Skip to Content

Russian River Cruise from St Petersburg To Moscow.

Disclaimer: Our articles may contain affiliate links. See end of article for more details.

Russian River Cruise, St Petersburg to Moscow on Viking Cruises Waterways of the Tsars Cruise

Have you ever dreamed of strolling through Moscow’s Red Square or seeing the ballet in St Petersburg – A city where opulent palaces offer a glimpse into one of the world’s most intriguing royal dynasties.

Russia’s two great cities still invoke the old school romance of travel – a journey into the enigmatic and exotic. However, in a country as immense as it is fascinating, there is so much to see beyond the metropolis of Russia’s great cities.

Take a Russian river cruise from Moscow to St Petersberg to see sights like Moscow's famous Red Square. We enjoyed our Viking River Cruise.
State Historical Museum in Moscow. Located in Red Square.

Sailing the rivers and lakes of Russia from St Petersburg to Moscow takes you into Russia’s heartland. It is deep in the country where you find the Golden Ring cities, charming towns and iconic, sometimes forgotten monuments that helped define Russia’s history.

A Russian river cruise opens up possibilities to visit parts of Russia that may otherwise be logistically difficult. It also offers a very efficient and cost-effective way to see the best of this vast country.

Viking river boat with temple on an island in the background.  River cruises in Russia are popular and a viking river cruise from St Petersburg to Moscow is the best way to see Russia
A Russia Viking River Cruise was for us the best way to see Russia without any hassles.

Visiting Russia

Unfortunately, Russia is a country too often sidestepped by many travellers.

It has been more than two decades since Russia emerged from behind the Iron Curtain and began welcoming tourists with semi-open arms and a cold stony smile.

However, Russia still carries the stigma of being a difficult country to travel to and in. Thanks mostly to a reputation of complicated, bureaucratic visa processes and rumoured corruption.

multi coloured parapets of russian church.  If you want to see some unique things in Russia then a viking river cruise through russia will leave you plenty of time for self exploration.
The onion domes of St Basil’s Cathedral are a unique sight to see in Moscow’s Red Square.

Russian Visa Requirements

If you are travelling through Russia on a river cruise, most foreign nationals must have a tourist visa.  The Russian visa process can take up to a month or two. It is important to check your visa requirement and make sure you get it submitted well in advance of your intended travel date.

The gradual introduction of the new e-visa is making the process simpler but is restricted for visits of only eight days and specific entry points. Based on this, the e-visa is not suitable for a river cruise in Russia. 

Applying online for your Tourist Invitation Letter is quick and simple, allowing you to proceed with your application. You can read more about planning your trip to Russia here

people walking under yellow archway in Moscow.  Getting around Russia is easy on a river cruise in Russia but you will need a russian visa.  We can also show you how to get a tourist visa for russia
If you are looking to visit Russia keep an eye out for the new Russian e-visa being introduced across the country.

Travel in Russia

As independent travellers, our biggest dilemma with Russia is logistics. Russia covers two continents and nine time zones, and the highlights and must-sees are spread far and wide, with nothing in between.

When you don’t have unlimited time or an unlimited budget, the distances can pose some issues. Transport through Russia can be expensive and less than comfortable, and car hire could be a costly alternative.

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance

The most important travel purchase you should make is travel insurance.

Get a Free Quote From World Nomads Travel Insurance.

 
Golden room with light spilling through the archways and people looking at the painted ceilings and golden walls.  you will see these things in Russia if you go on a viking river cruise and cruise St Petersburg to Moscow
A tour of Catherine’s Palace is a not to miss thing to do in St Petersburg.

Is a River Cruise The Best Way To See Russia?

We would say yes, a river cruise is a fantastic way to see Russia. For most, Russia is a once in a lifetime adventure, so, it boils down to how much of Russia do you want to see.

A river cruise makes sense for most travellers to Russia and most travel budgets. A cruise enables visitors to experience more of Russia than perhaps they would on their own.

yellow building with black parapet above the archway.  a unique thing to see in russia on your river cruise.
We found the best thing about a Russian river cruise is you get to see places like Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery which would be difficult to get to any other way.

