30 tips to travel in Russia (+ bonus)

30 tips to travel in Russia (+ bonus)

Russia, the world largest country is fascinating yet very intimidating for first time travellers ! You all know the clichés and the horrible ways Western medias and governements are portraying that giant scary ennemy … But if you’re reading this, it means you’re interested in going and discovering it with you own wide open eyes ! Excellent choice, you won’t regret it !

I have travelled many corners of the Russian Federation on few different trips for almost a year in total. Backpacking, hitchhiking, Couchsurfing from Chechnya to Buryatia, in both winter and summer time. Here is a list of 30 tips you should know before heading to Russia + a bonus one if you read until the end !

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1 – Learn the Cyrillic alphabet + basic phrases

You will often hear “Russians don’t speak english”. Actually, the young ones totally can, but they choose not to and would rather a thousand times to be YOU speaking your 10 words of broken Russian, because #1 they are shy/not confident enough with their level #2 related to the first one, they think you might make fun of them. And why would they need English ? You’re the one in their country, right ?

Also, people will highly appreciate, it will open you doors of overheated Russian apartments, babushkas will give you Soviet sweets and you might even get a smile !

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2 – Speaking of smilling … Don’t.

You have a natural b*tch face ? Good ! You’ll fit in Russia. Smiling is a display of happiness, and hapiness is private in Russia. If you smile at strangers, they won’t smile back, they’ll just think you’re a weirdo.

3 – Buy a local SIM card

Buy a local SIM card on your first day in the country. You can literally get unlimited 4G for less than 10€. It will help you to get around in public transport, call your host and book a taxi. Megafon and Beeline are the most popular, but make sure to get the appropriate one depending on where you’re heading. Megafon works great in big cities but Beeline has most coverage in the southern villages of Russia for example.

4 -Don’t skip Moscow & St Petersburg

I know you might have ended up on this blog looking for “off the beaten track” Russian destinations. I’m not a city person but still, these are the “two capital cities” of Russia : So much architecture, art, food and more to discover ! Moscow is unbelievably heterogeneous, you will see the whole former Soviet Union’s faces just in the metro.

5 – Book your Muscovite taxi on InDriver

Everybody will tell you about Yandex taxi, but InDriver is better because you “offer your fair”. Yes, you read right. The App will give you an average price for the ride you want, you make a cheaper but reasonnable offer and a driver around accepts it.
Also, many of the drivers in Moscow are young Caucasians, very nice and respectuf, don’t hesistate to chat with them !

6 – Don’t be afraid to use buses & marshrutkas

Russia has buses and marshrutkas going everywhere and to the most unexpected places. Don’t be afraid to jump in one. Check Yandex, find the right marshrutka number, ask the babushka waiting next to you at the bus stop if you’re not sure. In many smaller towns you’ll still find a “ticket lady” (most of the time, but might be a man) collecting money from passengers, but if you don’t see any, DON’T seat in the front. You will end up passing the money from passengers behind you up to the driver … And people telling you things in Russian you probably won’t understand. Been there, it can be awkward.

7 – Download Google translate

Or Yandex translate or any translation app.. You can totally have a whole conversation through that. Young and middle aged people are comfortable with it.
Also download the offline languages, there might be no phone signal during your train journey, and chances are if the old man sleeping in the top bunk bed above you finds out you’re a foreign tourist, you will have a new buddy in 10 minutes !

8 – Travel in Platskart

Aka the third class in Russian trains. It’s safer as it’s all open, cheaper and honeslty, you’re going to Russia for new experiences right ? Well that’s the ultimate and most authentic one !

9 – Pay cash instead of card

In big cities you will be able to pay by card even for a coffee but outside of them, it’s better to pay cash. Also carry small banknotes, the babushka selling her tasty berries in a street’s corner isn’t rich and won’t have tones of change. (Thanks to Western sanctions, this tip is absolutely not relevant in 2022)


10 – Eat like a local

You heard that in pretty much every country you’ve been to. It’s also true in Russia. You will pay triple for pelminis in a touristy restaurant instead of going one street away in a less fancy café for the exact same pelminis.
Stolovaya, sort of canteen are everywhere in Russia, cheap and very popular, you will find the most common Russian food in these.

11 – Don’t drink tap water

Unless you’re in the middle of the Altai mountains, don’t. Russian people will all tell you not to. Many buildings are old and Soviet pipes aren’t that clean anymore … You will often find large gallon of water in hotel corridors and elsewhere to refill your own bottle.

12 – Keep your hands OUT of your pockets

If you travel in winter obviously. You might not even notice the ice under the snow until your a** is on the ground. It hurts but if your hands are out, you might have a chance to make it less painfull.

13 – Don’t greet someone across the threshold

It is considered impolite and brings bad luck … One of those many Russian superstitions.

14 – Count your flowers

Numbers matter. Even numbers of flowers are for happy occasions, odd ones for funerals. So if you have a date with a pretty Slavic girl, make sure you give 13 flowers and not 12, or you won’t get a second date.

