Russia

Tips for travelling to Russia for the first time: visa, places to visit, scams

posted by Liza 13th December 2018 8 Comments
how expensive is Russia, Moscow and St Petersburg prices (2 of 7)

In this post, I wanted to tell you about the tips for travelling to Russia for the first time, such as things you need to know about Russia, how to book tickets, which cities should you visit during your visit to Russia and how to avoid scams in Russia. 

If you’re wondering, how come I have so much expertise about Russia, well, I’m originally from St. Petersburg and you can read more about my story here. However, right now I’m permanently based in London, but I still manage to travel to Russia at least 3 times per year.

In the first part of the post, I will tell you about the most touristic cities in Russia (I’m sure you’ll visit at least some of them).

The most touristic cities in Russia

Moscow

Moscow is the capital of Russia and is definitely worth visiting. You can stay there for a couple of days (read the post about the 2-day itinerary for Moscow). Moscow is famous for its Red Square, expensive & exclusive restaurants and clubs and impossible traffic jams. The best way to get around Moscow is definitely by metro, otherwise, you risk to spend half of your day in a traffic jam. 

Recommended places to stay:

5* St. Regis Nikolskaya, Ararat Park Hyatt, Lotte Hotel Moscow

3-4* Brick Design Hotel,  Venice in my heart, StandArt Hotel, Ivan Chai

Hostels: Capsula, GoodMood, StarWars

Moscow the capital of Russia, Fifa 2018

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in the world and I’m saying that not because I am originally from there. St. Petersburg is truly gorgeous and in case you’re there for a couple of days – here’s the 3-day itinerary for St. Petersburg. Otherwise, you can check this ultimate guide to St. Petersburg, Russia that I created especially for you! St. Petersburg is just 4 hours away from Moscow by speed train Sapsan (read my post about how to travel between these two cities) or just a night away on an overnight train (the cheapest option). St. Petersburg has an incredible amount of places to see & visit and definitely deserves at least 5-10 days! 

Recommended hotels to stay:

5* Four Seasons, The State Hermitage Museum Hotel, Domina St. Petersburg, Trezzini Palace

3-4* Kamerdiner, Alexander House, Pushka INN, Diplomat

3-4* Kamerdiner, Alexander House, Pushka INN, Diplomat

Hostels: Traveller’s Palace, FJC Loft, Twin Cities Melbourne, Sweet Village Vladimirsky

The ultimate guide to St. Petersburg, Russia from a local: places, food, accommodation, sunset in St. Petersburg

Kaliningrad

Kaliningrad is this tiny piece of Russia located in the middle of Europe between Poland and Lithuania. It’s probably the cheapest city to visit in terms of transport – you can easily get there from Poland, Latvia or Lithuania and these countries are famous for their cheap flights (Ryanair and Airbaltic fly there!). Apart from that, Kaliningrad is a nice city, which is worth visiting for a day or two.

Recommended hotels to stay:

3-4*: Tchaikovsky, Oberteich Lux, Kaiserhof

Hostels: Hostels Rus, Hostel Papa House

Kaliningrad Fifa World Cup Russia 2018

Volgograd

I have never been to Volgograd, but I’ve got a couple of friends from there. You probably never heard of Volgograd, am I right? And what if I say if Volgograd’s name during the Soviet Union was Stalingrad? Does that ring a bell? I bet it does. Volgograd is a Southern city with the population over 1 million people. Just like Samara, it’s located on the river Volga. Volgograd is famous for its role in the WWII and you can find many museums and war monuments dedicated to WWII in Volgograd. Apart from that, it’s just a nice and lovely city.

Recommended hotels to stay: Park Inn by Radisson, Hilton Garden Inn, Scotch Hostel.

Volgograd Fifa World Cup Russia 2018

Nizhny Novgorod

Located just 2 hours by speed train from Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod is one of the nicest cities in Russia. Read my guide to things to do in Nizhny Novgorod here. It has some really beautiful architecture in the city centre, including a huge Kremlin (yep, not only Moscow has one), it has plenty of hipster places, e.g. burgers in the downtown and it’s way cheaper compared to Moscow, St. Petersburg or Russia. Also, if you stay a little longer in Nizhny, you’ll have a chance to experience the Alfa Future People festival – one of the best EDM festivals in the entire world. Here’s our review of AFP 2016.  

Recommended hotels to stay:

5* Kulibin Park

3-4* Hampton by Hilton, Volna, Sova

Hostels: Elion, Nice Hostel HH

Nizhny Novgorod Fifa World Cup Russia 2018

Samara

Samara is the 9th biggest city in Russia with the population just over a million people (which is huge for European standards) and it’s a lovely city located on Russia’s most important river Volga. Since the Football World Cup in Russia is in summer, the weather in Samara will be quite hot and you can chill and sunbathe at the riverside beach in Samara. Also, you can visit a couple of traditional Russian churches in the city as well as the Cosmos museum.

Recommended hotels to stay: Hampton by Hilton Samara, Holiday Inn Samara, Hotel Countries, Hostel Panorama.

Saransk

Sarank is a pretty small city (just over 300,000 residents) located to the South of Moscow. It’s a really small city with almost no landmarks, so the best thing is Saransk would be just to walk around, eat out in different places (prices are really cheap compared to Moscow) and have a beer in very affordable pubs and bars of Saransk.

Recommended hotels to stay: Hotel Meridian, Hostel Shpinat.

Kazan

Kazan is the 4th biggest city in Russia and the capital of Tatarstan, one of the Muslim regions of Russia. Hence the Mosques you can see everywhere in Kazan. Kazan is lovely, vibrant and fast developing. Moreover, Kazan is also super cheap, so it’s definitely worth going there.

