If you’re thinking of heading to Russia for a cultural escape or perhaps to kick off your Trans-Siberian adventure, swot up on the essentials with our FAQs answered for you here.
What sort of weather can I expect in Russia?
Russia is an enormous country, so weather will obviously vary greatly from one region to another. However, here are some general guidelines:
Spring arrives in late March and April, heralding the great thaw. Summer in Russia starts in mid-May and lasts to early September. The days are warm and long, and in midsummer up north, there is no real darkness. Autumn is brief and by the end of November, winter sets in, bringing with it lots of snow and extremely low temperatures. Winter is extremely harsh, so pack very warm clothes if arriving at any point between the end of November and the end of February as temperatures will plummet to well below zero Celcius.
What currency does Russia use?
The Russian Rouble is exchangeable only in Russia. USD / Euro is the easiest currency to exchange, and Bureaux de Change and ATM machines are widespread in Moscow and St. Petersburg, but are not as accessible in the promises.
Major credit cards are accepted in most places, but it’s always better to ask in advance. When making purchases in local grocery stores, snack shops and restaurants you will only be able to pay in Roubles. However, when shopping for souvenirs, most vendors will accept both foreign currency and Roubles.
Be aware that Russians may try to overcharge foreigners, so try to speak Russian. Just in case, here’s is a list of local prices:
Cigarettes – 50 rub.
Mineral water (1l) – 50 rub.
Taxis downtown from the hotel – 400 rub.
1 metro trip (St. Petersburg) – 22 rub.
1 metro trip (Moscow) – 25 rub.
What sort of vaccinations will I need before I leave for Russia?
It is recommended that you be vaccinated for Diphtheria, Polio and Tetanus. Food and water-borne diseases are more common than in the UK, so Typhoid and Hepatitis A are recommended. If visiting Yekaterinburg and undertaking outdoor activities between May and August, a vaccination for tick-born Encephalitis is recommended. This information is only intended as a guide and recommendations can change so please consult with your local healthcare provider.
Drink bottled water only, pack some anti-diarrhea medication, mosquito repellent and sun cream if visiting in summer.
Russia produces a very diverse culinary repertoire. Restaurants, cafes and other eating establishments have made vast inroads since the fall of communism, despite the fact that most of the Russian population can’t afford to eat out. Beyond Moscow, St Petersburg and other big cities, the choice is far more limited. That’s why we include meals on in provincial Russia on our group tours.
Caviar, smoked sausage, pickles, field mushrooms, cheese and soured cream are the basis of zakuski (hors d’oeuvres or appetisers) – a popular dish. Also try savoury piroshki (a stuffed pastry) and blini (savoury stuffed pancakes). The Russians excel at hearty meat and vegetable-based soups. The tsar of all soups is Borsch, Solyanka is also good.
Well-loved classic mains include – beef Stroganoff (invented in Russia, as was chicken Kiev), pelmeny (Siberian-style dumplings) and spicy Georgian cuisine such as shashlyk. Russian rye bread is flavoursome and most often eaten without butter. Fish varieties include – omul (similar to salmon and from Lake Baikal) and sturgeon – often poached and served with a sauce or mushrooms
The Russian’s excel at the art of ice-cream making. St Petersburg is particularly renown for its ices.
A word on garnish: Dill reigns supreme in Russia and its use is not limited to fish dishes. You’ll find dill zealously sprinkled across many dishes. Russia even produces dill-flavoured potato crisps!
The Moscow Metro is the easiest and quickest way to get around and your tour (if incorporating time in Moscow) will include a Moscow Metro travelcard (for 6 journeys/rides). A Stalinist gift to the people of Moscow, this is one Stalinist project Muscovites are proud of. Graffiti-free stations offer an air of elegance with granite and marble-clad surrounds. Many of the stations boast chandeliers, huge mosaic freezes depict the power of good Soviet workers banding together to help the state and strikingly elaborate sculptures cast in bronze offer a study of people from an age where collectivism was at the forefront of the Communism dream. Art Nouveau style lamps illuminate the long escalator arches.
Riding the Moscow Metro is a sightseeing excursion in itself! Meanwhile, although St Petersburg has an equally fine Metro transportation system, as the city is more walker-friendly you’ll be able to get to most inner-city sights often without the need to board the Metro.
SPECIAL NOTE: Mind your purses and bags aboard the Metro. Pickpockets are as prevalent here as elsewhere.
Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has embraced the free market. Gone are the days of trading your Levi jeans for vodka, caviar and worthless currency. Today, shops are positively brimming with consumerism. Souvenirs are authentic, inexpensive and usually well-made. The trademark souvenir is the gaily decorated wooden Matryoshka doll, a set of dolls within dolls. Enamelled wooden boxes known as palekh are also popular. Perhaps the most curious hangover of Communist times is the quantity of surplus Red Army and military souvenirs. Everything from badges to important looking peaked hats, MIG fighter jet dials fashioned into clocks and clothing is available. The ubiquitous ‘fluffy brown hat’, so common an image of Russia, is a must-buy. Dodgy examples in faux-fur are available at all tourist sights! The Russians themselves wear similar hats but theirs are often made of real mink, ermine or fox fur. Winter clothing such as coats and boots are often less expensive in Russia, as is winter sports equipment. If you ever fancied replicating the on-ice exploits of Torvill and Dean, ice-skates are far cheaper in Russia. Watches previously made for the Russian military are available in myriad designs. Camera & lens brands such as FED, Kiev and Zorki have a respected following amongst enthusiasts, though be sure to do your research before buying.
As a rule shops are open from 9.30am to 7pm or later and generally closed on Sunday. Banks are usually open weekdays from 9am to 5pm in Moscow and St Petersburg, with a break for lunch. Restaurants, cafes and bars trade until late. In Moscow and St Petersburg, many grocers trade 24/7.
If you’re looking for more information, check out our Russia Top Travel Tips article.