The Best Castles to Visit in Russia (Listed by Popularity)


Russia – the home of Leo Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky, and Nureyev. It’s a country that’s rich in culture and has been producing world-renowned thinkers, artists, and leaders for centuries. Although the latest controversial war with Ukraine has isolated the country, that doesn’t mean that its historical heritage is any less appreciatable. In fact, Russia is dotted with castles and landmarks that have become essential to its very identity. They not only brim with a unique architectural identity but have also become must-visit places for tourists who visit.

Below, we’ll be looking at fourteen such castles and what makes them special enough to be on this list:

The order of the list is based on Google search volume of each castle = popularity.

1. Winter Palace

Bird’s eye view of Winter Palace.
Bird’s eye view of Winter Palace. Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia

Boasting 60,000 square meters (645,835 sq ft) of Baroque artistry, the Winter Palace is a masterpiece inhabited by Russian royalty for more than 185 years. Since palaces were considered the seats of power for Tsars and Tsarinas, this Russian castle’s design was especially thought-out. The Italian architect Bartolomeo Rastrelli was specially commissioned to add that unique Rococo flair to the design of the Winter Palace. Much like its Gothic predecessor, this style is known for its delicately ornate details.

Aside from the Imperial family, the Winter Palace was and still is home to some amazing art pieces. Catherine the Great started this tradition when she bought 225 paintings from Berlin in the 18th century, which were gradually added to as the years went by. Today, they make up a small part of the extensive Hermitage Museum that is open to the public within the palace grounds.

2. Moscow Kremlin

3D view of the Moscow Kremlin Complex.
3D view of the Moscow Kremlin Complex., CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This is one of those Russian castles that have become part of the country’s very identity. It was built within the heart of the city of Moscow and is known for its unique architecture. It’s also been the official seat of power for the Russian Federation. The entire castle’s architecture is worth noting, but all the small details make it even more impressive. For example, the stars on top of the Kremlin weigh a ton (each) and are replacements for two-headed eagles melted down by the Federation.

As one of the largest active fortresses in Europe, the Kremlin is home to four cathedrals and a whopping five palaces. In addition, it also houses the Tsar Bell (considered the largest one in the world). With its 20 towers and colorful facade, this castle is worth visiting if you’re going to Russia.

3. Catherine Palace

Front view of Catherine Palace.
Front view of Catherine Palace. Doug Kerr, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Catherine Palace was named after the wife of Peter the Great and served as the official summer residence of the Romanovs. Its grandeur is unparalleled and integral to its interior and architecture. Although the castle started small, it was later expanded and worked on by various famous architects, the most prominent of which was Bartolomeo Rastrell.

Fun fact: Catherine wished for 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of actual gold to be used in the exterior’s detailing and made it happen!

These days, this Russian palace serves as a museum, its displays include 300 years of history. The Amber Room is the most beautiful space in the entire palace and features tiny amber mosaics curated by Rastrelli himself. The Nazis looted the room during World War II, but an extensive renovation was done to restore it to its former glory in the late 20th century. The restoration cost $12 million!

4. Peterhof Palace

The Cascade at Peterhof Palace.
The Cascade at Peterhof Palace. Ninara from Helsinki, Finland, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Famous for its gorgeous fountains and central cascade, Peterhof Castle used to be Peter the Great’s summer residence. It was commissioned to rival the Palace of Versailles and was completed in the first half of the 18th century. The French landscape architect Jean-Baptiste Alexandre was hired to design the gardens, which exist in their well-maintained glory to this day. The cluster of buildings that make up this Russian castle has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since the 1990s.

An interesting fact about Peterhof Palace is that it was captured and held by German troops during World War 2. It was thoroughly raided and destroyed during this era. It was later restored to its former glory and is one of the most visited sites in St. Petersburg today. In fact, approximately 5.3 million tourists visited the castle in 2017.

5. Gatchina Palace

Front facade of Gatchina Palace.
Front facade of Gatchina Palace.Alexxx1979, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This 250-year-old Russian castle has seen the highs and lows of Russian politics throughout its existence. At one point, it used to be a hunting lodge that was used by Catherine the Great’s lover (although it was later inherited by her son Paul, who resided there for 15 years). At another point in history, it was used by the Order of Malta (who were kicked out by Napoleon himself in the 18th century).

Gatchina Palace used to be the home of fine art collections. The paintings, furniture, sculptures, and even china pieces that were housed there were lost when the Nazis looted the castle during World War 2. It was so badly damaged that restoration works are being carried out to this day. Only four or so halls are open to the public currently.

