $10
Be aware that Yandex Taxi, Uber and Gett do NOT work in any of these cities at time of writing, but local taxis are incredibly affordable. Ask a local for the number if you find yourself in a bind. (The number will be different in every city)
Bus schedules may be found at: rasp.yandex.ru
And train schedules may be found at: pass.rzd.ru