A Guide to Russia

The world’s largest country – partly in Europe and Asia and bordered by the Arctic Ocean to the north. Russia is a nation of great diversity – from the warm seaside cities on the Black Sea to the cold arctic republics of Siberia and the arid republics of Central Asia. It is home to numerous historical, cultural and natural wonders. Ruling an empire that sprawled across so many different climatic zones is a huge challenge, and one that the Russian Empire and Soviet Union both rose to the challenge of overcoming.

A country of striking contrasts, Russia offers a unique blend of ancient traditions and modern-day luxuries. Its capital, Moscow, has grown from a nineteenth-century core into a sprawling metropolis with planned neighborhoods and an impressive infrastructure of subways and freeways. But it is also possible to see the country’s agrarian roots in the vast rural areas, from the fertile fields around St. Petersburg to the sweeping steppes of the west.

In the early 1990s, when the Soviet system collapsed, Russia’s old class distinctions were replaced by a growing market economy, and wealth was shifted from government-controlled businesses to private business owners. Prices of goods fluctuated, and families watched as their life savings melted away. Nevertheless, the country’s natural resources – oil, natural gas, metals, timber and coal – continue to be key economic exports, and a growing domestic market is helping to stabilize the economy.

As an international traveler, you will need to secure a visa in advance before arriving in Russia. The process varies depending on your nationality and the region of Russia you plan to visit. Most travelers will need to visit the local embassy or consulate in person and provide biometric data, although some countries (including the United States) have visa options that can be applied for online.

While it is possible to explore the country independently, most visitors will find that a tour or package is the best way to experience the sights and sounds of Russia. It is advisable to book well in advance as flight and train tickets tend to be cheaper when booked ahead. A specialist Russian tour operator can arrange your trip from start to finish, including arranging visas and making key transport bookings.

It is essential to dress well and keep in mind that a lot of Russians are very religious so try not to offend them by wearing shorts or flip flops at restaurants or on public transport. It is also important to respect people’s privacy and take off your shoes before entering a private home, and it’s a good idea to learn a few words of Russian before you go!

When riding on public transport in Russia, you should always give up your seat to older people and pregnant women. It is also customary to take off your shoes when entering someone’s home, and to offer slippers (tapochki) to wear inside. Finally, it is generally considered rude to make a scene or act aggressively in public, particularly when interacting with police officers.