Russia Travel Guide

By Admin | Last Updated September 12, 2019

Russia is a large country spanning across Northern Asia and Eastern Europe. It is the largest country in the world in terms of land area covering one-eighths of the total inhabited area on Earth. The country is spread over 17,125,200 kilometer square of area. It is the ninth most populated country in the world with a population of 146.79 million as of 2019. Most of Russia, about 77%, is in Asia with the rest 23% in Europe. 4.2 million tourists visited Russia in 2018. The Chinese were the largest in numbers followed by the Germans and South Koreans.

The country has the twelfth largest economy in the world as per the GDP world rankings. It is a formidable political power in world politics with the largest stockpile of nuclear armaments and massive oil and natural gas reserves. The Russian capital Moscow is the third largest city in Europe boasting a massive economy and covering 2511 square kilometers. St. Petersburg is the other major city that attracts thousands of tourists ever year for its palaces and cathedrals.

Russia has always remained somewhat shrouded in mystery. The communist government and political ‘iron curtain’ had prevented much travel. Language is another barrier that people from the western world face while travelling in Russia as they have their own Cyrillic script and language. However, the country still has a lot to offer to travelers in terms of nature, culture, architecture and history.

Russia shares the 1st position with China in land borders. A staggering 14 countries namely Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland and Ukraine share their borders with Russia. The land border is 20241 kilometers long.

Russia – Quick Facts

  1. Official Language:  Russian is the main language recognized officially. Over 100 minority languages are spoken in various parts of the country, important ones being: Tatar, Ukranian, etc.
  2. Capital City: Moscow
  3. Currency: Russian Ruble (further divided into 100 kopeks). The second oldest currency after the Pound Sterling and the first decimal currency in the world.
  4. ISD Telephone Code: +7
  5. Major Religions: Christianity, specifically Russian Orthodoxy. Other practiced minority religions include other types of Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. Atheism and non-denominational spirituality are also popular.
  6. 9 Constituent regions: Central European Region, North and Northwest European Region, Volga Region, Ural Region, North Caucasus Region, Western Siberia, North and Northwest Siberia, Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East.
  7. Government: Russia is a federal semi-presidential republic with a President as the head of state. Current President: Vladimir Putin
  8. Moscow is the capital is the largest city by size followed by St. Petersburg and Novosibirsk.
  9. Russia is the largest country in the world with an area of 17, 075,200 square kilometers.
  10. Mount Elbrus, a part of the Western Caucuses Range is the nation’s highest mountain peak at 5642 meters above sea level. It is the highest peak in Europe. A chair lift will take you to the 3000 meter mark.
  11. East Slavs, Finno-Ugric and Turkic races were the first to inhabit the land we now know as Russia.
  12. Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow is the biggest airport in the country.
  13. Russia covers 11 time zones due to its vast expanse.
  14. The climate of Russia varies widely across its length and breadth with continental, sub-arctic, temperate and even sub-tropical climate types existing in different parts of the country.
  15. Pelmeni (meat filled pastry) is the national dish of Russia. Traditional Russian food includes borscht soup, bliny, stroganoff, rye bread and more.

Highlights of Russia

Gorgeous Orthodox Churches The main religion followed in this country is Russian Christian Orthodoxy. The churches of Russia are architectural marvels. For those who love history, art and architecture buildings like St. Basil’s Cathedral, Annunciation Cathedral, Church of Christ the Savior, etc. are must-see places in Russia. The church buildings are generally domed and colorful.
Best Place to Enjoy Winter Though some parts of Russia are bitterly cold, boasting record low temperatures, the cities and towns are fabulous during winter season. The tourist flow is much lesser in places like Moscow and St. Petersburg. Covered in snow the palaces and churches make it look like a magical fairyland. Discounts on air fares and hotels make it lucrative to visit during winter months.
Heritage Galore  In this one trip you will get a big dose of history, heritage and culture. The kings and queens of Russian history lived in sumptuous palaces many of which are still available for visitors to walk through even today. The museums are packed full of artefacts and paintings worth a visit.
Art and Literature Novelists and literary figures like Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Gorky and others are celebrated the world over. The compositions of musical greats like Tchaikovsky, Borodin, etc. are being performed in concert halls and music classes worldwide. The Russian Opera and Bolshoi Ballet are par excellence in their performances. You get to experience the birthplace of these famous people and groups in Russia.
Natural Wonders There are 29 UNESCO World Heritage Sites across Russia. The natural beauty of this country is stunning and diverse. The Western Caucasus Mountains, Lake Baikal, Kamchatka Peninsula, Black Sea Beaches and the Great Siberian Plains are amazing places for nature lovers.

