Russia streatches from the European Union’s borders all the way to the Pacific coast, 9000+ kilometers from Moscow. The largest country in the world fascinates travellers still in 2023.
Despite the political situation and warnings of Western gvernments, foreign tourists can visit the golden domes of Western Russian cities, explore high Caucasian villages, and see Siberia’s wilderness through a train window.
Following the 2022 sanctions, many things have changed for tourists in Russia and it’s easy to get lost in the sea of outdated and wrong informations.
I have put together the ultimate Russia travel guide with up-to date informations and relevant tips for 2023.
Why is this guide better than others you wonder ?
#1 because it isn’t outdated like most of the blog posts (and famous travel guide book’s websites) on Google’s top results.
#2 I have spend my 3 summer months of 2022 travelling in Russia (and more than a year in total around the Federation). I write out of experience.
A travel guide for travellers by a traveller.
Are land borders open ?
Enter by land
Note : There are no more trains between the European Union and Russia.
Enter by air
Due to the sanctions, no western airlines fly to Russia and no russian airlines are allowed to fly into Europe. Here are some of the main countries and airlines flying to russian international airports :
For more information on airlines & flight booking platforms with/without a russian bank card, see my travel resources.
Visa and Mastercard do not operate in Russia anymore.
European exchange offices do not sell russian rubles and banks are unlikely to sell you any either.
You must bring enough cash for the duration of your trip (Western Union stopped operating as well). The best currencies to take with you are either Euros or US Dollars. Those are very easy to exchange.
You will be able to exchange your money anywhere from russian banks, legal currency exchange offices as well as on the black market right in the street.
The current rate :
There are selling russian rubles in airports outside of Europe, such as in Turkey and Armenia.
Note : if you can’t manage to find any rubles before arriving in the country, ask the russian people travelling with you if they want to change even 20€. Enough to get you a taxi, bus or metro ride to the city center wherever you will arrive.
Hotels, hostels, guesthouses and even appartments, anything is available across the country, for all kind of budgets.
Even a small town has at least one hotel. It might be looking very Soviet though.
During the high season and holidays, it is advisable to book in advance.
Average rates :
Hostel : 800 to 1200₽ P for a dorm bed
Economic bedroom in a hotel : 1500₽
Fancier hotel room : above 3000₽
Booking.com, Airbnb and all the popular hotel booking platforms do not operate in Russia anymore.
The two best alternative to those platforms are :
Travelling around Russia, between cities is easy thanks to amazing and second largest train network in the world. There are plenty of trains going all across the country.
Sleeping trains are quite comfortable depending on your critierias. 2 bathrooms in each wagon, free hot water from the samovar (even in summer), a restaurant wagon (not always).
Third class : open wagon with 50 beds
Second class : 4 beds compartments
First class : 2 beds compartments. (some very fancy trains even have showers).
There are fast speed trains between some cities such has Moscow – Saint Petersburg or Krasnodar – Krasnaya Polyana (Sochi). Western standards.
Try to book in advance during the high season and national holidays. If you own a MIR bank card, book directly on the RZD national railway website.
They run on time pretty much always (never ever had a train departing/arriving late). Prices vary depending on destination, duration of trip and time of the year.
Buses complement the train network, if no railway routes or simply overloaded. There are long distance buses to pretty much everywhere e.g. Moscow – Makhchkala or Krasnodar – Sevastopol. Not the most comfortable nor reliable way to travel due to traffic or else.
Can be booked only online if you own a MIR card or directly at the station. Extra fee for luggages depending on length of journey.
Mashrutkas are mini buses and popular all across the former USSR. They are quicker than the bus and in much better condition. They do short trips like to the next town but also long distances. Depart when enough passengers and can be booked by phone for long distance if you know the driver’s number or see the day prio departure.
Can be found at the bus station or right next to it. A good option for border crossings e.g. Grozny – Baku or Vladikavkaz – Tbilissi.
To book a national flight with a russian airline, one must have a russian bank card.
