Russia travel guide
As Russia moves forward into the 21st century, it leaves behind a turbulent history of tyranny and a crippled economy - from Ivan the Terrible to Peter the Great, from the fall of the Tsars to the dictatorship of the Soviet government. Today Russia is a nation embracing its newfound freedom and future potential, whilst enjoying a renewal of the rich cultural heritage of its past.
Despite the visible effects of hardship and economic disparity, and its previous isolation from the rest of the world, travellers in Russia will encounter a country of enormous diversity and vitality, with cultural treasures and historical monuments, great imperial cities and glittering cathedrals. Visitors will experience the enchantment of Tchaikovsky, the Kirov and Bolshoi Ballet, and marvel at priceless Russian icons and the unique style of decorative onion-domed architecture.
Most westerners associate Russia with the great imperial centres of Moscow and St Petersburg, and although these two cities, the capital and the beautiful 'Venice of the North' are a must-see, they are a mere scratching on the surface of this vast and varied land. Straddling two continents and 11 time zones, the Russian Federation is the largest country on earth, nearly twice the size of the United States of America. Within this impressive expanse lie natural wonders such as Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, and beautiful mountains, rivers and forests abounding with wildlife as well as timeless traditional villages scattered across the Siberian landscape.
Visitors taking the opportunity to explore Russia will not be disappointed: its impressive museums, overwhelming sense of history, culture and unspoilt wilderness will leave one with a desire to see more, and it's relative isolation has ensured that Russia remains an alien place in the most enticing way for travellers.
The official currency is the Rouble (RUB), which is divided into 100 kopeks. Most major international credit cards are accepted in larger establishements. Currency can be changed at banks, currency exchange booths and hotels. ATMs are widely available in major cities. It is hard to get roubles outside Russia and travellers are advised to take good condition US Dollars or Euro notes to change once there.
Language : Russian is the official language. Some people speak English, French or German.
Electricity : Electrical current is 230 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are standard.
Entry Requirements :
United States citizens must have a valid passport. A visa is required.
British citizens must have a valid passport. A visa is required.
Canadian citizens must have a valid passport. A visa is required.
Australian citizens must have a valid passport. A visa is required.
South Africans must have a valid passport, but can travel without a visa for a maximum of 90 days.
Irish nationals require a valid passport. A visa is required.
New Zealand nationals require a valid passport. A visa is required.
Passport/Visa Note :
Valid visas in expired passports or other expired travel documents are not accepted. Visitors must carry ID at all times whilst in Russia. An Immigrant Card will be issued on board the aircraft or on arrival. All visitors staying for longer than seven working days must register with the Federal Migration Service upon arrival; if staying in a hotel, the hotel will arrange this, otherwise you can find the forms to fill out at a post office and post the forms to the Federal Migration Service. Anyone travelling on a tourist visa must hold vouchers from the hotel or travel agency. Passengers are required to hold return/onward tickets and documents required for the next destination. Exit permits are required on departure. These are usually issued with the visa, or can be obtained at hotels not less than two days before departure. Passports must be valid for period of intended stay. It is highly recommended that passports have at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
Travel Health :
Travellers to Russia are advised to get vaccinations for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, to be up to date on vaccinations for tetanus-diphtheria and MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and to consider vaccinations for typhoid, rabies and Japanese encephalitis if they are long-term travellers and/or spending time in rural areas. Drinking water should be treated; bottled water is readily available. There is a reciprocal health care agreement with the UK entitling citizens to free health treatment in hospital. Local state medical facilities are of a low standard, however, and visitors are strongly advised to have full insurance for medical treatment and accidents should they require private care. Blood transfusions should not be performed in Russia, due to uncertainties concerning the blood supply. Essential medications and supplies may be limited.
Hotel bills in the large Russian cities usually include a 10 to 15 percent service charge. If no service charge has been added a tip of at least 10 percent is expected. City Guides and their drivers also expect a small tip and tipping in bars and nightclubs is common.
Safety Information :
As with travel to many Western countries, there is a risk of terrorism in Russia, but the risk is low in the well-trodden tourist destinations. Visitors are advised to be vigilant and to watch out for pickpockets and street crime; visitors are advised to be particularly cautious on the metro and buses, and should insist on seeing official ID from police officers. Political protests often end in violence and detention and visitors are advised to avoid all street demonstrations and political gatherings.
Local Customs :
Photography of anything to do with the military, strategic sites, or the airport, is prohibited. In Russian Orthodox churches, women are advised to wear skirts and cover their heads with a scarf. It is a legal requirement for visitors to carry passports for identification; copies are not sufficient. Homosexuality is frowned upon and public intimacy between gay men should be avoided.
