Russia Tours & Vacations
Our thoughts and hearts are with the people in Ukraine, including our own team members, tour leaders and their families, who have been deeply impacted by this senseless war and invasion of Ukraine.
Intrepid is not currently operating any tours that visit Ukraine, Russia or Belarus and tours in these countries have been cancelled for the foreseeable future.
Intrepid condemns the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the Russian government’s aggression towards Ukraine and its people.
Any future decisions to resume operations in Russia will be based not only on the safety of our travellers and the communities we visit, but the stability of Europe and a clear path to peace for all innocent and oppressed people who have fallen victim to this violence.
The Intrepid Foundation has launched an emergency appeal in partnership with Australian Red Cross to provide support (food, water, shelter & medicine) within Ukraine and assistance for displaced people in surrounding counties. We ask that you please consider giving at The Intrepid Foundation Ukraine Crisis Appeal
We hope for a peaceful path out of this crisis soon and are continuing to monitor the situation closely.
Articles on Russia
Russia at a glance
Moscow (population approximately 12 million)
Approximately 145 million
Russian Ruble (RUB)
(GMT+03:00) Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd
Type C (European 2-pin) Type F (German 2-pin, side clip earth)
Learn more about Russia
Culture and customs
Russia may be one country but it’s the sum of its varied parts. You’ll find the European parts of Russia, like St Petersburg and Moscow, quite fast-paced and cosmopolitan compared to Siberian towns like Lake Baikal. Then there’s the far north and Arctic towns like Murmansk that have an entirely different way of life again.
The most widely practised religion is Russian Orthodox Christianity, with about 40 per cent of Russians identifying themselves as adherents of the sect. There is also a significant population of Muslims and about a quarter of the population identify as non-religious. Around Lake Baikal there is a fairly large population of Old Believers – Christians who practise an older form of Orthodox Christianity and more traditional way of life.
Russians may have a reputation for being frosty but most locals across this vast land value camaraderie and hospitality. Smiles aren’t necessarily doled out just to make strangers feel more comfortable, but no matter where you are, if you’re polite and curious you can expect to be embraced by Russians (though maybe not in the physical sense). An invitation to dinner will undoubtedly end in the host showering you with copious amounts of food and drink (yes, we’re talking about vodka).
Fiercely proud of (and vocal about) their contributions to the arts and sciences (brush up on your Tolstoy and Chekov before your visit), Russians don’t take kindly to negative stereotypes and generalizations about their country. Go with an open mind and you’ll find Russians ready and willing to share their hospitality, traditions and love for their country with you.
History and government
There isn’t a lot of concrete information available on the early humans who lived on the land now known as Russia. However, rudimentary tools unearthed in the North Caucasus region (near Georgia and Azerbaijan) suggest that the greater region has been occupied (not necessarily continuously) for around 1.5 million years.
The Mongols vs The Princes
Legend says the Viking ruler of Novgorod, Oleg, conquered Kiev in the ninth century and used its strategic position to form the Slavic state of Rus’ – a collection of various noble families that coordinated trade but ruled each of their territories independently. The 13th century saw all Rus’ territories ceded to the Mongols, but the royals were often allowed to continue governing their territories as long as they paid lavish tribute to their Mongol superiors. The princes of Rus’ bided their time, buttering up their rulers by crushing peasant uprisings, and in the 15th century the nobility of Rus’, led by Ivan the Great, began to take back territory from the Mongols by force.
Ivan the Terrible crowned himself the first ‘Tsar of all the Russians’ in 1547. His legacy includes the beginning of the exploration and colonization of Siberia and the unification of Russia under a nationalist autocrat. Michael Romanov assumed the position of Tsar of Russia in 1613, which began the approximately 300-year reign of the Romanov family, during which Russia conquered territory in Belarus, Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia, Estonia, Kazakhstan and more.
In 1917, widespread strikes and protests broke out across the country, motivated by a desire for better working conditions, better pay and a fairer society. As a result of this uprising, the last of the Romanovs in Russia (many royals and their supporters had at this point already fled the country) were first placed under house arrest and then executed in 1918.
The series of uprisings in 1917 led to a years-long period of civil war between the Bolsheviks (communists) and the Whites (anti-communists), from which the Bolsheviks emerged triumphant. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed in the same year, led by Joseph Stalin. He consolidated his power and emerged as a fierce dictator, with policies of forced labour and brutal repression replacing dreams of a democratic socialist state led by workers. After Stalin’s death in 1953, the USSR began to decentralize, modernize and become less repressive until its eventual dissolution – or collapse – In 1991.
