If you are planning to travel Russia, this guide will be VERY helpful for you. To travel Russia was one of my best experience during my 8 years of non-stop travels. Russia became one of my top 3 favorite countries that I’ve visited around the world immediately. I traveled for a month around Russia and it was not possible to cover a lot of the places in the country, because of lack of time. Hopefully next time, I can visit the Eastern part of Russia. For this trip, I focused in the Western part of Russia. Before traveling to Russia, I heard a thousand stereotypes and conclusions about the Russian people. I can say that most of them aren’t real . A lot of what I’ve seen and experience are totally different from what I’ve experienced in this beautiful country. It’s really better if you discover Russia and meet Russian people by yourself. You will find hundreds of reasons to visit Russia and hopefully you can go soon!
The culture in Russia is totally different from every country that I visited before. I really liked the architecture in the country. From the kremlin in the cities to churches in big cities and small towns. The cities are really big in Russia and there are many plans to do. Personally, I really enjoyed visiting Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
If you are from Europe or the most of the Western countries, you will have to get your visa before arriving to Russia. Russian people are amazing and you will feel really comfortable traveling around because they love travelers a lot. You should know that if you are traveling on a budget, you can do it in Russia without any problem. Russia is a very affordable destination and here’s the perfect post for you to know how to exactly do that.
Before Traveling Russia
How to get there
I guess the easiest way to get Russia is by plane. If you plan to travel Russia like first country in your trip. Make sure before buying your flight ticket that you have all the requirements for the visa. You will have no problem getting Russia if you have your visa. To get a cheap flight ticket, I always recommend to book at least a couple of months in advance if you have the chance. I usually use skyscanner which gives me almost 90% of the time the best deals. And it´s the fastest website to compare prices and dates.
If you decide to go overland as I did. You should know that Russia as a huge country there are many countries where you can cross the border. If you want to know all the countries where you can cross Russia overland, click here. And you will find full detail information, 11 countries where you can cross overland and all the border check points with Russia. There are many ways to get Russia overland. You can go by bus, by train or why not hitchhiking. I chose one of my favorite way of transportation to get Russia: hitchhiking. I did from Narva (Estonia) very beautiful town and border with the fortress and the river dividing the two countries. It was easy and fast to cross overland from Estonia. Just a few people on the line. I was surprised that Estonian people have no special permit to visit Russia. They need to apply for the visa like the other European nacionalities. It´s strange being neighboors and sharing border. They checked my visa and I got my stamp for 30 days, as simple like that.
The currency is the Russian Ruble which is very weak comparing to the USD. At that time the exchange was 1 USD=62 RUBLES. But if you want to know the current exchange, click here.
If you are bringing card, there are hundred of ATMs in Russia where you can withdraw your money. If you bring cash as I did, there are many exchange offices and banks to exchange your money, just check the best rate for you. If you exchange money in the bank, you will spend long time in the line. I always found long queues inside the banks. Exchange office were much faster.
This is the trickiest part to travel Russia. Most of the countries need visa to travel Russia. In my case, I had to pay for a travel agency in my country to complete the visa process. This is due to no available appointments for tourist visas in the Russian embassy (Madrid). Sometimes you can’t understand why these things are happening. How is it not possible to process a tourist Russian visa in their embassy? It costed me 58 euros to get the visa (35 for the government and 23 the agency). For your visa, you need to show documents (passport), travel insurance, invitation letter and a detailed itinerary for your trip in Russia. As I always travel with insurance, it didn’t cost me anything extra. And you also need an invitation letter which you can get from friends, from accommodation places (hotel or hostels) or from tour companies. Sometimes hotels and hostels can make the invitation letter for if you stay with them. If not, you can get the invitation letter online by paying around 10-15 euros. Russia is very strict with your entry dates. The visa will start counting from the first date that you entered in your itinerary. You will need to make sure that you have planned your whole trip properly and in advance so you wouldn’t miss any days when traveling in Russia.
There are no issues with health documents when entering Russia. But when you apply for the Russian visa, the government will ask you for a travel insurance covering your stay in the country.
If you travel to Russia, you will feel safe. Just try to take your usual precautions, especially in big cities and crowded places. I definitely recommend you to carry your passport all the time in your pocket. Police checked me in the street a few times and if you aren’t bringing your passport, maybe you will have to pay a ticket. It depends on your luck and how nice or corrupt the police officer is. Not a happy thought.
