What Should I See in Russia? Where Should I Start My Trip to Russia?

Alexander Popov

02 April 2019

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Russia is the biggest country in the world and covers about 12% of all livable land on the earth. Because of its size, there is such an array of things to do, meaning the decision of where to start can be difficult to make. Here’s what you can expect.

Big Cities

Are you a city lover? Then you must go to Moscow and St. Petersburg! The latter is the cultural capital of the country, while the former is the bigger economic center. The amount of grandiose history, from palaces to cathedrals, is accompanied by high-quality art galleries, all available in both cities. As great and culturally important as these two intriguing cities are, one should travel beyond their city limits to really get a full picture Russia.

Ancient History

Some of the oldest and most important buildings in all of Russia are within a small trip’s distance from Moscow in an area known as the Golden Ring. Walking within the walls of ancient Kremlins and the numerous UNESCO heritage sites located along the route truly feels like stepping back in time. The best part is that there is a nice variety of tours with custom itineraries to take you there.

Beautiful Nature

It’s hard not to be inspired by the wild landscapes of Russia, although this of course requires traveling a bit outside of the urban areas. You can enter the natural world by train or possibly by taking a river cruise down the Neva. Either way you will witness small town life along the way and are guaranteed a completely different experience than that of staying in the big cities.

What is the most beautiful natural landmark in Russia? Certainly it must be Lake Baikal, the much beloved national treasure and deepest lake in the world. There are numerous national parks surrounding its waters, packed with wildlife and untamed forests. People say the region has a sacred feeling that you cannot find in other locations, and believe it or not, they are right!

Adventures

Russia is well-known for its adventurous offerings, all the way from Karelia in the west to Kamchatka in the east, the excitement is nearly endless. One particular adventure on many people’s bucket list is riding the Trans-Siberian railway. How long is the Trans-Siberian Railroad? Well, it impressively crosses 7 distinct time zones and is the longest in the world, showing you more of Russia than you can imagine in such a condensed period of time. It begins in Moscow and travels east to the remote expanses of the country. You can even choose to take a route that ends up all the way in Beijing, China! It is by far the most unique railroad on the planet—there’s no other way to see all the diverse landscapes and people of Russia in just one trip.

Russia has something for absolutely everyone, no matter what their unique interests may be. It could be quite different than where you come from, but its eccentricities simply make it more engrossing and unbelievable. Simply tell us what you are looking for, and we will let our one of a kind tours and the country itself do the convincing!

When Should I Go to Russia, Summer or Winter?

These really are your only two options because fall and spring go by so fast. Russia essentially has just two seasons, summer and winter. Summer starts in late May and goes until the end of August. The month of September is pleasant most of the time, but travelers arriving in October must be prepared for rain and snow. If arriving to Russia in November or later, heavier snow should be expected in most regions.

When is the Best Time to Visit Moscow and St. Petersburg?

Summers in St. Petersburg are characterized by their long days. The famous White Nights go from June to July, when it never gets completely dark and light lasts until 1:30am! This means you’ll have even more time for sightseeing. The only drawback to visiting St. Petersburg or Moscow in the summer is that there are more tourists. Otherwise, the atmosphere in summer is fantastic as locals enjoy walking in the famous gardens at all hours of the day. There may be crowds at museums and other tourist attractions, but not on the same level as, for example, Paris or London in their high seasons. There is a higher possibility that certain theaters and ballets will go on tour for the summer, but officially the summer season of performances lasts through July. Summer months in both of these big cities are cheerful, fun-filled, and traveler friendly.

Winter on the other hand, entices in a different way. Many are entranced by the white wonderland and typical winter outfits of Russians. The people of the country wear fur hats, thick coats, and boots, Russia may fit its traditional depictions more at this time of year. It is cold, but nothing that good warm clothing can’t protect you from. In Moscow and St. Petersburg you can forget about waiting in line, as tourists are scarce in winter. Not just that, but the price of tickets is actually cheaper! Theater companies do not tour during winter, so those who love arts and culture will have a full plate. Russian’s biggest holiday of the year is New Years, when big cities fill with special lights and markets serving tea from gigantic antique samovars. It is surefire fun and festivity.

So, either summer or winter can be perfect for visiting Russia, although expect a completely different view of the country depending on when you go.

What is the Best Time to Fly to Russia?

A flight from New York to Moscow ranges from $450 – $1200. That’s a big difference! One reason is that travel is so much more popular in the summer. The least expensive time to fly to Russia is from November to March. August is the most expensive, but definitely check both tickets to the Moscow and St. Petersburg airport to seek out a deal.

Weather

How cold is Russia really? Well, the climate changes depending on the season and the province. For example, in Siberia summers are really hot! Don’t believe us? The reason this happens is that many regions, such as Siberia, are inland and experience continental climates typical for regions far from an ocean shore. This makes for a greater variation in temperature from summer to winter than in regions like St. Petersburg.

