One of the most fascinating regions in Russia is the famous 'Golden Ring' of cities to the northeast of Moscow. This ancient heart of Russia with its old whitewashed city walls and venerable onion-domed churches created the world's definition of medieval Rus. In this enchanted region - which has remained relatively untouched by tourist crowds - time stands still. The main currents of history ignored these cities, leaving towns such as Vladimir, Suzdal, Sergiev Posad, Rostov Velikiy, and Yaroslavl as quaint and perfect as when they were first constructed.
The Golden Ring is a group of eight Russian towns with a huge number of unique historical and architectural monuments, with whole complexes of preserved buildings, monasteries and neighborhoods, folk art centers and museums with extensive exhibitions, together giving an excellent idea of how people lived in Russia over the last millennium and earlier.
Traditionally, the Golden Ring includes Sergiyev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalessky, Rostov, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Vladimir and Suzdal. In addition, the Golden Ring also includes a number of other settlements in the Moscow, Vladimir, Ivanovo, Kostroma and Yaroslavl regions: Aleksandrov, Bogolyubovo, Gorokhovets, Gus-Khrustalny, Kalyazin, Kideksha, Murom, Palekh, Ples, Rybinsk, Tutayev, Uglich, Yuriev-Polsky and Shuya. All of them played an important role in Russian history, and have preserved their beautiful architecture and rich cultural heritage.
A trip round the Golden Ring is the very best way to get to know Russia and see authentic features of the legendary Russian heartland. The picturesque surroundings absolutely lend themselves to fascinating walks. Here you can combine hiking with biking and horse riding on a simple route. The rivers and lakes have good fishing opportunities. In the vast forests and meadows there are good opportunities for hunting.
The term "Golden Ring" appeared recently. In 1967, journalist, writer and activist for the conservation of cultural heritage Yury Bychkov drove his car round the eight ancient cities to the north-east of Moscow that were most interesting from the point of view of history and architecture, and returned to the capital. He prepared a series of essays for one of the Soviet newspapers. These essays were published under the headline "The Golden Ring of Russia." The essays resonated in the public and cultural sphere, and the Culture Ministry decided to put on bus trips round the route. Soviet citizens and foreign tourists were offered seven days to see the sights of Moscow, and to spend the following week in eight cities of the Golden Ring, a day for each. The name stuck so well, and the trip was so interesting and successful that few people now remember the story of its birth: It seems that this is how this unique tour into Russia's past has always been known.
You can visit a wooden hut that has been standing for over 100 years, go with a yoke to the well for water, drink tea from a real coal-fired samovar, go fishing or take part in the haymaking.
It is particularly interesting on folk and religious holidays. You could participate in the festivities and eat pancakes at the pagan carnival Maslenitsa, which celebrates the end of winter and the start of spring in the last week before Lent. You could dance in a traditional round and drink beer brewed especially for Aug. 2, Ilya's day — the traditional Eastern Slav holiday in honor of the prophet Elijah, who is especially revered in the region. At the winter solstice you can go from house to house with the mummers, carol singing, giving gifts or scaring passers-by, while Yuletide (the 12 days of Christmas) is the time to tell fortunes and sing songs.