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Russian Federation Travel Guide - Travel S Helper

Russian Federation

travel guide

The Russian Federation, also known as Russia, is a federal state in Eurasia. With an area of 17,075,200 km2, Russia is the biggest country in the world, with over 1/8 of the world’s land area, and the 9th most populated, with more than 146.6 million. The western portion of the country is far more densely populated and more urbanised compared to the eastern part, with approximately 77% of the people living in European Russia. The capital of Russia, Moscow, is one of the largest cities in the world, the other major urban centres being St Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara.

Russia encompasses all of northern Asia and a large part of eastern Europe, contains 11 time zones, and has a vast range of environments and landforms. Russian land borders extend from north-west to south-east and include countries such as Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Norway, Latvia, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, China, Mongolia, North Korea. Its maritime borders are shared with Japan over the Sea of Okhotsk as well as with the American state of Alaska along the Bering Strait.

The history of the country began with the history of the East Slavs, who arrived between the 3rd and 8th centuries. Founded and ruled by a Varangian warrior elite and their descendants, the medieval state of Rusarose came into being in the 9th century. In 988, it adopted the Orthodox Christianity of the Byzantine Empire, initiating the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that shaped Russian culture for the next millennium. The “Rus” eventually split into a series of small states; most of the lands of the Rus were invaded by the Mongol invasion and became tributaries of the nomadic Golden Horde in the 13th century. Gradually the Grand Duchy of Moscow united the surrounding Russian principalities, obtained their independence from the Golden Horde as well as becoming an important cultural and political legacy for the ” Kievan Rus “. During the 18th century, with many conquests, annexations and discoveries, the nation expanded greatly and became the Russian Empire, the third largest empire in history, extending from Poland at the west side to Alaska at the east side.

After the Russian Revolution, the Russian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic became the largest and most important component of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world’s first constitutional socialist state. The Soviet Union played a crucial role in the Allied victory in World War II and became a recognised superpower and rival to the United States during the Cold War. The Soviet era saw some of the most important technological achievements of the 20th century, including the first man-made satellite and the launch of the first humans into space. By the end of 1990, the Soviet Union had the world’s second largest economy, the world’s largest standing army and the largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. After the division of the Soviet Union in 1991, fourteen independent republics emerged from the USSR; as the largest, most populous and economically developed republic, the Russian SFSR reconstituted itself as the Russian Federation and is recognised as the permanent legal entity and the only successor state to the Soviet Union. It is governed as a semi-presidential federal republic.

The Russian economy is the 12th largest in terms of nominal GDP and the 6th largest in terms of purchasing power parity in 2015. Russia’s vast mineral and energy resources are the largest of its kind in the world, making it one of the world’s leading producers of oil and natural gas. The country is one of the five recognised nuclear-weapon states and has the largest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. As a major world power Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the G20, the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), and the World Trade Organisation (WTO), as well as a major member of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), and one of the five members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU), together with Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan.

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Russia - Info Card




Russian ruble (₽) (RUB)

Time zone

UTC+2 to +12


17,098,246 km2 (6,601,670 sq mi)[

Calling code


Official language


Russia | Introduction

Time zones in Russia

Since 2016, Russia has eleven time zones and daylight saving time is not used. Previously, the country experimented with a reduced number of time zones and daylight saving time.

  • Kaliningrad Time (UTC+2): Kaliningrad Oblast
  • Moscow Time (UTC+3): Central Russia, Southern Russia, Chernozemye, Northwestern Russia ,Volga Region. In addition, Moscow time is used by all Russian railways.
  • Samara Time (UTC+4): Astrakhan Oblast, Samara Oblast, Udmurtia and Ulyanovsk Oblast
  • Yekaterinburg Time (UTC+5): The Urals
  • Omsk Time (UTC+6): Omsk Oblast, Novosibirsk Oblast and Tomsk Oblast
  • Krasnoyarsk Time (UTC+7): Altai Krai, Altai Republic, Kemerovo Oblast, Khakassia, Krasnoyarsk Krai and Tuva
  • Irkutsk Time (UTC+8): Eastern Siberia
  • Yakutsk Time (UTC+9): Western Yakutia, Amur Oblast
  • Vladivostok Time (UTC+10): Khabarovsk Krai, Magadan Oblast , Sakhalin, central Yakutia , Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Primorsky Krai
  • Srednekolyomsk Time (UTC+11): Kuril Islands, Sakhalin and eastern Yakutia
  • Kamchatka Time (UTC+12): Chukotka, Kamchatka

Tourism in Russia

Since the end of the Soviet era, tourism in Russia has experienced rapid growth, at first domestic and then international tourism, driven by the country’s rich historical heritage and natural diversity. The main tourist itineraries in Russia include a trip around the Golden Ring of ancient cities, cruises on major rivers such as the Volga, and long trips on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway. The Russian Federation attracted 33 million tourists to the country in 2013, which makes it 9th most-visited tourist destination in the world and 7th in Europe. The number of Western visitors decreased in 2014.

Moscow and St. Petersburg, the present and former capital of Russia, have been the most visited travel destinations in Russia. They have been recognised as world cities and have world-famous museums such as the Tretyakov Gallery and Hermitage, famous theatres such as the Bolshoi and Mariinsky, and magnificent churches such as St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of the Saviour on Blood, stunning strongholds including the Kremlin, Peter and Paul Fortress, charming squares and streets which include Red Square, Palace Square, Tverskaya Street and Nevsky Prospekt. There are also numerous palaces and parks situated in the former imperial residences on the outskirts of Moscow (Kolomenskoye, Tsaritsyno) as well as St. Petersburg (Oranienbaum, Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Peterhof, Strelna, and Tsarskoye Selo). Moscow shows Soviet architecture at its best, with modern skyscrapers, while St. Petersburg, nicknamed the “Venice of the North”, boasts classical architecture, with numerous rivers, canals and bridges.

Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, has a mixture of Christian and Muslim Tatar culture. It was recorded as the ” 3rd capital of Russia “, despite the fact that a number of other prominent cities compete for this status, most notably Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod.

Russia’s warm subtropical Black Sea coast is home to a number of popular seaside resorts, such as Sochi, which will host the 2014 Winter Olympics, while the North Caucasus mountains are home to popular ski resorts such as Dombay. Russia’s best-known natural destination is Lake Baikal, the blue eye of Siberia. Being the oldest and deepest lake in the world, it has crystal-clear waters that are surrounded by taiga-covered hills. Other popular natural destinations are Kamchatka with its volcanoes and geysers, Karelia with its lakes and granite rocks, the snow-capped mountains of the Altai and the wild steppes of Tyeva.

Geography of Russia

Russia is the world’s largest country, with a total area of 17,075,200 km2. There are 41 national parks ,23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, as well as 40 UNESCO Biosphere Reserves, and 101 nature reserves.

Russia’s territorial expansion was largely achieved at the end of the 16th century during the reign of the Cossack Jermak Timofeyevich, under Ivan the Terrible, at a time when rival city-states in the western regions of Russia had merged into one country. Jermak gathered an army and advanced eastward, conquering almost all the territories that had belonged to the Mongols and defeating their ruler, Khan Kuchum.

Russia has a broad base of natural resources, including large deposits of timber, oil, natural gas, coal, minerals and other mineral resources.


The two furthest points in Russia are about 8,000 km apart along a geodesic line. These points are: a 60 km long Vistula spit, the border with Poland which separates the Bay of Gdansk from the Vistula Lagoon, and the most south-eastern point of the Kuril Islands. The furthest points in longitude are 6,600 km apart along a geodesic line. These points are: to the west, the same promontory on the border with Poland, and to the east, the island of the Great Diomede. There are 9 different time-zones throughout the Russian Federation.

The largest part of Russia is composed of wide plains, mostly with steppes in the south as well as densely forested in the north, and with tundra along the northern coast. Russia has 10% of the world’s arable land. Along the southern border are mountain ranges such as the Caucasus Mountains (Mount Elbrusz, the highest point in Russia and Europe at 5,642 meters) and the Altai Mountains (Mount Belukha, the highest point in Siberia outside the Russian Far East at 4,506 meters), while in the east are the Verkhoyansk Mountains and the volcanoes of the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Ural Mountains, rich in mineral resources, form a north-south chain separating Europe and Asia.

The coastline of Russia is over 37,000 km long and stretches along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, and also along the Black, Azov, Baltic, Caspian Seas. The Barents Sea, the White Sea, the Kara Sea, the Laptev Sea, the East Siberian Sea, the Chukchi Sea, the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan are connected to Russia by the Arctic and Pacific Oceans. Russian main islands and archipelagos includes Franz Josef Land, Severnaya Zemlya ,Novaya Zemlya, the islands of New Siberia, the Kuril Islands, Wrangel Island and Sakhalin. The Diomedes Islands (one controlled by Russia, the other by the United States) are only 3 km away, and the island of Kunashir is about 20 km from Hokkaido, Japan.

Russia has thousands of rivers and inland waters, giving it one of the largest surface water resources in the world. Its lakes contain about a quarter of the world’s liquid freshwater. Russia’s largest and most famous body of fresh water is Lake Baikal, the deepest, purest, oldest and largest freshwater lake in the world. Lake Baikal alone contains more than one fifth of the world’s fresh water. Other large lakes include Ladoga and Onega, two of the largest lakes in Europe. Russia is the second largest country, after Brazil, in terms of total volume of renewable water resources. Among the more than 100,000 rivers of the country, Volga is the best-known, and not only for being the longest river in Europe, but also for its great role in Russian history. The Siberian rivers Ob, Yenisei, Lena and Amur are among the longest in the world.


From north to south, the Eastern European plain, also known as the Russian Plain, is successively covered with arctic tundra, coniferous forest (taiga), mixed and deciduous forests, grasslands (steppe) and semi-desert (on the Caspian Sea coast), as changes in vegetation reflect changes in climate. Siberia has a similar sequence, but it is mostly taiga. Russia has the largest forest reserves in the world, known as the “lungs of Europe”, which absorb the second largest amount of carbon dioxide after the Amazon rainforest.

Russia has 266 species of mammals and 780 species of birds. A total of 415 animal species were listed in the Red Book of the Russian Federation in 1997 and are now protected.

Weather & Climate in Russia

The enormous size of Russia and the remoteness of many regions from the sea lead to the predominance of a humid continental climate, which prevails in all parts of the country except for the tundra and the extreme south-east. The mountains in the south hinder the influx of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean, while the plains in the west and north make the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences.

Most of Russia and northern Europe’s Siberia has a subarctic climate, with extremely harsh winters in the interior regions of north-eastern Siberia (particularly in the Sakha Republic, where the cold north pole is located with a record temperature of -71.2°C) and more temperate winters elsewhere.

The coastal part of the Krasnodar Krai on the Black Sea, especially in Sochi, has a humid subtropical climate with mild, wet winters. In many parts of Eastern Siberia and the Far East, the winter is dry compared to the summer; in other parts of the country, rainfall is more regular over the seasons. Winter precipitation falls mainly in the form of snow in most parts of the country. The region along the lower Volga River and the Caspian Sea coast, as well as parts of southern Siberia, have a semi-arid climate.

In much of the country, there are only two distinct seasons – winter and summer – as spring and autumn are usually short periods of alternating extremely low and extremely high temperatures. The coldest month is January (February on the coast), and the hottest is usually July. Large fluctuations in temperature are typical. In winter, temperatures become colder from south to north and from west to east. Summers can be very hot, even in Siberia. The interior of the continent is the driest area.

Language in Russia

Russian is the main language in Russia. This language belongs to the East Slavic language family and is closely related to Ukrainian and Belarusian. Other Slavic languages such as Bulgarian, Croatian and Czech are not mutually intelligible, but still bear a slight resemblance. Russian is considered one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn, mainly because of its very complicated grammar. You won’t learn the language in a short time; focus on learning a few key “pleasantries” and the Cyrillic alphabet (e.g. “ресторан” is spelled “restoran” in the Latin alphabet, meaning “restaurant”) so that you have a chance of recognising street names, labels and public signs. Familiarising yourself with the Cyrillic script is extremely useful and not very difficult, not only for Russia but also for a number of other countries.

Learning Russian is quite difficult. The script, Cyrillic, uses many letters of the Latin alphabet but gives them different sounds. The language uses three grammatical genders (masculine, feminine and neutral), six grammatical cases and falling stress, which makes it difficult for native English speakers to gain perspective.

English is becoming more and more of a requirement in the business world, and many Russians in the cities (especially in Moscow or St Petersburg, but also elsewhere) know enough English to communicate. Elsewhere, English is generally non-existent, so take a phrasebook with you and be prepared for slow communication with lots of interpretive gestures.

Russia has hundreds of languages and claims to support most of them. Soviet linguists documented them in the first decades of the USSR and made sure they had Cyrillic writing systems (except Karelian, Veps, Ingrian, Votic and Ter Sami). Some have become co-official local languages. Southern Russia is bordered by Turkic, Mongolian and Tungusic languages, the north by Finnish and Samoyedic languages. In the south-western corner there are a variety of Caucasian languages, and in the north-east some Chukotko-Kamchatk languages. However, a small amount of Russian is very useful for travellers wherever they are.

The Russian Orthodox religion is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world and continues to have a very large number of adherents, although it was suppressed during the communist period. The language spoken in Russian Orthodox services is Old Church Slavonic, which differs significantly from modern Russian.

Internet & Communications in Russia


The country code for Russia (and Kazakhstan as a former member of the Soviet Union) is 7.

Russian telephone numbers have a three-, four- or five-digit area code (depending on the province) followed by an individual number with 7, 6 or 5 digits respectively, which always gives a total of 10 digits. The three-digit area code 800 is used for free calls. Mobile phones always have a three-digit “region code” and a seven-digit number.

For calls within the same area code, the area code can be omitted (except to Moscow).

Interregional calls in Russia: (wait for tone) complete Russian number including area code.

The international dialling code for dialling in from Russia is sequence (wait for the secondary tone and then) 10

For international calls to Russia, as always, replace the plus sign (+) in the international telephone format with the local international dialling code of the country you are calling from, followed by the country code of Russia (7), then the individual Russian telephone number, including the area code.

Prepaid SIM cards

There are 5 GSM operators in Russia, all using the 900/1800 MHz standard for 2G, the 900/2100 MHz standard for 3G and the 800/2600 MHz standard for 4G/LTE, as in Europe and Asia. Check that your phone is compatible with one of these standards before bringing it to Russia. The 5 operators are Beeline, Megafon, MTS, Tele2 and Yota. There is also a CDMA network: Skylink, but you need to buy a Skylink phone to use this network.

All operators offer cheap SIM cards with data tariffs, which are always a better alternative to paying roaming charges. Megafon is considered the company with the best network coverage, but Beeline is considered the cheapest.

When you buy a SIM card in a shop, you need your passport to identify yourself and it takes about 5 minutes to fill in the necessary documents. If you do not speak Russian, you will need to find someone who does speak English. You can also buy a SIM card at automatic kiosks in metro stations. Calls to landlines from mobile phones are more expensive than calls to other mobile phones, especially those using the same network. Incoming calls are free of charge. You can top up your card at the company shops you use or at automatic kiosks. You can buy a prepaid card for international calls, but online services like 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.

Demographics of Russia

Ethnic Russians make up 81% of the country’s population. The Russian Federation is also home to several large minorities. In total, 160 different other ethnic groups and indigenous peoples live within the country’s borders. Although Russia’s population is comparatively large, its density is low due to the enormous size of the country. The population is densest in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains and in southwestern Siberia. 73% of the population lives in urban areas, 27% in rural areas. The 2010 census results show a total population of 142,856,536.

The population of Russia had reached its peak of 148,689,000 in 1991, which was shortly before the break-up of the Soviet Union. From the mid-1990s onwards, a rapid decline began. In recent years, the decline slowed to near stagnation as the death rate fell, the birth rate rose and immigration increased.

In 2009, Russia recorded its first annual population growth in fifteen years, with an overall increase of 10,500. In the same year, 279,906 migrants arrived in the Russian Federation, 93% of whom were from CIS countries. The number of Russian emigrants declined steadily from 359,000 in 2000 to 32,000 in 2009. There are also an estimated 10 million illegal immigrants from former Soviet states in Russia. There are about 116 million ethnic Russians living in Russia and about 20 million ethnic Russians living outside Russia in the former republics of the Soviet Union, mainly in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

According to the population census of 2010, 81% of the population has been recorded as ethnic Russian and 19% as other ethnic groups: 3.7% Tatars; 1.4% Ukrainians; 1.1% Bashkirs; 1% Chuvash; 11.8% other and unspecified.

Russia’s birth rate is higher than most European countries (13.3 births per 1000 people in 2014 compared to the EU average of 10.1 per 1000), but its death rate is also much higher (in 2014, Russia’s death rate was 13.1 per 1000 people compared to the EU average of 9.7 per 1000).  The Russian Ministry of Health and Social Welfare predicted that by 2011 the mortality rate would equal the birth rate as fertility increases and mortality decreases. The government is implementing a number of programmes to increase the birth rate and attract more migrants. The government’s monthly child allowance has been doubled to US$55, and women who have had a second child since 2007 have been offered a one-time payment of US$9,200.

In order to compensate for the declining population, the Russian government began simplifying its immigration laws in 2006 and launched a national program to “support the voluntary emigration of ethnic Russians from former Soviet republics. In 2009, Russia experienced the highest birth rate since the dissolution of the Soviet Union. In 2012, the birth rate increased again. Russia recorded 1,896,263 births, the highest number since 1990, and even surpassed the annual births during the 1967-1969 period, with a TFR of about 1.7, the highest since 1991. (Source: Vital Statistics table below).

In August 2012, Russia experienced its first population growth since the 1990s, and President Vladimir Putin declared that the population could reach 146 million by 2025, predominantly due to immigration.

Ethnic groups in Russia (2010)
Russian 77.7%
Other 10.2%
Unspecified 3.9%
Tatar 3.7%
Ukrainian 1.4%
Bashkir 1.1%
Chuvash 1%
Chechen 1%

Religion in Russia

The ancestors of many present-day Russians had been practising Orthodox Christianity since the 10th century. According to the tradition of the Orthodox Church, Christianity was introduced on the territory of present-day Belarus, Russia and Ukraine by St. Andrew, the first apostle of Jesus Christ. According to the Primary Chronicle, the final Christianisation of the “Kievan Rus” is dated 988 (the year is disputed), when Vladimir the Great was baptised in Chersonesus and then baptised his family and people in Kiev.

