Organizing a trip to Russia is not complicated if you prepare everything with a little patience. In this article, I will explain in detail the steps I follow when I have done it for friends or family. I usually begin the preparations with 2-3 months in advance, though it is possible to do it in much less time.
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WHAT YOU NEED BEFOREHAND
There are no prior requisites to travel to Russia, simply you just need to want to travel (regardless of age) and, above all, eliminate all the common ideas or notions you may have about Russia: being an unsafe country, the mafia, what if the paperwork is complicated, whether it is not a country to go as a family with children, etc.
Russia is a safe country to travel, just like any other developed country, and visa paperwork is not complicated, so excuses are not valid.
Also, you don’t have to be a millionaire to travel to Russia. On the contrary, with Ruble devaluation, Russia has become a very affordable country. And you don’t have to know Russian. Speaking in English and a little patience can make yourself understood without problems.
STEP 1: Decide your ITINERARY (60-90 days in advance)
When planning a trip to Russia or to any other destination, the first important decision that must be taken is the itinerary that you will make. You have to be clear about the itinerary, since to obtain the visa it is necessary to know the dates of the trip and the cities in which you will stay.
Depending on the days you have available, your budget and your preferences, you can plan the most diverse itineraries. To do this, you must answer two basic questions:
- When to go? From May to September is a good time, since temperatures are warmer. The busiest months are July and August. If you are looking for more tranquility, less tourists and still good weather, the end of spring and the beginning of autumn are also good times though the weather can be variable. If you want to see the snow and the Russian winter, take the appropriate clothes to protect yourself from the cold.
- What will your itinerary be? In Russia there are 3 established tourist routes that are visited by the majority of tourists and who enjoy a good infrastructure for tourism (hotels, restaurants and other tourist services): Moscow and St. Petersburg, the Trans-Siberian, and the Golden Ring Route. These three routes can be combined. For example, you can visit Moscow and also some of the cities of the Golden Ring or begin doing the Trans-Siberian route from Saint Petersburg. The rest of tourist destinations are already at a great distance, like Kamchatka or Altai, attractive destinations but for the more adventurous travelers.
STEP 2: Reserve your FLIGHT (60-90 days in advance)
Once the journey is decided, it’s time to buy the flight tickets to Russia. It is advisable to buy them at least 2 months in advance to get the best price.
STEP 3: Apply for your VISA (45-60 days in advance)
Once you know your itinerary and you have the plane tickets, it is time to process the visa to travel to Russia, which is nothing more than an authorization for entry, stay or transit in Russian Federation territory.
If you already have a valid passport, you will need an invitation letter, which you can get in 5 minutes with iVisa or Russia Support. Once you have this documentation, you will only need to fill out the visa application form, paste a photo and sign it.
Once you have gathered all the documentation, which you can do in less than 1 hour, you must submit it at the Consulate or at the Russian Visa Center (either in person or by mail), and in about 10 days you will have your visa ready.
In total, the visa will cost you around $140 (including consular fees and invitation letter).
STEP 4: TRAIN tickets (45 days in advance)
The next stage to organize your trip to Russia will be the purchase of online tickets for Russian long-distance trains, since it is very likely that you will use this means of transport to travel between Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In Russia, the trains are very safe (I would say they are the safest means of transport) and quite economical, considering the long distances they travel.
The prices can vary, depending on the type of train and compartment, as well as the advance with which you book (you can already book up to 90 days in advance). The cost of the Sapsan fast train tickets can start from 1,000 rubles and the Red Arrow overnight train can cost from about 2,500 rubles.
STEP 5: ACCOMMODATIONS (30 days in advance)
In Russia, you can find different types of tourist accommodation, both mainly excellent, but some can be horrible (more often than elsewhere).
The prices can range from 10 dollars a night in a hostel, to 300 or 400 dollars in a 5-star hotel, going through the 50-100 dollars per day of 3- and 4-star hotels.
STEP 6: Tickets to MUSEUMS and PALACES without lines (15-30 days in advance)
When planning a tourist visit to Russia, and to avoid long lines in the high season, it is advisable to buy online tickets for the Kremlin museums in Moscow, as well as for the museums of the Hermitage, the Peterhof complex and Catherine’s Palace in the St. Petersburg area.
The museums can sell their online tickets 14 days in advance, except for Catherine’s Palace tickets that are put up for sale 30 days in advance.
The price of museum tickets can range from 150 rubles (smaller museums) to 700 rubles (Kremlin Armory), but on average they cost around 400 rubles.
Another alternative to buying tickets is to hire a guided tour with the already included tickets, which you can do through platforms such as GetYourGuide.
STEP 7: Entrance fees to SHOWS (at least 15 days in advance)
Many tourists who visit Russia, even those who are not very fond of ballet or opera, decide to go to see some interpretation. In big cities like Moscow or St. Petersburg, you can find all kinds of opera and ballet shows, but also music concerts, Russian folklore, circus or sports events such as football, basketball or hockey matches.
Opera and ballet
Sports shows: football, basketball and ice hockey
If what you like is sports, you can also buy tickets to see some football, basketball or ice hockey games, the three most widespread sports in the country.
In Moscow, the most important matches and championships are held at the Dinamo Central House of Sports, at the Luzhniki Stadium (which in 2018 it was the stage for the World Cup Final) and at the Olympic Stadium (better known as Olimpiyski), built for the Olympic Games of Moscow in 1980.
As for ice hockey, the VTB Ice Palace (formerly known as the Arena Legends) is the most modern pavilion, the headquarters of the Dinamo Moscow team.
STEP 8: Change your currency into RUBLES (7 days in advance)
Before arriving to Russia, it is advisable to change some amount of rubles to cover the initial trip expenses. The currency exchange is influenced by the price evolution of the exchange rate and the fees charged by intermediaries.
To deal with the initial expenses of the trip you can change rubles in your local bank or through some online currency exchange service like Travelex.
STEP 9: RESTAURANT reservations (5 days in advance)
In the big Russian cities you can find many fast food establishments (both American and Russian), self-service restaurants and more elaborate restaurants. In some of the latter, it is advisable to book in advance.
The menu prices of the most elaborate kitchen restaurants start at 1,500 rubles per person.
Reservations can be made through the restaurant websites or through reservation platforms such as Resto.ru
STEP 10: TAXI reservations (2-3 days in advance)
Russia can be quite a perky country with the taxi service, given the large number of illegal taxi drivers. The taxi is a good method of transport when traveling to the airport or to those places where there is not good communication through the Metro.
Taxis are not excessively expensive, though a 45-minute long journey like the one from the airport to the city center can cost around 1,500-2,000 rubles.
A good way to book a taxi in Russia is through KiwiTaxi, which allows you to book online in advance.
Which steps have you taken to organize your trip to Russia?