Mighty Russia – the world’s largest country – spanning across nine different time zones, and with a population of over 140 million, is as vast as it is diverse. Russia is breathtaking and monumental in every respect, it’s a land where burnished imperial splendor coexists with icy Siberian tundra, where time-worn Soviet-era monuments backdrop uber-hip urban cultures. Winston Churchill’s much quoted line that the world’s largest nation represented a “riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma” is as true today as it was back then.

With the sports mega event, the 2018 FIFA World Cup right around the corner, thousands of travelers are extremely excited to visit Russia this year. The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia is a phenomenally powerful magnet, and living proof of the fact that humanity has been unable to invent anything more magical than a seemingly simple ball game: The championship will unite 190 ethnicities that populate Russia, and about 2,000 nationalities from around the world. The athletic atmosphere is expected to be extremely delightful, and with a total of 11 city hosts to travel to across the country, there is plenty to enjoy and explore.

Russia is a place to make discoveries. Each year, historical, natural, architectural and cultural landmarks, combined with improved communications infrastructure, are attracting more and more visitors. In 2015, St. Petersburg, the acclaimed masterpiece of world architecture and culture, ranked on the 17th spot in the ‘Travelers’ Choice Award’ for the ‘World’s Best Tourist Destinations’. Seven of the World Cup host cities – St. Petersburg, Moscow, Kazan, Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, Sochi, and Nizhny Novgorod – are among Russia’s top ten tourist destinations.

The west of the country draws most visitor attention, thanks to the presence of two extraordinary cities. St. Petersburg and Moscow serve up sweeping postcard sights by the dozen. Moscow is the rapidly beating heart of “New Russia”, where Asia and Europe combine to create an enigmatic metropolis.  Home to the mighty Kremlin, legendary Red Square, and iconic St. Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow is not only the capital of Russia, but it is also the political and cultural heart of the country. Red Square is home to the city’s most recognizable landmarks, and it is a fascinating place to see all that is old about the city, colliding with the new.

St. Petersburg is the ‘Jewel in Russia’s Imperial Crown’, an enchanting city, offering a rich and fascinating history. It was here that the aristocrat tsars ruled over Russia for two centuries until the Russian Revolution in 1917. Today, remnants of the city’s grandiose past can be seen in its beautiful historic center. Made up of a series of canals, this UNESCO World Heritage site is dotted with elegant baroque bridges, impressive rococo architecture, and spectacular palaces, such as the Winter Palace – once home of the tsars.

The ancient and provincial city of Novgorod is en route from St. Petersburg to Moscow. Being one of the oldest and prettiest cities in the country, Novgorod was once the leading political and cultural center of Russia…this was in the days when Moscow was just a small provincial outpost. Yekaterinburg is the first major stop in Asian Russia on the Trans-Siberian route, and the gateway to the Ural Mountains. A one-of-a-kind Russian city, Yekaterinburg is known as the ‘City of Romanovs’, as it is synonymous with the murder of the Romanov family in July 1918. The main attractions here include ‘Church on Blood’, ‘Rastorguev’, and the Monastery Complex ‘Ganina Yama’. And – here you can treat yourself to a unique opportunity to stand on two continents at once at the nearby ‘Europe-Asia Monument’.

Sun-kissed Sochi is a live city-attraction where there’s plenty of excitement! The laid-back location on the Black Sea, along with the gorgeous mountainous surroundings make Sochi a perfect getaway with palm trees, beaches, cable car rides, the Rosa Khutor Ski Resort as well as Imperial and Stalinist architecture. While here, don’t miss the Sea Port building, Villa Vera, and taking a walk in Riviera Park.

The FIFA World Cup is indeed a large-scale event, and the easternmost city on the World Cup map of 2018 is Russia’s Kaliningrad, situated on the shores of the Baltic Sea between Poland and Lithuania. Kaliningrad has been part of Russia for less than a century, featuring quite a bit of German architecture and beautiful sandy beaches. Kazan is a melting pot of many religions and Slavic and Tatar culture, undoubtedly. Kazan boasts a unique history, many interesting places to see and things to do in between soccer matches. Visit its white-walled Kremlin, holding the stunning blue-domed Qol Sharif Mosque, take a picture with the Dragon Zilant monument for good luck, check out the leaning Soyembika Tower, and neighboring Annunciation Cathedral. Also enjoy the truly unique ‘Temple of all Religions’, and take a stroll in Millennium Park.

From June 14 – July 15, the 2018 World Cup Games will be held in Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Sochi, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, and Saransk. How to get into Russia, why and who may need a “FAN ID”, how to exchange currency for rubles, where to find Wi-Fi, how to book a hotel, and where to find the best sports bar – all answers to these and other questions that travelers may have, can be found in the Guide available via the dedicated Tourist Portal on the official 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia website. Note: U.S. citizens must have a valid tourist visa to visit Russia.

AirlinePros partner and top Russian carriers Utair and Ural Airlines offer a comprehensive route network and convenient travel options across the country. Utair Aviation developed a network in the South of Russia, adding new routes to cities hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup this summer. Utair will launch direct flights to the resort town of Anapa from Moscow, Surgut, Ufa and Nizhnevartovsk; to the resort town of Gelendzhik from Moscow and Surgut; and to Sochi from Krasnodar, Moscow, Surgut, Nizhnevartovsk.