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Travel in Russia--Expensive and/or Difficult?

Russia has never been on my radar screen because I had always read that it was extremely expensive and it always seemed to have a poorer fun/hassle ratio than a lot of other countries (Visa requirements, Cyrillic alphabet, having to brush your teeth with bottled water, etc.). I've read some stories that if you lose the card they give you upon entry, they might detain you for ten days and fine you heavily--which sort of confirmed my impression that it's a country where you had better be on your toes, especially with anything related to the authorities.

So, for those that have visited Moscow and St. Petersburg: 1) I still see references to how expensive it is, but I also see references to a devaluation of the Ruble that made it more affordable. I see some very reasonably priced hotels on booking.com in St. Petersburg and Moscow (~100 per night for double or even less)--so has Russia indeed become more affordable? When I say affordable, I mean comparable to say Germany, France, Italy as benchmarks? 2) How easy/hard is it to travel in Russia compared to say, Hungary or Czech Republic? (I found those to be a snap). Obviously the Visa thing is an issue and an expense, but setting that aside. For now let's assume we're talking about Moscow and St. Petersburg.

I have only begun to look into this, but based upon initial investigation it looks spectacular and different than so much of the rest of Europe.

Posted by
4637 posts

Travel in Russia. I was there when it was still communist country under iron fist of Andropov and then just few years ago under substantially less iron fist of Putin. Unrecognizable. Under Andropov - wide boulevards of Moscow almost empty. Stores the same. Service - nonexistent or very poor. Now - infamous traffic jams of Moscow. Cars - almost all luxurious. Stores - full of merchandise. Service - not very good but already there. Under Andropov no independent travel in Russia was possible. Under Putin you can travel independently in Russia but it's difficult. Some English signs are in St.Petersburg. In Moscow practically nonexistent. It helps tremendously if you can read cyrillic and speak at least some Russian which was my case. You don't find easily English speakers around - like in Hungary or Czech Republic. Also there are two tiers of pricing (hotels, airplanes, trains etc.) for natives and foreigners. Guess who pays substantially more. Certain hotels are very expensive but you can find much cheaper accommodation. We were six of us and rented two bedroom apartment which cost fifty dollars per person and night. It was advertised as luxurious (maybe it was for Moscow) but we did not think so. Getting visa is a hassle. We had it done by agency which was worth the money we paid for it. We wanted to see as much as we could so something we did on our own (it would be much more difficult if I did not speak some Russian) but a lot of things was done by http://www.expresstorussia.com . They booked our hotel in St.Petersburg and for 3 days we had a guide there, two days on our own. They booked our apartment in Moscow and we did Moscow on our own until we joined river cruise on Volga, starting in Moscow and going all the way to Astrakhan (almost on Caspian Sea). We stopped in at least 11 cities on the way including Volgograd (former Stalingrad). The ship was Russian with Russian crew and a young Russian guide fluently speaking English. They had entertainment programs, everybody could choose and they quite successfully tried to immerse us in their culture (folksongs, some history, drinking vodka races, beer museum with tasting, visit Stalin bunker in Samara etc.) Well, Russians are known party animals. We saw a lot for a reasonable price (cruise on Volga lasted 14 days). Russians have different history than other countries of Europe and are a little suspicious of foreigners but once they get to know you they could be very friendly. I recommend to use a guide or some organized trip.

Posted by
7162 posts

The most difficult thing about Russian travel is the Visa required - and it is a truly daunting task.

Posted by
319 posts

Agree on the benefits of learning to read Cyrillic (a useful skill for a number of other countries as well) - it only takes a couple of hours.
"Affordability" differs greatly depending on your expectations - what factors would you consider for benchmarking? ~$100-150 for a very decent hotel (отель) sounds about right. Luxury hotel will be more expensive. Public transport (транспорт), taxi/Uber (такси/Убер), staple local groceries are significantly cheaper than in Germany (Германия), France (Франция), Italia (Италия), or California (Калифорния). Imported wine/vino (вино), liquor/alcohol (алкоголь), automobile (автомобиль), or clothes would be quite a bit more expensive.

