Travel Guide to the Romanov’s Russia: Significant Sites of Russian Royalty

Travel Guide to the Romanov’s Russia: Significant Sites of Russian Royalty

In 1913, Russia marked the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty with lavish celebrations in St. Petersburg and Moscow, gatherings of European nobility and Orthodox clergy, processions, and extravagant balls led by Czar Nicholas II and Empress Alexandra. Five years later, in 1918, they were dead, ignominiously executed with their children and retainers in the basement of a merchant’s house in Ekaterinburg. The ruling dynasty had come to an end.

That tercentennial year, as they attempted to convince the populace that the “Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias” played a vital and God-given role in current affairs, Nicholas and his retinue ceremoniously retraced the road taken by the first Romanov czar, Mikhail. They began in Kostroma, where Mikhail learned he’d been elected czar, and continued to Moscow, where he was triumphantly crowned.

For 305 years, the powerful Romanov dynasty ruled the empire, first from Moscow, then from St. Petersburg. Their history is an important piece of the history of Russia and its imperial subjects. The panorama of Russia’s pre-revolutionary past is a real-life Game of Thrones, filled with intrigue and high-minded reform, betrayal and murder, golden years and a tragic ending.

More photos and info:Follow along as we stop at significant sites of the Romanov Dynasty with this free, full-color PDF of the Romanov Ruler’s Family Tree and a handy guide of 5 Remarkable Romanov Rulers.

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Walk in the Footsteps of the CzarsExplore this dramatic history for yourself, physically following in the footsteps of the Romanov emperors and empresses, from provincial Kostroma to metropolitan Moscow and gilded St. Petersburg.

Immerse yourself in some of the most important landmarks along the timeline of the Romanov rulers with our Travel Guide to the Romanov’s Russia.

Ipatievsky Monastery in Kostroma. Photo credit: John Seckel

Ipatievsky Monastery in Kostroma
Photo credit: John Seckel

Kostroma, “Cradle of the Romanov Dynasty”

Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov (Russia) Photo: not needed, from Greg / Wikipedia

Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov

The royal Romanov saga begins in the Golden Ring, a circle of ancient towns northeast of Moscow. Kostroma, a 12th century Golden Ring town established by the founder of Moscow, was the home base of the Romanov family.

In 1613, 16-year-old Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov, the brother of Ivan the Terrible’s first wife, was living at Kostroma’s Ipatievsky Monastery, when a messenger arrived with news. The Zemskii Sobor, or Land Assembly, had elected him Czar of Russia, putting an end to the Time of Troubles and beginning the Romanov dynasty. Mikhail was reportedly horrified to learn that he would be required to ascend to the throne.

Ipatievsky Monastery in Kostroma, Russia. Photo: John Seckel

Ipatievsky Monastery in Kostroma
Photo: John Seckel

Romanov Sites in Kostroma

Ipatievsky MonasteryAcross the Kostroma River from the town square is the city’s main architectural attraction, the Ipatievsky Monastery. The revered Ipatievskaya Chronicle, a document of national significance relating the history of the Russian state from earliest times up to the 15th century, was kept here. The monastery’s Trinity Cathedral, with its thick white stone walls and gilded cupolas, was built by Boris Godunov and dates from 1590. The monastery is associated with the Romanov family, who considered it their family’s personal sacred place.

(click on photo for larger version)


Romanov Family ChambersDuring the Time of Troubles, Mikhail Romanov and his mother sought sanctuary within the walls of the Ipatievsky Monastery. The head of the family, Orthodox prelate Filaret, had been imprisoned, and bandits and armed troops roamed the land. The little Romanov family lived quietly in a cloistered house; it took messengers two weeks to locate the future czar. The multicolored Romanov Family Chambers in the monastery, now part of a museum, have been renovated and enhanced.

The Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Jonathan Irish

The Spassky Gate to the Kremlin in Moscow
Photo: Jonathan Irish

Moscow

Mikhail Romanov and his entourage made their way to Moscow, the royal capital (until Peter the Great moved it to St. Petersburg) where Mikhail was crowned at the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin.

Cathedral of the Assumption in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Jamshid Fayzullaev

Kremlin cathedrals in Moscow
Photo: Jamshid Fayzullaev

Romanov Sites in Moscow

Kremlin, Cathedral of the AssumptionAlso called the Dormition, the Cathedral of the Assumption is located on Cathedral Square in the Kremlin. Built in the late 15th century at the behest of Ivan III (the Great), it was for 300 years the place where the czars were crowned. A small and gracefully proportioned church with five gold domes, it is patterned after the Cathedral of the Assumption in Vladimir and its interior is decorated with famous frescoes.


