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Travel Tips

What to See and Where to Begin?

With Russia covering more than ⅛ of the world's inhabited land, it can be quite daunting deciding on what you want to see when you come to visit this vast country. Because of its size, there is a huge range of different opportunities to be had when travelling around the country.

Big Cities

If it's a big city full of history and culture that you want, then you should consider visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg. Whilst Moscow is the contemporary hub of the country, and the economic and political centre, it does offer many historical and cultural opportunities too. But if it's imperial and majestic history that you want from your time in Russia, then St. Petersburg will be the city for you. However, it shouldn't be thought that there are only two destinations in Russia, Moscow and St. Petersburg, because these two cities barely even touch on revealing the delights of Russia.

Ancient History

Still in close proximity to Moscow, and an easy addition to any trip to the city, is the tour of the Golden Ring, a group of medieval cities located to the Northeast of Moscow. The ancient architecture sends you back to a time of Russian princes and knights which evokes truly unforgettable experiences.

Beautiful Nature

Moving away from cities, if incredible landscapes are what you want then you may need to travel further afield. One possibility is to travel along the Neva River on a river cruise, stopping off at some of the smaller, less-known cities, but at the same time getting the chance to see the country from a different perspective.

An incredible natural wonder, which has to be seen to be believed, is Lake Baikal. This is the largest freshwater lake in the world and is home to thousands of plant and animal species which can be seen nowhere else in the world. If you have the time to travel here, then it's definitely worth it, as you will have seen nothing like it ever before!

Adventures

If you want to be even more adventurous then maybe a trip along the Trans-Siberian railway would cover your demands. Being the longest railroad in the world, and spanning across 7 different time zones, the Trans-Siberian allows you to see as much of Russia as possible in a short space of time. Starting in the capital city, Moscow, the train heads east and takes you through some of Russia's breath-taking landscapes. The Trans-Siberian adds the possibility to end your journey in an altogether different culture - Beijing, China. There is no other railroad network like it in the world, so if you want to truly experience as much as possible that Russia has to offer, then this is the trip for you.

Russia definitely has something to offer everyone and whatever you choose to do, you will leave the country desperate to discover more of what this strange, but wonderful, country has install. Have a look and let us know what interests you, so that we can provide you with more details.


When to Come – Summer or Winter?

Russia basically has just two seasons, summer and winter! The spring and autumn pass by so quickly that it is best to talk mainly just of these two. Summer generally lasts from late May until the end of August. September can also be quite nice but by October prepare yourself for rain and snow and in November, the snow begins in earnest.

Best time to visit Moscow and St. Petersburg

In the summer, the weather is usually balmy and in St. Petersburg, it stays light well into the night. The White Nights last from June to July and it will stay light until 1.30 in the morning and never really get too dark. Summer is an excellent time to travel but be prepared for more tourists in the major cities. Museums may be a little crowded but it is nothing in comparison with the crowds in Venice or London for example. The theatres and ballets operate until the end of July which is considered the end of the summer season. Unfortunately some companies go on tour to other European cities during the summer period, so some theatres may have very few performances. The atmosphere in the streets is electric in summer – Russians love to get out and stroll at all hours. It is very festive and we are sure that you will enjoy it.

The winter is also a great time to visit the country. Russia turns into a wonderland of snow and sparkling ice. If you dress correctly then the cold should not be a problem- think big coat, boots with lots of grip etc. There are hardly any tourists in the cities and this is truly the best time to visit museums or see the ballet or theatre, as ticket prices are cheaper. All major theatre companies are at their home bases, the atmosphere is also very festive on the streets with Russians all bundled up and hurrying from one warm restaurant or theatre to another. New Years is Russia's largest holiday and it is a lot of fun to be in Russia during the holiday season. In short, any time is great for visiting Russia, but the time that you come will make a difference to your experience of the country.


Weather

The climate really depends on the region because Russia is so large and one place is often completely different from another. Although you may not believe it, summers can actually be quite hot because much of Russia is landlocked - generating a hot continental climate in the summer (Siberia for example).

Average Temperatures

In the areas where you will most likely be visiting, the typical summer temperature is in the upper 20s and low 30s Celsius or the mid70s to mid80s Fahrenheit. In the winter, it is typically -20 to -10 Celsius or -4 to +14 degrees Fahrenheit in the main cities. In rare instances, it can get VERY cold – down to -40 Celsius and -40 Fahrenheit but this is not typical in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Be prepared if you are visiting Siberia in the winter because these extremely low temperatures are expected!


What to Pack

Top of your list to pack is your visa! Make sure that all the details are correct before you leave. As for clothes it all depends on when you are coming to Russia.

