Central department store, Riga. (Postcard, 1962.)

Soviet tourism was not only about ideology. Especially after the war, during the so-called Khrushchev “thaw”, traveling began to loosen up, and one could now have a proper beach holiday, take sightseeing tours without Lenin places – and even go shopping. It would have been too much to promote such frivolous amusements in Moscow or Leningrad, but in the Baltic states shopping was OK. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been occupied by the Soviet Union during the war, and in the 1960s they still had many exotic features that the Russian part of the union lacked, like street caf├ęs. They also carried wider selection of goods in the shops, and that’s why trips to Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius turned into shopping tourism. Here is a postcard of the central department store of Riga. The image stresses the modern side of the city, with the neon lights and all, and there is also a sign for a restaurant.

Crimea. (Brochure, 1970s.)

Crimea was THE destination of Soviet tourism from 1920s, when bolsheviks belonging to the nomenclature had their dachas there, right into the 1980s, when Soviet mass tourism was at its peak. Moreover, Crimea was, and still is, symbolically important, as the latest events in the area have shown. Soviet Union marketed Crimea also to foreign tourists, and there were some hotels that were open only to western holidaymakers. Here is a brochure printed in Finland in 1970s, advertising Crimea and the Caucasus as a destination. All the vacation cliches are there: deep blue sea, golden sand, nature and tranquility. Even freedom is hinted, as travelling is done by a private car. In the late Soviet era, tourism in Crimea had many features in common with the western tourism of the same era.

Welcome to Soviet Moldavia. (Brochure, 1980s.)

If you think Soviet tourism as gray and colourless, think again. At least advertisement was full of excitement. Already in the 1930s some of the notable Intourist posters were very artistic and full of colour, and from 1970s on this became almost standard in the Soviet tourism aesthetics, especially outside of the Soviet Union. Here is the cover of Finnish language Intourist brochure advertising the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic. The drawing combines hippie style, cute naivism and garish palette to promote the little-known state, famous for its wine, tranquil country life, and – of course – brutalist white tower block.

Travel agency of Lomamatkat. (Advertisement, 1960.)

When a westerner wanted to plan and buy a trip to the Soviet Union in the 1960s, she didn’t go to a dark and dusty office with angry lady asking too many questions. Tourism to Leningrad, Moscow and especially the Black Sea coast was increasing and even getting fashionable in the latter part of the 20th century, and package trips were sold in fancy premises. Here is the headquarters of the Finnish travel agency Lomamatkat (“Holiday Travels”), which was specialized in Soviet and Eastern European holidays, depicted in the advertisement of Ajan Kuvat (“Images of our Time”) magazine. Stylish modern woman is planning her trip with three snappy clerks ready to serve her. Will it be Crimea, or maybe Kiev?

In Crimea. (Brochure, 1980s.)

What was dream vacation like in the Soviet Union? During the 1970s and 1980s it meant a trip – preferably a car trip – to Crimea, and few weeks in a “kurort”, as the health spas were called in Russian after German model. In the late Soviet Union holidays were less ideological and more about rest, fun and freedom. Here is a full page illustration from an Intourist brochure promoting private car trips to the Black Sea coast. Apart from the inevitable Lada Zhiguli car, the photo could be from any European travel ad. Of course, in the Soviet Union only marginal part of the common citizens ever had an opportunity to travel to Crimea, let alone with a private car, so for most it remained literally a dream vacation.

Schema of flight routes to the Black Sea towns of the Soviet Union. (Brochure, 1980s.)

It is probable that the graphic artist of Intourist was heavily drunk when he designed this instructive illustration. Approaching the end of the 20th century, Soviet tourism became more and more liberated. Especially foreign travellers could go for relaxing vacation and not get force-fed with socialism and factory tours. Alongside holidays, the aesthetics of tourist brochures was also liberated – sometimes too much. Here is a page from Intourist booklet presenting Black Sea towns to Finnish audience. As the title declares, the image shows the flight routes from important Soviet cities to Yalta, Sukhumi etc. But the graph is so extravagant, that it doesn’t really give any information about the routes. This reveals the true intention behind the illustration: it wanted to tell the reader how modern and advanced the Soviet Union is with dozens of flight routes and millions of holiday-makers.

Gostinitsa, Rzhev. (Postcard, 1970s.)

What is often remembered from Soviet tourism are the gigantic Intourist hotels in the bigger cities – especially as many of them are still standing and in use. But in smaller towns, where tourism was not exactly blooming, the hotels were more compact and adapted into existing buildings. Here is the city hotel of Rzhev, town situated in the western part of Russia between Moscow and Latvian capital Riga. There was no special attractions in Rzhev at Soviet era – it was a medieval city, but the old buildings were wiped out in the World War II. So small hotel was quite enough to serve the travellers passing by. Nevertheless, it was immortalized in one of the postcards from the postcard series of Rzhev.

Autotourism. (Stamp, 1970s.)

In the 1970s tourism was already a big business in the Soviet Union. It was promoted as a leisure activity that indicated freedom and equality. Of course, real freedom and equality were still mostly lacking in the Soviet Union – and that’s exactly the reason they had to be advertised. Here is as stamp from the series “Foreign Tourism in the Soviet Union”. It might initially feel weird that stamps promoting foreign tourism were published for Soviet citizens and in Russian language, but when seen as propaganda, it isn’t that weird. State wanted comrades to think, that Soviet Union is an open country, where foreign tourists can come and drive around everywhere (as indicated by the beautifully carved landscapes at the background) and take photos – all activities that were restricted for foreigners. Stamps with wide circulation were good means of spreading this false image.

Route map to the Black Sea coast. (Brochure, 1980s.)

Yes, one could travel from foreign countries to the Soviet Union with private car, especially from the 1970s onward. There was a catch, though: only few main highways were allowed to auto tourists, and the Soviet traffic police GAI had checkpoints, where they monitored that cars continued the journey and didn’t deviate from the route. Moreover, the law allowed you to drive only 500 km. per day, and you had to book accommodation beforehand. So basically your road trip began to resemble a train journey with a private compartment. In this brochure one finds the routes availabe to Finnish tourists. Although there were not that many roads, the distances were huge. From the Finnish border to Crimea one had to drive 2500 km., and to Yerevan, Armenia, it’s over 3500 km. The worst thing was that you had to drive back home via the same road.

UdSSR Intourist. (Poster, 1930s.)

Soviet travel bureau for foreign tourists, Intourist, was established in 1929. In the 1930s it began extensive advertising campaign in many countries, especially in the United States. Intourist posters were designed by the best artists and influenced by the constuctivist aesthetics of the 1920s. In this poster, which is not promoting a single destination but the Intourist itself, one can see what the early Soviet Union wanted to highlight for travelers. Progress and modern things like power lines and high-rise buildings were important, and in the background there looms the long history with churches. In the forefront one can see mausoleum of Lenin and the globe indicating that the entire counrty is open to visitors.