The Golden Ring

The Golden Ring is the name given to Russia’s most famous historical region, a handful of towns around Moscow which have been centres of Russian culture and politics for centuries. We visited four of the towns.

Sergiev Posad

This small town is easy to reach as a day trip from Moscow. The trip itself was quite interesting – our first experience of a Russian local train, it’s a bit like a live version of the shopping channel with vendors walking through the carriage selling everything from ice creams to train timetables to suction hooks. Sergiev Posad is best known for its monastery which is still home to black robed, long bearded monks.

Unfortunately for us, some of the major buildings of the monastery are undergoing restoration work at the moment, so we didn’t see it at its most impressive.

20130522-184949.jpgSergiev Posad when we visited (top) and without the scaffolding

Still the monastery contains some beautiful buildings and lots of visitors are there as pilgrims to visit the remains of St Sergius in the Trinity Cathedral and take home a bottle of holy water from the fountain in the courtyard. We queued up to see the silver sarcophagus and then felt a bit fraudulent not to be crossing ourselves and kissing the lid.

20130524-110955.jpgExalted Trinity Monastery of St Sergius (clockwise from top left): monk walking through grounds, visitor at a shrine, church above the Holy Gates, ikon

It was a really hot day, so on the way back to the station we had a refreshing glass of Kvas, a local soft drink made from fermented rye bread which is much tastier than it sounds!



Vladimir was a nice change of pace after the bustle of Moscow. A medium sized town which is not just reliant on tourism, but does have some great historic buildings. We were lucky enough to find an excellent host for our stay here (also named Vladimir). He was not only generous enough to meet us at the train station and drive us to the house, but he and his wife entertained us for an evening of Russian banya, barbecue and conversation (aided by a Russian-English dictionary!).

20130524-111030.jpgTonya and Vlad, yummy barbecued chicken, between Banya sessions!

The day that we visited the town’s museums happened to be an open day which meant that they were free but also very busy with locals. The Golden Gate in the centre of the main street is the last surviving remnant of the town’s medieval defences. It now contains a military exposition with an audio visual element which the administrator switched to English for us, much to the confusion of the locals! The town is also home to two cathedrals, the small Cathedral of St Demetrius of Salonica which although plain inside has hundreds of carvings outside, and the beautiful Assumption Cathedral where Russia’s earliest rulers were crowned.

20130524-111040.jpgVladimir museums (clockwise from top left): The Golden Gate, carvings on the Cathedral of St Demetrius of Salonica, glasswork in the Crystal Museum, forge at the blacksmith’s workshop

20130524-111054.jpgThe Assumption Cathedral at sunset


It feels as if every second building in Suzdal is a church – at one time there was a church for every 12 of its inhabitants along with 15 monasteries, and although not all of these survive, there are still a lot left! It’s quite a small sleepy town now, very pretty and easy to wander around. Many of the houses in the town are wooden and some have ornate carvings along the eaves and around the windows.

20130524-111103.jpgChurches at the Monastery of Our Saviour and St Euthimius, inside the Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Savior, domes of the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin

Suzdal also has a small museum of wooden architecture, similar to the one which we visited in Riga. The standout building here is the beautiful wooden Church of the Transfiguration and it was also interesting to see the reconstructions that they have of the building interiors.

20130524-111115.jpgUs outside a peasant’s house, windmill and weathervane, kitchen reconstruction

20130524-111133.jpgThe Church of Transfiguration, wooden tiles on the dome, inside the Church of the Resurrection


Bogolyubovo is mentioned in our guidebook as a side trip from Vladimir and it was recommended to us twice (by Eva who we met at our hostel in Moscow, and again by Vlad and Tonya). We decided to fit it into our spare afternoon before the train to Yekaterinburg, and we’re very glad that we did. The bus let us off near to the very active convent. The interior of the cathedral is beautifully painted and was further enhanced by the nuns’ choir practice. Outside we saw the remains of the original cathedral and another two nuns washing the windows – they definitely wouldn’t have passed a HSE assessment…


We then took the path past the railway station and over the somewhat flooded fields to the Church of the Intercession on the Nerl. This small single domed church dates from the 12th century and was commissioned by Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky who sited his royal palace here and developed Vladimir into the capital of Rus.


Here’s our Golden Ring round up:

What photo takes you right back to the Golden Ring?

Bogolyubovo wasn’t in our original plans but we both loved the simplicity and location of this church.


Summarise the Golden Ring in three words.

  • Churches
  • Cathedrals
  • Monasteries

You really know you’re in the Golden Ring when…

You find yourself lining up another shot of church domes.

What one item should you definitely pack when going to the Golden Ring?

Julie: a scarf to cover your hair in the churches.

6 thoughts on “The Golden Ring

  1. Jo

    It seems like everyone’s really welcoming. Are there many tourists outside Moscow/St Petersburg?

    And are you bored of churches yet?

    1. Julie Post author

      Generally everyone is lovely although maybe Russians don’t have such a high opinion of their countrymen because a couple of people have said that they think we’re brave travelling in Russia without speaking Russian. Usually when we say to people “sorry, English” (which we’ve learnt in Russian) they laugh, say “nyet angliskee” and continue talking at us in Russian! But with sign language, pointing and the few words that we’ve managed to learn we’re getting by just fine, I think most people are quite patient (and curious) as they don’t get to speak to many foreigners… There were a couple of coach tours in the Golden Ring towns, but there aren’t a lot of tourists about and we haven’t come across any on the trains which I’m really surprised by.

      The churches are pretty varied actually and as long as we space them out we’re doing OK :). I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of the domes though – I’m amassing quite a collection of dome photos!

  2. Jo

    :) Wait until you get to China. From what Richard and Emma told us, in the out-of-the-way places in China you’ll get loads of attention. Especially Andrew because of his hair colour!

    1. Julie Post author

      Yes, India was a bit like that too. At least here we don’t look so obviously foreign and can pretend to be local until we have to speak!

  3. Dave Cann

    What do you find the big concerns are for the people you have stayed with in Russia ? is it the day to day bills and immediate family problems or is it global ..

    You are both looking great and its really good to read about the places you are visiting

    1. Julie Post author

      Thanks Dave, good question :) We’ve been pondering it for a few days…

      Our Russian language skills are not up to much beyond hello and how are you, so we haven’t had too much opportunity to speak to people about more complicated things, and those with enough English are probably a bit better off than average and likely university educated so may not be representative of your average Russian. However, our impression is that concerns are more around domestic than international politics – corruption, services, etc. And a few people have told us how difficult it would be for a Russian to do what we are doing – I think that visas are quite difficult for them to get.

      Of course, everyone worries about day-to-day things as well – we met a tour guide yesterday who was worried because his 16 year old son wants to save up for a motorbike – a concern that you could probably find in most countries of the world!


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