With its vast size and distinctive historical and cultural features, Russia has much to offer to tourists. However, traveling to Russia requires some work. Give yourself at least a month to arrange for the appropriate visa and make your travel arrangements. You can reach Moscow or St Petersburg from numerous locations by plane, train, or bus.
Method1: Getting Your Travel Documents
1 Make sure your passport is valid 6+ months past your travel dates. For example, if you plan to travel in Russia from June 15-30, 2019, your passport must be valid through at least December 30, 2019. Otherwise, you may be unable to get a visa or, even if you do manage to get one, be denied entry when you get to Russia.
- To renew a U.S. passport by mail, you should start the process at least 9 months before its expiration date. Expedited, in-person options are available, but they are also much more costly.
Unfortunately, Russia’s visa system is stringent, complex, and prone to abrupt changes. Always give yourself at least 1 month to get a Russian visa, if not longer.
- Fortunately, you can often find the necessary application forms and submit them online through the Russian embassy’s web portal. For instance, U.S. citizens can visit https://washington.mid.ru/en/consular-services/citizens-usa/.
- Russia offers 7 types of visas, including tourist, student, and commercial (business) visas.
- You must have a visa to visit Russia as a U.S. national, unless you are visiting a port for less than 72 hours as part of a cruise ship tour group.
- For instance, if you’ve booked a stay at a Moscow hotel as part of your trip, the hotel likely can provide you with a sponsorship invitation.
- Even if you book accommodations through a third-party travel site, you can usually find information on getting a sponsorship invitation.
- If you travel to areas not on your listed itinerary, it’s possible that you may be arrested, detained, and/or deported.
- Should your travel plans change, it’s best to update your visa application, or even start a new application.
Get a valid driver’s license and international driving permit if needed. Most travelers to Russia rely on planes, trains, buses, and hired vehicles to get to and around the country. If you plan to drive, though, make sure you have a valid license. Otherwise, you may be subject to being detained or even deported.
- Valid U.S. state driver’s licenses are accepted in Russia. To be safe, though, make sure your license expiration date is at least 6 months in the future.
- Additionally, you should also get an international driving permit, which simply makes your existing license more readily accepted outside the country.
Method2: Choosing Your Travel Method
- Numerous national and international airlines offer flights to and from these 2 Russian cities.
- The major Russian airlines are Aeroflot, S7, Transaero, and VIM-AVIA.
2 Ride a train from major European cities for more travel options.
You can reach Moscow or St Petersburg by rail from most major European cities in roughly 16-36 hours, depending on your starting point. Russian Railways doesn’t accept the Eurail pass that makes traveling through Europe easy, so you’ll have to book separately to complete your trip into Russia.
- You can book tickets for Russian Railways from travel agents or online.
- If you’re coming from Asia, you can start in Beijing and take the famed Trans-Siberian Railway to Moscow—but keep in mind it takes about 6 days!
- For your convenience and safety, though, you should, if possible, get a visa even when travelling to Russia by cruise ship.
- As with train tickets, you can buy bus tickets from travel agents or online.
Method3: Preparing for Your Journey1 Practice basic Russian phrases to reduce the language barrier. Even in tourist areas or major metropolitan centers, Russians usually prefer to (or even insist on) communicating in Russian. While many Russians study English in school, for instance, you’re not as likely to find eager English speakers as you may be in many European nations.
2 Pack clothing that suits the climate and the culture. As the largest country on earth, Russia has a wide climate variation—it’s not brutal winter weather everywhere all the time! Check climate data on your intended destinations so you don’t end up packing winter gear if you’re visiting Sochi in June, for example.
- Some key words/phrases include: “hello”: здравствуйте (zdrAH-stvy-stye); “goodbye”: до свидания (da svee-dAHn-ya); “thank you”: спасибо (spAH-see-ba); “my name is …”: меня зовут … (minYA za-vOOt …); “Do you speak English?”: вы говорите по-английски (vy ga-va-rEE-tye pa-angl-EE-skee)?
3 Convert your cash into roubles beforehand to get a better rate. While credit and debit cards are widely used in Russian cities and tourist areas, it’s helpful to have a supply of cash for small purchases and tipping. You’ll nearly always get a better exchange rate by converting your local currency into Russian roubles before you leave.
- If you’re traveling beyond major metropolitan centers, and especially if you’re visiting any religious sites, be prepared to dress modestly. When visiting a Russian Orthodox church, for example, women should have their hair, shoulders, and knees covered, and men should wear nice trousers and a collared shirt.4 Visit Russian ports by cruise ship for visa-free travel. For nearly all international tourists, this is the only visa-free option for legally travelling to Russia. Passengers on cruise ships can dock for up to 72 hours in a Russian port without visas, and can venture ashore as part of approved tour groups.
4 Check any travel alerts provided by your home government. Currently, the U.S. State Department lists Russia as a Level 2 alert (“increased caution”) on a scale of 1-4. This means Russia as a whole isn’t considered as safe as some areas of Europe and Asia, but you’ll most likely not run into any problems.
- Because ATMs are widespread throughout Russia, you don’t need to carry around huge sums of cash with you. It’s probably sufficient to exchange about $100-$500 USD for roubles, depending on your stay.
- Contact your bank and credit card providers to make sure your cards will work in Russia.
- When using an ATM in Russia, expect to pay fees to both your bank and the Russian bank.
- However, the U.S. State Department strongly advises against travel to certain areas of Russia, especially the North Caucasus (including Chechnya) and Crimea regions.
- Russia is at Level 2 due to the risk of “terrorism, harassment, and the arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
Method4: Deciding Where to Visit1 Visit both Moscow and St Petersburg for must-see experiences. Your journey to Russia will almost certainly begin in one of these cities, and it’s worthwhile to spend multiple days in both of them. A trip to Russia would feel incomplete if you didn’t visit both cities!
2 Go where Russians like to travel in Sochi and Lake Baikal. Sochi, located along the Black Sea, is Russia’s most famous summer resort destination. Also, as indicated by its hosting of the 2014 Winter Olympics, its a great winter travel destination as well—you can ski in the mountains but enjoy temperate weather near the water!
- Moscow is a bit like Russia’s New York, Los Angeles, and Washington DC all put together—it’s a political, economic, and cultural mega-metropolis. Check out the Kremlin and Red Square, enjoy the nightlife, and do some shopping—but be ready for the expensive prices!
- St Petersburg has the most “European” feel of any major Russian city. It’s full of wonderful architecture, great museums, extensive theater options, and other historical and cultural attractions.
3 Check out Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East. This burgeoning travel destination is some 4,000 mi (6,400 km) from Moscow and has a picturesque appeal that reminds some visitors of San Francisco. The city blends European and Asian influences with a distinctly Russian flair.
4Head off the beaten path to other great destinations. Once you’ve done the “must-sees” in Moscow and St Petersburg, why not spend some time in places people back home probably haven’t heard of? Consider the following options:
- Kazan. Located along the Volga River, this city blends Christian and Muslim traditions and a range of other cultural influences.
- The Golden Ring. This refers to a cluster of villages, not far from Moscow, that boast a stunning array of medieval and old-world architecture and history.
- Kizhi Island. Located on Lake Onega, this small island is most famous for its amazing wooden churches and other architectural wonders, some of which are over 600 years old.