Flights are a popular way of travel for locals as it is shorter than train journeys. There are low costs airlines offering very good deals if booked at the right time, competing directly with trains.
Without doubts russian metros, especially Moscow’s is one of the most stunning and effective metro system in the world.
Names of stations are in latin scripts, you can buy a single ticket (around 56₽), top-up a transport card (like the Troika card in Moscow) or even use the contactless payment system of your russian bank card.
City bus & tram
Use Yandex Maps to find the right bus or tram number (Google Maps is useless) in every russian city.
You can pay cash, with the city’s transport card or with a MIR bank card. Sometimes there is a ticket lady collecting the money but they become less frequent. If not, pay directly to the driver or use the card reader.
The price of a bus ticket depends on the city. E.g. in Moscow 56₽, in Sevastopol 26₽
Yandex taxi is the main taxi service in the country. Book directly on the app to avoid scams.
If in Crimea : Yandex taxi doesn’t operate, locals use Maxim taxi instead.
Edem (meaning “let’s go”) is the russian version of Blablacar. Share rides with local drivers in exchange for gas. It’s an interesting way to travel if buses and trains are full. Some drivers make HUGE distances across the country.
Hitchhikng is well known in Russia and legal. In remote parts of the country it is just like hailing a taxi, locals give some money to the driver. If you hitchhike for free in remote areas, make sure to tell the driver before you get in to avoid any misunderstanding.
You can flag down vehicules but I like to use my thumb and it works perfectly.
Of course it is never entirely safe but if you are an experience hitchhiker, I trust you know what you’re doing.
DO NOT accept a ride with a drunk driver. Avoid hitchhikng at night. Make sure you know where you are heading keep an eye on your phone GPS). Ladies, trust your guts.
Drivers can make insanely long distances, including with cars.
Scams & street crimes
Nowhere in the world is fully safe. However, I find russian cities and metros including Moscow and Saint Petersburg to be much safer than Paris for example.
Use your common sense, don’t brag and yell out that you are a foreigner carrying lots of cash nor walk around with luxury items.
In the train
Trains are very safe in Russia. Depending on where you are heading or passing through, you might see a couple of policemen walking by your wagon from time to time.
Tips: Put your money and travel documents into the pillow case when sleeping and carry them with you always, if you go to the bathroom, restaurant wagon or anywhere else.
In Russia, corruption involving foreign tourist is very low. If it happens to you, don’t pay the low rank policeman. Instead make a scene, ask to be taken to the police station and he should not take things any further.
Bribing an official is obviously illegal in Russia too and I dare say that as a foreigner one would be in a much worse position than a russian citizen.
Best to follow the rules and simply avoid bribing anybody.
[Disclaimer : I am white western girl and never experienced any racism in Russia]
Unfortunetely racism is very real. However since the 2018 football wordcup, I find, as well as my local friends, that people seem more open to non-white foreigners.
If you are Asian you might be mistaken for someone from Central Asia and your documents might be asked by the police.
If you are black, you will stand out very much. However, people are getting used to it in big cities as there are a lot of students from African countries.
Most people who will ask you for a picture don’t mean it in a bad way. Take it as an opportinuty to meet locals.
If you are Arab, some might think you’re a rich middle eatern. Your lot seems to be very welcome since the 2018 World Cup.
If you are Muslim, you will be very welcomed by people from muslim majority regions of Russia. They are a lot of them all across the country and huge communities in Moscow for example.
If you are a Westerner, russian people do not hate us obviously.
Avoid showing it. Russian society is very traditional. Men date women, a family is a husband and a wife + kids. Sadly, there is very little room for differences. If you travel with your partner, husband or wife of the same sex, avoid public display of affection.
Speaking out of experience, sexual harrasment is a rare thing in Russia. So rare that it never happened to me there. Even when I came back “home” late at night on my own. Something I’d never ever do in a Western country, I feel safe enough in Russia it do it.
I always feel safe anywhere I go on my own : metro, walking at night in the street, hiking on my own in the mountains. Common sense applies. Trust your guts.
