When you think of Russia, it's easy to get caught up in negativity, be it the legacy of Soviet communism or the more recent involvement in elections around the world. However in the more distant past, Russia was a land full of palaces and castles, many of which are still standing today. From popular tourist cities like Moscow and St. Petersburg, to significantly more obscure destinations, these are the most magical palaces you can visit in Russia.
When it comes to palaces in Russia, the one you're most likely to visit is Peterhof, which is located just outside of St. Petersburg. A visit to the palace is a nice day-trip from the city via boat — at least if you visit during summer. To be sure, while winter is not an awful time to visit this palace, which was built by Peter the Great as a response to Louis XIV's construction of Versailles, its famous fountains will be turned off for obvious reasons.
Another spot near to see some of the best palaces in Russia is the town of Pushkin, which is located just south of central St. Petersburg. As its name suggests, Catherine Palace also served as home for a famous Russian monarch, and this former royal residence is just as great as Peter's. While Catherine Palace lacks the dramatic fountains and waterfront setting of Peterhof, the massive garden that surrounds the palace on all sides is truly beautiful, especially during spring and summer.
The word "Kremlin" is so often used in conjunction with the Russian government that you might not consider it to be a shining example of castles in Russia. (You also might not realize that most every Russian city has its own Kremlin, a word that literally translates to "citadel.") The churches, palaces and other structures within the fortified walls of Moscow's Kremlin definitely constitute a castle, especially if you see them lit up at night above the banks of the Moskva River — this is arguably one of the most beautiful sights in all of Russia.
Although Yuriev Monastery is arguably the most obscure entrant on this list, it's no less worthy. Located right in the heart of Vekily Novgorod — itself one of Russia's more underrated places for travelers — this silver-domed, medieval monastery is part of a city-wide UNESCO World Heritage site, which means that even once the rush of a traipse through a real-life Russian palace has worn off, there's still so much more to discover.
Peter and Paul Fortress
Located on the spit of Vasilevskiy Island at the confluence of St. Petersburg's two great rivers, the Peter and Paul Fortress is one of the most dramatic castles in Russia — because of its location and because of its dramatic construction, which rises from a base of two connected stars.
This Italian-designed structure, which Peter the Great commissioned in the early 18th-century, is just up Nevsky Prospekt from the city center. You could easily spend all day here, so make sure to plan ahead. This is especially important if you're just coming for a few days on a cruise from elsewhere in the Baltic region, as your total stay in Russia will be limited to just 72 hours.
If you're looking for castles in Russia that break the mold in more ways than one, you should visit the Kremlin in the city of Kazan. Kazan itself is an interesting spot for travelers. It's the capital of Tatarstan, an autonomous republic largely inhabited by people who are not ethnically Russian. Most Tatars are also Muslim, as opposed to Russian Orthodox Christians, as is the case in the rest of the country. As a result, the focal point of Kazan's Kremlin is not a church but a mosque, whose blue-tipped minarets are so beautiful they'll make you want to look up how to "ooh" and "aah" in the local dialect.
In addition to being the most popular attraction in St. Petersburg, the Winter Palace is probably the most famous among all the palaces in Russia. It was the official residence of the Russian tsars starting in 1732 and for almost two centuries afterwards. These days, the Winter Palace houses the Russian State Hermitage Museum, a world-renowned collection that not only allows you to delve into a world of art and history, but to explore the halls that were once reserved exclusively for royalty.
As is the case with Kremlin citadels elsewhere in the country, Astrakhan's is one of the finest example of palaces in Southern Russia. Although less dramatic than some of the ones you'll find in Moscow, the turquoise-roofed Assumption Cathedral makes for a lovely focal point of this ancient fortress, especially if you happen to visit on a sunny day.
Although not among the most beautiful castles in Russia, the fortress in Vladisvostok is certainly the most notable defense structure in the Russian Far East. Additionally, what this late-19th century castle lacks in terms of raw beauty, it makes up for in the views it offers. Whether you prefer the bird's eye view of Vladivostok's city center, or want to take in a sweeping panorama of the Pacific, the precipice of Vladivostok Fortress is worth the long ascent.
Moscow's Seven Sisters
Last on this list of palaces in Russia are structures that are not technically castles, but definitely look like them. Scattered around Moscow and built during the reign of Stalin, the so-called "Seven Sisters" are essentially Soviet skyscrapers that now serve a variety of purposes — one is even a luxury hotel, whose rooftop you can visit even if you're not staying there.