Northern European Russia is a land of contrasts, which owes a lot to one of the most beautiful cities in the world - St. Petersburg. Built by Peter the Great from scratch in 1702 on the banks of Neva River to become Russia's "window to Europe," it remained the capital of the Russian Empire until the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. You can find even more of the opulence of the Tsar's palaces in and around St. Petersburg.
Further north, you encounter the bleak desolation of tundra and industrial mining towns on the Kola Peninsula, which is also home to the Russian Northern Fleet. Northern European Russia is covered with dense mixed forests, with over 21,000 rivers and 100,000 lakes that gradually blend into the arctic tundra. Karelia, to the east of St. Petersburg, is a forested area with a very high density of lakes, the largest of which are Lagoda and Onega. Karelia is one of the most popular destinations for Russians and foreigners alike and provides a wonderful mix of history and nature.
It is believed that in the early stage of its development (8th and 9th centuries), this region was under the influence of the Vikings known as Varangians, who migrated south and began establishing trade settlements with the Slavs, along with their own strongholds. Many of these settlements were situated along the Neva River and Lake Ladoga. When the Norseman Rurik defeated the strongest Slavic settlement, Novgorod, in A.D. 862, the Varangians became the rulers of northern Russia. In the south, the Slavic Prince Kii had formed the Kievan territory. In 880, Rurik's successor, Oleg, conquered the Slavic-ruled Kiev and made the city his capital two years later. With the two areas united, the State of Rus (its name derived from the Viking word ruotsi, meaning "oarsman") became one of the largest kingdoms in the world.
The majority of this region's population is concentrated around the St. Petersburg area, where the climate is more conducive to normal daily life, in spite of frequent rain and fog. Further north, closer to the White Sea, the area falls into the hands of the real Russian winter with lots of snow, frosts and the northern lights.
Find Out More!
Study Russian in Russia
SRAS Travel Services
Internships in Russia
Subscribe to The SRAS Newsletter
More on Regions and Cities in the FSU
Free Resources for Understanding Russia