The massive, sprawling land of Russia is home to world-class museums and palaces, forbidding arctic landscapes, and everything in between. Its inhabitants are diverse, speaking many languages and following a wide range of religious traditions. This rich variety has made Russia a fascinating place to explore and to visit.
The Russian government is more complex than many Western nations’, with a long history of monarchy and totalitarianism, as well as vast reserves of oil, gas, and precious metals. These riches have not always filtered down to the people, who remain mostly poor. But there are signs that the current political system is stable and attempting to create opportunity for the masses.
Getting to know Russia’s cuisine is a great way to enjoy the country, especially since it’s so varied. Taking a food tour at the beginning of your trip is a great introduction, and will also give you ideas about which dishes to seek out in restaurants throughout your trip.
A good time to travel to Russia is in late Spring. The famous “white nights” of Saint Petersburg (featuring bright, twilight days that never really happen) occur in late May and early June, when the city comes alive with residents wandering the streets for nighttime strolls and enjoying a slew of open-air music shows.
Summers in Moscow and St Petersburg are warm and sunny. Visitors can swim in the many lakes and rivers that flow through the cities, as well as in the sea along the Baltic coast. The gardens of the royal estates of Pushkin and Peterhof reopen in June, and this is one of the best times to see them at their peak beauty.
Visiting Russia in Fall is also an excellent choice, as the weather starts to turn milder and some of the summer crowds have dispersed. Visitors can also enjoy the blooming of many flowering plants, which transforms city parks and gardens into a display of color. Winter in Moscow and St Petersburg is cold, but not as frigid as the Arctic regions. The snow melts quickly, and the ice in rivers and canals starts to break up by March.
It’s important to arrive in Russia prepared for any weather conditions. While seeing most attractions independently in Moscow and St Petersburg is surprisingly easy, most will require advance bookings and a guide, particularly if you don’t speak Russian. Ideally, you should plan your trip several months ahead of time and consider using a specialist travel agency to book accommodation, arrange visas, and make key transport bookings. Visitors must register with the authorities within seven days of arrival, and this can be done with your hotel or hostel, or your landlord, friend or family if staying in private accommodations. The registration procedure requires written proof of your entry date and exit date, written in European calendar convention rather than American dates. This will help avoid confusion as the dates approach and ensure you’re not overstaying your visa.