I have heard that St. Petersburg is Russia’s most European city or that Moscow is Russia’s most Western city. Both are absolutely fantastic cities, but what if you are looking for a slower pace over a weekend? A city for tourists, that isn’t overrun by tourists… at least for now.
If you are driving to or from Finland or if you are in St. Petersburg and feel you have seen all of the sites and are looking for a change of pace, I highly recommend a day or two in the ancient city of Vyborg.
Tracing its roots back to the 13th century, Vyborg was at one time ruled by the Swedes, then was a part of Finland, as a largely autonomous area of the Russian empire. Following the Soviet Revolution of 1917, Finland declared independence, together with Vyborg. During the Winter War between the Soviet Union and Finland, Vyborg became a part of the Soviet Union, and then Russia, after the fall of the Soviet Union.
This certainly isn’t a history blog. But the broad and rich history of the city, boiled down to one paragraph above, has left its indelible fingerprint on Vyborg today, making it one of the most unique cities, and yes the most European city, I have visited in Russia.
There are the narrow cobblestone streets of Vyborg, the heavy influence of Finnish architecture, and the only medieval castle in Russia. You might be mildly surprised, as I was, that much of the city is still being renovated. I found this to be a welcome alternative to St. Petersburg or Moscow, where everything was renovated long ago. Vyborg today is a photographer’s paradise, and I also look forward to visiting again in a few years and seeing the changes.
If you are traveling from St. Petersburg, there are many trains to Vyborg, most of which will take between one and one and half hours for the journey. The Vyborg train station is a stone’s throw from the old city. And if sightseeing and photography at a slower pace are your cup of tea, you certainly won’t leave Vyborg disappointed.
If you know that you will never be able to visit Vyborg, but would like to check it out, never fear. I visited Vyborg recently and shot some video for my Russian language blog. But I found the city to be so fascinating that I made English subtitles. Take a ten minute walk around Vyborg with Zhenya and me (Click CC on the bottom right of the Youtube screen for English subtitles). Enjoy!