Russian business is conducted in a fashion similar to Western countries but with subtle differences. Russians are business-minded so it is not generally necessary to form personal relations with business colleagues but developing a good network of resident associates is a good idea. Dress is formal and conservative and on greeting a good firm handshake and direct eye contact indicates strength. Business cards are exchanged and it is advisable to get a Russian translation of your details on the alternate side. Business hours are generally from 9am to 6pm from Monday to Friday.
The international access code for Russia is +7. Public phones are good for local and international calls; they take phonecards, which can be bought at newspaper kiosks and post offices. Phone booths in airports and major hotels usually take Amex or Visa cards but are generally much more expensive than street phones. Mobile phone coverage is extensive in towns and cities, but can be limited in some remote areas. Internet access is available at internet cafes in major towns and cities.
Duty Free :
The following may be imported into Russia without customs duty: 200 cigarettes, 100 cigarillos, 50 cigars or 250g of tobacco products (over 18 years), 2 litres of alcohol (over 21 years), perfume for personal use, gifts up to the value of US$10,000. Tourists must complete a customs declaration form, to be retained until departure, allowing for the import of articles intended for personal use (including currency and valuables) which must be registered on the declaration form. Customs inspections occur. 250g of caviar per person may be exported, with a receipt proving it was purchased at a store licensed to sell it to foreigners and a licence from the Ministry of Economical Development. Any items or artwork that might have historical value, like icons, maps, coins or paintings, have to be registerd with the Ministry of Culture before departure, which usually involves a 100% customs duty fee.
Moscow Sheremetyevo International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 18 miles (29km) northwest of Moscow.
Time: Local time is GMT +3.
Contacts: Tel: +7 495 232 6565.
Transfer between terminals: Most international flights will arrive at Terminals D, E and F. Terminals B and C, about 15 miles (24km) away, serve domestic and charter flights. Public and Express buses, taxis and free airline shuttles are available between all five terminals. There is a walkway between Terminals D, E and F.
Getting to the city: There are several bus services, connecting each terminal to the nearby metro stations; from there, connections can be made to the city centre. Minibuses are also available.
Car rental: Car rental companies include Sixt and Hertz.
Airport Taxis: A taxi ride to the city centre takes around 30 minutes (traffic dependent). Taxi touts operate in front of the terminals and are to be avoided. Book a taxi from one of the official taxi company booths. It is advisable to prebook a taxi and be met on arrival.
Facilities: Once through check-in at Moscow Sheremetyevo airport, all terminals include business lounges, refreshment facilities, bureaux de change, restaurants, bars and duty-free shopping. For disabled passengers, wheelchair transfer from the aircraft to the terminal building should be arranged in advance.
Parking: Parking is available close to each of the terminals. Most offer free parking for the first five to 15 minutes.
Pulkovo International Airport
Location: The airport is situated 14 miles (23km) south of St Petersburg.
Time: Local time is GMT +3.
Contacts: Tel: +7 812 104 3450.
Getting to the city: Buses leave for Moskovskaya Metro Station from outside the terminal, from where metros go to the city centre. Passengers who are staying in a major hotel can usually arrange to be picked up.
Car rental: Hertz, Avis and Europcar, among other companies, are represented in the terminal.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are available outside the terminal. Be sure to agree on a price before leaving the airport as tourists are often overcharged.
Facilities: Facilities include a few duty-free shops, a bureau de change, snack bars, restaurants, a business centre, a tourism centre, baby care room, internet access and an ATM.
Parking: Short-term parking at P2 and P3 costs RUB 150 to RUB 200 per hour, while long-term parking at P4 is availble from RUB 450 per day.
Moscow Domodedovo International Airport
Location: 22 miles (35km) south of Moscow city centre
Time: Local time is GMT +3 (GMT +4 from the last Sunday in March to the last Sunday in September).
Contacts: Tel: +7 495 933 6666.
Getting to the city: A highway links Moscow city with the passenger terminal at the airport, making access by public transport, taxi or private car possible. There are trains linking the airport to Paveletsky Rail Terminal in Moscow city centre. The trains run every 30 to 60 minutes and the trip takes about 40 minutes. There are also express trains to Belorussky Rail Terminal via the Kursky and Kalanchevskaya stations. A coach service between the airport and the Domodedovskaya station on the Moscow Metro runs every 15 minutes and takes about 30 minutes.
Car rental: Car rental companies at the airport include Europcar, Hertz and Sixt.
Airport Taxis: There are share taxis between the Metro station and the airport, and the fare is 100 rubles. The official taxi operators are MV-Motors, Gorodskoe Taxi (City Taxi) and Formula Taxi.
