By the time we got to Moscow, Dan and I hadn’t spent any time outside of a city since our stay at Lake Baikal. Now I do love cities, especially Russian ones, but by Moscow I had started to daydream about a quiet walk in the fresh air.
Luckily just a few hours outside of Moscow lies Suzdal, about which Wikipedia says: “The juxtaposition of stunning medieval architecture with its pastoral setting lends Suzdal a picturesque charm and in the summer artists and easels are a common sight.”
Suzdal is so perfect in fact, that I sensed a touch of design behind it – Soviet design, to be specific.
It turns out that the Soviet Union decided to avoid building any modern buildings in Suzdal in order to preserve its tourist appeal, banning buildings over two stories high – except for cathedrals, of course. So today Suzdal has none of the tall apartment blocks that characterize other former Soviet towns and cities, but is instead filled with beautiful churches and wooden houses!
Suzdal really does have a lot of pretty buildings.
Something about it felt a bit… Oh what’s the word? Starts with D and rhymes with blisney?
Suzdal is home to a lot of churches, but in the Soviet push to base Suzdal’s economy on tourism, the small town also was filled with churches and wooden homes from other areas of Russia.
I guess it was good for Suzdal, but how sad must that have been for the towns that lost their most beautiful structures to this tourist attraction?
As I walked around Suzdal I couldn’t help but wonder where some of its pretty sites really came from – and what those towns looked like after their own Soviet makeovers.
While it was nice to get out of the city for a bit, and Suzdal certainly is beautiful, I mostly found the town bizarre. It’s clearly touristy there in the summer, so it was interesting to see it in its empty off-season state. Suzdal was strange (and pretty!) enough that I really enjoyed my visit there, but I suspect if I had gone there in the summer I might not have loved it quite as much.
Then again, maybe it would be fun to see Suzdal in its full glory – crowded with tourists admiring the livestock running picturesquely through the streets as artists paint the charming scene.
Where to Stay in Suzdal
We stayed at Godzillas Hostel, which is in a spacious wooden lodge at the edge of town. My only complaint was that it took about an hour to reach the town center from Godzillas.
Though I should add that this was solely due to the thick layer of slippery ice covering all the roads while we were in Suzdal because, well let’s just say I’m no Michelle Kwan when I step on ice. The hostel really is only 20 minutes from the center.
Getting to Suzdal from Moscow
There aren’t any trains to Suzdal, so the easiest way to get there is via Vladimir. You can get the local electric train from Moscow’s — station, which takes 3.5 hours and costs about 400 RUB, or you can take one of the faster and more comfortable (and more expensive) regional express trains.
From Vladimir you can get a bus to Suzdal from the bus station across from the train station for 72 RUB.
What do you think, is Suzdal charming? I still can’t decide!
I’ve visited Suzdal last year in April and I must say I really liked. The churches, the colorful wooden dachas and the vast landscape. So quiet and peaceful, especially if you compare it to busy Moscow. Maybe the town is a bit touristy, but I didn’t care. It still gave me an impression of how Russia must have looked like centuries ago.
That’s a good point – Suzdal is a nice escape from city life in Moscow! Since I had just been in Siberia I felt like I had seen some more genuine towns, but then they didn’t have Suzdal’s pretty buildings!
I loved Suzdal myself although to be fair the way that Russia’s history/economy has gone, anything you might consider ‘real’ fell to the wayside since no one had the money to maintain the old cathedrals. So Suzdal’s what we’ve got.
I stayed at Godzillas as well – even with pure ice on the ground, it was only about 15 minutes to get to the center. We must have very different ideas of the center.
Haha it definitely should have taken 15 minutes to get to the center – I am just THAT bad at walking on ice (especially with a giant backpack on). I swear Russians have magical skills when it comes to not slipping. Maybe you developed some yourself?
I visited Suzdal in the summer, so it’s really interesting to see it in the winter! You seemed to get the better side of it though, as in the summer it was really crowded and your right, it did feel kind of weird. Definitely not my favorite place in Russia!
There are so many amazing places to visit in Russia, so I’d have to say Suzdal wasn’t my absolute favorite either!
