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Planning a Trip to Russia

When to Come & Where to Go in Russia? If you want to come to Russia, your main consideration might be the weather, because there's always something happening in cities, multitude of outdoor activities for any time of the year and there are not so many tourists yet, so don't worry about tourist crowds. Here's when it's better to come, depending on your needs.
Purpose: Going Out (Partying) -
The best place to come is Moscow or St. Petersburg. The best time to come is May, June, September, December to March. People are still (or already) in the cities, many things are happening, everybody is happy (May, June - the summer is starting; September - all the locals come back in the big cities from the vacations and they are happy and nice). At this time many things are happening at the clubs: famous Russian and foreign musicians and djs are invited, theater season is opened, there are many outdoor festivals and activities.
For something off the beaten track try Barnaul (3 hours from Novosibirsk) in Siberia. This small town seems to have a lot of fun, discos, and is not far from picturesque Altay mountains. Besides, there are a lot of beautiful girls there.
Purpose: Outdoor Activities -
Any time of the year is good, because there are many things you can do in Russia: camping, hiking, trekking, rafting in Summer, early Autumn and late Spring; and skiing, snowboarding, and trekking in Winter.
The best weather for outdoor activities is during July and August (Karelia in North Russia - rafting, trekking, Baikal lake - swimming, trekking, camping, Sayan, Altai mountains - rafting, hiking, Elbrus mountains (Caucasus) - snowboarding).
Also, there are many great place just outside Moscow and around Novgorod region that are interesting to visit at any time of the year.
Purpose: Visiting Russian Province:
Any time is good, but try to go to some remote village areas. We recommend Novgorod region and the Golden Ring towns.
Purpose: Getting Depression:
Do you want to understand the strange Russian character and to know why so many people here are addicted to vodka?
The end of October, beginning of November: the time of the first cold, when you just don't understand why it's so cold and there's even no snow! It's cold, the sky is clouded, it's wet and boring, so that you might have no wish to go outside of your house. The only thing that's left is to sit at home, broom, and drink vodka... but... not everything is so bad... the big cities are still full of life and if you are looking for indoor entertainment (clubs, restaurants, musems, exhibitions), then it is a good time to come.
Purpose: Trying Something Really Different:
Russian winter (December, January, especially the second half of January and February). Try to see as many places as possible: walk around Moscow, go to some remote area, and snowboard in Khibiny mountains.

Who to Go With? The problem you might have when you come to Russia is that it's hard to find people who speak your language. Some young people speak some English; few speak German and French. So if you're afraid that you might feel a bit lonely, than it's better to come here with your friends, besides, it's more secure and less expensive for accommodation and food.
If you want to pair up with someone to go to Russia try to find people in internet messageboards. For example, you can try our Talk Lounge / Personals forum.
On the other side, if you go alone, you will really feel immersed in the Russian way of life and have a chance to meet many interesting and different people. If you're up for it, you can try to find a flatmate or a homestay through our roommate matching resource.

Documents. To travel to Russia you need your passport and a Russian visa. Visa can be made only if you have an invitation and a travel voucher from a Russian hotel or a travel agency (the invitation is also called "visa support"). Don't think you'll be obliged to book some place for the whole period of your stay, nowadays invitations to Russia are made easily, in one day, for about $30. After you receive the invitation (by e-mail or fax) making a Russian visa will take about 7 to 14 working days and it'll cost from $40 to $60, depending on the country you're in. You will also need a visa registration when you come to Russia; hostels or hotels you stay in can do this for you for free or you can also do it in the office of the travel agency that issued your invitation.
While in Russia, you will need to carry your passport, visa and visa registration (preferrably originals) all the time with you. In fact, all Russians are obliged to do the same, because here things like driving license are not considered to be legal identity papers.
If you don't want to carry the originals of your paper, you can make the copies, but in this case it's better to have a notary proof of them.
More information about the Russian visa regulations can be found in our Russian Visa Guide.

