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How to plan your own trip to Russia

How to plan your own trip to Russia

Further to leading the political conflict that shook up the world during the second half of the twentieth century, Russia is a world power whose arts and culture have made of it one of the most well-known countries in the world. In spite of this and though already a quarter century has passed since it opened to the world, we still hear that Russia is a difficult country to visit. Nevertheless, in this post we’ll prove that this is not true and that travelling to Russia on a self-arranged trip is completely fine.

The Russian visa, cumbersome but necessary paperwork

Before starting to plan a trip around Russia, you should be informed of visa requirements. Some countries, especially from Latin America, Central Asia and West Europe do not need a visa to enter the country, so if your country is not in this list, it means you won’t need to apply for a visa.

Specific application procedures may differ according to your origin country. In Spain, there are two authorised offices from the Russian Visa Center which provide Russian visa application services for tourists:

  • Madrid. C/Príncipe de Vergara, 126, bjs. 28002. Telephone: 902 17 27 77.
  • Barcelona. Avenida Roma, 67, bjs. 08029. Telephone: 902 19 29 30.

To apply for your tourist visa in Spain you should complete and sign this online registration form, provide a recent passport-size photograph, having a valid passport for at least 6 months, travel insurance and an invitation letter (you can ask for it at your travel agency or right away to your accommodation or hotel in Russia). You will be required to submit the 58 euro application fee receipt.

Imagen de matrioskas rusas

If you are travelling to Moscow

Moscow has 3 airports: Vnukovo, Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo, though chances are you will land in one of the two last ones, as Vnukovo is mainly domestic. To go from Sheremetyevo to the centre of Moscow, the best option is Aeroexpress Sheremetyevo, providing rail services to Belorussky Station (connecting with the underground) in 35minutes for 470 roubles one-way (5.90 euros). From Domodedovo to Moscow you can also take Aeroexpress Domodedovo, connecting the airport with train station Paveletsky.

Moscow’s metro is the best way to move around the city. Some stations are true artworks. It is not for nothing that it is called the “underground palace”. It is the busiest underground in the world, with 12 lines and 329.2 km long. It is not easy to use, as usually travellers from Western countries bring metro maps in Latin characters just to find that when they get there all maps are in Cyrillic, so the most advisable is to get your hands on a map showing the two alphabets so that you can identify the stations.

Imagen del metro de Moscú.

If you’re travelling to St. Petersburg

To get from Pulkovo St. Petersburg Airport LED to downtown you can go on taxi –the most expensive option- or in public bus. There are several buses running from the airport (City Bus 39 and Express City Bus 39A) getting to Moskovskaya metro station for 25 roubles (0.31 euros), though the quickest alternative is catching a marshrutka, a microbus that offers the same route, much quicker for 36 roubles (0.45 euros). Bear in mind that if your piece of luggage is too large, you may have to pay for an extra seat.

St. Petersburg metro has 5 lines and is 113.6 km long. It boasts one deepest undergrounds in the world and like the one in Moscow, it is specially beautiful. A one-way ticket costs about 31 roubles (0.39 euros).

Imagen de San Petersburgo.

Getting to Russia by air

Though Moscow and St. Petersburg are the most visited cities, Russia has a wide array of worth-visiting destinations to travel to with domestic flights. Cities such as Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Kazan, Irkutsk, Sochi or Nizhny Novgorod are great options and as long as you are within your permitted travel stay period, you will just need to buy a ticket and go to the nearest airport. The main airlines, modern and trustworthy, operating domestic flights in Russia are: Aeroflot, S7 Airlines, Transaero, Rossiya y VIM-Avia.

Sometimes buying flight tickets online in Russia can be tricky and you could end up getting in person to a point of sale of the, if the transaction online is denied.

Imagen de un avión ruso.

Moving around Russia by train, the magic of the Trans-Siberian

All corners of Russia are connected by train, from the Baltic to the Pacific. Though not the most efficient way of travelling, it is undeniable traditional and romantic. There is lot of history and legend behind the Trans-Siberian, the train that connects Europe to Asia, but the truth is there is not any specific train called like this or any specific route covered by this mythical train.

The Trans-Siberian or the Trans-Mongolian is therefore a route you can make à la carte, choosing where to go and where to depart from, and you should buy a separate ticket for every journey. These tickets can be purchased in advance on the internet on the Russian Trains website. Remember that prices are usually cheaper when you buy the train tickets directly from the train station.

One of the most typical trips in Russia is Moscow-St. Petersburg, a 8 to 9 hour journey that you can do in a regular train sleeping in a bunk bed from 40 euros (from 54 euros in a four bed private coach). You can also do it in style in a high speed Sapsan train for 62 euros economy class and in only 4 hours.

Imagen del Sapsan

Choose your travel class

Travelling around Russia by train is very easy and a great experience to immerse yourself in the local culture. If you decide to make the journey by train, whether St. Petersburg to Moscow or any other city, remember that there are at least three travel classes available: First, second and economy.

  • Premium class.  A comfortable private coach for two people, with table, mirror, bed linen, reading lamps and even TV in some trains.
  • Business class.  An average quality private coach with four beds (two bunk beds), table, mirror and bed linen. Perfect for groups of 4 or 2 couples. Usually, It is only used by foreigners. A Moscow-Irkutsk (Siberia) journey, more than 5,000 km away from each other will be around 200 euros (depending on the season) if you travel in this category.
  • Economy class.  Economy class means sleeping in a coach with endless bunk beds with little privacy (bed linen included, where generally there are not many tourists. While the most uncomfortable option, it is as well the most appropriate if you want to engage the local culture, and as well the most inexpensive (the Moscow-Irkutsk journey fare is about 100 euros in low season).

Using the train as a mean of transport in Russia is a good option to save in accommodation, as you can sleep in the train and eat your own food. Do not forget that the official currency in Russia is the rouble and in most cases paying in cash is the easiest way to travel.  Get your holiday cash on the Global Exchange website before embarking in your journey to Russia and live a one-in-a-lifetime experience.

© Pictures: Ricardo Ramírez Gisbert, Carlos Menéndez San JuanRob, McLac2000Alligator48.

Ricardo Ramírez Gisbert

He is an architect who is passionate about travelling and photography. Author of the blog El arquitecto viajero and editor of Barcelona N'Do, a travel guide about Barcelona published in English.

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