Traveling to Russia

The world’s largest nation, Russia has a long and complex history that includes invasions and monarchies as well as an authoritarian 20th-century Soviet regime. The country spans two continents and is home to more than a dozen ethnic groups. Its forbidding winters make for a harsh environment, yet it’s also fertile and rich in natural resources. Its people have a strong sense of identity that’s forged through a mixture of religion and language, and their centuries-long quest for greatness continues even today.

Russia is home to a number of major cities, including the cultural capital of Saint Petersburg and the capital city, Moscow. Other large cities include Novosibirsk, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, and Chelyabinsk. Many of the smaller cities in Russia are also important cultural centers, such as Yekaterinburg and Volgograd.

Located at the very north of the world, Russian territory stretches across two oceans and several mountain ranges. It’s a land of extremes, from the forbidding winters that have saved it from foreign invaders to the scorching summers and fertile lands that produce grain, timber, and valuable metals. Russia is a rich source of energy, with massive reserves of oil and natural gas. The resulting wealth hasn’t translated into an easy life for most of its citizens, who are often poor and exploited by powerful elites.

A combination of natural and man-made hazards makes the country dangerous, especially in its far eastern regions. Volcanic activity and earthquakes are common, and there’s a high risk of tsunamis from the Kuril Islands. Inland, glaciers and avalanches are common as well.

As of 2018, the country is ruled by President Vladimir Putin. During his tenure, Russia’s economy has boomed and it has regained its status on the global stage. Putin has been credited with bringing the country back from the brink of collapse and inspiring foreign investment to boost the economy.

Most travelers to Russia need a visa, which can be obtained from the Russian embassy in their own country or at a Russian consulate. Travelers from certain countries must apply in person, and requirements vary by region.

It’s a good idea to learn some basic phrases, especially simple greetings and directions. Russians are very generous and will try to help you in the event of an emergency, even if they don’t speak your language. You may also want to take a small dictionary with you, particularly if you’re traveling in the mountains or other remote areas of the country.

In terms of the country’s geography, most Russians live in the western part of the country around Moscow. The rest of the population is spread across Siberia. The Sakha Republic is the largest federal subject, more than twice the size of Alaska, followed by Krasnoyarsk Krai and Yakutia. The noncontiguous Kaliningrad Oblast, the smallest oblast, and three federal cities are also Russian entities. The Caucasus mountain regions, which are independent nations now, were a part of the Soviet Union and still feel strongly connected to Russia.