6. Kazan Kremlin

Kazan Kremlin at night.
Kazan Kremlin at night. Salih.melikoglu, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

The roots of this Russian castle originate from the Golden Horde Muslim period, but the complex that we see today was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible in the 15th century. It’s an important part of Russian heritage as it’s the only existing Tartar fortress in the region. Its longstanding history and heritage have made this castle one of the most exemplary historical buildings in Russia.

Today, Kazan Kremlin enjoys the position of Presidential Residence and even houses one of Europe’s largest mosques, “Qolşärif Mosque,” within its citadel. Along with that, it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site visited by many tourists all year round.

7. Ivangorod Fortress

Ivangorod Castle in all its glory.
Ivangorod Castle in all its glory. Ad Meskens, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Originally built to fight off the knights of the Livonian order, Ivangorod Fortress is an excellent example of architectural might. It has seen numerous sieges and battles over the course of its existence and has changed hands many times throughout history. From the Livonians to the Russian Grand Duchy, the Swedish forces, the USSR in the 40s, and even the Nazis, the castle has had many owners during its history.

These days, like many other castles, Ivangorod also houses a museum that features works by famous artists. It also has some exhibits that showcase the local history of the area as well as model fortresses.

8. Vyborg Castle

Vyborg Castle sitting proudly on its islet.
Vyborg Castle sitting proudly on its islet. Ludvig14, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

As far as medieval defensive structures go, Vyborg Castle features one of the best. Built by the Swedes, it now resides in the picturesque town of Vyborg, Russia. In fact, the location of this Russian fortress is a bit tricky to exactly pinpoint, as it sits on an islet near the Gulf of Finland. Although the original construction dates back to the 13th century, excavations have revealed that medieval construction is predated by an Iron Age occupation.

Vyborg has seen a lot of changes in the centuries of its existence, but the major ones occurred in the 16th century. But soon after, in the 17th century, it was abandoned and gradually fell into a state of decay. It was restored and now houses the State Museum of Vyborg, which is visited by many visitors on a daily basis.

9. Astrakhan Kremlin

Astrakhan's tower against a cloudy sky.
Astrakhan’s tower against a cloudy sky. Alexxx1979, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Commissioned during the reign of Ivan the Terrible, this Russian fortress is the pinnacle of post-medieval grandeur. The great thing about its architecture is that it was directed by the terrain, which resulted in the final plan resembling a right-angled triangle. Astrakhan also houses the Assumption Cathedral, considered one of the best examples of Russian church architecture. Seven of the eight towers that made up the fortress remain intact to this day.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, Astrakhan Kremlin was converted into a museum and remains so today. Its specialty is showcasing the lifestyle of the city’s garrison along with a history of all the famous uprisings. Most of the castle underwent restoration in 2011 with more parts of it being opened to the public afterward.

10. Izborsk Fortress

Ruins of Izborsk Fortress.
Ruins of Izborsk Fortress.Alexxx1979, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This Russian fortress has all the characteristics of medieval architecture. Dating back to 1330, it is one of the best examples of defensive Russian castles and has withstood numerous sieges over the course of its existence. Its grandiose towers are still intact, albeit marked with battle scars. Like medieval motte-and-baileys, the initial version of this castle was constructed in wood, only to be replaced with a stone construction later. 

Even today, it still retains an aura of majesty and is a beautiful tourist sight. The grounds are perfect for meandering in, and the inside is just as impressive. The structure has succumbed to some ruin over the course of the centuries, so when you look up from the inside of the towers, you will see the sky overhead instead of the roofs that would have once been.

If you are a castle enthusiast, you must take out the time to visit these equally spectacular castles in Russia as well:

11. Novgorod Kremlin

Novgorod on a clear sunny day.
Novgorod on a clear sunny day. Ludvig14, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Novgorod is less of a castle and more of a fortress complex – and the oldest one in Russia, to boot. In fact, one can categorize it as “ancient” because it was first mentioned in a chronicle dating back to 1044. This castle was founded by Vladimir (son of Yaroslav) and was the city’s all-in-one religious, social, and administrative center back in the day. In fact, it used to be a hub where books were collected and copied for distribution.

Even today, the castle serves as a tourist center for the city. Many of the buildings within the complex are used for different purposes still. The main ones host the museum, while the peripheral ones are used for workshops for restoration purposes, a library, and even an arts & music school. Many visitors flock to experience the picturesque surroundings and experience the ancient nature of the land.

12. Vologda Kremlin

Vologda Kremlin in its serene surroundings.
Vologda Kremlin in its serene surroundings.Alx0yago, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Situated in one of the oldest cities in Russia, this castle is easily recognized for its beautiful tower and expressive architecture. The city itself is famous for its churches and cathedrals, so it’s no wonder that Vologda Kremlin houses one of the most gorgeous and well-preserved ones in the area. However, some of the castle has not withstood the tests of time. Parts of the architecture have succumbed to ruin, but many buildings and statues have been preserved.