The 3 most popular phone companies in Russia are MTS, Megafon and Beeline.
You can easily buy a simcard on arrival, shops are in every city center.
In my experience Beeline works best for villages and more remote areas. Though, if you are in the middle of nowhere, you are unlikely to have any phone signal at all.
For city use, I find Megafon very good.
Example of what you can get for 650₽ – 10€ with Megafon : 20Gb of internet, 400 minutes call in Russia + some social like Telegram unlimited.
Tips : if you plan to travel all around Russia make sure the sim card you get works in other regions too.
Dislaimer about Crimea : watch out for roaming charges !
Crimea has its own mobile operators. If you didn’t buy a special plan for Crimea with let’s say MTS, they will overcharge you and all your datas will be gone within minutes scrolling out your Instagram feed.
Those special “Crimea 2 weeks holiday plans” are more expensive than simply getting a local simcard on the semi island.
You can buy one right out of the bus or train station in Crimea. E.g. a lady sells Volna Mobile simcards outside the door of Sevastopol’s bus station. Can’t miss her, she has a table with piles of simcards under an umbrela .
Late spring until early autumn is probably the best time to visit Russia if you fear the cold, but it is more a matter of personal preferences really. Russia is a year round destination.
Here are examples of awesome experiences depending on the seasons :
One to two weeks
The classic route : Moscow – Saint P. – Kazan
First time in Russia ? This is the ultimate first trip itinerary to get a good idea of what the country has to offer.
From Saint Basil Cathedreal on the Red Square to the Sharif Mosque of Kazan, visit some of the best museums and art galleries in the world, taste food from all over Russia and watch world class performances in splendide theatres.
High speed trains between these cities and International flights and buses to Moscow and Saint P.
The Caucasus route : Sochi – Grozny – Derbent
From the Black sea to the Caspian sea. A very accessible but off the beaten track route. The North Caucasus will blow your mind by its diversity of landscapes, faces, food and languages.
Enjoy the Russian Riviera in Sochi, spend your morning at the beach and your afternoon high up the mountains in Krasnaya Polyana resort. Then head to Grozny to visit the Dubai of the Caucasus, see for yourself the real Chechnya that mainstream medias refuse to show. Finally meet Russia’s most hospitable people in Dagestan while vising the ancient silk road city of Derbent.
International flights available to Sochi, Grozny & Makhachkala. Bus from Tbilisi & bus + train from Baku.
The Siberian route : Irkutsk – Baikal – Ulan Ude
Explore Siberia’s historical past in the pleasant city of Irkutsk, discover Russia’s blue gem Baikal lake and learn about the local myths and legends of Olkhon island, finally take a train along the southern shores of the lake and check out Ulan Ude’s Buddhist culture mixed with Soviet architecture.
Flights from Moscow, trains from China & Mongolia.
The Far East route : Vladivostock – Khabarovsk – Kamchatka
An adventurous journey to discover the wild russian far east. Start in Vladivotock the surprisingly very western port city, head north to Khabarovk to see China from across the Amur river. Fly to Kamchtka over the Okhotsk sea and discover Russia like you’ve never seen before, full of volcanoes and geyers.
Tip : make a detour to Birobizhan and learn about the very first Jewish state created.
International flights to Vladivostock.
One month or more
From the Golden Ring to the Artic Circle : Moscow – Golden Ring cities – Saint P – Murmansk
The classic route with a twist. Explore Russia’s capital cities’ highlights, then head to some of the magical Golden Ring historical towns like Suzdal, Vladimir or Rostov Veliki. Finally take the Arktika train above the Arctic circle to Murmank in the Kola Peninsula, you might catch some Northern Lights if you travel in winter !
High speed trains between Moscow & Saint P. International flights and buses to Moscow and Saint P.
The Trans-Siberian : The ultimate adventure
From Moscow to Vladivostok, a 9288 kilometres train journey to admire Siberia’s wilderness and see the biggest freshwater lake in the world : Baikal. A once in a lifetime epic adventure to discover real Russia, its incredible diversity of people and landscapes.