Russia is the largest country in the world. It spans northern Asia, and eastern Europe, and its culture and heritage reflects this. The arts, religion and history are abundant within Russia.
While Russia looms large on our current political landscape, it has also earned its place among our cultural landscapes. The palaces and kremlins of Russia boast detailed sumptuous architecture, famous masterpieces, and fantastical furniture and fittings. Monasteries and cathedrals date back to the middle ages, and hold the tombs of geniuses like Tchaikovsky or Glinka.
There is a dark and interesting history to explore – rulers, revolutions and wars galore, but also the stories of some of the world’s greatest writers, artists, poets, and architects. From ancient history and prehistoric sites, to cold war tourism and ballet – and even to chess masters – Russia can both intrigue and enchant in equal measures.
UK: You’ll need to get a visa from the Russian Embassy before you travel. Processing times can be up to 20 business days for standard service or up to 3 business days for urgent service, depending upon the visa category applied for and the application itself.
USA: Yes. The Embassy of the Russian Federation website provides the most up to date information regarding visa regulations and requirements. Under a bilateral agreement signed in 2012, qualified U.S. applicants for humanitarian, private, tourist, and business visas may request and receive multiple-entry visas with a validity of 3 years or a single entry, 3-month validity visa (please note that other types of visas are not part of the agreement and those visa holders should pay close attention to the terms of their visas). You cannot enter Russia prior to the date on your visa, and you must exit Russia before your visa expires. The maximum period of stay is shown on the visa.
Russians put a lot of stock into how people dress. When going out in the evening, Russians will dress up in their finest clothes and often aim to look as smart as possible. This would include designer suits for men, and high heels with finest party clothes for women. Some clubs and restaurants will not allow entry for people who don’t meet their standards, so it’s worth packing some evening attire if you wish to explore the night life or go out for an evening meal.
Modest dress should be worn if visiting holy sites, which can include women covering their heads and shoulders, and occasionally it means women wearing a long skirt – it's useful to note that wraps are usually provided when this is the case. Men should avoid wearing shorts in churches or monasteries.
Avoid the temptation to take photos in or around public spaces such as train stations or buildings that serve and official purpose. Numerous tourists have arrested and fined for this, but security is a high priority within Russia and their laws reflect that. If you’ve any doubt, it's best to just avoid taking the photograph.
While changes have been made to improve police relations with tourists in Russia, it is still quite common for tourists to be stopped and asked to show their documents. You should carry with you your visa, passport and paperwork showing your planned route home with you at all times if you are going to explore Russia alone. Around highly visited tourist sites there are tourist police, who have special training and language skills to avoid misunderstandings and problems more common in the past.
If you want to drink vodka, and you may well want try it while you’re in Russia, do not ask for a mixer unless you’re prepared to be educated on why you should drink it neat!
Russia is becoming more westernised when it comes to tipping in that it remains discretionary, but in some situations it is expected. In restaurants, the usual tip amounts are lower than that in other countries. In rural areas, tipping does not really exist. A good idea of a generous tip is 10-15% of the total bill, but first check if service charge is included. Hand the tip directly to the server, or else the cash left on the table will go to management. You’re not expected to tip in bars with no table service.
Andante Travels will take care of gratuities to restaurant staff, local guides and drivers.