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Why is Everything White in Suzdal Russia?
The Suzdal-Vladimir Principality
The first thing you’ll notice about the historic buildings and monuments in Suzdal Russia is that most of them are white.
In fact, when you hear people say that Suzdal is on the UNESCO World Heritage list, what they really mean is that UNESCO has inscribed “the White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal” on its World Heritage List.
All of these buildings were constructed from white limestone in the 12th and 13th centuries. In style, they are pretty similar to the other churches you’ll see all across Russia, including churches built hundreds of years later.
But that’s because those other churches copied the style that was first created here. This is where it all began.
Notice that the UNESCO listing mentions both Suzdal and Vladmir (pronounced “vla-DEE-meer” in Russian). These two towns were once joined as the medieval principality of Vladimir-Suzdal, considered to be the birthplace of the Russian language and nationality.
The UNESCO listing includes a total of eight monuments, but only two of these are in Suzdal -- the Kremlin of Suzdal and the St Euthymius Monastery.
As for the rest, three are in the city of Vladimir, two are in a town called Bogolyubovo about 10 kilometers from Vladimir, and one is in a village called Kideksha about four kilometers from Suzdal.
Suzdal and the Golden Ring
In addition to being a joint UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vladmir and Suzdal are also both part of the Golden Ring – a series of picturesque historic towns northeast of Moscow.
There are at least eight towns that are officially part of the Golden Ring, plus several others that also claim to be worthy of inclusion.
We only had 30 days to cross all of Russia by train before entering Mongolia, so obviously we wouldn’t have time to see all the Golden Ring towns.
After lots of research to determine which were the best ones, we settled on Suzdal and Vladimir.
We considered other towns like Yaroslavl, which is also UNESCO-protected and has lots of museums, churches and other monuments. Or Sergiev Posad, which is an easy day trip from Moscow.
But ultimately we decided to spend two nights in Suzdal, with a few hours to check out Vladimir while we waited for our onward train to Nizhny Novgorod. This turned out to be a great decision.
While Vladimir’s monuments are certainly impressive, Suzdal has a much more pleasant atmosphere. Vladimir is a much larger town and the capital of the Vladimir oblast (a type of administrative division in Russia).
Suzdal, on the other hand, is very quiet, green and bucolic – the perfect antidote to larger-than-life Moscow. While Suzdal does get busy with tourists, especially on weekends, it has not been marred by concrete apartment blocks. In fact, it looks much the same as it would have hundreds of years ago.
While several of the spots on this itinerary are dotted along the main street – Lenin Street – I also recommend exploring the much quieter backstreets. The route laid out here takes in the best of the sights, including some quiet, still working convents and monasteries where not many tourists go.
As a bonus, these working monasteries are also free. Ladies, remember to cover your head inside active churches. Scarves are usually provided, but it’s best to bring your own.
All the Best Things to Do in Suzdal Russia
This Suzdal itinerary starts from the Patchwork Guesthouse on the north side of Suzdal, which is a great place to stay. You’ll find more info about the guesthouse at the end of this article.
Saviour Monastery of Saint Euthymius
Entrance: 400 rubles, Open daily, 10 am to 6 pm every day except Sunday, when it stays open until 7pm. Closes early at 2pm on the last Thursday of the month.
We start our tour with one of the two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Suzdal – the Saviour Monastery of Saint Euthymius.
The monastery is surrounded by towering fortified walls, much like the Moscow Kremlin. It looks much more imposing than the Suzdal Kremlin does, actually.
This one is no longer a working monastery and now functions as a museum, which is officially called the Architectural Complex of the Monastery of St. Euthymius. According to the tourism literature, there are actually 10 museums inside.
I’m not sure I found quite that many, but there’s definitely a lot to see here, so I suggest arriving at 10 am when it opens.
Since there’s almost no English signage, I’ve included a few basic directions. You can also refer back to this maquette of the complex. I've used the same numbering system as the maquette in the descriptions below.
Cathedral of the Transfiguration of the Saviour
You can’t miss the green and gold onion domes of the Cathedral, which is the highlight of the monastery complex (No. 1 on the maquette). The seven domes are said to represent the seven days of creation, or alternatively the seven deadly sins.
Note that it was actually built in the 1590s, in a style reminiscent of the 12th and 13th-century white monuments.