After the dissolution of the USSR, Russia underwent a very fast period of economic liberalization, with mixed results. Russia experienced a series of financial crises throughout the 1990s from which it was slow to recover, and income disparity is still a big problem throughout the country.
Eating and drinking
Like a lot of countries with colder climates, Russia's food is typically heavy and hearty. Pickling and preserving are popular as a result of the need for food that can last through harsh winters when produce may be scarce. In large cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, the food scene is cosmopolitan and diverse, with plenty of chefs experimenting with fusion dishes and new takes on Russian classics.
We’ve compiled a list of the most bread-sopping, jaw-dropping, mouth-watering Russian drinks and dishes you should make a beeline for during your travels:
A signature dish of Tatarstan, a semi-independent part of western-central Russia, laghman is a tasty meal of thick pulled noodles served with meat and vegetables.
Even if you’re not normally a fan of the clear spirit, drinking vodka in Russia is undeniably a cultural experience just as much as a way to get your buzz on. Usually served straight from the freezer – neat or in a shot glass – and accompanied by a rousing toast (and sometimes a little snack called a zakuski), vodka is an easy way to bond with locals – just don’t ask for a mixer.
This liquor, made from fermented honey, has been around since bee farming first became a thing and the drink still maintains a vintage air. Russia has a long beekeeping tradition and honey is still a huge industry across the country, which also makes for a healthy medovukha (mead) industry.
- Pelmeni (dumplings)
A Siberian classic, these meat and vegetable-filled packages are the perfect antidote to frigid winters. Often served with sour cream and dill, the little parcels of goodness have a more rustic and earthy flavour profile than their South East Asian counterparts.
Somewhere between a crepe and a pancake, the blini can be served with either sweet or savoury toppings as diverse as caviar, salmon, jam and honey. They’re most popular during Maslenisa, the week before Great Lent in Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Pickling, the art of preserving produce in jars, is a widespread artform in Russia. From wooden cabins in rural villages to cramped apartments in St Petersburg, you’ll see jars filled with slowly curing cucumbers, tomatoes, mushrooms and more lining the kitchen shelves of local homes.
Another Tatarstan classic, chebureki consists of meat stuffed in flaky pastry that is then deep fried. Onions, beef and pepper make up the traditional filling in this easy-to-eat street food staple, which are perfect as a roadside snack or bite between sightseeing.
It’s sad that this soup has become little more than a punchline to an unfunny joke about Eastern European food since in reality it’s a rich and respectable dish with an impressive history. Made from beetroot and typically including meat, garlic and stock, there’s a longstanding cultural stoush over who the sour soup really belongs to, with Ukraine also claiming the dish as its own.
Forget what you’ve heard! Travelling as a vegetarian in Russia has always been relatively easy, as many staples of Russian cuisine are vegetarian by default. In terms of classic Russian dishes, vegetarians can safely order dishes like blini (pancakes), boiled potatoes, beetroot salads, fried potatoes and cabbage pelmeni.
Travelling as a vegan requires a bit of creativity if you’re planning on leaving the major cities. Vegans should be aware the side dishes favoured by vegetarians are often prepared or served with animal fats. However, even eateries in small towns will usually have a few vegan options on the menu like salad, bread and potatoes cooked in oil. Both vegetarians and vegans should keep in mind that vegetable soups are frequently made with meat stock that may not be listed on the menu.
Of course, this is all a lot easier when you’re travelling with a local, someone who knows the language and the culture and can help you tell your sorrel from your schi (they’re both soups FYI). If you travel with Intrepid, you’ll have a local leader who can help you decipher menus and recommend good plant-based choices.
Geography and environment
Sharing its border with 14 countries, as well as the Pacific and Arctic oceans, Russia is the largest country in the world (twice the size of runner-up Canada). It’s not surprising, then, that Russia’s environment is incredibly diverse and ranges from Arctic tundra to coniferous forests and mountain ranges.
Siberia is the vast expanse that makes up almost 80 per cent of Russia’s territory. This region is known for its bitter climate and wilderness, with winter temperatures ranging from -45°C (-49°F) in the Sakha Republic to -22°C (-7.6°F) in warmer areas like Omsk. Though much of Siberia’s landscape cannot support agriculture, it’s home to a wealth of natural resources like natural gas, oil, coal and gold. For this reason, Siberia is home to some industrial cities that operate in mind-boggling environments, built on permafrost with expert engineering to withstand extreme conditions.
