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30 Priceless Tips For First Time Travellers To Russia | Я не говорю по-русски

The largest country in the world is not short of controversy. It seems like it is in the news every other day. Don’t let this put you off, it draws tourists the world over with its world-class art, epic landscapes and multifaceted society.

We reached out to experts to find 30 priceless tips for first-time visitors to Russia.

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#1 What to expect St. Petersburg

A truly European-inspired city, most buildings are baroque in style. I lost count of the number of churches with their iconic onion domes; the most famous being the colorful Church of the Spilled Blood, which is just as spectacular inside as out. You’ll find the incredible attention to detail is something most churches have in common here, so do try to visit as many as possible. A trip to the Hermitage is also must, both from a historical and cultural standpoint. 

St Petersburg is called ‘The Venice of the North’ because of the canals surrounding the city, but what I didn’t realize is that the light is beautifully captured here as well. What struck me the most was the gorgeous views along the waterfronts at dusk. With the setting sun melting into the background and reflecting off the canals and those monumental buildings cast in shadow, it is quite magnificent!

Contributor: Denise Foley

Company: denise-foley.com

#2 What to expect Moscow

Moscow feels completely different, and yet the same. At first I found myself comparing the swirls, curves and color of the baroque buildings in St. Petersburg to the more simplified, constructivist styles in Moscow. But really Moscow also shares some traces of the baroque as well as some art nouveau sensibilities, you just need to know where to look. Yes, visit the Kremlin, St Basil’s, and historic Red Square, but also try to see other neighborhoods. There are streets outside of the typical tourist areas which are just beautiful; with open parks and meandering streets, you get a very different sense of life here. 

And of course, the famous underground! The circle line is a series of stops on the Moscow subway which is dedicated to the arts. Intended as ‘palaces to the people’, each station pays homage to a different medium: painting, sculpture, mosaic-tile and stained glass works are proudly displayed as part of the overall environment. A gift to Russian citizens from Stalin, don’t miss it.

Contributor: Denise Foley

Company: denise-foley.com

#6 Learn the Cyrillic alphabet

I found that a number of Russian words sounded similar to English words when I was able to convert the Cyrillic alphabet into the Roman alphabet. Only the Metro system and the signs for street names in St. Petersburg had dual Cyrillic/Roman placenames. Destinations and station stops on the mainline rail system were Cyrillic only. For example, when visiting Peterhof we needed to get the train travelling to Oranienbaum which was written as Ораниенба́ум on the departures board.

Contributor: Hazel Joy

Company: arrivalshall.com

#15 Smiles. Russians are extremely warm, passionate, friendly people…but not at first glance

Smiles. Russians are extremely warm, passionate, friendly people...but not at first glance. They do not smile at strangers, or for politeness. You may feel they are being morose, but this is just the way they are. Don't take it personally, take things slow and watch them defrost as you get to know them. Here's a good article on that.

Contributor: Joe Wareham

Company: strawberrytours.com

#16 Trains in Russia

(a) Overnight trains are great in Russia - even in the lowest class carriages you will get a proper bed. This is a great way to experience travel 

(b) Trains are also very warm so in winter it will be -30C outside and +30C inside - take clothes for warm weather and even flip flops so you can strip down for comfort! 

(c) Get to the train station and there are no more seats on the train you wanted to take? Not that I would recommend making a habit of bribing, but if you can't miss it, just head to the platform and have a friendly conversation with a carriage steward (each carriage has their own steward). 

They won't speak much English, so you can just make it clear you want to get on the train, say no ticket, and then offer an amount reasonably over what the ticket would have cost if you'd bought it at the station. Pay attention to whether it's a first (coupé) or second class carriage - the costs and comfort/privacy will vary. They will have conveniently saved a place for you.

Contributor: Joe Wareham

Company: strawberrytours.com

#28 Currency exchange

Some foreign tourists are sure they can pay in USD or euros in Russian stores, restaurants etc, but it's not true. Only Russian roubles or cards are accepted. Make sure to bring at least some cash (roubles) to pay for a taxi or public transport from an airport to the city/town, you can change more money when you are in the city center.

Use only exchange offices or banks. Moreover, bring only banknotes in good condition, because worn out, torn, crumpled paper money or banknotes with any marks (stamps or smth written on it) are not accepted. It can be changed only in particular banks (Sberbank) but on lower rate (minus 20%)

Contributor: Christina Koroleva

Company: interpreterspb.com/services/saint-petersburg-guide

#29 Taxi & Uber

There're many private drivers offering their services at airports and railway stations, I won't recommend using it, because it can be 3 times more expensive than ane city taxi service or Uber. I/d recommend using Uber or Gett or ordering a taxi via official airport/railway station service (there're stalls or booths with Taxi sign).

Contributor: Christina Koroleva

Company: interpreterspb.com/services/saint-petersburg-guide

#30 Don’t miss a chance to try some street-food

Russia is famous with borsch soup and vodka, which are nice of course, but don't miss a chance to try some street-food. For instance shawarma (kind of a kebab), you can buy it from one of the numerous stalls in every city of Russia. It's one of the most popular snacks.

Contributor: Christina Koroleva

Company: interpreterspb.com/services/saint-petersburg-guide

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Written by Nathaniel Fried

Co-founder of Fupping. Busy churning out content and building an empire.

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