GRAD Cultural Tours

Art & Museums in Russia and former Soviet republics is a venue-based program for students, lecturers, curators, museum professionals, and anyone interested in art. By exploring the collections of Russian museums and sites and attending lectures of leading specialists on the subject in Russia, you will learn about art in a way not possible in a traditional classroom.

This intensive program includes a series of fascinating lectures and tours hosted by Russian professionals. Art & Museums in Russia and former Soviet republics seeks to help transmit this knowledge to the West, while opening international dialogues between artists and professionals.

Study Tours offer the opportunity to spend time with an expert art historians who will examine works of art and architecture in their original settings.

Study Tours are limited to a maximum of 15 students.

All Study Tours include a good deal of walking and require a reasonable degree of physical fitness and mobility. Please contact us if you have any doubts over your suitability to take part in any of the tours.

18-25 April 2017

This all-encompassing specialised art tour through magnificent Georgia and North Armenia aims to explore medieval UNESCO World Heritage Sites and stunning mountain landscapes. Nestled at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Georgia is surrounded by the Black Sea, Russia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Turkey. Beyond its ethnological and cultural diversity, Georgia offers rich history, biodiversity, architecture, wine and gastronomy.

Long hidden behind ‘the iron curtain’, Georgia has a wealth of hilltop churches, meandering cobbled streets, stunning nature and exceptional wines. This engaging trip which benefits from a small-size group of like-minded people will take you from the lush green slopes adorned with beautiful monasteries of Georgia to the oldest Christian nation in the world - Armenia.

Price of the 8-days tour on 18-25 April 2017 is £1250



Booking Procedure, Terms and Conditions.pdf


Tuesday, 18 April, late evening – arrival at Tbilisi

Meeting at the airport, transfer to the hotel. 

Wednesday, 19 April – tour around Tbilisi

Today we will explore the capital of Georgia, Tbilisi. Wander the old districts of the city, which are structured like terraces, and walk through the narrow streets to appreciate the colourful houses, patterned balconies and the historical domed sulphur bath area. Following the visit to the 12th-century Metekhi church, with its magnificent views over old Tbilisi, a stroll along winding little streets will take us to the main sights of the city which will include visit the largest cathedral in Georgia dedicated to The Holy Trinity and Sioni Cathedral named after Sion Mountain where the head of apostle Foma is kept among other relics.

After lunch we will have a special curator-led tour around the amazing art collection of the National Gallery of Georgia.

In the evening the famous funicular will take us to the Narikala fortress – the oldest in Tbilisi. From here you can admire Tbilisi in all its glory as well as see the monument to Kartlis Deda – mother of Georgia who holds wine for friends in one hand and sword for enemies in another.

Our evening will culminate with a very special dinner with traditional Georgian dancing (included in the price of the tour). 

Thursday, 20 April – trip to Mtskheta and wine tour around the famous Alazanskaia Valley

After breakfast, we will drive to Mtskheta, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the oldest towns, situated about 20 km. from Tbilisi. Mtskheta was the capital of the Eastern Georgian Kingdom of Iberia from the third century BC.

After lunch we will drive along the famous Georgian Military Highway to embark on a tour around world-famous wineries of Kakheti region which will include a visit to the ‘city of lovers’, Signahi - one of the crossroads of the Great Silk Road surrounded by defensive walls with 28 towers from top of which we can admire the beautiful Alazanskaia Valley.

After Signahi we will visit the Bodbe Convent (110 km. from Tbilisi), which according to legend was a burial place of St. Nino, who converted Georgia to Christianity in the 4th-century.

Our day will culminate with an unforgettable visit to the traditional winery in the medieval village Velistsikhe. Here we will taste local wine, try making traditional dessert ‘churchkhela’ and have the most unforgettable Georgian dinner (included in the price of the tour) before returning to Tbilisi.

Friday, 21 April – trip to Kutaisi

This morning we will drive through the mountains to Kutaisi, where en route we will stop at the Uplistsikhe Cave Town (81 km. from Tbilisi) which dates back to the 1st century a.c. This unique complex included more than 700 caves as well as ancient theatre, bakery and a grand hall built for the visit of Tsarina Tamara. Nowadays around 150 caves and other buildings survive.

We will then visit Kutaisi – the second largest city in Georgia (after Tbilisi). We will walk down elegant streets adorned with 19th century houses and visit the famous Kutaisi market.

After lunch we will visit the most beautiful cave in the Caucasus – the Cave of Prometheus. Here we will see stalactites and stalagmites, ancient water-falls and dried up rivers.