The Romanov Boyar House MuseumThe Romanov Boyar House was restored in 1913 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Romanov Dynasty. Located on Varvarka Street not far from the Kremlin, and built in the style of the 15th century, this was where Mikhail Romanov, the first Romanov czar, was born. The thick-walled two-story house has a dimly lit public area and men’s rooms on the first floor, while the more intimate women’s quarters upstairs is lined with tall windows so the women of the family could see to do their handwork. Entering this house, you can visualize the life of a medieval Russian noble family.

Kremlin Armory Museum in Moscow, Russia. Photo: Mark Stephenson

Romanov carriage at the Kremlin Armory Museum in Moscow
Photo: Mark Stephenson

Kremlin Armory MuseumThe Armory houses Russia’s national treasures, among them the bejeweled Fabergé egg created for the Romanov 300th anniversary in 1913. The egg is decorated with miniature ivory portraits of 18 Romanov emperors and empresses, and the “surprise” inside is a rotating globe showing the extent of the empire under the Romanovs.

More photos and info:

An approach to the majestic and mammoth Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia
Photo credit: James Beers

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is a Romanov city, built by Peter the Great, the fifth Romanov czar.

The Romanovs lived and ruled here from 1703 until just after the revolution, when the Bolsheviks moved the capital back to Moscow. Everything built before 1917 is technically a Romanov site.

Peterhof, outside St Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Douglas Grimes

Grand Cascade at Peterhof, outside St. Petersburg
Photo: Douglas Grimes

Romanov Sites around St. Petersburg

PeterhofPeter the Great built his country estate, Peterhof, on a ridge by the Gulf of Finland 19 miles outside St. Petersburg. The former imperial residence is surrounded with extensive parks and gardens intended to rival Versailles, complete with an array of gilded statues, magnificent palaces and gravity-fed fountains.


Catherine’s Place in Pushkin
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

Catherine’s PalaceThe royal residence Catherine’s Palace was originally built in 1717 by Catherine I, wife of Peter the Great. In 1752, under Elizabeth I, famed architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli enlarged and embellished the palace, extending the facade to its current grandeur. Inside, you’ll find the fully restored Amber Room. The wall coverings of amber panels, created in the time of Peter the Great, were taken by the Nazis during the Second World War and never recovered.


The Amber Room in Catherine's Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Jonathan Irish

The Amber Room in Catherine’s Palace near St. Petersburg
Photo: Jonathan Irish

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Jonathan Irish

The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg
Photo: Jonathan Irish

The Church of the Savior on Spilled BloodThe emblematic Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, with its blue and green patterned domes, was built on the spot where Czar Alexander II was mortally wounded by a bomb in 1881.

The interior walls and cupolas are covered in fine mosaics of Biblical scenes, and four jasper columns mark the spot where the czar fell.


The Hermitage in St. Petersburg

In St. Petersburg: Gallery of military portraits in the Hermitage
Photo credit: Jenelle Birnbaum

The HermitageThe Winter Palace, part of the Hermitage ensemble, was built in 1754-62 by Elizabeth I as the principal home of the czars.

The museum, originally a small private palace gallery begun by Catherine the Great with a purchase of 255 paintings from Berlin, today houses one of the largest and finest museum collections in the world.


After Nicholas II abdicated his throne in the spring of 1917, the Provisional Government set up shop in the Winter Palace. Later that year, in October, the Cruiser Aurora, anchored outside on the Neva, fired the shot that signaled the storming of the Winter Palace and the beginning of the Bolshevik Revolution.

More photos and info:
The Hermitage is open year-round - and a perfect place to visit any time of year (St. Petersburg, Russia). Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

The Hermitage is open year-round – and a perfect place to visit any time of year
Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

If you have time: Under-the-Radar Romanov Sites around St. Petersburg

Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Jessica Clark

Jewel box theater at Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg
Photo: Jessica Clark

Yusupov PalaceThe glittering Yusupov Palace on the Moika River is beautiful but notorious; it was here in a cozy cellar room that the plot to assassinate the sinister friend of Empress Alexandra, Rasputin, came to fruition.

Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Jessica Clark

A wax recreation of the planning of the assassination of Rasputin in Yusupov Palace 
Photo: Jessica Clark

The story of Rasputin is one of an illiterate Siberian villager who resolved to become a strannik, a pilgrim or holy wanderer, after a pilgrimage brought him renewed faith in God. Arriving in St. Petersburg sometime around 1903, his mystical style and riveting personality soon won him followers among the nobility. He won over Empress Alexandra’s lady-in-waiting and confidante, who introduced him to the Empress.

Yusupov Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Jessica Clark

Rasputin’s last night in Yusupov Palace
Photo: Jessica Clark

Rasputin became indispensable to the Empress, who was convinced that he could heal her son Alexei, who suffered from hemophilia.

Rumors and whisperings about Rasputin, however, turned much of the populace against him. Suspicion toward Rasputin and the German-born Empress intensified as Czar Nicholas left the capital to command the troops fighting the Germans in WWI, and a group of the czar’s supporters came up with a plot to kill him.


Felix Yusupov, the young heir to the Yusupov fortune, and several of his friends invited Rasputin to an evening party at the Yusupov Palace on December 30, 1916, and after serving him wine in the basement room, shot him three times. They drove the body to the Petrovsky Bridge and threw it over.


Alexander’s Palace in Pushkin, Russia. Photo: Marina Karptsova

Alexander’s Palace in Pushkin
Photo: Marina Karptsova

Alexander’s Palace in PushkinAlexander’s Palace was the favorite of Nicholas and Alexandra. Catherine the Great built the neoclassical palace around 1795 to celebrate the marriage of her grandson, Alexander I. Nicholas II was born here, and maintained apartments in the palace as he grew up. He and his royal wife Alexandra remodeled a wing into a comfortable and modern family home, and raised their children here. This is where the young family was kept under house arrest before they were sent into exile in Siberia after the 1917 revolution.

Alexander’s Palace in Pushkin, Russia. Photo: Marina Karptsova

Alexander’s Palace in Pushkin
Photo: Marina Karptsova

The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Kelly Tissier

The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Saint Petersburg
Photo: Kelly Tissier

Cathedral of Sts. Peter and PaulThe Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, situated in the Peter and Paul Fortress, is the first stone church in St. Petersburg. Built between 1712 and 1733, the church is where the tombs of most of the Russian czars are found, starting with Peter the Great. On July 18, 1998, the bodies of Nicholas II, Alexandra, three of their daughters, and four loyal companions were finally buried in the cathedral.


The last Romanov interred here, in 2006, was Nicholas’ mother, Dowager Empress Maria Fyodorovna, 78 years after her death. Rescued from Crimea on a warship sent by her nephew, King George V, she lived out her life in her native Denmark. The bodies of Czarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria, discovered in a field away from where the rest of the family was found, are still being examined by the Russian Orthodox authorities, and remain unburied, though confirmed by DNA testing.

The Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo: Jessica Clark

Romanovs remembered at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Saint Petersburg
Photo: Jessica Clark

Ekaterinburg

Ekaterinburg, founded in 1721 and named after Catherine I, sits at the border of Western Russia and Siberia, in the eastern foothills of the Ural Mountains. The city grew up around the Plotinka Dam, which harnessed the water in the Iset River for the town’s earliest ironworks.

Ekaterinburg is best known as the place where the last czar, Nicholas II, and his family were imprisoned and executed by the Bolsheviks. The royal family was first exiled farther east to Tobolsk, where they spent six months living in the governor’s house. They had been in Ekaterinburg for only three months before their murder. Strangely, they met their end in a merchant’s house called Ipatiev House, mirroring the name of the place where the dynasty began, the Ipatievsky Monastery.

Aptly named, Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg marks where Russia's last tsar and family were murdered Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Aptly named, the Church on the Blood in Ekaterinburg marks where Russia’s last czar and family were murdered
Photo credit: Martin Klimenta

Romanov Sites in Ekaterinburg

Church on the BloodThe Church on the Blood stands over the spot where Czar Nicholas II and his family were killed in 1918. The young family has been canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church, and declared martyrs, as holy passion-bearers, reverent believers who were tormented by the Soviets for their beliefs. The church was designed in the early 20th century Russian/Byzantine style that Nicholas favored.

