Things to Do in Veliky Ustyug, Russia
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Things to Do in Veliky Ustyug, Russia

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Veliky Ustyug's renown derives from its most famous resident: Ded Moroz, the Russian Santa Claus, whose home Votchina Deda Moroza has attracted winter tourists since the end of the 20th century. Ded Moroz invites you to visit his estate, tour his house, walk through an enchanted forest, go for a sleigh ride or reindeer ride, and send letters from his post office.

Those who are interested in Russian history will absolutely enjoy visiting this charming Russian town!

Winter Fairytale

Several places in the town create a fairytale atmosphere. In the Museum of New Year and Christmas Toys, there are decorated Christmas trees from all historic periods. In the city where Ded Moroz lives, you can collect souvenirs and browse through collections of greeting cards. You can also visit Ded Moroz's post office, which is located nearby.

Ded Moroz is a Russian New Year wizard. Children from all over Russia write him letters, asking him to make their wishes come true. They love decorating the Christmas tree, which is where Ded Moroz puts their presents on New Year's night. Children believe in this kind sorcerer, even though they have never seen him. The fact that there is a real Ded Moroz in Veliky Ustyug whom they can visit speaks to their wildest imaginations. He lives with his granddaughter Snegurochka and other fairytale creatures,  which children can meet when they visit the Residence of Ded Moroz.

The Residence of Ded Moroz (Votchina Deda Moroza) is a delightful place for children and their parents. It is a real fairytale come to life. Votchina Deda Moroza is like an island of wonders alive with a magical atmosphere, separate from the mundane world. Here you will have the opportunity to visit a mysterious wooden tower in the pine forest, where Ded Moroz welcomes his guests. His assistants will tell you about the wizard's life and will show you every corner of his house. After stepping through the gates, you will get to the Fairytale Path, where you will meet the magical creatures of the enchanted forest. Once you have successfully passed all the magical challenges on the Path, you will arrive at the Alley of Miracles, which leads to the Residence of the winter sorcerer.

There is a Winter Wizard's Forge not far from Ded Moroz's home, where everyone can learn the history of blacksmithing and watch the process. In the workshop, you will meet a skilled artisan who will show you the art of woodcarving. In the central alley of the Residence, you can find Ded Moroz's Post Office, where you will learn all about the letters sent to the Russian Santa Claus. The enchanted post office responds to all letters, especially those that are kind and sincere.

Another mystical place in the Residence is called the Glacier, where the temperature doesn’t go beyond -15 C°. Everyone will be amazed by the huge amount of beautiful ice sculptures representing the characters of Russian fairytales. You will also have a chance to make a wish while you sit on the cold Wizard's throne. The Winter Garden will lead you to the world of exotic flowers and plants, which you can admire in both winter and summer. In the folklore center Gornitsa, visitors will learn about the life and livelihoods of the northern peasants. You can take master classes in working with birch bark, linen, and other natural materials.

In Ded Moroz's Zoological Garden, there is a rare collection of 60 species of birds and animals. There are nearly 400 rare animals in the aviaries and enclosures of the pine forest, many of which are listed in the Red Book. For those who love extreme challenges, there is a rope course in the Residence where visitors can test their agility and stamina. There is also the opportunity to ride snowmobiles across the grounds,  or sled down snowy hills. In summer, guests will have the opportunity to ride the magical little train. In the forest pharmacy, visitors will learn about the northern herbs' healing properties, the traditions of Russian tea parties, and sweet fragrant Russian tea.

Amusements and Attractions

While Ded Moroz is relaxing at his estate, you can visit many other sights in Veliky Ustyug.

More than 20 main sites comprise Veliky Ustyug State Historical-Architectural and Art Museum-Reserve. One of them is Sobornoye Dvorische, which is a complex of elegant churches and authentic, historic houses situated in the central square. The Cathedral Procopius the Righteous and the Dormition Cathedral are also highlights of the complex.

Not all of the sites are open to tourists; however, viewing them from the outside and witnessing the immense, gorgeous architecture can be just as rewarding as touring the interior. In summer, visitors will have a chance to go to the bell tower of the Dormition Cathedral and admire the view over the town and the Sukhona River. There is also a church complex Dymkovskaya Sloboda on the other side of the river.