Suzdal looks really charming. It’s kinda cool that it was spared from the Soviet makeover. I kind of like visiting places that are super touristy. But having the chance to visit during the off season would be so fun…I imagine it was a total ghost town!
Suzdal was a total ghost town when we visited – a lot of locals seemed really surprised to see visitors!
Really interesting article. I’ve never been to Russia, but now I’ll consider adding Suzdal to my itinerary when I do go. But I don’t think I would enjoy Suzdal when it’s full of tourists either! I will have to go in the off season.
It is an interesting place to visit if you have some extra time in Russia!
I love Suzdal! Its such a welcome antithesis to Moscow! I went there for an overnight trip last June to put my sister in one of the convents, and loved every minute of it…
More here 🙂
Thanks for the article! And yes, I’d imagine Suzdal would be such a nice break from crowded Moscow!
Another reason, to add to the many I’ve gotten from your posts Silvia, to return to Russia asap! This looks so interesting, deliciously photogenic, surreal and quirky at the same time. I think I’d like to see it as you have: empty and blanketed in snow.
Your description kind of reminds me of the Skansen museum in Stockholm, that has lots of old wooden buildings gathered from around Sweden.
Ahh yes you put it perfectly – Suzdal is all of those things at the same time! And it’s really special because it not only shows off a lot of old architecture like other museum towns, but also it’s so hard to see a lot of those old buildings in Russia these days. Though I found that Tomsk in Siberia has even more impressive old buildings, but in a more authentic setting.
Kelly | The Wandering Blonde says
It definitely looks charming and scenic, but I totally get what you mean about places feeling a little “off” when they’re just a bit TOO charming, to the point where you have to question how much is authentic and how much is for the sake of tourists. I think it’s an unfortunate truth that there are way too many places in the world that exaggerate their history and culture to appeal to tourists, but I feel like there’s nothing you can do but roll with it and appreciate the sights as they are.
You’re so right – at least these places are exaggerating their history and culture for a reason. Suzdal is really pretty and special, even if it’s also a tad strange, haha.
becky hutner says
I completely appreciate when towns are preserved for tourism, however these are rarely my favorite spots to visit. Hordes of tourists get on my nerves & I prefer a more authentic feel, even if it means neglected buildings and people pissing on the sidewalks. Actually ESPECIALLY if it includes those things.
I agree completely! I guess pretty isn’t really for me, ha.
I haven’t been to Suzdal but I did spend a day in Rostov-Veliky, which I really liked. It has a large monastery and a lake-side kremlin, but also quite a gritty run-down feel as opposed to any kind of Disney-feel.
Hey Silvia! I really appreciate your post! Finally some candor and honesty! I have been digging HARD to get some info past all the “MUST SEE” places all the websites and blogs post about, which are always the same and pretty much pretend you wrap up a whole country in a 7 day tour! I’m going for 15 days to Russia in July and wanna split it between Moscow and St. Pete and just explore the cities. I’ve been struggling to decide if and how many days to spend in the golden ring. I originally wanted to make Vladimir-Suzdal in 2 days and then maybe take a day trip to Sergiev Posad buuuut I have the same feeling Suzdal will be just too perfect and catered for tourists.. Maybe would be better to take 3 full days and head somewhere a bit farther and make my way back to Moscow?
I would love your feedback 🙂
Will keep checking your blog!
Hi Lucia! It is indeed not easy to choose and to find out which city of the golden ring is the best to visit. If you go to Vladimir don’t forget to visit church called “Pokrova na Nerli”. Is is a gem built in 12 century and very nice located with the great history behind. But it is about 20 minutes drive from Vladimir. Then go to Suzdal and don’t miss church in Kideksha ( 5 minutes drive from Suzdal). Spend one night in Suzdal. Then go to Yaroslavl…
Well, if you rent a car then you could do much more and visit much more. I would definitely recommend you half a day visit to Pereslavl-Zalesskiy, half a day in Rostov and then the whole day in Yaroslavl. And on the way back to Moscow you’ll drop to Sergiev Posad for a 3-4 hours. So the most interesting part of the golden ring you could visit within 4 days/3nights