What to Take on A Russian River Cruise

Viking River Cruise in Russia

Much like some of the unreliable, uncomfortable transport methods available in Russia, some of the Russian cruise lines are shall we say, still a little Soviet.

Viking Cruises, on the other hand, offers a product in Russia to the same high, 5- star standard as their river cruises throughout Europe. A full-service luxury river cruise from the moment you make your booking to the time you disembark.

And much like Viking’s European itineraries, the Viking Russian Cruise itineraries are destination focused with high quality shore excursions and enrichment experiences. 

3 viking river cruise boats docked.  a viking river cruise is the best way to see europe and russia
The best thing about a river cruise is you only unpack and pack once.

Want to know the best time to travel to Europe?

Viking’s All-Inclusive Cruise Packages

The big appeal of cruising for some is the all-inclusive aspect, so they know what to expect. With Viking Cruises, you can expect so much more than just an all-inclusive cruise package of meals and drinks.

In addition to optional excursions, there are also lots of free shore excursions throughout the cruise. 

Thinking About a Danube River Cruise?

Travel from Passau to Budapest on a luxury Danube river cruise.

Fly Cruise Packages

You can book your Russian river cruise inclusive of flights from your home port, wherever in the world that may be. An attractive option for those wishing to take the guesswork out of arranging flights, knowing you have access to Vikings Cruises discounted fares and upgrades.

Fly cruise packages include all taxes and airport transfers in Russia. Helpful for those who don’t like to navigate the taxi hustle on arrival in a new country. (Speaking from first-hand experience, Russia certainly has some good taxi scams running from the airport).

Information to assist you with the visa process is also included, the most daunting prospect of visiting Russia for many.

red and blue church set on emerald green grass on the banks of a river during a cruise from st petersburg to moscow.
Interesting and unique things you will see on a Russian river cruise. This vibrant church in Tutayev.

Shore Excursions and Tours in Russia

During the river cruise, a high quality tour itinerary of shore excursions and tours are included to ensure you experience the best things to do in Russia.

There are also some delightful surprises, such as an evening at the ballet in St Petersburg. The tour schedule is designed with the arts and culture in mind, not just the big tourist hot spots.

Additional or Optional Tours can also be purchased at each destination such as our traditional Russian Banya experience in Mandrogy or the vodka tasting on board.

dinner setting russian style with vodka glasses and plates of russian food. fine dining is one of the many great things about a viking river cruise.
The best river cruise food can be found on a Viking River Cruise. Plus we ate plenty of regional dishes on Viking Cruises Waterways of the Tsars Cruise, St Petersburg to Moscow.

You also have access to some very appealing Exclusive Access tours such as a behind the scenes look at the Hermitage in St Petersburg.  All tours include transfers where required, entry fees and extremely knowledgeable, tourism professionals as your guides.

a russian river cruise shore excursion with people walking up the T shaped staircase on the red carpet.  river cruising is the best way to see russia.
A behind the scenes tour of the Hermitage is the best way to beat the crowds.

On Board Lectures, Demonstrations and Activities.

In addition to activities during cruising times, such as cooking demonstrations and traditional Russian tea’s, the guides also offer daily lectures on Russian history and politics.

The lectures are one of the highlights of the trip. Engaging and well-researched lectures, delivered from a Russian perspective, provides an entirely different and refreshing perspective on Russian culture and politics.

chef showing viking river cruisers how to make a typical russian dish on their cruise st petersburg to moscow
Impress your friends when you get home with some authentic Russian dishes.

Russian Cuisine on Board

Viking River Cruises always excel when it comes to onboard dining. Interchangeable a la carte menus are available at all meal times showcasing Russian cuisine and produce.

The less adventurous are well catered for with an excellent “always available” a la carte menu. Portions are sensible to allow for all courses to be tried and savoured. Unlike the glutenous portions or “all you can eat” buffet’s some cruise ships favour. 