At the time of the revolution of 1917, the Russian Orthodox Church was deeply integrated into the autocratic state and enjoyed official status. It was a significant factor which contributed greatly to the Bolsheviks’ attitude to religion and to the steps which they took to establish control over it. Bolsheviks was made up of numerous individuals from non-Russian backgrounds, from Communist Russian, as well as many influential Jews, among them Vladimir Lenin, Leon Trotsky, Grigory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev, Grigory Sokolnikov, all of whom were indifferent to Christianity and who founded the Communist Party which was based on the writings of the Jewish philosopher Karl Marx using Marxism-Leninism as their ideology. Thus, the USSR became the first state with the ideological goal of abolishing religion and replacing it with universal atheism. Under the communist rule, Religious property has been confiscated, the religion was ridiculed, the believers were persecuted and was propagated in the schools. Confiscation of religious property was often based on accusations of illegal accumulation of wealth.

The vast majority of the inhabitants of the Russian Empire were believers at the time of the Revolution, while the communists aimed to break the power of all religious institutions and eventually replace religious faith with atheism. In the media and in academic writings, “science” was juxtaposed with “religious superstition”. During the Soviet period, the main religions of pre-revolutionary Russia persisted, although they were tolerated only to some level. Generally, this means that religious believers were free to practise their religion in private and within their respective religious buildings (churches, mosques, etc.), although public display of religion beyond these specified areas was prohibited. Additionally, all religious institutions were not permitted to express their beliefs in any type of media, and numerous religious buildings were demolished or used to other purposes.

Atheism of the state in the Soviet Union became known as Gosateizm which was based on the ideology of Marxism-Leninism. Marxist-Leninist atheism has always advocated the control, suppression and elimination of religion. Within a year or so following the revolution, the state has expropriated all the possessions of the church, even the churches themselves. In the period Many others were persecuted.

At present there is no official census of religions in Russia, and estimates are based solely on surveys. In August 2012, ARENA estimated that about 46.8% of Russians are Christians (including Orthodox, Catholics, Protestants and nonconfessionals), while 25% believe in God but have no religion. The Levada Center estimated later in the year, that 76% of Russians are Christians, and in June 2013, the Public Opinion Foundation estimated that 65% of Russians are Christians. These results are in line with the 2011 Pew Research Center poll, which estimates that 73.6% of Russians are Christian, the 2010 Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VCIOM) poll (~77% Christian), and the 2011 Ipsos MORI poll (69%). Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Buddhism are Russia’s traditional religions and are all legally part of Russia’s “historical heritage”.

Dating back to the Christianisation of the “Kievan Rus” in the 10th century, Russian Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in the country; there are also smaller Christian denominations such as Catholics, Armenian Gregorians and various Protestant churches. The Russian Orthodox Church was the state religion of the country before the revolution and remains the largest religious body in the country. Approximately 95% of the registered Orthodox parishes belong to the Russian Orthodox Church. Nevertheless, a large majority of Orthodox believers do not regularly go to church. Easter is the most popular religious holiday in Russia, celebrated by a large part of the Russian population, including a large number of non-religious people. More than three quarters of the Russian population celebrate Easter by making traditional cakes, dyed eggs and pasta.

Islam is the second religion in Russia after Russian Orthodoxy. It is the traditional or predominant religion among some Caucasian ethnic groups (especially Chechens, Ingush and Circassians) and among some Turkish peoples (especially Tatars and Bashkirs). In total, there are 9,400,000 Muslims in Russia, or 6.5 per cent of the total population (in 2012) (the proportion of Muslims is probably much higher, as the survey does not include detailed data for the traditionally Islamic states of Chechnya and Ingushetia). In any case, various differences divide the Muslim population into different groups. According to the survey, most Muslims (about 6,700,000 or 4.6 per cent of the total population) are not ‘affiliated’ to any Islamic school, branch or organisation, largely because it is not necessary for Muslims to belong to a particular sect or organisation. Those who do belong to an organisation are mostly Sunni Muslims, with Shia and Ahmadis being a minority. Non-confessional Muslims are represented to a large extent (over 10%) in Kabardino-Balkaria (49%), Bashkortostan (38%), Karachay-Cherkessia (34%), Tatarstan (31%), Yamalia (13%), Orenburg region (11%), Adyghe (11%) and Astrakhan region (11%). In most parts of Siberia the percentage of non-confessional Muslims is 1-2%.

There are 3 regions in the Russian Federation with strong traditions of Buddhism: Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia. Some inhabitants of Siberian and Far Eastern regions, such as Yakutia and Chukotka, practice shamanic, pantheistic and pagan rites in addition to the major religions. Religious incorporation is mainly on an ethnic basis. Slavs are predominantly Orthodox Christians, Turkish peoples are predominantly Muslim, and Mongolian peoples are generally Buddhist.

The number of non-religious persons in Russia varies from 16% to 48% of the population, according to various Western data. The number of atheists has decreased considerably; according to the most recent statistics, only seven percent have declared themselves atheists, a decrease of five percent in three years. In a 2012 Gallup International poll, 6% of the Russian population declared themselves to be “convinced atheists, which is the lowest among European countries”.

On cultural and social issues, Putin has worked closely with the Russian Orthodox Church. Patriarch Kirill of Moscow, head of the church, supported his election in 2012.

As a staunch opponent of homosexuality and of any attempt to place the rights of the individual above those of the family, community or nation, the Russian Orthodox Church helps to portray Russia as the natural ally of all those who aspire to a safer, illiberal world, free from the destructive assaults of traditions such as globalisation, multiculturalism and the rights of women and homosexuals.

Economy of Russia

Russia has a developed, high-income market economy with vast natural resources, especially oil and natural gas. It is the world’s 15th largest economy in terms of nominal GDP and 6th in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). Since the beginning of the 21st century, higher domestic consumption and greater political stability have supported economic growth in Russia. The country ended 2008 with its ninth consecutive year of growth, but growth slowed down due to falling oil and gas prices. The average nominal wage in Russia was $967 per month at the beginning of 2013, up from $80 in 2000. In March 2014, the average monthly nominal wage was 30,000 roubles (US$980), while an income tax of 13% is due on most income. Approximately 12.8% of the population in Russia was living below the national poverty line in 2011, which is significantly lower than the 40% in 1998, which was the worst moment of the post-Soviet collapse. Unemployment in Russia was 5.4 per cent in 2014, down from about 12.4 per cent in 1999, and the middle class grew from just 8 million people in 2000 to 104 million in 2013. However, as a result of the sanctions imposed by the United States since 2014 and the collapse of oil prices, the share of the middle class could halve to 20 per cent. Sugar imports are estimated to have fallen by 82% between 2012 and 2013 as a result of increased domestic production.

Oil, natural gas, metals and wood represent more than 80% of Russian exports abroad. Since 2003, the economic importance of raw material exports has declined as the domestic market has strengthened. Despite rising energy prices, oil and gas now contribute only 5.7% to Russia’s GDP, and the government forecasts that by 2011 this share will fall to 3.7%. Oil export revenues boosted Russia’s foreign exchange reserves from $12 billion in 1999 to $597.3 billion on 1 August 2008, making it the 3rd largest foreign exchange reserve in the world. Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin’s macroeconomic policies have been prudent and sound, with surplus revenues being saved in Russia’s Stabilisation Fund. In 2006, Russia repaid most of its once massive debt and now has one of the lowest levels of external debt among the major economies. The Stabilization Fund has helped Russia weather the global financial crisis in a much better position than many experts had anticipated.

A simpler and more streamlined tax code adopted in 2001 has reduced the tax burden on citizens and significantly increased public revenues. Russia has a unified tax rate of 13%. This makes it the second country in the world, after the United Arab Emirates, in terms of personal income tax for single managers. Russia, is considered to be far ahead in its economic development compared to most other resource-rich countries, with a long tradition in education, science and industry. The country has a higher percentage of higher education graduates than any other country in Eurasia.

Economic development in the country was geographically unequal, since the Moscow region made a very large part of the country’s GDP. Inequality of household income and wealth was also noted, with Credit Suisse noting that the distribution of wealth in Russia is so much more extreme than in the other countries studied that it “deserves its own category”. Another problem is the modernisation of infrastructure, which is outdated and inadequate after years of neglect in the 1990s; the government has stated that it will invest a trillion dollars in infrastructure development by 2020. Russia finally joined the World Trade Organisation in December 2011, giving it better access to foreign markets. Some analysts estimate that WTO membership could give the Russian economy a boost of up to 3% per year. According to the Corruption Perception Index, Russia is the second most corrupt country in Europe (after Ukraine). According to the Norwegian-Russian Chamber of Commerce, “corruption is one of the biggest problems facing Russian and international companies”. The high rate of corruption acts as a hidden tax, as companies and individuals often have to pay money that is not included in the official tax rate. In 2014, a study by Professor Karen Dawisha was published on corruption in Russia under Putin’s government.

In 2013, the Russian Central Bank announced its intention to free the Russian rouble in 2015. According to a stress test carried out by the Central Bank, the Russian financial system would be able to handle a 25-30% decline in the currency without major intervention by the Central Bank. However, the Russian economy began to stagnate at the end of 2013 and, combined with the Donbass War, it risks falling into stagflation, slow growth and high inflation. The Russian rouble plunged by 24% from October 2013 to October 2014, reaching a level where the central bank may have to intervene to strengthen the currency. After bringing inflation down to 3.6% in 2012, the lowest rate since independence from the Soviet Union, inflation in Russia rose to nearly 7.5% in 2014, prompting the central bank to raise its lending rate from 5.5% to 8% in 2013. An article in the October 2014 Bloomberg Business Week reports that Russia has begun a major shift in its economy towards China in response to growing financial tensions following the annexation of the Crimea and the ensuing Western economic sanctions.


In recent years, Russia has often been described in the media as an energy superpower. The country has the largest natural gas reserves in the world, the eighth largest oil reserves and the second largest coal reserves. Russia is the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the second largest producer of natural gas, while also being the world’s largest exporter of oil and the largest producer of oil.

Russia is the third largest producer of electricity in the world and the fifth largest producer of renewable energy, the latter thanks to the country’s well-developed hydroelectric production. Large cascades of hydroelectric power plants are being built in European Russia along major rivers such as the Volga. There are also a number of large hydropower plants in the Asian part of Russia, but the huge hydropower potential in Siberia and the Russian Far East remains largely untapped.

Russia was the first country to develop civil nuclear power and built the world’s first nuclear power plant. Currently, the country is the fourth largest producer of nuclear power, with all nuclear power in Russia being managed by the Rosatom State Corporation. The sector is developing rapidly, with the aim of increasing the total share of nuclear power from the current 16.9% to 23% by 2020. The Russian government plans to allocate 127 billion roubles ($5.42 billion) to a federal programme devoted to the next generation of nuclear energy technology. By 2015, about 1,000 billion rubles ($42.7 billion) are to be allocated from the federal budget to the development and industry of nuclear power.

In May 2014, during a two-day trip to Shanghai, President Putin signed an agreement on behalf of Gazprom which will enable the Russian energy giant to supply 38 billion cubic metres of natural gas per year to China. It was agreed to build a pipeline to facilitate the deal, with Russia contributing $55 billion and China contributing $22 billion, in what Putin called “the world’s largest construction project for the next four years”. Natural gas would start flowing between 2018 and 2020 and continue for 30 years, eventually costing China $400 billion.

Entry Requirements For Russia

Visa & Passport for Russia

Citizens of the following countries do not need a visa:

  • Citizens of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (90 days, Belarus unlimited)
  • Argentina (approved for 90 days)
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina (30 days)
  • Brazil (90 days)
  • Chile (90 days)
  • Colombia (90 days)
  • Cuba (30 days)
  • Ecuador (90 days)
  • Fiji (90 days)
  • Guatemala (90 days)
  • French Guiana (90 days)
  • Honduras (90 days)
  • Hong Kong citizens holding a HKSAR passport (14 days)
  • Israel (90 days)
  • Macau citizens with a Macau Special Administrative Region passport (30 days)
  • Macedonia (30 days)
  • Mauritius (60 days)
  • Mongolia (30 days)
  • Montenegro (90 days)
  • Nauru (14 days)
  • Nicaragua (90 days)
  • Panama (90 days)
  • Paraguay (90 days)
  • Peru (90 days)
  • Serbia (30 days)
  • Seychelles (30 days)
  • South Korea (60 days)
  • Thailand (30 days)
  • Turkey (30 days)
  • Ukraine (90 days)
  • Uruguay (90 days)
  • Venezuela (90 days)
  • Norwegians living less than 30 km from the border:
    • These persons may enter Russia for up to 15 days without a visa, provided they have resided in the border area for at least 3 years and do not travel further than 30 km from the border.
    • A border certificate valid for multiple entries must first be obtained from the Russian consulate in Kirkenes. It should therefore be considered a special type of visa, valid for multiple entries for a maximum period of 5 years. A similar arrangement exists for Poles living near Kaliningrad.

All other persons require a visa, except in the following two cases:

  • No transit visa is required for transit through Moscow Sheremetyevo, Moscow Domodedovo or Ekaterinburg Koltsovo airports, provided the traveller has a confirmed onward flight, is not staying at the airport for more than 24 hours and is not in transit to or from Belarus and Kazakhstan (travel to or from these countries uses domestic terminals). A transit visa (or other) is required for passage through St Petersburg Pulkovo Airport. Visas can be obtained, in very limited cases, from consular officers at airports.
  • For the duration of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, a “visa-free” regime applies to visitors from all nations.

For the unlucky ones who need a visa, the complexity of the process depends on the visa category. 30-day tourist visas are relatively easy to obtain; 90-day (and longer) business visas are less so. On 9 September 2012, Russia and the United States concluded a visa simplification agreement. Under this agreement, US citizens can obtain business visas, family/personal visas, humanitarian visas and three-year multiple entry tourist visas without an invitation (but with proof of booking). It is best to start the application process early. Although expedited processing is available for those who need a visa quickly, this can double the cost of the application.

I want a tourist visa and I don’t want to book accommodation until I get my visa.
Russian companies specialising in visas can do it for you and you don’t have to worry about filling out documents at the embassies. All you have to do is send them money, your passport and relevant information. However, it is cheaper (but somewhat more tedious) to obtain an invitation through these agencies and then submit the application to the embassy yourself.

Applying for a visa is essentially a two-step process:

  1. Receive an invitation and
  2. Visa application.

You can enter at any time on or after the validity date of your visa and you can leave at any time on or before the expiry date of your visa. Normally, an exit visa is included in transit, private visit/residence, tourist and business visas while the visa is still valid. Other categories, such as student visas, still require a separate exit visa, which can take up to three weeks to process.

Departure and re-entry during the period of validity of your visa are subject to permits. Obtaining these permits is a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare that is best avoided altogether by obtaining a double or multiple entry visa on departure.

If you are in Russia and have lost your passport, your sponsor, not your embassy, should ask the Federal Migration Service to transfer your visa to your replacement passport. Having a copy of your old visa helps for this purpose, but is not enough to allow you to leave the country. An exception is made for US citizens, who only need to prove that they have not overstayed in order to leave (but a visa would be required to return to Russia).

An unaccompanied minor with Russian citizenship requires, in addition to the usual requirements for adults, a notarised declaration in Russian signed by both parents. This declaration can be obtained from the Russian embassy or consulate. The child can probably enter Russia without this declaration, but will most likely be prevented from leaving at the airport by Russian customs!

  1. Receive an invitation

The type of invitation determines the visa. With a tourist invitation you can get a tourist visa, with a private visit invitation you can get a private visit visa, etc. With the exception of tourist visas, invitations are official documents issued by Russian government authorities and must be applied for by the inviting person or organisation.

The invitation will indicate the planned dates of travel and the number of entries required (1, 2 or more). The dates indicated on the invitation are decisive for the period of validity of the resulting visa. If in doubt, make sure that the invitation covers a longer period than the planned stay: a tourist visa valid for 7 days costs the same as a visa valid for 30 days.

In the likely situation where you need to buy your invitation, you are going around the world: all invitations come from Russia and the company that gets them for you will have a base in Russia. It doesn’t matter whether the site is based in Germany, the UK, the US 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 must be flown in from Russia anyway. Only for the visa application itself does the application usually have to be made in the applicant’s home country.

tourist invitation (also called a booking confirmation) is a letter confirming the reservation and prepayment of accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. It is accompanied by a tourist voucher. Both documents can only be issued by ‘state-approved’ tour operators, hotels, online hotel reservation services or Russian travel agencies (some Russian travel agencies have offices outside Russia and are authorised to facilitate visa applications). State authorisation” is not a guarantee of quality here; it means that the company is registered with the Russian government. A simple hotel reservation is not sufficient to justify an invitation. Some hotels charge a fee for issuing the invitation. If you book a night at the hotel, you will receive an invitation valid for one day (maybe two) and the resulting visa will only be valid for a very short period of time.

For independent travellers planning a trip to Russia, it is best to obtain an invitation through an agency. These agencies issue the necessary invitations and vouchers for each passport holder in each country for a fee. They do this without requiring any advance payment for accommodation (and, of course, without providing accommodation). Two major players in online tourist visa support are Way to Russia, a US-based company (invitation 30 USD), and Real Russia, based in the UK (invitation 15 GBP). Although the strict legality of these documents is questionable, these companies are well established and do enough not to annoy the authorities. Most importantly, their services do not cause any problems for the traveller. However, if your itinerary is limited to a single hotel, it makes sense to obtain the invitation documents directly from the hotel, as the service charges are similar.

Consider getting a private or host family visa if you have friends or relatives in Russia (they do not have to be Russian). You must apply for an invitation at the local passport and visa department of the Federal Migration Service (formerly OVIR). These invitations usually take at least one month to process. The inviting person also takes sole responsibility for all your activities during your stay in Russia and can be severely punished if something goes wrong. For this reason, personal invitations are usually not available for a fee on the internet.

Business invitations are issued by the government. They are usually lengthy and expensive to purchase, but can be organised quickly for an exorbitant fee. Any company registered in Russia can apply for a business invitation. Travel agencies and visa specialists can also have them issued for you. Business visas have a longer validity period than tourist visas. Anyone wishing to stay longer than 30 days must obtain a business visa. As a guide, a UK company can obtain a business invitation for a single 90-day stay for amounts ranging from GBP 38 (for 12 working days processing) to GBP 121 (for 2 working days processing).

Student visa invitations are issued by the educational institution where you intend to study. Most universities and language schools are familiar with the procedure.

Some Russian local authorities have the right to invite foreigners for cultural exchange by sending a message directly to the Russian embassy or consulate abroad requesting the issuance of a visa for a specific foreigner or group of foreigners. Such messages are used instead of an invitation. This is usually the procedure when you are invited by the government.