Free evening in Kutaisi, where we will be staying for two nights.

Saturday, 22 April – visit to UNESCO monasteries Gelati and Motsameta

Today we will visit the XII century Gelati Academy, built by King David the Builder. For a long time, the academy was one of the main cultural and intellectual centres in Georgia.

We will then drive to another UNESCO site – Motsameta monastery. It is smaller and quieter than the one in Gelati, although its cliff-edge setting is more spectacular. Built in the VII century, this little monastery has a spectacular setting on a cliff-top promontory above a bend of the Tskhaltsitela River. Extremely isolated and seldom visited by tourists, this place will give you an unadulterated taste of monastic life.

In the afternoon we will embark on another wine trip to Racha and Khvanchkara. We will see most beautiful mountain views and taste the most famous Georgian wines as well as have another unforgettable meal (included in the price of the tour). Return to Kutaisi.

Sunday, 23 April – trip to Borzhomi and Gori

We will depart Kutaisi and drive to Borjomi (129 km) - a resort town in south-central Georgia which is situated in the picturesque Borjomi Gorge on the eastern edge of the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park. The town is famous for its mineral water industry (which is the number one export of Georgia) and the Romanov summer palace in Likani.

Next, we will continue to Gori which became especially famous in the 20th century as the birthplace of Stalin. We will pay a visit to the Stalin Museum which includes more than 60,000 artefacts as well as the tiny house where Stalin was born and impressive bulletproof train Stalin used to travel to Yalta and Potsdam.

In the afternoon we will depart the fantastic country of Georgia and head for the Armenian border, driving through the magnificent scenery along a beautiful mountain road along the volcanic lake, Paravani (2,073 meters). We will arrive at Sadakhlo-Bagratashen border point and continue into Armenia to Alaverdi. On arrival, we will enjoy a delicious Armenian meal (not included in the tour price) and have the evening at leisure. Overnight in Alaverdi - a town in the Lori Province at the north-eastern part of Armenia, near the border with Georgia.

Monday, 24 April – visit to the most important monasteries in Northern Armenia

Today we will visit Sanain Monastery founded in the 10th century in the Lori Province of Armenia. The name Sanahin literally translates from Armenian as "this one is older than that one", presumably representing a claim to having an older monastery than the neighbouring Haghpat Monastery. The cupolas of the Sanain Monastery (10th-13th centuries) can be seen beyond the gorge. The monastery comprises several churches and chapels but it is especially famous for its library which contained the largest collection of books in the whole Christian world. The theological academy used to be housed in a vaulted gallery between the two churches. The library building is still intact. Niches in the thick walls were used for storing books and the semi-columns are covered with fine carving depicting reptiles and birds. The ancient XI century bridge is adorned by elegant figures of wild cats. We will then proceed to the legendary Akhpat Monastery (10th-13th centuries). Its main church is one of the most outstanding samples of medieval Armenian architecture. The architect is believed to be Trdat, who built Ani, the former capital of Armenia. Just as in Sanain, there was a wonderful library in Akhpat Monastery. The learned monks tried to acquire everything written in the Armenian language and, whenever the need arose, they made copies of books found in other monasteries. The refectory, the largest structure of this kind to be found in Armenia— 340 square metres — stands next to the monastery library.

We will stay over-night in the beautiful Dilijan - a spa town in the Tavush Province of Armenia. Usually called Armenian Switzerland or Little Switzerland by the locals, it is one of the most important resorts of Armenia, situated within the Dilijan National Park. This reclusive town is considered to be one of the best preserved mideval towns in Armenia.

In Dilijan we will have our final dinner (included in the price of the tour) sampling local dishes and wines.

Tuesday, 25 April – departure to Tbilisi (189 km). Free time in the old town before departure to London in the afternoon.

For further information and to book your place on the tour please call GRAD on +44 (0) 2076377274 or email


RUSSIAN SACRED ART | 4–10 September 2016

Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Rostov Velikii (the Great), Vladimir and Suzdal – names that evoke the Russian past, the period when power shifted from Kiev to the north east. GRAD’s first cultural trip focussed on the churches, monasteries, palaces, icons and frescoes of this area, but these were not the only treats in store for the eleven people who assembled at Moscow airport in early September. Based in the town of Yaroslavl, a World Heritage site beside the Volga, we began by exploring the architectural riches of the town which reached the height of its commercial power and influence in the 17 century. It seemed as though every corner revealed another beautiful church, many decorated floor to ceiling with frescoes, and set among gracious neo-classical buildings of the late 18 and early 19 centuries. Visits both within Yaroslavl and to the historic towns and places beyond were supported by expert guiding and lectures from specialists in the field that were more fascinating guided talks than formal presentations.

