Your session will timeout due to inactivity, please choose to continue your session if you’d would like to continue.
Russia has let go of its turbulent past to embrace an exciting future, all the while enjoying a renewal of its rich history and cultural heritage. The land of the Tsars, Peter the Great and Ivan the Terrible is one of enormous diversity and vitality, coupled with the incredible Russian Revolution of 1917 that shook the world to its core.
Despite the visible effects of hardship and previous isolation from the rest of the world, travellers in Russia will encounter awe-inspiring monuments, great imperial cities and glittering cathedrals. Visitors will experience the magic of Tchaikovsky, the Kirov and Bolshoi Ballet, and marvel at priceless Russian religious icons and the unique style of onion-domed architecture.
While most westerners associate Russia with the great imperial centres of Moscow and beautiful St Petersburg, they are mere scratches 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 Within this impressive expanse lie natural wonders such as Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world; beautiful mountains, rivers and forests abundant with wildlife; and traditional villages scattered across the Siberian landscape.
Visitors exploring Russia won't be disappointed: its impressive museums, overwhelming sense of history, culture and unspoilt wilderness will leave one with a deep yearning to uncover more and its relative isolation has ensured that Russia retains its sense of mystery and enchantment.
Russia holds a wealth of sightseeing opportunities across all nine of its time zones, incorporating the largest forestland and freshwater supply in the world. It's little wonder that Russians refer to their country as the Motherland - it's an undeniably bountiful place.
The State Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg captures ancient to modern Russian history in the Winter Palace, a former residence of the tsars. The Moscow Kremlin is a wonder to behold while Red Square, Moscow's broad and bustling city square, is flanked by the famous Basil Cathedral. The Bolshoi Ballet Theatre, in neighbouring Theatre Square, is one of the most ornate theatres in the world and home to the world's oldest and most successful ballet company.
But there is more to see by way of both history and natural splendour, with Russia's immense forests becoming more dense and overwhelming the further east you go. The best way to take in the Russian countryside is via the Trans-Siberian Railway, winding southeast along the same route that once transported prisoners of Stalin's purges to gulag labour camps. Those in search of natural beauty should also consider travelling down to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Lake Baikal, the deepest and largest lake (by volume) in the world.
The Moscow Kremlin is a fortress surrounded by a thick red wall, intersped with towers built in the late 15th century. It consists of golden-domed churches, palaces and museums, along with offices, assembly halls and monuments.
Cathedral Square is the religious centre of Moscow and the historic heart of the Kremlin. The attractive Annunciation Cathedral contains beautifully painted murals and icons on the interior walls. The throne of Ivan the Terrible can be found in the Cathedral of the Assumption, whose richly-coloured interior is lined with the tombs of many Russian Orthodox leaders.
The Belfry of Ivan the Great is the tallest structure within the walls. At its foot lies one of the world's biggest bells which was broken from a fall in 1701, while nearby is one of the world's largest cannons, the Tsar Cannon.
The Armoury Palace is the richest and oldest museum, housing a staggering collection gathered over the years by the Church and Russian state. These include jewel-studded coronation capes; thrones encrusted with diamonds; royal coaches and sleighs; and the renowned jewelled Faberge eggs, each containing an exquisitely detailed miniature object of precious metal. The Diamond Fund Exhibition in the same building contains the 180-carat diamond given to Catherine the Great by Count Orlov.
Red Square is a dramatic cobbled square in the centre of Moscow. Originally the city's marketplace, the square also served as a public gathering place to celebrate festivals, listen to government announcements or witness executions. The Soviets turned it into a memorial, constructing Lenin's Mausoleum on one side wherein his cadaver is still open for public viewing. St Basil's Cathedral is the square's most well-known building, crowned by the bulbous multi-coloured domes for which it is so famous. The communist government destroyed several ancient buildings around Red Square, with the current Resurrection Gate and Chapel both replicas built in the 1990s. The name originally meant 'beautiful', referring to St Basil's Cathedral at the southern end. But the word changed to mean 'red' too, giving the square its present name.
