Travel Tips

When to come - summer or winter?

Russia basically has just two seasons, summer and winter! The spring and autumn pass by so quickly that it is best to talk mainly just of these two. Summer generally lasts from late May until the end of August. September can also be quite nice but by October prepare yourself for rain and snow and in November, the snow begins in earnest. Russia in the summer is beautiful. The weather is usually balmy and in St. Petersburg, it stays light well into the night. The White Nights last from June to July and it will stay light until 1.30 in the morning and never really get too dark. Summer is an excellent time to travel but be prepared for more tourists in the major cities. Museums may be a little crowded but it is not so bad – nothing compared to the crowds in Venice or London for example. The theaters and ballets operate in summer but many of the major companies are on tour during this period. The atmosphere in the streets is electric in summer – Russians love to get out and stroll at all hours. It is very festive and we are sure that you will enjoy it.

The winter is also a good time to visit. Russia turns into a wonderland of snow and sparkling ice. If you dress warmly, the cold should not bother you. There are hardly any tourists in the cities and this is truly the best time to visit museums or see the ballet or theater. All major theater companies are at their home bases – the Mariinsky, the Bolshoi and more are all at the ready. The atmosphere is also very festive on the streets with Russians all bundled up and hurrying to one warm restaurant or theater to another. New Years is Russia's largest holiday and it is a lot of fun to be in Russia during the holiday season. In short, any time is great for visiting Russia.

Weather

The climate really depends on the region because Russia is large and one place may be completely different from another. Summers can actually be quite hot because much of Russia is landlocked - generating a hot continental climate in the summer (Siberia for example). In the areas where you will most likely be visiting, the typical summer temperature is in the upper 20s and low 30s Celsius or the mid 70s to mid 80s Fahrenheit. In the winter, it is typically -20 to -10 Celsius or -4 to +14 degrees Fahrenheit. In rare instances, it can get VERY cold – down to -40 Celsius and -40 Fahrenheit but this is not typical in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is typical in Siberia!

What to pack

It all depends on when you are coming to Russia. If you come during the late spring and summer, you should take comfortable shoes, underwear, bra, jeans, cotton or light wool pants, tee shirts, button downs or polo shirts, a light spring jacket, sweater, sweatshirt. Perhaps a cap and sunglasses - remember during the White Nights it stays sunny until well past midnight in St. Petersburg. You may want to bring some nice clothes if you plan to go "out on the town" or visit a theater in Moscow or St. Petersburg. You could also bring your bathing suit if you'd like to sunbath on the Gulf of Finland or on the Russian countryside.

Winter of course is a different story. Moscow is cold, Siberia is colder and St. Petersburg can be humid and cold – not a very pleasant combination but if you dress in layers, you should have absolutely no problems. Winter in Russia can be beautiful. Take all of the above summer items plus warm sweaters and sweatshirts, long underwear and warm, woolen socks, a sturdy pair of warm, waterproof boots, a warm, winter jacket, warm gloves, a warm wool or fur hat, and earmuffs if your hat does not cover your ears.

In Russia, especially in the big cities, you can buy everything you need for personal care that is available in the USA and Europe. However, if you are used to some specific brands, you may want to bring these products with you. Please make sure you bring a supply of any prescription medicines that you may be taking. Many are available in Moscow and St. Petersburg but all are not. It is always a good idea to be safe rather than sorry.

Money

Russians use roubles, a currency that is virtually unconvertible outside of Russia. You can find the rouble dollar exchange rate on http://www.cbr.ru/eng/currency_base/daily.aspx. In most Russian cities, it is quite easy to exchange hard currency for roubles. Be aware that rates can differ substantially - this is especially important if you plan to exchange large sums of money. Visitors can use practically all banks or exchange posts.

ATM machines

ATMs, called bankomats in Russia, are becoming more and more popular here as more Russians receive debit and credit cards. As anywhere in the world, the ATM owner will take a commission, usually equal to $3 for each transaction, therefore, it is best to take out larger amounts at one time rather than always pay the $3. The exchange rates at ATMs are usually quite good - it is the commissions that you have to worry about.

Traveler's Checks

Banks in major hotels in St. Petersburg and Moscow and the main branches of the largest Russian banks will accept traveler's checks - however only the most popular brands (American Express, Cook, etc.). Traveler's checks are ok, but it is best to bring cash, and for additional funds use a bankcard to get money from an ATM machine.

Tipping

Tipping a small amount is customary at restaurants and bars but isn't anywhere near as widespread as it is in, say, the US. For example, you might want to leave a 50-rouble tip for a meal that costs 500. Generally, the tip amount is between 5% and 10%.

Communications

Cell phones

Russia uses the GSM network so it is compatible for all of Europe but incompatible for cell phones from the USA. This makes communicating by cell phones for Europeans quite easy and communication by cell phones for Americans impossible! However, it is quite easy to purchase a cell phone at a reasonable price from one of the many mobile phone stores and payment centers that you see everywhere in the centers of any Russian city. Currently, you can buy a decent cell phone for the equivalent of $80 USD including a SIM card and connection to a local network. Most people in Russia use prepaid cellular services, in other words, they purchase prepaid phone cards. Russia has 3 main cellular telephone networks - MTS, Beeline and Megafon.

Internet

Every major Russian city has internet cafes and most hotels provide internet (either for free of for an extra fee, check with your hotel for more information). Also wireless internet connections are becoming more popular in Russia. You will find dozens of Wi-Fi hotspots in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Many of them are free, some charge $5 - $10 per hour. Ask your tour guide or the Express to Russia office for more information for where to get online.

Voltage requirements

The electrical current in Russia is 220 volts AC, 50Hz and electrical equipment uses 2 pronged, European, circular shaped sockets/plugs. Try not to bring much electrical equipment with you but if you must bring a laptop, check if it can take the 220 volts (most do) and also purchase a plug adapter to make sure that you can plug it into the differently shaped, circular, European electrical outlets.

Presents and souvenirs

Typically, you can buy things in Russia for friends that you may meet but it might be a good idea to take some nice cosmetics (lipsticks, eye shadow, etc.), body creams for women and perhaps silver dollars or some other interesting souvenir from your country for the men. Things such as photo books of your country or the region where you are from also make a nice gift.

You will have many opportunities to buy Russian souvenirs while in major Russian cities. There are a lot of handicrafts that can be purchased that are intimately related to Russia: nesting dolls, lacquered boxes, traditional Russian outfits - sarafans and head-dresses kokoshniks, wood carving and painted figurines khokhloma wood crockery and many other nice souvenirs. You can also negotiate prices and get decent discounts at the street shops if you are willing to try!

Medical help and prescription medicine

If you have a serious problem, the Express to Russia staff will help you to arrange a trip to medical centers in St. Petersburg or Moscow. Be aware that these clinics charge Western prices or may be even more expensive than your typical Western hospital or clinic. Some of them may accept your insurance but most will not, therefore, it is best to keep all of your bills that you have paid and submit them to your insurance company. It also may be a good idea to purchase travel insurance for your trip just to make sure that you will be covered. Please make sure you bring a supply of any prescription medicines that you may be taking. Many are available in Moscow and St. Petersburg but all are not. It is always a good idea to be safe rather than sorry.

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