15 – Take your shoes off when entering someone’s home

Take off your dirty outdoor shoes and enjoy your pair of oversized tapochki. Every Russian home has plenty extra oversized ( or undersized, depending on your luck) slippers for guests !

16 – Couchsurfing

There are so many people across the country registered on Couchsurfing. Wether you just look for someone to hang out or an actual host, many young people are very excited to meet foreigners ! I got hosted in various places across Russia, from a datcha in Siberia to a village house in Dagestan (actually there, a “CS request” is done right in the street). You will meet amazing people and get to experience “real Russia”.

17 – Carry your passport

It is actually mandatory by law in Russia to carry your passport with you. They check your ID before boarding a train, or you might need to register at a checkpoint in the Caucasus for example.

18 – Don’t bribe the police

Firstly, because you’re only feeding the already badly corrupted system, and also because you could get caught and end up in HUGE troubles (remember you are the foreigner in Russia). So whether a bad cop is annoying you to get some money or you want to go somewhere and thought about giving out extra cash to get a quicker and easier access : DON’T.

19 – Chivalry is not dead

If you’re coming from Europe where in my opinion chivalry is dead or about to be, you will be very surprised in Russia ! Ladies, men will help you to carry your backpack above your bunk bed in a train. Guys give your seat away in the metro or bus to an elderly or pregnant woman. Uncomfortable stares will make feel you so awkward & guilty that you will anyway.

20 – Be aware of prices

In touristy spots you better be aware of prices and check your change. Overcharging a foreign tourist is not uncommon in the Red Square or Nievsky Prospekt …

21 – Try food from former Soviet countries

If you wish to get a taste of Uzbekistan or Georgia for example, you can easily find restaurants in big cities (and even smaller towns). Don’t miss out the opportunity because the food is probably made by actual locals from these countries living in Russia. And honeslty Georgian Khachapuri and Uzbek plov are probably some of the best food ever ! (I’m a picky French person so trust me when I say that)

22 – Dress appropriately

I’m not just talking about Orthodox churches here. The second largest religious community in Russia are Muslims. Guys you don’t wear shorts above knees in Chechnya in the middle of summer nor ladies show too much cleavage in a Tatar village.
Also if you travel in winter, layer your clothes. People will tell you “there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing”.

travel tips russia

23 – Don’t drink only vodka

It’s so cliché and you might be surprised to hear that many (most?) young people don’t even drink vodka. The beer scene is growing huge ! And there are so many other alcoholic AND non alcoholic beverages to try. To name a few : kvass, medavukha, cognac, samagon (watch out for that one!), kefir, compot, mors etc

24 – Beware of national holidays

Trains and planes might be packed as well as hotels in popular destinations. It is also good to be aware of them so you can take part of the celebrations ! Like New Year’s eye is HUGE in Russia and Maslenitsa is not to be missed if you’re in a Slavic populated region of the country. They are also many “regional celebrations” across Russia.

25 – Be prepared, you might be yelled at

You read correctly. I have experienced it a couple of times at least. Can happen in busy environement, in Slavic regions mostly (never happenned to me in the more laid back Caucasus for instance), because you’re on someone’s way or you didn’t get that the bus made its last stop and you have to get the hell out … What to do if it happens to you ? Either yell back in your mother tongue or just don’t pay attention and move on !
But don’t yell at a babushka, they respect elderlies overthere, and honeslty she will probably yell louder than you !

26 – Don’t compete with Russians at drinking !

You will end up in a hospital before them. They won’t stop until they can’t stand.
There are many more ways to have fun in Russia, trust me.

27 – Banya

A trip to Russia is not complete if you don’t experience a Russian sauna named Banya. Sweat out half of the water your body countains and get smacked with venik branches by a random person or a recently made Russian friend is a must do !

28 – Be prepared for limited personal space

Fun fact, there is no word to describe “personal space” in Russian. Wherever you are in Russia your personal space is going to be reduced. From crowded metro to queueing, people will be a lot closer to you than you expect from “cold and unfriendly looking people”.

29 – Speaking of queueing !

Don’t leave too much space between you and the person in the front or a babushka might sneak in and overtake you. What? It just looked like you weren’t really queueing …

30 – Be spontaneous

Because Russians in general are. So if you meet friendly locals and they think about taking you to some great place, be certain to be on your way within the next five minutes !

#Bonus tip : Don’t be afraid to go to “uncommon” destinations

Russia is huge and most of it is quite unknown to foreigners. But that doesn’t mean you have to stick the the main cities and tourist attractions. Contrary to popular beliefs, Russia is a safe country for tourists. You saw a great and weird sounding name on the map? Go ahead and ask locals on the spot, you will discover a warm and friendly whole new world away from the clichés !

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Now you tell me in the comments, where in the huge Russian Federation you would like to travel most and why ?

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