The Russian Federation has the largest landmass of all the world’s countries, stretching from its northern European borders with Finland and Norway to its East Asian borders with China and North Korea. As you’d expect in such a large country, there is a great deal of diversity in geography and culture. Russia can be roughly split up into European and Asian sectors by the Ural Mountains, with the European part containing St Petersburg and Moscow being the most popular among travellers.

For much of the 20th Century, Russia opposed the West in the ideological / political conflict known as the Cold War. After the 1917 Russian revolution, Russia became a communist state, and spread these ideals to the corners of its empire. Due to periods of economic stagnation in the 1980’s, then General Secretary Gorbachev encouraged a restructuring of the economy to make it more competitive and allow it to keep up with the industrial powerhouse of the USA. This attempt failed in as much as the newly empowered eastern European states chose to disassociate themselves from the USSR, leading to the break up of the Soviet Empire in 1992 and the end of communism in Europe.


One of the greatest achievements of the Soviet Empire was to impose a unifying language across the Russian Federation. As a result, Russian is spoken all over the Federation, and the regional languages that prevailed up until 50 years ago are confined to rural areas. However, these are now experiencing something of a resurgence as local areas rediscover their culture. English is increasingly common in cities and among young people, and you will find it spoken well in hotels and tourist attractions.


As of the 20th of October 06, 1 USD will buy you 26.875 Russian Roubles, 1 GBP will buy 50.581 roubles and 1 Euro buys 33.883. Traveller’s cheques are not particularly useful in Russia, as there are very few banks, even in cities, that will exchange them. It is more common to keep a small amount of both roubles and dollars on you. Many shops, especially those selling more expensive commodities, trade in dollars, and you will find them accepted, and often preferred, in hotels and restaurants.


Russia has a continental climate, as most of it is hundreds of miles from the sea. It has only two seasons, summer and a very long winter. Most of the country’s average temperature is below freezing, and large parts of Siberia have permanent snowfields. Because of the great distance from the sea, most of the country has a very low annual rainfall. Moscow receives around 525 mm, and may have up to 200 days of snow cover. The southern European parts of Russia have longer, hotter summers.


Any trip to Russia should include the capital city, Moscow. Red Square is the focal point of the city, and contains much of the country’s grandest architecture. The seat of government, the Kremlin, is on one side of the square and protected by a huge red fortress. The Kremlin contains twenty towers, and the beautiful St Basil’s cathedral. When this building was completed in 1560, Ivan the terrible had the architect blinded so he could never build another building as beautiful. This cathedral is where the Tsars used to be crowned, and contains the throne of Ivan the terrible. It also houses a fine collection of some of the oldest and most sacred icons in Russia.

Moscow Zoo was built in 1874, and has gradually grown into the largest zoo in Russia. The zoo’s 21 hectares are decorated with small castles, streams and fountains, and contain a massive 1000 different species of animals. It is open from 10.00 until 20.00 in the summer and 10.00 until 18.00 in the winter. Entrance for adults is 100 roubles.

St Petersburg is the second largest city in the federation, and used to be Russia’s cultural centre. Its architecture is more European in style than Moscow and somewhat grander. The city was founded by Peter the Great in 1700 and was the capital of Tsarist Russia for the following 200 years. The City is built on 42 islands on the delta of the River Neva, which has caused some to dub it ‘the Venice of the North’.


The most popular souvenir items people buy in Russia are Matryoshka dolls, Khouli lacquered boxes and Samovars (tea sets). You should be aware that if buying items such as these from an antique shop rather than a souvenir shop, you might need to provide an export license.


Moscow alone has more casinos than the whole of Europe combined. These are found in the growing number of 24 hour entertainment complexes which include restaurants, bars and clubs. Alcoholism and public drunkenness is a problem, and it is wise to ensure there is a security detail on duty if you decide to go to a club.


Driving around Russia is an adventure. Although in Moscow and St Petersburg it reasonably easy and safe, once you get into the countryside, the roads are unmarked and dangerous. Petrol stations are infrequent and if you break down you may find yourself stranded for hours.

Food and Drink

Russian cuisine is as varied as the land is vast. What you will eat depends on where you are and what time of year it is. Some popular national dishes are:

  • Borshtsh (Beetroot soup)
  • Blini (crepes filled with a variety of toppings, including caviar, cheese or sometime just butter)
  • Pirozhky (like spring rolls, with meat and vegetables)
  • Stroganoff (beef stew)
Vodka is the national drink and many different types are available. Beware of very cheap vodka in small shops, as it may not have been produced safely.

Tourist Info

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