Horse-drawn carriages outside Kremlin

Suzdal / Суздаль

Published: November 22, 2014

On a mid-October weekend trip, my MSU dormitory roommate, Ellie and I visited the famous Golden Ring (Золотое кольцо) city of Suzdal. Suzdal is located on the edge of the Kamenka River (река Каменка) in the Vladimir Region (Владимирская область) approximately 25 kilometers (about 15.5 miles) north of Vladimir and 200 kilometers (about 124 miles) northeast of Moscow. One of Russia’s oldest cities, it was first settled in the 9th century, and in the 11th century the settlement became a fortress. Another settlement formed around this fortress, to which flocked shopkeepers, craftsmen and monasteries during the 13th and 14th centuries. As mentioned in my post on Vladimir, the “White Monuments,” which is the name given to a series of public and religious buildings in both Vladimir and Suzdal, were established as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Suzdal has been mostly untouched by industrialization, in large part because the Trans-Siberian Railway was chosen to pass through nearby Vladimir instead. The many one-floor homes and city buildings have maintained the intricate, exterior woodwork classic of old Russian architecture. The roads still lay in much of the same patterns as they did during Suzdal’s earlier history.

There are many sites to see in Suzdal and, though it is an extremely small city compared to Moscow, it is not possible to thoroughly tour all of them in one day. One can see the Golden Doors (Золотые двери), which date to the 13th century, the Kremlin (Кремль), the very central Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral (Рождественский собор), built in the 13th century and restored in the 16th century, as well as the Archbishop’s Chambers (Архиерейские палаты). Also in the city center are the Trading Arcades (Торговые ряды) and a few churches from the 18th century. Suzdal is also home to the Savior Monastery of St. Euthymius (Спасо-Евфимиев монастырь), which was founded in 1352 and holds, among a series of churches, a monastery prison (Монастырская тюрьма) which was built in 1764. The prison now holds an extremely interesting exhibit that portrays the institution’s history from its initial use as a place to intern religious dissidents to its use as a prison for enemies of the state during the early Soviet period. While in Suzdal one can also view the Intercession Convent (Покровский монастырь), founded in 1364 and inside which stands the Intercession Cathedral (Покровский собор). Also worth visiting is the Museum of Wooden Architecture & Peasant Life (Музей деревянного зодчества и крестьянского быта). As Ellie and I only had one day to tour the city we did reach every historical site.

Suzdal Landscape Including Intercession Cathedral
Suzdal Landscape Including Intercession Cathedral

Today, tourism donates much to the Suzdal economy. This fact is extremely visible as one walks through the city center, wherein life seems to revolve around the city’s historical monuments. Women selling lollipops and medovukha (медовуха), an old Russian alcoholic drink which is similar to mead and is made from honey, line the streets and walkways to the various monuments which seem to dominate the city center.  As one approaches the Kremlin the street becomes lined with old-fashioned horse-drawn carriages. Furthermore, street signs point to the direction in which each monument is located.

In order to save time figuring out how to see everything, one should either be prepared to walk far distances from the city center or to take cabs, since the official tourist office is located five kilometers from the city center, and the Intercession Convent is quite far away as well. It is probably best to visit this small city in late spring or summer, since walking is the main way of getting from one end of the city to the other. There is, however, public transportation within Suzdal; this is comprised of one bus that runs from 6:00-19:00, leaves every 45 minutes from the Suzdal bus station, and drives throughout the town. We unfortunately did not take advantage of this local bus when traveling to our destinations. Temperatures were particularly cold when Ellie and I made our trip, which made it quite difficult at times to stand outside and appreciate the provincial beauty of the city and its surrounding areas.

Suzdal has more hotel options than Vladimir does, perhaps because it is the more picturesque of the two cities. However, Suzdal is much smaller than Vladimir, and, apart from strictly visiting historic monuments, there did not seem to be nearly as much to do or places in which to dine as there seemed to be in Vladimir. So again, I would recommend staying in Vladimir.

Kremlin (Кремль)
Kremlin (Кремль)

To get from Vladimir to Suzdal, one can take a bus from the bus station in Vladimir. These run every half hour, and take approximately thirty minutes. One should make sure to exit the bus at a stop in the center of town before the last stop, which is the Suzdal bus station. It takes between 5 and 10 minutes to drive from central Suzdal to its bus station, so the walk to the center after exiting the bus would be quite long. (It may be difficult to find a cab for transport from the bus station to the center.) If one wishes to visit only Suzdal and make it a single-day trip, the best way to go from Moscow is by car; it is about a 3-hour journey each way.

Trip to Suzdal
Weekend Trip from Moscow
Best as part of a trip to Vladimir

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About the author

Julia Diamond

Julia Diamond graduated from Boston University in May, 2014 with a Major in International Relations and a Minor in Russian. She is currently interning at PIR Center in Moscow and studying Russian Language with SRAS at MGU. She hopes to eventually obtain a dual JD/MA degree focusing on international law and security studies, and eventually helping to form international nonproliferation/arms control policy. She is seen here on a balcony of the Roman Coliseum.

Program attended: Challenge Grants: Funding for Study Abroad

View all posts by: Julia Diamond