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Home » Veliky Ustyug Travel Guide: Meet the Ded Moroz

Veliky Ustyug Travel Guide: Meet the Ded Moroz

Embracing the Magic of Russia’s Santa Claus, Savoring Berry Infusions, and Discovering Blackened Silver Earrings

The wizard’s domain in a snow-covered forest, dozens of temples along the banks of the Sukhona River, and the coziness of Russian hinterlands—all of this is about Veliky Ustyug. A small town in the east of the Vologda region, on the border with the Arkhangelsk region.

Tourists primarily visit Veliky Ustyug in winter—to visit Grandfather Frost. His official residence is located here. But besides making wishes, there’s plenty to do. Ustyug has preserved a dozen ancient churches, picturesquely scattered along the banks of the Sukhona. They look especially picturesque in winter: crosses on the domes sparkle with gold, white snowdrifts glitter, and the city is enveloped in frosty fog. A perfect illustration of the Russian winter.

From the author: For me, this city is more than just the homeland of Grandfather Frost. Veliky Ustyug was my first major city; I lived in a small village nearby. My first earrings were made of blackened silver—the city is known for its production of items from this metal. And in my pocket, there were always mint candies made at the Veliky Ustyug factory. Therefore, I tried not just to list the iconic temples and describe how to get to Grandfather Frost’s estate, but also to convey the spirit of a city that’s important to me.

History

Originally, in 1147, the city of Gleden was founded at the confluence of the Sukhona and Yug rivers, where the Northern Dvina River begins. Later, in 1212, the inhabitants moved to a more convenient location near the mouth of the Yug River and named the city Ust-Yug. The city became “Great” during Ivan the Terrible’s reign—thanks to its convenient location, it prospered and became a major trade center. The Tsar even included it in the list of important treasury “oprichnina cities”.

Throughout its history, the city has battled the elements. Veliky Ustyug was destroyed by severe fires several times, especially a devastating one in 1698. Then, seven churches and almost 700 city courtyards burned down. Therefore, the city was rebuilt according to a new plan. Another element is water: the city still struggles with it. Strong floods occur in spring, during the ice drift—the northern rivers are wide and fast.

From the 18th century, trade and transport routes changed and bypassed Ustyug. From a bustling trade center, Veliky Ustyug gradually turned into a quiet provincial town. Today, it has a population of about 28,000.

Historically, Veliky Ustyug is a city of explorers, travelers, seafarers, and pioneers. Due to the city’s location on trade routes, the people of Ustyug transported bread and goods beyond the Urals, sowed lands there, opened new territories, and explored Siberia. Notable natives include Semyon Dezhnev, Fedot Popov, Vladimir Atlasov, Erofey Khabarov, and Vladimir Poyarkov. Monuments have been erected and streets named in their honor.

Veliky Ustyug became "Great" under Ivan the Terrible—thanks to its convenient location, it became wealthy and a major trade center.
Veliky Ustyug became “Great” under Ivan the Terrible—thanks to its convenient location, it became wealthy and a major trade center

Grandfather Frost’s Estate

The first must-see in Veliky Ustyug is Grandfather Frost’s Estate, located ten kilometers away. The tall and ornate tower is built in the traditions of northern architecture amidst centuries-old pines. Despite its New Year’s theme, guests are welcomed year-round.

The first must-see in Veliky Ustyug is Grandfather Frost's Estate, located ten kilometers away. The tall and ornate tower is built in the traditions of northern architecture amidst centuries-old pines
The first must-see in Veliky Ustyug is Grandfather Frost’s Estate, located ten kilometers away. The tall and ornate tower is built in the traditions of northern architecture amidst centuries-old pines

The idea to make Ustyug the homeland of Grandfather Frost originally belonged to a local businessman. He settled the winter wizard at his tourist base to attract tourists during the New Year holidays. In 1997, Moscow and Veliky Ustyug became twin cities, and the idea with Grandfather Frost was appreciated by the authorities. The brand “Veliky Ustyug — the homeland of Grandfather Frost” appeared in 1999, initiated by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Vologda Region Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev. The entrepreneur gave up the entire territory of the tourist base for the Estate. Meanwhile, the wizard’s granddaughter had settled earlier in another city — in Kostroma, where a film about Grandfather Frost’s helper was shot in the 1970s.

