Holidays and tours to Russia – 4 key things to consider
As Russian borders have begun to re-open from August 2020, we thought that this is an excellent time to provide answers to some common questions that come our way regarding travel to Russia.
Russia, the largest country in the world, is a truly extraordinary travel destination. With a deeply fascinating history, unparalleled cathedrals and museums, incredible literature, unique food and culture as well as plenty of untouched, pristine nature, it should easily be on every traveller’s bucket list.
However, due to its visa requirements and unfamiliarity, aided by the fact that the country was inaccessible to foreigners for much of the 20th century, many people still feel unsure about organising a visit to this incredible country. Below are a few key questions and answers that will hopefully aid you in your travel plans.
Although Russia has been hit hard by the coronavirus, life is slowly returning to normal. As such, borders are beginning to open to nationals from other countries on a reciprocal basis. From the 1st of August 2020, borders are open between Russia and the UK, Turkey and Tanzania, although all foreign visitors to Russia will need to bring proof of a negative Coronavirus test made within the last 72 hours before arrival or alternatively pay for a test upon arrival. Russia is discussing opening borders with 30 other nations as well – stay updated, for example, on the Russian Embassy page in the UK.
Also see our Travel Advice for more info on travelling in these unusual times.
Besides the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok, which allows you to see practically the full length of this giant country, the best way to visit Russia is on a tour. It doesn’t matter so much whether you join a group tour or follow an itinerary independently – what matters is that someone has thought it all through for you and has made all of the bookings and necessary preparations (such as your visa) in advance, allowing you to just relax and enjoy your holiday.
The fact is, Russia is not an easy country to navigate if you are a foreigner and have limited understanding of the language, alphabet or culture. Therefore, following a pre-made itinerary with practical tips will make the experience much smoother and hassle-free. For some examples, please see our selection of pre-made holiday itineraries and tours to Russia.
How many days you should spend in Russia depends mostly on what you wish to see. If you’re happy to just explore the stunning St Petersburg for a few days, the visa free ferry trip from Helsinki is one of the easiest ways to visit Russia – see for example our Glorious St Petersburg Visa Free (3 days in St Petersburg, 2 overnight ferries there and back) for more information.
However, if you would prefer to – or have to – skip the ferry and are happy to obtain a visa, you can also fly into St Petersburg and do, for instance, our 5-day Glorious St Petersburg itinerary with four nights’ accommodation in this magnificent city.
Then again, if you would like to see a little bit more, perhaps the grandeur of both Moscow and St Petersburg, a week-long trip to Russia would give you a decent taste of both. Our 8-day (7-night) tours St Petersburg & Moscow in Style in Summer or Winter include the highlights of both cities and also a taste of the Russian countryside during the 4-hour highspeed train journey from St Petersburg to Moscow.
If you want to visit Moscow or St Petersburg – or both – and also add a deeper dive into the Russian countryside, you could easily spend a two-week holiday in this diverse country. One easy and safe way to do this is to sail along the Volga, the longest river in Europe, between Moscow and St Petersburg or Moscow and Volgograd (former Stalingrad). The 13-day Volga Dream Russian River Cruise includes days in both Moscow and St Petersburg, with an excellent feel for both city and country life.
For the truly adventurous nature-lovers, two or three weeks in the primal beauty of the Kamchatka Peninsula in the far eastern Russian should do the trick. Abundant in volcanoes, hot springs, rushing rivers and snow-capped mountains as well as bears and other wildlife, Kamchatka represents the ultimate Russian holiday adventure. See our Kamchatka tours page for more information and some example tours.
Short answer: Yes. At least if you come from an English-speaking country and venture anywhere without a guide.
Social norms, such as politeness, are fairly ingrained and invisible to many people in English-speaking countries until confronted with cultures that prioritise quite a different set of values. Caught unprepared, Russian bluntness – for example in restaurants – can feel very rude to the point of upsetting, and therefore it is very important to understand in advance that this is merely a case of cultural difference. Being overly nice and friendly to a stranger simply isn’t a natural part of the culture. For Russians (and many Finns and Scandinavians as well!), such behaviour needs to come from the heart, not merely for the sake of making someone feel at ease (which can actually feel manipulative and insincere).
However, regardless of how you perceive the behaviour of the locals, you would be well advised to treat everyone with respect (especially anyone elderly) – even if you sometimes felt it was not reciprocated. An easy-going yet mindful and respectful attitude will definitely serve you best on your Russian adventure.