Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries Russia produced towering figures of world literature, including Pushkin, Chekhov, Tolstoy and Solzhenitsyn. Many of their former homes and places associated with these literary titans have been turned into museums or are tourist attractions in their own right. Visiting them can help provide an insight into what inspired their prose, poems and plays.
The legacy of poet Alexander Pushkin looms large over Russia’s literary landscape. The author of Eugene Onegin was born in Moscow and there you can visit two museums devoted to his life and times – as well as the statue on the square named after him and the nearby haute-russe restaurant that also bears his name. Prioritise the Pushkin Literary Museum, which provides a thorough overview of the historical events that influenced the writer and also reverentially displays his personal effects. Fans might also want to swing by the Pushkin House-Museum, where the poet lived with his wife Natalia Goncharova for three months after their marriage in 1831.
Novelist Leo Tolstoy also chalks up two museums in Moscow: the modest Tolstoy Estate-Museum, where the author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina spent winters with his family between 1882 and 1901; and the Tolstoy Literary Museum, packed with manuscripts, letters and artworks about the writer.
A contemporary of Tolstoy, playwright Anton Chekhov lived in a red-painted house in the city for four years before decamping to a country estate at Melikhovo. It was here that Chekhov penned The Seagull and Uncle Vanya. Also finding solace and inspiration in Moscow’s outskirts was Boris Pasternak, the Nobel Prize–winning author of Doctor Zhivago. His house-museum is in Peredelkino, a village of brightly painted dachas (summer houses) where the poet is also buried.
Back in central Moscow, statues of two roguish characters from The Master and Margarita greet visitors to the Mikhail Bulgakov Museum. The satirical writer lived with his wife Tatyana Lappa in apartment 50 of this art nouveau block for several years in the 1920s. Nearby, you can stroll around the pretty Patriarch’s Ponds, which features at the start of The Master and Margarita as the place where the devil appears in Moscow.
The writer perhaps most associated with St Petersburg, the former imperial capital, is Fyodor Dostoevsky. Walking tour companies have made quite a business out of creating itineraries based on the places where the author lived and the locations he used in novels including Crime and Punishment and The Idiot. A museum occupies Dostoevsky’s final home near Vladimirskaya metro station, outside which is a statue of the writer. Pay your respects at his grave in Tikhvin Cemetery within the precincts of the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, an atmospheric location where Dostoevsky keeps company with the likes of composers Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky.
Not as well known in the English-speaking world but highly revered in Russia is the 20th-century poet Anna Akhmatova. Her tragic life under communism informed her work, and you can learn about both at the excellent Anna Akhmatova Museum at the Fountain House, in the apartment where she lived between 1926 and 1952. Nathan Altman’s famous portrait of a regal Akhmatova from 1914 hangs in the Russian Museum, and several statues of the poet are located around the city, including a 3m-tall bronze that stares forlornly across the Neva River towards Kresty Prison – a notorious (and still operational) facility where both Akhmatova’s son and common-law husband were incarcerated during Stalin’s time of terror.
St Petersburg is also associated with Pushkin: you can visit the site where the Romantic poet was fatally wounded in a duel on 8 February 1837 and the flat where, later that day, he died. A statue of the bard, typically crowned by pigeons, stands on Arts Square.