St Basil's Cathedral is the most famous landmark in Russia, standing on the edge of Moscow's Red Square. Its striking design was commissioned by Ivan the Terrible to commemorate a victorious military campaign against the Tartar Mongols in 1552. It's said that Ivan was so overwhelmed by its beauty that he had the architect blinded to prevent any rival creations. St Basil's includes a central chapel surrounded by eight tower-like chapels, each crowned with a different coloured and uniquely-patterned onion-shaped dome. The church escaped demolition many times, with the Soviets eventually closing it and later turning it into a museum. The interior is a dimly lit maze of corridors and delicately decorated chapels, with a priceless 16th century screen shielding the inner sanctuary.
Moscow's oldest and most famous theatre, the Bolshoi is home to world-renowned opera and ballet companies. Rebuilt after a fire in 1856, the grand building is a masterpiece of Russian neoclassicism, including an eight-columned entrance porch topped by the horse-drawn chariot of Apollo. The glittering five-tiered interior is richly adorned with red velvet furnishings, ornate gold detailing and chandeliers, while the size of the auditorium makes it one of the largest theatres in the world. The Bolshoi Theatre has hosted some of the world's most celebrated premieres, such as Swan Lake, Spartacus and concerts by Wagner.
The Tretyakov Gallery houses some of the great masterpieces of traditional Russian art from before the Revolution and has the world's finest collection of Russian icons dating from the 11th to the 17th-century. The gallery's collection of paintings, graphics and sculptures covers Russian art from the 18th to the 20th century. The gallery was named after its founder, Pavel Tretyakov, an art collector who donated about 2,000 works of art from his private collection to the city of Moscow, forming the basis of the collection to which state acquisitions were later added. He also donated his own residence, which became the original site of the art gallery. Two separate buildings at different locations house the works selected for display.
At 656 foot-long (200m), the Winter Palace is the biggest and most lavishly decorated in the city. Once the official residence of the tsars, Catherine the Great added the Small and Large Hermitages as a sanctuary for herself and her private art collection. The Hermitage Museum comprises a stately complex of buildings strung along the embankment, with the Winter Palace at its heart. Its collection has grown to contain more than three million pieces, its three floors covering from ancient times and modern art to works by the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. A rich interior is bedecked with elaborate mosaics, alongside white marble staircases, golden ceilings and crystal chandeliers.
Palace Square contains the picturesque Baroque buildings of the Winter Palace and Hermitage Museum, while standing opposite are the Classical yellow and white former General Staff buildings of the Russian army. The focal point is the Alexander Column, a tall monolith of red granite topped by the statue of an angel and a cross. Palace Square has been the site of numerous political protests, most notably the demonstrations of Bloody Sunday in 1905 that sparked the Russian Revolution. Today, the square is filled with markets and outdoor cafes, offering beautiful views of the Admiralty's golden spire and the dome of St Isaac's Cathedral across the vast stone paving.
Almost three miles (5km) long, Nevsky Prospekt is one of the best-known streets in Russia and the main thoroughfare of St Petersburg. It starts at the gilded spire of the Admiralty Building, passing both the Moscow Railway Station and the Alexander Nevsky Monastery. The hub of St Petersburg for centuries, it cuts through the most important segment of the city. Intersected by rivers and canals, the most beautiful part of the avenue surrounds the Griboyedov Canal. The grand Kazan Cathedral catches the eye, as does the breathtaking onion domes of the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood. Modelled on St Basil's in Moscow it's adorned with exquisite mosaic panels. Aside from the many places of worship, the street also boasts St Petersburg's finest shops and restaurants.
The golden dome of St Isaac's Cathedral dominates the skyline of St Petersburg, with the colonnade around the cupola offering superb panoramic views over the city. Commissioned by Tsar Alexander I to be a magnificent imperial cathedral, the ensuing masterpiece was of grandiose proportions which took more than 40 years to build. It was decorated in the most extravagant manner, incorporating many different kinds of stone and marble work. The Russian Classic exterior encloses a splendid interior adorned with red granite columns, exquisite mosaics and painted ceilings, along with sculptures, frescoes and a beautiful stained-glass window. The cathedral can accommodate 14,000 worshippers, and no photography or filming is allowed.