The most time-honored monastery of the town is the Mikhaylo-Arkhangel'skiy Monastery. Its construction began in the beginning of the 13th century, and the stone building was completed in the 17th century. It is located at 13 Pavla Pokrovskogo Street.

The Church of the Ascension and the Church of St. Nicolas are situated not far from each other. There is an ethnography museum in the building of St. Nicolas Church, and a museum of old Russian art in the Church of the Ascension, where one can find old icons, books, and sculptures.

Once you have looked at all of the monuments, you can visit the museums of Veliky Ustyug,  or stop by the Local History Museum of Veliky Ustyug, which is devoted to the history of the town during the last nine centuries. The exhibitions within the Nature Museum of Veliky Ustyug will tell you all about the flora and the fauna of Veliky Ustyug and the surrounding area. The Fashion House of Ded Moroz is the most fun museum because you can find colorful costumes and attend a vivid dress-up show.

After visiting all the sites, you can enjoy the peaceful atmosphere of the public park located at 50 Sovetskiy Prospekt.

Traveling just a few miles from the town will totally immerse you in breathtaking nature. The Palemsky or Strelnensky forests, and the Faunal Area of Veliky Ustyug are incredibly serene.

There is the Vasjkin Klyutch Waterfall 65 kilometers away from the town, along the River Sukhona. Despite its name,  it is actually a spring falling from a 10-meter cliff into the river. Just a kilometer downstream, you will find a routinely erupting geyser. The water is crystal clear.

Festivals and Events

All festivals in Veliky Ustyug, including the New Year's Day festival, are celebrated as lavishly as possible. For example, there are a lot of events designed especially for tourists. On Maslenitsa week, visitors will have a chance to try Russian pancakes (blini) and participate in different contests, such as fisticuffs and burning a dummy symbolizing winter.

Summer in Veliky Ustyug is the time for the Russian Matryoshka Festival and Bast Shoe Festival, the City Day, and the Prokopyevskaya Fair (July 21). Father Frost stays in Veliky Ustyug and celebrates his birthday on November 18 with concerts, quests, and fireworks.

 

Food

Veliky Ustyug is a small town, so there aren't many restaurants here. You will find several cafes and restaurants offering Russian and European cuisine in the center of the city, specifically on the Krasnaya Street, Sovetskiy Prospekt, and Krasnyy Pereulok. Many of them look more like canteens, and the food is simple yet delicious. Please keep in mind that many restaurants only accept cash.

If you choose to visit Votchina Deda Moroza, you might want to pack some sandwiches and a thermos of tea. It is difficult to find restaurants. There are a few cafes in the Residence, but it is very likely that all tables will be reserved for groups of tourists. If you want to try something authentic, you should buy Sbiten, a Russian hot honey drink.

When to go?

Every museum in Veliky Ustyug is open all year round, so you can come here at any time of the year. It is very important, however, to understand what you want from your vacation prior to making arrangements.

Summers here are warm and sunny. There are fewer tourists in summer, so it will be easier to book a hotel and go sightseeing. You will also have a chance to tour inside the churches throughout the summer -- many of them are only open to tourists during the warm season.

Most tourists, however, prefer coming here in winter so that they can go sledding both in the Residence and near the river not far from the Sobornoye Dvorische. If you come to Votchina late in the afternoon, you will immediately be immersed in its fairytale atmosphere since during winter it gets dark early. You will be enchanted by the illuminated forest with music springing from every corner, with glowing ice sculptures, and fabled characters coming out of hiding.  However, please keep in mind that it can get very cold (usually -15 C° though it can fall as low as -35 C°), so be sure to pack warmly. Despite this, Ustyug is a very popular holiday destination during winter,  and many tourists come here for the New Year and winter holidays. Around 6,000 tourists visit the Palace of Ded Moroz each day. This does mean that the museums will have lines. On the other hand, the atmosphere will be more animated and fun with the bustle of so many people around. However, if you are traveling alone, then coming in winter might not be the best option -- on New Year and Christmas holidays, the museums prioritize tour groups,  and solo visitors can only get into the museums after 5.00 p.m. or 6.00 p.m.

