one of traditional regions of Russia; not to be confused with political Northwestern Federal District
Europe > Eastern Europe > Russia > Northwestern Russia

Northwestern Russia is a region of Russia stretching from the major population center of Leningrad Oblast on the Baltic Sea to vast, remote, and empty lands above the Arctic Circle. The Silver Ring is a tourism project to promote the cultural and historical centers of Northwestern Russia.


Map of Northwestern Russia


  • 1 Saint Petersburg — Russia's "window to the West", the second largest city in the country, and the most touristic one. Included into 10 top European tourist cities ranking.
  • 2 Arkhangelsk — a key northern port of Russia, cultural capital of the Russian north, and the gateway to Solovki and Nenetsia.
  • 3 Murmansk — the world-largest transpolar city with a big ice-free port (thanks to the gulf stream) and Navy surroundings.
  • 4 Novgorod, or Velikiy Novgorod — one of the oldest Russian cities, established in the 9th century, famous as the capital of the medieval Novgorod Republic, and once a part of Hansa cities union. The city has great cultural heritage and definitely worth visiting.
  • 5 Petrozavodsk — the capital of Karelia and the gateway to Kizhi. Beautiful lakeside embankment with strange sculptures.
  • 6 Pskov — another ancient city, the neighbour of Novgorod. Picturesque kremlin (Krom) and old city.
  • 7 Veliky Ustyug in Vologda Oblast — official residence of Father Frost (Ded Moroz), Russian equivalent of Santa Claus.
  • 8 Vologda
  • 9 Vyborg — once a Swedish and Finnish fortress, now this is the closest town of Leningrad Oblast on the way from Finland to Saint Petersburg. Vyborg has European look, fortress and old city are beautiful.

Other destinations

Ferapontovo monastery in Volodga Oblast


See also: Russian Empire, Soviet Union

Northwestern Russia has long vied with Central Russia for political and cultural preeminence, first under the trading center of the Novgorod Republic, later under Peter the Great's creation Saint Petersburg. Saint Petersburg, having lost the capital status to Moscow under the Soviet regime, retains its popular image as Russia's Northern Capital, window to Western Europe, and in the eyes of many remains the nation's foremost cultural center for its unparalleled museums, art galleries, classical music, and architectural history. Just outside the city are three staggeringly beautiful and enormous imperial palaces at Peterhof, Pushkin, and Pavlovsk.

Not far from Saint Petersburg are a few other small cities with rich history—especially Novgorod, which is a must-see attraction for visitors to the region, but also Pskov and the twin castle cities of Ivangorod and Narva (Narva being across the river in present-day Estonia). Further off the beaten path, but still possible as day trips from Saint Petersburg are small towns such as Staraya Ladoga, the birthplace of Russia, and Staraya Rusa, Dostoevsky's rural retreat, where he wrote and set The Brothers Karamazov.

Far further from Saint Petersburg and isolated from major population centers are some of Russia's most important sights, which are hard but rewarding to get to. Kizhi Island, a tiny island in Lake Onega, is home to some of Russia's most important and beautiful intricate wooden architecture. Isolated and breathtaking fourteenth century Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery in Vologda Oblast, on the shores of Siversky Lake, was once one of the wealthiest landowners of all Russia. Solovki in the White Sea is a singular destination; once one of the mightiest monasteries in Russia, and fortress of the White Sea, Solovki was turned into a notorious gulag under Stalin's reign.

For the most adventurous travelers, the North Seas await. Arkhangelsk is the principal port for giant Russian icebreakers heading out into the Barents Sea and off into the Arctic. Expensive tours are available via these great ships, which can take you to some of the most isolated lands in the world along the Russian north coast, Severnaya Zemlya, Novaya Zemlya, and all the way to the Russian Far East to Chukotka, Wrangel Island, and off to the Bering Sea.



Russian is the native language of the great majority.

Important minority languages are: Finnish, Karelian and Veps in Karelia, Sámi languages on the Kola peninsula and Komi in Komi, all belonging to the Finno-Ugric language family. Almost all speakers of these are fluent in Russian, aside from their native languages. They are a small minority in most cities, so don't count on being able to use these languages.

Basic English is widely understood in big cities, while in smaller cities and the countryside it can be very difficult to find an English speaker. German can also be useful. Older generations (born before 1975) are less familiar with foreign languages than younger people.

Get in


The only international airports in the region are in Saint Petersburg, but far-flung Murmansk and Arkhangelsk both have domestic airports served by flights from Saint Petersburg, Moscow, and each other.

There used to be connections to Arkhangelsk's Talagi airport from Luleå (Sweden), Rovaniemi (Finland), Tromsø, Bergen, Kristiansund (Norway), Homel (Belarus) and Antalya (Turkey), but because of the Russian war on Ukraine, there are no flights between Russia and the EU (check for Norway and Turkey).

Get around


By plane

An airport in Petrozavodsk

Murmansk and Arkhangelsk have domestic airports with services between them and Saint Petersburg.

Air travel works in a pinch, but the fares are high (while train fare is often very low), and you will likely have more inconveniences dealing with airport staff and what have you, than if you take the more standard overnight trains. If you are trying to get to Naryan-Mar in Nenetsia (good luck), air travel is the only plausible means of success, with occasional service from Arkhangelsk.

By train

A railway station in Vyborg

The principal mode of transport in Northwestern Russia (and Russia generally) is rail. Saint Petersburg is the undisputed rail hub of the region, and virtually all major cities in the region have rail service direct to the "Northern Capital." Southern cities also have direct service to Moscow. Given the vast distances throughout this sparsely populated section of the world, overnight trains are the most frequent mode of transport.

For intra-oblast travel, the most efficient and simple mode of transport are the electric train lines (Russian: электрички elektrichki. These small suburban radiate out from the main cities not just to suburbs, but to far-off smaller cities as well as small villages.

By bus


If the elektrichki don't take you all the way to your destination, you are in for an adventure. Buses and their smaller cousins (Russian: маршрутки marshrutki) connect the rest of the small towns and villages to the broader transit system. It is rare, however, to see a bus that has a clearly marked route. Often the only way to know which bus to take, and for that matter when to get off, is to ask. If you don't have enough command of Russian to do so, consider finding a tour operator to arrange transport to your destination instead.





Go next

  • Nordic countriesKirkenes in Norway is reachable from Murmansk and Finland has several border crossings and good connections to the rest of the Nordic countries via Sweden. However, as of 2023, you should check the latest news, as the border policy may change on short notice.
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Northwestern Federal District