The 1,000-year history of Yaroslavl and its location in the middle of the Golden Ring makes it a great destination for a day or weekend trip from Moscow, or as part of the Golden Ring tour. It is the oldest city on the Volga river, with its historic centre being designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You may recognise the town's founder, Yaroslav the Wise, from the 1,000 roubles banknote or photos of his impressive statue in Yaroslavl.
Inspired? Let’s find our more about the history and must-see spots of Yaroslavl.
The history of Yaroslavl’s founding has now become part of Russian legend. According to the legend, Yaroslavl was founded in 1010 when Yaroslav, the prince of Rostov, future price of Kiev and son of Russia’s first Christian grand prince Vladimir the Great, travelled through the land. On the banks of the River Volga he encountered a tribe of pagans who set a fierce bear on him. Price Yaroslav killed the bear with his poleaxe and founded a fortress where he had killed the bear to protect his lands.
During the two centuries following this, Yaroslavl remained a small border town until the 13th century where due to its favourable location, Yaroslavl become one of the most developed towns in ancient Russia. Yaroslavl became one of the most developed towns in ancient Russia, a major commercial and political centre, whose architectural development continued. A rapid church growth facilitated the development of the local icon-painting school that is now world famous for iconography art.
What to see
Take a tour of Yaroslavl’s architecture
There are only three Russian cities whose centres are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site: St. Petersburg, Yaroslavl and Derbent.
If you start your exploration in Yarsolavl’s historical city centre and take a stroll down its medieval streets, with the beautiful churches and impressive cathedral, the sense of rich heritage and historical significance will make it easy to see why it serves as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Yaroslavl’s Architectural Historical and Art Museum Preserve occupies the grounds of a former 13th Century convent and provides a look at central Russia’s building traditions and art styles, including paintings, frescoes, and iconography, of the XVII century. Ringing bell towers and intricate church domes dominate the complex that stretches along the scenic banks of the Volga River.
As you explore, make sure to stop and see the stunning architecture of the Transfiguration Monastery with its beautiful frescos and 15th-16th century icons. If you climb to the top of one of the bell towers you’ll be met by beautiful views of Yaroslavl and its surrounding nature.
Another gem of Yaroslavl architecture is the 15-domed Church of St. John the Baptist, a marvel of 17th Century Yaroslavl architecture.
The emerald-domed Church of Elijah the Prophet - masterpiece of ancient Russian art
Have a walk down the river
After appreciating the city centre’s historical sites, now would be the ideal time to get some fresh air and observe the spectacular scenery of this city nestled between two rivers.
Take a stroll along the Yarosolavl Embankment, with its alcoves and street lights dotted along the shore, to overlook the Volga river. You can even take a river tram across the Volga to visit the Tolga Convent, founded in the early 14th Century, whose domed churches are nestled inside a cedar grove.
Then hire a bike to reach the Strelka Park with its musical fountains, and a huge stone, believed to have healing powers, which stands on the spot Yaroslav met the bear.
Sterlka Park in place of confluence of the Volga and Kotorosl river.
The stark white Assumption Cathedral nearby has a tragic history. Initially built in stone in the early 1210s, it was demolished in 1937 by Communists and rebuilt in 2005. Today, you can still see the original cathedral bells on display outside.
The Assumption Cathedral.
Visit the Museum of Valentina Tereshkova, the world’s first female cosmonaut was born and lived in the Yaroslavl region, and became the world’s first female cosmonaut in 1963.
Make sure you don’t miss the monument to the growling bear, a symbol of Yaroslavl, erected to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of the city.
When in Yaroslavl… explore the beginnings of Russia
Yaroslavl is great to visit at any time of the year.
On the last Saturday of June you can visit Baba Yaga, the ferocious-looking witch from Russian folklore, for her birthday in her hometown of Kukoboy, which is 157km from Yaroslavl.
If you visit Yaroslavl during pancake week in February, there are many festivities to take in. One of the most interesting museums related to pre-Christian Russia is the residence of her majesty the Queen of Maslenitsa to taste classic Russian recipes cooked on a traditional Russian stove. This is a great place to stop by for authentic Russian cuisine and to catch one of the folk performances or plays.
And in spring, in March of odd-numbered years, Yaroslavl holds Russia’s oldest jazz festival “Jazz on the Volga”.
Now that I’ve introduced you to the magnificent millennial city that is Yaroslavl, the only thing left for you to do is to look at our 3-day Golden Ring tour that includes Yaroslavl or contact our travel team if you have your own plans and itinerary.
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