The world’s largest country is shockingly romantic.
*DISCLAIMER: Russia is a notoriously unfriendly place for LGBTQ people with laws that discriminate against members of the LGBTQ community, including the “gay propaganda” law that Human Rights Watch says has imperiled LGBTQ youth. While you may not experience overt discrimination in St. Petersburg and Moscow, it’s probably best for LGBTQ couples to consider a different destination for their honeymoon, because nobody should be afraid to hold hands with their partner.
Russia is in the news a lot these days, but here’s something nobody is talking about: St. Petersburg might be the most beautiful city in the world, and Moscow is Europe’s best-kept secret. For art lovers, foodies, and hotel snobs, these cities have just as much to offer honeymooners as tried-and-true romantic destinations like Paris, Venice, and Rome. Plus, you’ll have the added bonus of spending your most romantic vacation in a place that’s not overrun with tourists.
INSIDER TIPThe Russian visa process is complicated, expensive, and lengthy. Make sure to book your hotels as far out in advance as possible, as they’ll need to provide you with a “letter of support.” The visa process should be started at least 30 days before your trip.
Moscow and St. Petersburg will surprise and delight you, with remarkably delicious restaurants, world-class museums, incredible architecture, and some of the best hotels in the world. Honeymoons are a time to treat yourselves to luxury, live inside a fairytale, and spend like an oligarch (if only for a few days). We’ll show you where to stay, what to eat, and how to spend your time in these two surprisingly romantic cities (which are only a few hours apart by high-speed train). Here are 8 reasons why you should spend your honeymoon in Russia.
You Can Sleep in a Literal Palace
You heard it here first: St. Petersburg is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in the world. With pastel buildings, narrow canals, and museums galore, the city feels like a time capsule, transporting visitors to the era of the Romanovs, Russia’s most famous (and scandalous) royal family. St. Petersburg is scattered with palaces—opulent homes in the countryside and buildings throughout the city that belonged to the aristocracy during the Romanov Dynasty. One of the most luxurious historic hotels in Russia (and probably the world) is the Four Seasons Lion Palace, just steps from the famous State Hermitage Museum and right next to the opulent St. Isaac’s Cathedral. The 200-year old Lion Palace was converted to a hotel in 2013, and it’s one of the best places in Russia to spend your first few days as a married couple, living like royalty. Even though the hotel is new, the decor is sumptuous, elegant, and classic, giving the Four Seasons Lion Palace a timeless feel reminiscent of pre-revolution royalty.
INSIDER TIPIf you can’t swing a stay here, at least stop by for a cozy drink at Xander Bar, a dark, wood-paneled bar accented with bookcases and fireplaces. Snuggle up with a glass of champagne or the hotel’s signature Xander Mule, made with cabbage juice, which sounds weird but is totally delicious.
Caviar Is Served for Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner
If you think traveling to Russia is all about indulging in caviar and vodka, you’re right. Traditionally, vodka and caviar are eaten together, and the combination is one you’ll find at every upscale bar or restaurant. Most luxury hotels will have caviar as a part of their breakfast buffet, offered with an assortment of blinis, smoked fish, pickled vegetables, crème fraîche, capers, and various toppings. At lunch, treat yourself to caviar with a view of the Kremlin at Beluga, an exquisitely extravagant restaurant on the second floor of the National Hotel. Caviar is the main event here, served on its own or as an accompaniment to other heartier dishes (care for a giant scoop atop your seared scallops, anyone?). Once the sun goes down, it’s time to enjoy your caviar and vodka with a view of the sparkling lights of Moscow at Russki, located on the 85th floor of an office building. The caviar and vodka tasting here involves bundling up in the provided fur coats and visiting the ice bar for a shot of vodka and a spoonful of caviar with a hilarious bearded man who will take a couples photo of you on the ice throne.
Diamonds Are Everywhere
The fairytale history of the royal Romanovs comes to life at the Kremlin’s Armory Museum, where real-life royal artifacts are on display. The amount of gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, ivory, and precious stones is mind-boggling, with glittering rocks encrusted on everything from bibles and crowns to scepters, thrones, dinnerware, and jewelry. The clothing on display feels like it’s from a behind-the-scenes tour of Hollywood’s most opulent film sets, and the meticulously preserved gowns and cloaks make royal fantasies come to life. But perhaps the most jaw-dropping display of all is the royal carriages, which are straight out of Cinderella. Giant wooden wheels, beautiful stained glass, lush velvet interiors, and intricately painted carriages are the stars of the museum—and it’s fascinating to imagine these exquisite pieces of art making the long trek from St. Petersburg to Moscow.
Temporary exhibits at the Kremlin are heavy on the diamonds too. Recently, luxury brand Bulgari put together a retrospective of some of their most stunning creations from the collections of real-world princesses, silver screen stars, and private owners. Walk through the exhibits, pick out your favorites, and imagine what life is like as a present-day royalty.