Its icons have been moved to a museum in Moscow, so there is no iconostasis. This offers a rare glimpse at what's behind this screen that normally blocks off the most sacred area of Orthodox churches.
The table represents the Last Supper, while the candelabra with seven candles represents the seven sacraments of the Orthodox Church. On the right, you’ll see a room that’s used to store garments for special occasions.
All the inside walls are covered by frescoes painted by Gury Nikitin, a famous 17th-century Russian artist. These feature scenes of the life of Christ, and on the bottom row the works of the apostles after Christ's death. Notice that the Biblical scenes include architecture and everyday items from the 17th century.
Assumption Refectory Church (Колокола Exhibit)
As you’re facing the Cathedral, on your left is a white building with a tower (No. 2 on the maquette). This used to be the refectory and the Father Superior’s chambers. It now houses an exhibition on church bells, including photos of the man who rang the bells here for decades until he passed away in 2014.
The tall, brown and white brick building directly across from the bell exhibit is the bell tower itself (No. 3 on the maquette). Be sure not to miss the playing of the bells, which takes place every hour on the hour.
That is, except for the first session of the day, which is at 10:10 am to give people a chance to buy their tickets and enter the complex.
The Golden Treasury is housed in the hospital chambers and the St. Nicholas Church (No. 8 on the maquette). Here you’ll find Russian decorative and applied arts from the 11th to 20th centuries, mostly with a religious theme.
Suzdal Monastery Prison
Towards the back (north) of the complex is the monastery prison (No. 9 on the maquette). It was first built in the 1700s as a prison for religious dissidents. Much later, it was used as a concentration camp by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution.
And in World War II, German and Italian prisoners of war who’d been captured during the Battle of Stalingrad were held here. Many of them never made it out alive. It’s a sobering place with photos of prisoners and Soviet propaganda posters, including one featuring Stalin.
Exhibit on the History of the Monastery
In the long building on the eastern side of the complex (No. 7 on the maquette), you’ll find an exhibit on the history of the monastery complex itself. This includes period furnishings of a monastic scribe’s office, wooden sculptures and decorative ceramic tiles.
There are also some broken church bells and photos of the damage suffered by the monastery in 1932, which was when the bells were broken.
Exhibit on Italian Prisoners of War
In the same building as the previous exhibit (No. 7 on the maquette), back towards the main entrance, there’s an exhibit about the Italian prisoners of war who were held in the prison here.
If you read Italian, you’ll be happy to know that the explanations are in both Italian and Russian! Since I lived in Rome for several years, my Italian is much better than my Russian. So, I was happy to be able to read and understand everything in this exhibit. As is the case throughout the rest of the complex, nothing is written in English.
There is a list of the Italian POWs who died here after being captured in battle at Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in 1943, and also some touching poems written by them while imprisoned.
Outside, back towards the entrance, you’ll find an area that the monks used to grow herbs for medicinal purposes (No. 14 on the maquette). This is divided into small patches where herbs and flowers are still grown today.
Next to the garden is a children's playground, and beyond that is a staircase that leads up to the ramparts. Go up the staircase!
This long wooden walkway leads to a dungeon-like room that was used as a film set for the 2008 Russian movie "Tsar". You can still see some props used in the film here, but what’s more impressive is the beautiful bird's eye view of the monastery complex from here.
Once you’re finished exploring the Saviour Monastery of Saint Euthymius, turn right out of the exit and follow the path to a lovely viewpoint over the Kamenka river.
The complex you see surrounded by white walls on the other side of the river is the Pokrovsky Monastery, also known as the Holy Intercession Convent.
It’s a bit confusing, because in Russian the word “monastery” is often used regardless of the gender of the inhabitants. Whereas in English, monasteries are for monks, and convents are for nuns. The place described below is inhabited by nuns.
Pokrovsky Monastery / Holy Intercession Convent
This convent was founded in 1364, and wives of the the czars who had fallen out of favor with their powerful husbands were sent here to become nuns.
The main church inside it was built in 1518. Unlike the cathedral in the Saviour Monastery, this is still a working church, with an iconostasis and everything.
You’re welcome to visit (women must cover their heads), but photos are not allowed inside the church. There’s a crypt underneath that’s accessible from a side entrance.
