Ru En De
VipGlobalService / trip to Russia / The Golden Ring

The Golden Ring

One of the most fascinating regions in Russia is the famous 'Golden Ring' of cities to the northeast of Moscow. This ancient heart of Russia with its old whitewashed city walls and venerable onion-domed churches created the world's definition of medieval Rus. In this enchanted region - which has remained relatively untouched by tourist crowds - time stands still. The main currents of history ignored these cities, leaving towns such as Vladimir, Suzdal, Sergiev Posad, Rostov Velikiy, and Yaroslavl as quaint and perfect as when they were first constructed.

Many travelers to Russia find the “Golden Ring” of cities to be one of the most fascinating regions of the country. At one time called Zalesye, or “Beyond the Forests,” this historic and important collection of places northeast of Moscow serves as the ancient heart of this great country, where old whitewashed city walls and venerable churches with golden onion-domes define the world’s picture of medieval Russia.

Originally conceived by Soviet Culture magazine writer Yuri Bychkov during a 1967 feature assignment, the Golden Ring is an enchanted loop of eight cities set upon a route first envisioned from behind the steering wheel of a Moskvitch driving down the M-8 Yaroslavl Highway. Each city managed to escape Soviet-era architectural “progress,” and indeed, time does seem to stand still in many of the destinations along the route. Bychkov was, during this fateful road trip, looking for an interesting drive that would encompass Vladimir the Great’s ancient Rus while on his way to Suzdal, where his editor assigned him to write about the development of tourism.

The cities along the route, which includes Sergiyev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalesskiy, Rostov Veliky, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Suzdal, and Vladimir, are as perfectly quaint as when they were first constructed. Bychkov found enough inspiration in each of these ancient locales to write an article that formed a series he called “The Golden Ring.” These stories were published in the magazine “Smena” (“Change”) without any fanfare, as the celebrated golden domed churches of these cities were still seen by Communist Party officials as evidence of Russia’s decadent Imperial past rather than remnants of its cherished national heritage. Bychkov, though, recognized the immense value of this heritage, and he helped found the All-Russia Society for the Preservation of Historic Monuments and Culture within a couple years of his road trip to Suzdal. His activism eventually caught the attention of scholars, who were among the first to follow this route in search of Russia’s glorious past. By the 1970s, the Golden Ring began to appear in song, catching the public imagination so powerfully that this first great tourism brand of Russia seems today to be almost eternal.

Although train travel, and even river cruise voyages, are options for getting out to these enchanting cities, the best way of seeing the Golden Ring is still by road, either with a guided tour or privately by rental car. Cruising at your own pace, you can develop your own opinion of which of these cities is truly the “Pearl” of the Golden Ring, or the best city of the route. Some of the hidden gems waiting to be discovered include the Pokrovsky and Spaso-Efimiev monasteries at Suzdal, and the Uspensky and Dmitrievsky cathedrals at Vladimir. Some cities, like Yaroslavl, were the seats of powerful principalities later subjugated by Moscow during its rise to power. Others, like Uglich (a historic city later recognized as belonging on the Golden Ring), were never large and powerful, but nonetheless played important roles in Russian history. Indeed, this is where today’s Russia was born.