Veliky Ustyug became the first city-brand of the Vologda region, and later the region itself began to position itself as “Vologda Region — the soul of the Russian North,” while other district centers acquired tourist names, for example: “Ustyuzhna — the city of blacksmiths,” “Sokol — the paper capital of Russia,” “Lipin Bor — the kingdom of the Golden Fish.”

Here’s what’s on the estate’s territory:

The Fairy Tale Trail. A winding path goes among the pines from the central gates to the wizard’s tower. Here, symbols of famous Russian fairy tales are collected — a centuries-old oak, a wonder-oven, and actors play the roles of Baba Yaga, Leshy, and others, giving quests to guests.

Grandfather Frost’s Tower. His house is two-storied, with 12 rooms inside, and in the throne room, Grandfather Frost receives guests.

In the throne room of the tower, Father Christmas welcomes guests
In the throne room of the tower, Grandfather Frost welcomes guests

Zoo. This is a branch of the Moscow Zoo, and its unique feature is that animals are not kept in cages or enclosures but are allowed to roam freely. The estate is home to more than 300 species of birds and animals, some of which are endangered. The animals are grouped according to geographical principle—these are inhabitants of the north and the middle belt: bears, foxes, lynxes, sled dogs. The zoo is partially interactive.

The estate is home to more than 300 species of birds and animals, some of which are listed in the Red Book. Photo: Grandfather Frost's Zoo / Vk.com
The estate is home to more than 300 species of birds and animals, some of which are listed in the Red Book. Photo: Grandfather Frost’s Zoo / Vk.com

Folklore Center “Gornitsa”. Here, they teach how to make items from birch bark and flax, such as bracelets or amulets.

Post Office. Letters sent from all over the world addressed to Grandfather Frost, but without a precise address, are redirected here. It is here that they are answered. The post office processes about a million letters annually.

Letters sent from all over the world to Grandfather Frost, but without a precise address, are redirected here. It is here that they are answered
Letters sent from all over the world to Grandfather Frost, but without a precise address, are redirected here. It is here that they are answered

Among other activities while visiting Grandfather Frost, guests can check out the apiary, slide down an 800-meter hill, skate on the ice rink or climb in the rope park, see the forging process in the smithy, and peek into the greenhouse. Activities vary with the season. The territory has the necessary tourist infrastructure: cafes and restaurants, hotels, souvenir shops. November 18th is celebrated here as Grandfather Frost’s Birthday—on this day, a grand festive program is organized at the Estate. By the way, on the same day, according to folk signs, the Sukhona River freezes over, and winter arrives in Veliky Ustyug.

Among other activities while visiting Grandfather Frost, guests can check out the apiary, slide down an 800-meter hill, skate on the ice rink or climb in the rope park, enjoy the rides, see the forging process in the smithy, and peek into the greenhouse. Photo: Grandfather Frost's Estate
Among other activities while visiting Grandfather Frost, guests can check out the apiary, slide down an 800-meter hill, skate on the ice rink or climb in the rope park, enjoy the rides, see the forging process in the smithy, and peek into the greenhouse. Photo: Grandfather Frost’s Estate

Editor’s note: Despite being marketed as family entertainment, the Estate is likely to be of interest primarily to children up to 10-12 years old. All the interactive features and entertainment are geared towards younger school-aged children. Adults visiting Grandfather Frost’s Estate may find it frankly boring, and your teenager is almost certain to cringe at the animators and other amusements.

Admission cost. From November 1 to December 31, the cost of the “Grandfather Frost’s Fairy Tale” package, which includes a journey on the Fairy Tale Trail and a tour of the tower, is 1900 rubles (19.09 euros) for adults, 1750 rubles (17.58 euros) for children aged 6–17, and 1200 rubles (12.06 euros) for children aged three to five. From January 10 to March 31, 2024, the prices remain the same.

