Moscow is a stunning city, however culture lovers cannot miss the stunning Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius in Sergiev Posad. This stunning Russian UNESCO recognized monastery is an easy day trip from Moscow and perfect for those interested in learning about the Russian Orthodox Church. Keep reading for tips on visiting Sergiev Posad from Moscow.
Why you must visit Sergiev Posad
Just a day trip from Moscow, you’ll find a magical place where you’ll feel transported back in time: monks roam the grounds, pilgrims come hundreds of miles to receive a blessing, and little shops operate outside of the monastery like they have since the medieval era.
Sergiev Posad (Сергиев Посад) holds one of the most famous Russian Orthodox monasteries that can be easily visited from Moscow on a day trip. Although Moscow is full of stunning architecture, there’s nothing like the candy-like domes of the Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius in Sergiev Posad and the monks rushing around. This monastery is considered the spiritual heart of Russia.
The monastery in Sergiev Posad is free to visit (besides additional paid activities) and it’s considered one of the most sacred places to visit in Russia. Although Russia was part of the Soviet Union for many years, the monastery was closed and many of the historic icons were stored here for safekeeping. The theological college and icon painting school are the reason that this stunning Russian monastery is home to over three hundred monks.
For those interested in viewing some of the most beautiful artifacts in Russia, the museum at the Trinity Cathedral has over 120,000 pieces. This stunning Russian Orthodox church is on the list of UNESCO World Heritage List.
An unrelated note, Sergiev Posad is where the matroyshka doll was invented, so if you’re looking for a unique Russian souvenir, consider visiting the city for something different as there’s a Toy Museum here dedicated to these Russian dolls.
How to visit Sergiev Posad from Moscow
If you have a car, there’s free ample parking about fifteen minutes away, close to Hotel Optimalniy. To visit Sergiev Posad from Moscow, you can take the express train towards Aleksandrov and get off at Sergiev Posad.
Alternatively, you can take the suburban train from Yaroslavsky train station. (You may need to ask for help at the ticket booth as I personally struggled with the suburban ticket machine.)
If you’re less keen on figuring out the trains, you can take a private tour of Sergiev Posad from Moscow, including transport.
History of Sergiev Posad
Sergiev Posad was originally a lavra. A lavra is monastery with with cells to enable monks to have time to privately reflect on religion. Sergiev Posad was founded in 1337 by St Sergius of Radonezh. St. Serguis is one of the most well known Russian saints who went to become a monk together with his brother and decided to build this lavra in a secluded forest to enable them to reflect more on religion. After, this time other monks chose to join their lavra. In 1345, the lavra became a monastery, which had a small wooden church at its core.
In 1408, the monastery was burned down by the Tatars although it was rebuilt again. By the 1500s, Sergiev Posad held the Moscow Patriarchate and it became one of the most important places in the Russian Orthodox religion.
Eventually, the lavra turned into a posad. A posad is a fortified settlement that that adjoins a monastery. These craftsmen and merchants often created their own shops in the surrounding area. This was the basis of the city of Sergiev Posad, which surrounds the monastery today. Even Ivan the Terrible came here for a blessing. Sidenote: Ivan Vasilievich Changes Profession (a Soviet movie filmed in 1973) was filmed in an almost identical location.)
In a later period, the walls kept out an army with over 30,000 soldiers. As a result, it was often a hiding place for royal family members. Luckily, this stunning monastery survived the Stalin era with its icons intact. The most famous icon at Sergiev Posad is the Trinity, which was painted by famous Russian painter Andrei Rublev.
What you need to know before visiting Sergiev Posad
Avoid major Russian holidays and popular tourist holidays.
Did you really think that one of the major Russian Orthodox monasteries outside of Moscow wouldn’t be visited by many tourists? It’s a popular destination with tour bus groups visiting Russia from all over the world. You can avoid the bulk of the tourist groups by visiting early or late in the day as most groups will visit in the early afternoon.
Be very careful about when you visit as there will be major crowds if you overlap with a major Orthodox holiday. In particular, the Russian Christmas season and Easter season are popular times to visit Sergiev Posad as the monastery is a major place for pilgrims.
I visited after New Year’s Eve in the week leading up to Orthodox Christmas. It was busier than usual with pilgrims, according to my friend, so check the Orthodox calendar before you visit.
You must dress appropriately.
The Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius is one of the most holy places in the Russian Orthodox Church, so you must think about what you wear. Even if you visit in winter, you’ll want to dress warmly as the Russian winters live up to their reputation.
In winter, appropriate dress isn’t as much an issue, however I was actually a bit self conscious about my hair showing as many women had their hair covered. I also saw many women in long skirts although it’s not required.
I’d recommend avoiding skimpy clothes and/or ripped clothes. If you’re a woman visiting in non-winter months, I’d recommend wearing a long skirt and wearing something to cover your shoulders/arms with.
In winter, bring a baklava (if you struggle with breathing in cold air), warm gloves that allow you to use your camera/phone (I prefer leather gloves with a wool lining), a hat, a good winter coat, and a good scarf. You’ll spend most of your time walking around the grounds, so it’s important to dress warmly. I was wearing jeans with tights underneath in addition to regular sneakers although winter boots are a good idea.
Bring cash for food
We had several issues at the monastery where the restaurants didn’t accept cards. Simply, bring cash if you intend to buy things although the official gift shop accepted credit cards. At the gift shop, you can purchase a number of souvenirs, including intricately wooden souvenirs as well as religious texts.
Buy bread and dumplings
Although a couple of people online complained about the high prices at the restaurant by the monastery, I was very pleased to have the tea as well as the dumplings on the cold day that I visited. The monastery bread is famous among Russians and absolutely delicious, so be sure to follow the lead of the locals. (The restaurant near the entrance was cash only at the time that I visited earlier this year.)
Be careful with your selfie sticks & respect pilgrims/monks
Many people are here to pray, so be careful with your selfie sticks as they’re not appreciated here due to the crowds. Similarly, try to be respectful of those in prayer as this is truly a very meaningful pilgrimage location.
The water is holy!
There’s a famous well here–and it’s considered good luck to purchase holy water at St Sergius Lavra. The water is considered to be holy as one of the first to drink the water was a blind monk who was cured after drinking it. (You can purchase it at the gift shop.)
Most buildings aren’t for the general public, only pilgrims
You will see a lot of people lined up around the grounds of St. Serguis Lavra at some of the smaller chapels intended for the general public as the main churches are intended for monks. Most of these people are awaiting blessings. If you’re not Russian Orthodox, abstain from waiting in line as you are not allowed to take photos inside. Behind the most beautiful buildings, you’ll see the seminary as well as a number of buildings reserved for monks/pilgrims, rather than the general public.
Visit the museum to see the treasures
You can book a tour of the monastery by the monks in English by reserving ahead on their website or calling one of the numbers on their websites to book an excursion. Be sure to book in advance as this is popular and not that many tours are offered. Phone number to call: 8 (496) 540-57-21
If you’re interested in viewing some of the 120,000+ artifacts that are housed here, be sure to visit the museum of church treasures behind the Trinity cathedral, which costs an entry fee. The main monastery is free to visit, so this is a good deal by comparison.