Eight Reasons to Visit Vologda This Winter

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What to see in the New Year capital of the Russian North

Vologda is the official New Year capital of the Russian North and the 2014 New Year capital of Russia, so the beginning of festivities in Vologda ushers in the New Year to the whole of Russia.

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Shortly before the New Year, Vologda comes alive with street lights; a Christmas fair runs on Kremlin Square, and special winter-themed treasure hunts are held. On Dec. 27, the city will be receiving a special visitor – Grandfather Frost (Ded Moroz), the kind spirit of winter who will make your wishes come true.

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Marvel at Vologda Lace

Vologda lace, which resembles a frosty pattern on a window pane, is the city’s specialty. To discover more about the history and technology of lace-making, visit the Vologda Museum of Lace. You will learn how lace-making influenced the development of fashion and style and how it transformed over time. The first exhibition room traces the history of European lace-making in Germany, France, Poland, Slovakia and Spain and displays some of the earliest pieces of Russian lace, dating back to the 17th century.

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The museum also contains numerous religious objects and peasant costumes decorated with lace as well as modern examples of lacework. The museum's shop offers an excellent choice of lace souvenirs to take home and remind you of your Vologda trip.

If you are into arts and crafts, why not try your hand at making lace during one of Vologda's regular masterclasses? The most talented lace-makers can take part in the annual Vita Lace international festival, which was established in 2011 to promote the lacemaking tradition.

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More Arts and Crafts

You can master the tricks of many more folk arts and expand your knowledge of Russian traditional heritage at the “Reznoy Palisad” (“Carved Palisade”) Arts and Crafts Centre.

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The Centre’s Christmas programme features classes where you will learn how to make traditional Christmas dolls, discover more fascinating facts about Russian Christmas traditions, and take part in traditional Russian winter pastimes like ring dancing. The Centre also offers beautiful souvenirs crafted by local artists.

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Try Vologda Butter

Vologda’s supremely high-quality butter is famous all over Russia. The tradition of butter production in Vologda goes back to the 19th century, when Nikolay Vereshchagin, the elder brother of prominent Russian battle painter Vasily Vereshchagin, opened several dairies across Russia, including in the Vologda region. Nikolay Vereshchagin drew his inspiration from the manufacturing practices he had discovered during his trips to Switzerland, Denmark, Germany and other European countries. The variety of butter made in Vologda region had an exquisite nutty flavour which made the product hugely popular.

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You can taste the legendary Vologda butter and even learn how to churn it at the Semenkovo Open Air Museum of Architecture and Ethnography, which also runs wonderful cookery workshops.

The Semenkovo Museum consists of reassembled wooden buildings dating from the late 19th and early 20th century which were collected across the Vologda region. The Museum features 12 residential buildings, several barns, a bath-house, an ice storage room, and a chapel. To help keep local heritage alive, the museum hosts workshops on peasant wedding traditions.

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Ivan the Terrible and Vologda

Vologda owes its main architectural landmark, the Kremlin, to Tsar Ivan the Terrible. In the 16th century the prosperous Vologda region was declared part of Oprichnina, a territory within Russia that remained under the exclusive control of the Tsar. According to a legend popular in Vologda, Ivan the Terrible, who suffered from severe manic paranoia, decided to move the Russian capital and his personal residence to Vologda as he feared a conspiracy from the boyars (Russian nobility). The kremlin he ordered to be built in Vologda was twice the size of the Moscow Kremlin, which seems to confirm this legend. However, the eventual dissolution of Oprichnina changed Ivan the Terrible’s plans, and the Vologda kremlin was not finished during his lifetime.

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Later, the site accommodated the Episcopal Court, a complex of buildings erected over several centuries. Peter the Great visited Vologda three times to meet eminent bishops there. The first stone building, the Steward’s House, was constructed on the territory of the Episcopal Court in the mid-17th century to house the episcopal treasury. The Cross Chamber with mica windows is a stunning example of early 18th century architecture. The ornate late 18th century Chambers of Bishop Joseph Zolotoy display a fascinating blend of architectural features of the Baroque style, which is commonly seen in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Ukraine. The Kremlin ensemble is now a museum offering a plethora of artistic and historical exhibitions; the museum is complete with a tourist information desk and a cafe.

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St. Sophia’s Cathedral is the architectural dominant of the Kremlin and was the first stone structure to be appear in Vologda. Ivan the Terrible, who personally oversaw its construction, ordered the building to be modelled on the Dormition Cathedral in the Moscow Kremlin. St. Sophia’s Cathedral is particularly famous for its iconostasis and frescoes, notably Russia's largest fresco depicting Judgment Day; in the 17th century, the Cathedral even conducted "rehearsals" of the Judgement Day with religious processions and Gospel readings.

St. Sophia’s Cathedral museum is only open to visit in summer; trips to the museum are a part of most city sightseeing tours.

The famous octagonal bell tower of St. Sophia’s Cathedral is one of Vologda’s tallest buildings, rising to a height of 78.5 metres. Originally constructed from wood, the bell tower was rebuilt in stone in the 17th century.

Father Frost’s Olympic Residence

In February 2015, an ornate timber palace was moved to Vologda from the Olympic capital city of Sochi and declared the official guest residence of Father Frost (Ded Moroz). The winter wizard's headquarters is located in Veliky Ustyug.

Created by builders from Vologda, the palace was originally located in the centre of Sochi's Olympic Park and became one of the Park’s most visited attractions. A year after the Olympic Games, the house returned to its origins, where the official opening ceremony was attended by Father Frost himself.

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The spacious, two-storey building houses a throne room, a gift shop, a cafe and a branch of Father Frost’s Post Office as well as the museums of Vologda bread and Christmas mittens. The museum hosts exhibitions about the Olympic Games as well as an exciting programme of craft workshops. Within a year of opening, Father Frost’s Olympic Residence has become one of Vologda’s most popular tourist attractions.

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Choose the Best Nativity Scene

Russian Christmas is unimaginable without traditional nativity puppet shows. The best place to experience this folk art is on Vologda’s Kremlin Square where the Christmas Festival of Nativity Theatres will be held on Jan. 7.

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Starting from mid-November, Vologda will also play host to the Christmas Lights national arts festival, bringing together musicians, dancers and singers from across Russia.

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Start with Vologda

… and visit other beautiful towns and cities in the region, located within easy reach by bus and train. The must-visit destinations include, among others, Father Frost’s residence in Veliky Ustyug, Russia’s steel capital Cherepovets, Vytegra, Kirillov and Belozersk.

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Thanks to its marvellous architecture, rich history and developed infrastructure, Vologda has become a prominent centre of the interregional tourism project “The Silver Necklace of Russia”.

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