Viking River Cruises Fine Dining

Drinks are complimentary with all meals, including a tipple of champagne at breakfast if you are so inclined.

A Silver Drinks Package can be purchased, which gives you unlimited drinks from the bar for the entire cruise as well as a vast selection of wines.

See Europe's Best Christmas Markets

The Convenience and Comfort of River Cruises

There is a lot to be said for having your floating hotel accompany you on your journey through Russia. Unlike some ocean cruises where the focus can be on shipboard life at the expense of the destinations, on this Russian river cruise, the destinations are the focus.  

You get the complete package of the best things to see in Russia without having to navigate multiple modes of transport or having to unpack, pack and move accommodation all the time.

viking river cruise boat deck with tables and chairs.  luxury cruising through russia on a viking river cruise st petersburg to moscow

Once you are on board, whether it be in the big cities or the remote countryside, you only need to check-in and out once. You do feel like you have your hotel on the road with you – A fantastic boutique hotel.

And it is not only the tour guides who are tourism professionals. You also have at your disposal a 5-star hotel team — professional food and beverage staff, well versed in the art of fine dining and world-class chefs.

set dining tables on a viking river cruise where you will get the finest russian food on your river cruise in russia
Dining on a Viking River Cruise means great food and the choice of intimate or group dining.

Staterooms

The staterooms are spacious and extremely comfortable. Private balconies, quality furnishings, and enough high tech amenities such as Satellite TV and WIFI to keep you entertained are standard throughout the ship.

There are also plenty of comfortable public spaces, both indoors and out with panoramic views to relax and take in the vista while you are cruising.

stateroom with double bed and balcony on a viking river cruise
Viking river cruises have spacious and luxurious staterooms.

Cruise St Petersburg to Moscow

For us, opting to travel through Russia on a river cruise was primarily motivated by the itinerary. Most people would be happy to visit Moscow or St Petersburg. But why make an effort to visit this intriguing country and miss all the beautiful and exciting things to see outside of the main cities despite the vast geographic distances.

abonded church with green roof sinking into the ground. unique things to see on your russia holiday
The fortress at Shlisselburg, Russia. First built in 1323 and the scene of many conflicts between Russia and Sweden.

The Cruise Itinerary

The river cruise itinerary is what sold us on this mode of travel. The itinerary enabled us to spend ample time in St Petersburg and Moscow; then with our floating hotel in tow, we took to the river.

It is here where we saw the other Russia. Stunning countryside, small villages, abandoned churches and majestic cathedrals dotted along the river banks. A view of Russia that speaks volumes about the country’s history and culture.

Looking for unique things to see on your Russia river cruise?

As we slipped down the river, we had the White Nights in our favour so could take advantage of the long days and very short nights of summer. Enjoying the sights of the Russian countryside en route to our next destination. Each day a different destination with a cruising schedule set to maximise time spent ashore.

Not a nail was used in the building of The Church of the Transfiguration, pogost of Kizhi.

Waterways of the Tsars Schedule

Seven different destinations are visited in the 13 days onboard. This includes three full days in both Moscow and St Petersburg. We would not have achieved this on our own in the two weeks we had.

Viking Cruises Waterways Of The Tsars itinerary
St Petersburg to Moscow cruise map courtesy of Viking Cruises

Viking Cruises Waterway of the Tsars St Petersburg to Moscow Itinerary

Commencing either in St Petersburg or Moscow, the itinerary allows for three days in each city. You can read about the cruise itinerary and shore excursions in St Petersburg and Moscow here.

St Petersburg & Moscow

Russian River Cruise from St Petersburg To Moscow.

Discover Russia's great cities at either end of your Russian river cruise.

The Waterways of the Tsars

Between Moscow and St Petersburg, you can experience the beautiful Golden Ring cities and villages of Russia. These are the towns and cities that lie beyond Russia’s great cities on the Waterways of the Tsars. 