  1. Applying for the visa

Embassies and consulates have different requirements for applying for a visa. They can issue visas by post, require a personal application, accept a copy of the invitation, require the original. They may accept payment by card, they may require a money order. Check with the embassy or consulate beforehand – in most cases it’s on their website. Holders of American, Canadian and British passports usually have to fill out a longer application. It can be difficult to get a Russian visa issued outside your home country, or a residence permit valid for at least three months. This can thwart the plans of Trans-Siberian travellers from east to west. In Asia, you have the best chance of success (with no guarantee of funds) in Hong Kong and Phnom Penh (if necessary, a temporary residence permit in Cambodia is easy to acquire and costs only about 100 USD).

For a fee, visa service companies will review your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you and return your passport. This service is nothing you can’t do yourself (unlike organising the invitation), but it can save you time and frustration.

A 30-day single-entry tourist visa for citizens of EU Schengen countries costs €35 and takes 3 working days for standard processing (€70 by express service for next-day collection). For UK citizens, the price is £50 and takes 5 working days to process instead of 3 (express service is next day and costs £100). For US citizens, the price is currently 160 USD and standard processing takes at least 4 working days (express service costs 250 USD and is stated to take 3 working days).

In some countries where the Russian visa trade is very active (e.g. the United Kingdom and the United States), visa processing has been outsourced to private companies. These companies charge unavoidable application fees in addition to the visa fees mentioned above. For applications made in the United Kingdom (by a citizen of any country), the application fee is GBP 26.40 for the standard service and GBP 33.60 for the express service. For applications made in the United States, the application fee is 30 USD.

A further complication for British citizens is the requirement to appear in person at one of the visa application centres in London, Edinburgh or Manchester to have biometric data, i.e. fingerprints, taken.

The total cost of applying for a visa usually consists of three parts: the invitation fee, the visa fee and the application fee. If you are lucky, one or more of these fees may be waived, but be prepared to pay all three. Take the example of a British citizen applying for a 30-day tourist visa with standard processing in the UK (this is neither the cheapest nor the most expensive): invitation purchased through an agency: GBP 15, visa fee: GBP 50, application fee: GBP 26.40 = GBP 91.40 (about USD 140).

In general, tourist, guest and transit visas allow one or two entries. Tourist and host family visas have a maximum validity of 30 days. Transit visas usually last one to three days for air travel and up to 10 days for land travel. Business visas and other visa categories can be issued for one, two or more entries.

Each business visa can allow a maximum stay of 90 days during the same visit. However, a business visa generally only allows a total stay of 90 days in Russia within a 180-day period, regardless of its validity period (3, 6 or 12 months). If you stay in Russia for 90 days, you must leave and your visa will not allow you to return for another 90 days. This means (roughly speaking – one year is not 360 days) that you can stay in Russia for the same amount of time with a six-month visa as with a three-month visa!

Once you have your visa, check all dates and information as it is much easier to correct mistakes before you travel than after you arrive!

Visa-free entry by boat

There is an exception for some cruise passengers arriving in and departing from Russia by ship. They do not need a visa if they stay in Russia for less than 72 hours. Examples are cruises on the Saimaa Canal from Lappeenranta (Finland) to Vyborg and cruises on the St Peter Line to St Petersburg departing from Helsinki, Tallinn or Stockholm. Do not exceed the duration of the visa waiver. If you overstay, you will have to apply for an exit visa, pay a fine of at least 500 euros and will not be able to enter Russia visa-free for the next five years. In this case, the visa procedure may take more than a week, during which you will have to pay for your stay and food.

Arrival and customs

When you arrive in Russia, you will need to fill in a landing form. As in most places, one half is handed out at the entrance and the other half must stay with your passport until you leave Russia. It is usually printed in Russian and English, but other languages may be available. When leaving Russia, a lost landing card can be forgotten with a symbolic fine.

Generally, you are allowed to enter and stay in Russia for the duration of your visa, but it is at the discretion of the immigration officer and they may decide otherwise, although this is unlikely.

If you enter Russia with valuable electronic items or musical instruments (especially violins that look old and expensive), antiques, large sums of money or other such items, you must declare them on the customs entry card and insist that the card be stamped by a customs official on arrival. Even if the customs officer says it is not necessary to declare these items, insist that a stamp be placed on your declaration. This stamp can avoid considerable trouble (fines, confiscation) when leaving Russia if the departing customs officer decides that an item should have been declared on entry.


When you arrive in Russia and then when you arrive in a new city, you must be registered within 7 working days of your arrival. Your host in that city (not necessarily the one who issued the invitation) is responsible for your registration. Proof of registration is a separate piece of paper with a big blue stamp on it. Registration costs money, is inconvenient and is not usually checked from Russia. However, it is worth doing this at least in the first city you visit.

Big hotels won’t let you check in without seeing your registration (at least if you’re in Russia for more than 7 working days) and corrupt police officers who insist that the lack of registration is your fault are more annoying and expensive than paying the registration fee.

This law is a remnant from the Soviet era of controlled internal migration. Today, even Russians are supposed to register when they change cities. The official line is that these expensive pieces of paper with blue stamps help control illegal immigration from the poorest countries on Russia’s southern borders in Central Asia, the Caucasus, China and even North Korea.

Overstaying the period of validity of a visa

If you overstay by even a few minutes, you will probably not be allowed to leave until you have obtained a valid exit visa. If your stay is shorter than three days, you may be able to get a visa extension from the consular officer at the airport if you pay a fine, but this is not guaranteed. However, obtaining an extension usually requires the intervention of your sponsor, the payment of a fine and a waiting period of up to three weeks.

Be careful if your flight leaves after midnight and watch the time the train crosses the border. Border officials will not let you leave if you leave even 10 minutes after your visa expires! A common trap is the train to Helsinki, which does not arrive in Finland until after midnight.

If your extended stay is due to reasons such as medical problems, the Federal Migration Service may issue a certificate of return to the country of origin instead of an exit visa valid for departure from Russia within ten days of its issue.

How To Travel To Russia

Get In - By plane

Moscow and St Petersburg are served by direct flights from most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights from many cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and North America. Non-stop flights from the USA to Russia are offered by Singapore (Houston to Moscow, Domodedovo), Delta (New York and Atlanta to Moscow, Sheremeriyevo), United Airlines (Washington to Moscow, Domodedovo) and Aeroflot (New York, Washington and Los Angeles to Moscow, Sheremeriyevo).

There are three international airports in Moscow: IATA Sheremetyevo: SVO in the northwest, IATA Domodedovo: DME in the south and IATA Vnukovo: VKO in the southwest. Each of them has an express train connection (RUB470) to a central railway station in the city, but the stations are quite far apart, which makes travelling between the airports quite difficult. It is therefore necessary to allow several hours between flights from different airports. A taxi between airports should cost around 1,500 roubles (be prepared to negotiate). The cost of public transport ranges from about 200 roubles for buses to just under 700 roubles for air express trains. The system is not very user-friendly, so don’t expect easy, convenient or fast transfers.

Sheremetyevo Airport, which grew significantly in 2010, has five terminals divided into two groups. Terminals B (the former Sheremetyevo-1) and C form the northern group and mainly offer domestic and charter services. The new Terminals D and E, together with the former Terminal F (the former Sheremetyevo-2, built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics), form the southern group and serve international flights, mainly for the SkyTeam Alliance, and Terminal D also serves Aeroflot’s domestic flights .

Domodedovo is a modern, high-quality airport with a single spacious terminal. It serves both domestic and international flights of most Russian and international airlines. It is therefore advisable to choose flights to this airport.

Vnukovo is a smaller airport and is usually served by low-cost airlines. Since March 2012, it has been undergoing a major renovation with the construction of a spacious new terminal.

There are airports in all major cities in Russia. Some international services can be found in: Novosibirsk, Sochi, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg. International connections to other destinations are much more limited.

Low-cost airlines from Europe :

From Austria:

  • NIKI flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport [www]) from Vienna (Vienna International Airport). Approximate price for a single ticket – €99.

From Germany:

  • Air Berlin flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Berlin (Berlin Tegel), Düsseldorf (Düsseldorf International), Munich (Franz Josef Strauß Airport) and Stuttgart (Stuttgart Airport). There is also a connection between Berlin (Berlin Tegel) and St. Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport). Approximate price for a single ticket: 110
  • Germanwings flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Berlin (Berlin Schönefeld), Cologne (Cologne Bonn Airport), Hamburg (Hamburg Airport) and Stuttgart (Stuttgart Airport). There are also connections between Berlin (Berlin Schönefeld) and Cologne (Köln Bonn Airport) and St. Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport). Approximate price for an outbound ticket: USD 100.

From Greece:

From Italy:

  • Evolavia flies from Ancona (Raffaello Sanzio Airport) to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) on Wednesday. Approximate price for a single ticket – €140.
  • Meridiana flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Catania, Milan, Naples, Olbia and Verona.

From Norway:

From Spain:

  • vueling also flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Barcelona Airport). One-way fare €110-180 when booked in advance.

From the United Kingdom:

Cheaper ways to get to Moscow from the Middle East, India, Southeast Asia and Australia:

From/via United Arab Emirates

  • Emirates flies from Dubai to Domodedovo International Airport in Moscow and Pulkovo Airport in St Petersburg (from 1 November 2011). New, high-quality, somewhat expensive, but sometimes very cheap jets. A good connection option if you are coming from India, Southeast Asia or Australia.
  • Etihad flies from Abu Dhabi to Domodedovo International Airport. Relatively new entrant in the highly competitive market for routes between Europe and Asia/Australia. Offers one-way fares that are only slightly more than half the return fare (and the return fare does not usually get higher for longer stays of up to a year), a strategy also used almost exclusively by low-cost airlines. It also offers very competitive fares, especially for connecting flights.

From/via Qatar

  • Qatar Airways, another player in the Middle East intercontinental route market, has a presence at Doha’s [Domodedovo International] airport. It is one of only five airlines in the world to be rated 5 stars by Skytrax. Nevertheless, connecting fares from Asia are often quite modest.

Get In - By train

The Russian Railways RZhD (РЖД) provides reliable services over dizzying distances. Central and Eastern Europe is well connected to Moscow and, to a lesser extent, St Petersburg. Moscow is also connected to surprising destinations in Western Europe and Asia.

With the exception of the new carriages connecting Moscow with Nice and Paris, the international trains generally offer the same compartment quality as the national trains.

The Russian word for railway station (Vokzal, Вокзал) is derived from Vauxhall Railway Station in London. In the early days of the railway, a group of visiting Russian entrepreneurs were shown the new London railways and were constantly going in and out of Vauxhall station. A misunderstanding led them to think that Vauxhall was the word for station. The toilets at Voczal are free if you have a ticket for the next train (unlike Vauxhall).


Belarus, Moldova and Ukraine are very well connected to Russia, with many daily trains from cities in each country. Helsinki (Finland) has four daily high-speed trains to St. Petersburg and one night train to Moscow. Riga (Latvia), Vilnius (Lithuania) and Tallinn (Estonia) each have at least one daily or overnight train to Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Kaliningrad has a short rail connection with Gdynia and Gdańsk in Poland only in summer. Trains from Kaliningrad to Moscow and St. Petersburg pass through Vilnius in the afternoon.

In addition to Russia’s immediate neighbours and the former Soviet dominions, direct trains connect Moscow with Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Monaco, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia and Switzerland. If you are travelling by train from Central Europe to Moscow, you should know that most train routes pass through Belarus and that citizens of most countries (including some who can enter Russia without a visa) require a Belarus visa.

Western Europe has a different gauge than Russia, Finland and the CIS, so the bogies have to be changed when the train passes through the countries of the former Soviet Union (usually Ukraine or Belarus). This adds a few hours to the already long waiting time at immigration. You can stay on the train while the wheels are being changed so as not to disturb your sleep too much.


Moscow is connected with all the countries of the former Soviet Central Asia: (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) at least 2-3 times a week. The trips are long (3.5 to 5 days). For the Caucasus, there is a connection from Moscow to Baku, Azerbaijan (3 days); however, the Azerbaijani-Russian border is only open to CIS passport holders. There is also a connection from Moscow to Sukhumi in the disputed territory of Abkhazia. The Trans-Siberian Railway runs throughout the country, connecting Chinese cities such as Beijing and Harbin, as well as the Mongolian city of Ulaanbaatar. There is also a bi-weekly connection between Moscow and Pyongyang, North Korea (mainly with the Trans-Siberian Railway and a short connection between Vladivostok and Pyongyang), but this line is not accessible to Western tourists.

Get In - By car

Travelling in Russia by car can be difficult. Roads can be poorly marked or not marked at all and poorly maintained, especially outside cities and towns. Road numbers are not well marked and signposts are usually only in Russian. Car rental services are only emerging and expensive in large cities such as Moscow or St. Petersburg.

Crossing the border by car is a special kind of entertainment.

There is no doubt that the car is the best way to see the country, but it is a risky venture that is only recommended to brave and capable people.

Most federal roads (M-1, M-2, etc.) are monitored by automated systems, but secondary roads are patrolled by the State Motor Inspection (SMI). GAI roadblocks are located within each federal district boundary (approximately every 200 km). It is very useful to have a radar detector and a video recorder. A video recorder is your ultimate defence in case of GAI problems. According to a cliché, GAI inspectors can be bribed with US$10 or US$20; in 2005, corrupt inspectors charged about US$90 per hit.

Not all motorways in Russia are free: on some of them toll booths block the passage, so the traveller needs 20-60 roubles per toll (it is better to have 10 rouble coins).

In some areas, petrol can be extremely poor; it is always best to find a branded petrol station.

The service is poor or expensive, but high prices are not always synonymous with quality. Without experience and mastery of the Russian language, the campaign can be very dangerous.

If you are a driver involved in a collision, the main rule is that you must not move your car or leave the scene of an accident until a GAI investigator has drawn up an accident plan and you have signed it. Breaking this rule can cost you 15 days of freedom. Any other questions should be directed to your insurance company.

It is possible to travel safely by car in Russia with a licensed private guide. Independent travel is not recommended, especially for people who do not speak Russian. Guides usually provide their own car or van and are familiar with the roads, customs and landscape so you can see small towns and historic sites.

Get In - By bus

Some bus companies, especially Eurolines, offer international bus connections from various destinations to Moscow and St. Petersburg. Tallinn, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Berlin all have regular connections to Russia.

Get In - By boat

In summer, ferries run between Sochi and Trabzon in Turkey. In Vladivostok there is a regular RoRo ferry to Busan and many lines to various Japanese ports, but these are mainly focused on importing Japanese used cars rather than on tourism. There is also a weekly summer service between Korsakow on Sakhalin and Wakkanai on the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Cruise ships also call frequently at Russian ports. There is a ship connection between Lappeenranta in Finland and Vyborg. There is now a daily (night) connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg on the St. Petersburg route, which does not require a visa for stays of less than 3 days.

Get In - By bike

There are two international Eurovelo routes that pass through Russia, namely the EV2 Capital City Route (Ireland to Moscow) and the EV10 Baltic Sea Cycle Route (Hansa Circuit), which connects St. Petersburg with Estonia and Finland.

How To Travel Around Russia

Get Around - By train

Due to the vastness of the country and poor road safety, the best way to move around the country quickly is by train. Russia has an extensive railway network connecting almost all cities and towns. For intercity travel, the train is usually the most comfortable solution for journeys that can be made at night. Although the accommodation is not the best, Russian trains have efficient and courteous staff and fast departures and arrivals that would impress even a German. The train is an option for longer journeys (many Russians still use it for journeys of 2 days or more), but especially if you enjoy the nuances and experience of train travel in Russia. For a complete Russian rail experience, the week-long Trans-Siberian Railway is unsurpassed.

Russian trains are divided into different types: Long-distance trains (дальнего следования DAHL’nyehvuh SLEHduhvahnyah) usually cover distances of more than 4 hours or about 200 kilometres (120 miles). Shorter distances are covered by suburban trains (пригородные PREEguhruhdnyyeh), popularly called электрички ehlehkTREECHkee. Most railway stations (железнодорожный вокзал zhehlyehznohdohROHZHny vohgZAHL) have separate areas for the sale of such tickets.

Transport with bicycle

Carrying a bicycle in the car is allowed for one ticket, provided it is compact and neatly folded/disassembled. As a rule, the bicycle is stripped of its wheels and pedals, put in a bag and stored on the top shelf in the seat car. Other classes of vehicles have less space or storage and the bike must be more compact.

Sleeping car

Almost all long-distance trains are designed for night services. There are several classes of accommodation:

  • Deluxe – myagkiy (мягкий) – with private compartments for two adults and one child, with their own toilet and shower. Only a few trains have this fancy class.
  • 1st class – spalnyy/lyuks(спальный/люкс) – with private compartments for two people. Most trains connecting larger cities have a carriage of this class; tickets are quite expensive by European standards. In common parlance, this class is usually called SV (es-veh, СВ). The compartments are often the same as in Kupe, with the two upper beds stowed away.
  • 2nd class – kupe (купе) – with private compartments for four people. On some trains, compartments may be designated by the ticketing system as reserved for men, women or mixed gender.
  • 3rd class – platskart (плацкарт) – with non-wall compartments with quadruple beds opposite two beds against the window wall. The safety of these compartments is debatable. For some, these compartments are generally less safe than other classes because they allow uncontrolled access. Others point out that in an open car full of witnesses, there is less risk of becoming a victim of crime or molestation. In any case, they offer a much more intense experience.
  • Seat class – sidyachiy (сидячий) – Seat carriages for shorter journeys, with seat reservation. These carriages are usually used in slower regional trains.

Each carriage has its own attendant/driver (provodnik or provodnitsa) who checks your tickets when you board, provides you with bedding, sells you tea or snacks and can lend you a cup and spoon for about 10 roubles. The driver usually collects your tickets shortly after you board, and they are returned shortly before you arrive at your destination. At the end of each carriage you will find a samovar with free hot water for making tea or soup. Most long-distance trains have dining cars.

The lower berths (nizhnie – нижние) are slightly more comfortable than the upper berths (verhnie – верхние), as they offer more space for luggage. Discounts are sometimes given only for the upper berths (usually outside the tourist season and in the busiest directions, i.e. leaving big cities on Friday evening and returning on Sunday evening).