Situated on a small island across the river from the Hermitage Museum, the Peter and Paul Fortress is the oldest surviving building in St Petersburg. Planned as a defence against possible attacks from Sweden, the six corner bastions were turned into cells for political prisoners such as Leon Trotsky and Maxim Gorky. Other buildings in the fortress house the City History Museum and the Mint. Also enclosed within the imposing walls is the Cathedral of St Peter and St Paul, its distinctive golden needle-like spire visible throughout the city. The first church in the city to be built from stone, it has a richly decorated interior containing the tombs of every Russian Emperor since Peter the Great.
Historically, Poklonnaya Hill was a spot for Westerners to pay homage to Moscow before entering. Today, it's a beacon to Russia's military strength, having withstood invasions by both Napoleon and Hitler. Atop the hill is Victory Park, providing a scenic walk and contains a memorial mosque and synagogue for victims of the war, and an open air museum dedicated to the victory over Napoleon. There are many tanks and other wartime vehicles on display in Victory Park, along with several impressive monuments and statues. History buffs will love exploring the many attractions of Poklonnaya Hill and Victory Park, and even those not interested in military history will enjoy the art and the views.
After Napoleon retreated from Russia, Tsar Alexander I declared that a cathedral be built in remembrance of the soldiers who had died defending Mother Russia. The original cathedral took more than 40 years to build. Decades later the cathedral was demolished by Stalin to make way for the colossal Palace of the Soviets, which was never actually built. The Cathedral of Christ the Saviour was rebuilt again between 1990 and 2000 as a faithful duplicate of the original, currently serving as one of the largest and tallest Orthodox Churches in the world. The contemporary Russian artwork, statues and memorials to the Russian tsars, as well as a small indoor museum, are well worth a look.
The battle of Borodino is regarded as the bloodiest of the Napoleonic battles, seeing over 70,000 casualties in a single day and leading Napoleon to brand the Russians 'invincible'. The Borodino Panorama Museum was inaugurated in 1960, with a collection of wartime memorabilia on one level and the enormous panorama on another. The panorama isn't an outdoor view but a 360 degree painting by Franz Roubaud depicting a crucial moment in the battle itself. The mural is 115 meters long and 15 meters high. The museum will delight military history buffs, but should also impress the uninitiated. Those with smartphones can download the museum's interesting audio guide, helped along by free wifi.
Moscow's metro stations amount to the most beautiful public transport facilities in the world. Visitors should not miss taking a ride on this glorious underground rail system, each station boasting a distinct aesthetic, variously adorned with Realist artworks, chandeliers, ornate pillars and marble floors. They are more akin to palaces or five-star hotel lobbies than functional spaces, with the depth of the elevators also astounding. Most travellers in Moscow will encounter the metro system for practical reasons, but many will find that they choose to spend more time than necessary underground. There are nearly 200 stations but some of the most beautiful and ornate are Kievskaya, Dostoyevskaya and Prospekt Mira, along with Mayakovskaya and Ploshchad Revolyutsii.
Also known as Agursky, the Agura Waterfalls are one of the most famous tourist attractions in Sochi. Located just outside the city, these majestic waterfalls cascade from a height of 98 feet (30m) and are a popular stop off along hiking trails that wind through the forest along the Agura Ravine in the Sochi National Park. At the Eagle's Rocks, hikers can enjoy the view of the crystal clear waterfalls crashing down to the oval pool below and admire the panoramic views over the city and Black Sea. Swimming is allowed and a very popular activity in the warmer months. It is possible to organise tours to the waterfalls, but also easy to seek them out independently.
Matsesta is a micro-district in Sochi, on the Black Sea coast, primarily renowned as a health resort. Matsesta, meaning 'fiery water', has become the city's most renowned health spa district, harnessing the powers of the hot sulphur springs that have become synonymous with Sochi. The water from the hot springs naturally contains more than 27 types of minerals and is used to treat people with respiratory and cardiac problems, though it is also perfect for simple relaxation. Featuring a number of different spa facilities which all have bathing rooms, massage tables and inhalation cubicles, Matsesta Spa is a major tourist attraction and a big draw card for travellers to the region.
