Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (via the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave on the Baltic coast), Belarus, and Ukraine to the west, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the southwest, and Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, North Korea to the east and much of the south.
An imperial power
The Russian identity can be traced to the Middle Ages, with first eastern Slavic state known as Kievan Rus and its religion rooted in Byzantine Christianity adopted from Constantinople. Majority of Russians are Orthodox Christians.
Peter The Great established the Russian Empire in 1721, although the Romanov dynasty had been in power since 1613. One of Russia's most charismatic and forceful leaders, Peter built the foundations of empire on a centralized political culture and promoted "westernization" of the nation. As part of this effort he moved the capital from the history rich city of Moscow to Saint Petersburg, a city built at a great expense and by a great effort of the Russian people. Best architects from France and Italy were involved designing the city. Saint Petersburg became known as Russia's "Window on the West" and adopted the manners and style of the royal courts of western Europe, even to the point of adopting French as its preferred language.
The Russian Empire reached its peak during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, producing many colourful and enlightened figures such as Catherine the Great, Dostoevsky, Pushkin and Tolstoy. By the late 19th century political crises followed in rapid succession, with rebellion and its repression. The occasional attempts by the Romanovs and the privileged classes to reform society and ameliorate the condition of the underclasses invariably ended in failure. Russia entered World War 1 in the union of the Triple Entente; like other European Empires with catastrophic results for itself. Tsar Nicholas II and his wife, a granddaughter of Queen Victoria, proved to be feckless, weak, and distracted by personal tragedies and the burdens of the war. The government proved unable to hold back the Russian Revolutions of 1917. Deposed and held under house arrest, Nicholas, Alexandra, and their children -- and with them the Romanov dynasty -- were exterminated by gunfire in the basement of a Yekaterinburg manor house and buried in unmarked graves which were found later and reburied in the Saint Paul and Peter Cathedral in Saint Petersburg.
Events of early and late 20th century
World War I strained Imperial Russia's governmental and social institutions to the breaking point of Revolution in 1917. Following a brief interim government headed by social democrat Alexander Kerensky, the Bolshevik faction of the Communist Party under Marxist Vladimir Lenin seized power, with the money provided by the German establishment, withdrew Russia from the war, and launched a purge of clerics, political dissidents, aristocrats, the bourgeoise, and the wealthy independent farmers. A brutal civil war between the "Red Army" of the communist leadership and the "White Army" largely consisting of foreign interventionists back by Britain, Germany and France lasted until late 1920. The revolutionary state was not directly ruled by the officials in titular control of the government, which was established in the name of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR).Following Lenin's death in 1924, a power struggle among the Bolshevik leadership ensued, with Josef Stalin emerging as the new leader of the Communist Party and of the USSR.
Nazi Germany invaded the USSR 22nd of June 1941, having conquered most of the Western Europe. The Great Patriotic war for USSR began; after heavy fights the Soviet Army's successful campaigns on the Eastern Front culminated in capture of Berlin. Hitler's war on USSR had cost of over 27 million Soviet deaths, most of them civilian victims, and soldiers in ghastly land battles. After Stalin's death in 1953, Soviet heavy industry and military might continued to grow.
In October 1957 the USSR became the first country to launch an artificial satellite into space. This was followed by sending the first human (Yuri Gagarin) into space in 1961. The Soviet Union reached its military, diplomatic, and economic peak during the closing years of Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982). But increasing slowdown in economic growth marched inexorably to a crisis that eventually led General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-91) to introduce glasnost (openness) and perestroika (economic transformation- literally: rebuilding). His initiatives inadvertently released forces that went beyond his control, triggering political movements that eventually consumed the Soviet Union itself in December 1991.
The Russian Federation emerged from the Soviet Union during the turbulent events of 1990-91. The first leader of the newly formed nation was Boris Yeltsin, who rose to power by standing up to an attempted putsch. Yeltsin largely succeeded in transferring control over the country from the old Soviet elite to a newly formed cabinet of ministers. Yeltsin was a weak leader but widely supported by the West, however his government proved to be unstable. A wave of economic hardship put Russia's economy in ruins and left the military underfunded and undisciplined. During this time, Russian society was plagued by organized crime and great instability with many people having left the country.
Russia was also at war with Chechen separatists, which were largely created out of religious fanaticism funded by international terror groups. This had a setback consequences for the developing Russian economy. Ill health and alcohol dependency, eventually forced Yeltsin to resign, and Vladimir Putin filled his remaining term (January - April 2000) as President. An ex-Soviet security officer, and head of the revived Russian federal security service under Yeltsin, Putin inspired with his charismatic personality Russian patriotism, and was able to consolidate the positive spirit of the country, however has been much condemned by the old Western countries. Having served his constitutionally limited terms (2000-2008), Putin stepped down as President, endorsing another candidate, Dmitry Medvedev, who won the 2008 election. Putin proved to be a successful and popular leader and was re-elected for the third term when eligible again in 2012.
Since 2000, all government institutions underwent a dramatic positive transformation, the economy has bounced back from crisis, thanks in no small part to five-fold increases in the prices of raw materials Russia has in abundance. Inflation has dropped down from the triple digits into single units, poverty has been reduced, and Russia has re-emerged as a dominant regional economic, political and military power. This performance has often been called the "Russian Miracle."
Since the break up of the Soviet Union, Russia has had some very tense relations with some former members of the USSR due to a number of territorial and border disputes. Relations have been poor with Moldova over the Pridnestrovie republic, a largely pro-Russian enclave that intends to secede from Moldova.
Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Poland also have strained relations with Russia over a number of contemporary issues. The recent conflict between Russia and Ukraine has also exacerbated tensions and speculations in these four countries that Russia may want to invade them.
In 2008, Russia was at war with Georgia over the disputed territories of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two largely pro-Russian territories that want absolutely nothing to do with the Georgian state. The people in South Ossetia intend on reunifying their territory with North Ossetia in Russia, further complicating Georgian-Russian relations. After the war, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent nations, leading to the termination of diplomatic relations between Russian and Georgia.
More recently in 2014, Russia has been actively engaged in a conflict with neighbouring Ukraine over the Crimea dispute as well as the fact that a number of pro-Russian territories intend on seceding to join Russia.
All in all, and despite these issues and problems, Russians have achieved a much higher standard of living and have enjoyed political stability and cultural and spiritual upheaval in 15 years of the new millennium.
The terrain consists of broad plains with low hills west of the Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; uplands and mountains along southern border regions; mountainous and volcanic throughout much of the Russian Far East.
Russia's territory stretches over continents of Europe and Asia and has therefore many different climate zones. From the subtropical Black sea coast to the Far Eastern regions including southern parts of Siberia, there is mostly continental climate, with hot summers enabling outdoor swimming in rivers, lakes and hiking, and cold winters with a lot of snow, a paradise for ski holidays.
The greatest amazing thing about Russia is, given its immense size, without a doubt the diversity of climate zones, and the weather extremes. In the summer months June to late August Siberia get sub-Saharan temperatures of 35 degrees Celsius or more, vegetation is lush and pleasant. You will definitely need lots of sunscreen. Another positive side of the continental climate in the summer is that the weather can stay hot for weeks on end, interrupted only by an occasional rain shower. Summer days in June/July in northern Russia are extremely long, with the sun going down at 11pm or in some regions not at all.
Winters, November to March, are cold almost everywhere, with lots of snow, except in the southern part of the country where little to no snow comes by every year. If you do not take appropriate precautions, you can very quickly get a frostbite. Depending on where you go, take a note of the weather and equip yourself with adequate clothing. The outside temperature in the European part of Russia rarely gets below - 15 Celsius, but can drop even lower at night.
Russia's list of holidays is divided into federally and regionally established, ethnic, historical, professional and religious. The first two types are all-country day-off and should be taken into account while planning a trip. These are official holidays in the Russian Federation:
The Russian system of measurement is metric, the same as in most of the world. Expect to encounter Celsius degrees, kilometres, kilogrammes, litres and so on. The archaic units for distance are versta and vershok, for weight — pud.
Here is a representative sample of just nine Russian cities with their Anglicized and Russian Cyrillic names:
(A) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 90 days: Abkhazia, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Israel, Jamaica, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, South Africa, South Ossetia, Suriname, Tajikistan, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Vanuatu.
(C) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 30 days: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Laos, Macao, Macedonia, Mongolia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Palau, Serbia, Seychelles and Thailand.
Note that, as of 1 January 2014, travellers availing themselves of a visa exemption are only permitted to remain in Russia without a visa for a maximum of 90 days in a 180-day period. Exceptions are for Ukrainian citizens and Belarusian citizens.
Transit through a few airports, including Moscow Sheremetyevo, Moscow Domodedovo, Moscow Vnukovo, St. Petersburg Pulkovo and Yekaterinburg Koltsovo airports, does not require a transit visa provided the traveller has a confirmed onward flight and remains in the airport for no more than 24 hours. Flights to and from Belarus are considered domestic; therefore, visa-free transit is not available (note that, with effect from 15 May 2017, flights between Belarus and Russia will arrive in and depart from the international terminal at Russian airports – for more information, see the Aeroflot news release and the Belavia news release).
Arranging a visa basically involves two steps:
There are visa handling service companies in your country who provide detailed information on visa requirements. For ca. 30 USD they will check your documents for you and send it to the embassy, and send your passport with visa back to your home address. The total cost of visa depends on urgency and type, for European citizens roughly 100 USD, for American more, please check directly from embassy website or VHS website. You may arrive at any time on or after the start date of your visa's validity and may depart at any time on or before its expiry date. Normally, an exit visa is included in transit, private visit/homestay, tourist, and business visas so long as the visa is still valid. Other classes, such as student visas, still require a separate exit visa that can take up to three weeks to process.
If you're in Russia and have lost your passport, your sponsor, not your embassy, must apply to the Federal Migration Service to transfer your visa to your replacement passport. Having a copy of your old visa helps with this, but is normally not sufficient to let you depart.
Note: New rules for visas have recently been instituted for US citizens per a visa facilitation agreement which entered into force on 9 September 2012.
1. Getting an invitation
In the likely situation you have to buy your invitation, shop around globally: all invitations come from Russia and the company that gets it for you will have a base in Russia. It doesn't make a difference whether its website is based in Germany, UK, USA or Swaziland. Many embassies and consulates only require a copy of the invitation, however this is not always the case so check with the embassy or consulate beforehand. If the original invitation is required it will have to be flown from Russia anyway. It is only applying for the visa itself that generally requires the application to be made in the applicant's homeland.
