Russia is a place of a long and splendid history and culture, of renowned art, welcoming people, nightlife, magnificent animals, celebrated architecture, and of nature, and not at all what popular stereotypes make it to be. It wonderfully incorporates contemporary Western imports into its Slavic culture, while preserving Russian tradition and uniqueness. Being such a popular destination, it is included in many excellent Eastern Europe tours.
Here are several travel tips that will make your journey to Russia easier.
Passport and visa requirements
Citizens of most countries outside of the former Soviet Union must have a valid passport and a proper visa to enter Russia. Usually, an invitation from a Russian citizen or a certified tourism operator is required, but the application process is fairly simple. Visitors coming in on a cruise ship are granted 72 hours visa-free entrance if arranged with a travel agent.
Russians not only speak in a different language, but they use Cyrillic to write it, so it might be somewhat difficult to get about, especially in places that don’t have many signs in Latin alphabet. Russians, even though kind, might be shy to speak English. No reason to panic though. Just pack or download a phrasebook, and learn a few basic words. Restaurants usually have menus in English, and people working in tourism definitely speak English.
In large cities, it’s best to walk or use public transport. However, Russian public transport can be somewhat complicated for tourists, so it might be best to look up a few things before traveling, such as where to purchase a ticket. You can follow google maps while there, and tour guides will always have the information you need. If you need a taxi, make sure to use the official, not private one, since drivers might overcharge foreigners.
Weather and appropriate wardrobe
Russian summers can be very hot and humid, so wear light, comfortable clothes. Depending on the region, they can be cool as well, so take something warmer with you. Winters are very cold, so dress in layers, wear a warm coat and hat (though a giant, fur one will show you’re a tourist), and protect your feet – snow in the cities melts quickly, so appropriate footwear is a must. Rain is always possible, so take your umbrella with you.
While Russian cuisine is a foodie’s dream, tourists get scared by the unfamiliar names. Don’t worry! Restaurants in big cities have menus in English, and the English-speaking staff will help you. While you can certainly eat in one of the numerous international restaurants or fast food chains, local cuisine is always the best choice. Places like Yolki-Palki or Moo-Moo offer cheaper and tasty traditional Russian dishes and famous drinks like kvass and kisel.
Tap water and electricity
It is important to remember that Russians do not drink tap water! While you can use it to brush your teeth and to shower, you should drink only bottled water. Electricity in Russia is 220V, and the plug is the two-pin thin European standard, so bring an adapter if you need one.
Money and prices
Russian currency is the rouble, but you can easily exchange other currencies. Large cities are expensive, but averagely so. Tickets to some famous places are more expensive for tourists, while less popular, but amazing museums charge less and offer audio guides in different languages. Also, always have some cash with you – cards are generally accepted, except in public transport and taxis, but check the exchange rate and if Russian banks accept your cards.
Like in any other country, there are social rules one should follow. For example, when invited to a Russian home, it’s customary to bring a small gift. Dress code is important in theatres and some restaurants, and you must follow the religious rules when visiting Russian Orthodox churches. Also, Russians get very impatient while standing in queues, so don’t be surprised if there are no queues, or if there is no personal space when standing in one. Tipping is expected in restaurants (in cash) after you pay the bill.
To plan or not to plan an itinerary?
Planning an itinerary might be key when visiting Moscow and St Petersburg particularly, because you have little time and so much to see. It can be done either tailored to your needs and interests with a Travel agency, or by joining an escorted group tour. Among the great things deserving of your attention, there are sculptures hidden in parks and boulevards, as well as monuments dedicated to animals, various professions, love, famous Asian people, etc. You can also visit less-known places like Moscow’s Museum of Vodka, the Museum of Russian Toy, Ice Sculpture Museum, etc.
Russia is as safe as any other European country, so there is no reason to worry. Pickpocketing is still common though, so keep your money and documents safe, especially in crowds and in public transport. Always have your passport with you in case police asks to see it. If anything does happen, which is unlikely, hotels will help you reach the police or the embassy.
Topics: World Travel