The Ural Mountains separate Siberia from European Russia, which houses about 80 per cent of the country’s population despite making up around 20 per cent of its land mass. European Russia – which makes up most of the East European Plain – is made up primarily of large plains, waterways and wetlands. The climate here is more seasonal than in Siberia, featuring winters with temperatures below freezing, but warm and wet summers.
From the Ural Mountains, Russia’s 102,000 kilometres of waterways flow into the Baltic, White, Caspian and Black seas through this East European Plain.
It's not just stories you'll return home from Russia with. There'll be plenty of opportunities to get your mittens on one of these iconic Russian mementos (and maybe grab some for your friends too):
You may not be able to bring a lot of it back, depending on your country’s customs laws, but you should try to grab at least one bottle of Russian vodka while you’re here. Extra points for grabbing a bottle of Putinka – named after Russia’s President Putin.
Russia's famous matryoshka, or 'babushka', dolls were first crafted in the 19th century and remain one of Russia's most recognized souvenirs.
Need a stylish but no-nonsense hat that also protects you from the elements? Never fear, ushanka is here. You can get the kind made from inexpensive synthetic materials in tourist shops or pick up the animal fur variety, depending on whether you plan to use it for costumes or during a Trans-Siberian trek.
Take your commitment to tea parties to an ornate extreme with a Russian samovar. A precursor to the kettle, a samovar has two main chambers. The inner chamber is ventilated and made for burning a small fire. This fire then boils water held in the outer chamber where tea can be steeped. If that all sounds a bit labour intensive for you, they also make a fancy decoration or the perfect vessel for cocktails on tap.
Festivals and events
Believe the hype, not the stereotypes, because there's nothing Russians love more than a reason to celebrate. These are some of the biggest days on the festival calendar:
White Nights Festival
It isn’t always pretty living this close to the Arctic Circle. Winter in St Petersburg, while undeniably beautiful, can be brutal. Of course, the flip side of the freezing winters are summers where the days never seem to end. While true ‘midnight sun’ doesn’t occur in St Petersburg (the sun sets for at least a few hours each day), the city sees very little darkness over the high summer months of June and July. St Petersburg hosts parties, performances and cultural events throughout this period, the exact dates of which change every year. This is a great time to visit the city as the streets hum with energy while the locals celebrate summer.
On 9 May every year, a massive display of military strength takes place in Moscow’s Red Square. Partly a commemoration of the end of WWII, partly a celebration of Russian pride, this massively popular event seems to get bigger every year. If you’re interested in military history, national identity or modern Russian politics, you might be interested in planning your trip to coincide with Victory Day.
It makes sense that a country that experiences sub-zero temperatures for so many months of the year would find a way to embrace the cold. Every year during December and January, Moscow transforms into a festive wonderland complete with a glittering Christmas village in Revolution Square, ice skating at Gorky Park and a public snowman-making extravaganza on Arbat Street. If you’re travelling to Russia during the darker months, a visit to Moscow during the Winter Festival is a must.
With origins as a Pagan folk holiday to mark the end of winter, today’s Maslenisa celebration is a chance to eat your fill of Russian pancakes (blini) while taking in various celebrations before the sombre Russian Orthodox Pascha period comes around. It’s an incredibly joyful and delicious time to be in Russia.
For inspiring stories to prepare you for your Russia adventure, check out these books:
- War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
- GULAG: A History – Anne Applebaum
- The Women of Lazarus – Marina Stepnova
- The Big Green Tent – Lyudmila Ulitskaya
- Heart of a Dog – Mikhail Bulgakov
- Lenin's Tomb – David Remnick
- Secondhand Time – Svetlana Alexievich
- Selected Stories – Anton Chekov
Russia travel FAQs
Trips from 1 January 2023 onwards
From 1 January 2023, Intrepid will no longer require travellers to provide proof of vaccination against COVID-19 (excluding all Polar trips and select adventure cruises).
However, we continue to strongly recommend that all Intrepid travellers and leaders get vaccinated to protect themselves and others.
Specific proof of testing or vaccination may still be required by your destination or airline. Please ensure you check travel and entry requirements carefully.