Located just outside of Sochi, the small village of Dagomys is a popular holiday resort on the Black Sea. The former haunt of Russian nobility in the 19th century, the holiday residence of Tsar Nicholas II still exists as a hotel. The scenic village boasts lovely pebble beaches set against the dramatic backdrop of the Caucasus Mountains and nearby mineral springs of Matsesta. Dagomys is also a paradise for outdoor activities, including hiking and bird-watching in the Dendrarium Botanical Gardens. Summers in Dagomys are noticeably cooler than in other coastal areas too, thanks to mountain air currents. While Dagomys is not as lively as nearby Sochi, the resort's quiet and relaxing atmosphere makes for a great weekend getaway.
One of the more popular ski resorts in the Caucasus, Dombai is a scenic mountain valley located at the confluence of three rivers, 37 miles (60km) from the Black Sea coast. Famous for its pure air, Dombai is frequented mostly by Russian holidaymakers, lending it a unique and lively atmosphere and preserving the town's authentic character. The facilities at Dombai are old and fairly worn, but there is a tourist complex comprising hotels and a recreation centre. Lifts and ski trackers operate on a pay-as-you-go riding system, serving varied routes catering for all levels of skiers. The gentle slopes near the top of the mountain are better suited to beginners, as the incline becomes very steep toward the bottom.
The laidback seaside resort of Gelendzhik has been around for several millennia, founded as a Greek outpost around 64 BC. The town is set along a curving bay with calm pebble beaches ideal for swimming and watersports, and land-based activities like horseback riding, quad biking and hiking. But Gelendzhik is best known for its spa and waterparks, and there is also a cable car line specially built for tourists to take in the views from atop the mountain. A new airport opened in 2010, making it easy to get to Gelendzhik from Moscow and St Petersburg.
Skiers and snowboarders in Krasnaya Polyana can enjoy magnificent panoramic views of the West Caucasus. Located just 25 miles (40km) from Sochi and the Black Sea coast, the resort boasts well-groomed pistes and good après-ski nightlife. It owes much of its popularity to excellent heliskiing opportunities, as well as good runs for beginners. The resort underwent massive renovations ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, with facilities including the Russian National Sliding Centre, Psekhako Ridge and Roza Khutor Alpine Resort, as well as Alpika Service Mountain Resort and Russian National Ski-jumping Centre.
Lying about 19 miles (31km) outside St Petersburg, the Pavlovsk Palace is somewhat more restrained than its surrounding contemporaries. Built in 1780 by the future emperor Paul I and designed by a Scottish architect, it included landscaped gardens in the British style. Turned into a museum following the Russian Revolution, it was nearly destroyed in the Second World War. But thankfully, its old furnishings and artwork have been tracked down and beautifully restored. Today, the palace displays rooms exactly as they were when occupied by the Russian royalty. The extensive grounds are also beautifully kept and are available to visitors for strolling and picnicking.
Tsarskoe Selo is a former Romanov summer residence located about 15 miles (25km) outside of St Petersburg. Originally a gift from Peter the Great to his wife, it was developed by different emperors and empresses through the ensuing years. The Baroque Catherine Palace and the neoclassical Alexander Palace are the main buildings on the estate, the former houses the famous Amber Room panelled entirely with pieces of amber and filled with amber artwork. The palace grounds are extensive and contain many surprising small buildings, such as the Chinese Village and the Cameron Gallery, housing varied temporary exhibitions. It's an extremely popular spot in the summer months so it's a good idea to arrive early.
The main holiday season for Russians and foreigners is during the warmest months of July and August, but it also rains a lot during 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 - it's windy and extremely cold with very little snow.
The official currency is the Rouble (RUB), which is divided into 100 kopeks. Most major international credit cards are accepted in larger establishments. Currency can be changed at banks, bureaux de change and hotels, with ATMs widely available in major cities. It's hard to get roubles outside Russia and travellers are advised to take currency in good condition to exchange once there.
