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Russia

Despite being open to tourism for decades now, Russia remains, as Churchill once observed ‘a riddle wrapped in an enigma'. Mysterious, mighty, modern yet medieval; beautiful and brutal, romantic but cynical, poetic and pragmatic, this is an endlessly contradictory country, but large enough to allow all opposites to exist. [See Russia itinerary ideas]

Russia's sheer scale is difficult to imagine, let alone thoroughly explore. Western Russia on its own, from the borders of Belarus to the Ural mountains, is the largest country in Europe, and that's just a fraction of the whole country. The Russian Federation only finishes when the sea separating it from Japan begins, a great sweep of steppes and Siberia in between. There are silvery birch forests too, and snow capped mountains, the warm sands of the Black Sea, rivers, deep lakes and every kind of physical beauty to enjoy.

If the landscapes soothe the soul, urban life in Russia stirs it. The cities are exciting, or enchanting, and in some cases both. From the chaotic yet compelling charm of Moscow, the enchanted feel of the ancient towns on the Golden Ring, the elegance of St Petersburg to the exuberance of Vladivostok in Russia's Far East, there's something for everyone here, from adventure holidays to cultural city breaks or both combined in a tailor made trip.

This is one country where working out an itinerary designed to take in as much variety as possible is recommended, due to both its size and scope. Preferably an itinerary that will allow for sociable stops in steamy bathhouses and chatty teahouses and bars for shots of what is known as ‘a little drop of water' in Russia - and consumed with as much regularity - vodka.

WEXAS Travel brochure for Russia

Scandinavia

Our in depth guide packed with background information, sample itineraries designed by our experts and hand-picked suggestions for what to see and do, where to stay and when best to go.


When to go

"In January in Northern Russia, everything vanishes beneath a deep blanket of whiteness. Rivers, fields, trees, roads, and houses disappear, and the landscape becomes a white sea of mounds and hollows. On days when the sky is grey, it is hard to see where earth merges with air. On brilliant days [it's] as if millions of diamonds were scattered on the snow, refracting light."
Robert K. Massie, Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman 

Most of Russia is snow-bound for a large part of the year, so most visitors choose the summer months of late May to August to take in the sights of Moscow or subarctic St Petersburg, where in June the sun barely dips below the horizon during the long White Nights. Festivals and open-air concerts stand in for the summer departure of the major opera and dance companies, and there is always plenty of outdoor activity in both cities.

In the colder months of September to May prices are lower and tourist sites are less crowded, though hotel rates and air fares peak around the New Year holiday, the main event in the Russian calendar. Winter activities include cross-country skiing in the forests around Moscow and skating on frozen ponds throughout the country and in the Gulf of Finland off St Petersburg, though many country palaces and other outdoor sites are closed.

Autumn comes in a short burst from late September to early October and is a good time to be in the countryside as oaks and poplars shed their leaves in the warming afternoon sun. Spring, in April, is mild but slushy.

JANUARY FEBRUARY MARCH APRIL MAY JUNE JULY AUGUST SEPTEMBER OCTOBER NOVEMBER DECEMBER
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Essential Experiences

We’ve rounded up our list of recommended sites and things to do. Click on the map to enlarge it and see what we suggest or follow the links in the list to discover how to get the best out of your holiday.


Practical Information

"Anyone who has chanced like me to roam through desolate mountains and studied at length their fantastic shapes and drunk the invigorating air of their valleys can understand why I wish to describe and depict these magic scenes for others."
Mikhail Lermontov, A Hero of Our Time

Capital - Moscow

Size - 17 million sq km

Language - Russian

Population - 142.7 million (2012)

Religion - 41% Russian Orthodox; 6.5% Islamic; 4% unaffiliated Christian; 1.5% other Orthodox; 0.5% Buddhist; 25% 'spiritual, but not religious'; 13% atheist