Facilities: There are shops, cafés and restaurants in the Trade Centre on the 2nd floor of Domodedovo, and more cafés, bars and shops located on the 1st floor. There are postal, phone and e-mail facilities available in the airport, as well as currency exchange and wire transfer facilities. The airport also boasts a DVD movie theatre.
Parking: There is short- and long-term parking available at the airport. Airhotel customers can park in Lot 8 for a reduced rate per day, and take a shuttle to the terminal.
Koltsovo International Airport
Location: The airport is located about 15 miles (25km) from Ekaterinburg city centre.
Time: GMT+5 (GMT+6 from March to October).
Contacts: Tel: +7 343 224 2367.
Getting to the city: There are several ways to connect to the city from the airport. Bus 1 takes passengers to the central Ekaterinburg railway station (Sverdlovsk), and bus 67 connects to the downtown Airlines ticketing agency. Yellow minibus cabs operate between the airport and the railway station. There are numerous taxis available outside the terminal (negotiate fares before departure), or private car pick-ups can be booked fairly cheaply.
Car rental: Hertz and Europcar are represented at the airport.
Facilities: The airport has exchange bureaux, bars, a restaurant (in the adjacent hotel), fast-food outlets, a hairdresser, shops, public telephones and baggage storage facilities.
Parking: The airport has 790 short-term parking spaces and 300 long-term parking spaces. Parking is in front of the main terminal and costs RUB 50 per half hour up to RUB 1,000 per day. Long-term parking costs RUB 200-300 per day.
Departure tax: None.
Adler-Sochi International Airport
Location: The airport is located 19 miles (30km) from downtown Sochi.
Time: Local time is GMT +3
Contacts: Tel: +78622440088.
Getting to the city: The Aeroexpress train is the fastest way to get from the airport to Adler or Sochi. A number of Sochi Autotrans buses connect the airport with the city centre, Adler and the 'Rosa Khutor' Alpine Centre in Krasnaya Polyana. There is also a Skybus offering direct connection to accommodation at Gorki Gorod, Laura and Rosa Khutor resorts.
Car rental: Avis and Sochi Rent-A-Car offer car rental services at the airport.
Airport Taxis: Taxis are always available outside the airport. The official airport taxi provider offers a set rate according to the price list.
Facilities: Sochi International Airport offers cafes, restaurants, a post office, banks and currency exchange offices, baggage storage, a pharmacy, first aid and a baby care room.
Parking: Short-term parking is available. Parking is free for the first 15 minutes, RUB 150 per hour and RUB 1,000 per day. Daily and VIP parking is also available.
Vladivostok Airport, also known as Knevichi Airport.
Location: The airport is 31 miles (50km) outside Vladivostok.
Time: GMT + 11
Contacts: +011 7 (423) 230-68-90
Transfer between terminals: Terminals are within easy walking distance of each other.
Getting to the city: Bus: The airport is served by two buses that stop at the airport terminal square and then travel into Vladivostok. Bus 107 and 101 both travel to central Vladivostok. Fares are RUB 55.
Car rental: No major rental companies offer services at the airport. Passengers wishing to rent a car will need to organise a rental through their travel agent before flying to Vladivostok. Local drivers licenses are essential when hiring a car.
Airport Taxis: Taxis wait outside the terminal, but it is often difficult to find a good deal. A share-taxi costs RUB 500 to RUB 600 and private taxis cost between RUB 800 and RUB 1200. Be sure to agree on the price before leaving the airport.
Facilities: Bank, ATMs, currency exchange, luggage storage, medical centre, mother and child room, handicapped facilities, wifi, souvenir shops, newsstands, duty-free shops, a coffee shop and a restaurant are all available within the terminal.
Parking: Parking bays are located just outside the terminal.
Departure tax: None.
Irkutsk International Airport
Location: The airport is located five miles (8km) from downtown Irkutsk.
Parking: Parking at Irkutsk International Airport is free for the first 10 minutes.
The main holiday season for Russians and foreigners is during the warmest months of July and August, but it also rains a lot at this time. The best times to visit are May and June or September and October, avoiding most of the crowds and the rain. Winters are very cold and bitter, especially in Siberia, but are also beautiful. February usually has the worst weather: windy and extremely cold with very little snow.
Russian Tourism Authority: www.russia-travel.com
United States Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 728 5000.
British Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 956 7200.
Canadian Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 105 6000.
Australian Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 956 6070.
South African Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 540 1177.
Irish Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 937 5911.
New Zealand Embassy, Moscow: +7 495 956 3579.
Russian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 298
Foreign Embassies in Russia
Russian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7229 6412.
Russian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 4341.
Russian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 (0)2 6295 9033.
Russian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 (0)12 362 1337.
Russian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 (0)1 492 2048.
Russian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 (0)4 476 6113.
Russia Emergency Numbers
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