A tourist invitation (also called reservation confirmation) is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. It is accompanied by a tourist voucher. These two documents can be issued by government approved tour operators, hotels, online hotel booking services or Russian travel agencies (several Russian travel agencies have offices outside Russia and are adept at facilitating visa applications). Government approval here means that the organization in question has a consular reference and has been registered with the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Only hotels and travel agencies that have a consular reference can issue confirmations valid for visa purposes. An ordinary hotel booking is not sufficient to constitute an invitation. Some hotels charge a fee to issue the invitation.
Booking one night in a hotel will get you an invitation valid for one day (maybe two) and hence the resulting visa will be valid for a very brief time. For independent travellers planning to travel around Russia, it is best to get an invitation through an agency. These agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee (approx. $30 or £15), without actually collecting the accommodation prepayment. While the strict legality of such is questionable, it is a largely academic point and does not lead to problems for the traveller. If your itinerary is confined to only one hotel, then it makes sense to obtain the invitation documents directly from the hotel as the service fee will be similar.
It is cumbersome to get a private/homestay visa if you have friends or relatives in Russia (they do not necessarily have to be Russian). They would need to seek an invitation through their local Passport and Visa Division of the Federal Migration Service (formerly OVIR). These invitations tend to take at least a month to process. The inviting individual also becomes solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalized heavily if something were to go wrong. Because of this, personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.
Business invitations are issued by government approved organisations. Getting one is easy , if all required documentation is ready, you get your visa in 5 days. Travel agencies and visa specialists can also get them issued for you. Business visas have longer validity than tourist visas. Being a tourist on a business visa is permitted, so anyone wanting more than a 30-day stay should get one of these. As a rough guide, one UK company can arrange a business invitation for a single 90-day stay for various amounts between GBP38 (for 12 working day processing) and GBP121 (for 2 working day processing).
Invitations for student visas are issued by the educational institution where you plan to study. Most universities and language schools are familiar with the process.
Some Russian local governments have a right to invite foreigners for cultural exchanges by sending a message directly to the Embassy or Consulate of Russia overseas, requesting the visa be issued to a particular foreigner or group of foreigners. Such messages are used instead of an invitation. This is normally the way to go if you are invited by the government.
There are numerous other kinds, and you should consult agencies, travel agents, and your hosts for more details (e.g., humanitarian).
2. Applying for the visa
The visa application form has to be filled in via a website which is common for all embassies. It is advised to collect all necessary information and paperwork (e.g. invitation, travel insurance policy) beforehand, although it is possible to save and continue a form later on. The printed and signed form has to be submitted with a passport photo. Usually, the photo should be of the size 35x45 mm, taken on a white background with the head height around 33mm. Note that there might be some variations regarding to the exact requirements of the application and the photo. Some embassies may issue visas by mail, they may require application in person, they may accept a copy of the invitation, they may require the original. They may accept payment by card, they may insist on a money order. Check with the embassy or consulate beforehand - in most cases it will be on their website.
Recently, visa application centres have been opened in several countries, where the application form can be handed in with no appointment needed. Note that while these offices are outsourced to private companies, they are fully official. In fact, if there is one available in your region, you will be redirected there by the embassy. You can check here if there is one nearby. However, these companies levy a further unavoidable application fee on top of the visa fees stated below. For applications made in the UK (by a citizen of any country) the application fee is GBP26.40 for standard service and GBP33.60 for express service. In the rest of the EU, it is €30. For applications made in the USA, the application fee is USD30.
Visa service companies, for a fee, will double-check your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you, and return your passport to you. This service is nothing that you cannot do yourself (unlike arranging the invitation) but it can save time and frustration.
A single entry, 30 day tourist visa for citizens of EU-Schengen countries costs €35 and takes five working days for standard processing (€70 gets express service for next day collection). For UK citizens the price is £50 (express service is next day and costs £100).
The total cost of getting a visa usually has three parts: invitation fee, visa application fee, and the service provider fee. If you're lucky, one or more of these may be zero, but be prepared to be hit by all three. Visa application fees for 4-20 business day processing for most travellers (except for those from Schengen Area countries), as of 2017, have been unified to USD 90 for a single-entry visa, USD 144 for a double-entry visa, and USD 270 for a multiple-entry visa. These tariffs are doubled for express processing (3 business days).
In general, tourist, homestay, and transit visas can allow one or two entries. Tourist visas have a maximum validity of 30 days and homestay visas can permit stays of up to 90 days. Transit visas are typically for one to three days for air travel and up to ten days for overland journeys. Business and other visa categories can be issued for one, two or multiple entries and permit stays of up to 90 days. For temporary visas, however, the maximum cumulative stay cannot exceed 90 days in Russia in a 180-day period, regardless of how long it is valid for (whether it be 3, 6, or 12 months). If you stay in Russia for 90 days, you have to leave and your visa will not permit you to return for another 90 days. This means (give or take - a year isn't 360 days) that a six-month visa permits as long a total time in Russia as a three month visa!
Once you have your visa, check all the dates and information as it's much easier to correct mistakes before you travel than after you arrive!
An unaccompanied minor with Russian nationality needs, apart from the regular requirements for adults, a notarised statements in Russian signed by both parents. This statement can be requested at the Russian embassy or consulate. The child is likely able to get into Russia without this statement, but will most likely be prevented to get out by the Russian customs at the airport!
Arrival and customs
On arriving in Russia (except from Belarus), border control officer will issue for you a migration card. As in most places, one half is surrendered on entry and the other portion should remain with your passport until you leave Russia (except to Belarus). It is usually printed in both Russian and English though other languages may be available. Upon leaving Russia, a lost migration card may result a nominal fine. Belarus is a special case because Russia and Belarus run a common border and share the same migration card.
Usually, you will be permitted to enter and remain in Russia for the term of your visa (or the term stipulated by visa-exemption agreement, if applicable). Immigration officers are very unlikely to use their power to decide otherwise.
Those who enter Russia with valuable electronic items or musical instruments (especially violins that look antique and expensive), antiques, large amounts of currency, or other such items are required to declare them on the customs entry card and must insist on having the card stamped by a customs officer upon arrival. Even if the customs officer claims that it is not necessary to declare such items, insist on a stamp on your declaration. Having this stamp may prevent considerable hassle (fines, confiscation) upon departure from Russia should the customs agent at departure decide that an item should have been declared upon entry.
Just like in many European countries, upon arriving in any new dwelling, you must be registered with federal migration service (FMS) within 7 business days of arriving. Most hotels are accredited with the FMS and arrange registration automatically and without fee on the day of arrival. It is worth insisting to be registered at least in the first city you visit. The proof of registration is a separate piece of paper , keep it until you leave Russia as it may be requested at the border control.
Overstaying a visa
If you overstay, even by a few minutes, you will likely be prohibited from leaving until you obtain a valid exit visa. You may be able to obtain a visa extension from the consular officer at a border against the payment of a fine if you overstayed by up to three days, but this is not guaranteed. Generally, though, obtaining an extension requires an intervention by your sponsor, a payment of a fine, and a wait of up to three weeks.
Be careful if your flight leaves after midnight and be aware of the time at which the train crosses the border. Border guards will not let you depart if you're leaving even 10 minutes after your visa expires! A common pitfall is the Helsinki-bound train, which only enters Finland after midnight.
If your overstay was due to reasons such as medical problems, the Federal Migration Service may instead issue a Home Return Certificate rather than an exit visa which is valid to depart Russia within ten days of issue.
Moscow and Saint Petersburg are served by direct flights from most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights from any cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America. US non-stop flights from the United States to Russia are offered Yakutia (from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky) and Aeroflot (from New York, Washington and Los Angeles to Moscow, Sheremeryevo). United, Delta, and Singapore have cancelled their flights.
All airports are now conveniently connected to Moscow with Aeroexpress trains which depart every 30 minutes from/to Domodedovo and Sheremetyevo, and every hour from Vnukovo. They operate 06:00-23:59. The fare is RUB450-500 (June 2019) , travel time is 35 minutes to/from Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo, and 45 minutes to/from Domodedovo. There are no trains or buses that connect the airports without passing through central Moscow. In Sheremetyevo, Aeroexpress trains arrive at Terminal E and F, Terminal D is in 5 minutes walk from them through a gallery. Terminals B and C are served by buses only. There is a shuttle bus available between Terminals D,E,F and Terminals B,C. Using taxi is discouraged, as traveling to/between the airports is very expensive (averages at RUB1500 from Moscow).
Please note that there are 3 international airports in Moscow: Sheremetyevo (SVO) in the northwest, Domodedovo (DME) in the south and Vnukovo (VKO) in the southwest. Apart from taxi there is no direct link from DME to VKO or SVO. You will have to use airport express train to then change to subway at the same train station, taking circle (Koltsevaya) line, which would take about 25 min to go to Paveletskaya, Kievskaya or Belorusskaya station, check subway map. Total trip from one to the other airport may take at least 2.5 hours depending on whether you have much luggage, subway delay as such is not a problem.
Airport Sheremetyevo SVO has undergone major expansion in 2010 with two new terminals commissioned and consists of five terminals. Terminals B (old Sheremetyevo-1) and C are located on the northern edge of the airport and provide mostly domestic and charter services. Terminals D and E operate since December 2010 along with older Terminal F (old Sheremetyevo-2, built for Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980). Terminal D hosts domestic and international Aeroflot flights, Terminals E and F host international flights operated mostly by SkyTeam alliance. This airport is full of unnecessary shops and little room for passengers.
Domodedovo DME is a quite modern airport with a single spacious terminal. It serves both domestic and international flights by most Russian and international companies. Unfortunately, over a few last years, the airport has been increasingly suffering from loud tannoy anouncements and non existant smoking rooms .
Vnukovo VKO is a smaller airport and is generally operated by low-cost airlines. As of March 2012, it undergoes a major renovation with a construction of a new spacious terminal building. A few Star Alliance airlines have recently switched their operations to Vnukovo.
There are airports in all large cities in Russia. Some international service can be found in: Novosibirsk, Sochi, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg. International service to other destinations is much more limited.
Local airlines are listed in Get around.
