I have to admit, I haven’t seen all of Russia… but I’ve seen enough to reveal all these tips listed below. 4 months from now I am going to leave Russia for good, but this place will forever hold a special place in my heart. I’ll be back for more.
FIRST STOP, VISA!
- Citizens of most countries need a visa before taking off to Russia. Check with the immigration office beforehand!
- For Malaysians, I’ve prepared a step-by-step guide for you to apply it in Kuala Lumpur and also abroad (the Russian Embassy in London, United Kingdom.)
- If you decide to apply for the visa on your own, be prepared for some tedious (but manageable) procedures but if you’d like to get things over with easily, pay a travel agency. (I can’t recommend one because I never hire an agent to do it.)
- That is not all! Upon arrival, remember to register your VISA within 7 days! Your hostel/hotel will assist you.
WHEN TO VISIT
- Unless you are going for the experience, try to avoid late January to early February, when the temperature might reach -30c and below.
- If you are willing to brave the cold, regular winter coat like the those worn in the UK is not enough. Instead, pack fur coats, thermal underwear, wool sweaters, wool socks….etc. Read the full packing list for a winter in Russia here.
- Late February to early March is especially horrible time to visit, because temperature fluctuates between + (during the day) and - (at night), turning most places into unwanted skating rinks. The road will be in an awful muddy state when all the ice and snow melt in early March.
- Best time to visit, in my opinion, is in September to early October (Autumn) or mid-March to early July (Spring and the first part of Summer).
- Mid-Summer is not a good time as well, I am going to be bloody honest about this…. it’s because of the heat, especially when there are no clouds in the sky, I feel like dying. An interesting point is, you will not find built in fans in most apartments in Russia (at least not in my part of the country!). Note that this is not Sahara, and temperature doesn't just drop at night, so imagine having to sleep in such stuffy, hot weather… I just can’t. Hence, if you do come in the height of Summer, never board a train without air conditioner or book an overly-budget hostel (I mean those that only charge 200 Rubles/ $3.40 per night ). Plus, in Summer, there will be one particular week when the city is filled with cotton-like substance flying all around and annoying bugs attacking your face!
MORE ABOUT THE WEATHER (Because it's just too unpredictable)
- Weather in Russia changes drastically… I mean, we have snow occasionally in early October or late March, so remember to check the weather forecast daily so you do not underdress.
- When checking the weather, don’t just take note of the shown temperature. Find out the “real feel” temperature. Sometimes, Google shows -10, but don’t think you can wander out with those UK style winter coat! The real feel is often -20… you’ll need down feather winter jacket.
- Oh, and if you are planning on a cross-country road-trip or Trans Siberia Train, things get even more interesting… because Russia is big, hence the difference in weather conditions (sometimes, a difference in SEASON!!!) One part of Russia may be celebrating Maslenitsa in a refreshing +10 weather and another part of Russia might be experiencing heavy snow.
- You can throw your Geographic knowledge out the window once you step into Russia. There are no such thing as 3 months of each season. I can’t say about the other parts of Russia, but in Volgograd region, we often have 2 months or less of Autumn, 4-5 months of winter, 2 weeks of spring (the tulips indicate Spring), and 3+ months of Summer.
Read more: Winter in Russia— What it’s like.
- Don’t ever forget that Russia is the biggest country in the world, which means – many time zones. So remember to double check your departure time for trains, flights, and cruises. Intercity trains run in Moscow time, so beware!
- We used to only have Aeroflot and it sucked! Then we were delighted to welcome S7 airlines, Northwind, and Pobeda… and since that, Aeroflot improved a lot in every aspect. Nowadays, I can proudly recommend Aeroflot for longer journeys.
- As for domestic flights, I still prefer Pobeda (cheapest airfare starting from 999 rubles during promotion) or S7 (extensive routes + delicious sandwiches).
- I bet you’ve heard about the Trans-Siberia Rail. The train is the most popular (and also the cheapest) mode of transportation for long journeys within Russia.
- Read this complete guide to Train Travel in Russia to know how to book and what to expect on a train journey.
- Bus is another inexpensive way to travel, but be prepared for long hours and uncomfortable sleeping position.
- Yes! You read it right! You can actually travel from city to city in a taxi since they (honest ones) are inexpensive. Let me give you an example: A bus ticket from Dombay to Pyatigorsk cost 800 rubles and a taxi cost 3000 rubles, if you divide by 4, you’ll only pay 750 rubles each (cheaper and Hassle free)...
- Recommended registered taxi companies:
(Caucasus region) Logan Taxi
(Moscow to towns along the Golden Ring) Angel TaxiContinue Reading:Travel Pyatigorsk and Kislavodsk 3 days by TaxiTraveling on the Golden Ring by Taxi
Within the City
- Public land transportations includes Tram, Trolleybus, Marshut/mini van, and bus.
- Do not attempt to drive in Russia especially in big cities like Moscow, or during winter (ice formed on the roads are deadly. )
- As for taxi, do not simply flag down any taxi on the road in order not to get scammed. For example in Moscow, Angel Taxi is the best option (this is the only taxi in Moscow that doesn’t take travel time into account, so you can be sure that the taxi driver always takes the shortest route).
