This is the year. 2019. It’s the year to get over the hump and travel to Russia. You’ve considered it for years. There are so many “Yes, but…” moments that have been holding you back, though.
Here are 4 commonly-held myths about travel to Russia that we want to alleviate for you. It’s time to get over the hump!
1) MYTH #1 – IT’S TOO DANGEROUS – Whether due to strained political relationships between governments, or negative media coverage, many people have the perception that Russia is a dangerous place to travel to. Several events in recent years in Russia have actually shown the opposite: what a safe and welcoming country Russia is for foreign tourists! Here are a few examples:
A) St. Petersburg – For the third year in a row, St. Petersburg was awarded the “World’s Leading Cultural City Destination” by the World Travel Awards (WTA) in 2018. Not New York. Not Paris. St. Petersburg.
This is an incredible accomplishment! St. Petersburg is being properly recognized for the incredible history, culture, and arts scene that exists there: the Hermitage Art Museum, Peterhof and Catherine Palace Grounds, Mariinsky Theater, and much more. St. Petersburg is a MUST if visiting Russia for the first time!
B) Moscow – Russia’s capital city was the 2nd most “Instagram-able” city in the world in 2017, behind only New York. St. Petersburg was 7th, making Russia the only country in the world with 2 cities in Instagram’s top 10 cities.
This is impressive! Red Square, the Kremlin, the famous Underground Metro, and more, are all reasons why you should visit Moscow, the center of Russia. Just like in Europe all roads used to lead to Rome, in Russia all roads lead to Moscow.
C) 2018 World Cup – Even if you aren’t a sports fan, you probably caught a few minutes of the 2018 World Cup in Russia: Ronaldo’s incredible hat trick against Spain, the host country’s improbable run to the quarterfinals, tiny Croatia’s inspiring streak to the finals, and France’s dominant road to victory.
Maybe even more talked about than the actual matches themselves, though, was how smoothly the month-long event went in 11 cities across the country. Many people said it was the best-organized World Cup of all-time, and were amazed at the hospitality of local people everywhere they went.
In fact, one heart-warming video went viral on Youtube by a British teenager and his father, sharing how blown away they were at the welcome they received, contrary to the doomsday messages Western media communicated pre-World Cup. This video was well-received internationally because of how it represented many foreigners’ equally positive experiences.
D) Mt. Elbrus – While the word “Elbrus” may not be on the tip of the average person’s tongue, this mountain is quite well-known to mountaineers all over the world, as it’s the highest peak in Europe, at 18,510 feet (or 5,642 meters). And it’s in Russia!
Mt. Elbrus is one of the World’s 7 Summits, or the top peaks on each continent. Thousands of foreigners and Russians flock to the North Caucasus Mountain Range every year between May and October to summit this beautiful mountain (technically dormant volcano).
Despite some of the ominous travel warnings that one may find online, every year more and more folks are finding out the reality: that Mt. Elbrus is a safe and welcoming area, which goes for the greater North Caucasus region as well.
Caucasus peoples are famous for their hospitality towards guests, as they believe guests are “sent from God.” Despite the incredible natural beauty and fascinating culture and history, often foreigners leave the Caucasus raving the most about how warmly they were welcomed by the local people!
E) 24 million people – That’s right. Over 24 million foreigners visited Russia in 2018. That is in the top 8% of most-visited countries in the world. There are over 190 countries in the world; being in the top 15 most-visited speaks volumes!
While some may cry foul and demand hard stats or data, the present reality speaks for itself. Russia is a beautiful country that is safely hosting tens of millions of foreign tourists every year (and global events on a regular basis), and the reviews keep coming back the same: It’s safe here and the Russian people can’t wait to meet you!
2) MYTH #2 – IT’S TOO FAR – For many people, Russia “feels” very far away. This may be for good reason, as Russia stretches from its western border with Finland all the way to its eastern border close to Japan! But actually the country is very accessible; the travel isn’t as bad as you might think.
From the United States, there are four airports that have weekly direct flights to Moscow: New York (JFK), Washington DC (IAD), Miami (MIA), and Los Angeles (LAX). New York and Los Angeles run direct flights daily! Most other major airports will route you to Moscow through New York, LA, or a European city. Regardless, most US travelers will only have one layover max on your way to Russia.
For British travelers, there are direct flights from London to Moscow every day, and many other European cities have direct flights to Moscow and St. Petersburg daily if not weekly. Australians can get to Moscow with just one layover in the Middle East, China, or South Korea. Cairo, Dubai, and a plethora of Asian cities have daily direct flights to Moscow as well.
Don’t let the geography mess with your mind, the world is becoming more and more accessible via air travel and Russia is closer to you than ever before!
3) MYTH #3 – IT’S TOO HARD – There is definitely some legitimacy to this concern, as there are many steps involved in traveling to Russia. If you love to do things yourself, a Russia trip may be your biggest travel challenge yet!
