Russia is a vast nation that covers an area larger than Western Europe and is home to more than 160 million people. Ruled by czars of the Romanov family from the seventeenth through the nineteenth centuries and then by Soviet communists after 1917, it was one of the most powerful countries in the world until its collapse in 1991. The Kremlin and Red Square remain big-ticket sights, but there is much more to this ancient land of the tsars and cosmonauts.
Getting around Russia
It can be tricky to get from one city to another in remote parts of the country, especially in Siberia or the Far East. While direct flights between major cities exist, it may be difficult to find them on the dates you need and they can add up in costs. In these situations, it can be more cost-effective and time efficient to travel by train.
Siberian railways provide a chance to see a huge slice of the country in comfort while relaxing with a cup of tea and some “train talk.” Many Russian travelers consider the journey itself just as important as any destination along the route, so be sure to factor this into your plans.
A variety of accommodations exist in Russia, from hostels to luxury hotels and everything in between. Hostels tend to be the most affordable options in bigger cities, but there are also plenty of modern, mid-range hotels with a variety of amenities. Many of these are found in renovated historic buildings or refurbished former factories. In rural areas, pensions and private family homes may be the best options for budget lodging.
Russia is generally safe for visitors, though violent crime and robbery can occur in some cities. Extortion is widespread in many urban centers and small businesses are vulnerable, so it’s important to take precautions to protect yourself and your possessions.
Health concerns include hepatitis A and diphtheria. Tap water is unsafe to drink outside of Moscow, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommend tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations for all travelers to Russia. Cholera outbreaks are rare, but typhoid is a concern in some areas.
Standard Russian is the official language, but other Slavonic languages are widely spoken throughout Russia. The Cyrillic alphabet is related to Latin but has its own unique characteristics, which can be confusing for first-time visitors. Ethnic and regional variations in pronunciation are common, as are significant differences in vocabulary. Food is a huge part of Russian culture, and restaurants can be found in nearly any architecturally significant building. Many larger cities also have food markets that are less expensive than sit-down restaurants and offer a wide range of cuisines from all over the world. Some food markets are set up to serve business lunches. These meals can be a great way to try out a range of local dishes and learn about the Russian food scene at the same time. You can also save on dining out by making your own food in a local kitchen or buying ingredients at a grocery store and cooking it in your hotel room.