Incredible Kremlin and Red Square Tour to Moscow Russia

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The largest freshwater and deepest lake in the world, Lake Baikal, is in Russia.

Russia Tourist Visa

Most travelers from western countries (Europe and Americas) require a tourist visa to travel to Russia. Some countries of Asia, Latin America and South Africa have visa-free entry into Russia for a specified period. Applicants from specific countries can apply for e-visa to travel to certain parts of Russia. To know whether or not your country is in the list for e-visa check https://www.visitrussia.org.uk/visas/getting-a-russian-visa/

Here are a few other things to note:

  • Tourist visas are valid for a maximum period of 30 or 60 or 90 days (depending on countries) for both single and double entry.
  • It is advisable to start the visa process for entry into Russia at least a month before your trip date.
  • Your passport should be valid for at least 6 months from the time of travel and have two blank facing pages for stamping.
  • The visa process for a tourist visa to Russia involves invitation, application and registration step by step.
  • There are tourist agencies in Russia who can send you an invitation letter against a fee that helps in visa processing. Do find out more before paying any such agency.

Customs

Russia does not allow visitors to bring in, leave with or transit carrying the following types of items:

  • Narcotics, psychotropic drugs etc.
  • Bombs, explosives and poisonous substances
  • Historical artefacts, art works, antiques
  • Printed material undermining public morality

You will also need special permission from certain government departments of Russia to bring in items like: radio communication devices, firearms, weapons, over 250 grams of caviar. You are allowed:

  • A maximum of 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco product per person are allowed
  • Not more than 3 liters of liquor is allowed into the country
  • No more than 250 grams of caviar can be carried into or out of the country

Airport Tax

No airport tax is levied for entry or exit into Russian airports.

Getting in Russia

Russia can be accessed by many modes of transport. You can enter Russia through air, water and land. There are bus and train services, flights and even boats/ferries to get into Russia.

By Air – Moscow has direct flights to almost all major countries. Apart from the official airlines, there are a number of low cost airlines from European cities, Middle East and South East Asia and even Australia. St. Petersburg, Ekatarinburg, Vladivostok and a few other cities also have international airports but with limited flights.

By Boat – There are ferry services connecting Russia’s Sochi to Turkey and Vladivostok to Busan and many Japanese ports. Cruise ships also visit different Russian ports.

By Bus – International bus services connects to Russia’s neighbors. Berlin, Helsinki and Warsaw have regular bus services.

By Car – Barring some delays in border checks, getting into Russia by car is a good option. The road quality is good, car rentals are easily available, prices of gas or petrol is low and highways safe as they are police manned. But distances are huge.

By Train – Moscow and St. Petersburg have rail connections to all major cities of Europe. High speed as well as normal trains directly connects Moscow to other European cities. Moscow also has connections by train to other Asian cities like Beijing, Ulaanbataar and even Pyongyang.

The Trans-Siberian is the longest railway line in the world, crossing 16 rivers, 87 cities and 8 time zones.

Top Cities of Russia

  • Moscow: The Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s Mausoleum, Bolshoi Theatre
  • Saint Petersburg: State Hermitage Museum, Peterhof Palace, Savior on the Spilled Blood Church, Peter and Paul Fortress
  • Irkutsk: Epiphany Cathedral, Spasskaya Church, Angara River side, Kirov Square, Irkutsk Regional Arts Museum
  • Nizhny Novgorod: Cathedral of Archangel Michael and Kremlin, State Art Museum, Chkalov Stairs, Limpopo Gardens and Zoo
  • Yekaterinburg: Square of 1905, State Opera and Ballet Theatre, Keyboard Monument, Vysotsky Viewing Platform, Church Upon the Blood
  • Sochi: Black Sea Beaches, Park Riviera, Rosa Khutor Ski Resort, 33 Waterfalls, Lake Ritsa
  • Vladivostok: Eagle’s Nest Hill, The Funicular, Russian Opera House, Russian Steam Bath, S-56 Submarine Museum
  • Kazan: Kremlin, Kul Sharif Mosque, Temple of All Religions, Bauman Street
  • Lake Baikal: Largest Lake in the World, Ogoy Islands, Earless Seal Spotting, Sledding and Ice Skating in Winters

Getting Around Russia

By Train – Russian cities are well interconnected by the train services. There are many types and classes of trains. There are both cheaper ones as well as luxury trains while many are high speed and some are normal. Long distance trains as well as short distance connect the Russian cities. There are facilities to carry your bicycle on the trains provided some conditions.