The summer months (June, July and August) are the most popular time for international tourists in Russia as the weather is warmest and the days are the longest. Russia doesn’t quite get midnight sun but its proximity to the Arctic Circle means the high summer is accompanied by daylight that stretches until 11 pm. Summer in Russia is also when St Petersburg hosts all-night parties, performances and cultural events as part of the White Nights Festival. The downsides? The major sights and cities get pretty busy and it rains a lot.
While the charms of summer in Russia are well known, we’re actually quite partial to winter travel in the region. While Moscow and its milder cousin St Petersburg are prone to temperatures below 0°C (32°F) from November through to March, the snow coating the cities is unbelievably beautiful. There are fewer tourists, more chances to interact with locals and (in December and January) incredible Christmas decorations and festivities that light up the frosty streets and squares. Plus, Russian food is hearty and designed to keep you warm.
If you’re travelling to Siberia be prepared for a subarctic climate. That means even in summer you can expect July temperatures to max out at between 10°C (50°F) and 17°C (63°F). If you can handle the cold, a Siberian winter is really something to remember. Despite temperatures reaching an eye-watering -22°C (-7.6°F) in Lake Baikal in January, the frozen waters and winter wonderland vibes more than make up for it. Besides, homes and cities in Siberia are built to handle the cold so you’ll do fine once you’re inside.
While the Russian visa process has a reputation for being complicated and strict, things are getting easier every year for travellers who want to visit the country. Most nationalities need a visa to enter Russia, with exceptions given to former USSR states like Ukraine and most countries in South and Central America.
Travellers from the USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand need to obtain a visa before travelling to Russia. Before you contact your embassy or consulate, you will need to get your Letter of Invitation sorted. Fortunately, we will organize this for you. Our full guide to visas and LOIs can be found here.
Tipping is appreciated but not expected in Russia. At restaurants there is often a service charge included on the bill, in which case you don’t need to tip. If you would like to tip for good service, rounding up the bill or adding a 10–15 per cent gratuity is more than enough.
If you’re planning to use your mobile phone in Russia (with either global roaming activated or by using a local SIM) you’ll find internet in the major cities is quick and free wi-fi is often available through hotspots. Just keep in mind that in order to connect to hotspots you will have to authenticate your identity. Travellers will be able to find internet cafes in Russia's large cities like Moscow, St Petersburg and Suzdal. In rural areas, internet access might be patchy or non-existent.
Internet access is available on the Trans-Siberian Railway for certain legs of the journey. This requires the purchase of a local connection (around USD 40), which will work with some laptops and certain 3G devices.
Cell phone coverage is generally good in the cities and regional centres of Russia, although coverage may not be available in remote areas. If you want to use your mobile phone, ensure global roaming is activated before you arrive (but be aware of the fees this may incur).
Travellers can expect to encounter both squat toilets and modern flushable toilets while travelling through Russia. Be prepared by carrying your own soap and toilet paper as these aren't always provided. Additionally, some public toilets may require a small fee payment before access, so be sure to carry change.
Russia's unit of currency is the ruble. Prices here are approximate and shown in US dollars for ease of comparison.
- Trip on the metro = USD 0.70
- Internet cafe surfing = USD 1–3 per hour
- Serve of vodka in a ryumochnaya = USD 1–2
- Pint of beer = USD 2.5
- Canteen meal = USD 5–10
- Dinner at a restaurant = USD 15–20
Drinking tap water isn't recommended in Russia. For environmental reasons, try to avoid buying bottled water. Ask your leader or hotel where filtered water can be found and don't forget to avoid ice in drinks and peel fruit before eating.
Credit cards are usually accepted by hotels, large retailers and shops but may not be accepted by smaller vendors. Always carry enough cash for smaller purchases in case credit cards are not an option.
Travellers will be able to find ATMs in Russia's large cities and regional centres. Remote and rural areas will have less ATM availability, so prepare accordingly before venturing out of metropolitan areas.
Given the size of Russia, the weather tends to vary depending on where you are. From June through September most of the country, aside from Siberia, will see warm weather. The long winter from November until March/April sees snow and freezing temperatures, while temperatures in the shoulder seasons vary from place to place. St Petersburg, for example, may see temperatures ranging from 5–20°C (41–68°F) degrees in the lead up to summer.
Absolutely. All passengers travelling with Intrepid are required to purchase travel insurance before the start of their trip. Your travel insurance details will be recorded by your leader on the first day of the trip. Due to the varying nature, availability and cost of health care around the world, travel insurance is very much an essential and necessary part of every journey.
