Suzdal a small, fairy-tale like town, is about 200 kms from Moscow, along the ‘Golden Ring’ route in Russia with beautiful countryside views, quaint onion domed churches and majestic fortresses.
During our visit to the largest country in the world (!) – the husband, the little girl (who was 4) and I – wanted to explore Suzdal. A popular weekend destination for Muscovites (who usually drive to Suzdal to get away from city life), Suzdal is also a fairly popular side trip for visitors to Moscow.
Getting to Suzdal
We were excited to take the ‘Sapsan’ – a high speed train from Moscow to Vladimir (the train station closest to Suzdal). It was our first experience on a high speed train and our 4 year old was so excited, as was the mom.
2 comfortable hours later, we were alighting at Vladimir train station – you know you’re away from the urban hubbub as soon as you step out. While there are also buses that go from Vladimir to Suzdal, our little girl was a bit sleepy and we chose to take a taxi – 30 mins into Suzdal.
The Fairy Tale Town of Suzdal
Arriving in Suzdal at almost sundown, the view was stunning. It looks like a town right out of a fairy tale – colorful countryside houses, silhouettes of quaint churches and the Kamenka river flowing through. There is an old Soviet era feel to the town and there are yet no western chains (no McDonalds!). The weather was chilly though. Although the onset of summer in May, Russian summer is still way to cold for me (a Mumbai girl) and I had my layers on.
Our Homestay in Suzdal
Our home stay was one of the highlights of our Suzdal trip – a countryside home, hosted by a kind, elderly Russian lady. She lived on the ground level of the house (which also had a cosy kitchen and dining area) and we lived upstairs. She spoke no English and we spoke only a few basic phrases of Russian – but her hospitality didn’t need a language!
She made us piping hot Blini (pancakes) every morning for breakfast and pampered our little girl like a grandmother – so much that our little girl didn’t wanna leave the homestay!
Unforgettable Experiences in Suzdal
The whole town of Suzdal is like an open air museum – in fact there are very few modern structures and by law, buildings cannot be more than 2 stories (except cathedrals). Here are some of our unforgettable experiences in Suzdal:
Yes, there’s one in Suzdal too. While we associate Kremlin with the Red Square in Moscow, there are historic Kremlins in other towns like Suzdal, Kazan and Novogorod too. Dated back to the 10th century, the Suzdal Kremlin was the administrative and religious centre of the town. The little girl was fascinated to see that this was the home of a prince!
Beautiful Onion domed churches (characteristic to Russia, amongst other countries), silhouette beautifully across the Suzdal sky. It’s a breathtaking view. Most churches in Suzdal are in pairs – there’s a ‘winter type’ church that’s open in – yes, winters – and a ‘summer type’ church that opens during the warmer months.
Fairy Tale Carriage Rides
This was absolutely the highlight of the Suzdal visit for our little girl. Waiting outside the Kremlin and Churches, these rides for tourists are right out of a Brothers Grimm story! Our little girl – did a Cinderella pretend play minus the oppressive step mother – on that 5 minute carriage ride across Suzdal.
Medovuha – Russian Honey Wine
Originally consumed by the nobles in Russia, this honey based wine is a delightful experience in Suzdal. There are places where you can sample the variants of Medovuha – consisting of honey and yeast but variants have additives like herbs, spices, hops and berries. Our little girl sipped on the non alcoholic version of medovuha. (I could never pronounce Medovuha correctly though – the ‘h’ with a hint of ‘kh’).
The Russian cuisine in Suzdal was comforting yet delicious and variety enough to last us for 3 days. Russia’s signature ‘Borsch’ soup kept us warm in the chilly town. Herbed fish and meat served with rice was delectable and not spicy (so our little girl could enjoy it too). Her favourite food although was still the Blini cooked by our home stay host.
Museum of Wooden Architecture and Peasant Life
Despite the not-so-interesting name, this is an exciting open air museum that our little girl loved (including its location – a short walk across the Kamenka river). It depicts a traditional Russian village possibly from the 18th century – has wooden churches, windmills, a barn and log houses that depict how peasants lived back then.
After our visits to the churches and the Kremlin, we would end our day walking around in the quiet town! Sitting on the grass in the meadows by the Kamenka river or walking across parks was true unwinding on a vacation – before we took the overnight train to our next stop – St Petersburg.
Side notes for your Suzdal Trip with the littlies:
- To get a Russian Visa, Indian passport holders need an invitation letter from Russia (amongst other documents). We applied for our visa through a travel agent to make it simpler.
- It helps to learn a bit of the Cyrillic script before you head to Russia. While most major out-station railway terminals and airports have signs in English as well, signs at local train stations and in general signs in smaller towns like Suzdal are largely in Cyrillic. Here’s an interesting cheat sheet to learn Cyrillic! We showed this cheat sheet to our little girl and it was fun for her to try and read sign boards in Cyrillic.
- If you’re short on time, Suzdal can be done as a day trip from Moscow – however it is a beautiful but small town that is can be truly savoured over a couple of days.
- We booked our tickets to Suzdal on the Russian Railways RZD website directly – which is convenient and significantly cheaper than booking through consolidators. The boarding was super convenient – a railway staff armed with a hand-held device, ‘checked us in’ with our e-tickets and passports.
- Food in Suzdal isn’t spicy and has enough variety for the little ones. While western chains are not prevalent, meals like fish and rice, chicken with fries or mash are easily available.
Photo Credits: All pictures by Deepti, except the Sapsan train picture pc: Flickr