Average Temperatures

The much more visited western side of Russia can reach the low 30s (Celsius) or mid 80s (Fahrenheit) on a warmer summer day. Usual summer weather sits in the upper 20s (Celsius) or mid 70s (Fahrenheit) during the day. In the winter in Moscow and St. Petersburg, temperatures average -20 to -10 degrees (Celsius) or -4 to +14 degrees (Fahrenheit). In general, St. Petersburg is colder than Moscow, but only by a bit. The worst case scenario is that a tourist to one of these cities could see temperatures of -40 degrees (Celsius) or -40 degrees (Fahrenheit). This hardly ever happens in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but actually does with some regularity in Siberia, so be super prepared!

What Should I Pack for a Trip to Russia?

Besides all the correct clothes for the specific season in which you are visiting, make sure you have your visa and that all the information on the visa is correct. For example, you cannot leave Russia and come back if you have a single-entry visa. The normal validity of a tourist visa is 30 days, so double check your departure date and the visa expiration date to make sure you have enough time. Arriving early (even one day) is also punishable by a fine at customs. Make a copy of both your passport and visa and bring it with you—this is recommendable for travel to any country.

The Proper Clothing for Russia

When traveling to Russia in summer, pack more or less the same clothing that you use in your hometown, but make sure to include a warm sweater as well. This is because nights in some regions will be cold even in the height of summer. Also, a rainproof jacket or umbrella is advisable as rain showers are common. By August, the short hot season should already start to cool down quite a bit. Comfortable walking shoes, such as sneakers or casual leather shoes, is all the footwear you will need. One important note, if you are going to the theater or to see an opera, men should pack dark shoes and a suit jacket. For women, bring something a bit more formal like an elegant dress. We are not saying you should bring a black tie tuxedo and a ballroom gown, but it’s expected that you look a bit dressed up for this once in a lifetime experience.

It’s no secret that Russia is cold in the winter time. St. Petersburg lies by the sea, making it not only cold, but humid. Dressing in layers is absolutely key. Bring long underwear, wool socks, wool sweaters, a thick jacket, thick pants, a hat that covers your ears and/or earmuffs, and heavy-duty boots. If you forget something or find out that some clothes were not as warm as you thought, good clothes are available for purchase and should be the same price or cheaper than in your country.

Hotel and cruise ships usually offer laundry services, but if traveling for just a week we recommend you bring enough clothes for the entirety of your trip.

Personal Care Items

In most of Russia, and without a doubt in big cities, you will find all you need with regard to personal care. The big western brands are also available, although cost more than in Europe and the USA. We advise that you bring your own, but don’t worry if you run out, a good product will be available to fill your needs. One small tip, in Russia toilets sometimes lack toilet paper, so carrying tissues can really come in handy.

Reading List

Are you wondering, “What are the best books to read before traveling to Russia?” To connect with locals and understand more about Russia’s interesting history, read a classic. Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Dostoevsky books all contain references to places you will see on your trip. You can even visit museums where the authors lived! It is an amazing way to inform yourself and learn about what life was like more than 100 years ago in Russia.

Money

Rubles are the official currency of Russia and cash is used more than card. In big cities many places accept credit card, although you should have some cash with you at all times. If you want to exchange money before arriving in Russia, it may be necessary to call ahead and order rubles from the currency exchange in your town. In both small and large Russian cities, exchanging your currency for rubles is not difficult.

Are There ATMs in Russia?

The answer is a big “yes”, they are everywhere! You even have the choice to withdraw Euros, US dollars, or Russian rubles. The ATMs will offer you a fair exchange rate, but usually charge a commission, so taking out larger amounts will be more advantageous. Airports also have ATMs, so if you cannot find any rubles in your home country, don’t worry. One tip: call your bank before you leave and tell them which countries you will be traveling to (including layovers), so that they do not block your card.

Do People Tip in Russia?

Yes, but not in the same way as in the USA or some other countries. A small tip is appreciated at restaurants and bars, perhaps 5% to 10%.

Tipping Tour Guides and Drivers

Tour guides usually receive a tip of about $20 for an 8-hour day. So let’s say you take a 3-hour tour, the tip would be $7 or $8. Usual tips for drivers are not so high, the recommended average is $5-$8 for 8 hours. Tipping is tough to estimate, this is just a rough outline to give you an idea, tip however you please!

Communications

The international country code of Russia is +7

Can I Use My Cell Phone in Russia?

For Europeans, using a cell phone in Russia is simple because the country operates on the GSM and LTE networks. Americans must check that their phone is compatible with these networks, or else they will not be able to use it. Another option is buying a phone, currently about $20, and a SIM card for about $4. SIM cards can be found for purchase everywhere and come with a 200 ruble charge. With a local SIM card texting and calling within each Russian city is very cheap, but prices can multiply if changing to another city, make sure to ask. Also, calling the USA from a Russian SIM card is actually cheaper than using an American SIM. Not to mention, you only have to pay a small price for data to access applications like Skype, Whatsapp, and Viber to stay in touch with loved ones. The biggest cell phone service providers are Megafon, Beeline, and MTS.