During the January holidays, an adult ticket costs 2750 rubles (27.63 euros), for children aged 6–17 — 2650 rubles (26.62 euros), and 2050 rubles (20.59 euros) for children aged three to five.

Other services (zoo, smithy, workshops) are charged additionally.

How to get there. The easiest way from the city is by taxi. Buses 110 and 112 run only twice a day — in the morning and evening. Departure is from the Veliky Ustyug bus station.

Temples and Monasteries

The main attractions in Veliky Ustyug are concentrated along the embankment of the Sukhona River and a couple of blocks into the city. Several descents lead from the embankment to the water. You won’t find noisy parties until morning here, but catching a moment of zen while gazing at the reflection of the domes in the dark water is possible. Previously, Ustyug had 40 churches, but now 26 remain. Not all are active, and not all have reached our days untouched, but the concentration is still very high—almost one church per thousand locals. Starting the walk from the most important and oldest part of the city—the Cathedral Courtyard—is most convenient.

The Cathedral Courtyard is a complex of ancient temples on the high bank of the Sukhona. The age of the buildings is evident from the worn walls with peeling paint and plaster, which adds a special charm. The dominant feature here is the Assumption Cathedral. It’s the first stone building in the Russian North, built in the mid-16th century. Attached to the cathedral is a bell tower of unusual shape, consisting of two parts, one of which is a tower with a clock and spire. At the top is an observation deck: if you’re lucky, you might see the bell ringer at work or try ringing the bells yourself.

The temples of the complex are richly decorated—with multi-tiered iconostases and frescoes made by Ustyug and Moscow masters. The cathedral of Veliky Ustyug—the snow-white Cathedral of Saint Procopius the Righteous with black domes—is also located in the Cathedral Courtyard complex. Next to it lies a huge stone. According to legend, it is one of the stones that fell from the sky in 1290, and Procopius saved the city from them.

The temples of the complex are richly decorated—with multi-tiered iconostases and frescoes made by Ustyug and Moscow masters. Photo: Hamerani / Wikimedia.org

The temples of the complex are richly decorated—with multi-tiered iconostases and frescoes made by Ustyug and Moscow masters. Photo: Hamerani / Wikimedia.org
The temples of the complex are richly decorated—with multi-tiered iconostases and frescoes made by Ustyug and Moscow masters. Photo: Hamerani / Wikimedia.org

The Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker (St. Nicholas of Gostun) is no longer part of the Cathedral Courtyard complex but is also located on the embankment. This temple, with its bell tower, was built over 40 years in the 17th century. Now, the building houses an ethnography museum. Interestingly, many of Ustyug’s churches are occupied by secular institutions—museums, archives, and libraries. Next to the church is the city’s central square—Lenin Square, of course, with a monument to the leader at its center.

The Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker is a temple with a bell tower that was built over 40 years in the 17th century. Today, the building houses an ethnography museum. Photo: Hamerani / Wikimedia.org
The Church of St. Nicholas the Wonderworker is a temple with a bell tower that was built over 40 years in the 17th century. Today, the building houses an ethnography museum. Photo: Hamerani / Wikimedia.org

The Michael-Archangel Monastery features a five-domed cathedral, several churches, and stone buildings. It is the most completely preserved of the Veliky Ustyug monasteries and one of the oldest in the region. It was founded in 1212, but the current buildings date from the 17th–18th centuries. Inside the cathedral, a three-tiered gilded iconostasis in the Baroque style and wall paintings have been preserved. The monastery is no longer active, like many other religious sites in the city.

The Michael-Archangel Monastery, with its five-domed cathedral, several churches, and stone buildings, is the most completely preserved of the Veliky Ustyug monasteries and one of the oldest in the region. Photo: Hamerani / Wikimedia.org
The Michael-Archangel Monastery, with its five-domed cathedral, several churches, and stone buildings, is the most completely preserved of the Veliky Ustyug monasteries and one of the oldest in the region. Photo: Hamerani / Wikimedia.org

The Church of Simeon Stylites is the only church in the city in the style of Western European Baroque. It is richly decorated with stucco both inside and out, and a large bell remains preserved in the bell tower.