Squat white-washed kremlin towers, the vision of the famous Tolgskii monastery from our boat on the Volga are some of the things we will not forget. Another was the visit to the charming small town of Plyos where the painter Isaak Levitan spent his summers in the late 1880s and to its small museum. This place among many others was where my lingering prejudices about the standard of restaurants in provincial Russia were swept away. Who can forget the feast of Russian delicacies (including rather surprisingly ‘kish’ i.e. ‘quiche’) in the quirky restaurant in Plyos looking down to the little town and the Volga? Though our hotel’s Bavarian restaurant offered not much more than convenience, we had delicious and memorable meals elsewhere. And thanks to the weakness of the ruble, nothing was outrageously expensive.

The unique nature of this trip stemmed from its non-commercial basis. Firstly, those who signed up were seriously interested as well as excellent company. Our guides and lecturers were not just experts but people who wanted to share their own love of their area. They succeeded. If timings tended to slide, partly because we had so many questions (plus the array of souvenirs was extremely tempting!), no one complained. It was an experience none of us will forget and we owe a debt of gratitude to the two Natalias (Natalia Murray from GRAD for her patience and good humour, Natalia the guide for her knowledge and charm and the dynamic Viktor for his organisation). If GRAD organises more such trips, do sign on.

Faith Wigzell, Professor Emeritus of Russian Literature, UCL

4–10 September 2016
Yaroslavl and the Cities of the Golden Ring of Russia

The adoption of Christianity in Russia in 988 marked the beginning of the ancient Russian art. Throughout eight hundred years (10th – 17th centuries) the ancient Russian art sought to embody in itself the Christian faith and create “theology in colour” by making the images and the words inseparable from each other.

East of Moscow lies the land of small historical towns, ancient onion-domed churches and largely unspoilt countryside, often referred to as the ‘Golden Ring of Russia’.

The jewel of the Golden Ring was largely bypassed by 20th-century modernisation – or destruction – and still feels almost rural, like an old Russian merchants’ town: its golden-domed churches mingle with quaint wooden cottages and a serene little river dreamily meanders through flower-covered meadows and green hills.

We will be based in Yaroslavl – the jewel in the ‘golden ring of Russia’ dotted with onion domes like no other place in Russia. Here we will start every day with one lecture at the Yaroslavl University given by specialist in medieval Russian art followed by guided tours around towns and churches located along Volga river.


Sunday, 4 September – arrival

Monday, 5 September

  • Lecture by the deputy director of Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastry-Museum, Dr. Mikhail Kerbikov ‘Treasures of the Russian Sacristies’ at the Sacristy of Spaso-Preobrazhensky Monastry [Monastery of the Transfiguration of the Saviour] (founded in the 12th century, it was one of Russia’s richest and most fortified monasteries until 1500’s)
  • Workshop led by Dr. Natalia Mironova ‘Reading 17th century Russian frescoes’ in five churches in Yaroslavl
  • Lunch
  • River cruise to Tolgskii Monastery

Tuesday, 6 September
  • Lecture by the leading expert in Russian icons, keeper of icons and deputy director of the Yaroslavl Museum, Aleksey Fedorchuk ‘Decoding Russian Icons’, at the Ceremonial Hall of the House of the Governor of Yaroslavl
  • Lunch
  • Trip to Rostov Velikii, Borisogleb and Uglich

Rostov Velikii is rich in ancient architecture, with many monuments dating back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Dominating the central square is the impressive 16th Century Assumption Cathedral and between the square and the lake is the Kremlin, which has eleven beautifully ornate towers and is home to several elaborately decorated churches and palaces.

A local tradition dates Uglich to 937. It was first documented in 1148 as Ugliche Pole (Corner Field). The town's name is thought to allude to the nearby turn in the Volga River.

Uglich had been the seat of a small princedom from 1218 until 1328 when the local princes sold their rights to the great prince of Moscow. As a border town of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, it was burned several times by Lithuanians, Tatars, and the grand prince of Tver.

Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow gave the town to his younger brother Andrey Bolshoy in 1462. During Andrey's reign, the town was expanded and first stone buildings were constructed. Particularly notable were the cathedral (rebuilt in 1713), the Intercession Monastery (destroyed by the Bolsheviks) and the red-brick palace of the prince (completed in 1481 and still standing). Apart from the kremlin, the city center features other nice samples of old Russian architecture. Particularly notable are the Alexeievsky monastery and the Assumption three-tented church (1628) which are considered true gems of Russian medieval architecture. Closer to the bank of the Volga one may see the Resurrection Monastery with its huge cathedral, refectory, belfry and summer church. All these buildings stand in a row and date back to 1674-77. Opposite the monastery is the graceful Church of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. It was built in 1689-90 by a local merchant to commemorate the spot where his son had drowned.

Wednesday, 7 September
  • Lecture by the head of the department of medieval Russian Art at the Yaroslavl Museum, Dr. Viktoria Gorshkova ‘Yaroslavl, Moscow and Kostroma – laboratories of the Russian style’, at the Archbishop’s Chambers
  • Lunch
  • Trip to Kostroma and Plyos

Kostroma is known as the ‘Cradle of the Romanov dynasty’ since it was home to first Tsar of the Romanov Dynasty. It is a 12th century town which sits on the banks of the Volga River. We will visit the Epiphany and St. Ipathy Monasteries, see the frescoes inside the Trinity Cathedral and wander around Susanina Square.

Plyos, located about 370 kilometres northwest of Moscow, in the center of the Golden Ring, is widely referred to as the pearl of the Volga. This small town on the Volga River has long been famous for its serene atmosphere, picturesque hilltop views of a 3-kilometer-long quay and the house-museum of Isaac Levitan, a prominent landscape painter of the 19th century.

Its quay is dotted with one-story wooden and brick buildings with renovated facades on one side, and small boats and yachts scattered along the riverbank on the other.

Thursday, 8 September
  • All-day trip to Vladimir and Suzdal

Vladimir is one of the oldest Russian cities which gave way to Moscow as Russia’s capital (long before St. Petersburg).Tour the impressive defensive fort built in 1108, the beautiful Assumption Cathedral with frescoes by the greatest of old Russian painters, Andrei Rublev and the famous Golden Gate.

‘The Golden Ring’ of Russia comes with a diamond and that’s Suzdal. In 1864, local merchants failed to coerce the government into building the Trans-Siberian Railway through their town. Instead it went through Vladimir, 35km away. As a result Suzdal was bypassed not only by trains, but by the 20th century altogether. This is why the place remains largely the same as ages ago – it is famous for enchanting wooden houses, medieval churches and the Assumption Refractory and prison, built on the order of Catherine II, to house those who committed crimes against the church. As it happens, Suzdal served as a royal capital when Moscow was a mere cluster of cowsheds. It transformed into a major monastic centre in the times of Ivan the Terrible and an important commercial hub later on. But nowadays, it seems perfectly content in its retirement from both business and politics.

Friday, 9 September
  • Lecture by the reader at the Yaroslavl University, specialist in British-Russian artistic exchange, Dr. Viktor Kulikov ‘Discovery of the “Russian Style” in the 19th century. First exhibitions of Russian medieval art in the West’ at the lecture theatre of Yaroslavl University
  • Lunch
  • Trip to Ivanovo

Ivanovo was first mentioned in 1561, when it was given to the Cherkassky princely family by Ivan IV, after the latter's marriage to Maria Cherkasskaya. Important centre in medieval Russia, it also played the most vital role in 20th century Russian history. Because of its textile manufacturing industry, Ivanovo earned the sobriquet of the "Russian Manchester" during the 19th century.

By the early 20th century, Ivanovo was competing for the title of the primary textile production center of Europe. As the workers' living conditions were appalling, the strikes were frequent. One of these strikes (May 14-July 22, 1905) led to the first Russian revolution.

Ivanovo has several important sites – such as Schudrovskaya Palatka (17th century), the first brick civil building, the Svyato-Vvedensky Monastery, the wooden Uspenskaya church, the mansion of A. Duringer (1910) and others.

Ivanovo is also famous for the iconic buildings in constructivist style – such as the Ship-house (1930), architect D. F. Fridman; the Horseshoe-house (1934), architect A. I. Panov; the Regional Bank building (1927), architect V. A. Vesnin; the Palace of Arts (1939), architect A. V. Vlasov; the Collective-house (1931), architect I. A. Golosov and others. There is also a famous museum of Soviet agitational textiles.

Saturday, 10 September – departure

For further information and to book your place on the tour please call GRAD on +44 (0) 20 7637 7274 or email