To experience Russia only from the land, however, is to miss a central feature of its character, for river travel has always stood at the heart of Russian life.
The main artery of the Russian heartland has always been the 3700km-long River Volga (Europe’s longest river), which slowly meanders from Yaroslavl, north of Moscow, all the way down to Volgograd, from where a tributary runs off to the Caspian Sea. The Volga-Don Ship Canal links it with the River Don, bound for the Azov Sea. Cruisers and steamships ply the Volga’s waters, the most interesting section is between Volgograd and Rostov-on-Don. Towns en-route include Kazan, one of the oldest Tatar cities in Russia, which features a limestone Kremlin and mosques; and Lenin’s birthplace, Ulyanovsk, full of memorable sites. Volgograd, previously known as Stalingrad, is best known for the decisive and protracted battle fought here during WW II. After Stalingrad the Soviet forces advanced almost continuously all the way to Berlin. The city has since been built from scratch. There are extremely interesting museums and monuments here. Now Volgograd is a prosperous commercial and industrial centre.