Train classes

Trains are classified according to their average speed:

  • skorostnoy (скоростной, numbered 151 to 178) – the fastest trains (seats only). The Sapsan, Allegro and Lastochka trains run there;
  • skoryy (скорый, numbered from 1 to 148 year-round and from 181 to 298 seasonal) – fast trains with accommodation ;
  • Passenger trains (пассажирский, numbered 301-399 year-round, 400-499 seasonal and 500-598 on specific dates only) – slower trains with more frequent stops;
  • mestnyy (местный, numbers 601 to 698) – the slowest trains serving most communities along the tracks. Typically, this type of train runs on shorter routes, often at night, e.g. between neighbouring or nearby regional centres or on dead-end branch lines. The approximate upper limit of route length is about 700 km. Trains are sometimes colloquially called shestisotye or shest’sot-veselye, depending on their numbering (6XX or 600 happy trains) ;
  • pochtovo-bagazhnyy/gruzopassazhyrskiy (почтово-багажный/грузопассажирский, number 901 to 998) – mainly used for the delivery of mail and bulky luggage or goods. According to railway regulations, it is possible to purchase tickers on these trains, depending on the location and usually further away from larger centres. Where there is a choice of trains, they are not practical as they usually have long stops at all major stations and are therefore slower, even compared to 6XX trains. There is likely to be a heavy police presence when loading and unloading this type of train;
  • Prigorodnyy express (numbered 800 to 899 and 7000 to 7999) – local express trains, both suburban trains, such as REX and Sputniks, and inter-regional trains, including even trains from Moscow to St Petersburg. In common parlance they are called popugai (parrots) because of their bright colours, but further away from Moscow regular local trains can be used as express trains ;
  • prigorodnyy/elektropoyezd (пригородный/электропоезд, numbered from 6001 to 6998) – local or suburban trains serving mainly urban commuters. Usually called elektrichka, or sometimes more informally sobaka (dogs). Although all types of commuter trains are sometimes, if incorrectly, called elektrichka, their types are varied, especially when the tracks are not electrified, such as diesel trains and rail buses, or short trains pulled by a (usually) diesel or electric locomotive. Local trains pulled by locomotives can also be called kukushka (cuckoo clocks).

In general, the correspondence between numbering, speed and train types can be somewhat distorted, and trains in the “slower” category can actually be faster than those in the “faster” category. This usually happens for different categories of fast and express trains.

Service quality usually corresponds to train class, with year-round trains usually having better service than seasonal trains, which in turn are usually better than trains that only run on special dates. Also because of their service standards, some trains are promoted to firmennyy(фирменный) and are given their own label and a higher ticket price. The most distinguished trains use their special livery.

Since 2011, dozens of local trains (prigorodny) have been cancelled every year due to lack of funding, and the situation is getting worse every year. Cancellations occur all over the country, except in the suburbs of big cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Ekaterinburg and Irkutsk. Up-to-date information on cancellations can be very important when planning your trip. Typical features of train cancellations: most cancellations take place at the beginning of the year, sometimes some trains are rescheduled if local budgets find funds to finance them; some trains are cancelled at the borders of the region, even if there is no road to cross the border to the previous destination; other local trains are reduced to one per day or several per week, often with timetables not suitable for tourists.


Reservations are compulsory on long-distance trains. You must therefore plan each leg of your journey specifically, you cannot get on and off. Don’t forget that Russian timetables use Moscow time, which is good for Moscow, St. Petersburg and the surrounding area, but you lose 3 hours compared to local time in Novosibirsk, and even worse, you move further east. Timetables based on these, e.g. on the internet, may or may not follow the same convention – so check this when planning your trip.

Ticket prices depend on the train and carriage class as well as the season (tickets for holidays can cost 2/3 of those for peak days). You can check the ticket price on (in Russian only) or at the Russian Railways online shop.

It is best to buy your ticket online on the Russian Railways website. If the online system shows the train as 3P (with a small train symbol), you will need to print this ticket at home and it does not need to be validated before boarding. For trains without a 3P, you must present your receipt at a ticket office to collect your ticket, which is only possible within Russia – so you cannot use these trains for journeys starting outside Russia.

You can also buy at the station: Kassovyi Zal (кассовый зал) means ticket office. Queues vary a lot – some stations are much better organised than others, and it also depends on the time of year. If you find the queues unbearably long, it is usually not difficult to find an agency that sells train tickets. The commission rates are generally not prohibitive. For example, if you are buying your ticket to St Petersburg from Moscow, it is much better to walk a few steps from the regular ticket office – there are no queues there and the R140 is a small extra charge for this service.

There are many agencies that sell Russian train tickets abroad – RealRussia [www], RussianTrains [www] or RussianTrain [www]. They have an English-language website and can send the tickets to your home, but the prices are 30-50% higher.

Travel tips

The duration of the journey can vary from a few hours to several days. Note that there are more types of trains between the two capitals than between any other city in Russia. In addition to regular trains, there are also express trains (Sapsan) that only run during the day and cover the 650 km between Moscow and St Petersburg in 4 hours. Some of the overnight trains are quite luxurious, including the traditional “Red Arrow” service and the brand new Tsarist-era Nikolaevsky Express with conductors in 19th century uniforms. Bed linen, towels and breakfast are included on the best trains. Communal toilets are located at the end of the carriage. There are special hatches that allow you to secure the compartment door from the inside during the night.

The express train from Moscow to St. Petersburg takes 5 hours and costs 2400 roubles. The trains are only slightly air-conditioned. No one speaks English at the Moscow train station. If you do not speak Russian well enough to buy your train ticket in person, it is advisable to buy it online or through the concierge at your hotel or travel agency before you leave. Also note that all signage inside the station is in Russian only, so it can be difficult to find the right platform. The dining car of the express train is beautifully decorated with real table linen and an impressive food and wine list, but it is 3 to 4 times more expensive than eating in the city before and after the journey.

Trains stop at stations for a longer period of time, about 15 to 20 minutes. Check the timetable at the door at the end of the corridor. During the stop, you can buy various food and drinks from the local people on the platform at quite reasonable prices. Between stops, shopkeepers often pass through the cars selling everything from crockery to clothes to Lay’s chips.

Commuter trains are mostly hard-seat coaches. They do not have a fixed seat number, only a seat on a bench. These trains have a reputation for being overcrowded, but this reputation has somewhat subsided. The trains stop very often and are rather slow. For example, a 200 km journey to Vladimir takes about 3 hours and 30 minutes. They have (!) toilets in the first and last car, but it will be an unforgettable experience (to be used only in an “emergency”).

Tickets for local trains are sold in a separate room from those for long-distance trains, and sometimes they are sold from outside cabins.

Some very popular lines, especially between Moscow and nearby cities like Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Tula and others, have an express suburban train that is much more comfortable. Your ticket has a specific seat number and the seats are reasonably comfortable. The trains go directly to their destination and are therefore much faster.

Please note that all long-distance trains in Russia run on Moscow time (which can be up to 7 hours behind local time in the Far East).

Get Around - By bus

Most Russian cities are connected by buses to cities 5 or 6 hours or more away. Although generally less comfortable than trains, buses are sometimes a better option in terms of time and are worth considering if train schedules don’t suit you. A few cities, such as Suzdal, are not served by train, so the bus is the only option outside the car.

The Russian word for bus station is Avtovokzal (Ahv-tuh-vahg-ZAHL). In most cities there is only one bus for long distances and state buses leave from there. However, in Moscow and some other Russian cities there are a number of commercial buses that do not usually depart from the bus station. It is common to see commercial buses near railway stations. Sometimes they stick to timetables, but on the busiest routes (e.g. Moscow-Vladimir, Moscow-Yaroslavl, etc.) the buses are just waiting to fill up. On these buses, payment is usually made to the driver.

Russian buses have a luggage compartment, but if it’s an old Eastern Bloc bus, your luggage may be wet by the end of the journey.

In addition to regular buses, there are also private minibuses called Marshrutka (маршрутка). They emerged after the collapse of the Soviet Union as an alternative to the ailing public transport system. Legally, they can be licensed as taxis or buses. They have fixed routes but usually no timetables or regular stops. Their official name is “route taxi” (Russian: marshrutnoye taxi, Ukrainian: marshrutne taxi), hence the colloquial name “marshrutka”).

To board one of them, stop at the side of the road and wave. If you are lucky and the minibus is not full, he will stop. In the city, he will stop anyway and give you the opportunity to stand in the aisle or even in a corner and lean over the seated passengers. This is neither legal nor practical, but it is very common and acceptable. You can arrange with the driver to stop at your destination. Usually all you have to do is shout “stop here please” and the marshrutka will stop almost anywhere, even in the middle of traffic, without pulling over to the side of the road. At the main stops, the driver can wait and pick up more passengers. Waiting time is unpredictable and depends on the timetable, number of passengers, competing buses, etc. There are no tickets, you pay the driver directly. He can give you a receipt, but you have to ask for it explicitly.

Marshrutkas travel both in the countryside (in which case they tend to have timetables) and in the city. They sometimes look like regular buses, which makes it difficult to distinguish them from official buses. Moreover, on long-distance routes you can reserve a seat by phone and even buy a ticket in advance. The system is very random and organised in the strangest way. It is strongly recommended to ask the details of a particular route from the drivers or at least from the residents, who should know the current situation in their city. Never rely on route numbers in cities. Sometimes they match those of official public transport, sometimes they do not.

Get Around - By plane

Russia’s vast distances make air travel highly desirable if you plan to travel to some of Russia’s most remote attractions. It is worth considering any destination that is further away than an overnight train journey. Travelling across Russia by train may seem terribly romantic, but it is also a long and rather monotonous journey. Almost all major destinations of interest have an airport nearby. The vast majority of domestic flights are to/from Moscow, but there are other connections as well.

Russia’s domestic aviation industry had a miserable reputation in the 1990s due to its uncertain security situation, unreliable schedules, poor service, uncomfortable aircraft and poor quality airports. However, significant improvements have been made. Air travel to Russia is unlikely to be the highlight of your trip, but it has become bearable.

  • Aeroflot, based at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo Airport, is Russia’s national airline for local flights from Russia and the CIS, as well as international flights to cities around the world (Germany, South Korea, USA, etc.). Prices for flights from St Petersburg to Moscow vary, but you can get them for around US$32 (February 2016), which is cheaper and less time-consuming than taking the train. Since December 2010, Aeroflot has operated domestic and international flights from the new Terminal D, which is next to the old international terminal (now Terminal F) and serves non-Aeroflot international departures. Many international and most domestic flights are operated by Boeing and Airbus aircraft, with only a few Soviet-era planes remaining.
  • S7 (formerly Siberia or Sibir Airlines) is the largest Russian domestic airline with international connections to many cities in Germany, China and the former Soviet republics.
  • Rossiya Airlines has an extensive route network from St Petersburg Pulkovo Airport to Russia’s two main cities and to Western Europe.
  • UTair operates the largest aircraft fleet in Russia and is one of the five largest Russian airlines by passenger volume. UTair is the leader in the Russian market for helicopter services and the fourth largest helicopter service provider in the world by volume of international operations.
  • Yakutia Airlines is a Siberian/Far Eastern airline with an extensive network of flights in Siberia and abroad.

Many of these companies (with the exception of Transaero, which began as a stand-alone operation) grew out of Aeroflot’s hometown operations, which had been unique since Soviet times, when the former Aeroflot was dissolved.

In March 2009, Rosaviation (Federal Aviation Regulator) published statistics on average departure delays in 2008, broken down by national airline:

  • maximum departure delays are reported: Alrosa Avia (40% of flights were delayed by 2 hours or more), Moskoviya (17%), Dagestan Airlines (16%), Red Wings (14%), SkyExpress (13%), VIM-Avia (12%), Yakutia (10%).
  • Des retards minimes sont signalés : Aeroflot-Russian airlines, S7/Sibir, Rossia, UTair et UTair-Express, Aeroflot-Nord, Aeroflot-Don, Kuban Airlines, Yamal, Saratov Airlines, Transaero, Tatarstan.

Get Around - By boat

In the summer, cruise ships frequently ply the rivers of European Russia, connecting Kazan with Volgograd, Moscow with St. Petersburg and Astrakhan, with the trips through the Volga cities being the most popular. Lakes Ladoga and Onega in northern Russia are also served by cruise lines.

Get Around - By thumb

Russia has a very lively hitchhiking culture, with many hitchhiking clubs, there is even a hitchhiking academy. There are many competitions. Despite the horror stories of bad things happening in Russia, it is relatively safe to hitchhike, especially in the countryside. In some regions, Russians expect some money for a ride.

Destinations in Russia

Regions in Russia

  • Central Russia (Moscow, Ivanovo Oblast, Kaluga Oblast, Kostroma Oblast, Moscow Oblast, Ryazan Oblast, Smolensk Oblast, Tver Oblast, Tula Oblast, Vladimir Oblast, Yaroslavl Oblast).
    The richest side of the country, dominated by spectacular architecture and historic buildings. It is the country’s gateway to Europe and is home to the capital Moscow.
  • Chernozemye (Belgorod Oblast, Bryansk Oblast, Kursk Oblast, Lipetsk Oblast, Oryol Oblast, Tambov Oblast, Voronezh Oblast).South of central Russia and famous for its deep, rich black earth (Chernozem is the Russian term for “black earth”), it was an important battlefield during World War II.
  • Northwest Russia (St. Petersburg, Arkhangelsk Oblast, Karelia, Komi Republic, Leningrad Oblast, Murmansk Oblast, Nenets, Novgorod Oblast, Pskov Oblast, Vologda Oblast). Here is the former imperial capital of St. Petersburg, also known as the “Capital of the North”. It combines the beautiful landscape of the Great Lakes Ladoga and Onega and the medieval fortresses of Pskov Oblast with the lake region of Karelia and is a gateway to Scandinavia.
  • Kaliningrad Oblast (often considered part of north-west Russia). Kaliningrad Oblast is the only exclave of Russia that borders Poland and Lithuania and will be the venue for some of the 2018 World Cup matches.
  • Southern Russia (Adygea, Chechnya, Crimea, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkessia, Krasnodar Krai, North Ossetia, Rostov Oblast, Stavropol Krai). The warmest region in the whole country, with beautiful resorts like the subtropical city of Sochi, and also brings a way 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 industrialised region of the country, known for large-scale production of military equipment in cities like Izhevsk, with a rich culture and history.
  • Ural Region (Bashkortostan, Chelyabinsk Oblast, Khanty-Mansia, Kurgan Oblast, Orenburg Oblast, Perm Krai, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Tyumen Oblast, Yamaly). One of the richest regions known for producing a large part of the resources Russia needs today and which owes its name to the huge Ural Mountains, which also form the border between Europe and Asia.
  • Siberia (Altai Region, Altai Republic, Buryatia, Irkutsk Oblast, Kemerovo Oblast, Khakassia, Krasnoyarsk Krai, Novosibirsk Oblast, Omsk Oblast, Tomsk, Tuva, Zabaykalsky Krai). The largest area of the country, diverse in landscape and annual temperatures, with beautiful lakes, the longest rivers in the world, but largely marshy in the centre and north. It is a gateway to much of Asia.
  • Russian Far East (Amur Oblast, Chukotka, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Kamchatka Region, Khabarovsk Region, Magadan Oblast, Primorsky Region, Sakhalin Oblast, Yakutia). One of the coldest regions in Russia, also home to the coldest city in the world, Yakutsk. Famous worldwide for its national parks, beautiful landscapes and mountains, and the volcanoes of Kamchatka. It is also a gateway to North Korea and China.

Cities in Russia

Here is a representative selection of nine Russian cities with their anglicised and Cyrillic Russian names:

  • Moscow (Москва) – The capital of Russia is one of the largest cities in the world and offers a variety of attractions for the adventurous visitor.
  • Irkutsk (Иркутск) – the most popular Siberian city in the world, located less than an hour from 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 neglected despite being one of Russia’s largest cities, Nizhny Novgorod is worth a visit for its Kremlin, Sakharov Museum and nearby Makarev Monastery.
  • St Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург) – formerly known as Leningrad, the cultural and political capital of Russia, is home to one of the world’s finest museums, the Hermitage, while the city centre is a living open-air museum in its own right, making it one of the world’s leading tourist destinations.
  • Sochi (Сочи) – Russia’s most popular resort on the Black Sea was largely unknown to foreigners until it hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics.
  • Vladivostok (Владивосток) – often called (somewhat ironically) “the San Francisco of Russia”, full of hilly streets and battleships. The most important Russian city in the Pacific is the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Highway and Railway
  • Volgograd (Волгоград) – formerly known as Stalingrad, this city may have been the site of the decisive battle of World War II and is now home to a huge war memorial.
  • Ekaterinburg (Екатеринбург) – the centre of the Ural region and one of Russia’s most important cultural centres is a good stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway and a point of arrival for visitors to the Urals, Russia’s second largest financial centre.

Other destinations in Russia

  • The border between Europe and Asia – it is clearly defined in Ekaterinburg and a very popular stop for photo shoots between the continents!
  • Dombai – although it is neither as internationally known nor as well preserved today, it is the most beautiful mountain resort in the North Caucasus.
  • Golden Ring – a popular loop of beautiful historic cities that form a ring around Moscow.
  • Kamchatka – the region of active volcanoes, geysers, mineral springs and bears walking the streets.
  • Kizhi – one of the most valuable sites in all of Russia. Kizhi Island in Lake Onega is famous for its spectacular complex of traditional wooden churches.
  • The primeval forests of Komi – deeply isolated and difficult to visit, but it is by far the largest wilderness area in Europe and contains Russia’s largest Jugyd Va National Park.
  • Lake Baikal – the “Pearl of Siberia” – is the deepest and largest lake in the world by volume and a remarkable destination for all those who love nature.
  • Mamaev Kurgan – a massive memorial and museum on and around the battlefield where the most important battle of the 20th century took place: Stalingrad.
  • The Solovetsky Islands – located north of the White Sea, they are home to the magnificent Solovetsky Monastery, which has served as both a military fortress and a gulag throughout its turbulent history.
  • Caucasian dolmens – ancient structures of unknown utility, located in many places in the Caucasus, can be found even near Greater Sochi. For example, guides from Lazarevskoe (a region of Greater Sochi) can show you large stone dolmens in the local forests. (Locals sometimes show small dolmens for a fee, but they are usually fake and made of concrete).

Accommodation & Hotels in Russia

In most cities, quality hotels are really rare: most were built in Soviet times several decades ago and have been recently renovated in their facilities, but rarely in their service and attitude. Even for a local, it is quite difficult to find a good hotel without the recommendation of someone you trust. For the same reason, during mass tourist events like St. Peter’s Birthday, it can be very difficult to find a hotel.

Hotels in Russia can be quite expensive in metropolitan and tourist areas. If you speak some Russian and are not completely shocked by the culture, it is much wiser to look for and rent a room in a private flat. Most Russians want to earn some extra money and, if they have a free place, will gladly rent it out to a tourist. Muscovites who are locals or residents of St Petersburg prefer to rent to tourists rather than their own compatriots: foreigners are considered more trustworthy and tidy. Expect to pay 60-70 USD per night (usually with breakfast prepared by your host), and the accommodation is certainly very clean and functional, even modern. As for family life, Russian culture is very warm and welcoming.

