Russia

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Russia

Russia banner.jpg

Contents

Kremlin, Moscow
Location
Russia in its region.svg
Flag
Flag of Russia.svg
Quick Facts
Capital Moscow
Government Semi-presidential republic
Currency Russian ruble (RUB, ₽)
Area 17,098,242km²
water: 720,500km²
land: 16,377,742km²
Population 143,700,000 (2014 estimate)
Language Official: Russian
variably recognized: Abaza, Adyghe, Aghul, Altai, Avar, Azerbaijani, Bashkir, Buryat, Chechen, Cherkess, Chuvash, Crimean Tatar, Dargwa, Erzya, Ingush, Kabardian, Kalmyk, Karachay-Balkar, Khakas, Komi, Kumyk, Lak, Lezgi, Mari, Moksha, Nogai, Ossetic, Rutul, Tabasaran, Tatar, Tsakhur, Tuvan, Udmurt, Ukrainian, Yakut
also spoken:+100 indigenous languages, English, and German
Religion Russian Orthodox 46.5%, Muslim 6.5%, Spiritual 25.1%, Atheist 12.9, Others 9%.
Electricity 220V, 50Hz (Europlug & Schuko plug)
Country code +7
Internet TLD .ru
Time Zone UTC +3 to UTC +12

Russia (Russian: Россия, Rossija) is the largest country in the world, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth's inhabited land area, spanning Eastern Europe and northern Asia.

Understand[edit]

Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, 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.

History[edit]

St. Basil Cathedral Moscow, built 1724

Russia can't be understood by mind,
Nor measured by common yardstick.
She has of herself a unique build:
Russia can only be believed in.

«Умом Россию не понять,
Аршином общим не измерить:
У ней особенная стать —
В Россию можно только верить.»,
Fyodor Tyutchev, 1866


An imperial power[edit]

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[edit]

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 establishement, 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.

A Strong Rising Democracy[edit]

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 fanatism funded by international terror groups. This had a setback consequences for the devloping Russian economy. Ill health and alcohol dependancy, 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 Transnistria territory, 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.

Terrain[edit]

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.

Climate[edit]

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 inrivers, 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.

Holidays[edit]

Siberian birch forest near Novosibirsk

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:

  • New Year Holidays (1-5 January) are often merged with Christmas and make up more than a week off.
  • Orthodox Christmas (7 January).
  • Fatherland Defender Day (23 February).
  • International Women's Day (8 March).
  • The Day of Spring and Labour (1 May).
  • Victory Day (9 May).
  • Day of Russia (12 June).
  • People's Unity Day (4 November).

Measurement units[edit]

The Russian system of measurement is metric, the same as the European one. Expect to encounter Celsius degrees, kilometres, kilogrammes, litres and so on. The archaic units for distance are versta and vershok, for weight — pud.

Regions[edit]

Russia regions map.png
Central Russia (Federal City of Moscow, Ivanovo Oblast, Kaluga Oblast, Kostroma Oblast, Moscow Oblast, Ryazan Oblast, Smolensk Oblast, Tver Oblast, Tula Oblast, Vladimir Oblast, Yaroslavl Oblast)
The richest part of the entire country, dominated by spectacular architecture and historical buildings. It is Russia's gate to Europe, and houses the capital city Moscow.
Chernozemye (Belgorod Oblast, Bryansk Oblast, Kursk Oblast, Lipetsk Oblast, Oryol Oblast, Tambov Oblast, Voronezh Oblast)
South to Central Russia, the region is famous for its rich, deep, black soil (Chernozem in Russian means "Black soil"). This region was the important battleground during World War 2 for Russia.
Northwestern Russia (Federal City of Saint Petersburg, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Karelia, Komi Republic, Leningrad Oblast, Murmansk Oblast, Nenetsia, Novgorod Oblast, Pskov Oblast, Vologda Oblast)
Home to the former imperial capital Saint Petersburg also known as Northern capital. It combines some beautiful landscapes of the large lakes Ladoga and Onega, medieval forts of Pskov Oblast with the lacustrine region of Karelia, and provides a gate for the country to interact with Scandinavian territories.
Kaliningrad Oblast (often considered as a part of Northwestern Russia)
The only exclave of Russia (an area not connected directly to the rest of Russia), the Kaliningrad oblast allows a gate for Russia to share borders with Poland and Lithuania, and is a key site for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.
Southern Russia (Adygea, Chechnya, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkessia, Krasnodar Krai, North Ossetia, Rostov Oblast, Stavropol Krai)
The warmest region in the entire country, with beautiful resort cities such as subtropical Sochi, and it also brings a path to the mountainous North Caucasus.
Volga Region (Astrakhan Oblast, Chuvashia, Kirov Oblast, Mari El, Mordovia, Nizhny Novgorod Oblast, Penza Oblast, Samara Oblast, Saratov Oblast, Tatarstan, Udmurtia, Ulyanovsk Oblast, Volgograd Oblast)
The most industrialized region in the entire country, known for producing wide-scale military equipment in cities such as Izhevsk. The region is widely known for its rich culture and history.
Urals Region (Bashkortostan, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Khantia-Mansia, Kurgan Oblast, Orenburg Oblast, Perm Krai, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Tyumen Oblast, Yamalia)
One of the wealthiest regions, known for producing much of the resources Russia needs today and is named after the vast Ural mountains.
Siberia (Altai Krai, Altai Republic, Buryatia, Irkutsk Oblast, Kemerovo Oblast, Khakassia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Novosibirsk Oblast, Omsk Oblast, Tomsk, Tuva, Zabaykalsky Krai)
The largest area in the country diverse in landscape and yearly temperatures with stunning lakes, the world's longest rivers, but swampy in most parts in the centre and north. Provides a gate to enter into much of Asia.
Russian Far East (Amur Oblast, Chukotka, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Kamchatka Krai, Khabarovsk Krai, Magadan Oblast, Primorsky Krai, Sakhalin Oblast, Yakutia)
One of the coldest places in all of Russia, even home to the coldest city in the world, Yakutsk. Worldwide renown for national parks, beautiful scenery and mountains and even allows the traveller to see the volcanoes of Kamchatka. The region is also a gateway to enter into North Korea, China, and Mongolia.