Fortress of Schlusselburg Russia which sits in the middle of a lake.  best things to do in russia is to cruise past these unique russian places to visit
The Fortress of Shlüsselburg. Lake Ladoga

Mandrogy Russia

Mandrogy, built in 1996 as an open-air museum, is a replica of  Verkhine Mandrogi, a Russian village destroyed during WWII. The enterprise was intended to give travellers cruising between St Petersburg and Kizhi a feel for traditional Russian life. 

Unfortunately, we found Mandrogy to be very much that – a fabricated tourist attraction including costumed craftsmen and women with innumerable craft stalls and workshops selling the same trinkets. 

Mandrogy Russia

Paint your Own Russian Matryoshka Doll

The central premise for this village appears to be shopping and, of course, the famed Russian Matryoshka Dolls. You can partake in a workshop to learn how to paint your own nesting dolls or, watch any number of the local artists paint dolls in their style. These, of course, are available for purchase. 

While Mandrogy was not our cup of tea, there was a silver lining to this little settlement – the traditional Russian Banya.

Mandrogy Russia

Experience a Russian Banya

The banya is one of those quintessentially Russian experiences.  One of the oldest Russian traditions dating back centuries. A tradition that has not lost its appeal and is still popular today.

Essentially the banya is a steam room or sauna where water is poured over hot rocks to create steam with temperatures often exceeding 93ºC. However, the banya comes with a little more ceremony than your average steam room or sauna.

Specific brooms are used in the banya called veniks. These are usually bunches of birch or oak branches which are dipped into cold water in the sweltering steam room. They are then smacked briskly over the body.

Typically,  there will be a person responsible for this task – a banschik. As the banya is considered a very social activity, a banschik is often not required as friends will usually smack each other with the veniks.

branches tied together and hanging on a rail waiting to be used to whip the hell out of you in a russian banya. viking river cruises will stop here and allow you to be beaten to a sweating pulp by local russian folk
Being beaten with a hot venik is a unique experience to have in Russia.

Thankfully our experience included a banschik as we would not have known the sequence of events nor the protocols for polite smacking! So, how does one banya?

  • Enter the banya and wait for temperatures to become almost unbearably hot.
  • Relax while the banschick completes a ceremonial beating of everyone’s bodies with the veniks. It includes intense rustling of the branches either side of your head, which is repeated several times.
  • Leave the banya and allow the banschick to pour freezing cold water over you.
  • Adjourn to the adjacent room for tea and jam.
  • Repeat steps 1 & 2.
  • Leave the banya house and run to the river to plunge into the icy waters.
  • Repeat steps 1 & 2.
  • Repeat step 6.
Traditional Russian Banya Mandrogy with man serving tea to two viking guests after being in the banya.  this really is a unique thing to do in russia
And a nice cup of tea after your beating in the sauna.

You get the gist! Used as a method of bathing in Russia for centuries, the banya is said to have a myriad of health benefits. There are many communal or public banyas in the cities and towns, and some people still have private banyas in their homes.

The banya is one Russian experience we highly recommend, providing you have the constitution to withstand the intensity of it.

Traditional Russian Banya Mandrogy with men and women running down a pier to jump into the icy waters.
Viking provides the complete Banya experience!

Kizhi

Near the centre of the Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe, you will find the wild and isolated island of Kizhi. Kizhi is a UNESCO World Heritage-listed open-air museum.

At only 6 km long and 1 km wide, this tiny island is one of Russia’s most visited. The settlements buildings date back to the 15th century, some of which were moved from various Karelian villages during Soviet times to help preserve them.  

wooden buildings on Kizhi Island Russia.  the best way to see russia is with a viking river cruise st petersburg to moscow.
The Church of the Transfiguration is the tallest wooden building in Northern Europe.

However, the islands most notable and recognisable attractions are the famous wooden onion-domed buildings- the twenty-two domed Transfiguration Church and the nine domed Intercession Church.

