Russia, the world’s largest nation, borders European and Asian countries as well as the Pacific and Arctic oceans. Its landscape ranges from tundra and forests to subtropical beaches. It’s famous for Moscow's Bolshoi and St. Petersburg's Mariinsky ballet companies. St. Petersburg, founded by Russian leader Peter the Great, has the baroque Winter Palace, now housing part of the State Hermitage Museum’s art collection. Capital city Moscow is the site of the Kremlin, a walled citadel that’s home to the president, and Red Square, backed by the colorful onion domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral. Volga River cruises pass through the Golden Ring, a group of well-preserved towns dating back to medieval times, including Suzdal. Scenic Trans-Siberian Railway journeys stop at Siberia’s Lake Baikal, the earth’s deepest lake. Black Sea resort towns like Sochi are popular for beachgoing. Skiing and climbing are the top draws in the nearby Caucasus range, best known for Mt. Elbrus, Europe's highest mountain
|Visa & Passport|
To enter Russia for any purpose, a U.S. citizen must possess a valid U.S. passport and a bona fide visa issued by a Russian Embassy or Consulate. It is impossible to obtain an entry visa upon arrival, so travelers must apply for their visas well in advance.
Tips are common in Russia but are usually smaller than in the US. For a good experience in a restaurant, a 10% gratuity is considered a generous tip.
|When to visit||Summers (Jun–Aug) are mostly mild, including at Lake Baikal. St. Petersburg is bustling for White Nights (Jun–Jul), a midsummer arts and music festival. Jul–Aug is beach season in Black Sea resorts including Sochi. Winters (Dec–Mar) are mostly cold and snowy, with skiing in the Caucasus Jan–Mar. Moscow's Winter Festival (Dec–Jan) has open-air skating in Gorky Park. Observed Orthodox Christian festivals include Christmas (Jan 7) and Easter (varies Apr/May). Victory Day (Moscow, May 9) features a military parade in Red Square.|
Top 5 Best Cities to Visit
Moscow, on the Moskva River in western Russia, is the nation’s cosmopolitan capital. In its historic core is the Kremlin, a complex that’s home to the president and tsarist treasures in the Armoury. Outside its walls is Red Square, Russia's symbolic center. It's home to Lenin’s Mausoleum, the State Historical Museum's comprehensive collection, and St. Basil’s Cathedral, known for its colorful, onion-shaped domes. The Garden Ring district has bars, nightclubs, and museums like the Pushkin State Museum, with many Impressionist works, and the State Tretyakov Gallery, specializing in Russian art. Nearby are the Bolshoi Theatre, known for ballet and opera, and Tretyakovsky Proyezd, a street lined with luxury shops. To the north, the Ostankino TV Tower offers panoramic views. Wintertime brings ice-skating to Gorky Park, plus the Russian Winter Festival, featuring music and dance. South of the city center is the open-air architecture museum Kolomenskoye, showcasing a wide range of building types.
St. Petersburg is a Russian port city on the Baltic Sea. It was the imperial capital for 2 centuries, having been founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, subject of the city's iconic “Bronze Horseman” statue. It remains Russia's cultural center, with venues such as the Mariinsky Theatre hosting opera and ballet, and the State Russian Museum showcasing Russian art, from Orthodox icon paintings to Kandinsky works. The Hermitage Museum has a vast, world-famous collection of antiquities and paintings, many displayed in the gilt-trimmed baroque Winter Palace on Palace Square. Iconic churches include the Savior on Spilled Blood, a Russian Orthodox cathedral with ornate onion domes. Nevsky Prospekt is a shopping and dining strip, and its intersection with Dumskaya forms the main nightlife district. Popular activities are skating and skiing in city parks or boating urban canals and the Neva River. White Nights is a massive citywide summer festival.
Petergof or Peterhof, known as Petrodvorets from 1944 to 1997, is a municipal town in Petrodvortsovy District of the federal city of St. Petersburg, located on the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. The town hosts one of two campuses of Saint Petersburg State University and the Petrodvorets Watch Factory, one of the leading Russian watches manufactures. A series of palaces and gardens laid out on the orders of Peter the Great and sometimes called the "Russian Versailles," is also situated there. The palace-ensemble along with the city center is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Sochi, a Russian city on the Black Sea, is known as a summer beach resort and was the host of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Its parks include the palm-filled Arboretum. It's also notable for 20th-century neoclassical buildings such as the columned Winter Theatre. Forested Sochi National Park is a 1,937-sq.-km protected area in the nearby Caucasus Mountains. Some 70 km inland, Krasnaya Polyana is a prominent ski resort.
Irkutsk is a city on the Angara River in eastern Siberia, Russia. The river embankment is lined with churches, including the Epiphany Cathedral (Sobor Bogoyavleniya), with gilded onion domes, and the Spasskaya Church, with its soaring bell tower. The restored neoclassical Moskovskie Vorota arch is also by the water. Near Kirov Square, the Irkutsk Regional Art Museum has ancient icons and more recent Russian artworks. In the center, the Irkutsk Museum of Decembrists showcases the 19th-century lives of aristocratic exiles, with personal belongings such as a pyramid piano. Restaurants and restored wooden houses line the cobblestone paths of the 130th District (Irkutsk Sloboda). The area is also home to the Holy Cross (Kazan) Church, with its multicolored Siberian baroque facade. Performances at the 19th-century Irkutsk Academic Drama Theater range from Pushkin to Shakespeare. To the southeast, the Icebreaker Angara Museum examines the city’s maritime history. Irkutsk is a base for exploring Lake Baikal’s network of hiking trails and beaches.
Top 5 Places to Visit
Red Square is a city square in Moscow, Russia. It separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and now the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod. Red Square is often considered to be the central square of Moscow since the city's major streets, which connect to Russia's major highways, originate in the square.
