Staraya Ladoga (Russian: Ста́рая Ла́дога), Finnish: Vanha Laatokka), or the Aldeigjuborg of Norse sagas, is a village (selo) in Leningrad Oblast, located on the mighty Volkhov River eight km north of the town of Volkhov. Annexed by the Viking Rurik, from whom the Tsars traced their bloodline, Staraya Ladoga was the first capital of Russia.
It is believed that Staraya Ladoga dates back to 753, as a young port on the Volkhov River, but its rise to prominence began with the arrival of the Viking Rurik in 862, who would make it his capital. While he moved his residence to Novgorod in 864, the town quickly became one of the most important trading ports of Eastern Europe, along the Baltic–Ladoga–Novgorod–Constantinople trade route. While the capital of Rus was moved to Kiev shortly thereafter, Ladoga remained the prominent northern trading post on the Varangian–Greek trading route until the mid-tenth century. The Rurikids' legacy today stands out in the huge kurgans, burial mounds on the town's outskirts, one of which is believed to be the burial place of Rurik himself.
Ladoga's second period of prominence came under the rule of the wealthy Novgorod Republic in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when, in addition to being an important trading outpost, it became a major fortress town. Its huge stone kremlin was built in 1114 under the oversight of Posadnik (Governor) Pavel, and would become the first line of defense against northern assaults on the Republic, withstanding a major Swedish assault in 1164. In honor of the victory, the Republic funded the construction of the magnificent Church of St George the Conqueror. As the town continued to grow around the kremlin, more magnificent twelfth century churches were constructed: the Church of the Assumption in the north of the town, the Church of St Nicholas the Miracle Worker, and the Church of St Clement—the city's main cathedral. While the Church of St Clement now lies in ruins, the churches of St George and the Assumption still stand tall and their interiors still bear exquisite, though faded, twelfth century frescoes, including several by the handiwork of the early Russian master, Andrei Rublev.
The town fell into a slow decline with the construction of new kremlins further west. The fortress was rebuilt in the mid-fifteenth century to accommodate the advent of firearms, and saw further battles in the Russo-Swedish Wars. In 1703, however, Tsar Peter the Great founded the town of Novaya Ladoga (New Ladoga) at the mouth of the Volkhov River on Lake Ladoga and stripped the original town of city status, giving it its name Staraya Ladoga (Old Ladoga).
Today Staraya Ladoga remains a sleepy backwater far off the beaten tourist path. But as part of resurgent nationalist pride in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union, the village is seeing major restoration of its important historical sights, especially of the kremlin, the reconstruction of which is expected to finish sometime in 2010. The village is a natural stop for cruise lines along the Volkhov between Kizhi and Novgorod, and as such looks set to enjoy a new period of revival as a major Russian travel destination.
The closest station is in Volkhov (Volkhovstroy-1). From Saint Petersburg, you can get there by train, express train or by elektrichka (suburban train) from Ladogsky Station. Some elektrichkas (not express ones) also start for Volkhovstroy from Moskovsky station.
Sitting or obshchiy seats in passazhirskiy train class will be best by price/comfort combination, however you may not have such luck, because there just may not be trains with such seats. Currently (January 2011) there's no trains with sitting/obshchiy seats to Volkhov at all. Platzkart seats, while comfortable, are above 400 rubles in passazhirskiy trains and above 600 rubles in firmenniy trains while suburban train will cost you only 200 rubles. Be aware however of possible discounts for some trains when kupe may be cheaper than platzkart, even on firmenniy trains. Both Ladogsky station and Volkhovstroy-1 station have computer terminals with extensive information on timetables, available seats and prices, however probably in russian only. Volkovstroy-1 station have two different terminals for long distance and suburban trains, each in the corresponding booking office hall. Consult timetable online as well. Trains reach Volkhovstroy-1 in 2 hours.
Timetable is also tricky: there's only 5 daily trains, the only morning train being firmenniy "Arktika" Moskva - Murmansk train (one of cosiest econom-class firmenniy trains in Russia), start 08:59, arrive 11:18. Other trains are either summer, or run on days only. In general, train is more convenient, if you plan to stay overnight in Volkhov or Staraya Ladoga.
