If you’ve been watching the 2018 World Cup, you might have been enjoying the scenery and thinking now is a good time to visit Russia…
This vast country is still quite a mystery to foreign visitors, with news media often portraying it as somewhere off limits. But Russia is very much open for tourism and a visit of any length is a trip to a country full of surprises and rewards for the intrepid traveller.
Here are our essential tips for visitors to Russia.
Most visitors to Russia will need a visa which you will need to apply for in advance from your local consulate. There are several different types of visa, so if you’re visiting on business or as a student you’ll need to check the criteria.
There are also different options for multiple entry visas, so if you’re are dipping in and out of the country or making multiple visits you might consider one of these.
For a standard Russian tourist visa for a UK passport holder, you’ll pay GB£70 plus a processing fee of £38.40 (4-10 days). If you need the visa urgently it’ll be the same but with a processing fee of £45.60 (1-3 days).
Visit VFS Global for more details of Russian visa fees: http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/
Where To Go?
Russia is a massive country so if you’re planning on travelling through it on route to somewhere else (for example taking the Trans-Siberian railway to Hong Kong or Beijing), you’ll need to allow plenty of time. At least a month.
Quick visits can be done to any of the big cities such as Moscow, St Petersburg, Kalliningrad and Vladivostok. Each of these cities has plenty to keep a short term visitor happy.
The booming capital of Russia is of course home to Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral and the biggest Kremlin in Russia (and biggest fortress in Europe!). Oh and a Kremlin is a castle or fortified palace, not the name of the parliament.
As these are all in the same area you’ll have that covered in a day, so head to the GUM department store (a stunning building packed full of stores and foodie hang outs), Arabat Street (Moscows main drag lined with tourist shops, restaurants and bars) and the Pushkin Museum of Arts.
The old capital of Imperial Russia is one of the country’s most attractive and laid back cities. It’s built around a network of canals and waterways and has a bit of a ‘Venice of the North’ feel about it. It’s grand boulevards, stunning architecture and choice of artistic and cultural attractions make this one of the best quick visit options for tourists to Russia.
The Hermitage is a world class museum, the second largest in the world. The building itself is stunning and you can easily get lost inside.
You’ll also find the old palace of Catherine The Great, vast parks and even a Vodka museum!
The city at ‘the end of Russia’ is the most accessible option for those coming from Asia. It may not have featured in the 2018 World Cup, but the city has plenty to offer visitors. The building is dominated by stunning bridges including the largest cable stayed bridge in the world, the Russky Bridge.
As the unofficial capital of the East of Russia, the city is home to cultural attractions like the Zarya Centre of Arts, the Naval Memorial Museum (and the huge submarine standing guard outside) and an interesting fusion of East meets other East cuisine.
Firmly on the radar post Olympics and Word Cup (and also the Formula One!), Sochi has leapt from obscure post Soviet resort to global sports hot spot. Considering it’s on the same latitude (roughly) as Monaco, the Sochi area does have a relatively Mediterranean climate in the summer months. And, of course, the winter sees ski opportunities at Rosa Khutour, the venue for the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Sprawling along the Black Sea for around 170 miles, Sochi offers fantastic beaches and resorts, grand buildings and glitzy nightlife.
This Russian enclave sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania feels a bit more European than the rest of its Russian comrades. That’s probably because it’s actually about 300 miles from Mother Russia and was previously part of the Prussian Empire.
As a venue for the 2018 World Cup, the city has been spruced up and now has a buzzing modern feel to it. Local hero Immanuel Kant (the German philosopher) has his name all over the city, including his own island and museum.
Trans Siberian Railway:
This famous train trip takes about 6 days and passes through 8 time zones. You’ll get to see the desolate beauty of the Siberian steppes, rugged mountains and endless forests.
Novosibirsk is the main stop for Siberian visitors (the third largest city in the country) and a good place to base yourself for exploration.
When To Go
You don’t need us to tell you that Russia gets cooollllld. The spring is probably the best time to visit St Petersburg, Moscow and the European parts of Russia. So, March/April to June.
Siberia can get wintery weather any time of year, but the summer months are the bets bet. Aim for June-September.
If you do visit Russia in the winter months (November to Februrary), bring your best thermals, warm weather gear and snow boots.
What To Eat & Drink
Russian cuisine isn’t exactly world renown, and it is definitely quite inconsistent in terms of quality. Expect lots of soups and stews, which can be a lifesaver in the freezing winter months.
Borsht: Probably the most famous Russian dish, the soup is more like a stew with beets, vegetables and sometimes meat (usually beef or lamb).
Shashlik: You’ll spy these meat kebabs everywhere across the country, in fact you’ll smell them first. Depending where you are it could be lamb or pork and they can be served on their own, straight from the stick, or with salads, rice or potatoes as a main meal.
Caviar: A delicacy and pretty expensive in the west, caviar is slightly cheaper in Russia and can be found as a snack served with blinis (small pancakes) or buttered bread. You’ll find caviar and blinis and bread for around 400-500 roubles in many places (approx GB£5-7).
Pirzhoki: These steamed dumplings are often filled with a mixture of vegetables or meat. Ubiquitous, tasty and inexpensive.
Kvass: Although this fermented drink is technically beer, with an alcoholic percentage of around 1%, Russians see it more as a soft drink. You’ll spot tractors with Kvass tanks on the back in more rural spots. Kvass is also now bottled and sold at many cafes, bars and shops.
Vodka: Whats a trip to Mother Russia without sampling their finest export? Vodka is to Russia what whisky is to Scotland or wine is to France. Simply get friendly with any Russian and watch the night head toward shots of vodka.
Vegetarians & Vegans: Russia is actually quite vegetarian friendly with lots of those soups and stews being meat free. The staple cream cheese comes with almost everything so learn some of the following. ‘Net myasa’ is no meat. ‘Bez’ is without and then ‘crema’ is cream, ‘myasa’ is meat, ‘ryba’ is fish.
Do I Need To Learn Russian?
Yes, you will probably need to learn some basic Russian at least.
Many Russians don’t speak a word of anything except Russian, so make your trip a little easier and learn some basic phrases. Greetings, directions, numbers and simple questions should suffice.
- Dah – yes
- Nyet – No
- Spahseeba – Thank you
- Privyet – Hello
- Das vedanya – Goodbye
- Ya nee panee mayoo – I don’t understand
Read our guide about learning a language to help with your travels.
We Recommend iTalki for great and affordable Russian tutors online.
How Does It Cost To Travel In Russia?
Although Russia is cheap by Western standards, it is still considerably more expensive than other Eastern European countries. If you go expecting Prague or Budapest prices you might be a bit surprised. Add around and extra 50% to those prices and you’d be about right.
Some average costs in Russia as of 2018:
- A ride in the Moscow metro will cost less than US$1.
- A coffee or tea will cost around 150 roubles (around US$1-2).
- Beer prices vary greatly according to brand and location, but around 150-300 roubles (approx US$2-5).
- Street food snacks vary from around 50 roubles for a bun (US$0.80) to 100-150 for a shawarma/shashlik/kebab (approx US$2).
- Main dish in a restaurant approx 300-500 roubles (US$5-10).
- A single bed in a dorm room can be found for around 450 roubles (US$7).
- A simple double bed hotel room will cost from around US$20 in Moscow. 5 star hotels can be found from around $70.
Expect to spend at least US$40 a day on a budget in Russia (especially Moscow and St Petersburg).
If you’re planning to visit Russia then check flight prices on our hand widget below.
As always, please share, comment or tell us how your trip to Russia went/is going…