Russian Culture

Visitors will need more than one trip to experience its culture

St Basils Cathedral Against Sky
••• Svetlana Davis / EyeEm / Getty Images

Russian culture is rich, spanning centuries of history, and encompassing art, food, traditions, literature, attitudes and more. When planning your trip to Russia, it will be difficult to decide which parts of its culture you want to experience first-hand, because there is so much to absorb and appreciate. 

Here are just a few pieces of Russia's vast and fascinating culture. 

  • 01 of 25

    Russian Vodka

    Bottles of Russian Vodka
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    Vodka is the famed national alcoholic beverage of Russia. It makes cameo appearances in Russian literature, it is a regular attendee of Russian celebrations, makes joke worthy slaves out of those lacking willpower, and its soothing manner encourages conversation.

  • 02 of 25
    Souvenir tea cups for sale at gift shop of Peter and Paul Cathedral in Peter and Paul Fortress.
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    Russian tea culture has ​a long and interesting history. Traditionally, the water for Russian tea was boiled in a "samovar"; now, however, most Russian homes will have electric kettles.

    Real tea traditionalists drink their tea out of the saucer that goes under the teacup, rather than from the cup. 

  • 03 of 25
    Russian Dolls
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    Russian nesting dolls, or matryoshka dolls, are usually painted to depict smiling women in lace shawls. They are popular souvenirs for travelers to Russia. Russian nesting dolls can also be painted with themes out of Russian culture. For example, some matryoshka dolls show the images of Orthodox cathedrals or scenes from Russian fairy tales.

  • 04 of 25
    Russia, St. Petersburg, During the Russian Orthodox Easter ceremony at Vladimirsky Cathedral
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    Easter is one of the two most important holidays in Russia. Russian culture of old has mingled with more modern religious culture to create a hybrid of the two, which can be seen in the tradition of decorating eggs. 

    The Russian Easter egg tradition dates back to pre-Christian times when people saw eggs as fertility symbols and as devices of protection. 

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  • 05 of 25
    St Basils Cathedral Against Sky
    ••• Svetlana Davis / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Its distinctively colorful onion domes and its location in Red Square makes St. Basil's Cathedral one of the most famous emblems of Russia.  it is such an expected part of Red Square that it may go under-appreciated,​ The cathedral is named for Basil the Fool, or Basil the Blessed, who was a contemporary with Ivan the Terrible, the tsar who ordered it built. 

  • 06 of 25
    Flag of the former USSR
    ••• Ed Pritchard / Getty Images

    How important is the color red in Russian culture?

    The Russian word for red, krasni, was, in the past, also used to describe something beautiful. Today, krasni is used to indicate something that is red in color, while krasivi is the modern Russian word for “beautiful.”

    However, many important sites and cultural artifacts still reflect the combined usage of the word and a name that incorporates this root may still be considered something elevated in status. In fact, the Russian word for excellent - prekrasni - shares the root kras with these other words.

  • 07 of 25

    Russian Lacquer Boxes

    Palekh Painting of a Troika in Snow
    ••• Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

    Russian lacquer boxes feature images that are integral to Russian culture, including scenes from Russian folk tales, historic figures and replicas of famous Russian artwork. These boxes, lovingly painted by skilled craftspeople, easily become treasured souvenirs.

  • 08 of 25
    Russia, Saint Petersburg, New Year celebrations at Palace Square
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    Christmas in Russia was not publicly celebrated during much of the Soviet rule of the 20th century. Increasingly, some Russians are returning to Russian Orthodoxy, and the number of people celebrating Christmas as a religious holiday continues to grow. ​Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus, visits good children, and those who are religious may attend church services.

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  • 09 of 25
    Moscow
    ••• CityScapes / Getty Images

    New Year's in Russia is a special holiday celebrated publicly and privately, with food, traditions, fireworks and concerts. The New Year holiday trumps even Christmas in importance, with two separate days of celebration.

  • 10 of 25

    Moscow's Bolshoi Theater

    The Bolshoi Theatre
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    The Bolshoi Theater in Moscow has been putting on performances important to Russian culture for almost 200 years and is the home of the renowned Bolshoi Ballet company, founded in 1776.

  • 11 of 25

    Tchaikovsky

    The 19th-century composer Tchaikovsky is remembered for Swan Lake and the 1812 Overture, among other pieces. The house where he grew up, the house where he lived out his last years and an apartment he rented in Moscow are all museums showcasing his personal belongings and musical artifacts.