For more information on insurance, please go to: Travel Insurance
- 1 January New Year’s Day
- 7 January Russian Orthodox Christmas Day
- 23 February Defender of the Fatherland Day
- 8 March International Women’s Day
- 1 May International Labour Day/Spring Festival
- 9 May Victory Day
- 12 June Russian Independence Day
- 4 November Unity Day
Keep in mind that some businesses shut down in the ten days leading up to 7 January. For a full list of public holidays in Russia go to World Travel Guide.
We recommend LGBTQIA+ travellers exercise discretion when travelling in Russia.
Russia is not a safe destination for LGBTQIA+ travellers who wish to openly express sexuality and/or gender identity outside of a very rigid, heterosexual binary. Openly LGBTQIA+ people face stigma, harassment and violence in their everyday lives. Homosexuality isn't illegal but promoting ‘non-traditional sexual relationships’ is. What constitutes promotion is at the discretion of the authorities. Travellers have been arrested in the past for discussing gay rights with young people.
There are active queer scenes in the larger cities, but travellers should be aware that people leaving venues known to cater to LGBTQIA+ folks are often the target of violence. The venues themselves are sometimes targeted, too. Attempting to seek out local queer culture while in Russia may pose a risk to travellers.
For more detailed and up-to-date advice, we recommend visiting Equaldex or ILGA before you travel.
If you are travelling solo on an Intrepid group tour, you will share accommodation with a passenger of the same gender as per your passport information. If you don’t identify with the gender assigned on your passport, please let us know at the time of booking and we’ll arrange the rooming configuration accordingly. A single supplement is available on some tours for travellers who do not wish to share a room.
Intrepid is committed to making travel widely accessible, regardless of ability or disability. That’s why we do our best to help as many people see the world as possible, regardless of any physical or mental limitations they might have. We’re always happy to talk to travellers with disabilities and see if we can help guide them towards the most suitable itinerary for their needs and, where possible, make reasonable adjustments to our itineraries.
While the situation is improving, Russia is still a difficult destination to explore for travellers with disabilities. Even in large cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, old infrastructure has been slow to adapt to the needs of differently abled travellers. Where ramps exist, for example, they are often incredibly steep and therefore useless.
While the exterior of some sites are accessible to wheelchair users, it is often not possible to explore them fully. For example, wheelchair users will be able to enter the Kremlin but can’t access its cathedrals. The stations of the Moscow Metro often have no ramps or elevators, however most of the buses in Moscow are accessible to wheelchair users.
The streets of Moscow and St Petersburg may pose a problems to travellers with restricted mobility or vision impairments as they can be uneven and road crossings are sometimes via tunnels that are only accessible by staircase.
While international chain hotels are often built with the needs of accessible travellers in mind, homestays, guesthouses and locally-run hotels are generally not fitted with ramps, elevators, shower rails etc. Unfortunately, overnight train travel in Russia will be difficult for wheelchair users as the bathrooms are not designed for accessibility.
If you have a battery-operated hearing aid, it’s a good idea to bring extra batteries.
If you do live with a visual, hearing or other impairment, let your booking agent or group leader know early on so they’re aware and suitable arrangements can be made. As a general rule, knowing some common words in the local language, carrying a written itinerary with you and taking to the streets in a group, rather than solo, can help make your travel experience the best it can be.
What you wear in Russia will depend on what time of the year you’re travelling. If you’re visiting between October and May you will need to be prepared with a warm windproof jacket, scarf, gloves, warm hat and waterproof and slip-proof boots – the streets get icy in the colder months! Even in summer, we recommend you wear clothing that can be easily layered and pack a warm jacket and boots.
When entering churches, either working or historic, women and men should both cover their shoulders and women will need a scarf to cover their heads.
Intrepid takes the health and safety of its travellers seriously, and takes every measure to ensure that trips are safe, fun and enjoyable for everyone. We recommend that all travellers check with their government or national travel advisory organization for the latest information before departure:
Go to: http://www.smartraveller.gov.au/
Go to: https://travel.gc.ca/
From the UK?
Go to: http://www.fco.gov.uk/en/
From New Zealand?
Go to: http://www.safetravel.govt.nz/
From the US?
Go to: http://travel.state.gov/
The World Health Organization
also provides useful health information. Go to: http://www.who.int/en/