The weather in Russia can be an issue so you’ll have to check these details when planning your trip. It will usually depend on your preference in weather. Personally, I don’t like cold weather. That’s why I chose to travel Russia in summer. But there are many regions and different weather in Russia. You can take a look here and make your own choice. Make sure you bring proper clothes if you are coming on winter, because the weather can sometimes be -40º degrees.
How to get wifi and a sim card
If you need to be connected online while on your trip, or for work or just for pleasure, buying a SIM card in Russia is easy. There are many places where you will be able to buy a SIM card to get internet, calls and text messages for a month paying $5. It’s very cheap, the internet connection in Russia. Once you have a SIM card you will be able to connect in the city in many hotspot places. But if you are traveling in remote areas while in a moving transportation, your data will not allow to connect internet.
Since Russia is the largest country in the world, there are many ways for transportation inside the country. I didn’t do long distances though while traveling in Russia. Well, technically, I’ve traveled very long distances, around 300-400 kilometers every time I needed to go to my next destination. Which is considered short for Russia, since the country is so long there are really big distances when traveling to its various parts. But if you are traveling in another country, 300-400 kilometers is already big distance.
There are buses which connect every city during the day and at night. Prices are cheap if you use local transportation. Buses around the city are working great and you don’t need to wait for them long time. Prices are around half dollar for a journey inside the cities.
I really loved metro in Russia. In every big city, you can travel by metro. It´s very cheap (half dollar), efficient and well indicated. Plus decoration was great in Moscow. There are some metro stations that you can visit just to take pictures. Or just walking around like if you were in a museum.
One of the most popular destinations is traveling Russia with the Trans-Siberian Railway which will let you cross Russia in less than a week. I didn’t take the Transsiberian this time. But I would love to do in the future and visit the other parts of Russia I missed from this trip.
I chose hitchhiking to travel Russia and my experience was great. I could cover 300-400 kilometers distances in 5-6 hours without any problem. Taking local buses to leave the city or asking locals to drive me to the road and making a sign and just ask for a ride. Check, if you want more detailed information to hitchhike Russia.
It depends on your budget. You can sleep in hostels starting from $5-15 . It depends if you do in a dorm or in your own room. There are hotels starting from $20-30 until who knows how much you can pay for luxury in Russia. There is no limit!
You know like every country you can stay with locals saving your accommodation and having a real local experience. If you like adventure camping, many locals are traveling around Russia with their tent and you will enjoy amazing landscapes.
Budget to Travel Russia
If you want to travel Russia in a budget, you can do starting from $20 per day including eating in some local restaurants. Sleeping around $10. Eating and transportation can be managed with another $10. If you want more luxury you will have to spend more for eating in fancy restaurants, clubbing and luxury hotels.
Going cheaper? If you use Couchsurfing, you can save more money. You can cook by yourself or going local places with your host. Transportation is really cheap in Russia around the cities. For longer distances is little bit more expensive. You can go by night train or buses and avoiding to pay for a night in a hostel while traveling. Or you just can try hitchhiking.
Spending more? There are fancy restaurants and clubs, paying for museums, tours and tourist attractions. And staying in expensive hotels.
Must see Russia
I have to sum up in 6 places this time only but I can give you more details in this post to visit Russia. You can visit mountains or beaches, we will do for the next time. I felt very comfortable in every city or village that I visited traveling around Russia.
There are many plans to do in Moscow. I’m not a fan of big cities. But I have to recognize that I enjoyed in the capital of Russia. If you want to go for sightseeing in the touristic places, even though is full of people is great. Moving around with local transportation metro and buses was a great. Metro was great decorated and it´s worth to visit around. There are many interesting museums. I liked visiting churches in Moscow, it experience mixing between the locals. perfect spot to take pictures. If you want to hang out in Moscow, you will find many bars and restaurants for your choice. Parks are huge and full of life in Moscow. You will find people doing sport, walking or just playing around.
Saint Petersburg is even more touristic city than Moscow. Many cruises are stopping for a few days and is full of people. I loved walking around Saint Petersburg and is more quiet than Moscow. Distances are shorter than in Moscow and you can situate better in this city. You will find many interesting museums and churches. I really liked the canals in Saint Petersburg. If you like hanging out, you will find may bars and restaurants. I enjoyed a lot since it was my first stop in Russia. Everything was new for me language, architecture and gastronomy.
