Suzdal is one of the ancient cities that form the ‘Golden Ring’. A must do for anyone who goes to Moscow and can spare 2 days. Suzdal is a lovely little town, stuck in time… There are no tall buildings, everyone lives in wooden cottages, there is a small city center, lots of churches and monasteries, a beautiful Kremlin and a few shops and cafes. Life is slow and moves at a leisurely pace. Fortunately, Suzdal was off the commercial route during the Soviet rule and so it still looks the way it did centuries ago. There isn’t even a hint of any soviet architecture anywhere in Suzdal.
We booked a lovely cottage in Suzdal (http://www.lonelyplanet.com/russia/golden-ring/suzdal/hotels/cottage-on-krasnoarmeiskoy) and though there are several options of hotels and hostels available, if you want to truly experience Suzdal, I suggest you book one of the cottages. We reached Suzdal by bus from Vladimir and our housekeeper was waiting for us with a huge smile! A welcome change after Moscow, where people aren’t very friendly. She didn’t speak a word of English but still made us feel comfortable and explained how everything worked in the house. We had some questions regarding where to go, what to see, where to eat etc, and so she actually called up someone in the neighborhood who understood English to come and help!
After a good night’s sleep, we set out to explore Suzdal the next day and decided to walk to the city center instead of taking a bus or cab. It was a long but interesting walk, with convents, wooden cottages and small shops along the way. We visited The Convent of the Intercession (from the 14th century) which was beautiful. With its lovely golden onion domes and manicured lawns, this is one of Russia’s richest convents and a treat to the eyes!
We then walked towards the city center, where we had lunch at a lovely restaurant just before the Kremlin. We must have sat there for a few hours, eating, drinking and observing the local people going about their day (Also, they had wifi!). We tried the medovukha, a Russian type of cider made from honey. It is delicious and it’s sold everywhere, from street vendors to grocery shops.
Our next stop was the Kremlin. And I have to say, that even though the Moscow Kremlin is much bigger, this one was way more charming and looked straight out a fairy tale! This is the oldest part of Suzdal and dates back to the 10th century. The main monument inside is the star spangled blue domed Cathedral of the Nativity. It is one of the most gorgeous monuments I have seen!
The Kremlin also has an ancient wooden church of St. Nichola, which is considered a masterpiece of Russian wooden architecture. Besides the buildings, there are beautiful lawns and pathways lined with colourful flowers where you can just sit around the whole day and not do anything else! We encountered a lot of newly wed couples, who along with their friends had come there to click pictures. We must have seen at least 8 wedding groups at the same time and even asked a lot of them to pose for pictures! Our day ended with dinner at a small café near our cottage and some more medovukha!
How to get there:
If you are not on an organized tour (like us), you have to get to Vladimir from Moscow. You can either take a private bus from the Kursky Train Station (Metro: Kurskaya, Chkalovskaya) or take a train from there. Buses depart every half an hour. Trains are also frequent. The journey takes about 4 hours. From Vladimir you have to take a bus to Suzdal. The bus station is just across the train station, so you can just walk across. The ticket is valid only till the bus station at the entrance of Suzdal, but you can buy an extra ticket from the driver when you reach there (most people do this) and he will take you till the city center. From here, just take a cab to your hotel.
- Download an app called ‘Word Lens’ – this translates the Russian script (and a few other languages) in English, real time, off-line (no data required). Very very helpful since nothing is written in English anywhere.
- Download offline maps. Since most people don’t understand English, its difficult to ask for directions.
- If you don’t have time, skip Vladimir. There is nothing much to see or do there. Just take the next available bus to Suzdal as soon as you reach Vladimir.