Is Moscow or Saint Petersburg safer?
15 helpful tips for your first vacation in Russia
Russia is a country with a fascinating history and culture. Both nature lovers and city lovers will get their money's worth here. But many still wonder whether a vacation in Russia is dangerous. The answer to this question is clearly no, but you need a sense of adventure here.
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A trip to Russia is always an experience but one that you should be well prepared for. Especially if you are on holiday in Russia for the first time and still know far too little about the country and its people, it is worth reading on. We share helpful Russia vacation tips, what to consider locally and everything you need to know to enter Russia.
1. The visa for vacation in Russia
Before you can set off, you need a Russia vacation visa. To get a visa, you can either hire an agency or you can do it yourself and save a bit of money.
Everyone who applies for a tourist visa needs an invitation, which you can either get from your hotel for free or for a small fee. If you want to be a little more flexible when planning your trip, you can “buy” such an invitation for a fee from various online agencies such as waytorussia, a great alternative for those who do not want to book a package tour through a travel agency.
Once you have this invitation, you can apply for your visa at the Russian consulate. Allow yourself enough advance notice and be very accurate when filling out the documents; if you make mistakes here, you may have to start all over again.
2. Fly to and within Russia
Most newcomers to Russia will likely arrive in Moscow by plane. When entering Moscow, the airport situation is unfortunately a bit confusing, as there are three international airports: Domodedovo, Sheremetyevo and Vnukowo. When flying to Russia, it is important to note which airport you are landing at. All three can be reached by train or marshrutka from the city center.
St. Petersburg Airport can also be reached by marshrutka or public buses. This also applies to the Sochi airport.
If you want to fly within Russia, it is best to choose an airline that belongs to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) such as Aeroflot and UTAir and, for security reasons, choose a Class 1 airport.
You can get tickets online or at various ticket offices, an aviakassa - these are useful for tickets that you cannot book from abroad. When booking, you must always have your passport and visa with you.
3. Entry requirements Russia
When entering Russia, probably at the airport, you have to fill out a migration form again, in which some data must be entered. One side of it should be given on arrival, the other should be kept safe until departure - otherwise problems can arise on the way, at the latest when leaving the country.
4. Registration in the accommodation
As soon as you step on Russian soil, you have to register within seven days. You will receive a document from the tour operator or your accommodation, which you should always have with you, just like your passport. In every accommodation and every city you have to register again, otherwise you may have to pay a fine. Anyone who leaves the planned travel route, which is specified in the visa, must also register.
Hotels or hostels will usually help you with the registration free of charge. Anyone staying in a homestay or rental apartment should contact the landlord beforehand or ask a local to do the registration on your behalf at the post office.
In addition, you should always have your passport with you when on holiday in Russia - if you are checked by the police on the way and caught without it, it can be uncomfortable.
5. Keep expensive items in a safe place
In principle, the centers of Moscow are considered themselves and a trip to St. Petersburg is no longer dangerous, but there are pickpockets everywhere. You should always stow your passport, cameras and other valuables safely. It is best to leave expensive items that you do not need in the hotel safe or at home.
Especially those who travel long distances with the Trans-Siberian Railway should minimize themselves with their luggage anyway and prefer not to take valuables with them.
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The Russian currency is the ruble, also abbreviated as “p” in Russian. Each ruble has 100 kopeks like ours for cents. Often prices are listed in euros or dollars, with your total bill usually being in rubles.
If you go to Russia, you will get the best exchange rate for US dollars or euros. You should make sure that your banknotes are in very good condition, otherwise the banks may not accept them. Make absolutely sure that you only use official banks or exchange offices, otherwise you can quickly be ripped off.
Credit cards are widely accepted in big cities and you can find ATMs and banks everywhere except in small towns. As in many other countries, travelers' checks are no longer welcome and it will be difficult to exchange them.
7. Know the dangerous neighborhoods
Even if most cities in Russia are considered to be safe, it is important to be careful. Because in every city there are areas that you should avoid as a tourist. Especially outside the center and in the evening you should exercise caution. If in doubt, ask local friends or hotel staff for advice.
