Russia is one of the world’s largest countries, and it has a rich history and culture coupled with varied weather conditions in different regions. The two most popular cities people visit in Russia are the capital Moscow, and St. Petersburg. Both are in western Russia. But a visit to this country should not be limited to these two cities only. There is much more to explore and find out in the country of wonders – palaces, churches, lakes, mountains, and of course the daunting Siberia.

Quick Facts about Russia

Russia’s capital: Moscow

Russia’s population: 142 million

Russia’s Languages: Russian and other regional dialects

Local Russian Time: GMT plus 2/3

International Dialing Code for Russia: +7

Local Currency in Russia: Rouble

Electrical Voltage in Russia: 220V/50Hz

Before You Visit

As soon as you have decided to visit Russia, the first thing to do, is to get a visa. If you are from a country that has a visa-free agreement with Russia, you are in luck. Citizens of European Union, United States of America, and South America (except for Suriname) do not need a visa to go to Russia.

If you are from any other country you need to apply for one. Thankfully, you can do that through the Internet. A visa can take up to 20 days when the season for tourists is in full force.

Another thing to remember is to visit your doctor and check about necessary vaccinations you need to take. Encephalitis borne by ticks is a disease common in the rural areas of Russia, and you should get vaccinated before you go.

When to Plan a Visit

The two most popular months to go to Russia are June and September. It is very hot in July and August and also can be wet. You should not plan a visit in the last weeks of October or March/April because the snow gets slushy during that time. Winter in Russia is extremely cold but has an austere beauty.

How to Pay in Russia

The Russian currency is Rouble and one rouble is equal to 100 kopeks. You can get notes of 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000, and 5000 denominations. The kopeks are of 1, 2, 5, 10, and 50 denominations.

Visa and Mastercard are accepted in all major establishments, though cash is more readily accepted. American Express cards can only be used in St Petersburg and Moscow, and they are not that common outside these two places.

You will find ATM machines throughout the country, but if you are visiting villages, it is advisable to have some reserve cash, as ATMS will not be widely available in those areas.

Traveler’s checks in Euros and USD are acceptable everywhere, while the bigger cities accept all major currencies.

Remember that you need to declare any amount greater than $3000 dollars of local currency if you want to take it out of the country. You are allowed to take up to $1000 from Russia, but a declaration is a must.

Safety of Tourists in Russia

Russia is normally a safe country, and the large cities do not pose any major threats to tourists. However, some areas are best avoided, like:

  • The Ukraine Border: It is better not to travel to eastern Ukraine and places like Donetsk and Lugansk, which are self-declared republics. These are areas of conflict.
  • Abkhazia and South Ossetia: These two places have self-declared borders with Georgia, and it is illegal to enter here because they are illegally occupied
  • Northern Caucasus: This region is an unstable and dangerous area and should be avoided.

The large cities like St Petersburg or Moscow are as safe as any other big city in any other part of the world. You can find police men in the cities, especially in the centers. In Moscow, there are tourist police, which is an initiative from the local authorities for city improvement. The objective of this initiative is to support the tourists in Russia. There are special patrols and information in English for visitors.

Recommendations for Safety

When travelling in Russia, remember to:

  • Keep track of your belongings, especially when you are in a crowd like at a station or a concert.
  • Do not travel to deserted places or suburbs especially at night.
  • If you are being fined for some reason, consult your country’s Consulate or Embassy.
  • Carry your passport with you at all times.

What to see in Russia

 While Russia has many attractions, there are some you should definitely plan on visiting like:

  • Bolshoi Theater: Regular performances of opera are held here and it is the home of the famous and prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Company.
  • Catherine Palace: This is the summer home of many tsars, and is famous for having the Amber Room that displays amber panels that were stolen by Nazis and then rebuilt later.
  • Skiing: The Red Valley is a great location for a skiing holiday, as well as the Kamchatka Peninsula, and Sochi.
  • Irkutsk: This is a good place for those wanting to explore the culture of Siberia and also if you want to watch a bandy match.
  • Kola Peninsula: For salmon fishing enthusiasts, this is the perfect place to be, even if you are a beginner.
  • Lake Baikal: Very near the Mongolian border, it is the deepest lake in the world and one of the clearest ones. Summer is the best time to visit, unless you want to do winter sports.
  • Trans-Siberian Railway: A mesmerizing journey, the most popular route is the one from Moscow to Beijing through remote and wild regions of the country. The trip is almost 9000 kms and takes around a week to complete.

Russia is a country of depth and many varied wonders. A trip to this country is a feast for the senses and there is something for every kind of traveler. A certain amount of advance planning and research will help you if you are a first time visitor. Tourist offices and tour guides also can be a great source of information when travelling in the country. Do not take unnecessary risks, and carry some cash for emergencies, so that your visit is a pleasant and memorable one.