The Cathedral of Vasily the Blessed, commonly known as Saint Basil's Cathedral, is a Christian church in Red Square in Moscow, Russia and is regarded as a cultural symbol of the country. The building, now a museum, is officially known as the Cathedral of the Intercession of the Most Holy Theotokos on the Moat or Pokrovsky Cathedral. It was built from 1555 to 1561 on orders from Ivan the Terrible and commemorates the capture of Kazan and Astrakhan. It was the city's tallest building until the completion of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower in 1600. The original building, known as Trinity Church and later Trinity Cathedral, contained eight churches arranged around a ninth, central church of Intercession; a tenth church was erected in 1588 over the grave of venerated local saint Vasily. In the 16th and 17th centuries, the church, perceived as the earthly symbol of the Heavenly City, was popularly known as the "Jerusalem" and served as an allegory of the Jerusalem Temple in the annual Palm Sunday parade attended by the Patriarch of Moscow and the Tsar. The building is shaped like the flame of a bonfire rising into the sky, a design that has no parallel in Russian architecture.
The Peterhof Palace is a series of palaces and gardens located in Petergof, Saint Petersburg, Russia, commissioned by Peter the Great as a direct response to the Palace of Versailles by Louis XIV of France. Originally intending it in 1709 for country habitation, Peter the Great sought to expand the property as a result of his visit to the French royal court in 1717, inspiring the nickname of "The Russian Versailles". The architect between 1714 and 1728 was Domenico Trezzini, and the style he employed became the foundation for the Petrine Baroque style favored throughout Saint Petersburg. Also in 1714, Jean-Baptiste Alexandre Le Blond, likely chosen due to his previous collaborations with Versailles landscaper André Le Nôtre, designed the gardens. Francesco Bartolomeo Rastrelli completed an expansion from 1747 to 1756 for Elizabeth of Russia. The palace-ensemble along with the city center is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Lake Baikal is a rift lake located in southern Siberia, Russia, between Irkutsk Oblast to the northwest and the Buryat Republic to the southeast. Lake Baikal is the largest freshwater lake by volume in the world, containing 22–23% of the world's fresh surface water. With 23,615.39 km³ of freshwater, it contains more water than the North American Great Lakes combined. With a maximum depth of 1,642 m, Baikal is the world's deepest lake. It is considered among the world's clearest lakes and is considered the world's oldest lake – at 25–30 million years. It is the seventh-largest lake in the world by surface area. Like Lake Tanganyika, Lake Baikal was formed as an ancient rift valley, having the typical long, crescent shape with a surface area of 31,722 km². Baikal is home to thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which are endemic to the region. It is also home to Buryat tribes who reside on the eastern side of the lake, raising goats, camels, cattle, sheep, and horses, where the mean temperature varies from a winter minimum of −19 °C to a summer maximum of 14 °C.
GUM is the main department store in many cities of the former Soviet Union, known as State Department Store during the Soviet era. Similarly-named stores operated in some Soviet republics and in post-Soviet states. The most famous GUM is the large store facing Red Square in the Kitai-gorod area – traditionally a center of trade in Moscow. As of 2020, the building functions as a shopping mall. Before the 1920s the location was known as the Upper Trading Rows.
Palace Square, connecting Nevsky Prospekt with Palace Bridge leading to Vasilievsky Island, is the central city square of St Petersburg and of the former Russian Empire. Many significant events took place there, including the Bloody Sunday massacre and parts of the October Revolution of 1917. Between 1918 and 1944, it was known as Uritsky Square, in memory of the assassinated leader of the city's Cheka branch, Moisei Uritsky. The earliest and most celebrated building on the square, the Baroque white-and-turquoise Winter Palace of the Russian tsars, gives the square its name. Although the adjacent buildings are designed in the Neoclassical style, they perfectly match the palace in their scale, rhythm, and monumentality. The opposite, southern side of the square was designed in the shape of an arc by George von Velten in the late 18th century. These plans came to fruition half a century later, when Alexander I of Russia envisaged the square as a vast monument to the 1812–1814 Russian victories over Napoleon and commissioned Carlo Rossi to design the bow-shaped Empire-style Building of the General Staff, which centers on a double triumphal arch crowned with a Roman quadriga.
Useful Travel Guide & Money Saving Tips
Apply for a visa early and register on arrival within seven days - This is a must for everyone traveling to Russia. Start the application process at least a month before your trip. You should know that every visitor to Russia should have their visa registered with your hotel within seven days of arrival, excluding weekends and public holidays. Keep in mind that your visa entry and exit dates will be written according to the European calendar convention (day/month/year) so don't get mixed up or over-stay your visa.
Check the events calendar – During major holidays Moscow and St Petersburg empty out. Places such as museums and other institutions may have shortened hours or be shut altogether, so make sure you check the events calendar before traveling or making plans. May to September is the best time to visit St Petersburg, but mid-June is when the city is irresistible, with the White Nights revelry at its peak.
Expensive cities - Moscow is one of the most expensive cities in the world. As a foreigner, you’ll also find yourself paying more and as much as 10 times the price Russians pay for some museums and other attractions. It’s also very expensive to dine out at many restaurants in Russia, however many restaurants offer 'business lunches' which are actually great value. Another good option is to check out the food markets which blend farmers markets and food halls. You can shop for ingredients to cook yourself because many food markets are less expensive than sit-down restaurants and let you try a wider variety of local and international dishes.
Hold on to your travel documents - When in Russia, carrying a photocopy of your passport, visa, and registration is a good idea. Consider carrying the phone number for your country's embassy in case matters get more complicated and present them should an officer ask to see your documents. It’s not uncommon at all that you’re stopped by the police, so having your travel documents handy is beneficial.
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