If you stick to Moskva (Москва) and Sankt-Peterburg (Санкт-Петербург), travelling in, around, and between the cities is easy. Leaving the beaten trail may require some planning.

In my opinion, the feared visa (виза) application is not really much of a hassle, just an expense and time commitment.

Ilja (Илья :-), do you happen to remember the name of the ship/cruise company? Thanks!

Posted by
2932 posts

I have visited both St Petersburg and Moscow several times , most recently three months ago . As far as cost , I found it reasonable , certainly not excessive . The issue with the Visa is actually simple , I don't understand the mystery that seems to surround it . I obtained three year visas in 2015 , and the procedure was straightforward , if you can fill out an application and supply photos and a few additional documents , there is no issue , write again for details . When you ask about travel , I assume you mean for intra city travel ? Much like any other city in Europe - Bus , Metro , and Tram networks , We had no difficulty moving about in either Moscow or St Petersburg , both were fascinating places with a surfeit of things to see . We did one train journey on our recent visit , from Moscow to St Petersburg by high speed train , buying tickets was simple and the trip was lovely . If you plan a trip , and spend a bit of time familiarizing yourself with The Cyrillic alphabet , that will , indeed be helpful , and the learning curve is not steep . Protecting the safety of your immigration card is simple ( keep it in your underclothes money belt , not in the pages of your passport ) and you will have no problems . As far as brushing your teeth , we had no issues using bottled water ,and our hotels provided an ample supply ..

Posted by
2932 posts

I should also add that on both trips to Russia ( 2015 and 2017 ) , we traveled entirely independently , no tours or guides .

Posted by
1878 posts

Thanks for your replies. Sounds as if it's do-able to travel independently in Russia but somewhat of an advanced topic. (Kind of what I expected to hear). I find the whole "used to be behind the iron curtain" thing in Hungary / Czech Republic very interesting, Russia would be one step further that I may have to study at some length before going for it. I think for our next trip we will stick to Krakow to Berlin.

Posted by
5700 posts

We have been twice in the last two years. spent 9 days in St. Petersburg in an apartment two falls ago and 2.5 weeks in Moscow, Petersburg and on a river cruise last year. It is not more expensive than say Italy or France and we found it fairly easy to tour. We did hire a private guide to go to the Catherine Palace to make it easier than trying to do it with public transport, but visiting the Hermitage, Russian Museum, Museum of Communist History, New Tretjakov etc etc on our own was easy. The public transport in Moscow is easy to use and Petersburg center is very walkable. The Visa is a bit of a pain but if you fill everything out properly and have your ducks lined up it is not difficult to get.

Posted by
50 posts

If you are interested in going this year, you may be able to take advantage of the visa free entry available for the World Cup. The visa free entry applies if you buy a ticket for a World Cup event and get a Fan ID. You do not actually have to go the event and you can travel anywhere during the time period. Visa free travel applies for the period that starts 10 before the first match (June 14) and ends ten days after the last match (Jul 15) - so roughly June 4 - Jul 25. I think the cheapest tickets are around $100 but they obviate the visa hassle. I think the tickets may sell out early if you are interested in this approach. Of course, the hotels may be difficult to get during this time in the match cities but outside of that it should not be a problem. There is an extensive forum on FIFA 18 travel on Tripadvisor if you want more information.

I was in Moscow last August and they were investing lots of money in improving the city and making it more tourist friendly i.e. English signs and English announcements on Subway & Trains. English is not widely spoken in general. I found the hotel and food prices very reasonable for Europe. Stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Moscow City Center for about $110 a night. It is a very nice hotel in a quiet area within walking distance of Red Square. I would also highly recommend Happy Moscow Tours (very affordable private tours). I was very impressed with Moscow - very clean and cosmopolitan - and quite different than I expected. I also visited St. Petersburg but that was on a cruise.