Low-cost air-lines from Europe
Lower-cost air-lines from the Middle East, India, South-East Asia and Australia
From/via United Arab Emirates
RZhD Russian Railways (РЖД) runs reliable services across dizzying distances. Eastern and Central Europe are well connected to Moscow and to a lesser extent Saint Petersburg. Moscow is also connected to some surprising destinations throughout Western Europe and Asia.
The Russian word for railway station (Vokzal, Вокзал) is somehow related to Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, a XIX century London attraction. Toilets in the vokzal are free if you have a ticket for an upcoming train (unlike in Vauxhall, London).
Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are very well connected to Russia with many trains daily from cities throughout each country. Helsinki (Finland) has four high speed trains daily to St Petersburg and one overnight train to Moscow. Riga (Latvia), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Tallinn (Estonia) each have at least one overnight or daytime train to Moscow and St Petersburg.
Beyond Russia's immediate neighbours and former Soviet dominions, direct trains connect Moscow with Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Montenegro, Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, and Switzerland.
Start your Trans Siberian adventure in Berlin and take The Sibirjak, which connects Berlin directly to a baffling array of cities deep inside Russia: Adler, Kazan, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Samara, Sochi, St Petersburg, Ufa, Yekaterinburg and even Astana in Kazakhstan! The Sibirjak was discounted in 2013
Western Europe has a different track gauge from Russia, Finland and the CIS so bogies must be exchanged when the train crosses into the ex-Soviet countries (usually Ukraine or Belarus). This adds a couple of hours to the long wait already encountered for immigration. You can stay on the train as the wheels are being changed so it won't disrupt your sleep too much.
Moscow is connected to all the former Soviet Central Asian countries: (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, & Uzbekistan) at least 2-3 times per week. Journeys are long (3.5-5 days). To the Caucasus, there is a service from Moscow to Baku, Azerbaijan (3 days); however, the Azerbaijan-Russia border is only open to CIS passport holders. There is also a service from Moscow to Sukhumi in the disputed territory of Abkhazia. The Trans-Siberian Railway spans the entire country and connects with Chinese cities such as Beijing and Harbin, as well as Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar. There is also a very infrequent service from Moscow to Pyongyang, North Korea (essentially the Trans-Siberian plus a short link from Vladivostok to Pyongyang) but this line isn't open to Western tourists.
Traveling in Russia by car is not any more difficult than any other country. Federal motorways are of excellent quality especially around all major cities (however quality of regional roads varies greatly, from excellent to old and broken). Car rental services are available from all major airports and inner cities, with all major car rental companies present. Car rental and petrol/gas is fairly cheap and definitely affordable for international tourists. But the driving culture is not very high yet (although it is gradually improving), so safety is still an issue.
While crossing the border by car there might be some delays, check in advance for the most convenient crossing point.
There is no doubt that car travel is the best way to see the country, but bear in mind huge distances and check in advance what you can cover in the time that you have available. It is definitely advisable going by plane to places like Ekaterinburg or even Irkutsk or Vladivistok and rent a car there to explore the regions.
Russian highways have highway patrol police (ДПС - DPS) and petro stations are plenty with some amentiites, supermarkets and motels available along major motorways.
It is always advisable to learn some Russian phrases to be able to communicate. Russian people are very friendly and are happy to help.
A few bus companies, most notably Eurolines, operate international coach services from a number of destinations to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Tallinn, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Berlin all have regular services to Russia.
Ferry services operate in the summer between Sochi and Turkey's Trabzon. In Vladivostok there is a scheduled ro-ro ferry to Busan and numerous lines to the different Japanese ports, however they are mostly oriented to the used Japanese car imports and less to tourism, there is also a weekly service in summer between Korsakov on Sakhalin and Wakkanai on the Japanese island Hokkaido. Cruise ships are also call to Russian ports frequently. There is a boat connection from Lappeenranta, Finland to Vyborg.
There is now daily (overnight) service between Helsinki and St. Petersburg on St. Peter Line that does not require a visa for stays less than 3 days but you are obliged to buy a tour. In case of cruise ships you need to arrange a so called Blanket visa in advance. Read more in St Petersburg Get In section.
International cycling routes Eurovelo are two and include EV2 Capitals Route (from Ireland to Moscow) and EV10 Baltic Sea Cycle Route (Hansa circuit) interconnecting Saint-Petersburg with Estonia and Finland.
Due to the immense size of the country, and problems with road safety, the best way to get around through the entire country quickly and reliably is by train. Russia has an extensive rail network linking nearly every city and town, excepting some northeastern ones. For intercity travel, the train is generally the most convenient option for trips that can be covered overnight. Although accommodations are not always the best, Russian trains have efficient and courteous staff as well as timely departures and arrivals that would impress even a German. The train is an option for longer trips (many Russians continue to use it for trips of 2 days or more), but mainly if you appreciate the nuances and experience of train travel in Russia. For the complete Russian rail experience, the one-week Trans-Siberian Railway has no equal.
Russian trains are divided into types: Long-distance (дальнего следования DAHL'nyehvuh SLEHduhvahnyah) trains generally cover trips more than about 4 hours or 200km (120 miles). Take a look at the Russian long-distance rail timetable.    Shorter distances are covered by the commuter trains (пригородные PREEguhruhdnyyeh), which are popularly called электрички ehlehkTREECHkee. Most train stations (железнодорожный вокзал zhehlyehznohdohROHZHny vohgZAHL) have separate areas for selling tickets for these types.
Russian trains allow transportation of up to 36 (the 3rd and the 2nd class sleepers, and all seating classes) or up to 50 kg of luggage (the 1st and deluxe class sleepers), L + W + H of which does not exceed 180 cm, per one passenger for free, which is a notable advantage of train travel before air one. The luggage should be neatly located underneath the lower berths and on upper luggage shelves and not bother other passengers.
Bringing a bicycle into a carriage is permissible for one ticket if it is compactly folded/dismantled and clean. Usually the wheels and pedals are removed, the bike put into a bag and stored on the upmost shelf in the Platzkart carriage. The other class carriages have less space or shelves and the bike needs to be more compact.
Almost all long-distance trains are set up for overnight travel. There are several classes of accommodation:
In all the three above-mentioned classes bedding is always included in the ticket price, and in some of their subclasses (mostly on branded trains) a lunchbox with some refreshment (mineral water, yoghurt, etc.) and a hot meal are also included. The hot meal is cooked on demand in the dining car and thus can be brought to a passenger when it is most convenient for him/her.
Every car has its own attendant/conductor (provodnik or provodnitsa), which check your tickets at your boarding, provides you bedding, sells you tea or snacks and can lend you a mug and spoon for (in most cases) free, especially if you order coffee or tea. Do not be afraid, if the conductor takes your tickets, he gives it back at your destination station; if not, feel free to remind him/her to do so. In the corridor you will typically find a samovar with free hot water for making tea or soup (in many modern carriages and all double-decker ones it is replaced by a hot & cold water dispenser located in the car attendant's service compartment). Most long-distance trains have dining cars.
Bottom-bunk berths (nizhnie – нижние) are slightly more comfortable than top-bunk berths (verhnie – верхние), because they have more place for baggage under them. There are also discounts sometime for top-bunk berths only (usually not in the tourist season and not in popular directions, which are from largest towns on Friday nights, and back on Sunday nights).
Trains are classified according to their average speed:
According to their standards of service, some trains are promoted to branded ones (firmennyy, фирменный, officially called premium in English announcements since 2018) and given a proper brand. The most distinguished trains, like the first branded one in Soviet/Russian history, the Red Arrow, as well as privately held Grand Express and Megapolis ones, still use their own special liveries, although most of them nowadays use Russian Railways unified red and gray colours. Tickets for branded trains are usually 1.5 times more expensive than for ordinary ones, but for this money you will get new comfortable carriages, guaranteed air conditioning and vacuum toilets, and convenient schedule.
Because most long-distance trains are overnight, the long-distance tickets are bound to specified train. This applies to daytime ones too. At Russian counters or travel agencies you'll get a reservation automatically, but if you buy an international ticket from some European non-CIS country, you should ask for reservation explicitly.
Ticket price depends on train class and car class, as well as on season (off-peak day tickets can cost 2/3 of peak day tickets). You can check the ticket price at Russian language version of Nnov-airport.ru, Poezda.net  or Russian Railways e-shop  (English version).
Most stations have a large room called a KASsovyi Zal (кассовый зал) where tickets are sold. Lines vary widely – some stations are much better organized than others nowadays, and it also depends on the season. If you find the lines unbearably long, it's usually not hard to find an agency that sells train tickets. Commission rates are generally not prohibitive. For instance, buying your ticket to Saint Petersburg from Moscow, it is much better to walk a flight of steps from the ordinary ticketing office – there are no queues upstairs and RUB140 is a small premium to pay for this service.
Alternatively you can buy an e-ticket online on Russian Railways website. It allows Visa and MasterCard cardholders to purchase tickets for RZD/FPC trains directly and at the lowest prices, without any commissions (the only thing is a margin between exchange rates during conversion of your currency to Russian rubles for committing the payment). You should take the printed e-ticket at station counter before boarding and pick up a regular ticket.
Stations in middle-sized and big cities have ticket machines with interface in both Russian and English. You can either buy a ticket or print the ticket you previously bought on the site. To print a ticket, you can either enter the booking code or scan the bar code from the electronic reservation (works both with paper and smartphone/tablet PC screens). These machines don't accept cash, only debit/credit cards.
There are many agencies selling Russian train tickets abroad – RealRussia , RussianTrains  or RussianTrain . They have English-language website and can deliver the ticket by post to your home address, but prices are 30-50% higher.
Generally, buying tickets from Russia to any other CIS country is same as for domestic routes, because all CIS railway companies share a common reservation system. This does not apply for ticket from abroad to Russia – you have to buy the ticket at railway company of the departure country.
Travel time can vary from several hours to several days. There are more types of train between the two largest cities than between any other two cities in Russia. Apart from ordinary trains, there are rapid trains (Sapsan) that run by day only and cover the 650km between Moscow and Saint Petersburg in 4 hours. Some of the overnight trains are quite luxurious — these include the traditional The Red Arrow service and the private Grand Express  (Russian interface only, English version is under construction), a 'hotel on wheels'. Sheets, towels and prepacked breakfasts are included in all the better trains. Shared bathroom facilities are located at the end of the train car. There are special hatches that one may use to secure the door of the compartment from the inside during the night.