- If you have mobile data or wifi available, Uber and GettTaxi applications are most reliable car-share services (Something like taxis, just that they are not registered). Use the code to UBERHIPMUNKFREE to get $15 off your first Uber ride and GTLEEWE3 to get $10 off your first GETT ride.
- Use the Metro whenever you can, Russia is famous for the beauty of her metro stations. Ornamented in beautiful décor, these metro stations are not just a part of the public transport system… they are also a part of the most extensive underground art museum in the world.
- Also, you can definitely walk! Just use common sense — be careful with traffic, drunk man and ice.
- Is Russia good for solo traveling?
If you plan to visit only the bigger cities, then yes.
But if you’re planning to go deeper following the less-traveled path, it is advisable to travel in a group… The more the merrier, the more the better.
For example, in Dombay, a full day rental cost of a 10 seaters- excursion marshut (little vans) was 4000. I traveled in a group of 4 so we paid 1000 each. My seniors who went in a group of 10 paid only 250 rubles each (They went 2 years earlier when the rental fees were 2500 per car. )
- Credit cards are accepted only in restaurants, cafes, and hotels in big cities. Hence, it is highly recommended to have some cash on you.
- Russian currency is “Ruble”. They will never accept other currencies. Although some curious Russians will occasionally offer free services in exchange for some coins/ notes from your native countries! Now that’s cool! That is why I carry a lot of RM1 when I travel. Hah!
- I know it's pretty hard to find a money changer that has Rubles in Malaysia. When I first came, I managed to locate a small money changer in Pasar Seni, Kuala Lumpur that have some Rubles. So, I changed a small amount (3000 Rubles) and took the rest from an ATM in Moscow. Read more: How to handle money while Traveling.
HOW TO BUDGET YOUR TRIP
- Generally, Russia isn’t too expensive. Apart from the biggest cities like Moscow and Saint Petersburg, things are really cheap. For example, public transport tickets only cost $ 0.2 – 0.3, a kotleta on the go for lunch cost 40 rubles ($0.6) and a main course in a reputable restaurant starts as low as 280 rubles ($4.7 ).
- The cheapest hostels available cost only 200 rubles ($3.4) per night, but they are not recommended. Try to look for high recommended hostel starting from 350 rubles ($5.98) on booking.com.
- Russian restaurants aren’t too expensive (except some really big names in the big cities) and they do serve quality food. If you are on a budget, look for a Russian style canteen called “Stalovaya”, you’ll often find the cheapest, most traditional food here. However, try to look up on the internet beforehand, some of these really good Staloyavas are not on the main room and could be a little tricky to find.
- Or, go to a cafe between 11am-3pm during weekdays. Often they will be serving set lunches called “business lunch” and here you’ll get a main dish, soup, and drink for less than 200 Rubles ($3.7).
- Alternatively, go to the supermarket and you’ll be amazed at how many types of salad these people came up with. They are delicious and cheap (priced by gram)!
- Use common sense. If you wouldn’t do something in your home country, don’t do it in Russia.
- I think the most you have to worried about is drunk people at night, and also pickpockets in really crowded places.
- If I were to compare Russia to other countries, they tend to have fewer street scammers in Russia. In Europe, I’ve encountered 20+ tourist scams in just 2 months and had written an article about it. In Russia, so far I’ve only experienced one — the taxi scam.
- Bring your passport everywhere! While traveling in other countries, I only carry copies because I am afraid that I might lose my passport… but in Russia, it’s required by law to carry your original passport all times.
- I had heard a lot of stories about Russian police intimidating and taking bribes from tourists (?!?). Well, honestly, speaking from my 6 years experience in Russia, I’d never ever encounter such a thing. On the contrary, I always go to the police when I am lost in a new city. Why? Because you can be sure that these people are local (or at least they know the roads well from daily patrolling), secondly, they normally come in groups, so in case you only understand English, they can “refer” you to another police that speaks the language better.
INTERNET CONNECTION and MOBILE PLAN
- It is easy for tourists to get a prepaid Simcard in Russia. and no, you don't have to find a Russian friend to be your guarantor.
- In my opinion, the 3 best mobile service providers are MTS, megafon and Beeline.
- I am using MTS myself with a “SuperBit” internet package. That is enough for you to stream 2 movies back to back in a day (Yeah, that good!). It only cost about 399 Rubles ($6.70) per month. Of course, if you are a lighter internet user, there is another cheaper package called “Bit”, but (if I am not mistaken) you won’t be able to use the internet outside the region where you bought the Simcard. Example: I bought my Simcard in Volgograd region and my “Superbit” is still working when I was in Moscow. My friends who were using “Bit” couldn’t access the internet.
- Saint Petersburg might be an exception, but Russians don’t really speak English. Even in Moscow, I only found a handful of people who speak understandable English outside of the hotels and restaurants. If you are going to backpack your way across Russia, learning the Cyrillic is mandatory. It wouldn’t help much in understanding words but at least you will be able to read the road signs.