Posted by
1604 posts

I see there is a a Russian consulate in San Francisco. We applied for a Russian visa at the consulate in Seattle and it saved us many fees and they were able to review our applications and point out needed changes before we submitted our applications. We got the 3-year visa and ended up going the St. Petersburg and Moscow each twice. We loved our visits. Learning the alphabet really helps. We always did our research and traveled independently with no difficulty. Russia is not cheap, but you can do a reasonable trip. Please let me know if you have more questions.

Posted by
319 posts

Becky said: "I see there is a consulate in San Francisco".

Didn't the US order it closed over the latest diplomatic spat?

Posted by
1604 posts

Oops! Didn't realize this San Francisco consultant closed.

Posted by
524 posts

Russia also was NOT on my bucket list, but it was on dads. SO GLAD we went. We used a group tour to minimize the language/alphabet barrier and we were very happy with ot. While you can do this independently, we were very happy to leave the details to others. We also had excellent guides who added quite a lot to the experience. We did exploare alittle on our own during free time and had no problems doing that.
We used a visa company for the visa process- it was not hard. Just allow yourself enough time. Also , our tour provided the letter of invitation needed for the visa. My friends tour ( a cruise) had an additional fee.
We used express to russia as group . did Moscow and St Petersburg. Small, friendly group, tour guides excellent and hotels nice and good location.
Go- you will enjoy it.

Posted by
4637 posts

@Perilofp: Yes, the company name was Vodokhod (translated as something which goes on water). I need to learn how to put azbuka (cyrillic) on my keyboard, so I could write it as it should be.

Posted by
4108 posts

The Russian visa is not so bad if you use a visa company. India and Brazil visas are worse.

Also, I recommend taking a guided tour of Russia, even if you don't do the river cruise. Unless you speak and read the language, getting around would be difficult.

Hotels in Moscow and St. Petersburg are expensive, since you do not want to go budget there.

Posted by
319 posts

"Hotels in Moscow and St. Petersburg are expensive, since you do not want to go budget there."

Well, depends on your definition of expensive - and your rationale for not going budget...

Decent centrally located hotels (like Holiday Inn Lesnaya, Sokolniki) for May '18 now start at 60 dollars.

For about a hundred you get into the next tier - Hilton, Marriott, and the like.
Luxury ones (ex-Ukraina Radisson Royal, Metropol, Ritz Carlton) start at about 250.

Posted by
1 posts

We just returned from a two week visit to Moscow and Murmansk (Arctic circle) and could not have been happier with our decision to go. Russian people seem a little stand offish at first but were always more than friendly when it counted. We found the expense to be very low compared to paris, London, etc. We have travelled to. Highly recommend Murmansk in winter of you ever want to see the northern lights.

Posted by
74 posts

St.Petersburg has always been a dream destination for me. Interesting info & comments here. Prefer to travel as independently as possible to spend time doing/seeing what I want. Recently looking at & tempted by Russian River cruise with Viking but now think an independent land trip will be best & doable. Any comments or suggestions? How long shall I plan on to see & experience St. Petersburg without rushing? Stay where? Which month is best...hate heat, don’t mind cool days but hopefully not rainy &/or nasty weather. Thanks!

Posted by
5483 posts

In addition to the SF consultate that Obama shut down, the current president shut down the Seattle consulate:
https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/u-s-officials-drill-out-locks-at-former-russian-consulate-residence-in-seattles-madison-park/
Use a visa application service if you live in the western US.

And then their's the Level 3 travel warning: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/russia-travel-advisory.html

Posted by
4 posts

Yes, there's a travel warning, but it's focused on southern Russia and especially the Caucasus, not Moscow and St. Petersburg, hundreds of miles away.
I'm going next week, but will be nowhere near the Caucasus so really am not worried.