Today, numerous tourists visit the castle daily. A recommended activity is climbing up the bell tower if you want to experience the views from all directions. The museums are also a great attraction, and the Natural History one is a fan favorite.

13. Vorontsovsky Palace

The gatehouse of Vorontsovsky Palace.
The gatehouse of Vorontsovsky Palace.© Vyacheslav Argenberg /, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This Russian castle belonged to Count Vorontsov (a Russian prince) who was hailed as one of the heroes of the Napoleonic Wars. It’s the oldest construction in its area and was revered as an iconic summer retreat back in the day. In fact, it was so influential as a seaside home that it enticed the rest of the nobility to build similar residences in the area.

The iconic stature of this castle was further cemented by its appearance in famous movies like An Ordinary Miracle and more. Today, the castle is in a fragile condition. There are cracks in the library ceiling, the drainage system hasn’t withstood the tests of time, and one of the castle’s wings is so worn down that it’s in danger of collapsing into the Black Sea at any moment. However, its timelessness is still impressive and the beautiful interior is worth visiting.

14. Saint Michael’s Castle

The classical front facade of St. Michael’s Castle.
The classical front facade of St. Michael’s Castle.Alex ‘Florstein’ Fedorov, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Saint Michael’s Castle (not to be confused with its medieval castle namesake and counterpart) is another one of Paul I’s residences that Rastrelli originally designed. With its gorgeous galleries, greenhouses, and 160 rooms, this castle was as sprawling as they come. However, its original iteration was razed by Paul as he didn’t like the architecture. It was later rebuilt as a summer palace with Paul himself taking part in the redesign. However, his ideas were refined and articulated by architects Bazhenov and Vincenzo Brenna.

This Russian castle is steeped in many legends, the most famous of which is that Paul I’s ghost roams the grounds to this day. It stems from the real-life event of his coup-caused assassination, resulting in Alexander I ascending the throne. After that, the castle housed an Engineering school, thus being dubbed the Engineer’s Castle. Today, it houses a museum that showcases contemporary Avante-garden art.

15. Tula Kremlin

An aerial view of the kremlin in Tula, Russia.
An aerial view of the kremlin in Tula, Russia.A.Savin, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

Located in the city of Tula, Russia, this castle was built in the 16th century and played an important role in the defense of the region from Polish and Lithuanian invasions. The kremlin is constructed of red brick, surrounded by high walls and towers. The unique architecture combines elements of Renaissance and Baroque styles in this kremlin’s design.

The Kremlin is home to several historical buildings including the Assumption Cathedral and the Governor’s House. During the Soviet era, the kremlin was used as a prison and allowed to fall into disrepair. However, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the kremlin underwent extensive restoration and today it is open to visitors as a historical and cultural site, with museums and exhibitions showcasing the history and culture of Tula.

16. Pskov Fortress

Pskov Krom spread out along the water’s edge.
Pskov Krom spread out along the water’s edge. A.Savin, FAL, via Wikimedia Commons

Built in the 9th century, Pskov Krom is a medieval fortress that played an important role in the defense of the region from various invasions, including the Teutonic Order, Poland-Lithuania, and Sweden. The fortress is situated on a high hill and surrounded by a moat. It was the residence of the princes of Pskov and also served as a center of administration and trade. 

The fortress complex includes several architectural monuments such as the Trinity Cathedral, the Palace of the Princes, and the bell tower. Today, the Pskov fortress is well-preserved and is open to visitors as a historical and cultural site, with museums and exhibitions showcasing the history and culture of the region.

17. Suzdal Kremlin

Suzdal Kremlin surrounded by gorgeous autumn colors.
Suzdal Kremlin is surrounded by gorgeous autumn colors. Ludvig14, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Suzdal Kremlin is a medieval fortress located in the city of Suzdal, Russia. It was built in the 10th century to play an important role in the defense of the region from various invasions. It was also central to the religious and political lives of the Suzdal Principality.

The kremlin in Suzdal is considered one of the best-preserved medieval fortresses in Russia and it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Today, the Suzdal Kremlin is open to visitors as a historical and cultural site, with museums and exhibitions showcasing the history and culture of the region. Ancient monasteries, churches, and merchant’s houses surrounding the fortress add to the exploration possibilities of visiting this kremlin.

Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira Ghazal
Zunaira is an architect and designer on paper, but a writer at heart. She’s got a Bachelors in Architecture and a passion for traveling, both of which combine in her writings about timeworn castles and fortresses that have withstood the tests of time and stand proud to this day.

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