Beware transit visas. Before going to Russia check if you need a transit visa for the countries you're going through. For example, when going through some eastern European or former USSR countries you will need a transit visa, so contact the embassies of the countries you're not sure about. I heard how one guy travelling from Germany to Russia by train had to leave this train on the Polish-Belorussian border in the middle of nowhere just because he didn't have transit Belorussian visa. Belorussia is authoritarian country nowadays, so it's better to prepare if you're going to cross it...

More detailed information about the papers, which you need to come to Russia is in our Russian Visa section.

How to keep your documents secure. When travelling it's good to have the copies of all your documents and all emergency numbers written down somewhere, just in case. A good thing to do is to have a money bag (that you can put behind your clothes on your body) or a money belt. Also, make several copies of important documents, put a notarial proof on them (if possible), and keep them separately in different places (for example, you can carry one copy with you, another copy can be at the hotel in your backpack or suitcase, the other - in your jacket etc.)

If you have the copies of all your important documents, it'll be easier to make the new ones if the old ones were lost.

What to Pack? It's worth taking only the things you really need - there's nothing worst carrying your heavy suitcase tired and knowing that you carry too many things that you don't even need.

Generally, things like common medicines, food (even peanut butter, low fat products etc.), foreign press and books, clothes, trekking equipment are available in the big cities (like Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Samara etc.). The further you go away from them, the harder it will be to find something specific.

Also, if you take some specific medicines (a contraception pill, insulin etc.), then it's highly recommended to take a stock with you (check with the customs regulations first! - see below).

Here's our version of what you might need depending on your activities:
What to Pack: For Big Cities or a Business Trip -
Such cities as Moscow and St. Petersburg have everything, so even if you arrive with nothing in your pockets you will easily make your way around.
However, it will be more comfortable for you if you take:
• Your passport, Russian visa + 3 copies of each;
US $ or Euro cash (these 2 currencies are more widespread), credit cards (better Visa or MasterCard), some travelers cheques + emergency numbers (in case you lose your credit card or it's blocked).
• A copy of your plane ticket and the contact of the airline in Moscow or St. Pete.
• Address and contact number in Russia of the travel agency that issued your invitation (Russian visa support), they will be the first to assist you in case you lost your passport or have problems with the visa.
Good clothes, according to the season. In winter it's necessary to have good, isolated shoes, warm trousers (jeans are enough), a warm hat and a warm coat. If you're planning to go out a lot, take some stylish things as well, because some clubs have "face control" and they won't let you in if you wear jeans, old t-shirt, and a pair of sneakers.
What to Pack: For Russian Province (Little Towns) -
In addition to the things for the big cities, we recommend you to take:
More cash than CCs, because it might be harder to find an ATM in a small town (though there shouldn't be a big problem with currency exchange).
• Probably a money bag or a money belt will be useful if you plan to travel lot in trains or buses.
• Some hotel rooms in little towns are dirty, so you'll feel more comfortable if you have your own bedsheets or a sleeping bag and a towel.
What to Pack: For Outdoor Activities
In addition to the things listed above, we recommend you to take:
Essentials: Backpack, sleeping bag (comfortable temp. -5 C in Summer), a tent (if you sleep outdoors), insulation mat (for outdoors), hygenic stuff (sanitary towels, tampons, condoms) and toilet paper, sunblock, lip balm (especially in winter), torch, matches, compass, map, pocket knife (not too big, or cops will piss you off). - by the way, you can buy all this in Moscow or St. Petersburg easily.
Other: camping gaz (preferably dual fuel: gaz and kerosene), cooking pan, mosquito repellent, mosquito net (for northern and siberian regions), mug and spoon, sewing kit, emergency snack food (e.g. sublimated);
Clothes: light clothes (t-shirts, shorts etc.), good waterproof jacket or raincoat (pref. breathing material - like gortex), good waterproof shoes, hat, warm sweater.
Accommodation. It's hard to find cheap and quality accommodation in Russia. In big cities you'll have a choice between 5-star expensive hotels (from $200 a night) and old Soviet style 3-star hotels (from $50), that won't worth the money. There are a few nice places in every city and town, but they are booked very fast, so if you want to get it, reserve a room for yourself at least one month beforehand. You can find a list of inexpensive, moderately priced and luxury hotels on this site in Accommodation section of city guides (See Destinations).
There are a few hostels in Russia, mostly in Moscow and St. Petersburg. But they are different from the European ones, mainly because they are built in old Soviet dormitories and cheap hotels. However, they are relatively inexpensive ($15-$18 a night) and accommodate young travelers, so it might be more interesting to stay there if you're a student or a backpacker. You can find a listing of hostels in Accommodation section of city guides on this site (See Destinations).