Coming in the Summer

If you come during the late spring and summer, you should bring comfortable shoes, light weight clothing e.g. cotton pants, t-shirts, polo shirts, a light spring jacket, and a sweater, just in case the temperature does drop unexpectedly. It would be advisable to bring a cap and sunglasses, especially during the White Nights in St. Petersburg when the sun is out all day (and night) long. You may want to bring some nice clothes if you plan to go "out on the town" or visit a theatre in Moscow or St. Petersburg, as Russians do tend to dress up for these kind of events. You could also bring swimwear if you intend on sunbathing in one of the parks or on the Gulf of Finland. An umbrella or waterproof is a must during the summer when the weather can be extremely unpredictable, and although when you leave the hotel in the morning it may be bright sunshine, 2 hours later you may be caught in the middle of a thunderstorm!

Coming in the Winter

Winter, of course, is a different story. Moscow is cold, Siberia is colder and St. Petersburg can be humid and cold – not a very pleasant combination but if you dress in layers, you should have absolutely no problems. Take all of the items listed above, plus warm sweaters and sweatshirts, long underwear, warm, woollen socks, a sturdy pair of warm, waterproof boots, a warm, winter jacket, warm gloves, scarf, a warm wool or fur hat, and earmuffs if your hat does not cover your ears. As you can see the main word here is 'warm'. Make sure that you have enough clothes to wrap up, to keep yourself toasty.

Personal Care Items

In Russia, especially in the big cities, you can buy everything you need for personal care that is available in the USA and Europe, toiletries, cosmetics etc. However the recognizable western brands are more expensive, so it's probably best to bring your own with you. It is sensible to bring packs of tissues, or buy them when you get here, to carry around with you, because the Russian public toilets are known for not having any toilet paper! Also on a sanitary point, a small bottle of hand sanitizer is extremely useful when you are constantly using public transport.

Medications

Please make sure you bring a supply of any prescription medicines that you may be taking. Many are available in Moscow and St. Petersburg but not all. It is always a good idea to be safe rather than sorry, and on holiday do you really want to be spending time in a clinic when you could be outside enjoying the delights of Russia.


Money

Russians use roubles. Cash is still widely used in Russia, although in the big cities you won’t face difficulties using card. It is still recommended to have cash on you, since it is the only available payment method in certain places. You will need some roubles before you enter the country because you'll need them to pay for any transport from the airport. Please be aware that in many currency exchange offices outside of Europe roubles aren't always readily available. You may have to book them to be delivered in advance. In most Russian cities, it is quite easy to exchange hard currency for roubles. Be aware that rates can differ substantially - this is especially important if you plan to exchange large sums of money. Visitors can use practically all banks or exchange posts. Also it's advisable to exchange any roubles into your home currency before you leave Russia, as the exchange rate will more than likely be better here.

ATM machines

ATMs, called bankomats in Russia, are becoming more and more popular here as more Russians receive debit and credit cards. As anywhere in the world, the ATM owner will take a commission, usually equal to $3 for each transaction, therefore, it is best to take out larger amounts at one time rather than always pay the $3. The exchange rates at ATMs are usually quite good - it is the commissions that you have to worry about.

Prepaid Currency Cards

This is an option to avoid getting charged a large amount of money by your bank for taking out money whilst in Russia. You load your prepaid card with the amount of home currency you want, but you can use the card wherever you are to get out the local currency. Many of the cards avoid the commission rates charged at the ATMs. This is definitely an option to look into if you don't feel comfortable carrying money around with you.


Tipping

Tipping a small amount is customary at restaurants and bars but isn't anywhere near as widespread as it is in, say, the US. For example, you might want to leave a 100-rouble tip for a meal that costs 1000. Generally, the tip amount is between 5% and 10%.

Tipping Tour Guides and Drivers

Average tip for a tour guide is 20 USD per 8 hours. If your guide has worked with you for 4 hours, the recommended amount is 10 USD. If you would like to tip your driver, the recommended amount is 5-8 USD for 8 hours. Please remember that these are guidelines only; tipping is always at your own discretion.


Communications

Cell phones

Russian International code is 7.

Russia uses the GSM and LTE networks. This makes communicating by cell phones for Europeans quite easy. As for USA, you can use your cell phone in Russia only in case it is GSM or LTE phone. It is also quite easy to purchase a cell phone at a reasonable price from one of the many mobile phone stores and payment centres that you see everywhere in any Russian city. Currently, a cheap cell phone can be bought for the equivalent of $20 USD and a SIM card costs approximately 200 roubles ($4) and includes a 200 rouble top-up. The cost for calls and texts is extremely cheap in Russia if you are connecting with people in the same city as you. Be aware that if you are travelling between cities then you'll need to make sure that your sim card works in all the cities when you buy it. Most people in Russia use prepaid cellular services, in other words, they purchase prepaid phone cards. Russia has 3 main cellular telephone networks - MTS, Beeline and Megafon.

Internet

Most hotels provide Internet (either for free of for an extra fee, check with your hotel for more information). Also wireless internet connections are becoming more popular in Russia. You will find hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many of them in cafés are free of charge. Ask your tour guide or the Express to Russia office for more information on where to get online.


