If you are planning to travel to Russia and are interested in literary history, the places on this list deserve a spot on your itinerary. Russians are very proud of their rich literary heritage, and this is reflected in their well-curated and oft-frequented museums, houses, and estates dedicated to Russian authors.
Top 10 Literary Destinations When you Travel to Russia:
Tula – Yasnaya Polyana
Situated outside the city of Tula, about 120 miles south of Moscow, this bucolic estate is where Leo Tolstoy was born and spent most of his life. It features a main house, a school founded by Tolstoy for the peasant children on the estate, and beautiful grounds. The house and school are now a museum, with many of Tolstoy’s books and possessions on display exactly as he left them. Opt for a guided tour, available in Russian, English, French, and German, or just wander the four thousand acres of forests, fields, ponds, and gardens by yourself to take in the atmosphere that inspired War and Peace and Anna Karenina.
Moscow – Bulgakov House, Master and Margarita tour
Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita is one of the most widely-loved novels of the Soviet era. It is set mainly in Moscow, and the Bulgakov museum has created a walking tour of the important places in the story. Travel to Russia and enter Bulgakov’s world and see the locations that inspired him, from his own apartment that became the devil’s hideout to the ritzy Patriarch’s Ponds area where the novel opens. On the night tours you may even encounter some of Bulgakov’s characters in the flesh! The museum is easily accessible by metro, and also holds theatrical productions, art exhibits, a café, and more.
Moscow – Novodevichy cemetery
Any travel to Russia is not complete without a visit to Novodevichy cemetery. Russia has produced an incredible number of titans in the arts and sciences, and here is the final resting place of almost 27,000 statesmen, artists, composers, writers, scientists, and cosmonauts, many of whom made significant contributions to their fields and left a lasting legacy. The cemetery is full of beautiful, serene and picturesque sculpted monuments, and feels more like a park than a cemetery. It is also gigantic; a map and basic knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet is recommended. Bulgakov, Chekhov, and Gogol are among the writers buried here.
Yalta—Chekhov’s white dacha
In the seacoast town of Yalta on the Crimean peninsula is a beautiful dacha, or country house, built by Anton Chekhov. He relocated to Yalta because of his tuberculosis (which would eventually kill him, despite the therapeutic sea air) and had this house custom built for him. It was here that he wrote some of his most famous works, including The Three Sisters and The Cherry Orchard. The house is pure white (hence the name) and features expansive gardens. The museum collection includes letters, photos, books, and heirlooms of the Chekhov family.
St. Petersburg – Nabokov house-museum
Vladimir Nabokov is most well-known for his novel Lolita. He was also a renowned butterfly collector, who curated Harvard University’s collection of specimens. While he spent most of his life in exile outside of Russia because of political turmoil, the house he was born in in St. Petersburg has been turned into a museum. There you can see his manuscripts as well as his butterfly collection, drawings, and other personal effects. There are also beautiful stained glass windows that Nabokov used as inspiration in many of his works.
St. Petersburg – Dostoevsky house-museum
The apartment in St. Petersburg where Dostoevsky wrote The Brothers Karamazov holds a huge collection of art, photographs, manuscripts, and other memorabilia of the great author’s life and work. The rooms are restored to how they were when Dostoevsky lived here at the end of his life. It is easily accessible by metro, only one block from Vladimirskaya station. The surrounding Vladimirsky neighborhood was his inspiration for the setting of many of his works, and visiting this museum is like stepping into Dostoevsky’s mind. The guided tours insight into the items on display and the stories behind them.
Pushkin Hills/Mikhailovskoye estate
Alexander Pushkin is considered by many to be the greatest Russian poet and the founder of modern Russian literature. Almost any Russian can quote from his novel in verse Eugene Onegin. Any travel to Russia simply must include some Pushkin! Mikhailovskoye estate, part of the area now called Pushkin Hills in the Pskov region (north-west of Moscow), is where Pushkin spent two years after being exiled from St. Petersburg for his critical remarks about the government. He produced a lot of his work here, thanks to the beautiful natural surroundings and idle pace of provincial life. He was in close contact with the estate’s serfs, from whom he collected folklore. The village of the estate now has a living history museum, with open-air exhibits featuring authentic 19th-century farming installations. You can try on period costumes and thresh corn as a peasant would have. The guest houses in the village prepare meals using traditional methods. The estate house itself is also a museum, featuring Pushkin’s writing room and effects. Every summer there is a major celebration for Pushkin’s birthday on June 6. Nearby, still within the Pushkin Hills area, is Sviatogorsky Monastery where Pushkin is buried.
Boldino—Pushkin State Memorial Museum and Natural Preserve
In 1830, Pushkin left Moscow for a short trip to his estate Boldino, outside of Nizhny Novgorod, but ended up staying there quarantined through the autumn months because of a cholera outbreak in the capital. This time became known as the “Boldino Autumn,” the most productive time in Pushkin’s writing career. It is easy to see why—the estate is gorgeous, providing poetic inspiration. Now it is a state museum, open to the public and attracting devoted travelers each year. The main building has a restoration of Pushkin’s study, copied from a sketch he did of it, and the log outbuildings have been restored exactly as they were in the 19th century. While the estate is a bit hard to get to, the cultural significance is immense and it is a wonderful trip when you travel to Russia.
If you are looking for a day trip from Moscow, you can travel north-east to Abramtsevo. In a beautiful natural setting, tucked away in the forest (about half a mile through the woods from the nearest train station), this historical artistic and cultural preserve is a lovely estate that became an artistic colony in 1870. The first Russian nesting doll was carved here, and some of Russia’s most well-known painters and sculptors worked here. But before it was inhabited by visual artists, it was owned by writer Sergei Aksakov. Frequent guests of his included Nikolai Gogol, who wrote most of his novel Dead Souls at Abramtsevo, and Ivan Turgenev. These authors all shared the view that European influences should be rejected in favor of a uniquely Russian style. Abramtsevo continued to embody this idea through the years as it became a center of Russian folk art, crafts, and architecture.
A suburb of Moscow tucked away in a pine forest, Peredelkino became a writer’s colony in 1932. It was a rustic haven far removed from the unrest and fear of the time, inhabited by Soviet writers, poets, and bards. The most noted residents were Boris Pasternak and Kornei Chukovsky, whose houses have been turned into museums. Chukovsky was Russia’s most famous children’s author, and his house-museum features a whimsical tree decorated with shoes. Even though modern capitalist society is slowly taking over, with wealthy bankers moving in and highways springing up nearby, Peredelkino is still an interesting look at mid-Soviet literary life and worth the short train ride from Moscow.