Velikiy Novgorod is a small city not far from Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Being the oldest city in Russia, it is often called a museum of the ancient Rus and was given the status of the World Heritage Site of UNESCO. No other city in Russia managed to preserve such a number of pieces of architecture and art from the very ancient times.
How to get to Velikiy Novgorod
The most convenient way of travel to Velikiy Novgorod is to travel by train and the fastest route is now offered by the Lastochka train departing from Saint Petersburg twice a day: in the early morning (07:36 a.m.) and at 7:32 p.m. (the timetable is the matter of change, so you should check it before planning a trip. Tickets can be booked online). Travel time is less than 3 hours which is much faster than traveling by train from Moscow which will take the whole night. However, on the overnight train from Moscow, you can sleep on your bunk in the shared compartment for four people, while Lastochka from Saint Petersburg offers only seating coaches.
Approximately 4 hours you will spend on your way to Velikiy Novgorod if you choose bus travel from Parnas metro station in Saint Petersburg. However, this might be more convenient if you need to travel in the afternoon, later than 7 o’clock in the morning or before 19:00, as there are more buses than the train and the schedule offers routes during the whole day.
Getting to Velikiy Novgorod by car is also quite a fast and convenient way for those who choose privacy and comfort.
What to do and what to see
Velikiy Novgorod is a gem for those who are into history and culture; sometimes they call it Russia Florence. Let’s start with the Cathedral of St. Sophia, built in 1045 and located in the historic downtown of Novgorod. Why is it worth seeing? Mostly, for its unique examples of ancient art: frescoes and altar-screens, especially the most famous one called Virgin of the Sign. Another great cathedral is the Cathedral of St. Nicholas; for the fullest experience, visit the Chuch of the Nativity of Our Lady in St. Anthony's Monastery, where you will also enjoy mural paintings, iconostases and of course the ancient exterior. The Kremlin of Novgorod — the oldest kremlin in Russia — was the heart of crucial moments in ancient Russia: it was used for the town’s meetings and welcoming foreign ambassadors. One of the remarkable points of the Kremlin is the monument called "The Millenium of Russia”, erected in 1862. It is dedicated to the most outstanding Russian figures like tsars, writers, politicians, historians. To explore more art of 1012 centuries, visit the main hall of the Faceted Palace in Kremlin: it features an exhibition of enamel art with some very unique and rare items. The Yaroslav’s Court and the ancient Tradeyard is another open-air museum with great examples of architecture like churches of Paraskeva-Pyatnitsa, Myrrh-Bearing Women and St. John-The Baptist. If you drive only 4 kilometers away from Velikiy Novgorod city center, you will have a chance to see the famous open-air complex called Vitoslavlitsy. It is fully dedicated to the wooden architecture from 16th to 20th centuries and gives you an opportunity to explore wooden churches, peasant houses and get acquainted with the folk art and household items of plain citizens of Novgorod during past centuries.
What to buy
There is no doubt that you want to keep your memories by buying some special souvenirs from Velikiy Novgorod — not just simple nesting dolls or ushanka hats, sold in every corner of Russia. In Velikiy Novgorod, you are most likely to find more unusual options. First of all, Novgorod craftsmen have always been famous for their birchbark crafts and you can find various cute items to take with you: jewel cases, hairpins, and hairbands, plates, and cups. For a laugh, you can also buy bast shoes — traditional footwear of Russian peasants also made of birchbark. Along with the birchbark, you will always find wooden carved figures on the shelves — some of them are made in a rather exquisite way and will become a perfect gift or a part of your home design.
Not many people know about Valday bells. Their history starts from veches — public assemblies in Novgorod and other Slavic countries and to call the audience to visit the veche, they used a big bell located in Kremlin. Small bells, sold as souvenirs are crafted in Valday, a town in the Novgorod region, and are believed to have a very melodic and clear sound. They symbolize the Russian orthodox church and remind of veche traditions at the same time.
If you want to buy a gift for children, tin whistles are the right choice. They are sold literally everywhere in Velikiy Novgorod and are made in different shapes to resemble birds or animals. This is not a simple whistle, but an ancient musical instrument with a high-pitched sound.
Where to eat
Velikiy Novgorod is not famous for any luxury restaurants, but still offers a wide range of decent places with Russian and European cuisine. In the very heart of the city, near the Kremlin, here is a very cozy café called Telegraph; locals and guests love it for its delicious meals and great view right on the main sight of the city.
While walking around the city, you will always find some small coffee shop chains where you have a snack and tea or coffee; for those, who have time restrictions, there are popular fast-food chains like McDonald’s’ and KFC.
Book a tour: Day Tour of Velikiy Novgorod from Saint Petersburg