Cities[edit]

Here is a representative sample of just nine Russian cities with their Anglicized and Russian Cyrillic names:

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
  • Moscow (Москва) — Russia's gargantuan capital is one of the world's greatest cities and has endless attractions to offer an adventurous visitor
  • Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург) — Russia's cultural and former political capital is home to the Hermitage, one of the world's best museums, while the city centre is a living open air museum in its own right, making this city one of the world's top travel destinations. It's also the second largest city in the country.
  • Irkutsk (Иркутск) — the world's favourite Siberian city, located within an hour of Lake Baikal on the Trans-Siberian Railway
  • Kazan (Казань) — the capital of Tatar culture is an attractive city in the heart of the Volga Region with an impressive kremlin
  • Nizhny Novgorod (Нижний Новгород) — often overlooked despite being one of the largest cities in Russia, Nizhny Novgorod is well worth a visit for its kremlin, Sakharov museum, and nearby Makaryev Monastery
  • Sochi (Сочи) — Russia's favorite Black Sea beach resort has been largely unknown to foreigners, but this has started to change in a major way after hosting the 2014 Winter Olympic Games.
  • Vladivostok (Владивосток) — often referred to (somewhat ironically) as "Russia's San Francisco," full of hilly streets and battleships, this is Russia's principal Pacific city and the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway
  • Volgograd (Волгоград) — formerly Stalingrad, the scene of perhaps the deciding battle of World War II, and now home to a massive war memorial
  • Yekaterinburg (Екатеринбург) — the hub of the Urals region and one of Russia's principal cultural poles is a good stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway and an arrival point for visitors to the Urals, the second Russian financial centre.

Other destinations[edit]

Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world
  • Border of Europe and Asia — it's clearly defined in Yekaterinburg, and a very popular stop for photo ops straddling the continents!
  • Dombai — while neither as internationally famous nor as well kept nowadays, this is the most beautiful mountain resort area of the Northern Caucasus.
  • Golden Ring — a popular loop of pretty historical cities and towns forming a ring around Moscow.
  • Kamchatka — the region of active volcanoes, geysers, mineral springs, and bears walking in the streets.
  • Kizhi — one of the most precious sites in all Russia, Kizhi Island on Lake Onega is famous for its spectacular ensemble of traditional wooden churches.
  • Komi Virgin Forests — profoundly remote, and hard-to-visit, but this is by far Europe's largest wild area, containing Russia's largest National Park of Yugyd Va.
  • Lake Baikal — the "pearl of Siberia" is the world's deepest and largest lake by volume and a remarkable destination for all who love the outdoors.
  • Mamaev Kurgan — a massive monument and museum on and about the battlefield upon which the twentieth century's most pivotal battle played out: Stalingrad.
  • Solovetsky Islands — far north in the White Sea and home to the beautiful Solovetsky Monastery, which has served as both a military fortress and a gulag throughout its tortuous history.

Get in[edit]

Visa-free[edit]

(A) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 90 days: Abkhazia, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, South Africa, South Ossetia, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, Uzbekistan, Venezuela and Vanuatu.

(B) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 60 days: Mauritius, South Korea

(C) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 30 days: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cuba, Macau, Macedonia, Micronesia, Mongolia, Montenegro, Serbia, Seychelles, Thailand and Turkey (suspended from 1 Jan 2016).

(D) Countries/territories that do not require a visa for stay up to 14 days or others (if indicated): Belarus (unlimited period), Hong Kong and Nauru.

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). Transit to and from Kazakhstan (which is in customs union with Russia) is visa-free only through Moscow Vnukovo airport. Visas can, in some limited cases, be obtained from consular officers at the airports.

A "visa-free" regime will be introduced for visitors from all nations for the duration of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, which will be held in Russia.

Visas[edit]

Arranging a visa basically involves two steps:

  1. Getting an invitation and
  2. Applying for the visa.

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[edit]

Russia's most striking border crossing—the Friendship Bridge between the castles of Narva and Ivangorod

Procedures for US citizens
A visa facilitation agreement that entered into force on 9 September 2012 has changed the requirements for US citizens to obtain Russian visas (and, for that matter, vice-versa), which changes several of the aspects of the procedure. The main points are:

  • U.S. Citizens no longer need formal, approved invitations or vouchers for business, tourist, or private/homestay visas, but they will need a letter of sponsorship from their inviting agency (hotel or business contact person). Additional information may be required by the consulate.
  • Visas may now permit a maximum continuous stay of six months (rather than 90 days per 180-day period) and may now be valid for multiple entries over up to three years.
  • If a passport containing a Russian visa is lost, an exit visa is not required to depart the country if the visa was still valid and the permitted stay duration was not exceeded. (A new visa is required to return to Russia, however.)

Other aspects of the visa regime were accordingly changed; due to this, it's wise to contact the nearest Russian consulate for further information.


The invitation type determines the visa. A tourist invitation results in a tourist visa, a private visit invitation results in a private visit visa etc. Except for tourist visas, invitations are official documents issued by Russian government agencies and must be applied for by the person or organization inviting you. The invitation will include the intended dates of travel and the number of entries requires (1, 2 or multiple). The dates on the invitation determine the period of the ensuing visa's validity. If in doubt of dates, ensure that the invitation covers a period longer than the intended stay: a tourist visa valid for 7 days costs the same as one valid for 30 days.

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[edit]

Moscow City CBD

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. Note that there might be some variations regarding to the exact requirements of the application. 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[edit]

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.

Registration[edit]

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, it may me requested at border control.

Overstaying a visa[edit]

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.

By plane[edit]

Aeroflot plane at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport

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 RUB470 (August 2016), 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[edit]