Russian is the official language. Some people speak English, French or German.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin plugs are standard.
US nationals: United States citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is required.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is required.
CA nationals: Canadian citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is required.
AU nationals: Australian citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. A visa is required. Those passengers with an APEC Business Travel Card valid for travel to 'RUS' if traveling on business do not require a visa.
ZA nationals: South Africans must have a passport valid on arrival. No visa is required for a maximum of 90 days.
IR nationals: Irish nationals require a passport valid on arrival. A visa is required.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals require a passport valid on arrival. A visa is required. Those passengers with APEC Business Travel Card for travel to 'RUS' if traveling on business do not require a visa.
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.
Drinking water should be treated, with bottled water readily available. Local state medical facilities in cities outside the main urban hubs are of a low standard, 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.
Though Russia is generally a safe country in which to travel, visitors should be vigilant and watch out for pickpockets, particularly on the metro and buses. Moreover, travellers must insist on seeing official identification from police officers. Political protests often end in violence and visitors are advised to avoid all street demonstrations and political gatherings.
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's a legal requirement for visitors to carry passports for identification, with copies not being sufficient. Russia has a poor LGBT rights record, and same-sex couples should exercise caution.
Business in Russia is conducted in a fashion similar to Western countries, but with some subtle differences. Russians are business-minded so it's 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's advisable to print a Cyrillic translation of your details on the alternate side. Business hours are generally from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for Russia is +7. Hotels, cafes and restaurants offering free wifi are widely available. As international roaming costs can be high, purchasing a local prepaid SIM card can be a cheaper option.
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.
Additionally, 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 Economic Development. Any items or artwork that might have historical value, like icons, maps, coins or paintings, have to be registered with the Ministry of Culture before departure, which usually involves a 100% customs duty fee.
Russian Tourism Authority: +7 495 623 7978 or www.russia-travel.com
Russian Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 939 8907.
Russian Embassy, London, United Kingdom: +44 20 7229 6412.
Russian Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 235 4341.
Russian Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6295 9033.
Russian Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 362 1337.
Russian Embassy, Dublin, Ireland: +353 1 492 2048.
Russian Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 476 6113.
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.
Located 120 miles (193km) from Moscow, Yasnaya Polyana is the estate where Leo Tolstoy was born in 1828. In 1921, the property became a memorial to the celebrated author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina, containing a museum with his personal effects and an extensive library. Nearly a century later, the museum is still run by Tolstoy's descendants. Tolstoy spent 60 years living at Yasnaya Polyana with his family, and all of his 13 children were born there. He founded a working farm and children's school on the estate, and is buried in an area called the Forest of the Old Order.
Consisting of a circuit of historic cities northeast of Moscow, the Golden Ring is a popular tourist route for travellers in Russia. The cities are popular for their distinctive architecture and tradition of handmade craftsmanship, offering tourists a good opportunity to buy beautiful Russian souvenirs. The cities are fairly similar so it isn't necessary to visit them all, with most travellers choosing to see only four or five. But one that shouldn't be missed is Sergiev Posad, the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church and home to the impressive Sergiev Posad Monastery. Suzdal is another highlight on any Golden Ring tour, home of the St Euthymius Monastery and the enormous Spaso-Evfimiev Monastery, which houses 10 museums and is nearly as impressive as St Basil's in Moscow.
A museum since 1917, the Arkhangelskoye Estate was built in 1703 and features classical and neo-classical design elements. The estate consists of the main palace, the smaller Caprice and a church, as well as a theatre. Beautifully decorated interiors are augmented by an impressive art collection. Unlike many other old aristocratic Russian estates, Arkhangelskoye is in very good condition as special, dedicated efforts have been made in recent years to ensure its upkeep. In the summer and early autumn, all of the buildings are open for viewing and visitors bring picnics to enjoy in the gardens. There are also usually several music concerts hosted by the estate throughout the summer months.
Your session will timeout due to inactivity, please choose to continue your session if you’d would like to continue.
Your session has timed out due to inactivity.