must-read travel books on visiting Russia
Russia is a vast and beautiful country stretching across continents and cultures. It is a country which attracts travellers from across the world, many of whom have gone on to write about their journeys through Russia. Here are 10 travel books about Russia to read before planning your own trip.
1. Travels in Siberia
by Ian Frazier
Travel writer Ian Frazier’s meticulously-researched book is a love letter to Siberia, but not one full of flowery phrases and platitudes. Instead, Frazier has written a book about Siberia which gently dispels the myths painting it as a frosty wasteland. He weaves his own journey across Siberia with the history of the region. Ian Frazier does the region justice, making sure not to focus on the famous Russians exiled to Siberia, but talking about its role in Russian politics, science and technology, and economics, too.
2. Mud and Stars: Travels in Russia with Pushkin, Tolstoy, and Other Geniuses of the Golden Age
by Sara Wheeler
Sara Wheeler has written about fascinating landscapes in her previous works, from Antarctica and the Arctic to the Chilean Andes, but her travels through Russia are directed by her fascination with the Golden Age of Russian Literature. She wants to see the Russia experienced by Tolstoy and his contemporaries, and sets out, taking a journey off the beaten track to find it.
3. Among the Russians
by Colin Thubron
Widely considered by many to be a classic of travel writing, Colin Thubron published Among The Russians to share his experience travelling across Eastern Europe in the 1980s, shortly before the end of the Soviet Union. His book paints a picture of a Russia which is almost unrecognisable to contemporary travellers, but provides an invaluable insight into the Russia that was.
4. Across the Ussuri Kray: Travels in the Sikhote-Alin Mountains
by Vladimir K. Arsenyev
Originally written at the turn of the 20th century, explorer and naturalist Vladimir K. Arsenyev’s collection of travel writings were published in a stunning new edition with photographs of the Ussuri Kray region. Arsenyev’s recollections of his adventures through the remote and relatively understood mountainous Ussuri Kray region, and his encounters with the indigenous peoples of the region, are a must-read.
5. The Border: A Journey Around Russia
by Erika Fatland
This book was nominated for the Stanford Dolman Travel Book of the Year in 2020, and it’s not hard to see why. Erika Fatland’s travels never actually take her into Russia, but she travels around the entirety of the Russian border in order to write a travelogue like no other. Through the eyes of those who live in neighbouring countries, Fatland weaves the story of contemporary Russia and its history, from the Baltic states, through Central Asia and even North Korea.
6. Bears in the Streets: Three Journeys Across a Changing Russia
by Lisa Dickey
Lisa Dickey travelled around Russia over the course of three decades. Her first journey took place in 1995, where she travelled to eleven cities, making new friends along the way. In 2005 and 2015 respectively, she went back to the same cities to visit the same friends and to see how Russia, and the lives of her friends, had changed in the time she’d been gone. Her book is a beautiful ode to friendship and the ways in which a country and people change over time.
7. Through Siberia by Accident
by Dervla Murphy
Dervla Murphy is an intrepid traveller famous for cycling through the countries she visits. She never meant to end up travelling through Siberia, but after breaking her leg on a trip that was supposed to see her travel through the Ussuri Kray, she found herself slowly making her way across Eastern Siberia, and discovering the rich culture and the hospitality of the region.
8. The Anna Karenina Fix: Life Lessons from Russian Literature
by Viv Groskop
Viv Groskop’s book is part-memoir, part starry-eyed love letter to Russian literature, and part-travelogue. Drawing on her love for the Russian classics and her own time living in the country during her year abroad as a student studying the language, her book draws a beautiful picture of the Russian people and a distinctly Russian outlook on live.
9. A Journey into Russia
by Jens Mühling
Jens Mühling’s book about Russia has only recently been translated into English from the original German, but it has already gained a cult following. For years, Mühling’s thought about a man he had once met — Yuri, whose job it had been to find unbelievable stories from across Russia to sell to TV channels. Inspired by Yuri, Jens Mühling set out across Russia to find some stories of his own.
10. Open Mic Night in Moscow: And Other Stories from My Search for Black Markets, Soviet Architecture, and Emotionally Unavailable Russian Men
by Audrey Murray
Writer and comedian Audrey Murray freely admits that she is obsessed with Russia. Perhaps it’s because she loves Russian literature, or because of her string of short-lived relationships with Russian men. She decides that there’s only one thing to do: embark upon a nine month solo trip around Russia and former Soviet states, of course! Her travel writing is light, full of hilarious anecdotes, and a perfect read for anyone wanting to attempt solo travel across Russia.
Illustrations: Khadia Ulumbekova