Voltage Requirements

The electrical current in Russia is 220 volts AC, 50Hz and electrical equipment uses 2 pronged, European, circular shaped sockets/plugs. Try not to bring much electrical equipment with you but if you must bring a laptop, check if it can take the 220 volts (most do) and also purchase a plug adapter to make sure that you can plug it into the differently shaped, circular, European electrical outlets.

Which electric appliances can be used in Russia

You can use your electric appliances in Russia in case standard voltage in your country is 220V - 240V (as in the UK, Europe, Australia and most of Asia and Africa). In case standard voltage in your country is in between 100V - 127V (as in the US, Canada and most South American countries), you need a power converter.

In case frequency in your country differs from the one in Russia (50 Hz), it is not recommended to use your appliances, but you can try at your own risk..


Presents and Souvenirs

If you are going to be interacting with Russians then it may be worth bringing some small presents from your country. You will have many opportunities to buy Russian souvenirs while in major Russian cities.

What to Buy and Where to Buy

There are a lot of handicrafts that can be purchased that are intimately related to Russia: nesting dolls, lacquered boxes, traditional Russian outfits - sarafans and head-dresses kokoshniks, wood carving and painted figurines, khokhloma wood crockery and many other nice souvenirs. Just be aware that in the main tourist locations these may not be as genuine as you think, so do a bit of searching before you decide to buy. You can also negotiate prices and get decent discounts at the street shops if you are willing to try!


Medical Help and Prescription Medicine

If you have a serious problem, the Express to Russia staff will help you to arrange a trip to medical centres in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Be aware that these clinics charge Western prices or may be even more expensive than your typical Western hospital or clinic. Some of them may accept your insurance but most will not, therefore, it is best to keep all of your bills that you have paid and submit them to your insurance company. It is important to purchase travel insurance for your trip just to make sure that you will be covered.

Prescription Medicine

There are many pharmacies in Russia, and most branded and generic medicines can be bought here (many without prescription), but at the same time the amount of counterfeit medicines is big. Thus, we recommend bringing a supply of any prescription medicines (it is allowed to bring reasonable amount for personal needs)


Food and Water

All types of food are available in the main cities. Western brands can be bought in most major supermarkets although they can be expensive. Restaurants of all cuisines can be found in St. Petersburg and Moscow, but if you want a good value for money meal then a trip to a Russian café is where you'll get the best deals. In most of the main restaurants menus are in English as well as Russian.

Can One Drink Tap Water in Russia?

Water isn't of the same standard as water in Western Europe and the USA. Please do not drink water straight from the tap, especially in St. Petersburg. Always buy bottled water from the supermarket or from street stalls.


Time

Remember that if you are travelling through Russia, the country is split into several time zones, so make sure that you are aware if the time changes during your journey. There are 11 time zones in Russia. Since 2011, daylight saving time is not used here anymore.

Russian Time Zones

Kaliningrad: GMT+02:00, EST +07:00
Moscow, St, Petersburg: GMT+03:00, EST +08:00
Samara: GMT+04:00, EST +09:00
Yekaterinburg: GMT+05:00, EST +10:00
Omsk, Novosibirsk: GMT+06:00, EST +11:00
Krasnoyarsk: GMT+07:00, EST +12:00
Irkutsk: GMT+08:00, EST +13:00
Yakutsk: GMT+09:00, EST +14:00
Vladivostok: GMT+10:00, EST +15:00
Srednekolymsk: GMT+11:00, EST +16:00
Kamchatka: GMT+12:00, EST +17:00

If you follow this link you will be able to find the current local time of your destination


Customs

It's extremely important to know what you can/can't import or export from Russia. The following items must be declared by filling in a declaration form upon crossing the border and you may be taxed.

  • Any foreign currencies which value $3000 or more.
  • More than 100 cigars, 200 cigarillos, 400 cigarettes or 0.5kg of tobacco.
  • More than 2 litres of alcohol.
  • More than 250g of caviar.
  • Stocks and securities, including travellers' cheques.

If you have less than the allowed amount of the items listed above ($2000 US in currency, 100 grams of caviar, 1 bottle of vodka etc.), then you do not need to declare it when you arrive/leave Russia and you don't have to pay extra money. You can still bring in more than $3000 (or its equivalent) but you need to declare it, so when you leave the country you can prove you're not taking the money out of Russia.

Special Permission

The following items are necessary to declare and you must have special permission (from Russia) or your doctor's prescription, when bringing in (and out): guns, explosives, ammunition, strong medicines (anesthetics, sleeping pills, etc.), psychotropic medicines, items that have a cultural value in Russia (usually antiques that are more than 70 years old), poisons, strong sedatives, radioactive materials, wild flora & fauna which is rapidly becoming extinct, technical telecommunication devices (radio phones, stations, cable TVs with a frequency of more than 900Ghz (except cell phones), printed materials (of fascist, racial or pornographic content), merchandise for production or commercial activities. If you have any of the above-listed items you need to obtain special permission at the point of sale in Russia or through the appropriate ministry (e.g. Ministry of Culture for items of cultural value).

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