The Church of Simeon Stylites is the only church in the city in the style of Western European Baroque. Photo: DenisSh35 / Wikimedia.org
The Church of Simeon Stylites is the only church in the city in the style of Western European Baroque. Photo: DenisSh35 / Wikimedia.org

Dymkovskaya Sloboda is another 18th-century church complex, but on the opposite bank of the Sukhona River in the village of Dymkovo. From there, a beautiful panorama of the Veliky Ustyug embankment opens up, and all its churches can be observed. From the city center to Dymkovskaya Sloboda, one can get there by ferry or bridge, and in winter, cross the river over the ice.

Dymkovskaya Sloboda is another 18th-century church complex, but on the opposite bank of the Sukhona River in the village of Dymkovo. Photo: Sterlady88 / Wikimedia.org
Dymkovskaya Sloboda is another 18th-century church complex, but on the opposite bank of the Sukhona River in the village of Dymkovo. Photo: Sterlady88 / Wikimedia.org

Civil Architecture

The entire city is very compact, including in height: most houses are two-storied, with many being half brick, half wood. Wooden architecture is characteristic of Vologda and the Russian North in general, and there are also good examples of such buildings here, with window frames and carved decorative elements. For instance, the Nogotkov House (Krasnaya Street, 117), the building of the Northern Shipping Company “Kotlas. Arkhangelsk. Murman” (Engels Street, 38/21).

Wooden architecture is generally characteristic of Vologda and the Russian North, and there are also good examples of such buildings here, with window frames and carved decorative elements, for example, the Nogotkov House. Photo: Digr / Wikimedia.org
Wooden architecture is generally characteristic of Vologda and the Russian North, and there are also good examples of such buildings here, with window frames and carved decorative elements, for example, the Nogotkov House. Photo: Digr / Wikimedia.org

Here are a few more notable buildings from the 18th–19th centuries.

The Usov Merchant’s House (Naberezhnaya Street, 64) is a two-story pink stone mansion. It is now the main building of the Museum of History and Culture of the City. Nearby is the white two-story Fedoseev Estate.

The Usov Merchant's House is a two-story pink stone mansion. Photo: Toshishiro / Wikimedia.org
The Usov Merchant’s House is a two-story pink stone mansion. Photo: Toshishiro / Wikimedia.org

The Buldakov Estate (Naberezhnaya Street, 47) is in the Empire style. Inside, parts of the interiors have been preserved: doorways, staircases, and tiled stoves. It now houses a pedagogical college, and there is a park on the former estate grounds.

The Kuznetsov Merchant’s House (Krasnaya Street, 97) is a two-story stone building with a bay window, combining several styles.

The Kuznetsov Merchant's House is a two-story stone building with a bay window. Photo: Ta2014 / Wikimedia.org
The Kuznetsov Merchant’s House is a two-story stone building with a bay window. Photo: Ta2014 / Wikimedia.org

The Alenevy-Chebaevsky Merchants’ House (Soviet Avenue, 58–60) is now occupied by a children’s museum center with a mini-planetarium.

The Krasilnikov Merchant’s House (Soviet Avenue, 85) is a two-story house with a mezzanine in the neoclassical style. It now hosts the city’s Grandfather Frost residence, where the Museum of Greeting Cards operates. And in the adjacent building, Grandfather Frost’s post office works.

The Krasilnikov Merchant's House is a two-story house with a mezzanine in the neoclassical style. Photo: Sergeyb / Wikimedia.org
The Krasilnikov Merchant’s House is a two-story house with a mezzanine in the neoclassical style. Photo: Sergeyb / Wikimedia.org

The city has several “New Year’s” museums—the Museum of New Year’s Toys (Commune Square, 7—church building of the Myrrh-Bearing Women), “Grandfather Frost’s Fashion House” (Revolutionary Lane, 8).

