Russia is known for its magnificent churches, and none are more spectacular than the golden domes found on the Golden Ring. The ring is one of Russia’s most ancient and intriguing destinations and is full of culturally significant sites that allow a glimpse into the early days of Russia.
The Golden Ring is a route, specifically, a circular route that includes a collection of principle towns and cities in European Russia. Named the Golden Ring by journalist Yuri Bychkov, the classic route starts in Moscow and heads North taking in Sergiev Posad and travelling clockwise until you reach the city of Vladimir and then returning to Moscow.
Let’s take the first stop on our tour: Sergiev Posad and get into the fine history and architecture of this less travelled, but very deserving city. To get our bearings, we are about 45 miles Northeast of Moscow. You can travel this journey quite simply by road or train.
There is a bus every 20 minutes from Moscow Bus Station costing about £4 each way, alternatively, a taxi will cost around £14 each way and will be much quicker.
The simplest and cheapest option is the train, which costs around £3. Trains leave Moskva Iaroslavskaja for Sergiev Posad every hour.
This journey can be done in a single day trip from Moscow if you leave early enough in the morning. There are enough things to see in Sergiev Posad to take two days and if you do decide to stay overnight in Sergiev, good hotels can be found for around £30 per room per night.
Sergiev Posad started life as a small wooden monastery, built and used by the Russian patron saint Sergius of Radonezh. The building was destroyed by the Tartars in the 15th Century, but Sergius’ tomb was erected on the site and in time, the Trinity Cathedral was built on the site to accommodate the mausoleum. Trinity cathedral began to be built in 1422, the same year Sergius was canonised. Town status was granted to Sergiev Posad in 1794. Due to the religious connotations of the name, Soviet authorities changed it first to Sergiyev in 1919, and then to Zagorsk in 1930, in memory of the revolutionary Vladimir Mikhailovich Zagorsky. Sergiev Posad’s original name was restored in 1991.
Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius is the home of the Russian Patriarch. Trinity Lavra is seen as the home of the Russian Orthodox Church and like the Vatican, is full of the history of a wealthy church: artworks, precious relics, incredible architecture and frescos and of course, often the patriarch himself: Patriarch Kirill (Cyril). The Patriarch has a similar role to the Pope in the Roman Catholic tradition, in that they are seen as an authority on the interpretation of religious matters pertaining to the church and that they hold the office for life, after being elected by a council.
Trinity Lavra, a huge a beautifully constructed building, has been decorated by some of the most iconic painters of Russian fresco work Andrei Rublev and Daniil Chyorny. The white sloping interior walls are covered in ornate iconography. Match this with the beautiful gold dome and you have one of the finest religious sites in all of Russia. No wonder it received UNESCO status in 1993. It is the cradle of Orthodoxy and the highlight of visiting Sergiev Posad.
The Trinity Church is part of a complex including the iconic 16th century Cathedral of the Assumption. You may already recognise the Cathedral of Assumption from the blue dome roofs covered in gold stars. Inside you are likely encounter all manner of religious folk including Monks, pilgrims and daily worshippers. It is not only the beautiful iconography worth looking at, make sure you check out the ornate bronze chandeliers and the gold altar piece. The complex that features Trinity Lavra and the Cathedral of Assumption also houses another medieval church: the Church of the Holy Spirit and a beautiful mint green 18th Century bell tower, among its bells is the Tsar Bell – at 72 tonnes, the largest bell in the Russian Orthodox Church.
Sergiev Posad is still famous for making toys and has a toy factory in the city. A common rumour is that the town is the origin of the iconic Matryoshka nesting dolls. The Sergiev Toy Museum is charming and worth looking in to see traditional wooden Russian toys, including some that belonged to the Russian Royal families. If this is something for you, it might be a good idea to book a tour and workshop in the Matryoshka factory, where you not only get to see how they are made but have a chance to paint your own.
If Soviet history is your interest, then you must visit the Yuri Gagarin Palace of Culture. It is a museum dedicated to Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin who was a Soviet pilot and cosmonaut who became the first human to journey into outer space. Travelling in the Vostok 1 capsule, Gagarin completed one orbit of Earth on 12 April 1961. By achieving this major milestone in the Space Race, he became an international celebrity and was awarded many medals and titles, including Hero of the Soviet Union, his nation’s highest honour. In the museum, you can see various paraphernalia associated with this soviet hero whom the whole world came to support.
Some tours attempt to complete Sergiev Posad in one day and we would recommend one to two days, depending on how much time you want to spend shopping for traditional toys. If Sergiev Posad’s incredibly rich history appeals to you, you might just want another day to enjoy what this first stop on the Golden Ring has to offer.
To experience the wonders of Sergiev Posad yourself, view our new collection of Golden Ring tours.