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Russia Guide & Travel Advice

Getting there

British Airways fly daily between London Heathrow and Moscow Domodedovo Airport and also have a direct service to St Petersburg. In addition Aeroflot offer direct flights from the UK to Russia. Services from other UK regional airports connect via London Heathrow.

Flying times from UK

It takes around four hours to fly from the UK to Moscow or St Petersburg.

Time zone

Russia is a vast country and the largest in the world. As a result, it has 11 different time zones and the variation from London time ranges between two and 12 hours. The majority of European Russia, which includes Moscow and St Petersburg, is +3 hours ahead of GMT.

Visa requirements

All visitors to Russia will need a pre-arranged visa and this will only be valid for the dates of your trip. Your passport must also be valid for longer than six months. We will provide you with full information on the Russian visa at the time of booking. In Russia, you will be given a unique migration card which you must carry and present when asked. This is proof of your approval to stay in Russia and is compulsory for anyone staying longer than seven days.

Do’s and don’ts

Russians like to look smart and formal dress is recommended for any theatre visits and musical concerts.

Try to avoid taking photographs of government officials and buildings. Photography is prohibited at airports, museum and military installations.

When visiting a church or cathedral you should ensure that your head and shoulders are covered. In some Orthodox churches women are expected to wear a skirt or dress. For men, hats and shorts are not permitted.

A guide book which translates the Russian Cyrillic alphabet will be very helpful and learning a few Russian phrases will be greatly appreciated.

Money

The official currency across Russia is the Ruble (RUB) and this is made up of 100 kopeks. US Dollars and Euros are easy to exchange and are the most recognised foreign currency in Russia although in the majority of shops and markets you can only pay in Rubles. You should also ensure that you carry plenty of cash if you plan to use taxis and public transport or to make small purchases. ATMs are available throughout the whole of European Russia and all major credit cards are accepted.

Tipping

In restaurants, a service charge will rarely be added to the bill. Instead, it is customary to tip 10% of the bill as standard or 15% in the event of excellent service. You should also give your tip directly to your waiter in change. A guideline for tipping your drivers and guides will be advised prior to travel.

Food and drink

Russian food is starting to gain attention in the western world today the country is home to many world-renowned restaurants and celebrated chefs. Russian cuisine is very seasonal but are generally filling and warming. Porridge and stews are common with popular items being pelmeni, a meat dumpling dish, and ponchiki, which are hot sugared doughnuts. Favourites, also known internationally, are blini, small pancakes filled with caviar, fish or sour cream, and borscht, the hot beetroot soup. The national drink in Russia is vodka which drunk neat rather than with a mixer. Flavoured vodkas are also common. A non-alcoholic alternative is chai, widely served as a warming refreshment with sugar and herbs.

Holidays, festivals and celebrations

The Christian festival calendar is widely celebrated in the main cities. Further into Russia's mainland, many regional cultural festivals are held throughout the year. The country's National Flag Day is 22nd August and Unity Day takes place between the 3rd and 4th November. In St Petersburg Easter Sunday, known as Pashka, is a major event whilst during the summer in the same city the White Nights Festival takes place with many opera, classical music and ballet performances. The white nights are a time of year when the sun does not set – the night sky does not darken and as a result the city never sleeps. The nights are brightest in St Petersburg from the start of June to the first week of July.

Shopping

Russia is a shopper's paradise, with something for everyone. You will find charming markets with locally made souvenirs, including clothing, ornaments and furniture. World-renowned designers have stores in Moscow and St Petersburg and the cities are also home to the world's biggest brands. Art, books and Soviet memorabilia are also common. You should check before purchasing any paintings or icons to be sure that they can be exported. In general, a store receipt is necessary for exportation, and purchases without appropriate receipts are confiscated. 

Suggested reading

Footprint, Rough Guides, Lonely Planet and Bradt have excellent guide books on Russia. For books on the history of Russia try ‘Russia: A History’, by Gregory L Freeze, ‘Revolutionary Russia: 1891-1991’ and ‘Natasha’s Dance: A Cultural History of Russia’, both by Orlando Figes, ‘Towards the Flame: Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia’, by Dominic Lieven, ‘Lenin’, by Robert Service and ‘Stalin: The Court of the Res Tsar’, by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Russia also has a rich literary history and some of the greatest books ever written were penned by Russian authors. Some of the finest include:

‘Eugene Onegin’, by Alexander Pushkin

‘Anna Karenina’, by Leo Tolstoy

‘War and Peace’, by Leo Tolstoy

‘Master and Margarita’, by Mikhail Bulgakov

‘A Country Doctor’s Notebook’, by Mikhail Bulgakov

‘The Brothers Karamazov’, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

‘Crime and Punishment’, by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

‘Dead Souls’, by Nikolai Gogol

‘Fathers and Sons’, by Ivan Turgenev

Health

Your doctor is the best person to advise you on staying healthy whilst abroad but current recommended vaccinations are Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Tetanus and Diphtheria. Yellow Fever is compulsory, but only if you have visited an affected Yellow Fever area within 5 days prior to your arrival. In some instances anti-malarial tablets may also be needed. For current information on health advice you may wish to visit the Medical Advisory Services for Travellers Abroad (MASTA) Web Site on www.masta.org. The NHS ‘Fit for Travel’ website (www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk) is also a useful resource.

Travel advice

For current information on Russia the best resource is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) which is a comprehensive resource and updated regularly. We would also recommend visiting the Safer Tourism Foundation website (https://safertourism.org.uk/) before you travel and will be happy to address any questions or concerns you may have.

Russia Holiday Ideas

Russia Holiday Review

Everything went splendidly many thanks. The three guides - Natalia, Natasha Petrovna and Amelia -  and drivers - Mischa, Nikita and Dmitri - were beyond excellent and the local guides ditto. Both hotels were first class in their different ways and ideally located.

IC - Russia - September 2016

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