Recommended hotels to stay:

5*: Spa Complex Premium Luciano

3-4*: Ramada Kazan City Centre, Bon Ami

Hostel: People, Krolichya Nora

Kazan Fifa World Cup Russia 2018

Ekaterinburg (Yekaterinburg)

Ekaterinburg is located in the Ural part of Russia, which is the borderline between Europe and Asia (The Ural Mountains separate Europe and Asia). Ekaterinburg is the fourth biggest city in Russia and has plenty of things to offer to its tourists from nature parks to cathedrals and various museums. Ekaterinburg theatre is also pretty famous so if you have a chance to get tickets for opera and ballet there (especially if St. Petersburg is sold out), you’ll be lucky!

Recommended hotels to stay:

5*: Hyatt Regency, Vysotsky

3-4*: Renomme, Tenet, Chekhov

Hostels: Skaz, Vosa-Lavandula, RedLine

Yekaterinburg Fifa World Cup Russia 2018

Rostov (on Don)

Rostov on Don is a large city in the South of Russia just next to the border with Ukraine (don’t worry, it’s completely safe). The population is again over a million residents, which makes Roston the tenth biggest city in Russia. Rostov is a nice city to visit, however, it could be really hot there! The temperatures in summer sometimes reach 45 degrees.

Recommended hotels to stay: Art Hotel Aurum, Hotel Legenda, Hotel Mira, Baba Valya Hostel.

Sochi (Adler)

Sochi is one of my favourite cities in Russia. In summer, it becomes a hot holiday destination for the whole country and you can actually swim there or stay in an all-inclusive hotel. Sochi is a place that hosted Winter Olympics in 2014 and all the Olympic facilities are still there and are worth taking a look. Read this post to find out what to do in Sochi in summer and in winter. 

Recommended hotels to stay:

5*: Radisson Blu Resort Congress Centre

3-4* Imeretinsky Hotel, Hotel Milana, Boutique Hotel La Terrassa

Hostels: Yakor, SunKiss

Sochi Football World Cup 2018

Visa to Russia:

Depending on your nationality, you either do or don’t need a visa to Russia. You can see the visa policy of Russia on this map (click here). Fab if you don’t need a visa, however, if you do – I’ve got a post about getting the visa to travel to Russia. As I never needed a visa to travel to Russia, I asked my husband, Pepe, how did he got his, so all the credits for this post go to him. Read this post now.

Things you need to know if you’re travelling to Russia for the first time

Try to learn a couple of phrases in Russian and ideally, the Russian alphabet, so you could read the letters. Russians use Cyrillic, so the letters are slightly different. Many cities (even Moscow) often don’t have signs in both alphabets, so it might be channelling for you to get around. St. Petersburg should be relatively easy, as everything is written in English and most of the restaurants in the city have English menus. Other cities, however, don’t, so knowing Russian letters even a little bit would help you a lot.

one of the 30 countries you should visit before you turn 30

Look for alternative and cheaper ways to get to Russia.

There are some alternative ways to get to Russia during the high season (Russia in summer).  For example, you can go to St. Petersburg by bus from Riga (Latvia) or Tallinn (Estonia) or by train or bus (from Helsinki) or by ferry from Helsinki or Tallinn. The cheapest way is going by bus from Tallinn (around $30 one way, more expensive in the high season) and flying to Tallinn via Ryanair. It’s more complicated with other cities (except for Kaliningrad), as you can’t easily reach them from another country by bus or train.

Book your accommodation in advance

If you don’t have friends in Russia, you’ll probably need to look for accommodation there. I must warn you, that accommodation in Russia in summer will be more expensive and it makes sense to book it as early as possible. Airbnb is really BIG in Russia, so if the hotels are too expensive, you can definitely rely on Airbnb. If you haven’t used Airbnb before, here’s £20 discount for your first Airbnb stay!

Red Square: What to see in Moscow in 2 days

Things you should NOT do in Russia. Russia safety tips & scams in Russia

Here are the things you definitely should NOT do in Russia to stay safe. There are a couple of scams in Russia and some of them listed below (the most famous ones are the taxi scams).

DO NOT:

  • Trust anyone blindly
  • Drink cheap alcohol bought in small off-license stores (that could often be “fake” alcohol and you’ll end up in a hospital. Better buy alcohol in big supermarkets.
  • Don’t drink on the streets – for that you can get into trouble with the police 
  • Ask the police for directions – police is Russia is quite unfriendly. Better stay away from them & definitely don’t ask them about directions. If you’re lost, better ask a student or a young-looking person. More chances that he/she will speak English.
  • Use roaming – it’s extremely cheap to buy a data sim card for a month in Russia – will be around 5-6 dollars with 5-6 dollars already on your account. The Internet in Russia is very fast and with some providers like Megafon you can even have 4G in a metro!
  • Use “normal” taxis – always try to use apps like Uber and Yandex Taxi. 
  • Ask the price before buying souvenirs and prefer to buy them from the shops, where the price is written down / attached to the souvenir.

Hopefully, there tips for travelling to Russia for the first time were useful for you. Don’t hesitate to ask me if you have any questions!

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8 Comments

javier 19th August 2017 at 2:20 pm

how do you know that preorder sale for visa holder in november?

Reply
Maribel 14th January 2018 at 8:25 am

Thanks for the information!!! Very helpful

Reply
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Ilsse 21st May 2018 at 12:06 am

Hello! Do you know it there are lockers in the Saransk airport?

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Paul 18th June 2018 at 7:00 pm

Hi guys! Thanks for the information! As for the police, some of them are nice: recently we even got some help from them! They called us a cap 🙂 We found a service for tourists in Russia travelhelprussia.com and it says it’s free. Do you know anything about it? Have you tried that one?

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