Explore Russia the largest country in the world, covering more than one-eighth of the Earth’s inhabited land area, spanning Eastern Europe and northern Asia.
Russia can’t be understood by mind,
nor measured by common yardstick.
Russia can only be believed in.
The terrain consists of broad plains with low hills west of the Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; uplands and mountains along southern border regions; mountainous and volcanic throughout much of the Russian Far East.
Russia’s territory stretches over continents of Europe and Asia and has therefore many different climate zones. From the subtropical Black sea coast to the Far Eastern regions including southern parts of Siberia, there is mostly continental climate, with hot summers enabling outdoor swimming in rivers, lakes and hiking, and cold winters with a lot of snow, a paradise for ski holidays.
Russia’s list of holidays is divided into federally and regionally established, ethnic, historical, professional and religious. These are the 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 Labor (1 May).
- Victory Day (9 May).
- Day of Russia (12 June).
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.
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.
Travelling by train and bus in Russia
Russians are proud of their culturally diverse language.
Many younger, educated Russians and those working in the service industry know enough English to have a basic conversation, but generally speaking, little English is spoken amongst the locals, even in the capital city.
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.
Russian law forbids payments not in rubles. Fortunately, currency exchange offices 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.
ATMs, called bankomats, are common in large cities and can generally be found in smaller cities and towns. 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 1.000 USD 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. 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.
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, do no 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 is used in the detaining, unless you apply it first.
Normally a police officer will salute and ask for your passport (listen out for words like ‘paspart’, ‘veeza’ or ‘dakumenty’). Hand these to them, they will look at them. Stories from Russia that you can pay a police officer after committing a traffic offense are a thing of the past.
What to buy
- MatRyoshka — a collection of traditionally painted wooden dolls, each one stacking neatly within another
- USHANkaa warm hat with ears (ushi)
- SamoVARan 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. Russian watches have a great reputation among collectors. Pay attention not to buy counterfeit goods. You can even visit in Saint Petersburg Petrodvorets Watch Factory.
- Ice-cream. Russian ice-cream also especially good. In general check dairy products, you may like them.
- Winter coats (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 pillowsof very high quality are to be found
- HalVA — 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 — produced around the country; sorts and quality vary dramatically, but the higher-quality is 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, mostly red; 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 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, 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 cosmeticaand 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.
Quality hotels are in abundance in all major cities. International chain hotels like Hilton, Radisson, Park Inn can be present in almost an unlikely location. With international business people exploring every part of Russia for business opportunities, there is no lack in finding a good hotel for your budget. Russian themed hotels are especially a gem for tourists. Explore global hotel sites for finding a good hotel for your budget.
Another useful option is short-term apartment rental offered by small companies or individuals. This means that certain flats in regular living buildings are permanently rented out on a daily basis. The flats may differ in their location and quality from old-fashioned to recently renovated.
A new phenomenon has been the development of “mini-hotels” in large Russian cities. Such hotels usually (but not necessarily!) provide clean modern rooms with private baths at far lower costs than conventional large hotels. These small hotels are located within existing apartment buildings and include one, two, or more floors located a story or two above street level. They also often serve breakfast. Saint Petersburg has quite a few with more opening all of the time and some are appearing in Moscow.
Hostels are the cheapest variant of spending a night, and this business is currently booming in Russia. You can find a hostel in almost any regional centre. While in Moscow or Saint Petersburg, do ignore illegal hostel announcements on pavements and walls: reliable accommodations are not advertised this way! The best way to find a good hostel is surfing global booking sites and social networks.
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 free enterprise rationality, profiteering and scams have increased. The truth is that much of the violence was contained within the criminal groups themselves and has rapidly declined since the 1990s so that, for the average tourist, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and the rest of Russia are actually just as safe as most major European cities, if not more so.
You should be noted that Russia is a pioneer country in fighting against narcotics. Russia has a well-developed anti-narcotics enforcement system as well as a set of regulations against uses and carrying of narcotics as tough as Hong Kong and Singapore, drug-trafficking into Russia can bring a sentence of at least several decades.
Although the crime rate has fallen down dramatically since the 1990s, petty crime still remains an issue and it’s always advisable to be cautious of your surroundings.
Russia’s law enforcement in large cities is well-trained but don’t expect English to be spoken by the police outside of large cities. Do not attempt to bribe them as you will be charged with bribery. As in many countries around the former USSR, policemen may pull you aside to check your passport and/or documentation. Do not be intimidated by this as this is simply police procedure.
Russians are well-mannered people. They are usually reserved with strangers, but once gained acquaintance, especially while drinking; they become very frank and sincere.
Unesco World Heritage List
- Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments
- Kizhi Pogost
- Kremlin and Red Square, Moscow
- Cultural and Historic Ensemble of the Solovetsky Islands
- Historic Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings
- White Monuments of Vladimir and Suzdal
- Architectural Ensemble of the Trinity Sergius Lavra in Sergiev Posad
- Church of the Ascension, Kolomenskoye
- Curonian Spit
- Ensemble of the Ferapontov Monastery
- Historic and Architectural Complex of the Kazan Kremlin
- Citadel, Ancient City and Fortress Buildings of Derbent
- Ensemble of the Novodevichy Convent
- Historical Centre of the City of Yaroslavl
- Struve Geodetic Arc
- Bolgar Historical and Archaeological Complex
- Assumption Cathedral and Monastery of the town-island of Sviyazhsk
- Churches of the Pskov School of Architecture