Currency - 1 rouble = 100 kopecks

Time zones - Kaliningrad GMT + 3 hours; Moscow/St Petersburg GMT + 4 hours; Yekaterinburg GMT + 6 hours; Omsk GMT + 7 hours; Krasnoyarsk GMT + 8 hours; Irkutsk GMT + 9 hours; Yakutsk GMT + 10 hours; Vladivostock GMT + 11 hours; Magadan GMT + 12 hours

Flight time - London to Moscow 3 hours 45 minutes; London to St Petersburg (direct) 3 hours 35 minutes; London to Vladivostock (via Moscow) 16+ hours

Festivals

The turn of the year is the main festive season, with a de facto ten day holiday centred around the Russian Orthodox Christmas on 07 January. The 'other' Christmas is also observed on 25 December by the Catholic and Protestant churches, but it is not a public holiday. If you plan a three-week break at this time you can grab an extra New Year celebration for good measure, as the Orthodox (or 'Old') New Year falls on 14 January.

Other festivals, cultural and sporting events include:

January to February - Vyugovey Ice Sculpture Festival, Moscow. Two-month exhibition of snow, ice and light sculptures at the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics.

23 February - Defender of the Fatherland Day, Moscow and countrywide. Wreaths are laid at Moscow's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and other monuments.

February/March - Maslenitsa Festival, Moscow, St Petersburg and countrywide. Sun festival dating back to pagan times. Carnival celebrations include live music, dancing, sleigh rides, fireworks and blinis galore

February/March - International Ballet Festival Mariinsky, St Petersburg. Two weeks of performances by stars of world ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre and Concert Hall.

March to April - Golden Mask Festival, Moscow. Drama, ballet, opera and musical theatre at various venues.

April - Festival of French Jazz, Moscow. A series of concerts with a Parisian feel at the 16 Tons Club and other venues.

April - Photoforum, Moscow. Photography and equipment in focus at the Crocus Expo International Exhibition Centre.

09 May - Victory Day, Moscow. Military parade, ceremonies and fireworks in Red Square commemorating the defeat of Nazi Germany in WWII.

17-18 May 2014 - Museum Night, Moscow, St Petersburg and countrywide. Museums and art galleries throw open their doors through the night accompanied by special events, street art and performances marking International Museum Day.

21 May to 21 July - The Stars of White Nights Festival, St Petersburg. International ballet and opera festival at the Mariinsky Theatre.

27 May - City Day, St Petersburg. The official birthday of the city is celebrated with special events, parties and fireworks around Palace Square.

June - Wild Mint Folk Festival, Moscow. A full day of music and dancing in Troparevo Park.

June to July - Palaces of St Petersburg Music Festival. Musicians from around the world play one-off concerts at the palaces of the Tsars.

June - St Petersburg Beer Festival: St Petersburg. An enthusiastic celebration of Russian ale kicks off with a parade down Nevsky Prospekt and ends with a fireworks display, with lots of drinking at street bars, pubs and cafes in between.

06-07 July - Ivan Kupala/St John the Baptist's Day, countrywide. Ancient pagan traditions mix with Christian traditions, featuring challenging water and fire games.

July - Afisha Picnic, Moscow. One-day outdoor indie music festival at the Tsar's former estate of Kolomenskoe.

July to August - Summer Seasons, Moscow. Performances by the Moscow City Ballet and Russian National Ballet in the Russian National Theatre opposite Red Square.

August - Singing World: International Festival of Choral Art, St Petersburg. Choirs from around the world perform in venues including the Kazan Cathedral.

August to December - Moscow International Folklore Festival: Moscow. Dancers and musicians from all over Europe perform in the Hermitage Gardens.

August - Sailing Week, St Petersburg. Hundreds of yachts sail from Vyborg to St Petersburg during this week-long regatta.

03 September - Den' Goroda (City Day), Moscow. The Russian capital's official birthday is marked by street parties and a free concert on Tverskaia Ulitsa.