Also inside the complex is another church towards the back, which was closed when I visited. The canteen restaurant and gift shop were open, though, and you can also see the wooden cottages where the nuns live.
These were part of a rustic hotel built inside the convent complex during the Soviet revolution. In 1992, the complex resumed its original religious function, and nuns now live in the cottages.
Across the road is the Petropavlovskaya church and the smaller Nikolskaya church. This complex is collectively known as the “Комплекс церквей Петропавловского прихода” in Russian.
Aleksandrovsky Muzhskoy Monastery
(Александровский мужской монастырь)
Entrance: free (opening hours are erratic)
This is a working monastery for men. The grounds are pretty small, and really the only buildings inside are the church and the bell tower. Plus a few cabins where the monks live.
It’s very quiet and picturesque, though, and worth stopping by on your walk through town.
Deposition of the Robe Convent (Rizopolozhensky Monastery)
Entrance: free. Bell tower: 100 rubles.
The bell tower inside this complex is the tallest building in Suzdal. For 100 rubles, you can climb it for great views over the town.
The other main sights here are the Holy Gates, which is a gate with two colorful towers built in 1688, and the triple-domed Cathedral of the Deposition of the Robe, built in the 1500s.
Some of the other buildings are pretty dilapidated, and the place has a semi-abandoned feel to it. But this just makes it all the more atmospheric.
Entrance: free (opening hours are erratic)
I stumbled upon this church by accident, and it was difficult to find any information about it. Antipievskaya Churh is the name given on Google Maps, but according to the sign on the building itself it’s the Lazaverskaya church, which dates from 1667.
In any case, the colorful striped bell tower is really beautiful, so it’s worth passing by for a photo from the outside even if the church is closed. It’s on a quiet side street very close to the Deposition of the Robe Convent.
The white columns of these trading arcades, built in the early 19th century, line the western side of Market Square (Torgovaya Ploshchad). Inside you’ll find cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops. It’s all a bit touristy, but the columns are quite attractive when lit up at night.
Friday Church and Bkhodo-Yerosalimskaya Church
Entrance: free (opening hours are erratic)
Even though these adjacent churches are white, they are not part of the white monuments from the 12th and 13th centuries. Instead, they were built in 1772. An old wooden church known as the “Friday church” used to stand on this spot.
Although the official name of this newer one is the St. Nicholas church, everyone still calls it the Friday church. The best view of the church is from the nearby hill just off of Lenin Street.
The bright red façade of this church is quite a contrast to all the white buildings elsewhere in the town. After the original one burned to the ground, this one was built in the early 18th century.
It underwent extensive renovations around 2012 and now looks quite impressive on the inside, although it’s obvious that the frescoes are much newer than the ones in the Saviour Monastery.
Entrance: Grounds only, 60 rubles; combined ticket, 400 rubles. The grounds are open daily from 9 am to 8pm, while the Cathedral is open daily from 9 am to 7 pm and closes early at 2 pm on the last Thursday of the month.
And finally, we come to the second (and last) of the UNESCO World Heritage monuments in Suzdal -- the Suzdal Kremlin. Contrary to popular belief, Moscow is not the only Russian city with a Kremlin.
Lots of cities and towns have them. For a more detailed description of what a kremlin is, see this article about the kremlin in Kazan.
The main attraction inside the Suzdal Kremlin is the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin. It’s the oldest building in Suzdal and was built in 1225.
Apart from its blue domes covered with stars, the rest of the church is white. As you would expect from a UNESCO “white monument”. Inside are frescoes dating from the 13th and 17th centuries.
The second-best attraction inside the Kremlin is the Nikolskaya wooden church, built in 1766. It was moved here from a nearby village in 1960 and now stands right next to the Cathedral.
If you only want to see these two buildings from the outside, you can just pay the 60-ruble grounds fee. For the full price of 400, you can go into other exhibits, such as the Suzdal History Exhibition inside the Archbishop’s Chambers.
I decided not to do this, since I had already thoroughly explored all the exhibits at the Saviour Monastery.
Suzdal Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life
(Музей деревянного зодчества и крестьянского быта)
Entrance: 400 rubles, open daily 9 am to 5 pm.
This open-air museum hosts a collection of 18 traditional Russian buildings made of wood. These include churches, windmills and peasant homes, and are laid out as a traditional village would be, with the churches up on a hill and the homes lining either side of the main street running through the village.