Ekaterinburg's Church on the Blood

Second church in Ekaterinburg’s Church on the Blood complex
Photo: Helge Pedersen

Ganina YamaA little over six miles from Ekaterinburg is the mineshaft where the bodies of the last czar and his family were first thrown after the Bolsheviks executed them in July of 1918. The place is called Ganina Yama, and today there is a monastery here.

The Orthodox Church has declared Nicholas II to be a martyr-saint, saying that a czar’s coronation is sanctioned by God. The members of his family who died with him are also martyr-saints. On the grounds of the new monastery, named the Holy Monastery of the Royal Martyrs Czar Nicholas and Family, are six wooden churches made without the use of nails, in the old-fashioned Russian way, to honor Nicholas and his family.

Sunrise view from the Palace Bridge in St. Petersburg, Russia, during the glorious “White Nights”

Romanovs Today

In the years after the revolution, there was a wholesale slaughter of dynastic Romanovs in Russia, although the number of dead and of surviving émigrés varies. The New York Times estimates that only 35 Romanovs escaped death in the year or two after the Bolshevik’s seized power, out of 53 living at the time. Some were rescued by the aforementioned warship sent to Crimea from England; others made their way overland to safety.


Today, the arcane rules of royal Romanov succession have yielded several different claimants to a throne that no longer exists, as well as an official Romanov Family Association. Formed in 1979, its members include only legitimate male-line descendants of Emperor Nicholas I, not all Romanov descendants. There are some 20 members, as well as associate members and honorary members.

Nicholas II (Romanov) (Russia) Photo: not needed, from Greg / Wikipedia

Nicholas II

One of these honorary members is England’s Prince Michael of Kent; three of his grandparents were first cousins of Nicholas II, so a certain amount of royal Romanov blood flows in his veins.

In 2006, on one of his many trips to Russia, Prince Michael traveled to Kostroma to donate an engraved 17,600-lb bell to Trinity Cathedral. The deep bass note of the Czar’s Bell rings out from the 17th century bell tower in the “Cradle of the Romanov Dynasty,” Kostroma’s Ipatievsky Monastery.

Catherine’s Palace, outside of St. Petersburg. Photo credit: Bob Bauer

Catherine’s Palace, legacy of the Romanov dynasty
Photo credit: Bob Bauer

Travel with MIR to Romanov Sites

The Romanov dynasty continues to fascinate people all over the world. When you visit Western Russia, you are bound to encounter the remnants of the legacy of this royal family.

MIR offers a variety of travel itineraries to Western Russia that include a variety of these recommended Romanov sites:  

  • Russia’s Imperial Capitals & Ancient VillagesOn this small group tour, visit the “Cradle of the Romanov Dynasty,” Kostroma. Discover where Russian art, architecture and culture began. In between the urban centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg, experience the Golden Ring countryside (more info about this small group tour).
  • Russian Winter Wonderland: New Year’s in St. PetersburgNobody loves New Year’s Eve like the Russians do – it’s the most festive holiday of the year, with parties, presents, and champagne toasts. This celebratory tour revolves around New Year’s in glorious St. Petersburg, with Moscow merrymaking and a visit to 12th century Suzdal to round out the festivities, admiring ancient churches and enjoying a traditional sleigh ride (more info about this small group tour).
  • The Trans-Siberian RailwayYou can find Romanov sites on most of our many rail journeys throughout Russia and along the Trans-Siberian. Most of them explore Moscow and/or St. Petersburg, and have a stop in Ekaterinburg, where the last czar and his family perished (more info about Trans-Siberian Railway travel)
  • A Custom, Private TourYou can also book a custom private journey – handcrafted to your interests, pace and dates (more info about a personalized tour).

Why MIR?

MIR has over 30 years of travel experience in Russia, with affiliate offices in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Siberia offering on-the-ground support, and tour managers that clients rave about. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”

Palace Square, Hermitage, St. Petersburg. Photo: Jered Gorman

A view of the Palace Square near the Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg
Photo credit: Jered Gorman

Top photo: Catherine’s Palace near Saint Petersburg, Russia. Photo credit: Jonathan Irish

PUBLISHED: March 7, 2018

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One thought on “Travel Guide to the Romanov’s Russia: Significant Sites of Russian Royalty

  • Maria McCollum

    I am visiting St Petersburg for 5- days Sun-Friday and would like to know of sites to do with Tsar Nicolas and his family, which ones to look for, times of opening and if we need to get tickets ahead of the visit. Any day to not plan a visit if the site/Museum is likely to b closed?