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Veliky Novgorod: Where Russia Began

Speaking about a trip to Russia, the majority of travelers envisage a tour of such mighty Russian cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, maybe even with the historic Golden Ring trip. However, not many travelers include some less fabulous yet remarkable destinations as Veliky Novgorod to their Russia travel itinerary, and that’s a miss. In this piece, we would like to introduce you to the so-called birthplace of Russia and the reasons why you should make your way to glorious Veliky Novgorod.

Once upon a time…

Located in the northwestern part of Russia, just where the Volkhov River flows into the Lake Ilmen, the ancient city of Veliky Novgorod has proudly been standing at the forefront of Russia’s foundation. Being one of the most significant cultural centers and best-fortified cities of ancient Rus, Veliky Novgorod has seen an impressive number of events during its 11-century history.

The first mention of Veliky Novgorod took place in 859 in the famous historic document “the Tale of Bygone Years” and was connected with the name of Rurik, invited to the city for reigning.

It was, indeed, a prominent event in the history of the whole country as the warlord of Varangians, Rurik, became the founder of the ruling dynasty of the Kievan Rus, remaining in power up to the 17th century.

In fact, from the first years of its existence, the town took a significant part in the life of the state, having become the actual capital.

 

Moreover, the city stood on the famous trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, enhancing Novgorod’s economic potential and making the hub a kind of “window to Europe” and the largest political and cultural center of the northwestern lands. It is no surprise that the city also made part of the commercial confederation Hanseatic League along with Lübeck and London. Even after the relocation of the capital to Kiev in 882, Veliky Novgorod remained significant.

Novgorod warriors helped the noblemen to struggle for the Kiev throne as well as defended the state frontiers from nomads’ raids. However, proud and free-willed Veliky Novgorod always strived to keep its independence.

The citizens even refused to accept the prince-governor sent there from the capital city of Kiev and chose their princes at will.

One more notable thing about this amazing city is that in the 13th century, during the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus, the raiders didn’t even set foot on this land while the rest of Rus was under tough oppression.

Though the citizens of Veliky Novgorod still had to pay tribute to the Mongols, luckily the city didn’t experience such damage as Moscow, Vladimir, Ryazan, and Kiev, thus preserving the majority of historic treasures till our days.

What to see in Veliky Novgorod

Veliky Novgorod is often referred to as the open-air museum of Ancient Rus as no other Russian city has preserved the same number of historic monuments, left by the ancestors. But if you are searching for ideas to enhance your Veliky Novgorod walking tour, we will gladly introduce you to some of the city’s treasures below.

From all Veliky Novgorod highlights, we advise starting your itinerary from the Novgorod Kremlin. Set on the left bank of the Volkhov River, this outstanding monument is the most preserved ancient kremlin on the territory of the whole country. Quite a unique point to see, don’t you think?

The fortified complex dates back to the 11th century and was rebuilt several times. Nowadays, the Kremlin territory houses the former residence of Russian metropolitans and one of the most beautiful Orthodox churches, St. Sophia Cathedral, as well as the regional library and the Philharmonic building.

 

After a tour of the Novgorod Kremlin, you may continue your city exploration heading to another gem of fascinating ancient architecture, Yaroslav’s Courtyard.

 

The place is named after the grand prince of Veliky Novgorod, Yaroslav the Wise, who went down into history by writing the basis for the main source of Old Russian Law “Russkaya Pravda” (or Rus’ Justice). So what makes the place unique?

Yaroslav's Courtyard is the only spot in entire Russia which houses seven Christian temples all decorated in different styles but composing the harmonious beautiful ensemble.

Serving as the Trade Mart for several centuries, the place was full of barns and shops while the long wharf stretched along the river bank, welcoming merchants’ vessels.

Nowadays you have a chance to feel the vibe of this historic UNESCO listed gem, strolling along the majestic temples and getting real aesthetic pleasure while exploring their fancy inside decor.

Apart from an impressive variety of churches and temples (in fact, Veliky Novgorod boasts around 60 functioning and closed religious edifices).

You may enhance your knowledge of Russian history by visiting the remains of the first 9th-century residence of Novgorod princes, Rurikovo Gorodische. Plus, you can see the bronze monument “Millenium of Russia”, celebrating the millennium of Rurik’s arrival to Novgorod.

 

Moreover, consider setting off on a day tour to the open-air museum Vitoslavlitsy set outside the city to see folk wooden architecture and take part in local events. In addition, Veliky Novgorod is a perfect place to set sail on a river cruise along the Volkhov River to Lake Ilmen, available from late spring to early fall. Fresh breeze, exceptional photo opportunities, and outstanding panoramas of the “Father of Russian cities” guaranteed.

How to get to Veliky Novgorod

Having a look on the map of Russia, you can see that Veliky Novgorod is located very close to St. Petersburg (about 200 km or 125 miles) so you can easily make your way to this atmospheric city as a part of the tour of the Northern Capital.

There are several options to travel to Veliky Novgorod from St. Petersburg including by car, bus or train. Of course, everything depends on your travel plans and personal preferences, but the smartest option we would recommend to choose is by train.

Generally, the travel time varies from 3 to 4 hours, depending on the type of train you go by, regular or bullet. The most optimal alternative in terms of value for money is the comfortable bullet train Lastochka which travels at the speed of 160 km/h (100 mi/h) and provides a wide range of top-notch amenities and services you’d expect for a nice ride.

 

To sum up, we hope that this piece was helpful and has inspired you to add glorious Veliky Novgorod to your Russia itinerary. There’s no doubt that the city is an obligatory highlight you should discover while in Russia to feel the true spirit of ancient times, witness the best examples of Russian religious architecture, and get a deeper understanding of how the whole state began.