The largest country in the world, Russia is an epic, evocative and diverse place. Its forbidding winters are a source of strength, and its people are both tough and generous. Its extreme climate makes for challenging living conditions, but the land is a rich resource for crops and minerals.
Its cities, like Moscow and St Petersburg, are energetic 24-hour centres with night clubs, bars and theatres to satisfy any taste. But it’s not all about the cities: the countryside is bursting with wildlife, and there are 26 UNESCO World Heritage sites throughout Russia.
For lovers of art and literature, Russia is a dream come true. Its great authors – Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin and Chekhov – are revered the world over. The Russian contribution to European art is without rival, and no trip to Russia would be complete without a visit to the world-renowned State Hermitage museum in St Petersburg or the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow.
The country is also home to one of the most spectacular natural landscapes in the world – its vast woodlands, including Siberia’s Lake Baikal and Kamchatka’s Pacific coast. Its icy lakes and soaring mountains are a haven for the world’s polar bears, and its wild coastline is teeming with sea life.
Despite the stereotypical image of a harsh, aloof, unfriendly and closed society, most Russians are extremely friendly and welcoming to visitors. You’ll find that the majority of them speak excellent English, and even those who don’t are often willing to help out a foreign tourist. However, if you are a visitor from a warm country, remember to bring plenty of layers, as winter temperatures can drop significantly.
The best way to get around Russia is on the metro system, which is quick, useful and beautiful. It may take a bit of time to figure out how it works, but it’s worth it once you do. Make sure to learn a few basic words in Russian (restaurant, toilet, exit, etc) and download a Cyrillic keyboard for your phone before you go – signs are not always bilingual, and English is not widely spoken, especially at railway/metro stations.
A car rental can be a good option, especially for those planning to travel outside of the main cities. However, you will need an international driver’s license to do so and should be aware of road rules and laws in Russia.
Pickpockets and thieves can be a problem in popular tourist areas, so it’s wise to keep an eye on your belongings, particularly in crowded places. Try not to wear anything that clearly marks you as a tourist, and avoid walking around late at night alone in unfamiliar areas. If you’re travelling with children, be extra vigilant and don’t leave them unattended. It’s a good idea to buy a local SIM card for your phone, as it’s cheaper than using roaming. You can purchase a SIM at most airport terminals.