8. Difficulty traveling in Russia
Unfortunately, racism and anti-Semitism are still a problem in Russia, even if a lot has happened in recent years. Visitors with African and Asian origins in particular are sometimes welcomed in a less than friendly manner. On days like Hitler's birthday on April 20th, you should be extra vigilant when you're out and about.
Even homosexuals can still have a hard time traveling to Russia. Even if homosexuality is not illegal, it is frowned upon and must not be shown openly. There is now a more or less open LGBT scene in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but homosexual travelers should still exercise caution.
9. Be careful in traffic
In the big Russian cities, one often has the feeling that nobody knows exactly what is actually going on. As a pedestrian you should be especially careful. Drivers like to ignore the traffic lights or the zebra crossing. One of our Moscow travel tips: The best thing to do is to inconspicuously cling to the heels of a local when crossing the street - they usually know how to do it!
10. Public transport
Especially in Moscow and Saint Petersburg you are very well connected with the metro, but you can also get from A to B in smaller cities with it - especially outside of rush hour.
You can usually get taxis by phone, now rarely on the side of the road. You should definitely negotiate the price beforehand and the following applies: the better your Russian, the lower the price. Popular apps like Gett and Yandex Taxi make it easier for you to order a taxi these days, and it's cheaper too.
11. Through the city in the marshrutka
In addition to public transportation such as taxis, ferries, and the subway in large cities, there are also private minibuses that travel various routes. The so-called marshrutki are in principle reliable, even if they often don't look like that. Without knowledge of Russian, however, it is quite difficult to find out which line is going where. The price varies depending on the route, normal trips in the city cost about the same as in public transport.
In any case, it is cheaper to take a marshrutka than a taxi and there is also a free cultural experience. Especially if you want to get to the airport or outside the city center, they are a cheap and practical alternative, as you save yourself having to change trains with the subway or buses.
12. Hitchhiking the night
Hitchhiking is not uncommon in Russia and a popular alternative for locals to get around the city, especially at night. The thumb is not stuck out here, but you stand waving at the roadside. It is common to give the driver fuel money comparable to the price of a bus ticket.
Without knowledge of Russian and some experience in Russia, hitchhiking is not that easy and, especially as a solo traveler or at night, not entirely safe. Then better take a taxi!
13. International health insurance & vaccinations
You do not need any special vaccinations for a vacation in Russia, but standard vaccinations such as tetanus, measles, polio, etc. are recommended.
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Good foreign health insurance is also important, because health and emergency care is not cheap in Russia. In any case, you should also be covered for an evacuation by plane, just in case.
Health care in Russia varies greatly. You can find good clinics in larger cities, and Moscow and Saint Petersburg often have the best facilities with international standards. Such a standard goes hand in hand with international prices - another reason to have good health insurance.
14. Be careful with tap water
It is better to stay away from tap water in Russia. Swallowing a bit of water when showering or brushing your teeth shouldn't be a problem, but it's better to buy bottled water in the supermarket for drinking. The locals do the same.
One of our Russia travel tips: It is best to avoid plastic bottles altogether and rather bring a filter or cleaning tablets and your own bottle with you. You can then safely drink the purified water from the tap and not only save money, but also protect the environment.
15. Russian specialties
Many supermarkets in Russia are open longer than in Austria or Germany - many are open 24 hours a day! The offer is rather limited, especially in the smaller branches. In addition, some products such as milk, cheese and ham are hardly comparable in taste with those in Central Europe.
But there are plenty of Russian specialties that you should definitely try. Blini or borscht, a beetroot soup, are among the national dishes as well as pelmeni, a dumpling filled with minced meat. This is so popular that this Russian version of the ravioli has even been given a huge monument in Ischwesk.
Traveling to Russia just to drink vodka? Heard everything and vodka is part of life here. The so-called most honest drink in the world must never be mixed, as is often the case with us. The best thing to do is to eat finger food so that you don't fall off your stool. This is especially important on social occasions, because refusing vodka is considered extremely impolite.
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