When traveling in a sleeper car of any class, it is best to change to your home clothing and footwear, like all Russians do. It is very convenient and allows to feel almost like at home, and even in harsh winters temperature in carriages is supported at a comfortable level. When both men and women travel in one compartment, etiquette rules say that the men should get out first to let the women change clothes, and after that the women do the same. In Platzkart carriages the only reliable place for changing is a toilet.
Branded trains are always air conditioned, but in cheaper ordinary trains it is true only for renovated or new carriages (mainly TVZ cars built in 2006+), so it would be a good idea to inquire beforehand whether your carriage has an air conditioning system, especially if you are traveling to the southern part of Russia in summer.
Toilets in trains vary from simple sewage pipes dumping waste on the ground to airliner-like vacuum systems. While ordinary toilets can only be used during movement and far from sanitary zones (usually 15 min before arrival to and after departure from every station), vacuum WCs are more environment-friendly and are available during entire travel time. In Russian trains vacuum toilets began to appear only after 2008, but the rolling stock of Russian Railways is now renewing rapidly, so, as of 2020, all the branded trains, as well as about a half of ordinary ones have WCs with a vacuum system or at least with a waste tank which is emptied at several stations en route.
Train stations staff most often speaks only limited English, so if you are not familiar enough with Russian to purchase your train ticket in person, it is suggested that you purchase online or through your hotel concierge or travel agent before you depart.
Dining cars of express trains are nicely appointed with real table linens and an impressive menu and wine list, but an average bill is 2 to 3 times more expensive than it would be in a typical cafe in the city before and after you travel.
At major stations trains usually stop for long time, about 15-20 minutes. Check the timetable placed on door at the end of corridor. During long stops you can buy various meals and drinks at platform from locals for pretty reasonable prices or visit a nearby supermarket.
A few very popular routes, mostly between Moscow and nearby cities such as Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Tula, and others have an express commuter train that is considerably more comfortable. Your ticket will have a designated seat number and the seats are very comfortable. The trains travel to their destination with only 1 or 2 brief stops and are thus considerably faster.
Smoking on all types of trains is absolutely prohibited.
Being drunk and unruly and any type of aggressive behavior will get you in trouble first with a conductor and then with the police. People in Russia generally keep their voice down when traveling on trains and talking in aloud voice going to earn a cold look from other fellow passengers. As a tourist just avoid drinking alcohol, it would only get you in trouble, if you don't know the language (the author of the previous sentence seems to over-colour, alcohol in trains is mostly OK if you drink responsibly and behave quietly).
Drinking your own beverages is OK in closed compartments if your neighbours don't mind seeing you in a slightly drunk condition, otherwise they may officially complain about your behaviour to a conductor or a transport policeman, and that may result in the termination of your trip at the very next station where you will be accompanied to a police department and fined. In this case your ticket will be marked by a conductor and you'll have to buy a new one.
Warning! Since 2014 drinking of any alcohol in trains (except dining cars) is illegal and punishable with fine from 500 to 1500 rubles, so if you decide to drink in train, do it at your own risk. As said above, if you drink responsibly and behave quietly, the other passengers most probably will not trouble you, but if policemen that patrol trains see you drinking, you may have problems.
Alcohol ordered in dining cars, including strong drinks, may be responsibly consumed right there without any problems.
As said in the beginning, Russian train movement is timely. Delays happen sometimes, as everywhere in the world, but even so they are usually very short, and you should never rely on such a possibility, because your train will not wait for you even a single minute in case you are late. It is best to arrive to the train station at least an hour before your departure time.
Be aware of the time zones difference between the cities, e.g. Moscow and Vladivostok differ by 7 hours. Since 1 August 2018 local time is used on all Russian train stations and in tickets.
Most Russian cities have bus links to cities as far as 5-6 hours away or further. Though generally less comfortable than the train, on short routes in provincial Russia where traffic jams are not common, buses are sometimes a better option time-wise and are worth looking into if the train timetables don't suit you. But if you try to get to or from Moscow by bus, in most cases you will waste plenty of your time stuck in huge jams not envisaged in the bus timetable. Also keep in mind that for overnight trips it is always better to take a sleeper car in a train where you can take off your clothes and lie down on a berth: no regular bus will ever give you such a possibility. A small number of cities, notably Suzdal, are not served by train, and bus is the only option besides a car.
The Russian word for bus station is Avtovokzal (Ahv-tuh-vahg-ZAHL). Most cities have just one for both suburban and intercity buses, and most buses depart from there. Tickets for them should be bought at the bus station ticket offices. However, in Moscow and some other Russian cities, a number of privately held buses not cooperative with the municipality are available, and they don't have a right to depart from the bus station. Quite often, you'll see such buses near train stations. Sometimes they run on schedules, though for popular routes (such as Moscow-Vladimir, Moscow/Yaroslavl, etc.) the buses simply wait to fill up. On these buses payment is usually directly to the driver.
Russian buses have luggage storage, but if it's an old Eastern-bloc bus (Ikarus), you may find your luggage wet at the end of the trip. However, most buses used in Russia nowadays (2017) are either ~20 years old Mercedes-Benz, MAN, Neoplan, etc., or (at least relatively) new Russian, Chinese or Korean ones, and such a problem has become much less common. Luggage that needs to be placed in the storage is in most cases paid for separately, and a special ticket for it is issued. Smaller bags that can be placed underneath your seat and on a luggage shelf may be taken into the passenger compartment and transported for free.
Apart from regular buses there are private minibuses called marshrutka (маршрутка). Marshrutkas have fixed routes, but usually no timetables and no regular stations. Stop at the roadside and wave a hand, if you are lucky and the minibus isn't full, it will stop. You can arrange with the driver to drop you off at a desired place on his route. At more frequent stops the driver waits until his minibus will fill up. There are no tickets, you pay directly to the driver. Marshrutkas ride both on countryside (in this case they likely to have timetables) and as city transport – in cities usually have number plates as regular buses.
The tremendous distances of Russia make plane travel highly desirable if you plan to travel to some of Russia's more far-flung attractions. It's worth considering for any destination that is farther than an overnight train ride. Travelling across Russia by train can sound awfully romantic, but it's also time-consuming and rather monotonous. Nearly every major destination of interest has an airport nearby. The great majority of domestic flights are to/from Moscow, but other services exist.
The Russian domestic airline industry since the 1990s has made substantial improvements, so that plane travel in Russia is like in any other developed nations of USA or Europe, with a high standard of service and punctuality. Domestic flights cover huge distances and are part of an efficient network and are quite affordable.
Usual airliner luggage capacity in Russia is 15 to 20 kg per passenger (should be specified on the website of a particular air company). But since September 2017 Russian air companies have been allowed to include no free luggage transportation for non-refundable tickets, excepting small things like a laptop PC, winter coat, etc., that can be taken directly on board. Always pay attention to this, and if you have to transport some luggage, consider purchasing a refundable ticket or using railway transport.
In the summer cruise boats are frequent on the rivers in European Russia and interconnect Kazan with Volgograd, Moscow with Saint-Petersburg and Astrakhan while journeys across the Volga cities being the most popular ones. Lakes Ladoga and Onega in the Northern Russia are also operated by cruise companies. Although cruise ships can not offer speeds even a bit close to those of ordinary passenger trains, they offer a great opportunity to see some of the famous Russian cities slowly and from the water, which ensures a great tourist experience and a lot of worthy photos to show to your family. More rapid options of water travel do exist, including the famous "Raketa" hydrofoil ships, but most of them are intended for locals traveling to suburbs on the other river bank.
The three largest river cruise companies in Russia are:
Car sharing has always been popular in Russia and became even more convenient with smartphones. Download the app Yandex taxi on your phone to have a way cheaper alternative to taxis to get around any Russian city. The app is also available in English and prices can even be as cheap as local buses if you are a group of multiple people. Payment can be done in cash or automatically if you connect the app with Google Pay. Those with a language barrier will like not having to explain directions to the driver (the whole route can be pre-selected with the app).
Russian is the lingua franca: across Russia, you'll find people who speak it. Russians are proud of their culturally diverse language. The language is a member of the Slavic language family, being further sub-classified into the East Slavic family, thus being closely related to Ukrainian and Belorussian. Although related to other Slavic languages such as Macedonian, Serbian, Czech, to name a few, they are not mutually intelligible, but still share a slight similarity.
Many younger, educated Russians and those working in the service industry know enough English to have a basic conversation, but generally speaking, little to no English is spoken amongst the locals, even in Moscow. At least some knowledge of Russian is essential for an independent traveller.
Russians proficient in English will in most cases offer to speak to you in English, even if you try to speak to them in Russian. Do not feel offended by this as it is not intended to condescend or belittle. This is because it is considered rude manners by many in Russia to speak to someone in a language they do not understand.
Furthermore, as the quality of instruction of foreign languages isn't that well developed in Russia, even people who speak some English are often shy about it, and may deny that they know the language out of fear of being misunderstood or due to a lack of confidence. If you're a native speaker of English, there's a good chance that you're the first native speaker the person you are talking to has ever spoken with.
The Russian Orthodox religion is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world and continues to have a very large following. The language spoken in Russian Orthodox church services is Old Church Slavonic, which differs considerably from modern Russian.
Russia is immense, and extraordinarily long on attractions for visitors, although many lie in the hard-to-reach stretches of the planet's most remote lands. The best known sights are in and around the nation's principal cities of Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Russia's history is the number one reason why tourists come to this country, following the draw of its fascinating, sometimes surreal, oftentimes brutal, and always consequential national saga.
Derbent, in the Caucasian Republic of Dagestan, is Russia's most ancient city, dating back 5,000 years. Home to the legendary Gates of Alexander, the walled fortress-city, alternately controlled by Caucasian Albania, Persian empires, and the Mongols (until its eighteenth century conquest by the Russian Empire) was for 1500 years the key to controlling trade between Western Russia and the Middle East. Other ancient peoples of Russia left less evidence of their civilization, but you can find traces of the Kurgan people of the Urals, in particular the ruined pagan shrines and burial mounds around the old capital of Tobolsk and throughout the Republic of Khakassia.