September - Art Moscow: Moscow. Russia's largest and most influential contemporary art fair. International galleries display pieces at the Central House of Artists.

September - St Petersburg Open Tennis. ATP men's World Tour indoor event held annually at the Petersburg Sports and Concert Complex.

October - Kremlin Cup, Moscow. Russia's premier men's tennis event, held at the Olympic Stadium.

04 November - Day of Accord and Reconciliation, countrywide. The main commemoration of the Communist revolution of the early 20th century is a colourful parade and events around Red Square.

November - Russian Wine Festival, Moscow. The Crocus Expo International Exhibition Centre showcases wines from around the world.

November - Art November, Moscow. Month-long celebration of the arts, from painting to photography and music, featuring special exhibitions and performances across the city.

December/January - Christmas at the Kremlin, Moscow. Yuletide concerts.

December/January - Russian Winter Festival, Moscow, St Petersburg and countrywide. The Russian Winter is celebrated with troika rides, folk music and games.

31 December - New Year's Eve. The international New Year is celebrated with impromptu and centrally planned street parties, fireworks and revelling until dawn.

Visas

Please note that entry requirements and visa regulations can change often and at short notice. We can provide general information about the passport and visa requirements for your trip and this information may be included after the itinerary section of your quotation. Your specific passport and visa requirements and other immigration requirements are your responsibility and you should confirm these with the relevant Embassies and/or Consulates. Neither we nor the principal(s) or supplier(s) accept any responsibility if you cannot travel because you have not complied with any passport, visa or immigration requirements. Please call your WEXAS specialist if you wish to discuss entry requirements.

Passport requirements

Passports must be valid for a minimum of three months after the expiry date of your visa.

Money

Currency

The Rouble has been Russia's national currency for about 500 years. The present notes and coins were introduced in 1998 (though dated 1997). Any currency issued before that date is obsolete.

Coins are issued in 1, 5, 10, and 50 kopek and 1, 2, 5, and 10 rouble denominations. Banknotes come in 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000, and 5000 roubles. The 5-rouble note is no longer issued and rarely in circulation, and the 10 ceased being issued in 2010 and will soon be withdrawn, but for now both remain legal tender. Kopeks are generally useless, as most prices are given to the nearest rouble.

ATMs

ATMs (bankomats) can be found in all cities and large towns, and international withdrawals are straightforward via an English-language interface. To avoid fraud or theft, use street ATMs where possible in favour of those in shopping malls or hotels.

Cash and EFTPOS

Credit and debit cards are widely accepted at hotels, restaurants, shopping malls and shops, especially around Moscow and St Petersburg. Museums and other attractions generally accept only cash, but most train stations accept card payments. Advise your issuer before you travel, as Russia is on banks'  'suspicious' list and your card may be blocked.

Guideline prices

Average incomes are still low by Western standards and prices are generally reasonable for visitors from the UK - unless you opt for five-star treatment at every turn, in which case Russia can be as expensive as anywhere. Expect to pay around 1,500 roubles (about £30) for a meal for two in a mid-price restaurant, 50 roubles (£1) for a draft domestic beer, or double that for an imported bottle or a fancy coffee.

Regions [6]

Click on a place name below to find out more. Alternatively, to start planning where to go in Russia, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0618.


Itinerary ideas [10]

The itinerary ideas listed below are designed to give you a flavour of the things to do in Russia. We can adjust any element and tailor-make your trip though, to suit your individual needs and available time. To start planning your trip, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0618.

Places to stay [1]

The places to stay listed below only represent a handful of the accommodation options available in Russia. We can also recommend and arrange accommodation to suit your personal tastes and budget. To start planning where to stay in Russia, talk to one of our destination specialists on 020 7590 0618.

Offers [1]

WEXAS negotiates with a wealth of travel companies, airlines, cruise operators, hotels and tour operators to bring you the very best travel offers. For great value or a range of add-on benefits, review the list of offers below.

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