The event, organized by the People's Union and Russian Image, started with a march along the Moscow River and ended with a rally by Hotel Ukraine, but fell short of the predicted 5,000 participants.
At the rally, the leader of the People's Union laid out his vision for Russia: "Russia should be neither European, nor American. Russia should be Russian," Sergei Baburin said. "Much has already been done, and we are happy with the new course and success of Russia. But there is still much to be done."
Other nationalist groups had also applied to the city government to hold rallies on the public holiday, but their requests were rejected. An unsanctioned gathering on central Moscow's Novy Arbat resulted in the detention of more than 200 far-right activists.
"More than 200 people came out for the march and tried to move along Novy Arbat in central Moscow. Police detained the public order offenders, and took them to police stations, where the organizers are being identified," a police spokesman said.
Russia has marked Unity Day each November 4 since 2005, when the first "Russian March" was held in Moscow. It was the first legally sanctioned, large-scale nationalist event in post-Soviet Russia, and the practice has grown since.
In St. Petersburg on Tuesday, the far-right group Slavic Union brought together 150 activists for a Russian March, and a rally at the Chernyshevsky Garden. A group leader stood on a children's climbing frame read out a statement on "freeing the Slavic people," and was greeted by supporters with Nazi-style salutes. Police detained one of the activists for vandalizing a public bench.
In Russia's Volga city, Nizhny Novgorod, the Movement Against Illegal Immigration organized a rally in the city center. Around 200 people attended, waving banners with the slogans: "We Own Russia," and "Nizhny Novgorod is a Russian City."
And in Simferopol, in Ukraine's predominantly Russian-speaking Crimea, about 300 activists held a march to mark Russia's Unity Day.
"We celebrate this great holiday together with Russia," said Alexander Svistunov, a member of the Russian Bloc in the Crimean parliament and one of the rally's organizers. "We should feel that we are together, we are one, we own this ground, we live here and we will live here, on this eternal, Crimean, Russian ground."
The Russian holiday was enshrined in a 2004 law signed by then-president Vladimir Putin and commemorates the liberation of Moscow from Polish-Lithuanian occupiers in 1612.
Unity Day effectively replaces celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution, which had been held on November 7. Celebrations were moved forward by three days to avoid associations with the revolution.
According to various surveys, most Russians are not aware of the historical meaning of Unity Day. However, the event has become popular with nationalist and far-right movements.
More than 70 people have been killed and some 300 injured in ethnically motivated violence in Russia so far this year, the deputy head of a think tank dealing with the problem said in late September.
Russian media reported late last year that teenage ultra-nationalist gangs may have been responsible for up to 50 race-hate murders in Moscow in 2007.