Locals will tell you; both churches were constructed without the use of a single nail. The unknown builder is also said to have destroyed his axe on completion of the Transfiguration Church. He is quoted as saying: “There was not and will not be another to match it”.

the two domed church on Kizhi Island Russia - viking's Waterways of the Tsars Cruise is the best way to see russia in a short period of time

Within the smaller Church of the intercession, you may hear the local clergy, a beautiful and moving baritone choir intone the ancient liturgy. The islands ancient settlement gives insight into the harsh realities of life in the Russian heartland. Places where entire settlements were isolated for much of the year throughout long winters. You can read more about visiting Kizhi Island here.

3 men singing in a church on Kizhi Island Russia. viking river cruises provide unique opportunities to live like a local for a short while whilst on their river cruise in russia

Kuzino

Along the Volga – Baltic waterway you will find the urban settlement of Kuzino approx. 600km north of Moscow.

In addition to some fascinating churches, some abandoned or in various states of repair that are worth exploring, the highlight of this region is the Kirillo – Belozersky Monastery. More like a fortress than a monastery, the magnificent complex sits on Severskoye Lake.

the Kirillo - Belozersky Monastery set against the river with 5 steeples around the outer perimeter.
To visit Russia on a self guided tour would be difficult, expensive and time consuming. Viking Russia River Cruises provide the ultimate experience at a reasonable cost.

Severskoye Lake is deemed so pure no motorboats are allowed on it. According to urban myth, the waters were blessed, giving them qualities similar to those of the mythical fountain of youth.

From humble beginnings in 1397 when two monks founded the monastery in nothing more than a cave dug by two men. By 1494, now a stone structure, it was the largest church in medieval Russia.

Defended by thick walls and towers it was a refuge for not just monks and peasants, but also a place of pilgrimage for Tsars and so benefited from generous donations and tax breaks. Ivan the Terrible was said to be a regular visitor and big tipper. The financially favourable guest list enabled the monastery to grow in size and importance.

Kuzino Russia

By 1764, Catherine the Great had stripped the monastery of its land and converted the complex into a prison. In 1924 the Bolshevik government shut the complex down and executed or arrested the monks. Interestingly, unlike most monasteries, it was not converted into a concentration camp but rather a museum.

Kirillo - Belozersky monastery Russia

Yaroslavl

Yaroslavl, the largest city on the Volga, lies just 250 km’s north of Moscow which makes this Golden Ring city a popular weekend getaway.

Perhaps this quaint city of six hundred thousand should be called the city of churches because here you will find an impressive kaleidoscope of onion domes. At the convergence of the mighty Volga and Kotorosl rivers is the historic part of the city, a listed UNESCO World Heritage site.

white church with gold topped green parapets in Yaroslavl Russia. these are the amazing things you will see on a viking river cruise st petersburg to moscow
Just taking it easy sitting outside the Church of Elijah the Prophet in Yaroslavl, Russia.

The city dates back to Prince Yaroslav or Yaroslav the Wise when he came ashore in around 998, slew the sacred bear worshipped by the local pagan tribes and converted them to Christianity. Hence, the bear on the city’s coat of arms.

Yaroslavl Russia
Yaroslavl on your Russian River Cruise.

While these events may have attributed to the city’s religious fervour – the churches that now adorn the skyline were the work of 17th and 19th century merchants on a quest to outdo each other in a bid to beautify the city. To this day it remains a magnificent city, one that appears to have remained unscathed by the soviet facelift given to much of Russia. 

4 golden domes atop a church in Yaroslavl Russia

Uglich

Uglich, another of the Golden Ring Cities. A picturesque riverside city filled with inviting parks and brightly coloured church domes. The history of Uglich is steeped in a murder mystery that changed the history of Russia.

Ivan the Terrible was never quite right following the death of his wife Anastasia and so instituted a reign of terror that earned him his name. Although respected for his military victories and management of Russian interests, he was also feared for some terrible deeds.

Uglich Russia
Church of St. Dmitry on the Blood memorializes the death of Ivan the Terrible’s son.

