Getting to Vladimir
The best way to get to Vladimir is through Moscow. So if you’re coming from St. Petersburg, make your way to Moscow first. Let me tell you my don’t do what I did experience of trying to get there from Moscow.
Without making any solid plans, in the middle of February, I headed to Kurskaya Railway Station in Moscow to buy a ticket. My minimal research on travel to Vladimir showed me that there were several trains a day, some faster (the so-called Lastochkas) than others. I headed to the train station at around 1 pm to catch the 2 pm Lastochka which was to last just under 2 hours. Since I’ve taken the Lastochka many times before in St. Petersburg to nearby cities, I thought the system was much the same here. So, I went to one of the terminals by the station and bought myself an express ticket for 630 rubles.
However, once I went to get on the train, I discovered that my ticket was eligible only for other, simpler and slower trains, and not for the Lastochka. I would’ve been better off buying the ticket earlier online to get a good seat. With just 10 minutes before the train leaving, I discovered that to buy the correct ticket, I had to go to a specific ticket booth and show my passport. The service lady there told me that the only seats left were in first class for 3,000 rubles. Since there was another train leaving in a few minutes for which my ticket was valid, I decided to opt for that, even though it was to take nearly 4 hours. I think it was literally the longest train ride of the day.
So there I was, in a packed train; yes, on a Wednesday at 2 pm apparently everyone wanted to take a four-hour ride to Vladimir. I’d actually also paid 60 rubles more than I needed to. And unlike the comfortable Lastochka train this was an old elektrichka that stopped at every station. So I found a not-so-comfortable seat near a babushka and started looking for places to stay in Vladimir. I managed to book and pay for everything while on the train.
Unfortunately, due to my very poor planning, the sun was just about to set when I arrived in Vladimir. But as I looked up from the train station, I felt like I had arrived in a fairy-tale city. Above me, I saw what looked like a castle on a hilltop. And after grappling through the snow and finding my quaint apartment, I was able to go exploring!
If you want to go to Vladimir, I suggest scouring the tutu.ru website and looking for routes from Moscow or from St. Petersburg. There are actually a few stations in Moscow that have trains that go there. I’d also advise you to book in advance.
Getting to know Vladimir
It turns out that the exact origins of the city of Vladimir are unknown. Some say it was founded and named during the reign of Vladimir I (980-1015) and some suggest it was during Vladimir II (1113-1125). Nonetheless, the name was and remains a popular one for leaders of this country.
So, what is now a city of about 350,000 people, is lined with ancient buildings altogether designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The entrance to the ancient city was once the Golden Gate, constructed around 1160, and is the only ancient gate in Russia that is still intact today. The gate opens up to what seems like the main street of the city, an equivalent to Nevsky Prospect if you will. There you can find restaurants and shops, fit into the historical buildings, and along the way you see a Vladimir equivalent to Gostiny Dvor called Torgoviye Ryadi, an old-style market now more like a mall.
As I strolled around the city, I found many beautiful and ancient churches and other buildings. The red brick design featured several times, including at the water tower that offers views from the top of the hill, for a price of course! There were also many interesting statues and sculptures along the way.
A lookout over the hill offered stunning views of the city and beyond, with the train station in full view. I had to use my imagination as I walked through the snow-covered parks thinking how luscious and green this place must be in the summer.
The main highlight was finding those beautiful churches that looked to me like castles on top of the hill. The first was the Dormition Cathedral, one of the oldest churches in Russia, built in the 13th-14th centuries. Next door was a long building, the Vladimir and Suzdal Museum, and just by it was the Cathedral of Saint Demetrius built in the 12th century. These three buildings stand tall on the hill, creating the illusion of some kind of a royal palace.
If museums and history are what you like, there is definitely enough to keep you busy in this city for one-two days, but I think that’s where the concept of the Golden Ring comes in. People usually quickly move on to the next city, with the nearby Suzdal often on the list. However, since there was no suitable way of getting there by public transport, I opted out, and headed back to Moscow.
If I were to do it again, I’d definitely visit between May and September when the weather is warmer and you can enjoy the beautiful nature too. I’d also venture out to see the rest of the Golden Ring, which would be an ideal adventure by car!