Surroundings

The surroundings of Veliky Ustyug feature majestic northern nature, forests, pine groves, wide rivers. Crossing the bridge over the Sukhona towards Vologda, one can see the high clay banks. A bit further away, there are several unusual natural monuments.

The village of Morozovitsa (15 kilometers from Veliky Ustyug). There is a legend that Grandfather Frost was settled in Veliky Ustyug thanks to the name of this village. It is located ten kilometers from the city. The settlement is ancient, mentioned in documents since 1440, and several ancient buildings have been preserved here. Overall, it’s worth visiting to experience the atmosphere of village life and admire the northern landscapes.

Visiting Morozovitsa is worthwhile to experience the atmosphere of village life and admire the northern landscapes. Photo: Sergey Ma-v / Wikimedia.org
Visiting Morozovitsa is worthwhile to experience the atmosphere of village life and admire the northern landscapes. Photo: Sergey Ma-v / Wikimedia.org

The village of Barsukovo (13 kilometers from Veliky Ustyug) is home to a horse estate where sleigh rides are organized, and you can go horseback riding.

Cape Byk (45 kilometers from Veliky Ustyug) is a mountain range composed of multicolored layers of clay and limestone.

The Byk Mountain Range is composed of multicolored layers of clay and limestone. Photo: Швецова Елена / Wikimedia.org
The Byk Mountain Range is composed of multicolored layers of clay and limestone. Photo: Швецова Елена / Wikimedia.org

Opoki and the geyser (65 kilometers from Veliky Ustyug). Near the village of Porog, the Sukhona River makes a sharp bend—exposing the multicolored rock strata of the shore, like a layered cake. This place is called Opoki. The height of the clay banks is 60 meters. During the Soviet era, there was a camp “Opokstroy” here, on the site of which a memorial cross is now installed. A little downstream, on the opposite bank, a fountain of healing water with a high iron content springs from the ground. Boaters ferry tourists to that bank for 200–400 rubles (2.01 – 4.02 euros).

Near the village of Porog, the Sukhona River makes a sharp bend—exposing the multicolored rock strata of the shore, like a layered cake, and a little further downstream, on the opposite bank, a fountain of healing water with a high iron content springs from the ground. Photo: Viktor Sagaydashin, Mari Basareva / Wikimedia.org
Near the village of Porog, the Sukhona River makes a sharp bend—exposing the multicolored rock strata of the shore, like a layered cake, and a little further downstream, on the opposite bank, a fountain of healing water with a high iron content springs from the ground. Photo: Viktor Sagaydashin, Mari Basareva / Wikimedia.org

Food

In Veliky Ustyug, dining options are mostly represented by canteens and cafes serving simple home-cooked food. Almost all establishments are located in the central part of the city, on Krasnaya Street, Krasnoarmeyskaya Street, and Soviet Avenue.

For something local and authentic, you can try the pastries: shangi (or shanezhki) are open pies with various fillings (potato, cottage cheese, berries), similar to vatrushki, and are popular throughout the Russian North. Pryazheniki are fluffy fried pancakes made from yeast dough, originating from the village of Kichmengsky Gorodok (100 kilometers from Veliky Ustyug). Jams from traditional northern berries (cranberry, cloudberry, blueberry).

“Gostiny Dvorik” is a cafe at the “Dvina” hotel. The menu includes Russian and European cuisine: meat and vegetable salads, borscht and solyanka, roast meat, baked fish. Greek salad costs 400 rubles (4.02 euros), salmon with cream sauce—930 rubles (9.34 euros), and a cup of Americano—180 rubles (1.81 euros).

"Gostiny Dvorik" is a cafe at the "Dvina" hotel. The menu includes Russian and European cuisine: meat and vegetable salads, borscht and solyanka, roast, baked fish. Photo: Gostiny Dvorik / Vk.com
“Gostiny Dvorik” is a cafe at the “Dvina” hotel. The menu includes Russian and European cuisine: meat and vegetable salads, borscht and solyanka, roast, baked fish. Photo: Gostiny Dvorik / Vk.com

“Lyubimy Gorod” is a restaurant on the Sukhona embankment. Pancakes with salmon and butter cost 500 rubles (12.65 euros), handmade dumplings are 330 rubles (3.32 euros), solyanka soup is 350 rubles (3.52 euros). There is a children’s menu.