From Austria[edit]
  • Pobeda [2] flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Bratislava from € 49 one way.
  • NIKI flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Vienna (Vienna International Airport). Approximate one-way price — €99.
From Germany[edit]
  • Eurowings [3] flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Cologne (Köln Bonn Airport), Hamburg (Hamburg Airport) and Stuttgart (Stuttgart Airport). There are also connections from Berlin (Berlin Schönefeld) and Cologne (Köln Bonn Airport) to Saint Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport). Approximate one-way price — US$100. The airline is stopping its flights from Berlin to Moscow from November 2016.
  • Pobeda [4] flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Munchen Memmingen and from Köln CGN daily from € 49 one way.
  • Lufthansa flies:
    • to Moscow (Domodedovo) from Frankfurt and Munich;
    • to Moscow (Vnukovo) from Dusseldorf, Frankfurt and Hamburg;
    • to St. Petersburg (Pulkovo 2) from Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Munich;
    • to Kazan, Nizhniy Novgorod, Perm, Samara and Yekaterinburg from Frankfurt.
From Greece[edit]
  • Aegean Airlines [5] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Athens (Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport) [6] from 155€ return ticket, Thessaloniki (Macedonia Airport) [7] from 177€ return ticket.
  • Astra Airlines: [8] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport), Novosibirsk (Tolmachevo Airport), Omsk, Rostov-on-Don, St. Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport), from Thessaloniki (Macedonia Airport) [9]
From Italy[edit]
  • Evolavia [10] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Ancona (Raffaello Sanzio Airport) on Wednesday. Approximate one-way price — €140.
  • Wind jet [11] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Catania (Fontanarossa International Airport), Forlì (L. Ridolfi), Palermo and Verona. Approximate one-way price — €90.
  • Pobeda [12] flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Milano Bergamo daily from € 49.
From Spain[edit]
  • Pobeda [13] flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Girona) twice a week from € 49 oneway.
  • clickair [14] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Barcelona Airport). Approximate one-way price — €179.
  • vueling [15] also files to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Barcelona Airport). One-way fare €110-€180 if booked in advance.

Lower-cost air-lines from the Middle East, India, South-East Asia and Australia[edit]

From/via United Arab Emirates[edit]
  • Emirates [16] flies from Dubai to Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow and to Pulkovo Airport in Saint Petersburg (starting November 1 2011). New jets, high quality, a little pricey but sometimes they have really cheap sales. A good option to connect if flying from India, South-East Asia or Australia.
  • Etihad [17] flies from Abu Dhabi to Domodedovo International Airport. Relatively new player on the highly competitive market of Europe to Asia/Australia connections. Offers one-way fares which are just slightly more expensive than a half of the return fare (also, return price generally does not become higher in case of a longer stay up to 1 year), the strategy otherwise employed almost exclusively by low-cost airlines. Offers very competitive rates also, especially for the connecting flights.
From/via Qatar[edit]
  • Qatar Airways, another player on the Middle Eastern intercontinental connections market, files from Doha to Domodedovo International] airport. One of just 5 airlines of the world rated by Skytrax as 5-star. Nevertheless, connecting airfares from Asia are often quite modest.

By train[edit]

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.

Except for the swish new carriages that run from Moscow to Nice and Paris, the international trains generally offer the same quality of compartment as the domestic trains (see Get around: By train).

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).

Europe[edit]

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.

Kaliningrad has a short train connection to Gdynia in Poland and the trains from Kaliningrad to Moscow and St Petersburg pass through Vilnius in the afternoon.

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!

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.

CAVEAT: Trains to Moscow from Berlin, Warsaw and Prague pass through Belarus, which presents an additional visa requirement for most tourists (check the Visa information for Belarus). Getting a Belarusian visa is neither as difficult nor as costly as getting a Russian visa, but it is a nuisance. No type of visa can be obtained at the border crossing, so you have to apply in advance at a nearest Belarusian consulate. Otherwise you'll be mercilessly kicked out of the train in the middle of the night (for further information check Belarusian passport and customs controls). This hassle may be able to be avoided by taking a longer route through Kiev, since Ukraine is visa-free for many Westerners. Check the Visa information for Ukraine


Asia[edit]

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.

By car[edit]

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.

By bus[edit]

Sochi's Seaport

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.

By boat[edit]

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.

By bicycle[edit]

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.

Get around[edit]

By train[edit]

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 theRussian long-distance rail timetable. [18] [19] [20] 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.

Luggage[edit]

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 x W x 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.

Bicycle transport[edit]

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.

Sleeper cars[edit]

Winter travel on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. An old Ammendorf carriage that is rather difficult to find on Russian railways nowadays (2016)
For comparison: a modern TVZ carriage. Ladozhsky railway station, Saint Petersburg

Almost all long-distance trains are set up for overnight travel. There are several classes of accommodation:

  • Deluxe – lyuks (люкс) – the most comfortable and the most expensive, with private compartments for two adults and a child, with a private toilet and shower. Only a few branded trains have this posh class. An entire compartment is reserved even if you buy a ticket for yourself only, thus the price can be up to 3 times higher than in the 1st class.
  • 1st class – spalnyy (спальный) – with private compartments for two people. Most trains connecting major cities have a car of this class; tickets are quite expensive in comparison with European standards. Colloquially this class is commonly referred to as SV (es-veh, СВ).
  • 2nd class – kupe (купе) – with private compartments for four people. Each compartment has two top-bunk and two bottom-bunk berths, with an exception of places with numbers 38 and 37: they are located in one small compartment for two people, one above another: formerly these compartments were used for car attendants' rest, but now they are sold to passengers on regular basis. In the daytime bottom-bunk berths are shared with your neighbours from above as sitting places. In modern single-decker 2nd class carriages of branded (firmenny) trains the lower berths are convenient sofas that are easily transformed into beds by putting down their backs. On some trains, compartments may be marked as male, female, or mixed-sex by the ticketing system. Note that in double-decker 2nd class carriages top-bunk berths on both levels offer little overhead space suitable only for lying position, and luggage in these compartments can be placed only under bottom-bunk berths. This is because overall carriage height is limited by the overhead wire.
Corridor of a modern TVZ double-decker carriage (lower level)
The 2nd class compartment of a branded train


In all the three above-mentioned classes bedding is always included in the ticket price, and 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.

  • 3rd class – platskart (плацкарт) – with unwalled compartments of four fold out beds opposite two beds on the window wall. There is controversy on safety of these compartments. For some these compartments are generally less safe than other classes as they allow uncontrolled access. Others point out that in an open car full of witnesses the chances of becoming a victim of a crime or harassment are less. Anyway, they provide for a much more immersive experience. Bedding is an additional option that can be bought together with the ticket if you specify it explicitly.
  • Sitting class – sidyachiy (сидячий) – sitting cars for shorter distance, with rather soft but a bit narrow armchairs (like in intercity buses) and seat reservation. These are mostly met on slower regional trains, but sometimes can be found on quite long-run routes, such as 145/146 Saint PetersburgChelyabinsk one. No bedding, of course. Not recommended if you take an overnight trip, however it's a cheap option for a 200-300 km travel between adjacent regions. Modern carriages of this class offer more comfortable armchairs, vacuum WCs, air conditioning, TV sets, and a 220V socket for each passenger.

