A weekend in Veliky Novgorod: Feel the atmosphere of ancient Russia
The train empties, pouring onto the platform groups of people laden with packages. The train is arriving from Moscow. It has been traveling north all night long through the vast birch woods, embracing the railway lines that are crossed every day by the old “platskart” (“third-class car”).
And here, along the road that joins Moscow to St. Petersburg, rises Veliky Novgorod—Novgorod the Great. Nestled on the banks of the Volkhov River, an outlet of Lake Ilmen, Veliky Novgorod guards ancient Russian treasures amongst the walls of its churches and kremlin.
Their eyes still sleepy, the passengers head for the station exit and enter the broad boulevard that links the railway with the heart of the city. In the light of dawn, there is nearly no one on the streets. The silence of the Russian province is interrupted only by a cock crowing in the distance and a passing car that does not stop at the traffic light.
Novgorod the Great slowly wakes up, following the rising of the sun.
View Veliky Novgorod in a larger map
Long an important commercial hub, Veliky Novgorod, throughout the centuries, has become a meeting place for European and Asian merchants, growing culturally and becoming a major educational center of the country.
It is not by chance that, in A.D. 1034, Yaroslav the Wise founded a school here, which hosted more than 300 students who contributed to launching the education process in these provinces.
How to get there
Veliky Novgorod is about 110 miles from St. Petersburg and around 310 miles from Moscow, by car along the road that connects Moscow to St. Petersburg. You can also get there by bus (13 Oktyabrskaya Street) or by train. For bus and train schedules, click here or here.
A couple of days are all that is needed to visit this city, which is the birthplace of the Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. The Hansa Hostel (10/13 Ilina Street) is a good place for travelers with modest claims. Alternatively, the Intourist hotel (16 Velikaya Street) offers a comfortable, central place to stay.
10 a.m. After a quick breakfast of “syrniki” in the Dom Berga canteen (24 Bolshaya Moskovskaya Street), one can take a walk to the kremlin walls. Don't rush: The distances are short, it is a pleasant walk, and the heart of the city offers places to relax, admire the surroundings, and stretch out on the green banks of the river.
11 a.m. The visit to the treasures held inside the kremlin walls is a must. Founded by Prince Yaroslav, the Veliky Novgorod Kremlin is considered one of the oldest among those preserved in Russia. Don't miss the St. Sophia Cathedral—one of the oldest stone constructions in Russia (1045-1050)—and the lookout towers where you can enjoy an excellent panorama of the city.
Where to stay
Although Veliky Novgorod is a rather small town, there are various hotels and hostels. To have a look at places to stay, click here
12:30 p.m. A visit to the Novgorod Reserve Museum (2 Meretskova-Volosova Street), founded in the second half of the 19th century, preserves works from the 11th-17th centuries and was included into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
From icons to wooden objects typical of Russian artisans, the museum offers a panorama of local history, from ancient times up to the 17th century.
2:30 p.m. Take a relaxing pause in the Sytny Domik café, located in the center of the kremlin park, on the path leading to the city fountain. When the weather is good, you can enjoy a view of the kremlin and the quiet atmosphere. The traditional “shashlyk” and “solyanka” are served.
The Veliky Novgorod Kremlin is considered one of the oldest among those preserved in Russia. Source: Lucia Bellinello / RBTH
4 p.m. A walk along the road flanking the kremlin and along the bank of the river is ideal, to get the flavor of the landscape and digest lunch. Climb up high to the monument to the Novgorod defenders, and cross the bridge to the opposite side of the river.
Passing by the Church of St. Boris and St. Gleb, take a moment for the pleasure of getting lost among the tree-lined paths that surround the Annunciation Church and the Church of St. Clement, until you come to the Cathedral of the Mother of God of the Sign. You must not miss a walk through the Gostinij Dvor arcades, either.
6 p.m. Pause for a souvenir. You can buy traditional, Soviet, artisan objects, icons and matryoskas in the kiosk near the tower of the former Gostinij Dvor and the Cathedral of St. Nicholas, not far from the intersection between Ilina and Bolshaya Moskovskaya streets.
If the small shop does not seem enough, take a walk among the stands set up just outside the kremlin walls, on the side of Sofiskaya Square.
The Holy Spirit Monastery (12th century).
Source: Lucia Bellinello / RBTH
7 p.m. Before ending the day, follow the domes that can be seen in the distance on the horizon, beyond the river, on the Bolshaya Sankt-Peterburgskaya Street side. It is only a short walk to the group of historical churches, which were built between A.D. 1200 and A.D. 1400.
Don't miss the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul in Kozhevniki (15th century). Its large calcareous stones and the decorative brick elements make it an interesting architectural monument. There is also the Holy Spirit Monastery (12th century), as well as a group of surrounding churches, to admire.
9 p.m. Dinnertime is the ideal occasion to try the Khoroshye Lyudi restaurant (1/1 Meretskova-Volosova Street), not far from the kremlin. They serve local dishes, fresh meat and grilled fish.
9 a.m. In the heart of the city, a few steps away from the kremlin, there is a quiet café that hosts banquets and wedding parties. Take advantage of it if you are looking for a place to have breakfast before you go sightseeing. It is called Ilmen, and the address is 2 Gazon Street.
10 a.m. Buses leave regularly from Sennaya Square going to Lake Myachino—a place on the lakeshore surrounded by the calm of nature and secluded beaches. It is the best place for enjoying the tranquillity of the Russian countryside.
Observe the nearby monastery and the small churches that pop up not far from the shores. Approach the fishermen, and don't be afraid to chat with the families that are preparing “shashlyk” on the beach.
You must not miss a walk through the Gostinij Dvor arcades. Source: Lucia Bellinello / RBTH
It won't be difficult to find someone who tempts you to taste some freshly grilled meat, or who offers you a sip of “kvas.” If you want to go farther, you can easily reach Lake Ilmen, the waters of which flow through the Volchov to Lake Ladoga, and from there through the Neva toward the Gulf of Finland.
1 p.m. If you are looking for a good place to have lunch, don't search for special restaurants. Along the lakeshore you can have excellent Russian salads and grilled meat in the stands set up for the summer. Many places have outdoor tables and terraces for sunbathing.
3 p.m. Absolutely not to be missed is the Vitoslavitsy Museum of folk wooden architecture, located not far from Lake Myachino and a few steps away from the St. George Monastery. This small wooden complex recreates the famous atmosphere of ancient Russia. Wandering around the “izbas” (typical rural Russian dwellings), one can see how the local people lived.
In addition, every year the complex hosts folk, international and craft festivals.
7 p.m. On the way back to the center of Veliky Novgorod, stop to eat at the Europa (Aleksandr Nevskiy riverside, near the footbridge Veliky Novgorod). It is one of the restaurants offering the best panoramic view of the city. It specializes in Russian cuisine and, on the weekends, there are concerts and live music.
Tourist information is available at 5 Sennaya Square (open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., tel.: +7 8162 77 30 74, fax: +7 7162 73 73 42, email@example.com). For more information about where to eat, what to see, the city's history and geography, go to the website www.visitnovgorod.com