Kizhi Island, Russia, a Unesco World Heritage Site

Russia kizhi island museum scythe man
The island of Kizhi is a museum of the old ways. The fields are now cultivated as an exhibit.

It's hard to imagine a tourist getting to Kizhi Island in Russia other than on an organized river cruise such as the one we did with Viking Cruises–unless you were one of those determined people who is trying to visit every UNESCO World Heritage site in the world.

Kizhi Pogost (Pogost means enclosure) basically consists of a reconstructed village on an island that is about 6 km by 1 kilometer in the northern reaches of Lake Onega, the second largest lake in Europe. To reach Kizhi, our Viking ship had to make a turn north from Saint Petersburg, the opposite direction from Moscow. In other words, a special detour just to visit Kizhi.

Russia kizhi island church fence
The Kizhi island landscape and its archaic buildings provided some lovely vistas.

The Kizhi Pogost, which is the actual name of the UNESCO World Heritage site, is an enclosed village museum which surrounds two churches. The current settlement on Kizhi is primarily a museum of an earlier rural life, and is centered on the two major churches and a bell tower built on the island in the 18th Century. In the 1950s, many historical buildings were moved from other parts of the surrounding Karelia province to preserve them, and it's those churches and farm buildings which make up the UNESCO site.

Russia kizhi island sky
The Russian sky, a constant reminder of the Russian winter that's never far off.

Kizhi island grew originally as a trading post and farming community on the route from Novgorod in the south and the White Sea in the north. But as iron ore was discovered on the shores of Lake Onega, the peasants were conscripted into the mines and the settlements on the Onega islands were mostly depopulated. Eventually, the peasants revolted in the 18th Century, and Kizhi returned to its rural roots.

Later, the island was given over to Soviet style industrial farming, but that was halted in the 1970s and the island was restored to its earlier character and established as the open air museum that it is today. The farming that occurs now is, more or less, an exhibit.

Russia kizhi island singers church UNESCO world heritage
Three harmonious monks in the Church of the Transfiguration on Kizhi.

We got to go into the larger church, the Church of the Transfiguration, and were treated to a special concert of Russian Orthodox chants by three of the local priests. The domes of the church were being worked on as we walked by, too. I imagine a church made of wood that is more than 200 years old requires constant maintenance in the northern Russian climate.

Russia River Cruise Excursion Kizhi island
The magnificent 18th Century Church of the Transfiguration on Kizhi Island is one of 80 historical wooden structures.

Unfortunately, we only had a couple hours on Kizhi, so we didn't get to poke our heads into all the structures we saw, but the landscape of the island, along with the threatening clouds that seemed like they were the perpetual companions of Kizhi Pogost, provided many lovely photographs.

Russia kizhi island windmill
A windmill on a small rise.

Kizhi Island, also known as Kizhi Pogost, is a Unesco World Heritage site in Russia. For a list of Unesco World Heritage sites in Russia, with links to the ones we have visited, click the link.

You can see our other stories from Saint Petersburg, Uglich, and Yaroslavl from our Russian river cruise by clicking on the links.

Our visit to Kizhi Island was part of our cruise of the “Waterways of the Tsars” Russia river cruise with Viking River Cruises. We were hosted on the cruise by Viking, but any opinions expressed are our own.

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14 thoughts on “Kizhi Island, Russia, a Unesco World Heritage Site”

  1. Kizhi island looks like an incredible place to visit and I’d be especially keen to see the church and historic fields as my great grandparents came from the region. They immigrated to Canada in the late 1800s where the landscape looked much the same but soil conditions were much poorer. The Church of the Transfiguration, being made out of wood, is really unusual but how beautiful!

    • Wood is a lot more plentiful around there than any other building material, except maybe rocks. Also, we see these large wooden churches in other countries, such as Romania. The workmanship of the carpenters is amazing.

    • Viking is a good way to get there, especially since it’s an island, and I didn’t see any landing strips. The whole cruise was full of great interesting stops like Kizhi.

  2. The more I read in travel blogs, the more I realize that there are fascinating places to see and study that I didn’t know even existed. I’ve never considered visiting all the UNESCO sites before, but that challenge has a certain amount of appeal! Definitely Kizhi Pogost is at the top of my very brand new list.

    • To be honest, we didn’t know about Kizhi either until we got the literature from Viking Cruises. It, along with most of the other places we visited in Russia, was a pleasant surprise.

  3. Kizhi Pogost looks like a very interesting place to visit. The Church of the Transfiguration looks particularly intriguing – unusual to see so many domes on a church made of wood.

  4. What a magnificent place. I had no idea Viking included these kinds of experiences on their cruises, which is great to see. It looks like the kind of place that you could explore a little longer.

    • Viking is expert at all aspects of their cruises, and their accompanying tours are usually interesting and well guided. The local guides they employ add a lot to the experience.


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