Switch language


Back to list

Ten Reasons to Visit Vladimir

The historic city of Vladimir-on-Klyazma marked the starting point for Russia’s northward expansion. In the twelfth century, against his father’s wishes Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky moved the Russian capital from Kiev to Vladimir. Thanks to Andrei, Vladimir became a centre for Orthodox Christianity and cultural life. At the prince’s orders, exquisite churches and palaces of white stone were built which, today, are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Prince Andrei also brought with him the icon of Our Lady of Vladimir, which would become a key religious symbol for Russians. While Moscow was just beginning to take shape, the Vladimir-Suzdal principality was already enjoying its heyday. Attracting the finest goods and the most beautiful maidens, it was at the centre of many intrigues and witnessed history in the making. Visit Vladimir, and you will get a glimpse of medieval Russia. These were the times when the state was still in the process of formation, as laws were adopted at people’s gatherings. Orthodoxy had not yet fully replaced pagan practices, the Russian architectural style was developing, and the Russian school of icon-painting was emerging.

Useful Tip: A handy suburban train (or elektrichka) leaves Moscow at 7.21 am, arriving in Vladimir’s Central Station at 10.07 am. This way, you can avoid the Moscow traffic and be certain of your arrival time.

1)     Visit UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Успенский собор_2.jpg

Vladimir’s main attraction is Sobornaya (Cathedral) Square. It boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the Uspensky (Dormition) Cathedral, and the Dmitrovsky (St. Demetrius) Cathedral. Built with the express aim of eclipsing all other Orthodox places of worship, the Uspensky Cathedral was initially single-domed. After the first fire to affect it, the cathedral was rebuilt. The new Uspensky Cathedral proved such a success that for many years it was the main standard in church architecture. Subsequently, a whole host of Russian cathedrals were designed to emulate its graceful appearance. Among these are the Uspensky Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin, an array of Uspensky cathedrals around the country, as well as many other churches. Vladimir’s Uspensky Cathedral recently marked its 900th anniversary.

Originally surrounded by a gallery, its younger companion, the Dmitrovsky Cathedral, was connected to the Prince’s quarters, giving it the status of court (dvorovaya) church, or one located in the prince’s courtyard. Gradually, however, the Dmitrovsky Cathedral fell into disrepair. On a visit to Vladimir, Nicholas I gave orders to have it repaired. But the restoration works were poorly conducted: the gallery and turrets were taken down, the entire structure was left less supported, and the overall appearance was badly affected.

The Uspensky Cathedral also underwent restoration. Aiming to update the interior, Catherine II gave orders for the old twelfth-century iconostasis to be replaced by a new one in the then-popular Baroque style. Today, restorers have finally succeeded in recovering part of the paintings that once adorned the cathedral walls. When visiting, be sure to take a look at the Last Judgement fresco in the western part of the cathedral: this was created by the great Russian icon-painters Andrei Rublev and Daniil Cherny.

Interesting Fact. The Dmitrovsky Cathedral was built by Grand Prince Vsevolod the Big Nest. See if you can spot him in the relief on the cathedral’s northern facade, where he’s shown with his sons Konstantin, Georgy, Yaroslav and Sviatoslav, holding baby Vladimir in his arms. Altogether, Prince Vsevolod had twelve sons, which is why he became known as the Big Nest. The cathedral itself is named after St. Demetrius, as this was the saint whose name Vsevolod was given at his christening.

2)     Do Some Monumental Calculations

Князь Владимир.jpg

Besides its cathedrals, Sobornaya Square also boasts two monuments celebrating the town’s rich history. The first, which marks the 850th anniversary of the founding of Vladimir, was erected in 1969. The second, a monument to the famous Russian icon-painter Andrei Rublev, marking the town’s first millennium, was put up in 1995. Even a quick calculation will show that the time between the creation of the first and the second monument was not the required 150 years, but a mere 26. The reason for this is that historians still can’t make up their minds which of Russia’s two most famous Vladimirs founded the town: Vladimir Monomakh, or Vladimir the Red Sun. Also known as Vladimir the Baptist, Vladimir the Red Sun made the decision that Russia should adopt Christianity. The pagan beliefs previously held by Russians involved worshipping several gods, and Vladimir needed a religion that would unite the people. Hence, he became known as the Baptist. There are two monuments to him in Vladimir: one, in Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street, and one in Sobornaya Square. From the monument in Sobornaya Square, which shows Vladimir in the company of Saint Fedor, you can enjoy a splendid view of the river Klyazma, with the town spread out on the opposite bank. It’s a great place to take a photo!