Another useful option is the short-term rental of flats offered by small businesses or individuals. This means that some flats in ordinary residential buildings are rented out permanently and by the day. The flats can vary in location and quality (from old to newly renovated), but in all cases you get a one- or two-room flat with kitchen, toilet and bathroom. Guests also provide bed linen as well as cups, plates and other kitchen utensils. Renting the flat offers great autonomy and flexibility (for example, there is no strict departure time). On the other hand, you will not benefit from some of the hotel’s facilities, such as breakfast, laundry service, etc. The price of renting a flat by the day is usually not higher than that of a hotel of similar quality, which makes it a very useful option, especially in big cities. Negotiations are usually quite formal: the host takes your ID details while you receive an invoice and a rental contract.

A new phenomenon is the development of “mini-hotels” in large Russian cities. These hotels usually (but not necessarily!) offer clean, modern rooms with private bathrooms at costs much lower than those of large, classic hotels, around $60 as opposed to well over $150. These small hotels are located in existing apartment buildings and are one, two or more floors above street level. They also often serve breakfast. There are several in St Petersburg, and new ones are opening all the time, and some are appearing in Moscow.

Couchsurfing is very popular in Russian cities.

Things To See in Russia

Russia is huge, and the attractions for visitors are exceptionally long, although many of them are in hard-to-reach areas of the most remote countries on earth. The most famous sights are in and around the country’s capitals, Moscow and St Petersburg.

Historical attractions

Russia’s history is the first reason tourists come to this country, followed by the attraction of its fascinating, sometimes surreal, often brutal and always consistent national saga.

Ancient history

Derbent, in the Caucasian republic of Dagestan, is the oldest city in Russia, dating back 5,000 years. The walled city, home to the legendary Alexander’s Gate, was key to controlling trade between western Russia and the Middle East for 1500 years. It was in turn controlled by Caucasian Albanians, the Persian empires and the Mongols (until conquest by the Russian Empire in the 18th century). Other ancient peoples of Russia have left fewer traces of their civilisation, but traces of the Kurgan people of the Urals can be found, especially the ruined pagan sanctuaries and burial mounds around the ancient capital Tobolsk and throughout the Republic of Khakassia.

Among Russia’s first city-states, one of the best preserved and most interesting is that of Staraya Ladoga, considered the country’s first capital and founded by the Viking Rurik, from whom the first line of Tsars emerged. Novgorod, founded in 859, was the most important city of Kievan Rus in present-day Russia (along with Kiev itself in present-day Ukraine) and is home to Russia’s first Kremlin.

At the beginning of the Middle AgesRussia experienced two great civilisations, that of the independent Republic of Novgorod and that of the Mongol Empire, which included the Russian principalities of the former Vladimir-Suzdal (whose original capital, Vladimir, had an outstanding ensemble of monuments and a 12th-century Kremlin). While the Mongols left most of the devastated historical sites, the rich trading nation of the north developed large cities in the capital Novgorod, as well as in Staraya Ladoga, Pskov and Oreshek (now Shlisselburg), all of which have existing medieval kremlins and a variety of beautiful turn-of-the-century Russian Orthodox churches with ecclesiastical frescoes.

As Mongol power weakened, the Grand Duchy of Moscow rose to power, especially during the subsequent reign of Ivan the Terrible. It consolidated its power throughout western Russia, including the conquest of the Kazan Khanate (and built another great citadel there), and concentrated its power in Moscow, where it built the Kremlin, St Basil’s Cathedral and some of Russia’s other most famous historical sites. Much building also took place in the cities of the Golden Ring surrounding Moscow during this period. A destination off the beaten track also emerged in the far north of the country: the Solovetsky Fortress Monastery on the islands in the White Sea, which served as a bulwark against Swedish naval incursions.

Imperial history

The reign of Ivan the Terrible ended in tragedy, the time of turmoil that saw only destruction and ruin, and you will find few traces of civilisational development before the foundation of the Romanov dynasty in the early 17th century. Peter the Great, having consolidated his power, began building his brand new city of St Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland, the window to the West. From its foundation to neoclassicism, St Petersburg developed into one of the most enchanting cities in the world, and the list of attractions worth seeing is far too long to discuss here. The surrounding summer palaces of Peterhof, Pavlovsk and Pushkin are also incredibly opulent attractions.

The Russian Revolution was one of the defining moments of the 20th century, and history buffs will find plenty to see in St Petersburg. The two most famous sights are the Winter Palace, which the Communists stormed to depose Tsar Nicholas II, and the beautiful Peter and Paul Fortress on the Neva, which housed many revolutionary figures in its cold and hopeless prison. Those interested in the macabre end of Nicholas II’s Romanov family, perhaps inspired by the story of Anastasia, should visit the Church of the Blood in Ekaterinburg, built on the site of his family’s execution. Moscow, on the other hand, is home to the most famous monument of the revolutionary era – that of Lenin himself, whose embalmed body is on display in Red Square.

Soviet history

The Soviet period brought a radical change in Russian history and the development of an almost entirely new civilisation. The programmes of mass industrialisation were accompanied by a new aesthetic ethic that emphasised functionality (combined with grandiosity). Twentieth-century buildings are often derided as ugly monstrosities, but they are hardly dull (whereas the industrial complexes that litter cities from the Belarusian border to the Pacific are veritable scarecrows).

The Second World War and Stalin’s reign of terror both had a strong impact on Russia’s cultural heritage. The bombing wiped out virtually everything of historical interest in the far west of Russia (the Chernozemye region) and caused much more damage throughout European Russia. It did, however, lead to the erection of war memorials throughout the country. For army enthusiasts, a visit to Mamaev Kurgan, the museum complex in Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), is an excellent destination. Kursk, for its great tank battle, and St Petersburg, site of the siege of Leningrad, are interesting destinations.

Perhaps the saddest Soviet legacy is the network of prison camps known as the Gulag Archipelago. The term “archipelago” does not capture the extent of the suffering on 10,000 kilometres of cold steppe. Perhaps the most interesting places for those interested in this legacy are the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea and the devastatingly grim Kolyma Gulag system in the Magadan oblast. If you hope to see where Alexander Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned, you must travel beyond Russian borders to Ekibastuz in Kazakhstan.

Cultural sights

Russia has some of the greatest museums in the world, especially in the visual arts. The Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg is the real star, with a huge collection amassed first by the wealthy Tsars (especially their founder, Catherine the Great) and then by the Soviets and the Red Army (who seized huge treasures from the Nazis, who in turn seized the riches of their wars around the world). Equally impressive is the building that houses the collection on display, the magnificent Winter Palace of the Romanov dynasty. The often neglected Russian Museum in St Petersburg should also be a priority, as it has the second best collection of pure Russian art in the country, from 10th-century icons to modern movements in which revolutionary Russia led the way before the rest of the world. Moscow’s little-known art museums include the Tretyakov Gallery (the first collection of Russian art) and the Pushkin Museum of Western Art.

Other museum exhibitions are certainly worth a look, such as the collections of antiquities from St Petersburg and Moscow, especially in the Hermitage, and the Moscow Kremlin Armoury. For army enthusiasts, Russian military museums are often fantastic, truly the best in the world, whether you are in one of Moscow’s main museums – the Central Army Museum, the Kubinka Tank Museum, the Central Air Force Museum, the Great Patriotic War (World War II) Museum – or in the provinces. The other category in which Russian museums surpass the rest of the world would be the literary and musical spheres. Nary, a city that Aleksandr Pushkin visited, even if only for a day, does not have a small museum dedicated to his life and work. The best museums in the big cities are the Bulgakov Museum in Moscow and the Anna Akhmatova, Pushkin and Dostoevsky museums in St Petersburg. Great adventures await you in the quieter regions of the country, at Dostoevsky’s summer house in Staraya Russa, Tolstoy’s “inaccessible literary bastion” in Yasnaya Polyana, Chekhov’s estate in Melikhovo, Tchaikovsky’s house in Klin or the remote town of Votkinsk in Udmurtia, Rachmaninov’s summer house in Ivanovka, Pushkin’s estate in Pushkinskie Gory or Turgenev’s country estate in Spasskoe-Lutovinovo near Mtsensk. The best museums are in the countryside. For classical music lovers, the museum homes of various 19th and 20th century composers in St Petersburg are worth more than just a nostalgic stroll – they often feature small performances by incredible musicians.

All tourists in Russia look at a lot of churches. Ecclesiastical architecture is an important source of pride for Russians, and the onion dome is undoubtedly an outstanding national symbol. Unfortunately, the 20th century was marked by cultural vandalism on an unprecedented scale in the destruction of this architecture. But the immense number of beautiful monasteries and old churches has made it possible to preserve an enormous collection. The most famous, as usual, are to be found in St Petersburg and Moscow, notably the ancient Baroque Church of the Shedding of Blood, the Alexander Nevsky Lavra and the monumental cathedrals of Kazan and St Isaac in the former, and St Basil’s Cathedral and the massive Church of the Annunciation in the latter. The spiritual home of the Russian Orthodox Church is the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius in Sergiev Posad on the Golden Ring (Lavra is the name given to the main monasteries, of which there are only two in the country), although the physical seat of the Church is in the Danilov Monastery in Moscow. The Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery in Vologda Oblast is often considered the second most important in Russia (and it is a good way to get off the beaten track). Other particularly famous churches and monasteries include St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod, the Cathedral of the Assumption in Vladimir and the fascinating old Königsberg Cathedral (which houses the tomb of Immanuel Kant) in Kaliningrad, Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow, Optina Putsin (which served as the base for Father Zossima’s monastery in The Brothers Karamazov) and Volokolamsk Monastery in western Moscow Oblast. Kizhi Pogost on Lake Onega and the Valaam Monastery on Lake Ladoga are also popular destinations, especially for those travelling between St Petersburg and Moscow.

But church architecture does not stop with the Russian Orthodox Church – Russia also has a rich Islamic and Buddhist architecture. The most important mosques in the country are the Qolşärif Mosque in Kazan (originally the largest mosque in Europe) and the Blue Mosque in St. Petersburg (originally the largest mosque in Europe!). The mosque in Moscow Cathedral, once considered the country’s main mosque but controversially demolished in 2011, is conspicuously absent from this list. Russia’s main Buddhist temples are located both in Europe’s only Buddhist republic, Kalmykia, and in regions closer to Mongolia, notably around Ulan-Ude in Buryatia and Kyzyl, Tuva.

Natural attractions

Although the distances between them are great, the natural wonders of Russia are impressive and deserve to be visited by nature lovers. The most famous destinations are far to the east, in Siberia, whose “jewel” is Lake Baikal. At the eastern end of Russia, almost as far as Japan and Alaska, lies wild Kamchatka, where you will find the Geyser Valley, acid lakes, volcanoes and grizzly bears in abundance.

Other highlights in the Far East include the idyllic (if somewhat cold) Kuril Islands south of Kamchatka, whale watching off the coast of the Arctic island of Wrangel, the remote Sikhote-Alin Mountains, home to the Amur tiger, and beautiful Sakhalin. The nature reserves in these regions are also spectacular, but all require prior permission and special visits.

The northern half of Russia, stretching for thousands of kilometres between the Komi Republic and Kamchatka, is mostly wild and untouched, mostly mountainous and always beautiful. Accessibility to these regions is problematic, as most of them are not served by any road, infrastructure or other means. The major Russian rivers from north to south are the main arteries for anyone travelling in the region: the Pechora, Ob, Yenisey, Lena and Kolyma. In addition, expect to travel in canoes, helicopters and army jeeps, and you will probably want to go with a guide.

The other mountainous area of Russia is at its southernmost point, in the North Caucasus. Here you will find the highest mountains in Europe rising above the Alps, including the mighty Elbrus. The most popular Russian resorts in the region are Sochi (where the next Winter Olympics will be held) and Dombai. The further east you go in the North Caucasus, the more spectacular the scenery becomes, from the lush, forested gorges to the snow-capped peaks of Chechnya and the desert mountains of Dagestan sloping down to the Caspian Sea.

There are more than 100 national parks and nature reserves (zapovedniki) throughout the country. The former are open to the public and are much wilder and undeveloped than in the US, for example. The latter are mainly kept for scientific research and often cannot be visited. Permits are issued for some reserves, but only through licensed tour operators. But if you have the opportunity, take it! Some of the most spectacular parks are in the already mentioned Kamchatka, but also in the Urals, especially in the Altai Mountains (Republic of Altai and Altai Region).

Things To Do in Russia

  • Music – Russia has a long musical tradition and is known for its composers and performers. There is no doubt: the bigger the city, the more orchestral performances there are. Classical music is performed in various theatres, where national and guest concerts are planned in the coming weeks. In addition, the state supports folklore ensembles in small towns or even villages, and gatherings of singing babushkas are still a well-established tradition in many regions. In regions traditionally inhabited by non-Russian ethnic groups, one can encounter ethnic music of all possible sounds, such as throat singing in Tuva or the rare instruments of Chukotka [www]. Sometimes only specialists can distinguish between the Cossack songs of the Urals and those of Krasnodar. Professional jazz musicians meet at the Jazz over Volga festival in Yaroslavl. If you stroll down the main street on a Sunday, you are sure to hear guitar, saxophone, harmonium or flute in every town.
  • The Victory Day military parade, celebrated on 9 May, is usually a Russian holiday. The city squares fill with men in uniform and military vehicles from the Great Patriotic War and World War II. The Day of the Defender of the Fatherland is a holiday when women congratulate their husbands and colleagues in the family or at work. It takes place on 23 February, just a few weeks before men give back to women on International Women’s Day, 8 March.
  • Dancing. Russian classical ballet is known all over the world and some national troupes exist even in such remote regions as Dagestan or Yakutia. The two most famous ballet companies in Russia, both among the best in the world, are the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg. The Lezginka is a very lively folk dance that is always performed at major Caucasian events. If you are interested in the folk style, attending a live concert by the Igor Moiseyev Ensemble is simply a must. Outside the big cities, you can easily find Irish dance, belly dance and ballroom clubs, not to mention hip-hop and all the rest.
  • Film Festivals. The most important film event in Russia is the Moscow International Film Festival, which takes place for 10 days at the end of June and welcomes leading stars from all over the world. Also of interest to film lovers are Kinotavr in Sochi, the Moscow Latin American Festival and the Zerkalo International Film Festival in Ivanovo, named after Andrei Tarkovsky.

Outdoor life

The association with Russia and its two largest metropolises, Moscow and St. Petersburg, is strongly embedded in the minds of tourists, but due to its vast expanse and low population density, Russia is also a paradise for nature lovers. Russia has a network of outstanding natural areas, including 35 national parks and 100 nature reserves (zapovednik), which together cover a larger area than Germany. You can find the list of Russian nature reserves (in Russian) here

Some Russian nature reserves on the internet:

If your papers are in order, you can visit these areas on your own. For those who want a guided tour, there are travel agencies that specialise in ecotourism in Russia, such as

Food & Drinks in Russia

Food in Russia

The foundations of Russian cuisine were laid by the peasant diet in an often harsh climate, with a combination of fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries and honey. The cultivation of rye, wheat, buckwheat, barley and millet provided the ingredients for an abundance of breads, pancakes, muesli, kvass, beer and vodka. Tasty soups and stews were prepared from seasonal or preserved produce, fish and meat. The famous Russian caviar is easy to get, but the prices can exceed the expenses for your entire trip. Dishes such as beef stroganov and chicken Kiev, which date from the pre-revolutionary period, are available but are mainly aimed at tourists as they lost their status and notoriety during the Soviet era.

For many decades, Russia suffered from a negative reputation for its food, and Russian cuisine was known for being bland and too indigestible. However, the food situation has improved in recent years and Russia is also known and famous for its delicacies such as caviar.

Russian specialities include:

  • Ikra (sturgeon or salmon caviar)
  • Pelmeni (meat-filled meatballs, similar to potstickers, especially popular in the Urals and Siberian regions)
  • Blini (thin pancakes made from white flour or buckwheat flour, similar to French pancakes)
  • Dark bread (rye bread, similar to that found in North American delicatessens and less dense than the German variety).
  • Piroshki (also known as Belyashi – pies or rolls with sweet or savoury filling)
  • Golubtsy (cabbage rolls)
  • Ikra Baklazhanaya (aubergine spread)
  • Okroshka (cold soups based on kvass or sour milk)
  • Shi (cabbage soup) and green shi (sorrel soup, can be served cold)
  • Borscht (Ukrainian beet and cabbage soup)
  • Vinegar (cooked beetroot salad, eggs, potatoes, carrots, pickles and other vegetables in vinegar, mustard, vegetable oil and/or mayonnaise)
  • Olivier (Russian version of potato salad with peas, meat, eggs, carrots and cucumber)
  • Shashlyk (various skewers from the Caucasian republics of the former Soviet Union)
  • Seledka pod shuboy (fresh herring salted in “vinegar”)
  • Kholodets (aka Studen’ – meat, garlic and carrots in meat aspic)
  • Kvass (fermented thirst-quenching drink made from rye bread, sugar and yeast, similar to young low-alcohol beer)
  • Lemonade (various soft drinks)

Both St Petersburg and Moscow offer sophisticated world-class restaurants and a wide range of cuisines, including Japanese, Tibetan and Italian. They are also excellent cities to try some of the best cuisines of the former Soviet Union (Georgian and Uzbek, for example). It is also possible to eat well and cheaply without resorting to the many western fast food chains that have opened. Russians have their own versions of fast food, ranging from cafeteria-style restaurants serving convenience food to street kiosks preparing blinis, shawerma/gyros, piroshki/belyashi, stuffed potatoes, etc. Although their menus are not in English, it is quite easy to point to what you want – or to a picture of what you want, as is the case in Western fast food restaurants. A small Russian dictionary is useful in non-touristy table-service restaurants where the staff do not speak English and the menus are entirely in Cyrillic, but the prices are very reasonable. The Russian soups and meat pies are excellent.

It is best not to drink tap water or use ice in drinks in Russia. However, bottled water, kvass, lemonade and Coca-Cola are available wherever food is served.

Elegant cafés are springing up all over St Petersburg and Moscow, serving cappuccino, espresso, toasted sandwiches, rich cakes and pastries. Some also serve as wine bars, others double as internet cafés.

Unlike in the US, cafés in Russia (кафе) serve not only drinks but also a whole range of meals (which are usually cooked in advance – unlike restaurants, where part or all of the cooking cycle takes place after the order is placed).

Tipping in restaurants

Restaurant staff in Russia do not rely on tips as much as in the US, but tips are still encouraged, even if they are not common among locals. A tip of 10% of the total bill, usually paid by rounding up, would be appropriately generous. Do not tip in cafeteria-style establishments where you walk around the counter with a tray and pay at the cash register. For baristas, throw a few 10-ruble coins (or the oldest notes) into the tip jar. It is not possible to leave a tip on your credit card, so keep enough small notes in your wallet to give to the staff.

