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An anomaly among European countries, Russia is a sweeping land of powerful history, mesmerising architecture and extraordinary culture. Hundreds of years of western art, vast wilderness, and diverse landscapes await in the largest country in the world.
With 11 time zones of bewildering enormity, and landmass stretching from the cultural capitals of Moscow and St Petersburg in the west to the icy Siberian wastelands and Vladivostok in the east, Russia is a country that is guaranteed to intrigue and amaze.
No other country has had such an overpowering history, the effects of which are still felt today. And on a holiday to Russia, you can discover the nation’s turbulent past with your feet on the ground where that history actually happened. Step onto remarkable Red Square in Moscow, and admire the architectural marvels of St Basil's Cathedral and the Museum of History. A tour of the grandeur of the Kremlin’s ancient walled fortresses, glittering palaces and swirly-spired churches will fill you with awe.
Northwest from Moscow is Russia’s cultural powerhouse, St Petersburg. Called the Venice of the North thanks to its charming canals, it’s considered one of the greatest European cities. Uncover its intriguing history in the magnificent buildings of Palace Square, including the Hermitage Museum, once the Winter Palace, and now one of the largest museums in the world – holding more than three-million artefacts, in the Peter and Paul Fortress across the River Neva where the city began, and in glorious Catherine Palace at Pushkin, just outside the city.
While Russia’s cultured cities are home to an abundance of architectural and artistic gems, its idyllic countryside offers a contrasting picture of tiny villages, Soviet towns and ever-shifting landscapes. The largest and oldest freshwater lake in the world lies within this vast region, along with rivers and forests overflowing with fish and wildlife, sandy shores, majestic volcanoes, and towering mountains.
Whether you're a history buff, an architecture enthusiast, or a nature-lover looking for new horizons to discover, Russia amply delivers.
Located in between Eastern Europe and Northern Asia with a total population of approximately 144.3 million, Russia is a fascinating and diverse country. It's also vast, and so it can be challenging to see all that Russia has to offer. We’ve listed some of the key interesting must-do things for your trip.
Russian cuisine is as vast and varied as its landscape and cultures. And as a result, food is a real highlight of any holiday in Russia.
Nothing reflects Russia’s move towards westernisation more than the way the restaurant and cafe scenes in both Moscow and St Petersburg have changed out of all recognition since the 1990s. Though there are still places serving traditional, filling – though perhaps not quite so basic as in Soviet times – fare, lovers of everything from French haute cuisine to standard American fast food will not be disappointed. Traditional Russian snacks, or zakuski, are widely available, and caviar, an utter luxury in the west, is a considerably cheaper (though still a treat) and served with blinis and a hard-boiled egg. For the finest caviar, go for the larger eggs that are lighter in colour, but if you prefer a less intensely fishy flavour, order the cheaper, darker caviar.
The delicious beetroot soup, borscht, is widely served, as are pickles, salted fish and cold meats. Fresh fish is more plentiful in maritime St Petersburg.
Main meals are often accompanied by vodka, and vodka is often accompanied by nothing other than more vodka, often in flavoured varieties, though recent years have seen a move towards more temperate drinking, and you'll find beer and wine available as an alternative.
First holiday to Russia? Here are a few questions you might have.
UK nationals need to apply for a visa before travelling to Russia. The processing time is up to 20 working days, so you should leave plenty of time. You should also ensure that you have at least six months’ validity in your passport. Cruise passengers to St Petersburg and other Russian ports may spend 72 hours in Russia without a visa, provided they have booked their tours through an officially licensed tour/ cruise operator, such as Newmarket Holidays.
Despite increasingly fractious relations between Russia and the West, Russia is, generally speaking, a very safe country to visit. Large cities like St Petersburg and Moscow are very tourist-friendly, although petty crime like pick-pocketing is not uncommon in some tourist areas. There are a number of risky areas in Russia, where travel is advised against, including near the border with Ukraine.
Russia is the largest country in the world, so its climate varies massively depending by region. That being said, most of Russia experiences a continental climate, with long, cold winters and brief summers. In Siberia, however, temperatures in the winter regularly drop to –50°C. In the east, where Moscow and St Petersburg are located, summer temperatures hover around the mid-20s in the day, dropping to around 10°C at night, with milder, often unpredictable, springs and autumns, with moderate rainfall.
Generally speaking, the best time to visit Russia is from May to September, outside of the harsh winter and unpredictable late spring. That being said, certain destinations are best avoided in peak summer, when temperatures can climb above 30°C.
Russia has a wealth of sights and cities that attract visitors, but the most-visited cities are St Petersburg and Moscow. St Petersburg was Russia’s capital for two centuries, and is still considered its cultural capital today. The city is home to the Mariinsky Theatre and the State Russian Museum. Moscow, meanwhile, is home to the Red Square, Russia’s symbolic centre, which includes St Basil’s Cathedral and Lenin’s Mausoleum.
Moscow is the capital city of Russia, and one of the country’s most-visited places.
In Russia, they use the Russian Rouble (RUB) – for the latest exchange rate, see www.xe.com. The Russian Rouble has been devalued in recent years, meaning that visiting Russia is now cheaper for foreigners. Given the country is so large, prices do vary, but generally speaking, the country is very affordable. Larger cities like Moscow and St Petersburg have a range of options to suit all budgets for things like accommodations and eating out.
Regional cuisine varies in Russia, although generally speaking they eat a lot of dairy, including cottage cheese and sour cream, along with hearty staples like porridge, bread and potatoes. Pickled and fermented vegetables are also very popular, including sauerkraut, along with soup and dumplings. A salad course and a meat course are common components of a meal in Russia.
In Russia, they speak Russian, although English is becoming increasingly widely spoken, especially in larger cities and tourist areas. Below are a few useful phrases in Russian, with pronunciation in brackets:
Hello – Привет (privet)
Goodbye – Прощай (proshchay)
Thank you – благодарю вас (blagodaryu vas)
Please – пожалуйста (pozhaluysta)
Do you speak English? – ты говоришь по-английски (ty govorish' po-Angliyski?)