A good alternative to hotels and hostels are apartments. You can rent a standard Russian-style apartment in Moscow or St. Petersburg in the center of the city for about $50 a night, if you want "western standard" it'll cost $80 a night and more. Apartments for short-term rent in Moscow are slightly more expensive than in St. Petersburg.

It'll be hard to find an apartment for short-term rent in other cities, but the price will be lower (about $30 a night for an apartment in Novosibirsk or Irkutsk, for example).

You can see some short-term renting opportunities in Moscow and St. Petersburg in Apartment Rent section of our site.

If you would like to learn more about real-estate in Russia, you might be interested in Way to Russia Apartments Guide, featuring information about apartment types and prices, long-term and short-term rental guide, and useful advice on visa registration.

The homestays are not widely spread, but still available in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Irkutsk. The price is about $15-$30 a night, but it's very hard to find.

The flat share is not something many people in Russia have heard about, but if you manage to get a room, it will cost from $150 / month in Moscow. We have created a special resource designed to help to find a homestay or a roommate in Russia - check FlatMates. Ru Roommate Matching Service.

Transportation: Getting There & Around. The fastest way to get to Russia is by plane, it will cost about $350 return from Europe and about $500 return from the US (east coast). Usually, Aeroflot (Russian airlines) and your domestic airlines will have the lowest prices. Also, for flights between USA and Russia Lufthansa has good offers (with a stopover in Frankfurt).

Also, recently some budget airlines (such as EasyJet & RyanAir) announced new flights from London and Berlin to Riga (Latvia) and Tallin (Estonia), from where it's very cheap to get to Russia. Other European carriers are planning to launch budget flights to Russia in the nearest future. In response to this, we have created a new Budget Travel section on Way to Russia, where you can find information about the cheapest routes.

The best way to get around Russia is by train, especially, that the trains are not too expensive. It costs about $40-$80 to get from Moscow to St. Petersburg (700 km) or from $150 to get from Moscow to Irkutsk (5000 km). It's better to take 4-berth cabins (called "kupe" in Russian, similar to the 2nd class), but in Summer they might be too hot, so it might be more comfortable to get a higher standard SV kupe (1st class). If you don't mind sharing the sapce with other people you can buy a berth in a common carriage (platzcart - 3rd class), and it might be safer for women (but not for your stuff).

If you go long-distance, the best option is going by plane. There are a lot of domestic airlines, most popular are Aeroflot, Sibir Airlines, Transaero. A return flight Moscow - Irkutsk (5000 km, 6 hours) will cost about $350, while a one way flight from Moscow to St. Petersburg (700 km, 1 hour) will cost about $70.
Bus network is not really reliable in Russia, so it's better to avoid using it. However, it can be the only choice when you can't take a train.

Driving a car is not a very enjoyable experience in Russia, as the distances are long, the roads are not very good quality, and the road police always tries to stop you and fine for something. However, if you don't speed and your car has Russian plates, then you shouldn't notice any problems. There are car rental agencies in major cities.

Hitchhiking is quite popular in Russia, but not as much as in Europe. Most drivers will give you a lift for money, so if you're looking for low-cost travel always make sure the driver understands you won't pay anything beforehand.
You can find more information about traveling to / from and around Russia by plane, train, bus, car, hitchhinking and river cruises at Transportation section of this site.