Trip by elektrichka will take about 2.5 hours. Express trains are a bit confusing: they are simple elektrichkas, reaching Volkhovstroy-1 making no (Sankt-Peterburg - Babaevo, start 14:33, arrive 16:49, fridays and sundays only) or 1 stop (Sankt-Peterburg - Svir', start 18:42, arrive 20:42, daily, currently not marked as express). There's same somewhat unsightly plastic seats as in other suburban trains in Sankt-Peterburg region. However, express trains are good variant, if you want to take a look at the Volkhov GES - first GES of the GOELRO plan - from the train bridge across Volkhov river. Just took the trains off on Volkhovstroy-2 station (next after Volkhovstroy-1), and look right when crossing the river.
You can also reach Volkhovstroy-1 station directly from Moscow by either "Arktika" or "Kareliya" Moskva-Petrozavodsk (also cosy econom-class firmenniy train), and unlike Moscow - Sankt-Petersburg overnights, you may even get a nice sleep. "Kareliya", however, arrives to Volkhov early at 4:49am, you may find #23 bus soon after and enjoy dawn over calmly moving Volkhov river in Staraya Ladoga before the services will start to work.
A couple of trains from Murmansk to Moscow or other destinations may also stop on Volhovstroy-2 station, though mainly summer (and rather than or) on days and usually at night.
From the Volkhovstroy-1 station in Volkhov, catch the bus or marshrutka (actually also bus, but with fixed price for the ride) #23, or bus #23A, which will get you there in about 50 minutes, costing about 25 rubles (2009). The bus tends to be well synced with the arrival times of the elektrichka from Saint Petersburg. It's not terribly easy to tell when you have arrived in Staraya Ladoga if you haven't been there before, so it's best to ask a local to tell you when you have arrived: не подскажете мне, пожалуйста, когда мы доедем до Старой Ладоги (nyeh pod-SKAH-zhe-tyeh mnyeh, puh-ZHAHL-uh-stuh, kahg-DAH myh dо-ye-DEM dah STAH-ruy LAH-duh-gee).
From the Volkhovstroy-2 station you'll have to walk from the station and cross the Volkhov river to catch on the #23 bus, as it doesn't cross the river. You can catch it on either "Il'inskiy park" stop (right beside the park after the bridge, 20 min on foot, the stop is on the further side of road from side-shows), or "Raiispolkom" (if you go by local #2 bus, first stop after the bridge, the stop to Staraya Ladoga will be on the other side of the street). You'd better find the time-table for the bus before trying this route though, because the schedule is sparse with intervals up to 2 hours, especially late in the evening, and may be not available on the stops. You might also want to hitch ride on the bus with a hand, especially if you see the bus or even better marshrutka outside the stop. Alternatively just take #2 bus to Volkhovstroy-1 station where schedule is available (you may also take any seldom other is this direction, however be aware, that bus #3 from Volkhovstroy-2 takes a side root up the Volkhov river, passing the GES, which is sightly, and #5 takes side root to Murmanskie Vorota, which is not sightly and a bit long). Or ask locals when will be the bus: Когда пойдёт 23-й автобус в Старую Ладогу? (kagh-DAH poi-DYOT dvad-tsat-TRE-tiy av-TO-bus v STAH-ru-yu LAH-duh-gu?)
Staraya Ladoga is on the A-115 between Volkhov and Novaya Ladoga, which intersects with the M-18 from Saint Petersburg (120 km), 7 km north of the village. Coming from Novgorod/Moscow, take the M-10 until turning right on the A-115. From Vologda, take the A-114 to the M-18 towards Saint Petersburg, eventually making a left on A-115.
Staraya Ladoga is a small village and is easily covered on foot via leisurely stroll. Locals often opt for bicycles, but there are no rentals available.
The above mentioned Prince Rurik Cafe is a good bet for booze.