You can cross Russia with the longest train in the world in 7 days. From Moscow (East part of Russia) to the West. There are different routes going to China, Mongolia or Vladivostok. If you like traveling by train, you will not forget this experience. This train is the perfect scenery to mix with local people. It’s an amazing opportunity to learn things about their culture and why not learn new Russian words. Sharing food and drinks with Russian people and making new friends.
A Russian village experience
One of the most authentic experiences that I had in Russia was staying in a village for a few days. I really enjoyed those days! People having their little garden at home, a little farm it makes a different atmosphere to the big cities. It´s interesting how to get the village, there isn´t so much public transportation. There are many shared taxi to move around. How people exchange things from their garden or animals or just selling to their neighboors.
Kazan is big city but if we compare to Moscow, we can say is quiet. Here you will find different culture since the main religion is Muslim. You will find more mosques than churches. I went to Kazan after visiting Moscow. And I found many differences, people were more friendly than in bigger cities. It´s really nice walking around the Kremlin during the day and even more special at night time with the lights. The mosque inside the Kremlin with the lights is great!
I love to enjoy sunsets since I´m not an early bird. When I get a new place, I really like to enjoy the sunset if I have the opportunity. In the beach or around the river makes the landscape amazing. For me a sunset is always special moment to share with someone having tea or drinking a beer while taking pictures or having a talk.
Eating and Drinking
I was surprised how good is Russian gastronomy. I heard before visiting Russia that their gastronomy was simple. But after traveling for a month there I don´t agree with that. Prices were very cheap. I got surprised with Russian people, I realized that they drink more tea than vodka, so it´s not like the stereotype that I had before visiting Russia.
Kvass is a traditional beverage made from black bread. It’s also popular in the Baltic countries, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. You can find every place in Russia as street food and prices are very cheap.
One of my favorite local dishes in Russia. Those Russian dumplings can be filled with pork, beef, lamb or vegetables. They are mixed with black pepper, onions and garlic. The dough is made of water and flour with eggs.
One of the most famous dishes in Russia and countries around. It’s a very delicious soup. It’s a vegetable soup with potatoes, cabbage and the special ingredient beetroot which give the color to the soup.
Okroshka is a soup with raw vegetables like cucumbers, radish, onions, boil potatoes, boil eggs and meat. And instead of hot water, it’s refilled with cold kvass which a sweet soda. In my opinion, I would prefer the soup with hot water. But, I have to say that it was tasty in that way!
Horse milk or Kumis is one of the strangest things that I tried during my travels. It’s a fermented milk coming from the mare and it’s very full in protein. It tastes good and it’s very healthy. It was the first time that I tried horse milk in my whole life.
I would say that Grechka (buckwheat) is the most popular dish in Russia. I tried everywhere and it’s usually served for breakfast. Grechka is very easy to prepare, just boiling (with water in a pot) and mixed with butter. Having this for breakfast you will feel full of energy.
My favorite food in Russia was Tatarstan food. I tried delicious soups, baked bread filled with meat and cheese. It´s very typical tea with cookies and sweets. Local people love doing this everytime.
Things that I like in Russia
I really enjoyed my trip in Russia and I liked so much hitchhiking around the country and meeting local people. I loved riding the metro in the cities and visiting parks. Prices were very affordable. I also liked Russian gastronomy and drinking tea.
Things that I didn´t like in Russia
I can´t understand the Russian language and it’s very difficult to learn Russian. But it will be my next big challenge for my next visit to Russia. I will try to communicate better with local people in using their language. I found it so difficult to find some addresses in Russia. For sure it was the language was most difficult part in Russia while I was traveling there.
Hope you got all the information (and push you needed) to plan your next visit to Russia. Again, there are challenges, but there are usually a lot of challenges in any new endeavor in life. So you just have to choose the ones worth doing. And in travel, visiting Russia is really one big challenge you should take.
Have more questions? Ask me everything. Write down your questions in the comments below.
If you want to read more travel guides read my experience backpacking Cambodia. Or just take a look to this full travel guide for visiting the Philippines.