“Tri Sousa” is a fast-food chain where you can grab a quick bite. The menu features fast food: nuggets, burgers, hot dogs. Classic shawarma costs 220 rubles (2.21 euros). The cafe periodically holds workshops for children on how to make burgers.

“Romanov” is a cafeteria with a simple home-cooked menu: soups, main courses, baked goods. The average check is 300–500 rubles (3.01 – 5.02 euros).

At the "Tri Sousa" cafe, workshops on burger making are periodically held for children. Photo: Tri Sousa / Vk.com
At the “Tri Sousa” cafe, workshops on burger making are periodically held for children. Photo: Tri Sousa / Vk.com

“Pogrebok” is the signature store of the Veliky Ustyug brewery “Bavaria”. Here you can drink local beer, watch football, and even take a beer bath. The cost of such pleasure is 5000 rubles (50.23 euros), with the procedure lasting two hours. The menu includes a tasting set featuring six varieties of Veliky Ustyug beer, priced at 250 rubles (2.51 euros). Draft beer costs 170 rubles (1.71 euros) per half-liter. Besides the usual beer snacks (fries, croutons, crayfish, onion rings, snack sets for groups), there are also hot dishes—dumplings (350–550 rubles (3.52 – 5.53 euros)), hake fillet with fries (370 rubles (3.72 euros)), kupaty with potatoes (440 rubles (4.42 euros)).

"Pogrebok" is the signature store of the Veliky Ustyug brewery "Bavaria". Here you can drink local beer, watch football, and even take a beer bath. The cost of such pleasure is 5000 rubles. Photo: Pogrebok / Vk.com
“Pogrebok” is the signature store of the Veliky Ustyug brewery “Bavaria”. Here you can drink local beer, watch football, and even take a beer bath. The cost of such pleasure is 5000 rubles. Photo: Pogrebok / Vk.com

Several dining establishments are located at the entrance to the city, for example, in the “Prokopyevsky” shopping center and the “Na Valge” hotel complex.

Nearly every establishment serves products from the Veliky Ustyug liquor and vodka factory: berry and herbal infusions, balms, strong spirits.

In the Grandfather Frost Estate, there are also several cafes (such as “Snezhinka”), but they are often closed for special group services, and the prices are not the lowest. Therefore, it’s better not to rely on them too much and to eat in the city instead. Additionally, a cheese dairy operates in the Estate, where you can try and buy farm cheeses.

A cheese dairy operates on the Estate, where you can taste and buy farm cheeses. Photo: Grandfather Frost's Estate
A cheese dairy operates on the Estate, where you can taste and buy farm cheeses. Photo: Grandfather Frost’s Estate

Where to stay

The Estate. Since the usual goal of visiting Veliky Ustyug is the Grandfather Frost Estate, you can stay right on the premises. The “Estate” hotel complex consists of 13 wooden terems (traditional Russian wooden houses) with several rooms each, decorated in a fairy-tale theme. A double room costs from 2000 rubles (20.09 euros) in the off-season to 10,000 rubles (100.46 euros) during the holidays.

The "Estate" hotel complex consists of 13 wooden terems (traditional Russian wooden houses) with several rooms each, decorated in a fairy-tale theme.
The “Estate” hotel complex consists of 13 wooden terems (traditional Russian wooden houses) with several rooms each, decorated in a fairy-tale theme

A larger facility is the two-story “Na Votchine” hotel, which can accommodate up to 40 people. Prices start from 4400 rubles (44.20 euros) per room, but reservations for the New Year holidays need to be made well in advance.

City. The city itself also has hotels. Their prices start from 2000 rubles (20.09 euros) per night for a double room.