Here is a list of things you need to do or know in preparation for your Russia trip and/or once you are here:
- Make sure your passport is valid for more than 6 months after your last day on Russian soil
- Secure a Letter of Invitation (LOI) for your tourist visa application
- Apply 2-3 months in advance for a tourist visa
- Choose one of 3 Moscow airports to arrive in and depart from
- Arrange domestic travel in country, which spans 9 time zones total
- Ensure you have approved “registration” in each city where you stay
- Figure out a working phone plan with your provider while in country
- Plan how to always have the local rouble currency on hand
- Travel in a country where the majority of citizens don’t speak English
- And there’s more 🙂
While the list may seem overwhelming at first glance and put some of you off, our goal is actually the opposite: to prepare you well so your time in country can be enjoyed to the max.
For those who are Do-It-Yourself travelers and love the challenge of navigating through foreign countries’ complex pre-trip and in-country processes, you can do it! Here are several resources that give step-by-step instructions and practical advice for a DIY Russia trip approach:
If this list did the opposite and moved you from excitement to doubt, keep reading to the end; there is hope!
4) MYTH #4 – IT’S TOO BIG – Russia IS a big country. What other country in the world can boast 9 time zones? Or a trans-country railway that takes 8 days non-stop to get from one end to the other? Russia nearly touches Japan and Alaska in the Far East, is neighbors with Finland to the northwest, and shares the Caspian Sea with Iran at its far southern border.
It’s natural to be overwhelmed by the potential of traveling in a place so big! The reality, though, is that travel is very do-able with the right know-how and especially with the help of an in-country travel company doing the legwork for you.
Here are a couple of tips for traveling to and within Russia:
A) Planes – All roads lead to Moscow. This is key as you think through traveling within Russia. It sometimes can be difficult to find regular domestic flights between smaller cities, but every airport in the country is likely to have multiple daily flights to one of Moscow’s 3 international airports.
Use Moscow as your home base to visit different regions, such as Dagestan in the beautiful North Caucasus, Lake Baikal in Siberia, Kamchatka in the Far East, etc.
B) Trains! – This is Russia’s trump card as you look for unique cultural experiences, as well as getting to off-the-beaten-path locations. Its train system is amazing! Despite Russia covering such a vast expanse of territory, the efficiency of its train system is truly impressive. Trains are always on time to the minute with arrivals and departures.
One of the “rites of passage” cultural experiences in Russia is taking an overnight train, in which passengers sleep on bunks of their choice: private 1st-class cabin with 2 bunks, private 2nd-class cabin with 4 bunks, or 50-bunk open sleeper cabins for the most adventurous (and economic). Overnight trains are still a very common method of travel throughout the country and a great way to make memories, meet local people, and see the countryside.
In recent years, a high-speed Sapsan train system between Moscow & St. Petersburg has been met with rave reviews as well, shortening the train ride from 9 to 4 hrs. in very comfortable conditions. Many are also familiar with the Trans-Siberian Railway, which runs tourist routes anywhere from 16-21 days from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok or Beijing.
C) Taxis – In many countries during the pre-smartphone days, it was understandable that a traveller felt suspicious of exorbitant pricing from taxi drivers, especially being told in broken English “This is good price!” by the ever pressing throng of men. This still happens to some extent with “official” taxi drivers with signs around their necks at the major Moscow airports. In general, though, those days are long gone!
Meet Yandex. This is Russia’s answer to Uber or Lyft in the West. This convenient app uses the English language and provides shockingly reasonable prices for transport in most cities around the country. Make sure to download this app before your visit and use it liberally! In case you are unable to use Yandex, you can always ask the hotel front desk or apartment landlord to order you a taxi, and they’ll gladly handle it for you.
D) The Metro – This is one of the creations from the Soviet days still wowing folks on a daily basis today. Moscow is Europe’s largest city and the metro is the glue that holds it together! Traveling on your own (as a non-Russian speaker) in such a huge city requires both nerve and common sense, and the metro can help you quickly move around the city in an efficient manner.
Along the way, you’ll be amazed at the unique design of each metro station, which are works of art in and of themselves. Here is a map of the metro in the English language as well as a brief history of the world’s largest public transportation system.
If you made it to the end of this article, we commend you! It’s a sign you are cut out to travel in Russia. 🙂 You may be a bit overwhelmed after learning what it takes to pull off a Russia trip on your own, and may even be reconsidering your travel. This brings us to our final suggestion: Let a travel company handle the travel logistics, and you focus on the real reason to visit Russia: the beautiful sites, interesting history, and ancient culture.
Beyond Red Square’s American representatives have been living in Russia a combined 18 years and have extensive personal experience with both traveling in Russia and helping others travel to Russia. We can focus on the “needs” of your Russia trip while you focus on the “wants”: where you’ll go, what you’ll see, where you’ll sleep, what you’ll eat. Although your trip will cost more this way than doing it yourself, we believe the value added outweighs the financial cost (and considerable time & headache) of the economic route. And we can take you to those off-the-beaten-path locations you’ve always dreamed of!
Don’t let the “hard” steps of traveling to Russia keep you from the wonders of this beautiful country, when those steps can be planned and handled for you. Let Beyond Red Square do the heavy-lifting for you! We’ll see you in Russia!