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).

Train classes[edit]

Trains are classified according to their average speed:

  • skorostnoy (скоростной, numbered 701 to 750) and vysokoskorostnoy (высокоскоростной, numbered 751 to 788) – the fastest trains (mostly seating, but the "Strizh" trains also have carriages with sleeping accommodations), average speed is 91+ km/h, current maximal speed record is ~250 km/h by the "Sapsan" trains;
  • skoryy (скорый, numbered 1 to 150 round-the-year and 151 to 298 seasonal) – rapid trains with overnight accommodation, average speed is 50 – 91 km/h, most often 60 – 80 km/h;
  • passazhirskiy (пассажирский, numbered 301 to 450 and 601 to 698 round-the-year, 451 to 598 seasonal) – slower trains with more frequent stops, average speed is less than 50 km/h. Mostly used on regional routes.
  • pochtovo-bagazhnyy/gruzopassazhyrskiy (почтово-багажный/грузопассажирский, numbered 901 to 998) – mainly used to deliver post and bulky baggage or goods but also offering passenger capacity to persons accompanying these items;
"Lastochka" fast commuter trains between Saint Petersburg and Vyborg cover the 130km distance between the two cities in only 1h15m
  • prigorodnyy/elektropoyezd (пригородный/электропоезд, numbered 6001 to 6998) – suburban trains mostly serving commuters in cities.
  • express suburban trains (экспресс, numbered 7001 to 7999) – faster suburban trains, including Lastochka (Siemens Desiro Rus) high-speed trains connecting regional and large cities. They make few stops along the way. The difference in fares compared to conventional suburban trains is low, so it's one of the most preferred options to get to Moscow from the capitals of adjacent regions.

According to their standards of service, some trains are promoted to branded ones (firmennyy, фирменный) 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, use their own special liveries. 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.

Tickets[edit]

Russian train ticket with fields description

Because all long-distance trains covering 700+ km distances 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 [21] or Russian Railways e-shop [22] (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 [23], RussianTrains [24] or RussianTrain [25]. 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 tips[edit]

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 [26] (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 travelling 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 2017, all the branded trains, as well as about a quarter to a third 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 travelling 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 may be consumed right there without any problems. But note that, as of 2014, most dining cars officially offer only alcohol up to 16.5%. Sometimes they can unofficially offer you vodka poured in a tea-pot, but beware of its possibly low quality. Perhaps, the best choice in this case would be a glass or two of quality wine instead.

Be aware of the time zones difference between the cities, e.g. Moscow and Vladivostok differ by 7 hours. Within Russian territory trains always operate on Moscow time zone (UTC+3).

By bus[edit]

Bus stop in Lipetsk

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. 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 long distance buses and the state buses depart from there. However, in Moscow and in some other Russian cities, a number of commercial buses are available, and they generally don't depart from the bus station. Quite often, you'll see commercial 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 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.

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.

By plane[edit]

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.

  • Aeroflot based at Sheremetyevo airport, Moscow, is Russia's national airline for local Russian and CIS flights and international flights to worldwide cities (Germany, South Korea, US, etc.). Flights from St. Petersburg back into Moscow run only USD57 (May 2009) and makes this less expensive and less time consuming than taking the train. Since December 2010 Aeroflot operates both domestic and international flights from the new Terminal D located next to the old international terminal (now Terminal F) serving non-Aeroflot international departures. Many international flights and most internal ones are operated by Boeing and Airbus aircraft, only a few soviet era aircraft are left.
  • S7 airlines (ex-Siberia or Sibir Airlines) Russia's largest domestic carrier with international service to many cities in Germany, China and ex-Soviet republics.
  • UTair operates the largest aircraft fleet in Russia and ranks among the top five largest Russian carriers by passenger volume. UTair is the Russian market leader in helicopter services and is the world's fourth largest helicopter service provider by volume of international operations.
  • Yakutia Airlines is Siberian/Far Eastern air carrier having extensive flight network around Siberia and abroad.
Getting around via reindeer sledge in Nenetsia

By boat[edit]

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.

Talk[edit]

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 Belarusian. 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. Concentrate on learning some key "courtesy" phrases, and the Cyrillic alphabet (e.g. "ресторан" spells "restoran" in the Roman alphabet, which means "restaurant") so you have a chance to recognize street names, labels and public signs.

Learning Russian is not as hard going, as one may think, certainly more difficult than Spanish but nowhere near as difficult as Arabic or Chinese or any Asian langauages. There is lots of borrowed words from German and English being used in everyday life. The script, Cyrillic, uses many letters of the Latin alphabet but assigns many of them different sounds. The language is possibly even easier to learn than French, so if have mastered French you are going to master Russian.

Do be aware that there are considerable visual differences between handwritten cursive Russian and printed Russian. Some letters may look very similar to one another or be written completely different which can cause quite a bit of confusion; for instance, two of the letter "л" ("L") bears a strong resemblance to "ш" ("sh") or the capital letter "Д" looking much more like it's Latin equivalent "D" but the lowercase "д" is written almost exactly like a Latin "g". One should study the differences between handwritten Russian and printed Russian in order to avoid complication.

Trinity Monastery in Sergiev Posad—the spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church

Many younger Russians in the largest cities (such as Moscow or St. Petersburg) know enough English to communicate. Outside these areas English is generally nonexistent, so take a phrase book and be prepared for slow communication with a lot of interpretive gestures.

Russian is the official language spoken as good as everyone in the country. There are about a hundred of other ethnic groups speaking their own indigenous languages. However, a smattering of Russian will greatly aid travellers no matter where they are.

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 hosts several cultural and educational centers of German, French, English, Spanish, Japanese and other foreign languages.

  • IELTS schools are numerous and one can find them in all big and small cities, the number of accredited exams centers, however is shorter but enough[29].

See[edit][add listing]

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.

Historical attractions[edit]

Fortress at Derbent

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.

Early history[edit]

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.

Imperial history[edit]

The Grand Cascade in Peterhof

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.

Soviet history[edit]

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 (<script id="gpt-impl-0.24420531752120705" src="http://pubads.g.doubleclick.net/gpt/pubads_impl_113.js"></script>former Stalingrad) is an excellent destination. Kursk, for its enormous tank battle, and Saint Petersburg, site of the Siege of Leningrad, make interesting destinations.

The Motherland Calls, looming over the Battlefield of Stalingrad, atop Mamayev Kurgan

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.