And if you’re feeling inspired to pick up some bling for your betrothed, you needn’t look too far. Just across Red Square, you’ll find GUM, Russia’s most famous luxury department store complete with Bulgari-branded ice cream stands, diamonds on display, and tons and tons of fur.
Seriously Amazing Sushi
What seems slightly surprising at first glance is actually quite reasonable: Russia and Japan are only 28 miles apart, Russia has almost 25,000 miles of coastline, and the country has a long culinary tradition of fish in myriad forms: raw, smoked, fried, or embryonic (don’t forget that caviar and tobiko are essentially the same thing). You won’t find an overwhelming amount of traditional Japanese sushi restaurants here, but you’ll find something truly special and unique—Asian fusion with a Russian twist. Russians are no strangers to raw seafood, but at restaurants like Sintoho in St. Petersburg, you’ll get sushi like you’ve never had before. Try the picnic of the sea, with nine different plates of Omakase-style sushi made with non-traditional garnishes like wasabi foam, kumquats, and pine nuts. Honeymoons are about indulging, and the best way to do that it with an over-the-top nine-course dinner. Apart from delectable sushi and Asian-fusion creations, the restaurant is one of the most romantic settings in the city, with black lacquered walls, low lights, over-the-top cocktails, and comfortable banquettes.
INSIDER TIPIn Moscow, the more casual and traditional Tokyo Sushi has a sit-down dining concept a food stall at Moscow Central Market.
Stroll Hand-in-Hand Through the World’s Second-Largest Museum
In St. Petersburg, the State Hermitage Museum is a palace to rival the Louvre, filled with art and artifacts from all over the world. The most fascinating aspect of the museum is the Russian history–the museum was once the home of the Romanovs and many of the rooms have been restored and filled with art and furniture that take you on a tour through history. There are over 1,000 rooms with over 3 million pieces of art, the most famous of which might be The Peacock Clock, a wildly elaborate golden cuckoo clock the size of a large car that comes to life weekly on Wednesdays at 7 pm.
The museum is best explored leisurely yet purposefully, and if you’re overwhelmed by the amount of stuff there is to see, you can hire a guide to take you through the highlights. From the chandeliers to the multi-story paintings to the hundreds of resident cats, there’s enough here to keep you occupied for a few days—plan accordingly, but don’t stress out too much. You’re on your honeymoon, after all.
One of the most romantic spots in the museum is the Grand Church of the Winter Palace, an ornately decorated chapel with a golden altar and painted ceilings that played host to many royal weddings throughout the years.
Even most people who know nothing about ballet know the Bolshoi–perhaps the world’s most famous theater. The historic venue was built in 1776 and remains the premier destination for Russian ballerinas, where the repertoire includes some of the most iconic performances in history. The annual performances of The Nutcracker are some of the most sought-after tickets in town and can be difficult to come by. A performance at the Bolshoi is a chance to dress your best and stroll into one of the greatest performance venues on earth for perhaps the fanciest date night you’ll ever have. Be warned though, that a visit to the Bolshoi is so memorable, that it might actually upstage your wedding.
INSIDER TIPConcierges at the Four Seasons Moscow can help with tickets and even organize the ultimate treat: a private backstage tour of the theater, complete with history, gossip, photo ops, and a peek into the dazzling costume atelier.
The Couple That Sweats Together, Stays Together
The largest spa in Moscow belongs to the Four Seasons Moscow, a super-luxe hotel just steps from the Kremlin and Red Square. The modern hotel is decked out with crystal chandeliers and marble floors and home to a high-end Italian restaurant, and intimate bar, and a deluxe spa. It’s a veritable resort within the city and a hotel that is so fantastic we’ve named it as one of the best hotels in the world. Russia is big on sweat culture, and the spa at the Four Seasons lets you experience a traditional Russian banya–but with luxury amenities like fluffy towels, aromatherapy, and ice cold bottled water for when the heat in the sauna or steam room gets to be too much. And remember, no honeymoon is complete without a couple’s massage.
INSIDER TIPWhile the saunas and steam rooms are segregated by gender, the pool is not.
Russia Is Not What It Seems
Let’s get some things straight, in case you’re still not convinced. Russians don’t hate Americans. Although not the smiliest nation on earth, Russia is full of friendly people with a great sense of humor–don’t be surprised if you come home with a few new friends. It’s also not the kind of place that you need to come with a tour group. As long as you’ve booked a luxury hotel, they’re happy to take care of the details, like arranging an airport transfer and helping out with tour guides and tickets. Honeymoons are about stress-free travel, and a visit to Russia is exactly that. And while yes, it’s cold and dark, winter is actually a magical time to visit, filled with sparkling lights and an over-the-top festive season that starts in November and lasts through January. When the days get shorter and the nights get longer, it’s hard not to fall in love with these two cities—there’s something inherently cozy and romantic about a 3 pm sunset. And don’t forget, there’s also plenty of vodka to keep you warm. Just remember to pack a warm coat and dress up, because even in the dead of winter, Russians are dressed to the nines.