Where to stay?

It is important to mention that you should book hotels in Veliky Ustyug way in advance, as there is limited vacancy.

When planning where to stay in Veliky Ustyug, you should think of what you would like to see. If you want to visit the Residence of Ded Moroz, then you should book accommodation somewhere on the territory of the Votchina. There are a number of cottages and hotels with varying levels of comfort and capacity, e.g. guest house Vyuga, Votchina Hotel Complex, Moskovsky Cottage, and the Hotel in the Residence of Ded Moroz (Votchina Deda Moroza).

There are also hotels in the city of Veliky Ustyug, e.g. Gleden Hotel, Rozhdestvenskaya Hotel, Veliky Ustyug Hotel, Iceberg Hotel, Postoyalets Hotel, and Scandinavia Hostel.

In the suburbs of the city, you can find Severnoye Divo Hotel Village and Lesnaya Skazka Touristic Complex.

How do I get to Veliky Ustyug?

Veliky Ustyug is a winter fairytale, but it is not easy to get there. Plan your route in advance.

By Plane:

There are no direct flights to Veliky Ustyug from Cherepovets -- but not from Moscow or St. Petersburg. You can fly from Sheremetyevo or Domodedovo, but flights from Pulkovo are less expensive.

Throughout the year, planes fly to Veliky Ustyug every Tuesday and Thursday. Planes fly more frequently during winter holidays.

From the airport to the city

The airport is 3 km away from town. From there you can get take a bus or shuttle 3 to get to the center of the city. Alternatively, take a cab. The 146 bus also runs from the airport to the city several times a day.

By Train:

The only train that goes directly to Veliky Ustyug is the Winter Express (Zimniy Express) that departs from the Moscow Yaroslavskaya railway station ( and during winter holidays, from the Ladozhsky railway station in St. Petersburg). You can only buy tickets for the Winter Express through a travel agency. The end destination of the train is Veliky Ustyug.

No other train goes to Veliky Ustyug. The railway stations nearest to the city are Yadrikha and Kotlas. However, you will have to take a bus or taxi to get to Veliky Ustyug from there. Traveling by road will take approximately an hour.

The journey from Moscow to Yadrikha will take 18-20 hours, and about 20 hours from St. Petersburg.

By Bus:

You can get to Veliky Ustyug via bus, with a stop in Vologda. The journey from Moscow to Vologda would take almost 7 hours, or it would take more than 8 hours from St. Petersburg. In Moscow, the buses depart from VDNKh metro station. There are also evening trains that depart from Medvedkovo metro station at 10 pm.  Those who live in St. Petersburg can take the bus from the bus station or take transfers from private carriers that depart from Bukharestskaya and Lomonosovskaya metro stations.

Buses from Vologda run every 2 hours, and the trip in total takes 6 hours. There are a lot of bus routes to Veliky Ustyug from Kotlas, which might be helpful.

What about souvenirs?

Without a doubt, a present from Father Frost would be a very special souvenir. Veliky Ustyug is also famous for its national crafts. Folk Crafts Factory of Veliky Ustyug specializes in making products from birch bark such as baskets, caskets, bast shoes, or even phone cases. Local artisans also do woodcarving and linen sewing. You will be able to find all kinds of souvenirs here at a reasonable price!

If you want something more luxurious, you should visit Severnaya Chern' Factory where you can purchase various items made from silver: cookware, jewelry, or unique novelties like a magnifying glass or a shoehorn.

Perfect presents for children are sold in the Residence of Ded Moroz.

On the other hand,  adults would enjoy shopping at the liquor store, where they can purchase herbal balms, liqueurs, or Ded Moroz's Vodka. Petushok-Zolotoy Grebeshok candies and lollipops can also make wonderful souvenirs. They still taste like those from Soviet times. However, make sure to buy them in local stores rather than big supermarkets.

During the weekend, you can also buy souvenirs at various fairs.

Syroezhkina Natalya

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Things to Do in Veliky Ustyug, Russia
What to Do in Veliky Ustyug, Russia

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