  • 12 of 25

    Dachas - Summer Houses

    Dachas are summer houses treasured by Russian families who traditionally lived in cramped high-rise apartments in monochromatic cities. Dachas afford a plot of land to plant a garden, the ability to commune with nature and the quiet atmosphere of the country. Many families will spend weekends or vacation time at their dachas during the summer months.

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  • 13 of 25

    Russian Space Tradition

    Russia has a serious tradition of space exploration and can claim the achievement of sending the first human being into space. Yuri Gagarin, and other cosmonauts and important figures in Russian space exploration history, are celebrated on Cosmonauts' Day, April 12.

  • 14 of 25

    The Russian tradition of hospitality is famous. Whether you're at a Russian family's dacha or at their dinner table in their flat, as a visitor you'll be treated to food, drink, and conversation. Russians' tradition of welcoming visitors is another way of sharing their rich culture.

  • 15 of 25

    Literature of Nikolai Gogol

    Gogol's literature straddles two cultures - Russian and Ukrainian. The Ukrainian-born writer has been adopted into the Russian literary canon, though Ukraine won't relinquish him to their Eastern neighbors.

    Gogol's literature is engaging and unique, portraying elements of both Russian culture and Ukrainian culture.

  • 16 of 25

    Beer in Russia

    Man holding a glass of beer in a pub, Moscow, Russia
    ••• DMITRY KOSTYUKOV / Getty Images

    Beer rivals vodka in popularity in Russia. Regional beer breweries keep local beer culture alive throughout Russia, even as foreign companies seek to capitalize on the Russian beer market. Beer is so important in Russia that an exhibit has been dedicated to beer drinking, beer brewing, and beer culture at the Russian Museum of Ethnography in St. Petersburg

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  • 17 of 25

    Svyatki, Russian Christmastide

    Russian Christmastide, known as Svyatki or Sviatki, is associated with fortune telling. On Epiphany, some individuals bathe in ice water, thinking that all water becomes holy on this day.celebrated between Orthodox Christmas and the Epiphany.

    Like other traditional celebrations, Russian Christmastide fell out of favor with authorities during the 20th century, but Svyatki has returned, along with other notable ancient festivals.

  • 18 of 25

    Moscow's Russian Winter Festival celebrates the best of Russian winter, including ice sculpture, traditional winter activities, and holidays that take place during the period of the festival. 

    The Christmas Village at Revolution Square is an excellent source for Russian Christmas gifts: traditional folk crafts, including nesting dolls, wooden toys, and painted boxes are sold here, as well as Christmas ornaments and traditional winter weather clothing, like shawls and valenki.

  • 19 of 25

    The tsars and tsarinas (also spelled czars and czarinas) were some of the most important Russian royal leaders, from Ivan the Terrible to Nicholas II. These individuals had a major influence on Russian culture through their conquests, reforms, modernization projects, and even their personal lives. 

  • 20 of 25

    Zakuska

     You can order a zakuska, or multiple zakuski, off menus at Russian restaurants.A traditional zakuska might consist of caviar with buttered bread, pickled herring, or marinated vegetables. Think of it as a Russian take on the hors d'oeuvres.

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  • 21 of 25

    Cathedral of Christ the Savior

    Russian President Vladimir Putin attends the Orthodox Easter service in Moscow
    ••• Mikhail Svetlov / Getty Images

    The Cathedral of Christ the Savior was demolished during Soviet times, upon Josef Stalin's rise to power. It was designated for the location of the Palace of the Soviets, which was never built.

    The Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1990s, signifying a resurgence of interest in Russian Orthodoxy as well as Russia's post-communist culture.

  • 22 of 25
    St. Petersburg - Everyday Life
    ••• Sean Gallup / Getty Images

    June is the traditional month for weddings in Russia when the sky is usually clear, the weather perfect and the days long. But there are many wedding traditions which are uniquely Russian. 

  • 23 of 25

    Do you understand how Russian names change depending on the gender of the person, and how nicknames, patronymics, and last names are formed? The Russian names system can be confusing at first, but it becomes less so when you learn a few simple rules.

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    Some Russians observe a name day, traditionally associated with the saints of Orthodox Christianity, in addition to a birthday. When a Russian person is named after a saint, he or she can celebrate the feast day appointed for the saint in addition to a birthday. The name day is also called the “angel day.”

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    The Russian annual traditions calendar is full of exciting and sometimes strange customs, from bathing in ice water at Epiphany to Ded Moroz's appearance on New Year's Eve.