Of early Russia's city states, one of the best preserved and most interesting include Staraya Ladoga, regarded as the nation's first capital, established by the viking Rurik, to whom the first line of Tsars traced their lineage. Novgorod, founded in 859, was the most important city of Kievan Rus in modern Russia (with Kiev itself in modern day Ukraine), and home to Russia's first kremlin.
Early Medieval Russia saw two major civilizations, that of the independent Novgorod Republic and the Mongol Empire, which dominated the Russian principalities of former Vladimir-Suzdal (whose initial capital of Vladimir retains an excellent collection of twelfth century monuments and kremlin) and Kievan Rus. While the Mongols left mostly devastation of historical sites in their wake, the wealthy trading nation to the north developed grand cities at the capital of Novgorod, as well as Staraya Ladoga, Pskov, and Oreshek (modern day Shlisselburg), all of which have extant medieval kremlins and a multitude of beautiful early Russian Orthodox churches filled with medieval ecclesiastical frescoes.
As Mongol power waned, the Grand Duchy of Moscow rose to power, and particularly under the later reign of Ivan the Terrible, consolidated power in all of Western Russia, including the conquest of the Kazan Khanate (and establishing another grand citadel there) and concentrated power in Moscow, building its kremlin, St Basil's Cathedral, and several other of Russia's best known historical sites. The cities of the Golden Ring surrounding Moscow likewise saw significant construction during this period. A really neat off-the-beaten-path destination also rose to prominence in the extreme north of the country—the Solovetsky Monastery-fortress on the islands of the White Sea, which served as a bulwark against Swedish naval incursions.
Ivan the Terrible's reign ended in tragedy, the Time of Troubles, which only saw destruction and ruin, and you will find little evidence of civilizational development until the establishment of the Romanov Dynasty in the early seventeenth century. Peter the Great, after having consolidated power, began the construction of his entirely new city of Saint Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland, the Window to the West. Saint Petersburg from its foundation through the neoclassical period became one of the world's most magically beautiful cities, and the list of must-see attractions is far too long to be discussed here. The surrounding summer palaces at Peterhof, Pavlovsk, and Pushkin are also unbelievably opulent attractions.
The Russian Revolution was one of the twentieth century's defining moments, and history buffs will find much to see in Saint Petersburg. The two best known sites are found at the Winter Palace, which the communists stormed to depose Tsar Nicolas II, and the beautiful Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva River, which housed numerous revolutionary luminaries in its cold, hopeless prison. For those interested in the grisly end of the Romanov family of Nicholas II, perhaps inspired by the story of Anastasia, look no further than the Church on the Blood in Yekaterinburg, built on the spot of his family's execution. Moscow, on the other hand, has the most famous monument from the revolutionary period—Lenin's himself, with his embalmed body on display in Red Square.
The Soviet Era saw a drastic change in Russian history, and the development of a virtually brand new civilization. Mass industrialization programs came with a new aesthetic ethos which emphasized functionality (combined with grandiosity). The enormous constructivist buildings and statues of the twentieth century are often derided as ugly monstrosities, but they are hardly boring (whereas the industrial complexes polluting cities from the Belarussian border to the Pacific are genuine eyesores).
Both World War II and Stalin's reign of terror made their presence felt greatly upon Russia's cultural heritage. The bombings involved in the former virtually wiped out anything of historical interest in Russia's extreme west (the Chernozemye region) and damaged much more throughout European Russia. It did, however, lead to the construction of monuments to the war throughout the entire country. For military buffs, a visit to Mamaev Kurgan, the museum complex at Volgograd (former Stalingrad) is an excellent destination. Kursk, for its enormous tank battle, and Saint Petersburg, site of the Siege of Leningrad, make interesting destinations.
Maybe the saddest of the Soviet legacies is the network of prison camps known as the Gulag Archipelago. The term Archipelago really does not capture the scope of suffering across 10,000 kilometers of cold steppe. Perhaps the most interesting sites for those interested in this legacy are on the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea, and the devastatingly bleak Kolyma gulag system of Magadan Oblast. If you were hoping to see where Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned, you'll have to travel beyond the Russian borders to Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan.
Russia has several of the world's greatest museums, particularly in the field of the visual arts. The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg is the true star, with an enormous collection amassed first by the wealthy tsars (particularly by its founder, Catherine the Great) and later by the Soviets and the Red Army (which seized enormous treasure from the Nazis, who in turn had seized their bounty from their wars around the globe). Equally impressive is the edifice housing the collection on display, the magnificent Winter Palace of the Romanov Dynasty. Saint Petersburg's often overlooked Russian Museum should also be a priority, as it has the country's second best collection of purely Russian art, from icons of the tenth century on through the modern movements, in all of which revolutionary Russia led the charge ahead of the rest of the world. Moscow's art museums, only slightly less well known, include the Tretyakov Gallery (the premiere collection of Russian art) and the Pushkin Museum of Western Art.
Other museum exhibitions certainly worth seeking out are the collections of antiquities in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, particularly at the Hermitage Museum, and the Armory in the Moscow Kremlin. For military buffs, Russian military museums are often fantastic, truly best-in-the-world, regardless of whether you are at one of the main ones in the Moscow—the Central Armed Forces Museum, Kubinka Tank Museum, Central Air Force Museum, Museum of the Great Patriotic War (WWII), or way off in the provinces. The other category in which Russian museums outshine the rest of the world would be within the literary and musical spheres. Nary a town visited, if only for a day, by Alexander Pushkin is without some small museum dedicated to his life and works. The best of the big city museums include the Bulgakov Museum in Moscow and the Anna Akhmatova, Pushkin, and Dostoevsky museums in Saint Petersburg. Great adventures await in quieter parts of the country, at Dostoevsky's summer house in Staraya Russa, Tolstoy's "inaccessible literary stronghold" at Yasnaya Polyana, Chekhov's country estate at Melikhovo, Tchaikovsky's house in Klin or remote hometown of Votkinsk in Udmurtia, Rakhmaninov's summer home in Ivanovka, Pushkin's estate at Pushkinskie Gory, or Turgenev's country estate at Spasskoe-Lutovinovo near Mtsensk. The best museums are in the countryside. For classical music lovers, the apartment museums of various nineteenth and century composers in Saint Petersburg are worth more than just nostalgic wanderings—they often have small performances by incredible musicians.
All tourists in Russia find themselves looking at a lot of churches. Ecclesiastical architecture is a significant source of pride among Russians, and the onion dome is without question a preeminent national symbol. The twentieth century, sadly, saw cultural vandalism in the destruction of said architecture on an unprecedented scale. But the immense number of beautiful old monasteries and churches ensured that an enormous collection remains. The best known, as usual, are in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, in particular the old baroque Church on the Spilled Blood, Alexander Nevsky Lavra, and the monumental Kazan and Saint Isaac's Cathedrals in the former, and Saint Basil's Cathedral and the massive Church of the Annunciation in the latter. The spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church is to be found at the Trinity Lavra of St. Sergius in Sergiev Posad on the Golden Ring circuit (lavra is the designation given to the most important monasteries, of which there are only two in the country), although the physical headquarters of the Church is at Danilov Monastery in Moscow. Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery in Vologda Oblast is often considered Russia's second most important (and is a neat way to get off the beaten track). Other particularly famous churches and monasteries are to be found at Saint Sophia's Cathedral in Novgorod, the Cathedral of the Assumption in Vladimir, the fascinating Old Cathedral of Königsberg (home to Immanuel Kant's tomb) in Kaliningrad, Novodevichy Convent in Moscow, Optina Putsin (the basis for Father Zossima's monastery in The Brothers Karamazov), and Volokolamsk Monastery in West Moscow Oblast. Kizhi Pogost on Lake Onega and Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga are also popular sites, especially with those cruising between Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
Ecclesiastical architecture does not, however, end with the Russian Orthodox Church—Russia also has a wealth of Islamic and Buddhist architecture. The nation's most important mosques are the Qolşärif Mosque in Kazan (the largest mosque in Europe) and the Blue Mosque in Saint Petersburg (originally the largest mosque in Europe!). Notably absent from that list is the Moscow Cathedral Mosque, which was formerly considered the principal mosque in the country, but was very controversially demolished in 2011. Russia's most prominent Buddhist temples are in both Kalmykia—Europe's lone Buddhist republic, and the areas closer to Mongolia, especially around Ulan Ude in Buryatia and Kyzyl, Tuva.
While the distances are great between them, Russia's natural wonders are impressive and worth seeking out for nature lovers. The best known destinations are far to the east in Siberia, with Lake Baikal known as its "jewel." At the extreme eastern end of Russia, nearly all the way to Japan and Alaska, is wild Kamchatka, where you will find the Valley of the Geisers, lakes of acid, volcanoes, and bears galore.
Other highlights of the Far East include the idyllic (if kind of cold) Kuril Islands to the south of Kamchatka, whale watching off the coast of arctic Wrangel Island, the remote Sikhote-Alin mountain range, home to the Amur Tiger, and beautiful Sakhalin. The nature reserves throughout these parts are spectacular as well, but all will require permits in advance and specialized tours.
The northern half of Russia stretching thousands of miles from the Komi Republic through Kamchatka is basically empty wilderness, mostly mountainous, and always beautiful. Getting to these areas is problematic, as most are not served by any roads, infrastructure, or really anything else. Russia's great north-south rivers are the main arteries for anyone moving through the area: the Pechora, Ob, Yenisey, Lena, and Kolyma. Beyond that, expect to be in canoes, helicopters, and military grade jeeps, because these will be the only way of getting around, and you'll likely want to go with a guide.
Russia's other mountainous territory is in its extreme south, in the Northern Caucasus. There you will find Europe's tallest mountains, which tower in height over the Alps, including mighty Elbrus. Favorite Russian resorts in the area include those at Sochi (which hosted the 2014 Winter Olympic games) and Dombai. As you go further east in the North Caucasus, the landscapes become ever more dramatic, from the lush forested gorges and snow capped peaks of Chechnya to the stark desert mountains of Dagestan, sloping downwards to the Caspian Sea.
Throughout the entire country, there are over a hundred National Parks and Nature Reserves (zapovedniki). The former are open to the public, and considerably more wild and undeveloped than you would find in, say, the United States. The latter are preserved principally for scientific research and are often not possible to visit. Permits are issued for certain reserves, but only through licensed tour operators. If you have the opportunity, though, take it! Some of the most spectacular parks are in the aforementioned Kamchatka, but also in the Urals, particularly in the Altai Mountains (Altai Republic and Altai Krai).
