Easy day trips into the Moscow environs bring you to some fascinating monasteries, including Russia's most popular place of pilgrimage, Troitse-Sergieva Lavra, and several important cultural sights, among them novelist Leo Tolstoy's estate in Yasnaya Polyana. Trips a bit farther afield into river valleys north and east of Moscow bring you to ancient Russian towns that make up what is commonly called the "Golden Ring."
They seem quite unassuming today in comparison to the sprawling, bustling capital, but before the Mongol invasion, Rostov, Vladimir, Suzdal, and Yaroslavl were the centers of Russian political, cultural, and economic life. In fact, you might call this historic realm Russia's Capital-That-Might-Have-Been. These small towns, all within easy striking distance of Moscow, were where the Russian nation was born nearly a millennium ago and, consequently, are home to some of the country's most beautiful churches and monasteries, romantic kremlins (fortresses), and famous works of art, such as Andrei Rublyov's frescoes in the cathedral at Vladimir. Although these towns may lack some of the amenities you can easily find in Moscow, they have a provincial charm and aura of history that make them an important stop for anyone seeking to become acquainted with Russian history.