Russia is the largest country in the world, spanning across the length of Europe and Asia. This country has much to offer but there are some things you need to be aware of and plan in advance in order to avoid any culture shock. My Baggage have put together 11 things you need to know before visiting Russia.
You need to get your visa in advance
Russians has a strict visa policy, so you need to research and plan for this in advance. You need to have an invitation to qualify for a visa, but don’t worry, this can come from the hotel you plan to stay at or the tour you are planning to go on. This means that you will need to book your accommodation in advance, so this is something to remember if you are used to turning up to a city or country and finding a hostel.
Remember to register when you arrive
After you have successfully got your visa, flown to Russia, checked into your hotel and started exploring you need to remember that after arriving you will have three days to register with the government as a tourist. You will receive an immigration document that you must keep on your person at all times and keep your registration stamps up to date, otherwise, you might end up having to pay a heavy fine if caught.
Brush up on the lingo & the Cyrillic alphabet
An important tip is to learn a few local phrases and the Cyrillic alphabet. Most Russians do not speak English and you will find it hard to find anyone who does outside of Moscow and Saint Petersburg. If you are stuck, try and download Google Translate, this will work offline and will be a lifesaver. However, remember also that many things such as train station names and maps will also be in Russian only. This is why if you can decipher the alphabet it will be a lot easier for you.
Plan, plan, plan
Russia isn’t the type of holiday you can just turn up and plan on a whim. You need to be organised and have a planned itinerary, not only for visa issues but also to navigate this huge country and its transport system. If you don’t know any Russian it will be hard to get around outside of the main tourist areas. Most people who visit Russia opt for a tour, but you can do it yourself, it’s just going to take a little bit more effort than your average destination.
Russia is HUGE
Russia is the largest country on earth covering the full length of both Europe and Asia. It’s hard to really put the size of Russia into context. Journeys that look short on the map, will actually take hours, with the average train time between Moscow and St. Petersburg 8 hours. This is something to take into account when planning your trip. To put it into perspective, the Trans-Siberian railway cover from the western side of Russia to the east, above Japan. It takes seven full days of travelling to complete.
Be respectful to Russian Orthodox churches
Russia follows the Russian Orthodox religion and their churches are definitely on the list of things to see. It is free to get into the churches, however, follow dress protocols. Women need to cover their heads and should wear long skirts, as some churches won’t allow women in trousers and men need to wear long trousers and long sleeves.
Dress to impress
In Russia, people like to dress up and you will find that if you dress like a local you will get the odd stares. Some restaurants and theatres even have dress codes, so jeans and trainers will be a no-no. It’s a good idea to bring at least one dressy outfit for your time here, so if you want to catch the ballet or get dinner in a specific place you’ll be able to. It’s also definitely worth noting that no matter how warm it is DO NOT wear flip flops in Moscow. Not only will you definitely get looks but you will find your feet will be covered in dirt by the end of the day. Cosy trainers or suitable walking or dress shoes are your best bet, always.
Try out a Banya
A Banya is a traditional Russian sauna and is something that needs to be on your list. Normally segregated by genders, you can enjoy one also as a married couple. Just prepare yourself to get slapped by birch leaves and for the heat! If you’re visiting Russia in winter, this is a must do experience!
You really do see Lenin’s body in his tomb
If you are really into your history or just have a morbid curiosity in seeing Lenin, then head to
Lenin’s Mausoleum. You really do get to see the former Soviet revolutionary and leader lying in rest in his glass tomb. Remember that this is an incredibly culturally sensitive place, don’t make any jokes, laugh, smile or try to take any photos of Lenin’s embalmed body. Observe with a plain face and act respectfully. Rules state that all hats must be removed and hands are not allowed to be in your pockets, keep them at your sides and shuffle along with the line of people in front of you. You will have plenty of time to catch a glimpse of Lenin in his glass coffin.
Don’t expect western hospitality
Russians get a bad wrap for being stern and unfriendly, however, Russians are incredibly warm and friendly to family and friends. In Russian culture smiling at strangers is seen as fake, so isn’t common. Although this is something we expect in the west, it is not part of Russian culture. This is the same in regards to hospitality and experiences you may have in hotels, restaurants or bars. Don’t expect a warm and friendly service, just expect to be served. Russians are reserved so don’t take this personally, it is just the way of life here. Respect is incredibly important in Russian culture, and respect for the elderly is very much a part of society. Don’t be alarmed if a Russian Babushka shouts at you to give her your seat on the train, or jumps in front of you in the queue, this is common practise here.
Don’t drink the tap water
Not even Russians drink the tap water. Invest in bottled water alternatives or a filtered water bottle, this won’t only save you money but will also help you access water whenever you need it.