Post-Soviet Russia is spending its petro-dollars hand over fist from party capital Moscow and cultural capital Saint Petersburg to the once closed city of Vladivostok. But you can still find the Russian soul among the stoic mariners of Polar city Murmansk and the holidaying babushkas of the Black Sea resorts. Bring some comfortable shoes, a sturdy liver and an open mind.
Don't expect to fathom this complex, contradictory country in one trip. Cosmopolitan European Russia runs from the frozen wastes of the northern Kola Peninsula to the southern vineyards of Krasnodar. Beyond the rugged Ural Mountains, Siberia's pine forests stretch east to the volcanoes of the volcanic Kamchatka peninsula and the military stronghold of Vladivostok. Relax on the shores of Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake, or discover exotic cultures around the southern Siberian towns of Kyzyl, Chita and Ulan Ude.
The Russian capital, Moscow, is changing fast, but you'll find the heart of Ancient Rus' in Yaroslavl, Suzdal, Vladimir and other cities of the Golden Ring (a series of ancient cities in a circle around Moscow). Tatarstan's capital Kazan has a Kremlin to match Moscow's, while further south Volgograd's 236-foot Motherland statue honours World War II's dead. Uncover the history of the Tsars among the canals of pre-revolutionary capital Saint Petersburg. Or find an ice-carved city at New Year in the Urals' capital of Yekaterinburg.
For a whistle-stop East-West snapshot, take the Trans Siberian Express through the industrial heartland of the Urals to the crystal waters of Siberia's Lake Baikal, the world's largest freshwater lake. Discover Buddhist temples hidden among the alpine peaks of Southern Siberia's Altai Mountains. Adventurous types will love the live volcanoes of Kamchatka, in the far east, just north of Vladivostok. Hedonists might prefer 2014 winter Olympic city Sochi's year-round sun-kissed beaches and skiing, or ancient cities beside the slow-flowing waters of the Volga and the Don rivers.