Drinks in Russia

Vodka, imported liquors (rum, gin, etc.), international soft drinks (Pepsi, Coca-Cola, Fanta, etc.), local soft drinks (Tarhun, Buratino, Baikal, etc.), distilled water, Kvas (naturally carbonated sweet and sour drink made from fermented brown bread) and Bors (traditional drink made from forest berries).

Beer (пиво) is cheap in Russia and there are countless varieties of Russian and international brands. You can buy it from any (hot) street vendor or from a (variable) stall in the centre of any city, and it costs (double and triple the price the closer you are to the centre) from about 17 roubles (about 0.50 USD) to 130 roubles for a 0.5 L bottle or can. ‘Small’ bottles and cans (0.33 L and above) are also very common, and there are also plastic bottles of 1, 1.5, 2 or even more litres, similar to those in which soft drinks are usually sold – many cheaper beers are sold this way, and as their large volume makes them even cheaper, they are quite popular, although some people say they can taste ‘plasticy’. There are also convenience stores and cafés that sell beer on tap (highly recommended), but you should look for them. The highest prices (especially in bars and restaurants) are traditionally charged in Moscow; St Petersburg, on the other hand, is known for its cheaper and often better beers. Smaller cities tend to have similar prices when bought in shops, but much lower prices in bars and street cafés. The most popular local beer brands are Baltika, Stary Mel’nik, Bochkareff, Zolotaya Bochka, Tin’koff and many others. Beers of international brands such as Holsten, Carlsberg, etc. are also widely available, but their quality does not differ much from that of local beers. Soft drinks usually start at 20-30 roubles (yes, this is the same or even more expensive than an average local beer in the same shop) and can cost up to 60 roubles or more for a 0.5-litre plastic bottle or a 0.33-litre can in central Moscow.

Cheap beer (less than 50 roubles per 0.5 litre) may not contain any natural ingredients at all and may cause an allergic reaction.

Street vendors usually work in areas with a high volume of tourists and locals, and many of them (especially those walking around without stalls) work without a licence, usually paying some kind of bribe to the local police. However, their beer is usually good because it has just been bought from a nearby shop. In places that are less frequented on weekends, you can find big stands (“lar’ki” or “palatki”, singular: “laryok” (“stand”) or “palatka” (literally: “tent”)), especially near metro and bus stations. They sell soft drinks, beer and “cocktails” (basically a cheap soft drink mixed with alcohol, a bad hangover is guaranteed with the cheapest ones. Many of these alcoholic cocktails contain taurine and high doses of caffeine and are popular with night owls) and their prices, while not yet high, are often 20-40% higher than those in supermarkets. Supermarket chains (with the exception of some “elite” supermarkets) and shopping malls (especially in the outskirts of big cities) are usually the cheapest options for buying drinks (for food, local markets in small towns, but not in Moscow, are often cheaper). The staff in all these establishments (except perhaps in some supermarkets if you are lucky) do not speak English, or at best very basic English, even in Moscow. Moreover, the staff in many markets in Moscow and other big cities speak only very basic Russian (mainly migrants from Central Asia).

Alcoholic mixed drinks and beers in nightclubs and bars are extremely expensive and served without ice, with the mixture (e.g. cola) and alcohol charged separately. Bringing your own drinks is neither encouraged nor allowed, and some venues (mostly youth-oriented nightclubs) in Moscow even take certain measures to prevent customers from drinking outside (e.g. a face check that can deny entry upon return, or the need to pay the entrance fee again after leaving the venue), or even drinking tap water instead of expensive soft drinks, with only hot water available in the toilets. The best way to avoid using illegal drugs is to talk to people who are not familiar with the country – in practice, law enforcement aims to collect more bribes from those who buy and take drugs rather than arrest drug dealers; people who sell illegal drugs in clubs are too often associated with (or supervised by) the police; Plainclothes police officers often know and visit places where drugs are popular, and you’re likely to get into a lot of trouble with Russian police officers who are notoriously corrupt and likely to pay bribes of several thousand dollars (or worse) to get out if you get caught. It’s really not worth the risk.

Wines (вино) from Georgia, Crimea and Moldova are quite popular (although all products from Georgia are illegal in 2005). In Moscow and St. Petersburg, most restaurants offer a selection of European wines – usually at a high price. Please note that Russians prefer sweet wines to dry wines. French Chablis is widely available in restaurants and is of good quality. Chablis costs about 240 roubles per glass. All white wines are served at room temperature, unless you are in an international hotel that welcomes Westerners.

Soviet champagne (Советское Шампанское, Sovetskoye Shampanskoye) or, more precisely, sparkling wine (Игристые вина, Igristie vina) is also served throughout the former Soviet Union at a reasonable price. The quality can be quite good, but too syrupy for Western tastes. By far the most common variety is polusladkoye (semi-sweet), similar to Asti Spumanti, but the best brands also come in polusukhoe (semi-dry) and sukhoe (dry). Cru also exists, but it is rare. The original producer was Abrau-Dyurso, but Ukrainian brands like Odessa and Krymskoe are also popular. Among the Russian quality brands, the best come from the southern regions where grapes are grown on a large scale. One of the Russian quality brands is the historic Abrau-Dyurso (RUB200-700 for a bottle in the supermarket, depending on the variety); Tsimlyanskoe (RUB150-250) is also popular. The quality of the cheapest brands (from RUB85 to RUB120, depending on where you buy) varies, with some local brands from Moscow and St Petersburg (made from grapes from Crimea and southern Russia) being quite good. You can buy it if you want to try it and not pay much, but it’s wiser to stick to something better.

A good authentic kvass (квас) is hard to find in the cities, only in rural areas are there a few chances – but even there only on recommendation. Everything sold in supermarkets in the form of kvass is only an imitation and far from being a genuine product. Genuine kvass is characterised above all by its limited shelf life (usually one week), its alcohol content (0.7-2.6% vol.) and storage in the refrigerator. Authentic kvass can be bought in 0.2-litre cups, which can be a good idea to try before buying it in quantities.

In the hot season, you can buy real kvas in huge metal barrels on trailers (bochkas). Originally a symbol of the Soviet summer, bochkas became rare after 1991. Soviet nostalgia and the good functionality of these trailers have given them new life in recent years. There are also modern, stationary, barrel-shaped dispensers made of plastic, but they don’t necessarily sell the genuine article. Towards the end of a particularly hot day, avoid the authentic kvass of the kochkas, as it may have become acrid.

Medovukha (медовуха) aka mead, the ancient drink brewed by most Europeans a century ago, was widely consumed by ancient Russians. It has a semi-sweet taste based on fermented honey and contains 10 to 16% alcohol. In fast food restaurants and shops you see it sold in bottles or poured into cups.

Tea (чай) is commonly consumed in Russia. Most Russians drink black tea with sugar, lemon, honey or jam.

Money & Shopping in Russia

Money in Russia

Throughout its history, Russia has had different versions of the rouble (рубль), which is divided into 100 kopecks (копеек). The latest manifestation, the rouble (replacing the rouble), was introduced in 1998 (although all banknotes and the first coin issues bear the date 1997). All currencies before 1998 are obsolete. The rouble is sometimes symbolised with ₽.

Coins are issued in denominations of 1, 5, 10 and 50 kopecks and in RUB1, RUB2, RUB5 and RUB10. Banknotes are in RUB10, RUB50, RUB100, RUB500, RUB1000 and RUB5000. The 5-ruble banknote is no longer issued and is no longer in circulation. The 10-ruble banknote has not been printed since 2010 and will suffer the same fate. Both are still legal tender. The kopecks are generally useless, as most prices are charged to the nearest rouble. Especially useless are 1- and 5-kopeck coins: even places that quote prices in non-whole roubles round up to the nearest 10 kopecks. The rouble has been quite stable in recent years (at least until the Ukraine crisis in August 2014), hovering around 38 for the US dollar and around 49 for the euro.

All banknotes have special markings (raised dots and lines) to help blind people distinguish denominations.

Russian law prohibits payments other than in roubles.

Travellers’ cheques are generally impractical (only some banks, such as Sberbank, even cash American Express – but without commission). So make sure you have enough cash on hand for a few days, or rely on ATMs and credit card transactions.

Exchange offices (called bureaux de change in St Petersburg) are common throughout Russia in banks and, in large cities, in small exchange offices. Banks tend to offer slightly lower rates, but are more reliable. Hotels tend to offer much lower rates, but can be useful in emergencies. You will need to show your passport to change money at a bank and fill in many time-consuming forms.

Take the time to count how much money you have received. Sometimes different methods are used to deceive the customer, e.g. better rates prominently displayed for large transactions and worse rates that are hard to find for small transactions.

Branches of the big banks are located in all major towns. Sberbank is present even in surprisingly small villages.

It is generally preferable to buy dollars and euros outside Russia and then exchange them for roubles in Russia, as it is possible to exchange them for other currencies but not at high rates. You can check online the rates that are exchanged in Moscow.

It will be easier for you to change new, clean banknotes. The US dollar should be the last issue, although it should not be impossible to change old versions.

Do not change money on the street. Unlike in Soviet times, there is no advantage to dealing with an unofficial seller. There are several advanced street currency exchange scams – it is best not to give them a chance.

ATMs, called bank machines, are common in big cities and usually not found in small towns. Although some do not accept foreign cards. An English interface is available. Some can also dispense U.S. dollars. Russian ATMs often limit withdrawals to about US$1,000 per day. Large hotels are good places to find them.

In Moscow and St. Petersburg, more and more shops, restaurants and services accept credit cards. Visa/MasterCard is more commonly accepted than American Express; Discover, Diners Club and other cards are rarely accepted. Most upscale establishments accept credit cards, but beyond that it is pure chance.

Museums and sights take cash only, no credit cards. Keep enough cash on hand each day to pay for entrance fees, photography (museums charge for cameras and VCRs), guided tours, souvenirs, meals and transport.

Stations may accept plastic, even outside the big cities, so don’t hesitate to ask, as it won’t always be easy. Otherwise, take plenty of cash with you. ATMs in train stations are very common and often run out of cash, so stock up before you go to the station.

Like anywhere else in the world, it is best to avoid ATMs on the street (or at least be very careful) as it is possible for crooks to attach spy devices to them to get your PIN and card details; it is safest to use ATMs in hotels, banks or large shopping centres.


While the switch was traditionally frowned upon in Russia, it caught on after the fall of communism. Tipping is not necessary, except in the fanciest restaurants (especially in Moscow). In this case, a tip of more than 10% would be unusual. In some restaurants, service is included in the amount, but this is very rare; if service is included, no tip is expected. If service is included, there is no tip. If you round up when paying the bill in the restaurant, especially if the amount is more or less 10% more than the total amount, this is considered a tip. If the service was particularly bad and you do not want to tip, ask for your change.

The amount of tips may vary as many establishments do not accept credit cards. Don’t be surprised if your bill is rounded up to the nearest whole number.

Tipping is not considered customary for taxis. Rather, you must negotiate and pay the fare before getting into the taxi. It is also customary to tip hotel staff, cloakrooms, drivers and hotel staff generously. Drivers and tour guides are usually tipped up to $10 (about £6.37) and maintenance staff about $1 (about 63 pence) to $2 (about £1.27) per day, which is usually left on the bedside table or in the ashtray.

Shopping in Russia

In general, Russian-made products are cheap, but products imported from the West are often expensive.

  • MatRyoshka (матрёшка) – a collection of traditionally painted wooden dolls, each carefully stacked in a different
  • USHANka (ушанка) – a hot hat with ears (ushi)
  • SamoVAR (самовар) – an indigenous design for brewing tea. Note that when buying valuable samovars (historical, precious stones or metals, etc.) it is advisable to check with customs before leaving the country.
  • Chocolate (шоколад) – Russian chocolate is very good
  • Ice cream (мороженое) – Russian ice cream is also particularly good. Try dairy products in general, you might like them.
  • Winter coats in department stores are well-made, elegant and of excellent quality.
  • Large military coats (sheeNEL) available in hard-to-find military shops
  • There are down pillows of very high quality.
  • HalVA (халва) – it differs from the Turkish kind (in that it is made from sunflower seeds rather than sesame), but the Red Front products are really good.
  • Honey (мёд) – is produced throughout the country; varieties and quality vary considerably, but the superior quality is worth seeking out. In Moscow, a honey market is held in Kolomenskoe for part of the year. There are a number of honey shops open all year round on the grounds of the VDNKh/VVT.
  • Red caviar (красная икра) – Check or ask if it is “salmon caviar” before buying, as there is a risk of “fakes” due to the 30 or so species of fish from which red caviar is made. And this “imitation” caviar often tastes bad.
  • Black caviar (черная икра) – is always available for purchase. High risk of counterfeiting. But it is considered a delicacy and is expensive.
  • Sturgeon meat (осетр, белуга) and the meat of other fish from the sturgeon family. Considered one of the most refined dishes in Russia. Very expensive, but very tasty.
  • Hard cheese – mainly produced in the Altai; occasionally available in Moscow department stores.
  • Sparkling wine (шампанское) – The sparkling wine, “Russian Champagne”, is surprisingly good (Abrau-Durso is considered the best brand, but there are other good ones). Be sure to order it “suKHOye” (dry) or Brut. Many restaurants serve it at room temperature, but if you ask for “cold” they can usually rustle up a semi-chilled bottle. The cost is also surprisingly low, around 10 USD.
  • Skin care products. While in make-up you can find the same products that are popular in the West, many people prefer locally made skincare products because of their better value for money. Brands to check: Nevskaya cosmetica (Невская косметика) [wwwand Greenmama [www].
  • Gjel’ (Гжель) – porcelain with fresh and authentic Russian ornaments.
  • Khokhloma (Хохлома) – wooden dishes with flower-shaped paintings, colours red, gold, black.

Supermarkets in Russia

There are a number of cheap food and commodity chains.

  • Billa. A little more expensive than the others.
  • Perekrestok (Перекресток). Also one of the most expensive.
  • Carousel (Карусель).
  • Auchan (Ашан) and Atack (Атак) are the same brand, small convenience stores are called Atack, while hypermarkets – Auchan. This is one of the cheapest, known to occasionally sell expired food, so check the expiry dates, but most of the time it is good.
  • Magnite (Магнит).
  • Pyatyorochka (Пятёрочка).
  • Lenta. (Лента)
  • Diksi. (Дикси)
  • O’Kay(О ‘Кей)

Festivals & Holidays in Russia

Official holidays

New Year holidays

In addition to New Year’s Day (Новый год Novy god), 1 January, 2 January and 5 January are also public holidays, called New Year’s Day (Новогодние каникулы Novogodniye kanikuly). This holiday covers 6 and 8 January, with 7 January declared a public holiday by law. Until 2005, only 1 and 2 January were public holidays.

Christmas Day

Christmas in Russia (Рождество Христово Rozhdestvo Khristovo) is celebrated on 7 January as a holiday according to the Julian calendar of the Russian Orthodox Church. The holiday was reintroduced in 1991, after decades of suppression of state religion and atheism in the Soviet Union. Christmas is celebrated in Russia on 25 December by the Roman Catholic Church and various Protestant churches, but is not a public holiday. Although it is not a public holiday, it is a popular holiday.

Day of the Defence of the Fatherland

Fatherland Defender’s Day (День защитника Отечества Den zashchitnika Otechestva) is celebrated on 23 February and is dedicated to veterans and members of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, although colloquially it is often referred to as Men’s Day (День Мужчин, Den’ Muzhchin) and is generally treated as a celebration of all men. This festival was established in 1918.

International Women’s Day

On the eve of the First World War, Russian women celebrated the first International Women’s Day on the last Sunday in February 1913. In 1913, after discussions, International Women’s Day was moved to 8 March and has remained International Women’s Day ever since.

National Flag Day

National Flag Day is an official holiday in Russia, introduced in 1994. It is celebrated on 22 August, the day of the victory over the putschists in 1991, but is not a public holiday.

Spring and Labour Day

In the former Soviet Union, May Day was International Workers’ Day and was celebrated with large parades in cities like Moscow. Although the celebrations are now very low-key, several groups march on this day to protest against workers’ grievances.

Victory Day

On 9 May, Russia celebrates the victory over Nazi Germany and at the same time commemorates those who died for this victory. On 9 May 1945 (Moscow time), the German army surrenders to the Soviet Union and the Allies of World War II in Berlin (Karlshorst). Victory Day (День Победы Den Pobedy) is by far one of the biggest celebrations in Russia. It commemorates the fallen of World War II and pays tribute to survivors and veterans. Flowers and wreaths are laid at war graves, and special parties and concerts are held for veterans. In the evening there are fireworks. A large military land and air parade, organised by the President of the Russian Federation, is held annually in Moscow on Red Square. Similar land, air and sea parades are also organised (when possible) in some other Russian cities (which are cities of heroes or have mainly military districts or fleet headquarters).

Russia Day

Russia Day (День России Den Rossii) is the bank holidays celebrated on 12 June. On this day in 1990, the Russian parliament officially declared Russia’s sovereignty over the Soviet Union (unlike all other former Soviet republics that declared full state independence, Russia’s independence was less radical, and the coexistence of Russian and Soviet state power had its place until the end of 1991[citation needed]). The festival was officially founded in 1992. Originally called Day of the Adoption of the Declaration of Sovereignty of the Russian Federation, it was officially renamed Russia Day on 1 February 2002 (Boris Yeltsin gave it this name in 1998). There is a misunderstanding in Russian society that this holiday is also called Russian Independence Day, but it has never had this name in official documents. According to the survey conducted by the Levada Centre in May 2009, 44% of respondents named this holiday as Russian Independence Day.

Unity Day

Unity Day (День народного единства Den narodnogo edinstva) was first celebrated on 4 November 2005. It commemorates the popular uprising led by Kuzma Minin and Dmitri Posharsky that drove the Polish invaders out of Moscow in November 1612, and more generally the end of the period of unrest and foreign intervention in Russia. The event was marked by a holiday that took place in Russia on 22 October (old style) from 1649 to 1917. Its name alludes to the idea that all classes of Russian society voluntarily joined together to preserve the Russian state when its demise seemed inevitable, even though there was no Tsar or Patriarch to lead them. Most observers see this as an attempt to replace the communist demonstrations on 7 November, the anniversary of the October Revolution. National Unity Day is also known as Consolidation Day (as an alternative translation), which is celebrated in Russia on 3 and 4 November.