3)     Walk to the Golden Gates

Золотые ворота.jpg

From Sobornaya Square, take a walk down Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street to reach Vladimir’s Golden Gates. The twelfth-century World Heritage Site owes its name to the heavy gates that used to hang here. Finished with sheets of gilded copper, at sunrise and sundown the gates would blaze brightly. When Vladimir was besieged by the Mongol army of Batu Khan, the invaders apparently became furious because the gates wouldn’t budge! According to other accounts, they simply decided that the gates were not just a historical landmark but objects of value, and decided to steal them. Sadly for the Mongols, however, the gates were heavy, and as they were crossing the river, the weight proved too much for the ice to bear, and the looters drowned. Some say that the gates are still lying somewhere deep beneath the waters of the Klyazma. Besides the Mongols, the appearance of the Golden Gates was also affected by Catherine II, a figure we’ve already mentioned. When visiting Vladimir, the Empress got stuck in the gateway – or rather, her carriage did. Getting the carriage out proved such a business that Catherine subsequently gave orders for the ramparts on either side of the gates to be levelled, and for the road to run around the gates, rather than through them. Since then, the arch of the Golden Gates has been purely decorative.

4)     Find Friends in Bolshaya Moskovskaya

Ресторан Панорама.jpg

The street connecting Sobornaya Square and the Golden Gates is Bolshaya Moskovskaya. In the past, it ran across the entire town, from the Golden Gates to the old Silver Gates, which did not survive. This central street is still lively though, so you might almost feel you’re in a capital city. This is where you’ll find Vladimir’s finest restaurants. For tasty pelmeni dumplings and good value, try Bystro Pelmen. The Steak House Soho serves excellent steaks – prime cuts done just right. For pizza lovers, there’s the Franki Fep pizzeria, and for fans of craft beer, Chetyre Pivovara (The Four Brewers). Russian cuisine is best sampled in Oblomov - and those are just a few of the names from Vladimir’s top ten. Also in Bolshaya Moskovskaya, housed in an eighteenth-century building is Vladimir’s largest shopping centre, Torgoviye Ryady (The Trading Rows). Here, you can find all the main brands, and some good deals. Nearby are the Assembly of the Nobility, the men’s gymnasium school, homes belonging to the local priest and titular councillor, as well as the vice governor’s estate and the house where the well-known Soviet All-Union Radio newsreader Yuri Levitan was born. On 22 June 1941, it was Levitan who made the announcement that German troops had invaded the USSR. Virtually every building in Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street has its unique fascinating history. This central street is especially lively in the evenings, when young locals pile out to mingle with the visiting tourists. Why not try chatting with some of them in a bar? This way, you could find out some interesting stories about Vladimir’s alternative tourist spots!

5)     Take a Walk Down an Old Street

Смотровая площадка_2.jpg

Next, why not go for a stroll in Vladimir’s first pedestrian zone? This is where the town’s rulers Andrei Bogolyubsky and Yuri Dolgoruky (or Yuri the Long-Armed) had their princely courts. Later, the area was home to modest officials, pharmacists and bourgeois. Parallel to Bolshaya Moskovskaya runs Georgievskaya Street. The pedestrian zone starts at Georgievskaya (St. George) Church, which in Soviet times housed a meat processing plant. Nearby is the Staraya Apteka (Old Pharmacy), which is currently home to the ‘art forge’ of Yuri and Alexei Borodin. In Georgievskaya Street, you will find art studios, galleries and cosy little shops selling antiques, clothes and pottery. You can often catch a festival here, or chance upon a costume party or light show. Follow Georgievskaya Street down to the sightseeing spot offering great views of Sobornaya Square with the Uspensky and Dmitrovsky Cathedrals, and of the river Klyazma. Near Georgievskaya Street you will see another two famous churches – Spasskaya (Saviour) and Nikolskaya (St. Nicholas). You can also admire the decorative statues of a local pharmacist and an artist of the world-famous Vladimir school of painting. The pedestrian part of Georgievskaya Street is soon to be widened, so by the time you arrive, the area may boast some attractive new statues.

