On 24th February 2022, Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine. This unjustified attack violates the UN Charter, and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms. Until such time that Russia ends this aggression, I will not visit Russia and would encourage my readers to do the same.
From my travels in Russia, I know that the war crimes that the Russian army are carrying out in Ukraine will not have universal support among its people. However, tourism facilitates the transfer of money, and in this case, it will fund the aggression against Ukraine.
I visited Russia a number of years ago and this post is an account of my time there plus the Russia travel tips relevant for that period. Please review travel guidelines to Russia provided by your government.
RUSSIA TRAVEL TIPS: 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. You may be entitled to the e-Visa or may have to go through the full paper application. Both methods are explained below.
Full Visa Application: When applying through the Dublin Embassy, Irish, British and US passport holders will incur the highest fees while citizens of other EU countries will pay considerably less. The processing period for Russian tourist visas at the Dublin Embassy is 4-20 days although visas that 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.
e-Visa: A short-stay e-visa system (maximum 8 days) has been introduced for nationals of 52 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. 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.
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.
X-ray scanners and security personnel are in situ at the entrances of places where large gatherings of people occur. As a solo female traveller I found Russia to be a safe place to visit.
On the other hand, many governments advise their citizens to avoid specific parts of Russia especially the Caucasus region. Always check with your government prior to travel.
Further Russia travel tips can be found in my post St. Petersburg travel guide.
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. Imperial Russia is examined in my Romanov St. Petersburg post.
Sites which were pivotal to the October 1917 Revolution and the soviet era are covered in my Communist Tour St. Petersburg post.
The Visiting St. Petersburg: Tips & Advice post contains information for visiting St. Petersburg along with essential Russia travel tips.
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.
Dervla Murphy: Through Siberia by Accident: A Small Slice of Autobiography
Sharon Hudgins: The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East
2 thoughts on “Russia Travel Tips”
Quite detailed guide! I have read this post and I’m looking forward to my visit to Russia. About knowing Cyrillic alphabet, my husband is a bit familiar with it. 🙂
I have one question if you can help. If we book AirBnB, and plan to stay in each city for 5-6 days ( ST Petersburg & Moscow) , do we (or the AirBnB owner) have to inform the local authorities about it?
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Good question, Nisha, and it was a question I asked myself when deciding accommodation options. I stayed in a hotel & registration was carried out by the hotel. I’ve rented Airbnbs in countries where registration with the authorities was required. In all instances the host did this. Double-check with the host in advance.