Cultural sights[edit]

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.

Kazan's Kul-Sharif Mosque, largest in Europe

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.

Natural attractions[edit]

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.

Yugyd Va National Park, in the Komi Virgin Forests

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).

Itineraries[edit]

Do[edit][add listing]

The lavish Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg
  • Music — Russia has a long musical tradition and is well-known for its composers and performers. There is no doubt you will find more orchestra performances the bigger the city. Classic music is played in various theaters, where domestic and guest concerts are scheduled for weeks ahead. Besides that, the state supports folk ensembles in smaller towns or even villages and singing babushkas gatherings are still a well-established tradition in many areas. In areas traditionally inhabited by non-Russian ethnic groups, you may encounter ethnic music of every possible sound, like throat singing in Tuva or rare instruments of Chukotka[31]. Sometimes only specialists can differ the Cossack songs of the Urals from the Cossack songs of Krasnodar. Professional jazz players meet at Jazz over Volga festival in Yaroslavl. Walking along the main street on a Sunday will definitely enable you to hear guitar, saxophone, harmonium or flute in any city.
  • Military Parade on the Victory Day, which is celebrated on the 9th of May is commonly all-Russia holiday with city squares getting full of uniformed men and military vehicles both dated to Great Patriotic War/WWII and new ones. The Defender of Fatherland Day is a holiday when women in families or at work congratulate their men and co-workers. It happens on 23, February, just a couple of weeks before men return the favor to ladies on International Women's Day, 8 March.
  • Dancing. Russian classic ballet is renowned in the world and some national troupes exist even in such remote areas like Dagestan or Yakutia. Lezginka is a vibrant folk dance, always performed at big Caucasian events. If you are interested in folk style then watching a concert of Igor Moiseyev Ensemble alive is simply a must. Out of big cities you may easily find Irish dance, belly and Ball clubs, not to mention hip-hop and all.
  • Cinema Festivals. The major movie venue in Russia is Moscow International Film Festival[32] held in the end of June during 10 days and boasts of first-class stars from all over the world. Kinotavr[33] of Sochi, Moscow's Fesrtival of Latin America[34] and International film festival "Zerkalo" named after Andrei Tarkovsky[35] in Ivanovo are also curious for film fans.
  • Archstoyanie Festival. Established in 2006, the annual Archstoyanie Festival[36] takes place in Summer in Nikola-Lenivets in the Kaluga region, 220km west of Moscow. Under the leadership of renowned Russian sculptor Nikolay Polissky[37], this 'Festival of Landscape Objects' brings artists and architects from around the world to the region to create monumental sculptures. These sculptures become the site of performances, music events and other festivities.

Ecotourism[edit]

Swan Lake, quite possibly performed weekly in Russia!

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 [38]

Some Russian Nature Reserves on the internet:

  • The Great Arctic State Nature Reserve [39]
  • Central Forest State Nature Bioshere Reserve [40]
  • Ilmen State Reserve [41]

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:

Buy[edit][add listing]

Money[edit]

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, RUB500, RUB1000, and RUB5000 denominations. 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.

Identification Papers[edit]

Tsarskoye selo (Kings village) St.Petersburg

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 offence, are a thing of the past.

Shopping[edit]

The Moscow GUM—one of the world's most beautiful shopping malls, right on Red Square
  • MatRyoshka (матрёшка) — a collection of traditionally painted wooden dolls, each one stacking neatly within another
  • USHANka (ушанка) — a warm hat with ears (ushi)
  • SamoVAR (самовар) — an indigenous design for brewing tea. Note that when purchasing samovars of value (historical, precious gems or metal, etc.), it is wise to check with customs before attempting to take it out of the country
  • Russian wrist watches (Часы) — Russian watches have a great reputation amoung collectors. With brands like Слава,Заря,Восток,Штурманские, pay attention not to buy counterfeit goods. You can even visit in Saint Petersburg Petrodvorets Watch Factory.
  • Ice-cream (мороженое) - Russian ice-cream also especially good. In general check dairy products, you may like them.
  • Winter coats"Шуба"(shooba) in russian in department stores are well made, stylish and excellent values
  • Military greatcoats (sheeNEL) available in hard-to-find stores of military equipment
  • Down pillows of very high quality are to be found
  • HalVA (халва) — it's different from the kind found in Turkey or Greece (in that it's made of sunflower seeds, rather than sesame), but Rot-Front products are really good
  • Honey (мёд) — produced around the country; sorts and quality vary dramatically, but the higher-quality are worth seeking. Moscow hosts a honey market in Kolomenskoe some part of the year. A number of honey shops working all the year round can be found on VDNKh/VVTs grounds.
  • Caviar (икра), mostly red since 2007; black one is also available, but its volumes are small, and prices are 10+ times higher than those of red one (wild sturgeon harvesting is prohibited for ecological reasons, and its production is legal only on fish farms). Both types of caviar are most easy to find in large stores. Of course, it is best to buy fresh caviar directly at the production places: red one near the Pacific coast of Russia, and black one on fish farms, but tinned one is also OK.
  • Hard cheese — mostly produced in Altai; occasionally available from there in large stores in Moscow
  • Sparkling wine (шампанское) — Sparkling wine, "Russian Champagne" is surprisingly good (Abrau-Durso is believed to be the best brand, yet there are other good ones, too). Make sure you order it "suKHOye" (dry) or Brut. Many restaurants serve it at room temperature, but if you request it "cold" they can usually find a semi-chilled bottle. The cost is surprisingly low also, about USD10 for a bottle of authentic Abrau-Durso.
  • Skin-care products. While when it comes to make up, you'll find all the same products, that are popular on the West, a lot of people prefer locally produced skin-care products because of their superior price/quality combination. Brands to check: Nevskaya cosmetica (Невская косметика) and Greenmama
  • Many more traditional crafts
  • Accordions: Russia is second only to Italy in the significance of these instruments; the Soviet Union had its own unique system for accordion playing and many such instruments still exist. The Jupiter Bayan accordions are legendary for their unique construction, although extremely expensive.

Supermarkets[edit]

There are a number of cheap food/goods chains.