The association between Russia and its two biggest metropolises, Moscow and St Petersburg, is strong in the minds of tourists, but given its vast expanses and low population density, Russia is a nature lovers paradise as well. Russia has a network of exceptional natural areas, comprising 35 National Parks and 100 Nature Reserves (zapovednik) covering a total land mass larger than Germany. List of Russian Nature Reserves (in Russian) one can find here 
Some Russian Nature Reserves on the internet:
Provided your paperwork is in order, you may visit these areas independently. For those wishing to seek guidance, there are travel agencies specializing in ecotourism in Russia such as:
Throughout its history Russia has had various version of the ruble (рубль), which is divided into 100 kopeks (копеек). The latest manifestation (RUB, replacing the RUR) was introduced in 1998 (although all notes and first issues of coins bear the year 1997). All pre-1998 currency is obsolete.
Coins are issued in 1, 5, 10, and 50 kopek and 1, 2, 5, and 10 ruble denominations. Banknotes come in RUB5, RUB10, RUB50, RUB100, RUB200, RUB500, RUB1000, RUB2000, and RUB5000 denominations, with the recently-introduced 200- and 2000-ruble notes currently being extremely rare. Banknotes of 10 – 500 rubles all have a common size, while those of 1000 rubles and of are of a common (but larger) size. The RUB5 note is no longer issued or found in general circulation. The RUB10 ceased being printed in 2010 and will suffer the same fate. Both remain legal tender. Kopeks are generally useless, with most prices given to the nearest ruble. The 1 and 5 kopek coins are especially useless: even places that quote prices in non whole rubles will round to the nearest 10 kopeks. From 1998 until approximately 2012, the ruble enjoyed relative stability, but has become rather more volatile in recent times, and towards the end of 2014, suffered a significant and sudden decrease in value, especially compared to the dollar, euro and pound.
All banknotes have special marks (dots and lines in relief) to aid the blind in distinguishing values.
Forget about travellers' cheques (only some banks, such as Sberbank, will cash even American Express, but it does so without commission), and bring enough cash to last you for a few days, as occasionally communications networks handling ATM and credit card transactions are not available (as elsewhere in the world).
Russian law forbids payments not in rubles. Fortunately, currency exchange offices (called bureaus in Saint Petersburg) are common throughout Russia. Banks and small currency exchange bureaus offer very good rates; hotels are generally expensive and thus not recommended. You need to show your passport at banks. Be sure to take your time to count how much money you got — different ways are sometimes used to trick the customer.
Small window-in-the-wall offices abound in Moscow and Saint Petersburg but are rare in other cities. They usually offer better exchange rates but don't require identification nor provide any receipts in most cases. Branches of large banks can be found in any major city, and Sberbank outlets are a must in any village down to rayonny centr. Branches of banks are more trustworthy for not-so-attractive rates, and exchange session would last longer requiring a passport and giving you all the receipts you can imagine.
Window-in-the-wall exchanges frequently attract clients by declaring rates for amounts >USD1000 / >EUR1000 (but stating this in small font). Rates for smaller amounts are demonstrated only in the window itself and are typically less attractive than even at regular banks. Frequently, people don't notice that rates are different. To make the difference even less evident, rates are set exactly 1 ruble different, like 34.18 and 35.18 per euro. Another trick used by windows-in-the-walls is a tray that makes 1-2 banknotes stick so they become hidden from you. Always check the amounts you are given. Many exchange bureaus will also convert other currencies beyond USD and EUR, although often the rate is not as good. You can compare rates if you buy USD/EUR in your country and sell them in Russia vs direct exchanges from your at local currency to rubles — it displays exchange rates for cash in Moscow for every currency exchanged in Russia.
You will have an easier time changing money if your banknotes are absolutely clean, and dollars should be the most recent updated design, as few places will accept the older versions.
Don't change money on the street. Unlike during Soviet times, there is no advantage to dealing with an unofficial vendor. There are several advanced schemes of scam for exchange on the street — better not give them a try.
ATMs, called bankomats, are common in large cities and can generally be found in smaller cities and towns. Though some may not accept foreign cards. English language interface is available. Some may also dispense US dollars. Russian ATMs will often limit withdrawals to about USD1,000 per day. Big hotels are good places to find them.
Visa and MasterCard debit/credit cards of all levels are the most common way of non-cash payment in Russia, and all establishments having a POS terminal, which are now widespread even in small towns, accept them without any problems. American Express, Discover, Diners Club and other cards are rarely accepted.
Museums and sightseeing places, especially in small towns, mostly take only cash, no credit cards (with an exception of major museums, such as the State Hermitage and the Vladimir Suzdal Museum Reserve). Have plenty of cash on hand each day to cover entrance fees, photographic fees (many museums charge a fee for cameras and video recorders, however this practice gradually becomes obsolete), tours, souvenirs, meals and transportation.
Train Stations may accept plastic, even outside the big cities, be sure to ask as it won't always be obvious. Otherwise take plenty of cash. ATM machines at train station are popular and often out of cash, so stock up before going to the train station.
Like anywhere in the world, it's better to avoid street ATMs (or at least to be very careful), as sometimes swindlers attach spy devices to them, to get your PIN and card details; the safest option is the ATMs in hotels, banks or big shopping centres.
There is a mistaken belief that everyone in Russia must carry identification papers. This is not the case. As is the case in any country, tourists should carry with them some form of ID, to avoid misunderstanding and in case of an emergency. Current situation in Russian as in Europe is affected by international terrorism. Police is present in all public places and walk-through metal detectors are installed on all station across Russia. Random luggage check cannot be excluded, so if you don't have to, don't travel with a large luggage by subway, better take taxi. Like most countries, you can be arrested if you are suspected of having committed a crime, but being unable to provide ID is not a crime and carries no penalty. No physical force can used in the detaining, unless you apply it first.
Normally a police officer will salute and ask for your passport (listen out for words like 'paspart', 'veeza' or 'dakumenty'). Hand these to them, they will look at them. Stories from Russia that you can pay a police officer after committing a traffic offense, are a thing of the past.
There are a number of cheap food/goods chains.
Russian cuisine derives its rich and varied character from the vast and multicultural expanse of Russia. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, buckwheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Flavourful soups and stews centred on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. This wholly native food remained the staples for the vast majority of Russians well into the 20th century. Lying on the northern reaches of the ancient Silk Road, as well as Russia's proximity to the Caucasus, Uzbekistan, and the Ottoman Empire has provided an inescapable Eastern character to its cooking methods (not so much in European Russia but distinguishable in the North Caucasus). Russia's renowned caviar is easily obtained, however prices can exceed the expenses of your entire trip. Russian specialties include:
Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer sophisticated, world class dining and a wide variety of cuisines including Japanese, Tibetan and Italian. They are also excellent cities to sample some of the best cuisines of the former Soviet Union (e.g., Georgian and Uzbek). It is also possible to eat well and cheaply there without resorting to the many western fast food chains that have opened up. Russians have their own versions of fast food restaurants which range from cafeteria style serving comfort foods to streetside kiosks cooking up blinis or stuffed potatoes. Although their menus may not be in English, it is fairly easy to point to what is wanted — or at a picture of it, not unlike at western fast food restaurants. A small Russian dictionary will be useful at non- touristy restaurants offering table service where staff members will not speak English and the menus will be entirely in Cyrillic, but prices are very reasonable. Russian meat soups and meat pies are often excellent.
Stylish cafes serving cappuccino, espresso, toasted sandwiches, rich cakes and pastries are popping up all over Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Some do double duty as wine bars, others are also internet cafes.
It is better not to drink the tap water in Russia and to avoid using ice in drinks, however bottled water and also Kvass are available everywhere food is served.
Unlike Europe, cafes in Russia (кафе) do not serve only drinks, but also a full range of meals (typically cooked in advance—unlike restaurants where part or whole cooking cycle is performed after you make an order).
Tipping in restaurants, like in most of continental Europe, is completely voluntary, but will be appreciated. Usual tip value is 10% of total bill amount. If you pay the bill by bank card, you may tip separately in cash by inserting money into the bill cover.
Vodka, imported liquors (rum, gin, etc), international soft-drinks (Pepsi, Coca- Cola, Fanta, etc), local soft drinks (Tarhun, Buratino, Baikal, etc.), distilled and mineral water, kvass (sour-sweet non-alcoholic naturally carbonized drink made from fermented dark bread) and mors (traditional wild berry drink).
Legal drinking age in Russia is 18 for any type of alcohol. If a sales clerk or a waiter is in doubt about your age (even if you are 30+ but young-looking), they may ask your passport for confirmation and refuse to sell alcoholic drinks if you do not provide it.
Drinking alcohol in public places (including beer, however non-alcoholic one is OK) is prohibited by law and punishable by a fine of 500-1500 RUB.
Street vending of any alcohol (including beer), as well as selling it in small booths, is illegal in Russia since 25 December 2012 according to 171-FZ federal law. Therefore, it should only be found in shops and markets not smaller than 50 square metres, malls, and all kinds of catering establishments if they are not located too close to a children's, educational or sports establishment. The chain supermarkets (excluding some "elite" ones) some of which are intended specially for alcohol sale (e.g., "Krasnoye i beloye" federal chain store system) and malls (mostly on bigger cities' outskirts) are usually the cheapest option for buying drinks (for food, the local markets in the smaller cities, but not in Moscow, are often cheaper). Staff of all of these (maybe except in some supermarkets, if you're lucky) does not speak or, at the best, speaks very basic English even in Moscow.
Mixed alcoholic beverages as well as beers at nightclubs and bars are extremely expensive and are served without ice, with the mix (for example, coke) and alcohol charged for separately. Bringing your own is neither encouraged nor allowed, and some (usually dance-all-night venues oriented to the young crowd) places in Moscow even can take some measures to prevent customers from drinking outside (like a face-control who may refuse an entry on return, or the need to pay entry fee again after going out), or even from drinking the tap water instead of overpriced soft drinks by leaving only hot water available in the lavatories. Any illegal drugs, even marijuana, are best avoided: Russian anti-drug laws are extremely tough, the Federal Drug Control Service is well-trained, and it really doesn't worth the risk here.
