Information & Facts
By some measure the largest country in the world, Russia holds a
wealth of sightseeing opportunities across all 11 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 is, undeniably, one bountiful place.
Seeing Russia in all her glory would be a mighty, and
Most visitors will stop first at the popular cities of the
north-west, Moscow and St Petersburg - notable for the roles they
played in the Napoleonic Wars and World War II. Moscow was the site
of the bloodiest battle Napoleon described as ever having seen
while St Petersburg was witness to both the Russian Revolution of
the 1700s and the Russian Civil War of the 1900s. Thus both cities
boast an abundance of ornate war memorials, museums and sites
dedicated to their cataclysmic history.
In St Petersburg, the State Hermitage Museum captures ancient to
modern Russian history in the six buildings which make up the
Winter Palace - the former residence of the tsars. The Moscow
Kremlin is a citadel complex, the most popular of the Kremlin
buildings; alongside it is Red Square, Moscow's broad and bustling
city square adorned by the famous Basil Cathedral. The Bolshoi
Ballet Theatre, in neighbouring Theatre Square, is one of the most
ornate theatres in the world and is home to the world's oldest and
most successful ballet company. Russian architecture is an
attraction unto itself and the cathedrals of Moscow in particular,
prove a popular marvel for tourists the world over.
There is, however, more to see in the west by way of both
history and natural splendour. Russia is jokingly referred to as
the 'lungs of Europe' due to the expansive forestland, which
absorbs 15% of the world's carbon dioxide. As you progress east,
the forest becomes more dense and overwhelming.
The best way to take in the Russian countryside is by train, as
the trans-Siberian Railway winds south-east from Moscow on the same
route that once transported prisoners of Stalin's Purges to Gulag
labour camps. Travel down to Lake Baikal, the deepest and largest
lake (by volume) in the world and a UNESCO World Heritage Site,
where there are several beautiful resorts along the lakeside.
Russian business is conducted in a fashion similar to Western
countries with subtle differences. Russians are business-minded so
it is not necessary to form personal relations 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 get a Russian translation of your details on the
alternate side. Business hours are generally from 9am to 6pm from
Monday to Friday.
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.
The international access code for Russia is +7. When calling
Russia from abroad, the initial zero on the area code must not be
omitted. The outgoing code is 8 followed by 10 (a second tone
should sound after 8), followed by the relevant country code (e.g.
81044 for the United Kingdom). City/area codes are in use, e.g. 495
for Moscow and 812 for St. Petersburg. 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 phones
work in most large towns and cities. There are numerous local
operators using GSM 900/1800 networks, each covering relatively
small areas. Internet access is available at Internet cafes
throughout the major towns and cities.
Photography of anything to do with the military, strategic
sites, or the airport, is prohibited. It is impolite to refuse
alcohol, food and gifts. 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.
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.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 50Hz. Round two-pin
plugs are standard.
Travellers to Russia are advised to have up-to-date vaccinations
for hepatitis A, tuberculosis and typhoid fever (long-term
travellers), as well as medications for travellers' diarrhoea.
There is also a risk of tick-borne encephalitis in rural and wooded
areas, particularly in the Ural and Siberian regions. HIV/AIDS is
on the increase. Measles outbreaks occur. 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. There have been outbreaks
of bird flu in a number of regions of Russia, including around
Moscow, but there have been no reports of human infection.
Travellers are advised to avoid contact with domestic, caged and
wild birds and ensure that all poultry and egg dishes are well
Russian is the official language. Some people speak
English, French or German.
The official currency is the Rouble (RUB), which is divided into
100 kopeks. Most major credit cards, like Visa and Mastercard are
accepted in the larger hotels and at places that deal with foreign
tourists. Currency can be changed at banks, currency exchange
booths and hotels. Travellers cheques are difficult and expensive
to cash, but if necessary it is advised to take them in US Dollars
or Euro. ATMs are widely available in major cities. It is hard to
get rubles outside Russia and travellers are advised to take good
condition US dollars or Euro notes to change once there. It is
illegal to pay for goods or services in hard currency, though it is
Valid visas in expired passports or other expired travel
documents are not accepted. Visitors must carry ID at all times
whilst in Russia; a photocopy of your passport and visa will
suffice. An Immigrant Card will be issued on board the aircraft or
on arrival. All visitors staying for longer than three days must
register with the local police upon arrival; if staying in a hotel,
the hotel will arrange this. 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.
Travellers are advised against all travel to Chechnya,
Ingushetia and Dagestan because of the security situation in the
North Caucasus, including the regions of Budyonnovsky, Levokumsky,
Neftekumsky, Stepnovsky and Kurskoy. Travellers are advised against
all but essential travel to North Ossetia, Karachai-Cherkessia and
Kabardino-Balkaria (including the Elbrus area) as terrorism and
kidnapping in these regions persist. Between April and August 2008,
there was a series of explosions in and around Sochi. There is a
high risk of domestic terrorism throughout Russia, particularly in
Moscow and North Caucasus, with suicide bombings and explosions in
public areas and on public transport, and hostage-taking is a
serious threat. Visitors are advised to be vigilant and to watch
out for pickpockets and street crime. There has been an increase in
crime, specifically targeting tourists, in St Petersburg and
visitors are advised to be cautious on the metro and buses, and
should insist on seeing official ID from police officers. Political
protests often end in violence and detention; visitors are advised
to avoid all demonstrations.
Hotel bills in the large Russian cities include a 10 to 15%
service charge; otherwise 10% is usual. If a service charge hasn't
been added at a restaurant, a 10% tip is expected. City Guides and
their drivers also expect a small tip and tipping in bars and
nightclubs is common.