A visit to Russia would be incomplete without taking in the wonder and the madness that is Moscow. The city pulsates, with people, with energy, and with commerce. It's huge, both in size and in history. The buildings are huge too, from the Stalin-Gothic skyscrapers to the old cathedrals, and their architectural contrasts typify the contrasts to be found throughout the city - stratospheric wealth and streetside poverty, cynical politics and idealistic art, BMWs and the Bolshoi Theatre.
The heart of the city holds its history, here sits St Basils Cathedral on Red Square although Stalin wanted to demolish it, as it stood in the way of impressive military marches. Here lies Lenin's Mausoleum too, in the shadow of the Kremlin. The city spreads out from here like ripples in a pond, a series of circles making navigation easy.
Moscow is a surprisingly easy city to walk in, but taking the Metro is a real treat too, with some stops rivalling cathedrals with their soaring halls and frescoes - there is history everywhere in this city for cultural city breaks, but plenty of modern glamour too, with sleek designer shops and multi-starred hotels that drip luxury.
By way of contrast, close to this clamorous capital lies a circle of ancient towns that when combined, form one of Russia's oldest and most delightful destinations. Collectively known as the Golden Ring, these towns are medieval masterpieces. Suzdal, set by the gentle Kamenka River retains a romantic rural atmosphere, thanks to its protected status. Chickens and goats wander grassy thoroughfares interspersed with architectural gems, including 12th century churches.
The open-air Museum of Wooden Architectural Life emphasizes the real sense of old Russia found in this town. Vladimir, once considered the capital of ancient Rus, and Yaroslavl, filled with dreamy domes and spires, are just as enchanting. Combined with a stay in the capital in a tailor-made tour, the Golden Ring adds another, ancient dimension to a break in Moscow.