Five Things First Time Travellers To Russia Should Know
- Lean some Cyrillic. In Russia, you can expect little to no signs to have an English translation. To make getting around the country easier, learn some of the alphabet before you go. You'll be able to decode street and metro signs, menu items, and timetables.
- Check the opening and closing times for attractions. With museums, cathedrals and other sights all having their own operating hours, you'll need to do some preparation. Decide what you want to see and find out when they are open so you can plan accordingly.
- English is not widely spoken. Outside of hotels, you'll struggle to find locals that can speak English. Learn a few words and essential phrases beforehand to help you get around the communication barrier.
- Don't take photos of government buildings. Avoid snapping away outside official buildings or any secure military structure. If you're caught, you might get arrested and have to pay a fine.
- Russian culture has its quirks. It's considered a form of insanity to smile for no good reason in public. You'll also need to keep your hands out of our pockets in churches and at the Lenin Mausoleum as it's considered disrespectful.
Best Time To Visit Russia
If you aren't a fan of snow, the best time to visit Russia is during the summer months. From June to August, the country's wildflowers are in bloom, and the royal palaces are framed with manicured green lawns.
By mid-summer, you can experience the phenomenon of "the white lights". In Saint Petersburg the sun seemingly never sets, making it a prime time to do as much sightseeing as possible.
If you're on a budget, you might want to give this season a miss. It's the busiest time of year for Russia, with thick crowds at the top attractions and hotel rates at their highest. During this peak period, flights sell out quickly, so you'll need to book your trip well in advance.
Autumn is a good time to travel to Russia if you want to escape the crowds. From September to October, the country is awash with autumnal hues, and it's still warm enough to explore before the freezing temperatures set in.
Despite the bitter cold, Russia is a magical time to visit in winter. You'll have a white Christmas, snowy landscapes and excellent conditions for winter sports. It's also one of the cheapest seasons to visit with excellent bargains on flights and hotel rates.
Moscow is the vibrant capital of Russia, and its political centre. It boasts a history spanning 800 years and is full of iconic attractions and world-famous sites.
Spend your days exploring the famous Red Square, one of the largest in the world. Visit the statues of Russia's controversial leaders Lenin and Stalin. Marvel at the colourful onion-shaped cathedrals and learn about the country's dark past at the Cold War and Gulag museums.
With so much to see in Moscow, there's enough to keep you busy for months.
Saint Petersburg is considered to be one of the most beautiful cities in Russia. It's full of romantic streets, iconic churches dominating its skyline and a rich cultural heritage.
Only a high-speed night train away from Moscow, the city has a lot to offer. It's home to one of the largest fine art collections in the world and is a haven for lovers of theatre, ballet and the opera.
Some of Saint Petersburg's highlights include going to the Mariinsky Theatre, visiting the State Hermitage Museum and exploring St. Isaac's Cathedral.
Kazan is often called the third capital of Russia. Located on the banks of the Volga River, the city is an eclectic mix of Eastern and European cultures. It boasts a history that dates back more than 1,000 years and is home to mosques and baroque cathedrals.
Make sure you visit the remains of the Kazan Kremlin, destroyed by Ivan the Terrible, and the beautifully rebuilt Kul Sharif Mosque.
But no visit to Kazan would be complete without exploring The Temple of All Religions. A project started by local artist Ildar Khanov, the building includes inspiration from sixteen major religions.
Located on the Black Sea, Sochi rose to fame after it hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics. Since then, it's continued to play an important role in the international sporting scene. It hosted the Russian Formula 1 Grand Prix in 2017 and will be a host city for the 2018 Fifa World Cup.
But that's not all the city has to offer. It's a great summer or winter getaway for local and international travellers. Visit the tea plantations, Sochi's historic Old Town and the beautiful Caucasus Biosphere Reserve.
Top Attractions in Russia
Saint Basil's Cathedral
Located in the heart of Moscow, St Basil's Cathedral is one of Russia's most recognisable landmarks.
Built more than 400 years ago, it was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible, Russia's first Tsar, to celebrate his capture of Kazan.
After taking eight years to complete, it was almost destroyed by Stalin after the revolution. Miraculously, the building was saved by architect Pyotr Baranovsky, but it earned him five years in prison.
Today, St. Basil's Cathedral is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its unique architecture sets it apart from any other building in the world.
Lake Baikal is the biggest and deepest lake in the world. Located inside Zabaikalsky National Park, it holds 20% of the fresh water found on earth and is estimated to be around 25 million years old.
Called the Pearl of Siberia, it's a popular stop along the Trans-Siberian railway and attracts intrepid holidaymakers each year.
While most people visit Lake Baikal in the summer, the winter months offer something special. The lake freezes completely, creating a crystal-clear ice sheet, which gives visitors the unique opportunity to peer into its underwater world.
Entrance costs RUB 50 per person per day, and you can choose from a range of accommodation options scattered across the lake's shoreline.
The Hermitage Museum is Saint Petersburg's most important cultural site. Founded by Catherine the Great, it's the largest art gallery in Russia, boasting a collection of over 3 million items.
While the museum sprawls across six buildings, the majority of the artworks are housed in the Winter Palace. Here you'll find art from Ancient Egypt and right up until the early 20th century.
Some of its most famous artworks include pieces from Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Monet, and Rembrandt. It's estimated that if you spent a minute looking at each item on display, it would take you 11 years to see them all.
Church of Our Savior on the Spilt Blood
The Church of Our Saviour on the Spilt Blood is one of Russia's most famous buildings. It was built in 1881 to mark the spot where Emperor Alexander II was assassinated.
Closed to the public after the Bolsheviks revolution, the church was finally reopened in 1997.
While the exterior of the building is already something to marvel at, the interior is equally breathtaking. Inside you'll find the walls covered in mosaics that pay homage to famous Russian artists.
While it's not the cheapest attraction in Saint Petersburg, it's well worth it if you appreciate religious architecture.
The Trans-Siberian Railway
The Trans-Siberian Railway is the longest railway in the world. Constructed between 1891 and 1916, it connects Russia to the Far East and is one of the greatest overland journeys.
Travellers can choose from first, second, and third class sleepers and some carriages even come with their own private bathrooms and showers.
There are also three routes to choose from, but the most spectacular is the Moscow to Beijing via Ulan Bator. You'll pass through the beautiful Mongolian landscape, and you can even break up your journey and stop here for a few days.
The best time to make this trip is from May to September. While the train will be busy, you'll have milder weather and more daylight hours to watch the changing scenery fly past your window.
Major International Airports in Russia
- Sheremetyevo International Airport
- Domodedovo International Airport
- Vnukovo International Airport
- Pulkovo Airport
- Sochi International Airport