The three-star “Dvina” hotel is located in the city center. It offers parking and breakfast is included. Room rates start from 2800 rubles (28.13 euros) per day. The small budget “Chaika” hotel with 16 rooms is located on the Sukhona River bank. A single room costs from 1800 rubles (18.08 euros) per day. The “Gleden” hotel is located at the city’s exit, but if you have your own car, this should not be a problem. The building and the hotel are quite new and correspond to a three-star level. A night in a room costs 2300–3700 rubles (23.11 – 37.17 euros).

For more authentic options, there is the “Tri Bogatyrya” guest house styled like a village izba (traditional Russian log house). Room rates start from 3200 rubles (32.15 euros).

Among the more authentic options is the guest house "Tri Bogatyrya" styled like a village izba (traditional Russian log house). Photo: Tri Bogatyrya
Among the more authentic options is the guest house “Tri Bogatyrya” styled like a village izba (traditional Russian log house). Photo: Tri Bogatyrya

Apartments. Also, over the last few years of the tourism boom, many apartment owners have renovated their properties, and now there are not only options with “grandma-style renovations.” A night in a one-bedroom apartment will cost between 2000–3000 rubles (20.09 – 30.14 euros).

For the New Year holidays, it’s advisable to book accommodation in the city in advance, not just lodging at the Estate.

Outside the city. “Kuzminskoye” Eco-Park is an excellent option for summer fishing or countryside winter recreation. It consists of several cabins with a capacity ranging from two to six people on the riverbank, 30 kilometers from the city. The rental cost starts from 7000 rubles (70.32 euros) per day. Additionally, you can rent a paddleboard, a barrel sauna or a raft sauna, a boat, a bicycle, a snowmobile.

There are several options for atmospheric guest houses with a Russian stove, samovars, and homemade rugs, such as “Khutorok Pechki-Lavochki”, with a spruce forest in the yard. Staying in such a cabin costs from 7000 rubles (70.32 euros)per day.

"Kuzminskoye" Eco-Park is an excellent choice for summer fishing or winter countryside recreation. Photo: "Kuzminskoye" Eco-Park / Vk.com
“Kuzminskoye” Eco-Park is an excellent choice for summer fishing or winter countryside recreation. Photo: “Kuzminskoye” Eco-Park / Vk.com

What to bring home

New Year’s. It would be logical to bring back a souvenir from the homeland of Grandfather Frost, in the name of the winter wizard. For example, at Grandfather Frost’s office, you can order a letter or a gift, send it right there, and the package or envelope will bear the stamps of the Veliky Ustyug post office.

Northern Niello. In the 17th–18th centuries, Ustyug virtually became the capital of niello art, with craftsmen not divulging the secret of the craft, even for large sums of money. In 1937, the “Northern Niello” artel received a gold medal for a set of items at the World Exhibition in Paris. The essence of this folk craft is that the master engraves on a silver item and then fills the drawing with niello alloy. Precious items are handmade at the “Northern Niello” factory (Uglovskogo Street, 1), where they are also sold. These are mainly jewelry—earrings, rings, brooches, crosses, as well as utensils and some household items, totaling about two thousand product names.

On the silver item, the master engraves, and then fills the drawing with a niello alloy—this is what constitutes northern niello. Photo: Northern Niello / Vk.com
On the silver item, the master engraves, and then fills the drawing with a niello alloy—this is what constitutes northern niello. Photo: Northern Niello / Vk.com

Shemogodskaya birch bark carving is another unique folk craft from this region, quite well-known abroad as well. Craftsmen decorate boxes, cylindrical containers (tuesok), plates, and napkin rings with vegetative ornaments.

Food. As gastronomic souvenirs, you can bring products from the local liquor and vodka factory, something with a northern twist—like cloudberry liqueur; products from the local factory “Ustyughleb”—Grandfather Frost’s candies, mint lozenges, or from the “Vologda Confectionery Factory,” which produces many unusual items—like chocolate-covered buckwheat.

In souvenir shops, you can also find felt boots and bast shoes, ceramic and wooden items, linen tablecloths.

Where to buy. Gifts can be purchased at the Grandfather Frost Estate, but prices there are significantly marked up. There are also souvenir shops in the city, most of them located in the center, around Lenin Square and the Cathedral Court, on Soviet Avenue and Krasnaya Street.