One such deed was accidentally killing his son and heir with a blow to the head. Due to this faux par on Ivan’s behalf, his crippled son Feodor, who by all reports was not well in mind or body, ascended to power. However, the country was being run by Feodor’s brother in law, Boris Godunov.

Uglich Russia

Quietly in the wings was Dimitry, Ivan’s younger son who could have succeeded the throne in light of Feodor’s lack of interest in political issues. In 1591, at the age of ten, Dimitry was found dead thanks to a stab wound. It was decided Dimitry slit his own throat with a sword during an epileptic fit.

At the risk of stating the obvious – it was widely assumed the boy was murdered. However, those who dared to accuse Boris Gudunov only did so once. The mystery remains, and so does this beautiful city close to Moscow.

white church with 3 blue domes in Uglich Russia.  Best things to do in russia are from st petersburg to moscow

Should You Choose A River Cruise to Travel Russia?

When it comes to visiting a country like Russia, we feel a river cruise is possibly the best way to maximise your experience of this incredible country.  Had we decided to travel independently, there is no way we would have had the vast and varied experiences we were able to on this cruise.

abandoned church in the middle of the river.  one of the unique things you will see on a Waterways Of The Tsars. St Petersburg to Moscow river cruise with viking river cruise.
Unforgetable experiences on a Russian river cruise.

The 5-star hotel service, excellent dining and professional tour organisation far exceeded any of our expectations. We now understand why people often choose river cruises as the best way to experience a country. We have since travelled on a number of river cruises through Eastern Europe and the Danube and still believe it to be a value for money way to travel, especially in Europe.

Moscow Russia

If you are looking to see Russia beyond the big cities, cruising the waterways from St Petersburg to Moscow will reveal the beauty of the towns and the landscapes of Russia’s heartland. A river cruise is a fabulous way to travel Russia and a great way to glean a deeper understanding of this mysterious country.

Waterways Of The Tsars. St Petersburg to Moscow
Viking River Cruise In Russia Facts
  • Viking River Cruises has three vessels operating in Russia offering a 13-day “Waterways Of The Tsars” cruise running between Moscow and St Petersburg.
  • Prices start at ~USD $4,500. Viking Cruises also offer some great “Early Bird” specials available for advance bookings.
  • The cruise includes accommodation, all meals, drinks with meals, tours and onboard lectures. Additional or Optional Tours can be purchased on board.
  • Flights, including taxes and transfers, can be arranged inclusive of your cruise price.
  • A tourist visa will be required for most foreign nationals to enter Russia, it is important to check if you will require this well in advance of your cruise date.
     

We would like to thank Viking Cruises for hosting us on the Waterways Of The Tsars cruise to facilitate this article. As always, all opinions expressed are our own and have not been influenced in any way.

St Basils. The Best Of moscow attractions
Previous
The Best Things to do in Moscow
Symi Island Greece
Next
Mediterranean Sailing Holidays. The Greek Islands and Turkish Coast

Bernadette Callahan

Thursday 14th of April 2016

These pictures are amazing. I would love to travel to St Petersburg Russia.

Vagrants Of The World

Thursday 14th of April 2016

Thanks Bernadette. We can highly recommend St Petersburg, it really is an incredible city.

Ami

Monday 28th of December 2015

Sounds like an amazing cruise. I'd definitely like to try out the Banya. And with so much of heritage, I think I will really enjoy the place...cheers

Vagrants Of The World

Monday 28th of December 2015

Hi Ami. The Banya was such an experience but so was Russia. An incredible culture overload.

Elaine J. Masters

Tuesday 28th of July 2015

What a cool experience. I didn't know about this waterway in Russia and love the idea of seeing it on a small river cruise. Don't know if I could handle the switching and cold water ritual though!

Vagrants Of The World

Tuesday 28th of July 2015

Hi Elaine. This experience was such a surprise for us too. The cruise that is. For a country like Russia, it is a perfect way to see so much more of the country without the stress. P.S. The Banya was actually quite a good experience after all, even though I took a bit of convincing.

Comments are closed.
//