  • Billa [42] - a bit more expensive than the others. One the main chains in Austria, Billa now has some presence in Russia.
  • Perekrestok (Перекресток)[43] - also one of more expensive ones.
  • Carousel (Карусель) [44]
  • Auchan (Ашан)[45] and Atac (Атак)[46] - two brands of the famous Auchan French chain, smaller supermarkets are called Atac, while hypermarkets have Auchan brand. One of the cheapest, notorious in Russia for occasional selling out-of-date food, so double-check expiration date, however mostly it is ok.
  • Magnit (Магнит)[47]
  • Pyatyorochka (Пятёрочка)[48]
  • Lenta (Лента)[49]
  • Diksi (Дикси)[50]
  • O'Kay (О'Кей)[51]
  • Globus (Глобус or Гиперглобус) [52] - German chain of discounting hypermarkets. Most of them have a self-service restaurant with delicious cuisine and pretty reasonable prices, a bakery, and a meat processing shop with very tasty production.

Costs[edit]

Eat[edit][add listing]

Bliny buckwheat pancakes with salmon roe (ikra), sour cream (smetana) and chopped onion

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, Persia, 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 specialities include:

  • Ice Cream Plombir, in a wafer eadible cup, some thing Xi Jinping got as a present from the Russian President
  • Pelmeni (meat-filled dumplings, especially popular in Ural and Siberian regions)
  • Ryazhenka a variety of drinking yogurt which is made from baked fermented milk
  • Blini (pancakes, crepes)
  • Black bread (rye bread, somewhat similar to one used by North American delis and not as dense as German variety)
  • Piroshki (small pies or buns with sweet or savoury filling)
  • Golubtsy (Cabbage rolls)
  • Ikra Baklazhanaya (aubergine spread)
  • Okroshka (Cold soups based on kvass or sour milk)*Schi (cabbage soup) and Green schi (sorrel soup, may be served cold)
  • Borsch (beet and garlic soup)
  • Vinegret (salad of boiled beets, potato, carrots and other vegetables with vinegar)


Pelmeni meat dumplings with three dipping sauces

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 potatos. 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 not expected, is completely voluntary.

Drink[edit][add listing]

Vodka, imported liquors (rum, gin, etc), international soft-drinks (Pepsi, Coca- Cola, Fanta, etc), local soft drinks (Tarhun, Buratino, Baikal, etc.), distilled water, kvas (sour-sweet non-alcoholic naturally carbonized drink made from fermented dark bread) and mors (traditional wild berry drink).

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 are best avoided by the people not accustomed to the country — the enforcement is, in practice, focused on collecting more bribes from those buying and taking, rather than on busting drug-dealers, the people selling recreational illegal drugs in the clubs are too often linked with (or watched by) police; plain-clothes policemen know and frequently visit the venues where drugs are popular, and you will likely end up in a lot of problems with notoriously corrupt Russian police and probably paying multi-thousand-dollar (if not worse) bribe to get out, if you'll get caught. It really doesn't worth the risk here.

Russians are not famed for their abstemious character:

Vodka[edit]

High quality and popular domestic vodkas on the table: Russian Standard and Zelyonaya Marka (Green Mark)

When entering a local store, you might goggle at the amount of vodka on display. Drinking vodka in Russia is a different custom than in North America or Europe. 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. 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[edit]

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 RUB130 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.

"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, excepting beer on draught), 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 unpasteurised. 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[edit]

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.

Brandy (cognac)[edit]

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. 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.

Kvass[edit]

How it should be: a soviet-made bochka dispensing kvass on a hot day in Kaliningrad

Genuine kvass is very hard to find in the cities, there are only some chances in rural areas—but even there, only by a recommendation. Whatever is sold in supermarkets as kvass is merely an imitation, and is pretty far from a real product. What makes genuine kvass different includes: limited lifetime (normally 1 week), contains some alcohol (0.7% to 2.6% vol) and should be stored in a fridge. Genuine kvass can be bought in 0.2L 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.

Medovukha[edit]

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 10-16% of alcohol. You may see it sold in bottles or poured in cups in fast-food outlets and shops.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

Gleaming towers of Ladya housing estate, symbols of Volga natural gas wealth, in Samara

In most cities, 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.

Learn[edit]

Moscow State University

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 [53] and Saint Petersburg State University [54] are the most famous.

Due in great part to demands of the international educational organizations, the system of education in Russia began to adopt 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. The universities are still in the process of these changes; some of them offer the new system and others still work according to the prior 5-year system, particularly in programs such as law.

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).

  • Ruslanguage [55] - Center for Russian Language Studies in Old Arbat, Moscow
  • Study in Russia [56] — Russian Language Courses at Voronezh State University
  • EducaCentre [57] — Centre for Russian language and Volunteer & Internship programmes in Saint Petersburg
  • Extra Class[58] — Private school near Dostoevsky Museum in Saint Petersburg
  • Transparent Language [59] Learn Russian Online to prepare for travel to Russia
  • Liden & Denz [60] — Private school in Moscow and Saint Petersburg
  • ProBa Language Center [61] St.Petersburg, Russia
  • SRAS [62] School of Russian and Asian Studies (all major Russian cities)
  • Ziegler & Partner [63] Russian language courses at Moscow State University

Work[edit]

Stay safe[edit]

Moscow at night

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 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.

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 be brought a sentence of at least several decades.

Crime[edit]

Russian Police

The crime rate is definitely lower than in New York or London or Paris, but it is always advisable to being cautions and be aware of the crooks and people offering accommodation or selling things.

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. At best they would know a couple of words of German. Do not attempt to give policemen a bribe as you will be charged with bribery.

North Caucasus[edit]

As a tourist, you are strongly discouraged to travel to the North Caucasus, as that region is the most dangerous in the entire country. The area has garnered a bad reputation for terrorism, crime and extremes of both corruption and lawlessness.

At present, the safest region to access for the time being is Karachay-Cherkessia, as that region has encountered very little attacks in the past few years. If you really need to visit the more dangerous pockets 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 groups.

Road Safety[edit]

Typical traffic in Russia.

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 vast distances, most country roads and even in small cities road surfices are in urgent need of maintenance. Driving in winter is especially cumbersome, due to icy conditions, so definitely get 4x4 vehicle. When driving you must not be under the influence of alcohol. Russian law has a zero tolerance for this, imposing as a punishment the loss of licences for 2 years but, despite this, traffic accidents and fatalities remain high in Russia. If you are pulled over by the DPS (Russian Traffic Police), don't worry — they will simply check your papers. Do not attempt to bribe officers!. Under no circumstances try to run away from them — if you do, they will pursue you and even shoot your vehicle, even if you do not possess any firearms with you.

