Everything you need to know about travel in Russia
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Location: Partly located in Northern Europe, Partly located in Asia – it shares a border with 14(!) different countries! Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland (via Kaliningrad enclave), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia North Korea and China.
Get Here: via Train with Rail Europe, Cruise Ship or via Plane.
Currency: Rouble (₽) – check the latest exchange rate here
Electrical Plug Fixture: Type F (grab a universal adapter and you’ll never have to worry about which plug you need again)
Capital City: Moscow
Other Major Cities: St Peterburg (European side), Vladivostok (Asian side), Yekaterinburg (Asian side)
Famous For: Vodka, Cold Weather, Communism, Sputnik 1, largest country in the world, drug consumption (and the doping scandal at the 2016 Rio Olympics), The Hermitage Museum (second largest in the world), Matryoshkas (Russian Doll), Ornate Orthodox Churches, Lake Baikal and White Nights during summer.
Famous People and Brands: Yuri Gagarin (first man in Space), Grigori Rasputin (monk who befriended the Tsars and was murdered), Joseph Stalin, Vladimir Putin, Vladimir Lenin, Mikhail Gorbochev, Catherine the Great, Roman Abramovich, Leo Tosltoy, Anna Kournikova, Maria Sharapova.
When To Visit Russia
Russia is a huge country and there is no one-size fits all for when you should visit, but most will prefer the balmier temperatures, sunshine and white nights of summer. Spring an Autumn are short seasons but are also good times to visit with mild temperatures. Winter in Russia is cold, and the further east you go, the colder it becomes.
Visa Requirements for Russia
All visitors from the UK, USA and Australia require a visa to travel to Russia – unless arriving via cruise ship, where special visa-on-arrival are available where guests take a state approved tour and remain with a licensed guide throughout the day.
Visas can be obtained from a Russian embassy and require the collection of biometric data and to pay a fee which is $160USD (in 2018) and are only issued where the applicant has an official invitation processed by Russian governmental or officially authorized companies.
Travel Within Russia
Russia is served by a good train and bus network throughout the country, and Moscow, St Petersburg along with a few other smaller cities have an excellent Metro system along with city center buses, Marshrutky, Trolleybus & Trams.
If you are concerned about crossing large sections of the country independently there are a variety of overland tours with English speaking guides organized by companies such as Intrepid,and GAdventures – compare them all at TourRadar to get the best deal.
As always, check your own government recommendations prior to traveling, however you should generally ensure your basic immunizations (such as Tetnus and Diptheria) are up to date and discuss with your travel doctor Hep A, Influenza and Typhoid Inoculations alongside anything else they recommend at consultation.
What to Know Before You Go to Russia
- English is not spoken as standard: pack a phrasebook. Unless you know Russian, you are definitely going to need it.
- Russian Tap Water is not drinkable. Be prepared to buy bottled water.
- Be prepared to pay tourist prices. Visitors will pay more than locals for entry to museums and souvenirs etc; be mindful of what a ‘good’ price is to avoid being ripped off.
- Although the closed door policy has been lifted, be mindful that Russia is still wary of visitors and you must be accompanied by your sponsor (family/friend/tour guide) when exploring the country.
- Reading basic Cyrillic will help you navigate public transport. Most maps in major cities are translated into English, but ticket machines and counters staff will be be in/speak Russian.
- Be mindful of local customs and values: dress conservatively in religious sites, bring a small gift if invited into a Russian home.
- Dress Appropriately: Check the dress code of restaurants and events (you don’t want to turn up in jeans if everyone is dressed formally – i.e. the theater), and the expected temperatures for the time of year you will be visiting. As a basic, summer is mild-warm; winter is cold to freezing but the weather is changeable and it is best to be prepared.
- Smiling makes you look stupid. In Russia, traditionally children have been taught that only idiots smile, and so smiling is not something you will see from Russian people, but it doesn’t not mean they are not friendly.
- In St Petersburg, check the timetables of the bridges before making plans to make sure you can get home again!