Suzdal has a population of only 12,000 but ample evidence of it’s past importance can be seen in the sheer number of churches and monasteries which appear at almost every turn and view in this walkable town. As Suzdal is federally protected, development has been limited and the town has none of the Soviet sprawl of ugly apartment blocks. The lack of any rundown industry, so common to almost every other Russian town you come across, means the air is clean and the waters of the meandering Kamenka river clear.
There’s a lot of green space in Suzdal and in summer the meadows are lush and full of flowers. For those who make it in winter the sight of countless onion domes draped in snow is well worth the cold temperatures.
The majority of houses off Suzdal’s main street, Ul Lenina, are constructed of wood in the traditional Siberian style that you may have seen in Irkutsk in particular. Navigation around Suzdal is easy and most sights can be visited by foot – one way or another everything is off Ul Lenina with the town’s focal point being the trading arcades where banks and restaurants can be found.
You will have a guided tour which gives a good introduction to the town. After that enjoy wandering around yourself. It’s a challenge to get lost and fairy tale views are around almost every corner.
Saviour Monastery of St Euthymius
Founded in the 14th century to protect the town’s northern entrance, Suzdal’s biggest monastery grew mighty in the 16th and 17th centuries after Vasily III, Ivan the Terrible and the noble Pozharsky family funded impressive new stone buildings and made large land and property acquisitions. It was girded with its great brick walls and towers in the 17th century.
The grandfather of the Moscow Kremlin, this citadel was the 12th-century base of Prince Yury Dolgoruky, who ruled the vast northeastern part of Kyivan Rus (and, among other things, founded a small outpost that would eventually become the Russian capital). The 1.4km-long earthen ramparts of Suzdal’s kremlin enclose a few streets of houses and a handful of churches, as well as the main cathedral group on ul Kremlyovskaya.
Museum of Wooden Architecture & Peasant Life
This open-air museum across the river from Suzdal’s kremlin offers a fascinating glimpse into the traditional lives of rural folk in this area. Besides log houses, windmills, a barn, and lots of tools and handicrafts, its highlights are the 1756 Transfiguration Church (Преображенская церковь) and the simpler 1776 Resurrection Church (Воскресенская церковь). There’s a similar museum in Kostroma.
Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral
The Nativity of the Virgin Cathedral, whose blue domes spangled with gold dominate the front courtyard of the Suzdal kremlin, was founded in the 1220s. Only its richly carved lower section is original white stone, however; the rest is 16th-century brick. The inside is sumptuous, with 13th- and 17th-century frescoes and 13th-century damascene (gold on copper) west and south doors.
Suzdal’s Torgovaya pl (Market Sq) is dominated by the pillared Trading Arcades (Торговые ряды; 1806–11) along its western side. There are several churches in the immediate vicinity, including the 1739 Kazan Church (Казанская церковь) and the 1720 Resurrection Church (Воскресенская церковь) right on the square; the latter’s hours are irregular but if it’s open you can take the precarious climb to the top of the bell tower to be rewarded with wonderful views of Suzdal’s gold-domed skyline.
Holy Intercession Convent
It’s a classic Suzdal picture: the whitewashed beauty of monastic walls surrounded by green meadows on the banks of the lazily meandering river. Inside are beds of brightly coloured flowers tended by the nuns, who live in wooden cottages left over from a rustic hotel built here when the convent was closed after the revolution (it was revived in 1992). Founded in 1364, this convent was originally a place of exile for the unwanted wives of tsars.
Church of the Assumption of the Mother of God
This small red church up the street from the kremlin features a beautiful icon of the Virgin Mary created by 16th-century artist Fyodor Zubov, as well as a large gold-and-glass coffin containing the relics of St Arseny (1550–1625), the Archbishop of Suzdal.
Suzdal can easily be navigated on foot. A guided city walking tour of 3 to 3,5 hours, that includes the Kremlin and Wooden Architecture Museum, can be booked.