Racism[edit]

As a result of massive immigration from Asia and the Caucasus, modern Russia is a largely multicultural society. 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. You will get a better treatment in Russia as a foreigner than in any European country.

That said, it is still fairly rare to spot non-Caucasians in most Russian cities, and depending on where you go in the country, you might be met with open stares (more so by the older and younger generation) and treated with a degree of suspicion from the Russian police if you are of African, Asian or South American ethnicity.

You may also attract a degree of suspicion or open stares from certain people if you are from those mentioned areas and walk around with a local woman.

LGBT issues[edit]

Same-sex sexual activity is not prohibited by law, but as of June 2013, "homosexual propaganda to minors", is prohibited, which means that any discussion of gay rights or homosexuality issues with or around minors is punishable by law. The LGBT situation in Russia is very tense given the fact that the majority of the population is conservative and that there have been several groups initiating numerous campaigns in order to bring about change in the status quo of Russian society.

If you are LGBT, there is no reason for you to not come to Russia, but it is strongly recommended that you do not display your sexuality in public.

That being said, if you are LGBT is is strongly recommended that you stay out of areas such as Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan, and other Muslim plurality republics within the North Caucasus.

Stay healthy[edit]

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 stores or specialized ones like Aromatnyi Mir [64] in Moscow, with the sticker over the cap and/or the region's barcode on the side.

Respect[edit]

Russians are well-mannered people. They are usually reserved with strangers, but once gained acquaintance, especially while drinking, they become very frank and sincere.

Things to do[edit]

  • Do not assume that everybody in Russia is ethnically Russian. Referring to an ethnic Tatar from Tatarstan as Russian for instance is considered disrespectful. If you're in doubt, ask about their "nationality", customs and traditions, as they may be different from Russian customs.
  • Smiling in Russia is traditionally reserved for friends, and smiling at a stranger may make them self-conscious. Smile at a Russian in the street and most likely they will not respond in kind. An automatic Western smile is widely regarded as insincere. While that tradition is slowly changing as Russia smiling is still very rare in customer service. Sales assistants, public servants and the like are expected to look serious and businesslike. Hence the very common misconception about Russians that they are a very grim folk and never smile — they do, once they get to know you, and become very welcoming and kind.
  • When approaching a stranger with a question, attempt to use Russian at first. Russians are very proud of their language and people will be noticeably more aloof if you approach them speaking English. Even just using the Russian equivalents of 'please' and 'thank you' will make a noticeable difference to people. In fact, Russians love the few foreigners who make any attempt to speak their language.
  • If you are communicating in Russian, always make it a point to use the formal word for "you", instead of the informal word for "you" until or unless your acquaintance/friend invites you to use the informal "you" with them. This is expected out of every visitor to Russia, especially if they are meeting somebody older than them. A visitor using the informal word for "you" with somebody they have not met before can* be interpreted as inconsiderate. That said, Russians know that their language is a difficult language to learn and they do not expect you to speak or become fluent in it. Whatever mistake you make, they will welcome your efforts.
  • Do not overlook pregnant women, young children or the elderly on public transportation. Always offer your seat to them whenever you see them, otherwise you will be met with open stares. This is expected out of any visitor to Russia.
  • Women are traditionally treated with chivalry. Female travellers should not act surprised or indignant when their Russian male friends pay their bills at restaurants, open every door in front of them, offer their hand to help them climb down that little step or help them carry anything heavier than a handbag — this is not intended as condescending. Male travellers should understand that this will be expected of them by Russian women too.
  • While tipping was traditionally frowned upon in Russia it has been emerging after the fall of communism. A customary tip in a restaurant is 10%, and should you leave more money than the exact total when paying your bill at a restaurant, particularly if it happens to be more or less like 10% above the total, it will be interpreted as a tip. If the service was particularly bad and you don't want to leave a tip, ask for your change.
  • The "OK" gesture is uncommon in Russia. It’s not a terrible offence, but elder people will possibly not understand what you are trying to say, so if you’re looking for a sign of approval or reassurance, a thumbs-up is probably a better way to go.
  • Modesty is a virtue in in Russia. Bragging about or showing off your wealth is incredibly impolite in Russia, as is asking Russians questions about how much they earn or how much do their personal belongings cost.

Things to Avoid[edit]

Politics:

  • At all costs, keep your political opinions to yourself. Although it is legal to criticize the government and make judgements about Russia's politics, ordinary Russians will react very coldly to you. They would normally assume that you're trying to teach them to live in their country and it can be taken negatively.
  • At all costs, do not insult, speak badly of, or pass negative judgements the country. Russians in general have strong, nationalistic views and they are extremely proud of their country even if some of them are disappointed with the current state of things. Any negative comment can and will be taken in a very negative way. Bear in mind that many Russians have had to contend with several hardships and they pride themselves on being able to succeed in conditions that others could not.

Religion:

  • Even though a large percentage of the population are adherents of Russian Orthodoxy, the majority of Russians are non-observant and never attend church services of any kind. On the contrary, a large percentage of the population in the North Caucasus are adherents of Islam and are far more religious than any other region in the country. With all of this being said, religion is a strictly private matter. Investigations into people's faith is unacceptable conduct and will not be tolerated.
  • At all costs, show extreme respect when visiting an Orthodox church.. Inappropriate behaviour within a church service is considered extremely disrespectful for which you could be frowned upon by the cardinals or at worst, be given a prison sentence. In mid-2017, a young man was put on probation following a very controversial and contested incident in which he live streamed himself playing Pokemon Go within an Orthodox church in a video that was eventually put onto YouTube.


Sensitive Issues:

  • At all costs, be very respectful when talking about Russia's involvement in World War II. That conflict was a major tragedy for Soviets and every family has at least one relative among the 25-30 million people who died—way above all of Western Europe and America combined—and the scars of that conflict are still felt today. These events are "sacred" for many Russians and making any kind of judgements/jokes about it is very insulting and it will be taken in the worst way possible.
  • At all costs, do not mention the Georgian-Ossetian conflict, the Crimean dispute, the war in Ukraine, as well as the ongoing insurgency in the North Caucasus. Russian society has a highly emotional stance on these issues, and they should be avoided if at all.

