Frequently asked questions about Russia

What is the best time to travel?

The best time to visit Russia is during the summer months (April-September). The winters in St. Petersburg are very cold whilst Moscow is more moderate. That said, it is very interesting to visit Russia during the winter and see its genuine snowy scenes that give the landscape a certain charm. The Russian Winter Art Festival also takes place in Moscow during this period. Operas, ballets, theatre and re-enactments of folklore tales characterise the festivities. You can also ride on a troika, which is a traditional Russian sleigh pulled by three horses. Christmas and the New Year are celebrated with public festivities such as music, stalls selling warm drinks and traditional Russian food on all the big squares and parks in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

What are the best festivals and when do they take place?

The most important festivals in Russia are: New Year (1st January), Christmas (7th January), International Women’s Day (8th March), International Labour Day (1st May), Victory Day (9th May), Independence Day (12th June) and Unity Day (4th November).
Aside from these festivals, there are a number of public holidays in honour of the army, the navy, the air force, the fire service, the police etc. as well as a number of religious holidays of which Easter is the most important. Throughout February there is much music and culture to be seen on many stages in Moscow. The most important festival in St. Petersburg is the ‘White Nights festival', which is a very memorable occasion. During this period in June-July, it never gets completely dark at night. Throughout the city there are concerts, opera, ballet and classical music in all of St Petersburg's theatres. On the banks of the River Neva the nights become very busy when the bridges are opened at 2am. 

Can I pre-book transfers and extra nights?

Yes you can pre-book transfers (arrival transfer only) and extra nights with Shoestring. You can add this on your booking form.

What about my passport?

You need a passport that is valid for at least 6 months from the date of your departure. You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa when you travel.

Do I need a visa?

You are responsible for having a valid passport and visa when you travel. Please check the embassy if you need a visa for Russia and click here to check out the current situation. Make sure you inquire at least a month before departure if you need a visa so you do not run into time problems.

At present, a visa is required. To obtain a Russian tourist visa you will require several documents including an Invitation Letter from a Russian travel agent. This invitation letter will be provided by Shoestring once you have booked your tour. To issue the Invitation Letter, our Russian agent will need your full name as well as the number and expiry date of your passport. We therefore kindly ask that you provide this information at the time of booking your tour. If this is not possible, please send these details to us by email at your earliest convenience after booking.

Do I need vaccinations or malaria tablets?

Please click here for questions regarding vaccinations and malaria tablets for this country and then contact your local GP or a specialised health clinic to make an appointment to get your injections and pills. Please make sure that you arrange this at least six weeks before departure to allow time for a full program of injections. Two weeks should suffice for people who have already had a few injections. You are responsible for having the right protection when going on tour.

What is the recommended currency for Russia?

The official currency is the Ruble (RUB) divided into 100 kopeks. Most major credit cards (Visa, MasterCard, Amex, etc.) are accepted in the larger hotels and tourist places. Currency can be changed at banks, currency exchange booths and hotels. ATMs are widely available in the major cities. It is hard to get rubles outside of Russia and travellers are advised to take good condition US dollars or Euro notes to change once there. It is illegal to pay for goods or services in hard currency, though in practice it is often accepted.

What kind of clothing and other stuff is practical to take?

If you go during the summer, an umbrella is very useful. Bringing a jacket and/or jumper is also a good idea. If you visit Russia during the winter, you will require warm, windproof clothing and gloves, scarves and warm headgear. It is advisable to wear many layers. Warm boots that cover at least your ankles are practical in winter due to the deep snow. For a trip to a theatre, concert or restaurant, you should wear smart clothing. When visiting churches it is not permissible to wear shorts, short skirts, open tops or sleeveless T-shirts. Further important items to bring include good, comfortable walking shoes, sunglasses, sun creams, swimwear for Russian saunas, a cap, long trousers, a jumper with long sleeves, toiletries, a first aid kit, a camera and spare batteries, an alarm clock, writing equipment, books, your valid passport and visa, all relevant travel insurance details and documents.

What kind of luggage should I take?

A small backpack or shoulder bag is useful for your daily hand luggage. For storage of money and important documents, a thin money belt worn under your clothing is invaluable. Make sure that your luggage is not too heavy. We find that 12 kg is usually the most that you will need and a large backpack is generally more practical than a hard suitcase.

What is the electricity situation in Russia?

Please click here to check what voltage and plugs are in use in Russia. You could consider taking a universal electric plug adaptor too.

Which travel guides and maps?

If you want to take a travel guide or map, we suggest you click on Lonely Planet.

What is the accommodation like?

You will stay in medium priced hotels in rooms with private bathroom 

How is accommodation arranged if I book alone?

If you book alone you will share your room with a fellow traveller (same sex when possible) unless you have booked a single room.

Do they cater for vegetarians in Russia?

You will find plenty of vegetarian options in both Moscow and St Petersburg as they have a great variety of restaurants.

What kind of transportation is used?

You will take a night train from Moscow to St Petersburg in the second sleeper class.

Is Russia dangerous?

The streets in Russia are safe. The infamous Russian mafia doesn’t waste its time with tourists. Crime has risen quickly in recent years in Moscow and St. Petersburg as a result of economic circumstances. When getting a taxi, go in a group. Never get in a car in which two or more people are already sitting. Bolt your compartment door on the night train when going to sleep. Valuable objects can be hidden on the luggage rack or in the cupboards under the lowest bunk. Theft occurs, particularly in the metro or in big crowds. Don’t be conned by the gypsies who beg in the larger metro stations. When in the stations or in a crowd, simply hold your belongings safely and tightly and do not show aggression. Keep your money, passport and other important documents in a money belt worn under your clothes or leave them behind in the hotel safe. 

What local customs do I need to keep in mind?

Food and hospitality are practically one and the same in Russia. If somebody has guests, there will be plenty of food provided at every moment of the visit. The range of food offered is seen as a measure of one’s hospitality. Once the meal begins, you may not refuse any food or drink offered as this will cause offence.
It is normal to share things such as cigarettes, food or drink with others, even complete strangers with whom you may share a train carriage.
The women in Russia do not simply dominate certain professions (doctors, teachers, sales people), they also dominate Russian life. Talk of emancipation in our countries does not even cover the situation in Russia. Women perform heavy physical labour and also take care of the children as well as working. After retirement, many babushkas (grandmothers) look after their grandchildren.

How are communications in Russia?

Public phones are good for local and international calls. They take phonecards which can be bought at newspaper kiosks and post offices. Phone booths in airports and major hotels usually take Amex or Visa cards but are generally much more expensive than street phones. Mobile phones work in most large towns and cities. There are numerous local operators using GSM 900/1800 networks, each covering relatively small areas. Visitors are required to declare mobile phones at customs when entering Russia. Email and Internet access is available at internet cafes throughout the major towns and cities.

What is the time difference?

Please check the world clock in order to find out the exact time difference.

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