Holidays and commemorative days

Attorney General Day – 12 January
Homage to the founding of the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office in 1772
Tatiana’s day (Татьянин день) – 25 January
International Soldiers’ Memorial Day – 15 February
Tribute to all those who served in Afghanistan during the Soviet war of 1979-1989 and assisted the Warsaw Pact forces during the Cold War
Cultural Day (День работника культуры России) – 25 March
Honouring the actors in the cultural field
Local Self-Government Day (День местного самоуправления) – 21 april
Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Radiation Accidents and Disasters – 26 april
Anniversary of the Chernobyl disaster 1986
Day of Russian Parliamentarism (День российского парламентаризма) – 27 april
Commemorates the first session of the very first Russian State Duma in 1906
Victory Day (День Победы) – 9 May
Tribute to all who served in the Second World War (1941-1945 The Great Patriotic War)
Russian Language Day – 6 June
Before 2011 Pushkin Day was in honour of Alexander Pushkin, now it honours the Russian language
Social Workers’ Day – 8 June
Adopted in 2000
Russia Day (День России) – 12 June
Declaration of the Sovereignty of the Russian Federation over the USSR
Marine day ( День Военно-Морского Флота ) – Last Sunday in July
Tribute to active and reserve members, heroes and veterans of the Russian Navy
Railwaymen’s Day (День железнодорожника) – 1st Sunday in August
Celebration of the achievements of the railway sector
Day of the Russian Railway Troops – 6 August
Tribute to all active and reserve members, heroes, dead and veterans of the Russian railway troops.
Sports Day (День физкультурника) – 2nd Saturday in August
Celebration to honour the achievements of the nation’s athletes, coaches, judges, sports officials and youth and disabled athletes.
Russian Air Force Day – 12 August
Tribute to active and reserve members, heroes and veterans of the Russian Air Force
Cinema and Film Day (День российского кино) – 27 August
Honouring those involved in one of the oldest national film industries in the world
Labour Day in the mechanical engineering sector (День машиностроителей) – 29 September
International Day of Older People – Russian Land Forces Day – 1 October
Honours the elderly and all who care for their health,
In celebration of all those who serve, the heroes, the dead and the veterans of the Russian land forces on the day of the formation of the first units of the legendary Streltsy by Ivan the Terrible in 1550.
Russian Aerospace Defence Forces Day (День космических войск) – 4 October
The anniversary of the Sputnik launch in 1957, which paved the way for the space age.
Labour Day in the advertising industry (День работников рекламы) – 23 October
Professional leave, promulgated in 1994
Armed Forces Special Forces Day – 24 October
Memorial proclaimed in 2006 to commemorate the formation of the first Spetsnaz companies in 1950
Customs Officers’ Day (День таможенника) – 25 October
Adopted 1995
MVD Security Services Day (День вневедомственной охраны) – 29 October
Promulgated by government decree in 1952.
Day of Remembrance for the Victims of Political Representation – 30 October
Adopted in 1991, it honours the victims of the political oppression of the imperial and Soviet eras.
Prisons and Prison Workers Day (День работников СИЗО и тюрем) – 31 October
Adopted in 2006
Police and Internal Affairs Day – 10 November
Honouring all those who serve in the Police of Russia and all those who work in the Ministry of Interior (Russia)
Rocket and Artillery Day – 18 November
Declared on 21 October 1944, to commemorate the artillery strikes and bombardments of the Battle of Stalingrad on 19 November 1942.
Marine Infantry Day (День морской пехоты) – 27 November
In honour of the date 1705, when the first units of today’s Russian naval infantry were raised on the orders of Peter the Great.
Day of the Heroes of the Fatherland (День Героев Отечества) – 9 December
Anniversary of the founding of the Order of St George in 1769 (OS date: 26 November) by Catherine the Great.
Strategic Missile Forces Day – 17 December
Issued in 1995 to commemorate the establishment of the Strategic Missile Forces on 17 December 1959.

Popular holidays that are not Official holidays

  • The New Year according to the Julian calendar on 14 January
  • Anniversary of the death of Vladimir Lenin and Bloody Sunday on 21 and 22 January
  • Tatiana Day (Student Day) on 25 January
  • Valentine’s Day on 14 February
  • Maslenitsa (one week before Great Lent) The start date changes every year, depending on the beginning of Great Lent.
  • Internal Troops and National Guard Soldiers Day on 27 March
  • Easter Every year is calculated according to a lunisolar calendar.
  • Announcement 7 April
  • Cosmonautics Day on 12 April
  • Soviet Air Defence Forces Day on the second Sunday in April
  • Russian State Fire Brigade Day on 30 April
  • Radio Day on 7 May
  • Feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius on 24 May (also Day of Slavic Literature and Culture)
  • Border Guard Day on 28 May, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Border Guard Service of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation
  • Ivan Kupala Day on 7 July
  • Day of the Paratrooper on 2 August
  • Apple Salvation Day on 19 August (also the great feast of the Transfiguration of Jesus).
  • Great Feast of the Dormition of the Blessed Mother on 28 August
  • Enlightenment Day on 1 September
  • Tanker Day on the second Sunday in September
  • 7 November, the day of the October Revolution.
  • Marine Infantry Day on 27 November
  • Emergency Situations Day on 27 December, celebrating the staff of the Ministry of Emergency Situations on the occasion of the anniversary of its establishment in 1990.

Traditions & Customs in Russia

Russians are reserved and well-mannered people.


In Russia, smiling is traditionally reserved for friends, and smiling at a stranger can make them feel uncomfortable. If you smile at a Russian in the street, there is a good chance that they will not react in the same way. An automatic American smile or a romantic European smile is generally considered insincere. This tradition is slowly changing, as Russian smiles are still very rare in customer service. Salespeople, civil servants and others are expected to look serious and professional. Hence the common misconception about Russians that they are a very sinister people and never smile – they do once they get to know you and become very welcoming and friendly.

If you approach a foreigner with a question, try speaking Russian first and ask if he or she speaks English. Russians are very proud of their language and people will be much more distant if you address them in English. Just using the Russian equivalents of “please” and “thank you” will make a noticeable difference to people.

Women are traditionally treated in a chivalrous manner. Female travellers should not look surprised or indignant when their Russian male friends pay their bills in restaurants, open all the doors in front of them, offer them their hand to help them down the small step or help them carry something heavier than a handbag – this is not meant to be patronising. Male travellers should understand that Russian women expect the same from them.

The “OK” gesture is good.

Inner voices

Russians have a wonderfully quiet and intimate way of talking to each other in public. It’s best to try to do the same to avoid sticking out like a sore thumb and making people around you uncomfortable – stand a little closer to the person you’re talking to and turn down the volume.

Sensitive topics

We have to be very careful when we talk about the Second World War and the Soviet Union. This conflict was a great tragedy for the Soviets and every family has at least one relative among the 25-30 million people who perished (more than Western Europe and the United States combined) and the scars of this conflict are still felt today. Also avoid talking about the war in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Avoid talking about relations with Georgians or Ukrainians. Talking about these issues can lead to hostility and perhaps even heated debates. Tense relations between neighbouring countries have led to many conflicts, and in Georgia and Ukraine there is a strong sense of national pride in the actions of the respective governments.

Homosexuality is a sensitive issue, with official government policy increasingly restricting the rights of the LGBT community.

Political issues

Also keep your political opinions to yourself. Ask as many questions as you like, but avoid statements or comments about your past and present political situation. Russia and the Soviet Union had an often violent history and most Russians are tired of hearing from Westerners “how bad the Soviet Union was”. You lived through it, are proud of its triumphs and tragedies, and probably know much more about it than you do. You should also avoid criticising the conflict in Chechnya. The war in the Chechen Republic was terrible for both sides. The separatist forces are seen as Islamist terrorists after the mass terrorist attacks of 2000-2005. Political opinions in Russia are very polarised and political discussions are still very tough. It is best to avoid them.

Consider also that many Russians are ashamed of the country’s stagnation under Boris Yeltsin’s pro-Western regime and proud of the role Putin has played in restoring Russia’s international influence.

Home Etiquette

  • If you are invited to someone’s home, bring a small gift as a sign of respect. However, most people will protest at some point if they are offered a gift. Reply that it is a small thing and offer the gift again and hopefully it will be generally accepted. It is useful to bring a bottle of alcohol if you plan to spend the evening in a less formal way.
  • If you bring flowers, do not use yellow – in Russia this colour is considered a sign of betrayal in love and separation and is never used for wedding bouquets. Another superstition related to flowers is the number of flowers. This number must always be odd, i.e. three, five, seven, etc. An even number of flowers is always brought to the funeral.
  • Do not give a birth gift until the baby is born into a particular family. It is bad luck to do it earlier. Verbal congratulations before a person’s birthday are often taken as a bad sign.
  • When you arrive at someone’s house, take off your outdoor shoes. Maybe they will give you some slippers to wear.
  • In someone’s home, dressed in evening dress. Dressing well is a sign of respect towards your guests. However, this rule may not work for young people.

Dining Etiquette

  • If you are eating with guests, do not get up until you are asked to leave the table. This is not considered polite.
  • Guests can be quite insistent when they offer an alcoholic drink. You will often have to be very tough if you want to refuse that second (or third, fourth, tenth…) hit. Faking problems with medication or pregnancy is always an imperfect option. Simply and sinisterly declaring that you are an alcoholic can also do the trick, but it will depress your hosts.
  • You are often asked to take second helpers, ad infinitum. If so, take it as a form of respect. Besides, they will really love you if you keep eating.
  • Do not put your elbows on the table. This is considered rude (to children).

Culture Of Russia

Folk culture and cuisine

There are more than 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples in Russia. The country’s great cultural diversity ranges from the ethnic Russians with their Slavic Orthodox traditions to the Tatars and Bashkirs with their Turkic Muslim culture to the nomadic Buddhist Buryats and Kalmyks, the shamanic peoples of the far north and Siberia, the mountain peoples of the North Caucasus and the Finno-Ugric peoples of northwest Russia and the Volga region.

Handicrafts such as the Dymkovo toy, Khokhloma, Gzhel and miniature Palekh represent an important aspect of Russian folk culture. Russian ethnic dress includes kaftan, kosovorotka and ushanka for men, sarafan and kokoshnik for women, with lapti and valenki as common footwear. The clothing of the South Russian Cossacks includes the burka and the papaha, which they share with the peoples of the North Caucasus.

Russian cuisine makes extensive use of fish, poultry, mushrooms, berries and honey. Rye, wheat, barley and millet provide the ingredients for various breads, pancakes and cereals, as well as for kvass, beer and vodka. Brown bread is quite popular in Russia compared to the rest of the world. Delicious soups and stews include shchi, borscht, ukha, solyanka and okroshka. Smetana (a thick sour cream) is often added to soups and salads. Pirozhki, blini and syrnikia are local types of pancakes. Chicken kiev, pelmeni and shashlyk are popular meat dishes, the last two being of Tatar and Caucasian origin respectively. Other meat dishes include stuffed cabbage rolls (golubtsy), which are usually filled with meat. Salads include olive salad, vinegar and spiced herring.

Russia’s many ethnic groups have different traditions in popular music. Typical ethnic Russian musical instruments include the gusli, balalaika, zhaleika and garmoshka. Folk music has had a significant influence on Russian classical composers, and in modern times it is a source of inspiration for a number of popular folk groups, such as Melnitsa. Russian folk songs, as well as Soviet patriotic songs, make up the bulk of the repertoire of the world-famous Red Army Choir and other popular ensembles.

Russians have many traditions, including the banya wash, a hot steam bath that looks a bit like a sauna. Ancient Russian folklore has its roots in the pagan Slavic religion. Many Russian fairy tales and epics have been adapted for animation or feature films by eminent directors such as Alexander Ptushko (Ilya MurometsSadko) and Alexander Rou (MorozkoVasilisa the Beautiful). Russian poets, including Pyotr Yershov and Leonid Filatov, have made a number of well-known poetic interpretations of classic fairy tales and in some cases, as with Alexander Pushkin, have also created quite original and very popular fairy tale poems.


Since the Christianisation of “Kievan Rus” over several centuries, Russian architecture was mainly influenced by Byzantine architecture. Besides the fortifications (Kremlins), the most important stone buildings of ancient Rus’ were the Orthodox churches with their many domes, often gilded or painted in bright colours.

Aristotle Fioravanti and other Italian architects brought Renaissance trends to Russia from the late 15th century onwards, while unique tent churches were built in the 16th century, culminating in St Basil’s Cathedral. By this time, onion-domed construction had also matured. In the 17th century, the “fiery style” of ornamentation flourished in Moscow and Yaroslavl, gradually paving the way for the Naryshkin Baroque of the 1690s. After the reforms of Peter the Great, the development of architectural styles in Russia generally followed that in Western Europe.

The 18th century taste for rococo architecture produced the ornate works of Bartolomeo Rastrelli and his pupils. Under Catherine the Great and her grandson Alexander I, neoclassical architecture flourished, especially in the capital St Petersburg. The second half of the 19th century was dominated by neo-Byzantine and Russian Renaissance. The dominant styles of the 20th century are Art Nouveau, Constructivism and the style of the Stalinist empire.

In 1955, a new Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, condemned the “excesses” of the old university architecture, and the end of the Soviet era was dominated by a plain functionalism in architecture. This solved the housing problem somewhat, but created a large number of buildings of low architectural quality that contrasted sharply with the earlier bright styles. The situation has improved in the last two decades. Many temples destroyed during Soviet times have been rebuilt, and this process continues with the restoration of various historical buildings destroyed during the Second World War. Between 1991 and 2010, a total of 23,000 Orthodox churches were rebuilt, effectively quadrupling the number of churches in Russia.

Visual arts

Ancient Russian painting is represented by icons and vivid frescoes, both genres adopted from Byzantium. When Moscow came to power, the Greeks Theophanes, Dionisius and Andrei Rubble became indispensable names associated with a typically Russian art.

The Russian Academy of Arts was founded in 1757 and gave Russian artists an international role and status. Ivan Argunov, Dmitri Levitsky, Vladimir Borovikovsky and other eighteenth-century academicians focused mainly on portraiture. At the beginning of the nineteenth century, when neoclassicism and romanticism were flourishing, mythological and biblical themes inspired many important paintings, especially by Karl Briullov and Alexander Ivanov.

In the mid-19th century, the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) group of artists broke away from the academy and founded an art school free of academic restrictions. They were mostly realist painters who captured Russian identity in landscapes of wide rivers, forests and birch glades, but also in powerful genre scenes and robust portraits of their contemporaries. Some artists focused on depicting dramatic moments in Russian history, while others turned to social criticism, depicting the conditions of the poor and caricaturing authority; critical realism flourished during the reign of Alexander II. Among the leading realists were Ivan Shishkin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Kramskoi, Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vasnetsov, Ilya Repin and Boris Kustodyev.

At the turn of the 20th century, Symbolist painting emerged, represented by Mikhail Vrubel, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Nicolas Roerich.

The Russian avant-garde was a large and influential wave of modernist art that flourished in Russia from about 1890 to 1930. The term encompasses many separate but inextricably linked artistic movements that emerged during this period, namely Neoprimitivism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Rayism and Russian Futurism. Important artists of this period are El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall. From the 1930s onwards, the revolutionary ideas of the avant-garde collided with the new conservative orientation of socialist realism.

Soviet art produced furiously patriotic and anti-fascist works during and after the Great Patriotic War. Numerous war memorials were erected throughout the country, characterised by great restrained solemnity. Soviet artists often combined innovation with socialist realism, including sculptors Vera Mukhina, Yevgeny Vuchetich and Ernst Neizvestny.

Music and dance

Music in 19th century Russia was characterised by the tension between the classical composer Mikhail Glinka and the other members of the Mighty Handful, who embraced Russian national identity and added religious and folk elements to their compositions, and the musically conservative Russian Music Society led by the composers Anton and Nikolai Rubinstein. The tradition of Piotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest composers of the Romantic period, was continued in the 20th century by Sergei Rachmaninov. World-famous composers of the 20th century include Alexander Scriabin, Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Dmitri Shostakovich and Alfred Schnittke.

Russian conservatories have produced generations of famous soloists. Among the best known are violinists Jascha Heifetz, David Oistrakh, Leonid Kogan, Gidon Kremer and Maxim Vengerov; cellists Mstislav Rostropovitch and Natalia Gutman ; pianists Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter, Emil Gilels, Vladimir Sofronitsky and Evgeny Kissin; and singers Fyodor Shalyapin, Mark Reizen, Elena Obraztsova, Tamara Sinyavskaya, Nina Dorliak, Galina Vishnevskaya, Anna Netrebko and Dmitry Hvorostovsky.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Russian ballet dancers Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky became famous, and the foreign tours of impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes had a profound influence on the development of dance throughout the world. Soviet ballet maintained the demanding traditions of the 19th century, and the choreographic schools of the Soviet Union produced many internationally renowned stars, including Galina Ulanova, Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nureyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov. The Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and the Mariinsky Ballet in St. Petersburg remain world-famous.

Modern Russian rock music has its roots in both Western rock’n’roll and heavy metal and in the traditions of Soviet-era Russian bards like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava. Among the most popular Russian rock bands are Mashina Vremeni, DDT, Aquarium, Alisa, Kino, Kipelov, Nautilus Pompilius, Aria, Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Splean and Korol i Shut. Russian pop music has evolved from what was known as estrada in Soviet times into an industry in its own right, with some artists such as t.A.T.u., Nu Virgos and Vitas gaining major international recognition.

Literature and Philosophy

In the 18th century, at the time of the Russian Enlightenment, the development of Russian literature was stimulated by the works of Mikhail Lomonosov and Denis Fonvizin. In the early 19th century, a modern indigenous tradition emerged that produced some of the greatest writers in Russian history. This period, also known as the Golden Age of Russian poetry, began with Alexander Pushkin, who is considered the founder of modern Russian literary language and is often referred to as the “Russian Shakespeare”. It continued in the 19th century with the poetry of Mikhail Lermontov and Nikolai Nekrasov, the dramas of Alexander Ostrovsky and Anton Chekhov, and the prose of Nikolai Gogol and Ivan Turgenev. Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky have been described by literary critics as the greatest novelists of all time.

By the 1880s, the era of the great novelists was over and short stories and poetry became the dominant genres. The following decades have been called the Silver Age of Russian poetry, in which the literary realism that had prevailed until then was replaced by symbolism. The leading authors of this period included poets such as Valery Bryuzov, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Alexander Blok, Nikolai Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova, as well as the novelists Leonid Andreev, Ivan Bunin and Maxim Gorky.

Russian philosophy blossomed in the 19th century, when it was initially defined by the opposition between Westerners, who advocated Western political and economic models, and Slavs, who insisted on the development of Russia as a unique civilisation. The latter group included Nikolai Danilevsky and Konstantin Leontiev, the founders of Eurasianism. In its later development, Russian philosophy was always marked by a deep attachment to literature and an interest in creativity, society, politics and nationalism; Russian cosmism and the philosophy of religion were other important areas. Notable philosophers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries were Vladimir Soloviev, Sergei Bulgakov and Vladimir Vernadsky.