All of the wooden buildings were moved here in the 1960s and ‘70s from nearby villages for preservation. Suzdal was targeted for tourism by the Soviet regime, which is why there is no industry here, and no communist block apartments.
All of Suzdal’s historic buildings have been meticulously preserved. The towns and villages that these wooden buildings came from probably weren’t as lucky.
Boat Ride on the Kamenka River
(Пристань прогулочного катера)
A fun way to see the sights of Suzdal is by riding a boat down the Kamenka River. These leave every hour on the hour from 12 pm to 7 pm from May to October, regardless of the number of passengers.
You’ll find the boat dock at the bridge just in front of the wooden architecture museum. Rides cost 500 rubles per adult and 350 rubles for children under 10 years old. It’s a round trip that goes up the river and comes back down in 45 minutes.
Typical Wooden Houses
Scattered all throughout town, you’ll see lots of brightly colored wooden houses with decorative carvings around the windows. There’s no specific area where these are more prevalent; just do your own exploring and you’ll discover them.
While Suzdal can get crowded with tourists, most seem to congregate around the Kremlin and the Museum of Wooden Architecture. I found the other locations described in this guide to be refreshingly quiet and peaceful, so it’s definitely worth exploring off the beaten track.
Where to Stay in Suzdal
Patchwork Guesthouse Suzdal
(Гостевой домик Patchwork)
There are plenty of Suzdal hotels to choose from. We chose Patchwork Guesthouse, and it was our favorite of all the places we stayed in during our month-long trip through Russia.
It’s a small, cozy place with a couple of small dorm rooms and at least one private double room. The communal kitchen is well equipped, which we appreciated since we cooked all our own meals in Suzdal.
The owner speaks English well and is always happy to help. It’s located just on the northern outskirts of town, near the Saint Euthymius Monastery. Bikes are available to hire if you prefer to see the town by cycling rather than walking.
Where to Eat in Suzdal
Finding vegan food in Russia was much easier than I thought. In most destinations, we found at least one vegan or vegetarian restaurant. And if not, we would eat at a Georgian restaurant, as Georgian cuisine is very vegan-friendly and widely available in Russia.
Suzdal was one of the few places in Russia where we found neither of these, so we chose to self-cater rather than eating out. The Magnit supermarket near the Patchwork Guesthouse is pretty well stocked. Alternatively, you could try the restaurant called “Ogurets”, which means “cucumber”, a local specialty.
We happened to visit Suzdal on the day of its annual cucumber festival, so I can confirm that cucumbers are a really big deal here. If you’d like to try this local specialty, the “Cucumber” restaurant seems like a great place for it.
In addition to pickled cucumbers, they also offer a few other pickled vegetables as part of a starter platter. There are no vegan main dishes on the menu, but they do have a pumpkin cream soup and the usual rice, potato and vegetable side dishes.
How to Get from Moscow to Suzdal
There is no train station in Suzdal, so you will need to take a train to Vladmir and then switch to a bus. You should buy your train tickets online well in advance.
Other blogs will tell you to go through expensive middlemen to buy Russian train tickets, but that's not really necessary. You can avoid commissions by booking your tickets on the Russian Railways official website, which is bilingual in Russian and English.
For more info on buying train tickets in Russia, see my list of top Russia travel tips.
The price and length of the journey to Vladimir varies depending on the kind of train you book. Ours cost 819 rubles per person and took about an hour and a half.
Trains to Vladimir leave from Kurskaya Station in Moscow. The station is a bit confusing, so allow yourself plenty of time to find your platform.
Vladimir bus station is directly across the street from the train station. A ticket to Suzdal costs just over 100 rubles on a small, very local bus. These buses are frequent and take about 50 minutes.
The Suzdal station is two kilometers east of the center, but you can stay on the bus and pay another 19 rubles to go all the way to the town center. It even stops right on the street that Patchwork Guesthouse is on.
Suzdal Russia Map with Walking Itinerary
On the map below you will find all the Suzdal attractions described in this article. To follow this Suzdal itinerary as outlined above, just follow the numbers on the map. Click the star next to the title to save the map to your Google account.
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Do you know of any things to do in Suzdal Russia that are missing from this post? Share them in the comments below!