The Golden Ring is just a three- to five-hour drive from Moscow. Renting a car, though expensive (about $100 a day), will maximize your flexibility once there. The roads north of Moscow can be challenging: keep an eye out for aggressive truckers, axle-breaking potholes, and—even on the highways—the occasional horse-drawn cart. Trains to the Ring depart frequently from Yaroslavl Station, in central Moscow. Volga ferries, however, provide a more unusual experience. (Ferry tickets must be booked through tour agencies.) Once in the Ring towns, you can order taxis through your hotel concierge for reasonable rates fixed in advance.
Consider hiring a local guide—they can be very knowledgeable—to take you to the churches and cathedrals; ask for recommendations at your hotel’s reception desk. Alternatively, Lonely Planet’s Russia & Belarus provides enough information for independent visits. In all houses of worship, both sexes should dress conservatively: men should not wear shorts, and women should bring a scarf to cover their hair.
The kremlin-side location of the Hotel Boyarsky Dvor (“The Boyars’ Court”) makes it the top choice for accommodations in Rostov. It also has a traditional Russian restaurant that is regarded as the best in town.
Hotel Boyarsky Dvor
4 Kamennyi Most Street
011-74-85-366-0446 Moscow office: 011-74-95-975-1681
In Yaroslavl, try the Hotel Yubileynaya. This large Soviet-era hotel has undergone enough renovation to make for a pleasant, though not luxurious, stay, and its perch above the Kotorosl River affords excellent views. You can dine there or at the Restaurant Chateau for international cuisine; for Russian fare, try the historically holy environs of the Restaurant Spasskiye Palaty, right in the Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastery.
Hotel Yubileynaya 26 Kotoroslnaya Embankment
011-74-85-230-7363 fax: 011-74-85-230-9259
20a Trefolyeva Street
Restaurant Spasskiye Palaty
25 Bogoyavlenskaya Square
While in town, allow a couple of hours to visit the Museum of Music and Time.
Museum of Music and Time
33a Volzhskaya Embankment
The Hotel Volga, in Kostroma, is another Soviet-style cement behemoth—but it occupies the finest real estate in the city, and has splendid views of the river. Staff members may display shocking indifference until they spot your foreign passport. Book either a “deluxe” or a “semi-deluxe” room on the fourth or tenth floor, which have been renovated to international standards.
1 Yunosheskaya Street
011-74-94-254-6163 or 6262
For a departure from Russian cuisine, try one of the many Central Asian lamb and noodle dishes at the Uzbek Russian restaurant Beloye Solntse (“White Sun”), a ten-minute taxi ride east along the Volga from the hotel.
2 Lesnaya Street
To see the works of the greatest Russian realist in the location in which they were painted, visit the Levitan House Museum, in Plyos, an hour’s car or taxi ride from Kostroma.
Levitan House Museum
4 Lunacharskogo Street 011-74-93-394-3478
Accommodations in Bogolyubovo are limited; consider staying instead in Suzdal, a half hour north and a beautiful historic town in its own right. A good choice is the Hotel Pushkarskaya Sloboda, which has well-appointed rooms in the main building and separate pine bungalows, and is a favorite weekend haunt of the Muscovite elite.
Hotel Pushkarskaya Sloboda
43 Lenin Street
Head out to the Trapeznaya Restaurant, inside the Suzdal kremlin, for Russian cuisine in a majestic setting.
20 Kremlevskaya Street