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, many important writers and philosophers left the country, including Bunin, Vladimir Nabokov and Nikolai Berdyaev, while a new generation of talented writers came together to create a specific working-class culture adapted to the new Soviet state. In the 1930s, censorship of literature was increased in line with the policy of socialist realism. In the late 1950s, restrictions on literature were relaxed, and in the 1970s and 1980s writers increasingly ignored official guidelines. Among the leading writers of the Soviet era were the novelists Yevgeny Zamyatin, Yelf and Petrov, Mikhail Bulgakov and Mikhail Sholokhov, as well as the poets Vladimir Mayakovsky, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrei Vosnesensky.

The Soviet Union was also an important producer of science fiction, written by authors such as Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Kir Bulychov, Alexander Belayev and Ivan Yefremov. The traditions of Russian science fiction and fantasy are carried on today by many writers.

Cinema, Animation and Media

Russian and later Soviet cinema was a hotbed of invention in the period immediately after 1917, leading to world-famous films such as Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin. Eisenstein was a student of filmmaker and theorist Lev Kuleshov, who developed the Soviet theory of film editing at the world’s first film school, the Union Film Institute. Dziga Vertov, whose Kino-Glaz (“film eye”) theory, according to which the camera, like the human eye, can best be used to explore real life, had an enormous influence on the development of documentary film and cinematographic realism. The later state policy of socialist realism restricted creativity somewhat; nevertheless, many Soviet films in this style were artistically successful, including ChapaevThe Flying Cranes and Ballad of a Soldier.

In the 1960s and 1970s, there was a greater variety of artistic styles in Soviet cinema. The comedies of Eldar Ryazanov and Leonid Gaidai from this period were immensely popular, and many of these expressions are still used today. In 1961-68, Sergei Bondarchuk directed the Oscar-winning film adaptation of Leon Tolstoy‘s epic War and Peace, the most expensive film ever made in the Soviet Union. In 1969, Vladimir Motyl’s White Sun of the Desert was released, a very popular film traditionally watched by cosmonauts before any space voyage.

Russian animation dates back to the end of the Russian Empire. During the Soviet era, the Soyuzmultfilm studio was the largest animation producer. Soviet animators developed a variety of groundbreaking techniques and aesthetic styles, with leading directors such as Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Fyodor Khitruk and Aleksandr Tatarsky. Many Soviet animated heroes such as Russian-style Winnie the Pooh, cute little Cheburachka, Wolf and Rabbit de Nu, Pogodi! are iconic images in Russia and many neighbouring countries.

The late 1980s and 1990s were a time of crisis for Russian cinema and animation. Although Russian filmmakers were free to express themselves, state subsidies were drastically reduced, leading to a decline in film production. The first years of the 21st century brought an increase in audience numbers and subsequent prosperity to the industry thanks to the economic boom. Production levels are already higher than in the UK and Germany. In 2007, total box office receipts in Russia were $565 million, a 37 per cent increase over the previous year. In 2002, Russian Ark was the first feature film to be shot in a single take. The traditions of Soviet animation have recently been developed further by directors such as Aleksandr Petrov and studios such as Melnitsa Animation.

While there were only a few stations or channels in the Soviet era, many new public and private radio and television stations have emerged in the last two decades. In 2005, an English-language public broadcaster, Russia Today TV, began broadcasting, and its Arabic version, Rusiya Al-Yaum, was launched in 2007. Media censorship and freedom in Russia has always been a major issue for the Russian media.


Taking the medal totals of the Soviet Union and Russia together, the country ranks second among all nations in gold medals at both the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Soviet and later Russian athletes were always in the top three in the number of gold medals won at the Summer Olympics. Soviet gymnasts, track and field athletes, weightlifters, wrestlers, boxers, fencers, marksmen, cross-country skiers, biathletes, speed skaters and figure skaters have always been among the best in the world, as have Soviet basketball, handball, volleyball and ice hockey players. The 1980 Summer Olympics were held in Moscow, while the 2014 Winter Olympics were held in Sochi.

Although ice hockey was only introduced in the Soviet era, the national team has won gold at almost every Olympic Games and World Championship in which it has participated. Russian players Valery Kharlamov, Sergei Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak hold four of the six positions on the IIHF Team of the Century. Russia has not won the Olympic ice hockey tournament since the unified team took gold in 1992. Most recently, Russia won the 2008, 2009, 2012 and 2014 IIHF World Championships. Russia dominated the 2012 tournament, winning all ten games – the first time a team had done so since the Soviet Union in 1989. The most popular sport in Russia is volleyball. Russia’s national men’s volleyball team has won four gold medals at the Olympic Games (1964, 1968, 1980, 2012), six gold medals and two at the FIVB Men’s Volleyball World Championships (1949, 1952, 1960, 1962, 1978, 1982). The Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) was founded in 2008 as the successor to the Russian Superleague. It is considered a rival of the National Hockey League (NHL) and has been number one in Europe and number two in the world since 2009. It is an international professional ice hockey league in Eurasia and consists of 29 teams, 21 of which are based in Russia and 7 others in Latvia, Kazakhstan, Belarus, Finland, Slovakia, Croatia and China.

Bandy, also known as Russian hockey, is another traditionally popular ice sport. The Soviet Union won all the men’s bandy world championships between 1957 and 1979 and several more after that. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia was always one of the most successful teams and won many world championships.

Club football is one of the most popular sports in modern Russia. The Soviet national team became the first ever European champions by winning the Euro 1960. Lev Yashin, who played in four FIFA World Cups from 1958 to 1970, is considered one of the greatest goalkeepers in football history and was selected for the FIFA World Cup Dream Team. The Soviet national team reached the final of Euro 1988. In 1956 and 1988, the Soviet Union won gold at the Olympic football tournament. The Russian clubs CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg won the UEFA Cup in 2005 and 2008 respectively. The Russian national football team reached the semi-finals at Euro 2008, losing only to eventual winners Spain. Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in 2018. 11 venues are located in the European part of the country and in the Ural region.

In 2007, the Russian national basketball team won the European Basketball Championship. The Russian basketball club PBC CSKA Moscow is one of the best teams in Europe and won the Euroleague in 2006 and 2008.

Larisa Latynina, who currently holds the record for most Olympic gold medals won by a woman (and held the record for most Olympic medals won per person from 1964 to 2012, when swimmer Michael Phelps replaced her record), established the USSR as the dominant force in gymnastics for many years. Today, Russia is the leading nation in rhythmic gymnastics with Yevgeniya Kanaeva. Russian synchronised swimming is the best in the world, with almost all gold medals at Olympic Games and World Championships won by Russians in recent decades. Figure skating is another popular sport in Russia, especially pairs skating and ice dancing. With the exception of 2010, a Soviet or Russian pair has won gold at every Olympics since 1964.

Since the end of the Soviet era, tennis has grown in popularity and Russia has produced a number of famous female players, including Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid female athlete in the world. In martial arts, Russia has produced the sport of sambo and famous fighters such as Fedor Emelianenko. Chess is a very popular pastime in Russia; Russian grandmasters have organised the World Chess Championship almost continuously since 1927.

The 2014 Winter Olympics took place in Sochi in the south of Russia. Russia won the most medals among the participating nations with 13 gold, 11 silver and 9 bronze for a total of 33 medals. Commentators rated the Games as an overall success.

Formula 1 is also becoming increasingly popular in Russia. In 2010, Vitaly Petrov from Vyborg was the first Russian to race in Formula 1, quickly followed by a second in 2014, Daniil Kvyat from Ufa. There had only been two Russian Grand Prix (1913 and 1914), but the Russian Grand Prix returned in 2014 as part of the Formula One season under a six-year contract.

Stay Safe & Healthy in Russia

Stay safe in Russia

Largely as a result of the transition from state socialism to market capitalism, Russia experienced an increase in criminal activity in the 1990s. As those who controlled capital through the state had to transform their business activities towards the rationality of free enterprise, profits and fraud increased. The truth is that crime has been greatly exaggerated in the media and for the average tourist Moscow, St Petersburg and the rest of Russia are indeed as safe as most major European cities. However, this is not always the case.


Historically very high, crime rates have fallen dramatically and moderated since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Although crime problems continue to decline, muggings, armed robberies and pickpocketing are the most common crimes – most often in subways, subways, night trains, train stations, airports, markets, tourist attractions and restaurants. Foreigners who have been drinking alcohol are particularly vulnerable to assault and robbery in or near nightclubs or bars, or on their way home. Some travellers have been drugged in bars and others have taken foreigners to their homes where they have been drugged, robbed and/or assaulted. It is important to note that nightclubs are prone to doping. The drug called GHB is becoming increasingly popular in nightclubs and it has been proven that this drug can make you unconscious, give you amnesia and even kill you. It usually comes in the form of a cap filled with liquid that is mixed with a drink.

A threat is also posed by counterfeit money inspectors who seek to extort a bribe from individuals when checking shopping trolley tickets. Using unmarked taxis is also a problem, as passengers have been victims of robbery, kidnapping, extortion and theft. Although there are few registered taxi services in Russia, you should always use the authorised services when arriving at a major airport and it is best to check which service is registered before you leave.

Russian law enforcement agencies are well trained and highly professional in their work. Although historically very inadequate since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the government has successfully fought against police corruption. Police officers should not dare to bribe anyone as they will end up with a heavy fine. Although the government is constantly trying to train the police, some police officers remain underpaid and therefore corrupt.

If you plan to walk around at night, take someone with you – going alone will only make you a target for corrupt officials and possibly criminals.

North Caucasus

As a tourist, it is highly advisable to travel to the North Caucasus, as this region is the most dangerous in the whole country. This region has acquired a bad reputation for terrorism, crime, corruption and extreme lawlessness.

The safest access area is currently Karachay-Cherkessia, as there have been very few attacks in this region in recent years. If you really need to visit the most dangerous areas of the region, it is best to contact your embassy before travelling there. However, assistance will be limited.

If you are planning to see Mount Elbrus, it is best to postpone this until the situation in the area improves.

LGBT travelers

Russia has seen a rise in homophobic activity since the beginning of 2013, after a series of events that led to the passing of laws, the setting of fines, and expulsion or deportation abroad in defence of LGBT (‘propaganda’) against minors. Although homosexuality itself is not criminalised in Russia, you can fall foul of the law if you take part in an LGBT activity and the police believe minors may be involved. This effectively includes all public ‘outdoor’ activities, including gay pride, and can also be extended to public demonstration of your sexual orientation and gender identification if minors are present. Participation in indoor LGBT activities and permitted outdoor actions where the necessary precautions have been taken against the participation of minors is legal, but there is always a risk of being targeted by homophobic activists at such events, as they specifically target them. In addition to the events, the common wisdom of keeping your sexual orientation and gender identification a secret will keep you safe in most situations. However, disclosing this puts you at risk of harassment or violence from others, such as hosts if they did not know beforehand, service staff and, more unpleasantly, the police if you need to contact them for help with hate crimes.


The behaviour of the majority of Russians is regularly reckless and has resulted in more than 35,000 deaths per year. Reckless driving, lack of education and a mix of very old cars and older models contribute to a high death rate on the roads. Drivers approach their art with an equal mix of aggression and incompetence. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. As a pedestrian, be very careful when crossing roads as pedestrian crossings are largely ignored. Most drivers are not very well trained and falsify their licences to avoid problems with the police. More importantly, the rapid expansion of the economy has led to an increase in traffic density. Driving in tunnels is perhaps even more dangerous than driving on roads – tunnels are poorly built due to underinvestment, and they claim even more victims than roads.

You must not be under the influence of alcohol when driving. Russians have zero tolerance in this regard and the penalty is about two years in prison. If you are stopped by the GAI (Russian road police), don’t worry, they will simply check your papers. The law prohibits the GAI from soliciting a bribe – if this happens, you are entitled to report it to the nearest police station. Do not try to run away from them – if you do, they will shoot at your vehicle, even if you are unarmed.


Russia is one of the most corrupt countries in the world, and the police and traffic police are the most corrupt institutions in the whole country. The Russians, who have been used to a police state for most of their history, are unlikely to offer much help if you are dealing with corrupt officers or criminals on the streets. This is why busy main roads are often less safe than quiet side streets – they simply offer more opportunities for the corrupt.

The Russian Mafia

The “Russian Mafia” make funny films, but are absolutely no threat to tourists – at best, they and their friends are a tourist attraction themselves, often dining in establishments that welcome foreigners. Foreigners are disproportionately targeted by pickpockets; non-white foreigners are also more likely to be harassed by street urchins or corrupt officials. But if you take reasonable precautions, nothing bad should happen to you. Remember that the majority of strangers who “find” trouble do so while drunk.

Juvenile delinquency

In the cities, keep an eye on youth crime. Russia has a shockingly large problem with orphaned street kids who, unsurprisingly, resort to petty crime to keep themselves alive. ‘Gypsy children’ employ interesting techniques to separate you from your money. These include creating a diversion (and even fighting amongst themselves), pouncing on you to pick your pockets, or simply lashing out at a surprised traveller and running their hands over you in every possible hiding place. Instead of showing weakness in such a situation, just give the perpetrators a good beating and perhaps a few choice words in Russian and they will look for easier targets. You are much less likely to encounter older juvenile offenders, such as belligerent skinheads or football hooligans, but if you do, it is better to give them a wide berth.


Racism is widespread in Russia and has increased in violence in recent years. Although travellers generally do not experience violent hate crimes, it is important to be careful if you are not white and/or visibly non-Christian. Although federal law (Article 105 of the Russian Criminal Code) prescribes harsher penalties for perpetrators of hate crimes, the investigation and prosecution of such crimes is very inadequate. Many of these crimes are committed by neo-Nazis and skinheads in groups, although non-violent racism by individuals can be found all over the country. Most attacks take place in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Voronezh. If you feel in danger, be aware of your surroundings, walk in groups if possible and carry pepper spray if you feel particularly threatened.

A detailed account of the current situation of racism in Russia can be found on the website of the United Nations Human Rights Council.

For more information on xenophobia and hate crime in Russia, see the website of the SOVA Information and Analysis Centre.

Identity papers

It is a misconception that everyone in Russia must have an ID card. They don’t. However, the absence of identity documents, although not in itself a criminal offence, can lead to detention for 3 hours “for identification purposes” (the law says “up to 48 hours”). Formally, arbitrary checks of documents are not allowed. They still take place, although much less frequently than before, especially in big cities. Document checks are now more common in places with few tourists – some police have very narrow ideas of what should be appropriate for tourists.

Missing documents can lead to a detention of up to 3 hours, but not to an arrest. The detention should not take place behind bars and they should not take away your personal belongings (such as your mobile phone): You may be taken to the police station where you end up sitting on a chair in a normal room while the police “identify” you, but this also rarely happens. As in most countries, you can be arrested if you are suspected of having committed a crime, but not being able to identify yourself is not a crime and does not incur a penalty. No physical force may be used during custody unless you use it first. If you are arrested, be confident and remember that the police are not allowed to shout at you. The passport controls that take place are mainly directed against dark-skinned people who are suspected of being illegal immigrants. Western, Caucasian-looking people are very rarely asked for their ID on the street.

To avoid potential problems, carry your passport, immigration card and registration form with you. If so, keep a separate photocopy in case you do.

An arrest for ID is not necessarily a pretext for a bribe. Usually a police officer will greet you and ask for your passport (watch out for words like “paspart”, “veeza” or “dokumenty”). Give it to him, he will look at it, give it back to you and greet you. Although this is usually an unsettling experience for new tourists, there is nothing scary about it.

A corrupt police officer may claim that there are problems with your documents (passport, immigration card and residence permit) and demand a fine (bribe). There are three options: You can explain in a friendly and firm way that everything is fine, that there is no problem with your documents and that you are ready to go to the police station to sort things out; you can pay (300 roubles should be enough in big cities); you can threaten. The first option is difficult without knowledge of Russian (and strong nerves), but it usually works. The second option allows you to buy peace, but encourages corruption. The third option is more confrontational and requires some nerves: take out a mobile phone and threaten to call your embassy. This might work and the police might back down.


Keep your money folded, with the small notes on the outside and the larger ones covered. Only take your cash out when you actually put it back in. Separate the large amounts and hide them from the small, everyday notes.

Dangerous animals

It is possible to encounter packs of aggressive strays or guard dogs, but not chained or tethered, especially off the beaten track. It may be sufficient to remain calm and keep your bags in front of you. If this is not the case, follow the other tips in the related article.

Stay healthy in Russia

Medical facilities are generally variable. A large proportion of hospitals are very well equipped, clean and state of the art, while some are far below western standards, with medication shortages and neglected equipment.

Make sure all your vaccinations are up to date and that you have enough of any prescribed medication you are taking. Pharmacies are common in big cities and offer high-quality western medicines.

The quality of tap water varies from country to country and can even be different in cities. In older buildings, tap water may not be drinkable. In the big cities of European Russia, the water may be clean and free of biological contaminants, but it often suffers from the presence of heavy metals due to outdated urban sanitation. If you can’t buy bottled water, boil the water before drinking it, or even better, use a special filter for tap water that you can buy in any supermarket. Bottled water costs only about 20-30 roubles (0.80-1.10 USD) for 2 litres, but be careful with the filled bottles that are sold.

In addition to local doctors (usually of good quality, but often working in poor facilities), there are several Western-run medical centres in major Russian cities. They all have different payment policies (some accept credit cards, others require cash payment in advance, even if you have insurance), so make sure you know what you are paying for (and when and how) before you accept a service.

Be careful not to buy fake vodka, which can be dangerous (seriously, here “dangerous” does not mean “strong”; it can contain methanol). Buy vodka only in department stores or specialised shops like Aromatnyi Mirà Moscow, with the sticker on the cap and/or the barcode of the region on the side.

A significant number of grocery shops, including some grocery/department shop chains, independent grocery shops, kiosks and convenience stores are known to sell poor quality food, including expired or even expired food with a printed expiry date with a later date. Although most of them are quite good, if possible, check the quality of the food by visual observation and do not particularly rely on best-before date labels that are added in an interchangeable manner. You can also pay attention to what others are buying, sometimes even asking other shoppers what is better, that is considered normal. This could help you make a good choice.

Examples of generally inferior foods sold are most fish products, including smoked and salted savoury products (be extra careful), pre-cooked salads, fresh vegetables and fruit if you cannot pick it by hand (check it at markets after the vendors have picked it for you, The, you don’t like, you can usually exchange them, in shops they usually don’t allow this and are used to putting the wrong products in the bag), preserved vegetables sold at a reduced price (and usually with an older production date), cheaper dairy products, although less consistent, here it can help to check what others are buying. Since 2008, juice producers are no longer allowed to label their production as juice (rus: сок) if it is not 100% juice. Today, all low-quality juices called nectar (rus: нектар) contain up to 50-70% water and “fruit drinks” (rus: фруктовый напиток) can contain anything!

HIV prevalence in Russia is steadily increasing, especially among sex workers, young adults and drug addicts. Stay safe.



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