6)     Find Out How Patriarchs, Princesses and Prisoners Spent Their Time

Дмитровский собор_1.jpg

In the sixteenth century, a special cherry orchard was planted in Vladimir, in order that priests from the capital could come and relax here. The orchard was named Patriarshy (The Patriarch’s). Today, this is a wonderful spot for walks. Following the best traditions of French park design, layers of lush greenery descend gradually towards the river. To enter the park, you have to pay, so it’s usually pretty empty. The Patriarch’s orchard offers excursions, educational events for young nature lovers, and even photo shoots. Russia’s Grand Princesses and princes’ daughters also had their own little corner in Vladimir, although its peace and quiet was only available to them after death. The Uspensky Kniaginin Princesses’ Convent of the Dormition was initially built as the resting place for the Grand Princesses of Vladimir. In Soviet times, the building housed a museum of atheism. Today it is once more a convent, and a place of peace and calm. Another atmospheric place where body and soul take a break from the outside world is Vladimir’s Central Prison. A famous penitentiary for especially dangerous criminals, the prison even has its own museum. Here, you can learn more about the iconic facility and its notorious inmates including Stalin’s son Vasily and Stalin’s second wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva’s sister Anna. The shackles, stocks and other instruments used to confine the most dangerous inmates are every bit as bone-chilling as a visit to a Spanish inquisition museum!

7)     Take in Some Museums

Смотровая площадка.jpg

Vladimir’s Planetarium is a must, not least because it’s situated in an old church.  Next, the truly unique Old Vladimir Museum is housed in a water tower which in itself is an architectural landmark. Here you can see the interiors of old inns, church stalls, the homes of wealthy merchants and poorer town folk, recreated both with historical accuracy and with some humour! On the fourth floor of the tower is a viewing platform accessible all year round. In the Baba Yaga Museum in Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street, you can find out everything you’ve ever wanted to know about this famous Russian fairytale witch, and in the Prianik (Gingerbread) Museum,  you can try the traditional Vladimir dessert and discover the secrets of the bakers. At the Children’s Museum Centre of the Palaty (or Chamber) Museum Complex, you can find out how schools were run, how fairs were held, how books were written and how bylina epic poems were composed in Ancient Rus. The centre is bound to appeal to kids. The Da Vinci Optical Illusion and Science Museum, however, is for everyone – not just for families with children. Here, you can find out about the laws of physics in a fascinating, entertaining and interactive way. You can go on a Harry Potter, Sherlock Holmes or Da Vinci Code quest, or opt for a master class on turning caterpillars into butterflies, making hypnotic discs or deciphering mysterious messages!

8)     Buy Some Crystalware

Музей Хрусталя.jpg

Besides gingerbread with condensed milk and medovukha honey spirit from Suzdal, visitors to the Vladimir region have always come away laden with local crystalware. Opened in 1756, the factory in Gus-Khrustalny is one of Europe’s oldest centres producing handmade crystalware. If you don’t have time to visit the factory itself, make sure at least to pop into the Lacquered Miniatures and Crystal Museum. Here, you can not only buy souvenirs, but also find out about the history of local production. Like many of Vladimir’s museums, this one is situated in a beautiful old building, the Old Believers’ Troitskaya (Trinity) Church right opposite the Golden Gates.