- I speak Russian quite okay, so I find it easy to travel. But for those who don’t, things might get confusing. Hence, I recommend everyone to download the Google Translator app, where you can just point the camera to a sign and it translate the word instantly. Now that’s a life saver.
- If you speak a bit of Russian, it’ll be even better! I dislike Russians so much during my first few years here but after I became comfortable speaking Russian, people immediately became a lot friendlier.
- Don’t smile randomly to strangers because that is what Russians do WHEN THEY ARE DRUNK! Russians are well known for their stern face, not only on the streets but in restaurants and shops as well. The shopkeepers may look grumpy, and waiters aren’t the friendliest (Although I've seen improvements on this over the years... it may be a huge culture shock for Americans)… but hey, that’s normal… don’t get confused and think Russians hate foreigners. Because that’s their normal face. If you want to get them smiling, just crack a joke in Russian… but make sure that it’s really funny, or else things might be even more awkward. Just remember, they have nothing against you, it’s just their culture.
- However, once you get them engaged in conversations, you’ll know that Russians are really sincere and positive. So try to make some friends. Who knows you might be invited over to their “dacha” (Summerhouse). Believe me, spending a day in a “Dacha” with a Russian family might just be the highlight of your trip.
- If you know you are visiting a church, (for ladies) wear long skirts and prepare a headscarf. Some churches prepare scarves at the entrance.
- Learn to say Thank you (Spasiba) and Please (Pazhalusta).Read more:14 Things to Avoid While Traveling in Russia
- Just go to the food section of MAN, OKEU or MAGNIT (Hypermarkets) and try as much as you can take in. Salad, pies, pork chop… and so much more.
10 must try bizarre food in Russia.
20 actually delicious food to try in Russia.
10 Russian Desserts to hunt down
- Try alcohol if you are allowed to because 1. you are in Russia, 2. you need that extra heat if you come during winter (obviously it's just an excuse).
Read more: 10 Alcoholic drinks to try in Russia
WHERE TO VISIT
- Moscow and Saint Petersburg are without a doubt already on your list. so here are more articles to talk about it in details.Continue reading:
- If culture and history are your thing, take day-trips out of Moscow to visit some small towns along The Golden Ring. Although you can go on your own by train, I don’t recommend doing so because you’ll be overwhelmed looking at things without knowing the significance and stories behind it. I took a 2-days guided tour by Angel-Taxi and it was just brilliant. My guide speaks fluent English and he is very knowledgeable about the towns. Hence, I highly recommend booking a tour with them.Continue Reading:Day Trip from Moscow— Suzdal and VladimirDay Trip from Moscow— Sergiev PosadThe beauty of Sergiyev Posad in Russia 🇷🇺 is indescribable, unbelievable and unimaginable... Especially in the beautiful last (or last few) snow ❄️marking the start of Spring 🌸. After celebrating Maslenitsa🌞 in Suzdal, I continued exploring the Ring Road of Moscow Region with 👼🚖Angel Taxi Moscow👼🚖 and ended the tour here in Sergiyev Posad. Talk about perfect ending. 🙌 So visitors to Moscow, don't just stay in the city! GET OUT THERE! 📷
- Other cities worth a visit if you are spending more than a week in Russia: Sochi, Volgograd, Murmansk, Kazan.A strong reason to love Kazan? They celebrate D.I.V.E.R.S.I.T.Y! This Temple of All Religions is an architectural complex which consists of several types of religious architecture including an Orthodox church, a mosque, and a synagogue etc. It is currently under construction since 1992. Upon completion, it will have 16 cupolas, representing 16 major world religions including past religions that are no longer practiced. ☝️Ps: the building looks like toys, it kinda reminds me of Pena Castle in Portugal... #храмвсехрелигий #вселенскийхрам #kazan #russia #diversity #allreligions
- Nature lovers rejoice! Because Russia has it’s fair share of most beautiful places in the world. I recommend checking out lake Baikal (especially in March to see the ice), Altai Mountains (The mushroom rock formations), Dombay or Elbrus (ski-destinations), Kamchatka (Russian's own Iceland), Kislovodsk, Pyatigorsk and the Ural Mountains. Plan at least 3 days in each place.
Do you know that it is possible to watch the Northern lights in Russia? in January 2016, I traveled to the Northest tip of Russia to see just that and the best part? I spent only 17870 Rubles ($225 in Jan 2016). However, after my trip, the tourism sector in the region developed exponentially so I doubt you can visit it with such a low price nowadays, but still, it is a lot cheaper than the same experience in Finland or Norway.
- Extra tips:
It’s pretty tricky to identify opening and closing times for attractions because there is no fixed time. Try to find out online before visiting but don’t get too disappointed if you find them closed for the day. Be very careful with Mondays because, for some reason, a lot of them get an extra day off on Monday… same goes to Friday. If not a day off, they’ll most probably start working late.
So there you have it! The complete guide for your first visit to Russia. I hope my list will help you in your planning and let me know in the moment section if you have more tips to share!
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