Russians are not famed for their abstemious character:
When entering a local store, you might goggle at the amount of vodka on display, since many Russian cities have vodka distilleries, and production volumes are tremendous. Drinking vodka in Russia is a different custom than in North America or Western Europe: consuming this drink straight, without any meal, is considered rude behaviour by many Russians and often marks a person to have big problems with alcohol. To drink vodka in the right way, you need to have zakusky (Russian for the meal you eat with alcohol - mainly vodka). This can consist of anything from simple loaves of bread to full spreads of delicious appetizers. The most common are sour or fresh cucumbers, herring, soup, and meat. Hot appetizers are the best choice (see Bulgakov's "Heart of a Dog"). If you are dining with locals who are serving soup or herring or potatoes be prepared for a generous amount of vodka to be provided. The convention is to say a toast, za zdoroviye ("for good health") is the most common, drink the shot (or half) and follow with a bite of the food. Zakusk(a/y)(singular/plural), will be something salty, dried, or fatty. This is so that the vodka is either absorbed by the food or repelled by the fat.
Be careful when opening a good vodka bottle: once you open it you must drink it all since a good vodka bottle doesn't have a cap that can be replaced. If you are drinking with locals it's no problem to skip a round. They will just pour you a symbolic drop.
Beer in Russia is cheap and the varieties, of both Russian and international brands, are endless. It's found for sale at grocery stores in any city and costs from about 30 rubles (about $0.5-0.6) to RUB200+ for a 0.5L bottle or can. Prices depend on the beer sort and production place: imported (not produced under the same brand in Russia under license) beer is usually far more expensive than local one. Imported ales and stouts, such as Guinness, are the most expensive, while, on the other hand, local lager beers are the cheapest.
"Small" bottles and cans (0.33L and around) are also widely sold, and there are also plastic bottles of 1 and 1.5 litres (greater volumes have been banned by the recent law), similar to those in which soft carbonated drinks are usually sold — many cheaper beers are sold that way and, being even cheaper due to large volume, are quite popular, despite some people saying it can have a "plastic" taste.
The highest prices (especially in the bars and restaurants) are traditionally in Moscow; Saint-Petersburg, on the other hand, is known for the cheaper and often better beers, including craft ones. Smaller cities and towns generally have similar prices if bought in the shop, but significantly lower ones in the bars and street cafes.
Popular local brands of beer are Baltika, Stary Mel'nik, Bochkareff, Zolotaya Bochka, Tin'koff and many others. Locally made (mainly except some Czech and possibly some other European beers — you won't miss these, the price of a "local" Czech beer from the same shelf will be quite different) international trademarks like Holsten, Carlsberg, etc. are also widely available, but their quality doesn't differ so much from local beers. Soft drinks usually start from RUB20-30 and can cost up to RUB60 or more in the centre of Moscow for a 0.5L plastic bottle or 0.33L can.
There is also local beer on draught which is produced not far from where it is sold by relatively small beer factories or microbreweries and sold mostly in specialised shops where it is bottled from a keg right in your presence. This can be either filtered or unfiltered with yeast deposits, and almost always unpasteurized. This is the freshest beer variant, completely unsuitable for taking home because of its extremely short storage time, but ideal for consumption right on the purchase day.
Wines from Georgia (regaining popularity slowly but surely since their return to the Russian market in 2013), Moldova, and Russia itself are quite popular. But the assortment is not limited by these countries only. Federal and international chain stores offer a wide choice of wines, varying from ordinary new to vintage ones, from all over the world.
In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, most restaurants have a selection of European wines—generally at a high price. Please note that most Russians (with the exception of wine gourmets who are not so common) prefer sweet or semi-sweet wine as opposed to dry. French Chablis, Bordeaux, and other world-renowned wine sorts are widely available at restaurants and are of good quality. The Chablis runs about RUB240 per glass. All white wines are served at room temperature unless you are at an international hotel that caters to Westerners.
Russian vineyard area is relatively small but grows good grape of many sorts, both internationally grown (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.) and autochtonous (Krasnostop, Tsimlyansky Black). Wine production is based mostly in southern regions of the country, the most notable of which are Krasnodar Krai and Crimea located close to the 45th parallel, just like the famous Bordeaux vineyards. Certainly worth trying are dry wines produced by the Fanagoria and Inkerman wineries. Strong sweet wines similar to Port and produced in Crimea most notably by Massandra winery, are also widely available and worth tasting for those who like this wine type.
Soviet champagne (Советское Шампанское, Sovetskoye Shampanskoye) or, more politically correctly just sparkling wine (Игристые вина, Igristie vina) is also served everywhere in the former Soviet Union at a reasonable price. The quality is generally on the level of cheap European sparkling wines and by far the most common variety is polusladkoye (semi-sweet), a misnomer for what most Westerners find syrupy-sweet, but the better brands also come in polusukhoe (semi-dry) and sukhoe or brjut (dry) varieties and can hold their own with the best that France and Nelson, New Zealand can offer. (Naturally enough, French diplomatic legations throughout the world officially serve French Champagne; privately the preferred tipple of many French ambassadors is the Russian variety - whisper it not). The original producer and Sovetskoye Shampanskoye trademark holder is Latvijas Balzams in Latvia, but Ukrainian brands like Odessa or Krymskoe are also very popular. Among Russian brands, the best brands seem to originate from the southern regions where grapes are widely grown. One of a quality Russian brands is Abrau-Dyurso (RUB200-700 for a bottle in the supermarket depending on variety); Tsimlyanskoe (RUB150-250) is also popular. The quality of the cheapest ones (from RUB85-120, depending on where you buy) varies, you can buy if you do want to have a try while not paying too much, but, for export to your home, it's wiser to stick to something better.
Having wine production, Russia does also produce brandies (officially called коньяк on local market, which, considering the Cyrillic alphabet, is allowed, unlike the protected Cognac appellation), most notably in Dagestan. Kizlyar brandy factory and its "Bagration" label are well-known. "Fanagoria" brandies from Krasnodar Krai are worth a try too. Armenian brandies are also very popular and sold widely, so if you are not going to visit Armenia on your way, in Russia you have a good chance to try them for a reasonable price.
Genuine kvass is rather hard but still possible to find in the cities. What is mostly sold in supermarkets as kvass is pretty far from original Russian recipes and contains too much sugar. A nice exception from this rule is Vyatsky kvass from Kirov which is extremely popular all over Russia. Also you can occur several bottles of good kvass produced by a small local farming enterprise. What makes genuine kvass different includes: limited lifetime (normally 1 week), small alcohol content (0.5% to 1% vol) and an obligatory requirement to be stored in a fridge. A really good place to buy genuine local kvass is one of extremely widespread draught beer shops, which almost always have one or more kvass taps. They usually allow to buy kvass in 0.2 — 0.5L cups, which may be a good idea to sample it before buying in quantity.
In warm periods, genuine kvass can be bought from huge metal barrels on trailers (bochkas). Originally a symbol of soviet summertime, bochkas became rare after 1991. Soviet nostalgia and these trailers' no-nonsense good functionality have given them a revival in recent years. There are also modern, plastic, stationary, upright barrel-like dispensers but these may not sell the genuine article. Towards the end of an especially hot day, avoid genuine kvass from bochkas as it may have soured.
Despite some alcoholic content, kvass is officially considered a non-alcoholic drink and may be freely consumed in the street.
Medovukha (медовуха), also known as mead, is the ancient drink brewed from many a century ago by Europeans is also wide-spread among Russians. It has a semi-sweet taste based on fermented honey and contains 5-16% of alcohol. You may see it sold in bottles or poured in cups in fast-food outlets and shops. One of the most famous mead breweries is located in Suzdal where many locals also extensively brew this drink to their own recipes.
Quality hotels are in abundance in all major cities. International chain hotels like Hilton, Radisson, Park Inn can be present in almost an unlikely location. With international business people exploring every part of Russia for business opportunities, there is no lack in finding a good hotel for your budget. Russian themed hotels are especially a gem for tourists. Explore global hotel sites for finding a good hotel for your budget.
Another useful option is short-term apartment rental offered by small companies or individuals. This means that certain flats in regular living buildings are permanently rented out on a daily basis. The flats may differ in their location and quality (from old-fashioned to recently renovated.
A new phenomenon has been the development of "mini-hotels" in large Russian cities. Such hotels usually (but not necessarily!) provide clean modern rooms with private baths at far lower costs than conventional large hotels. These small hotels are located within existing apartment buildings and include one, two, or more floors located a story or two above street level. They also often serve breakfast. Saint Petersburg has quite a few with more opening all of the time and some are appearing in Moscow.
Hostels are the cheapest variant of spending a night, and this business is currently booming in Russia. As of 2018, you can find a hostel in almost any regional centre. While in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, do ignore illegal hostel announcements on pavements and walls: reliable accommodations are not advertised this way! The best way to find a good hostel is surfing global booking sites and social networks.
Russia has a long-standing tradition in high-quality education for all citizens. It has also one of the best mass-education systems in the world, with excellent results at international educational competitions.
Basic general education lasts for nine years. Graduates of this level may continue their education at senior high school to receive secondary general education. They may also enter an initial vocational school or non-university level higher education institutions.
Higher education is provided by public and non-public (non-State) accredited higher education institutions, of which Lomonosov Moscow State University  and Saint Petersburg State University  are the most famous.
Due in great part to demands of the international educational organizations, the system of education in Russia has mostly adopted a system similar to that of Britain and the US: 4 years for the Bachelor's degree and 2 years for a Master's degree. Most universities offer the new system and others still work according to the prior 5-6 year system, particularly in such programs as medicine.
Russia's top universities have very competitive entry requirements, and special entry exams are held each year. One of the great attractions of education in Russia is the cost, especially when compared to the quality. Degree study tuition can range from USD2000 to USD8000 per year, with other costs (room & board, books, etc.) ranging from USD1500 to USD5000 per year, depending on location and spending habits. Russian citizens who have won the competition for state-funded places, as well as foreign citizens directed to study in Russia by their governments according to an international contract with Russian government, study for free.
The academic year lasts from Sept 1 to Mid June everywhere, with long summer vacations from July 1st to Aug 31.
Several universities and private schools offer Russian language courses (individual and group tuition).