In the museum, you can also find out about another traditional craft popular in the Vladimir region: lacquered miniatures from the little town of Mstera. Visitors can admire a wonderful array of boxes, caskets and trays decorated with Russian fairytale motifs. In the sixteenth century, Mstera was also one of Russia’s major centres of icon-painting. The second storey of the museum, situated in the gallery of the church, is dedicated to local embroidery. The ‘Mstera glad’ satin stitch embroidery technique is sadly no longer used, so the only place where you can admire this white cambric with embroidered white flowers, is in this museum. Another technique featured in the museum, the ‘Vladimir stitch’ with its thick, bright stitches, was especially popular in Soviet times. Besides housing the museum, the church has excellent acoustics and holds evening chamber choir concerts.

9)     See the Miracle on the Nerl

Покрова на Нерли_1.jpg

Against his father’s wishes, in the twelfth century Yuri Dolgoruky’s son Andrei decided to move from the capital Kiev to the as yet little-known, but promising town of Vladimir-on-Klyazma. His decision served to create the Vladimir-Suzdal principality, which then marked the start of modern Russia. On his way to Vladimir, Andrei had a vision of the Holy Virgin. Taking this to be a favourable sign, he decided to have his new home built on that spot: this became the prince’s palace in Bogolyubovo. The image of the Holy Virgin that appeared to Prince Andrei was used to create the famous Bogolyubovo Icon of the Theotokos. The prince’s palace was rebuilt several times, and currently houses a convent. The only part of the twelfth-century building that survived was, ironically, the place where Prince Andrei was murdered by his boyar noblemen. Disagreeing with the prince’s policies, the boyars were angry about the unprofitable military campaigns waged by Andrei. Cross the railway bridge near the Bogolyubovo Convent, and you’ll find yourself in a peaceful reserve with grazing goats and green meadows. Follow the path towards Russia’s most photogenic church – Pokrova (or Intercession) on the Nerl river. Next, why not forget all the historical facts, put your guidebook away in your backpack and ask your companions to stop talking for a little while.  Just stand still and take it all in. Like some magical vision, the church appears to be floating above the water. The Church of the Intercession on the Nerl is not only Russia’s most famous church; it is also an important monument in world architecture. Built in a low-lying flood-meadow, it stands in a deliberately chosen spot. In Prince Andrei’s time, this was where the river Nerl fell into the Klyazma. The church was built on a spit at the meeting-point of the two trade waterways.

Interesting Fact. Another church well worth a visit is the Boris and Gleb Church in the village of Kideksha, near Suzdal. An important outpost at the confluence of the Kamenka and the Nerl, in the twelfth century Kideksha controlled Suzdal’s waterways. In those times, the Nerl was used by Suzdal for trading with other lands. When the local harvest was poor, the people of Suzdal would travel down the Nerl to get grain from the Volga Bulgars. With its twelfth-century frescoes, the Church of Boris and Gleb is on the UNESCO List of World Heritage Sites.   

10) See Why Rothschild Wanted to Get Hold of Suzdal

Церковь Бориса и Глеба в Кидекше.jpg

The bus journey from Vladimir’s railway station to Suzdal takes just 40 minutes. On a visit to Suzdal, the billionaire Evelyn de Rothschild once remarked: ‘You are walking on gold! I'm a rich person, but if I got Suzdal for some years, I would double my capital!’ When Moscow was not even yet marked on all maps, Suzdal was already the capital of a mighty principality. Today, the town boasts more than 200 historical monuments. Visitors to Suzdal often feel that time simply stands still here. Suzdal never had a railway or strongly developed industry, so views of the town remind one of eighteenth-century postcards. With no unsightly multi-storey buildings or tangles of power lines, Suzdal is a firm favourite with photographers and filmmakers: some 70 films were made here. Besides its UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Suzdal also boasts a host of less famous, but extremely pleasurable baths, offering massage, tea, sweet-smelling haylofts for relaxing afterwards, and even a dip in the frozen river through a hole in the ice for the adventurous! The town also hosts a multitude of festivals and special events dedicated to things as diverse as cucumbers, lapti shoes, valenki boots, baths, patchwork crafts, winter fairytales, biker Blues and anime. In Suzdal’s many restaurants, you can sample the best of Russian cuisine in its traditional form, or with a modern twist.