By Planes – Russia is a huge country, with train travel taking more than 2 days. Almost all tourist destinations have airports and have regular internal flights connecting Moscow and other cities.

By Bus – Russian cities are interconnected by the bus service. But traffic jams are quite common, thereby enhancing the time of travel. But there are places where there are no trains or planes and buses are the only options.

By Car – Cars can be shared and there are taxis too. App based taxis are also available.

Russian Cathedrals of Moscow Historical Walking Tour

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Russia Climate

Many distinct climatic types mark the length and breadth of the country. Most of the country enjoys a continental type of climate which means warm summers and bitterly cold winters. Rain showers are few and far between in the summer months making it a great time enjoy the great outdoors. Apart from southern Russia the rest of the country has white winters with lots of snowfall.  Spring and summer months are the best time to travel to Russia. May to October is the official tourist season. The majority of this vast country has a continental type of climate where summers are hot and dry and winters are severe with a lot of snow and below freezing temperatures. The western region of Russia enjoys more rain than the east. The steppes in the south and southeastern parts of Russia are very dry with rainfall of less than 200 millimeters annually. In most parts of Russia from mid-October to Mid-March there is snow on the ground. Winter temperatures in Jakutia, Siberia have been known to record world record lows at -50 degrees Celsius. Oymyakon in Siberia is the coldest town inhabited by humans. Here are some of the weather statistics from important Russian cities.

City/Town Average Max Temp (ºC) Average Min Temp (ºC) Average Annual Rainfall (mm)
Moscow 26 -9 679
Saint Petersburg 23 -9 636
Vladivostok 26 -7 840
Sochi 28 3 1514

 

There are 12 active volcanoes in Russia.

Seasonal Guide to Visiting Russia

Summer is the popular tourist season for visiting Russia but the country is beautiful all year round. Here is our seasonal guide to help you decide the best time for you to make your trip to Russia.

  • Summer: The weather is warm in places and even gets quite hot in the month of July and August. Unexpected rain showers can surprise you even on days which appear sunny and hot. Pack light with comfortable summer clothing and footwear that is meant for walking. Do carry a small folding umbrella for the rain and sunscreen to protect you on the sunny days. Orthodox cathedrals follow a dress code, so women need to wear dresses and men have to wear full length pants (not shorts) for entry to these monuments.
  • Fall: September and October are picturesque in most parts of Russia. The crowds thin down after summer and the leaves of the trees turn red and gold. There are a number of holidays and celebrations during this period in Russia including the Teachers Day celebrated on the first Sunday of October and harvest festival marking the end of the crop growing season for the year.
  • Winter: Though winters can be bitterly cold in Russia, there are still some reasons that make it worthwhile to visit during the months of December and January. The breathtaking landscapes covered in snow whether in the cities or in the countryside are amazing to witness. White Christmases are almost always a guarantee in Russia. Snow sports like skating, sledding and skiing are popular at this time of year.
  • Spring: The shoulder months of March April and May are great for visiting Russia as the summer crowds have not yet arrived and the days are still chilly and pleasant. The change from winter to spring in Russia is marked by the blooming of multicoloured flowers and the fresh greenery of the landscape of the countryside. Easter celebrations are big in Russia with the cities and towns investing in decorations and festivities.

Russia on a Budget

  1. One of the more significant expenses of travelling to Russia is the flight ticket prices. Avoid the peak summer months of June, July and August and travel in the shoulder months of late spring and early fall for more affordable rates. The other way to plan is to take a flight that takes you to a destination close to Russia (Eastern European capitals) and then getting a reasonable fare into Russia from there.
  2. Book your hotels early as in the capital Moscow or in St. Petersburg they can be quite expensive. Stay near a metro station so that you can get about easily and not necessarily in the city centre to save on per day room rents.
  3. Look out for ‘Business Lunches’ advertised outside restaurants. These are fixed price menus with a set number of dishes but can be filling and affordable at the same time.
  4. The smaller towns and cities of Russia are incredibly beautiful and offer many free sightseeing options for tourists. Churches, monuments and nature spots are free of cost to visit. In your itinerary try and mix the big cities and the small ones to spread out your costs.
  5. If you want to check out the nightlife but are on a budget, give the hip and trendy western style clubs a miss. These are generally pricey. Instead, you could hang out at local Russian pubs and bars which have live entertainment and cheap food and drinks in the evenings.