How to ger there

Reaching Veliky Ustyug from major European cities involves several steps, primarily through major transit hubs such as Moscow or Saint Petersburg in Russia and Istanbul or Yerevan to get to these russian capitals.

Plane. Veliky Ustyug has its own small airport, which reopened after reconstruction in 2022. Flights are available from Vologda and Cherepovets. Tickets cost 3000–4000 rubles (30.14 – 40.18 euros), with a travel time of one hour. Flying to Veliky Ustyug offers the opportunity to fly on the rare Yak-40.

Train. You can only reach Veliky Ustyug by train during the New Year holidays. From January 1 to January 8, there is a daily train from Moscow. The journey takes 19.5 hours. A ticket in a reserved seat costs 3500 rubles (35.16 euros), in a compartment – 7500 (75.35 euros).

The “Winter Tale” tourist train departs from Moscow on January 2 and 6, and from Saint Petersburg on January 1 and 5. The Moscow train stops for five hours in Kostroma and for seven hours in Ustyug. The Saint Petersburg train stops for almost 12 hours in Vologda and for eight hours in Ustyug.

You can only reach Veliky Ustyug by train during the New Year holidays. From January 1 to January 8, there is a daily train from Moscow
You can only reach Veliky Ustyug by train during the New Year holidays. From January 1 to January 8, there is a daily train from Moscow

At other times, you can reach the nearest railway station – Yadrikha, 55 kilometers from the city, in the Arkhangelsk region, or the major station Kotlas South, 70 kilometers from Ustyug. Ticket prices from Moscow start at 2000 rubles (20.09 euros), from Saint Petersburg – from 3000 (20.09 Euro).

Bus. From Vologda – the capital of the region – it’s 450 kilometers to Veliky Ustyug. A bus from Vologda runs ten times a day, with a journey time of six hours. A ticket costs about 2000 rubles (20.09 euros). Kotlas is the nearest major city, about 70 kilometers away. Buses run every hour. From the capital of Komi – Syktyvkar – it’s just under 400 kilometers. There are four buses a day. But from another neighboring region – Kirov – there are no buses to Ustyug.

Car. Veliky Ustyug is located 900 kilometers from Moscow (M8 highway) and 1100 kilometers from Saint Petersburg (A144 highway). The city is approximately in the center of the triangle formed by the three nearest regional centers – Vologda, Kirov, Syktyvkar, with each being roughly 400–500 kilometers away.

Public transport in the city. Veliky Ustyug has several city bus routes. The fare is 30 rubles (0.30 euros). Among aggregator services, “Yandex” operates, and locals also actively use local taxi services, such as “Alan” or “Drug”.

When to go

The tourist season begins in winter — everyone goes to visit Santa Claus. The city is beautifully decorated, but the daylight hours are short in the north at this time. Frosts start around mid-November. The average winter temperature is minus 12 degrees Celsius, and during the peak season, it drops to about minus 20 degrees, sometimes even reaching minus 40 degrees. Winter is very snowy, as befits the hometown of the New Year’s wizard, but be prepared that snow is only efficiently cleared from central streets and tourist spots.

Spring arrives in April, but due to the melting snow, mud, ice drift, and frequent floods, the off-season is not the best time to travel to Veliky Ustyug.

Summer in Ustyug is humid, green, and quite warm — on average, plus 18 degrees Celsius. It’s possible to enjoy a calm, almost rural rest: swim in the river, go mushroom or berry picking in the forest, or take a bicycle on your journey and ride around the whole city. And the daylight hours at this time are simply lengthy, true white nights: on the day of the summer solstice, June 21, the sun rises at 2:21 and sets at 21:30.

Summer in Ustyug is humid, green, and quite warm — on average, plus 18 degrees Celsius. Photo: Ele-chudinovsk / Wikimedia.org
Summer in Ustyug is humid, green, and quite warm — on average, plus 18 degrees Celsius. Photo: Ele-chudinovsk / Wikimedia.org

Text by: Tatyana Kolosova
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