Internet

It’s not hard to find a wireless connection in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many coffee shops and hangouts have free Wi-Fi. At your hotel there is a chance you will have to pay for access to the Internet, although it will almost certainly be available. In most Russian cities getting online shouldn’t be a big problem.

Voltage Requirements

Russia uses 220 volt AC, 50Hz power. The plugs are circular and have 2 prongs, commonly referred to as the European style. Things like laptops, phones, and eBooks can almost always charge off of 220 volts, but double check to make sure by looking at the specifications on the charger or in the manual. Also, an outlet adapter is essential to accommodate American style plugs. Make sure your adapter fits 3 pronged chargers as well if necessary.

Which Electric Appliances Can I Use in Russia?

Countries in Europe, the UK, Australia, and most of Africa and Asia run on 220V-240V power just like in Russia. Thus, there is no problem to run any electric appliance, but an adapter may be needed just to fit the outlets. A power converter is necessary for appliances from the USA, Canada, and most South American nations, who use 100V-127V power. In addition to voltage differences, if the frequency of electricity is not 50Hz in your country, you can try using your electric appliance, but it is at your own risk.

Presents and Souvenirs

Russians usually appreciate small presents from foreign countries, so if you will definitely be visiting or meeting locals, bring them something unique! Conversely, there are various typical souvenirs from Russia to delight people in your own hometown.

Where Should I Buy Russian Souvenirs?

The most traditional Russian souvenirs are lacquered boxes, typical clothing, and of course nesting dolls known as “matryoshka”. Big tourist attractions have stalls where these items are sold, but always look around before you buy. The authenticity that sellers claim is not always true. Also, if you are a good bargainer, feel free to negotiate the prices when buying in the street.

Medical Help and Prescription Medicine

Many people ask, “Do I need any shots before visiting Russia?” The answer is no, Russia is the same as any European country in its standard of health and disease control. Our staff can help with emergency situations, or even just a small concern that requires a trip to the doctor. However, keep in mind that Western hospitals charge Western prices, or perhaps even more. Travel insurance is recommended and keep all of your receipts!

Prescription Medicine

One consideration is that the exact medicine you take is not guaranteed to be available in Moscow or St. Petersburg, so if you are taking any special prescriptions, bring enough with you to last for your whole trip. We want you to be healthy so that you can enjoy all the activities Russia has to offer!

Food and Water

In the big cities, a wide array of different world cuisine is available. It may be the first time you come across exotic Central Asian food from places like Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Georgia, and Armenia. In supermarkets many Western products are sold, but tend to be expensive. The best value for your money is to eat in Russian cafes, many have English menus as well.

Can I Drink Tap Water in Russia?

Many locals don’t drink the tap water in Russia. St. Petersburg’s water in particular is known to be of quite poor-quality. Boiling water before you drink it will guarantee that it is safe to drink, or you can buy bottled water nearly everywhere.

Time

Keep an eye out for time zone changes when traveling to distinct regions of Russia. In 2011 Russia did away with daylight savings time, so at least that simplifies the matter for travelers. However, there are still a total of 11 time zones!

Russian Time Zones

EST: Eastern Standard Time, New York

GMT: Greenwich Mean Time, London

Kaliningrad: EST +07:00, GMT+02:00
St. Petersburg and Moscow: EST +08:00, GMT+03:00
Samara: EST +09:00, GMT+04:00
Yekaterinburg: EST +10:00, GMT+05:00
Omsk: EST +11:00, GMT+06:00
Novosibirsk: EST +12:00, GMT+07:00
Irkutsk: EST +13:00, GMT+08:00
Yakutsk: EST +14:00, GMT+09:00
Vladivostok: EST +15:00, GMT+10:00
Srednekolymsk: EST +16:00, GMT+11:00
Kamchatka: EST +17:00, GMT+12:00

Customs

You must fill out a declaration form when crossing the border into Russia. Be sure to declare all foreign currencies greater than a value of $3000. Tobacco is limited to half a kilo of loose-leaf, 400 cigarettes, 100 cigars, or 200 cigarillos. Alcohol is taxable after a 2-liter limit. Caviar must be declared if over 250 grams. And finally, all stocks and traveler’s checks should be documented as well. You can bring more than $3000 if you want, but you absolutely must declare it.

Special Permissions

Bring additional documents that state permission for bringing, in or out, prescriptions and strong medicines like sleeping pills, guns, explosives, ammunition, antiques, endangered plant and animal products, etc. It should be fairly obvious what kind of products require special permission, but to make sure you are well-informed on the matter, check with your country’s Russian embassy. Or, as always, contact us and we will address all your concerns!