Family:

  • It is considered extremely impolite in Russia to pass unwarranted comments or make jokes about someone's family members in Russia. In a country that has one of the highest divorce rates in the world, family is a strictly private matter. Russians will surprise you with big anger if you jump in to joke about their family members or give in your opinion about their family life without even asking them for it. Never make personal comments about anyone's family members or tell people what to do with their family life in Russia, ever.

Home etiquette[edit]

  • If you are invited to somebody's home, bring them a small gift as a form of respect. However, most will end up protesting when offered a gift. Reply that it is a little something and offer the gift again and it will generally be accepted, hopefully. It is reasonable to bring a bottle of alcohol (проставиться — proSTAvitsya in colloquial Russian) if you expect to spend the evening in a less formal way. Many Russian men consider that there can never be too much alcohol for a good evening, and eventually they turn out to be completely right!
  • If you bring flowers, do not give yellow ones — in Russia, this colour is considered as a sign of cheating in love and separation and especially never used for wedding bouquets. The other superstition is related to the number of flowers. This quantity must always be odd that is 3,5,7 and so on. An even number of flowers is always brought to funerals.
  • Do not give a baby gift until after the baby is born to a particular family. It is bad luck to do so sooner. Verbal congratulations before a person's birthday is often thought as a bad sign.
Church on the Blood, Yekaterinburg, on the spot where Tsar Nicholas II and his family were executed by the Bolsheviks, ending the Romanov Dynasty
  • When arriving at someone's house, remove your outdoor shoes. You may be given slippers to wear. Russians usually cover their floors in living rooms with carpets that allow to stay in socks or even barefoot.
  • Be sure to dress well before entering your host's house. Dressing well shows respect for your hosts, and formal clothes is a good choice when you arrive to someone you're not acquainted with yet, especially if your host has certain social status (e.g. a professor). However, this rule may not work among young people.
  • Never sit down on the floor. Russians regard this as bad manners, and even sitting down on a carpeted floor may result in some odd looks. Your host may offer a blanket for you to sit down on.
  • Never rest your feet/shoes on the seats. Russians regard this as bad/unhygienic manners.

Dining etiquette[edit]

  • When having food with hosts, never get up until you are invited to leave the table. This is considered disrespectful. At any formal dinner, the guest of honour has the right to leave first.
  • The hosts might get quite persistent when offering an alcoholic drink. You will often have to be very firm if you want to reject that 2nd (or the 3rd, 4th, 10th...) shot. Claiming problems with medicine or pregnancy is always an imperfect option. Simply and grimly stating that you are an alcoholic can do the job too, but will depress your hosts.
  • On the other hand you can encounter a company of abstainers. Be aware of this especially if you know you are to dine with conservative Muslims, sXe movement followers, etc. Even slight mentioning of alcohol in such companies is better to be avoided. Anti-alcohol sentiment is widely growing among advanced Russian youth, sometimes with a certain piece of maximalism denying ANY alcohol consumption.
  • You will often be urged by your hostess to take second helpings ad infinitum. If so, take it as a form of respect. Moreover, she really will love you if you keep eating. However you may just politely say that you are satiated already and thank her, it will be perfectly understood. Finishing everything on your plate may encourage your host to persist that you eat another plate of food because they want to save face by making sure that you are full. This may make them disregard whether they have enough leftovers for themselves. If you leave a very small amount of food (like 2-5 bites worth) they will know that you were fed and you are full and satisfied.
  • Do not rest your elbows on the table. This is considered rude (for kids).
  • Do not lick your food off your knife. It’s considered rude and a sign of cruelty.
  • Do not sit at the corner of a table. It's considered bad luck.
  • Never refuse an alcoholic drink with your Russian hosts. If you don't feel like drinking, accept the drink nonetheless and keep the conversation going.
  • Always offer to help your hosts clean up after a meal. Although they may sometimes protest, saying a simple "Are you sure" may prompt them to accept your offer. Offering to help your hosts clean up is very respectful and it will make any family/acquaintance want to respect you more.
  • You will be expected to try every dish on the table. If you don't like something that your host has made, don't say it out loud otherwise you could end up offending your hosts. Just have a small portion, keep it to the side and everything will be okay.
  • Do not be surprised if unexpected guests turn up for a meal. Visiting on a spur of the moment is a typical Russian style of gathering with family and friends, so don't let that bother/surprise you.

Other things to watch out for[edit]

  • Whistling is unacceptable in every Russian home. In Russia, It is a very common superstition that whistling would make the owner of the house poor. If you feel the need to whistle, do it outdoors not indoors.
  • Do not shake hands with people while wearing gloves or standing in the doorway. It is associated with bad luck.
  • Never talk loudly in public. Russians have a marvellous and intimately quiet way of speaking with one another in public. It's best to try and follow suit to avoid standing out like a sore thumb.
  • Never arrive late to any invitation/meeting. Russians pride themselves on punctuality.

Church etiquette[edit]

  • Before entering a church, men should take off their headwear and women should cover their heads with headscarves.
  • Like in about a half of Autocephalous Orthodox Churches, participation in the Holy Communion is allowed only after confession if the confessor has blessed you to take the Eucharist (for this a 2-3-day fast should be observed beforehand and Holy Eucharist "posledovanie" prayers read, and, of course, you must be an Orthodox Christian, forgive all your enemies and completely believe that before you is the True Flesh and Blood of Our Lord Jesus Christ). When in a queue to confession, Eucharist, icons, relics, etc., men go first.

Contact[edit]

Emergency services (landlines)[edit]

  • 01 - fire fighting and lifeguard
  • 02 - police
  • 03 - emergency medical aid.
  • 04 - gas emergencies

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)[edit]

  • First dial 112 and after hearing the voice dial the extra number:
    • 1 - fire fighting and lifeguard
    • 2 - police
    • 3 - emergency medical aid
    • 4 - gas emergencies

Operators are not fluent in English, and typically only speak Russian, so expect a language barrier if you don't know any Russian.

2gis[edit]

  • 2gis official website - Cities information service. Available online and as standalone application for desktop, laptop, iOS, Android, Windows Phone. Useful to find the location of desired address, find the desired company information, find the transportation from one location to another.

Prepaid SIM cards[edit]

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 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.

Internet[edit]

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 before using free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Wi-Fi is also available in some of the newest trains, but in most cases it allows free access to local resources only, and Internet connection requires a separate payment depending on desired time ranging from 1 hour to unlimited access till the end of your route. Internet signal is usually received from hybrid 3G/satellite network and sometimes can be unstable due to outdoor conditions.

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