For non-citizens working in Russia requires a work visa which is not an easy process. The visa needs to be arranged well in advance of travelling. If a Russian company is really interested in you, as a professional, or if you are already an employee of an international company that needs your knowledge and skills to be applied in its Russian branch, they will assist you with all the required paperwork.
Largely because of the transition from state socialism to market capitalism, Russia did experience a rise in criminal activity during the 1990s. As those who controlled capital through the state had to reconfigure their business operations towards a free enterprise rationality, profiteering and scams have increased. The truth is that much of the violence was contained within the criminal groups themselves and has rapidly declined since the 1990s so that, for the average tourist, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and the rest of Russia are actually just as safe as most major European cities, if not more so. Anyway, pickpocketing in crowded places is, of course, a worldwide issue, so keep an eye at your belongings like you would in any other country.
You should be noted that Russia is a pioneer country in fighting against narcotics. Russia has a well-developed anti-narcotics enforcement system as well as a set of regulations against uses and carrying of narcotics as tough as Hong Kong and Singapore, drug-trafficking into Russia can bring a sentence of at least several decades.
Crime and Law Enforcement
Although the crime rate has fallen down dramatically since the 1990s, petty crime still remains an issue and it's always advisable to be cautious of your surroundings. Just like most European cities, the biggest problem in Russian cities (both the European and Asian cities) are drug addicts who commit theft (and in some but not majority cases, violence including murder) to get their fix. However, these people are usually in the outer poor neighborhoods that have no tourist interest. If you do go into any of these neighborhoods though, it may be wise to hide your cell phone to avoid getting jumped and robbed by addicts, considering that in many Russian cities (especially the industrial ones) a cell phone is a luxury in the low income areas, making it a main target for druggies. High class clothes or fancy jewelry should not be worn in these areas either.
Just like anywhere else in the world, the white collar criminals (the Russian Mafia/Red Mafia in particular) are all business and will be no threat to tourists as long as they don't get involved with any of the organized crime. However, be aware of organized scams in adult venues like bars, clubs, and strip joints. Check wherever city your going to here on the wiki travel webpage (most of the pages on here about major cities in Russia tend to have advice on scams, especially St. Petersburg).
Russia's law enforcement in large cities are well-trained but don't expect English to be spoken by the police outside of large cities. Do not attempt to bribe them as you will be charged with bribery. As in many countries around the former USSR, policemen may pull you aside to check your passport and/or documentation. Do not be intimidated by this as this is simply police procedure, thouimingh you can still experience harassment and racism.
If you are pulled over by the DPS (Russian Traffic Police), don't worry — they will simply check your documentation and your vehicle if anything appears out of the ordinary, though don't count on them being friendly if you become intimidated. Simply answer their questions, give them what they want, and go ahead, though if you don't understand their language (not all officers are fluent in English), you can experience problems. Under no circumstances try to evade from them or any law enforcement agency — if you do, they will pursue you and even shoot your vehicle, even if you do not possess any firearms with you.
As a tourist, caution is advised if travelling to the North Caucasus region, as it is widely considered the most dangerous in Russia. The area has garnered a bad reputation for terrorism, crime and extremes of both corruption and lawlessness.
At present, the safest part of the region to access for the time being is Karachay-Cherkessia, as that region has encountered very few attacks in the past few years. If you intend to visit the more dangerous parts of the region, it's best to contact your embassy before traveling to the area. Assistance will be limited, however.
If you are planning to see Mt. Elbrus, it's best to go there in an organised group.
Although the driving laws are strict and similar to those in the West, driving by the majority of Russians is routinely reckless. Drivers attack their art with an equal mix of aggressiveness and incompetence. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. As a pedestrian, take great care when crossing the roads, as pedestrian crossings are widely ignored.
The Russian transport network is well developed and federal roads are of excellent quality. However given the immense size of the country, most country roads are in urgent need of maintenance. Driving in winter is especially cumbersome, due to icy conditions, so it's wise to invest in a 4x4 vehicle should you choose to drive around.
When driving you must not be under the influence of alcohol. Russian law has a zero tolerance for this, but, despite this, traffic accidents and fatalities remain high in Russia.
Safe parking lots in Russia are almost non-existent, making driving and safe parking an even larger challenge. Hence, you will see cars parked in the middle of busy roads, even on sidewalks as well.
As a result of massive immigration from Asia and the Caucasus, in addition to past historical conquests, Russia is a largely multinational and multicultural nation. Although there have been several cases of racially-motivated crimes in the past, these issues are continuing to drop. Russians treat foreigners with a higher degree of respect than their own countrymen.
That said, it is still fairly rare to spot non-whites in most Russian cities, and depending on where you go in the country, you might be met with open stares and treated with a degree of suspicion from the Russian police if you are of a visibly different ethnicity.
If you're LGBT, Russia is not friendly and the population is negative compared to Western European countries. Violence happens towards all the time and police will be unsympathetic, complicit, or even join in. Openly gay tourists may also be subject to arrest. Police will not resist to arrest any public displays of LGBT actions and attacks are more common. Vigilante attacks, executions, and torture occur all the time with police being complicit, joining on the violence, or tiunring a blind eye. No public accomodations are LGBT friendly either and you will be turned away, reported to police, arrested, attacked, tortured, or killed if you reveal your sexual orientation. In addition, "Homosexual propaganda to minors" is prohibited, which means that discussing gay rights or homosexuality issues around children is a criminal offence and can lead to a prison sentence. In Chechnya, gay sex is de facto illegal and can lead to a death sentence, jail, torture, deportation, and vigilante execution.
Medical facilities in general vary. A majority of hospitals are extremely well equipped, clean, and possess all of the latest technologies.
Ensure that all of your vaccinations are up to date, and you have sufficient amounts of any prescription medicine you may be taking. Pharmacies are common in major cities and carry quality medications.
Quality of tap water varies around the country, and may even be variable within cities. In old buildings tap water can be non-potable. In the big cities of European Russia, the water is clean of biological contaminants. If you can't buy bottled water, boil water before drinking, or better yet use a special filter for tap water, which you could buy in any supermarket.
Besides local doctors (generally good quality but often working in poor facilities) there are medical centers in major Russian cities. These all have different policies for payment (some take credit cards, some require payment in cash up front, even if you have insurance) so make sure you know what you are paying for (and when and how) before you agree to any services.
Be careful not to buy fake vodka, which can be dangerous (seriously here, 'dangerous' doesn't mean 'strong'; it can contain methanol, which can make you blind). Only buy vodka in large chain stores (Magnit, Pyatyorochka, Perekryostok, etc.) or specialized ones like Aromatnyi Mir, Krasnoe i Beloye, or Bristol, with the sticker over the cap and/or the region's barcode on the side. Alcohol sold in these places is registered in EGAIS information system which ensures its legality and safety.
Russians are well-mannered people. They are usually reserved with strangers, but once gained acquaintance, especially while drinking, they become very frank and sincere.
It's often easy to mistake Russians as rude and unwelcoming given the fact that they value direct communication and that small talk doesn't come easy. For instance, communicating with strangers in a public place is relatively uncommon.
Moreover, given the fact that Russia is a large and diverse country, cultural standards and norms vary from place to place so do be sure to understand what one region after the other considers as respectful and disrespectful.
It's important to bear in mind that Russians are generally straightforward and are generally comfortable with being honest. If you say or do anything that's wrong in a Russian person's opinion, you will be told so in a straightforward manner.
Things to Avoid
Other things to watch out for
Emergency services (landlines)
Operators are not fluent in English, and typically only speak Russian, so expect a language barrier if you don't know any Russian.
Emergency services (mobile phone)
Operators are not fluent in English, and typically only speak Russian, so expect a language barrier if you don't know any Russian.
Prepaid SIM cards
There are 5 GSM operators in Russia, which all use the 900/1800 MHz standard for 2G, 900/2100 MHz standard for 3G, and 800/2600 MHz standard for 4G/LTE, the same as Europe and Asia. Check that your phone supports one of these standards before bringing it to Russia. The 5 operators are Beeline, Megafon, MTS, Tele2, and Yota. There is also one CDMA network: Skylink but you need to purchase a Skylink phone to use this network.
All carriers offer cheap SIM cards with data plans that are always a better alternative to paying roaming charges. Megafon is considered to have the best coverage and the fastest 4G Internet, but Beeline is considered to be the cheapest.
If you buy a SIM card in a shop, you'll need your passport for identification and it will take around 5 minutes to complete the required paperwork. If you don't speak Russian, you will need to find someone who speaks English. Alternatively, you can buy a SIM card from automated kiosks in metro stations. Calls to landlines from mobile phones are more expensive than calls to other mobile phones, especially those that use the same network. Incoming calls are free from any directions, if you are staying in the same region where the SIM card has been bought. You can add value to your card at the stores of the company you are using, at automated kiosks, terminals, and ATMs (particularly, Sberbank ATMs allow to pay to Russian cellular operators by cash without any bank commission, this is one of the best variants, considering that they are widespread even in small towns and have an English interface, but, of course, it's only about those ATMs which have a bill acceptor). You can buy a prepaid card for international calls, but online services such as Skype are often cheaper.
If you want to connect your laptop or computer to a data network, you can also buy cheap SIM cards for a USB-modem.
Since the beginning of the 2000s broadband Internet has become widely available in Russia even in the countryside. Almost all places where you can find a computer have a connection at least through ADSL. In towns and especially big cities free Wi-Fi can be found in cafes, hotel receptions, and other public places. Note that since 2015 you must pass an identification procedure by providing your mobile phone number registered in Russia (country code +7) before using free Wi-Fi hotspots.
Wi-Fi is also available in some of the newest trains, and in this case Internet can be accessed for no additional payment after registering with your ticket number or the last 4 digits of your passport number (enter passline.ru after connecting to the hotspot and follow the instructions). Internet signal is usually received from hybrid cellular/satellite network and sometimes can be unstable due to outdoor conditions.
3G/4G through a local SIM card is now the best variant of mobile Internet connection in Russia when there is no free Wi-Fi nearby. The coverage is pretty good within urban areas (in the vast Russian countryside base stations with 3G/4G capability are relatively scarce, however the situation is improving every year), and the tariffs are some of the cheapest in the world.
In major cities it is possible to rent on a daily basis portable WiFi hotspots which provide unlimited speed and data internet access via 4G/3G. Wifiinrussia.com allows to order a pocket WiFi hotspot online.