Russia is a vast country and Moscow is only the beginning. We take you on a tour of the best of the rest.
It almost feels like you know Moscow before you step off the plane. The colourful domes of St Basil's and the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour decorate photo albums and screensavers across the world and Red Square has put up with being marched on for a long time. Nowadays Europe's most populous city is at the centre of a whirlwind of change. A new rich elite live alongside less affluent residents (almost, bar the electronic gates). But beyond Russia's gateway city the first private airline, Transaero, is opening up destinations across the country. We bring you our three favourite places worth going the distance for.
It's the largest city in Siberia, with a population of 2.7m, and the third largest in Russia after Moscow and St Petersburg. Due to its position on the river Ob, the city came into being in 1893 as a camp for the railway workers who were building a bridge for the Trans-Siberian railway. Originally called Novonikolaevsk, meaning "New Nicholas" after the Tsar, nowadays it has a metro system, a penchant for metallurgy and is the business hub for the region. The city is growing so fast it is known as "the Russian Chicago". Akademgorodok, which forms the scientific centre of Siberia, is a collection of buildings set in pine forests 20km south of the city centre. The weather swings from freezing winters to sweltering summers so choose your months and wardrobe carefully or risk losing fingers (really).
The State Academy Opera and Ballet Theatre is not just a pretty face. Inside the magnificent pillared building are three impressive halls with 2,680 seats. It has a good reputation in Russia and abroad, is inexpensive and the repertoire includes classics such as Eugene Onegin, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker and Madam Butterfly. 36 Krasny Prospect (near Ploschad Lenina metro station). Prices from 35 to 200 roubles. www.opera-novosibirsk.ru
Russia has spawned several Olympic athletes and Alexander Karelin, who has been world champion Greco-Roman wrestler 12 times, calls Novosibirsk home. He picked up three Olympic gold medals and one Olympic silver medal and FILA voted him the 20th century's greatest Greco-Roman wrestler. If any place can convince you to take up grappling with fierce men, it's here.
Siberians love to go cross-country skiing and if you are here in winter there are numerous tracks around Novosibirsk to explore. Most of them are three, five, or 10km in length. Locals in the know head for the Alik Tulskii ski centre in Akademgorodok with 15, 20, and 35km tracks and the annual ski marathon in March, which brings competitors from all over Russia. It's not for the unfit as distances are 35km for women, 70km for men and 105km for lunatics.
The Old Irish Pub is an oddity stuck out here in Siberia but the atmosphere captures something of the Emerald Isle. It has good steaks, decent vodkas and a terrace on which to park yourself in summer. 37 Krasny Prospect (near Ploschad Lenina metro station)
The Ob Sea is actually a large artificial lake created by a dam on the Ob river with beaches made of tons of sand brought here from the sea. It is a popular spot for a swim at the weekends and an ideal escape for the scientists working at nearby Akademgorodok. Approach them and shout; "It is rocket science," if your Russian is up to it. Or you could just go for a stroll.
Jazz and blues is strangely popular and the New York Times Jazz Club (owned by Eric Shogren, an American who also brought the New York Pizza Company) is an intimate venue decked out with wooden furniture. Lenina Street. Concerts start at 9pm and the entrance fee is 50 roubles (£1)
"Northern Venice" is one of the great cities of the world. The "white nights" of midsummer (early June to early July), when the sun barely sets, can lend your trip a surreal atmosphere, aided by plenty of vodka and bonhomie. Waterways lined with palaces both grand and yet faded by the Soviet era are pleasurable (if expensive) by boat and there is an air of magnificent detachment in a place that has survived three revolutions and the Leningrad blockade of the Second World War. Bear in mind that you shouldn't drink the tap water and transport can be difficult. Get around this by hiring a guide, who will also be able to show you the less well-known charms of this grandiose city.
The State Hermitage Museum houses one of the finest art collections on the planet. Da Vinci, Rembrandt, Monet and friends are having a party and you should allow plenty of time and take comfortable shoes (or a foot spa) to visit this wealth of treasures.
Peter the Great, who became Tsar and built this city without the help of rock 'n' roll, used to spend days as a child talking with the English, Dutch, German and Swedish merchants who sailed into the city to do a little trade. Maybe this explains why he ran away to sea, learned seven languages and came back with a personal library larger than any in Russia.
Zov Ilyicha (Lenin's Mating Call) is not only strangely named but without doubt the oddest Soviet-themed cafe you'll visit. Waitresses wear Young Communist Pioneer uniforms, the Pro-Soviet room is adorned with busts of Lenin and old Soviet speeches play there. It's barmy, quirky and just wait until you go there on Russian song night.
Zov Ilyicha, 34 Kazanskaya Ulitsa; +7 812 717 8641
On a budget? Many restaurants offer an affordable lunchtime business menu, which is usually two or more courses and often includes a drink.
The Mariinksy Theatre (once the Kirov Theatre) is widely regarded as home to the finest ballet in the world and they do a good line in opera too. You need to book far in advance or pay more (as a recognised tax for foreigners) if you have to buy from a tout. www.mariinsky.spb.ru
Also known as Ekaterinburg, this city lies on the Eastern side of the Ural Mountains. Named after Saint Catherine, this was the site of the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family, where the Cathedral on the Blood now stands. The Trans-Siberian railway trundles through and Boris Yeltsin grew up here.
On the third Saturday of August, it's the city's birthday festival. Celebrations include a vintage car parade, open-air concerts with folk singing, music, dancing, open marriage ceremonies and a regatta on the City Lake. It runs from morning until late into the night, when there is a fireworks display.
Gold was discovered here in the 18th century and several of the palaces (now official buildings) were founded on fortunes made in this era.
The Mafia Cemetery sprung up in the 1990s when the local hoods were industriously bumping each other off. The gravestones are expensive, if tasteless.
If you come here at New Year, visit Ledovoi Gorodok, which is a miniature city made of ice.
You can ski here and Ezhovaya (Hedgehog) mountain has seven lifts and Eagle Jack, a mountaintop restaurant with superb views. At the base you can hire equipment and snowmobiles.