Russia, officially known as the Russian Federation, is the world’s largest country. It’s a place which is never far from the news headlines for all the wrong reasons but the Russia I discovered is a country worth visiting for all the right reasons. So let this Russia travel tips post help you plan your trip there.
RUSSIA TRAVEL ESSENTIALS
Russian Tourist Visa: Check with your local Russian Embassy regarding travel visa requirements and visa fees, all of which vary according to your nationality and the part of Russia you are visiting. The information provided here is from the Russian Embassy in Ireland website and was the procedure I had to follow.
When applying through the Dublin Embassy, Irish and British passport holders will incur the highest fees whilst citizens of other EU countries will pay considerably less. The fee for US passport holders is the same as Irish and British passport holders. The processing period for Russian tourist visas at the Dublin Embassy is 4-20 days although visas which need to be processed within 3 days are significantly more expensive.
Visas are for specific entry and exit dates so plan your trip for within those dates. For example, if your visa is valid from 1st – 30th June you can enter Russia anytime from the 1st June onwards but you must leave on 30th June or before.
Visa applications will require supporting documentation depending on the nature of the visit. For example, an Irish passport holder applying for a tourist visa through the Dublin Embassy requires proof of travel insurance inclusive of medical cover and a Tourist Confirmation/Invite Letter from the Russian hotel/travel agent.
Business, Humanitarian, Work and Study visas are also available but require an official Letter of Invitation which needs to be arranged by the host organisation in Russia. Non-Irish citizens resident in Ireland need to provide proof of residency.
The following infographic is a quick summary of general Russian visa requirements:
Upon arriving in Russia you will need to fill out a two-part migration card. Blank migration cards are distributed by bus drivers and flight attendants prior to arrival in Russia. If not, search for them at your arrival point.
Borders officials retain one part of the card whilst you must keep the second part of the migration card for the duration of your visit as it is required when departing Russia. The migration card along with your passport also is required to register your visa which must be carried out by your host within 7 working days of your arrival.
A new short-stay e-visa system (maximum 8 days) has been introduced for nationals of 53 countries wishing to travel to Saint Petersburg and its region. Travellers should take note that these visas are only valid for travel to and within the St. Petersburg (Leningrad Oblast) region and are not valid for travel to the rest of Russia.
A similar system of electronic visas has been introduced for the Kaliningrad region.
Language in Russia: Russian is the only official language of the federation although the various republics within the federation have their own language along with Russian as their official languages.
As for the use of the English language in Russia, even in a tourist-orientated city like St. Petersburg English is not widely spoken outside of the main sites although I found that people under the age of thirty were keen to practice their English language skills with a native speaker.
Of all the Russia travel tips listed here, knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet is a must for independent travellers to Russia. The below flag spells out the words Russian Federation in the Cyrillic alphabet.
Russia Currency: The ruble (₽/RUB) is the unit of currency in Russia and its exchange rate seems to vary according to the country’s relationship with the international community. Current UN sanctions over Russia’s annexing of Crimea has caused the ruble to drop in value by up to 50% making the country excellent value for international tourists. All of my Irish credit and debit cards worked without a problem in Russia. One ruble is divided into 100 kopeks.
Best time to visit Russia: The temperature in most parts of Russia doesn’t reach double digits on the Celsius scale until end of April/beginning of May. The long nights of June and July are known as the White Nights where the higher latitudes experience little or no darkness and temperatures range from 20°C – 25°C. By October the temperature returns to single digits, after which months of snow and ice give the landscape an idyllic fairy-tale look.
Electrical plugs in Russia: Russia uses a similar socket and plug system to continental Europe which is the two round pin plug/socket of 220V-240V. Further information on world plug and socket types can be found on the World Standards website.
Travel in Russia: The method of travel in Russia will depend on how far you need to get! For example, the famous Trans-Siberian Express route from Moscow to Vladivostock takes several days to cover over 9,000km. On the other hand, the high-speed Sapsan train from Moscow to St. Petersburg takes from 3.5 to 4 hours and covers a distance of 635km. The Moscow terminus for the Sapsan is Passazhirskaya (Leningradsky) whilst the St. Petersburg Sapsan terminus is Moscovksy.
Within the large cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg the Metro is an excellent option.
Inter-city bus stations in Russia are known as avtovokzal. A bus from Moscow to St. Petersburg takes just under 12 hours! For those who want to take a bus from Tallinn to St. Petersburg I recommend bus company LuxExpress, the journey of which I’ve written about in this post.
It may be more convenient to travel by air in Russia but bear in mind that there have been a number of aviation accidents in recent years. For airline safety check out the IATA Operational Safety Audit.
Is Russia safe to visit?
Given the plethora of countries bordering Russia it may be cheaper to travel overland by bus or train, but what you’ll gain in money you’ll loose in time – The security checks are extensive.
On the upside, this level of security is reassuring and I found Russia to be one of the safest countries I’ve travelled to. X-ray scanners and security personnel are in situ at the entrances of places where large gatherings of people occur.
Russian self-deprecating humour does not extend to military and security matters and they would be horrified if safety issues were the reason you didn’t enjoy your trip. As a solo female traveller I found Russia to be an excellent place to visit for its general safety, friendly people and chivalrous attitude amongst men. I can’t wait to return.
On the other hand, the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs advises against all travel to Chechnya, Ingushetia, Dagestan and to the eastern and southern parts of Stavropol Krai bordering Chechnya and Dagestan, including the Budyonnovsky, Levkumsky, Neftekumsky, Stepnovsky and Kursky regions. It also advises against all but essential travel to North Ossetia, Karachai-Cherkessia and Kabardino-Balkaria (including the Elbrus region).
Further Russia travel tips and humorous observations can be found in my post Visiting Putin’s Place: St. Petersburg travel guide.
St. Petersburg was the capital of Imperial Russia until Lenin moved it to Moscow in 1918. Like other European imperial capitals, St. Petersburg is a city with beautiful architecture which attracted the cream of cultural talent. St. Petersburg’s cultural history is elaborated on in the St. Petersburg: Russian Culture Capital post.
Russia is a country with a lot of geography. St. Petersburg is a city with a lot of history, founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. Tsarist Russia is examined in St. Petersburg: From Peter the Great to February 1917 Revolution
By 1917, St. Peterburg was known as Petrograd, the name having been changed in 1914 to a more Slavic-sounding moniker. Sites which were pivotal in the October 1917 Revolution, which saw the rise of communism, and sites associated with the soviet era are covered in my Red October 1917: From Petrograd to Leningrad post.
The Visiting Putin’s Place: St. Petersburg Travel Guide blog post contains tips and advice for visiting St. Petersburg along with essential Russia travel tips. It is also a humorous account of my time in the city. It equally contains a summary of how current Russian President, Vladimir Putin, is perceived in his home city. The conclusion may surprise you.
RUSSIA TRAVEL BOOKS
Books always form a major part of my research prior to visiting any destination. Below are the books I used to research St. Petersburg and life in Russia in general.
Lonely Planet St Petersburg (Travel Guide)
Dervla Murphy: Through Siberia by Accident: A Small Slice of Autobiography
DK Eyewitness Travel Guide St Petersburg
Sharon Hudgins: The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East