Russia is primarily associated with the vast expanses of Siberia, but also with amazing cultural cities like St. Petersburg and Moscow. But the largest country by area in the world has many other exciting sights to offer too. Walking in the footsteps of legendary writers, composers and infamous Tsars, you’ll discover a lot of history here.
What do you need to know before traveling to one of the most culturally significant countries in the world? Find out here!
Dive into our (free) travel guides below!
The key info
Russia is a country full of great distances: this gigantic country covers more than 17 million square kilometers. This makes it – by far – the largest country in the whole world.
And is it in Europe or Asia, you ask? Russia defies location – four million square kilometers of it lies in Europe and the rest in Asia. However, currently the 144 million inhabitants who live here reside in the European part of the country. Most live in big cities like St. Petersburg, Moscow and Novosibirsk. Moscow, with its long (and bloody) history, is the largest city in Europe with more than 12 million citizens.
Taking an extended trip to Russia? You should definitely also explore the east of the country. Above all: the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway, which gives you time to observe the endless expanses of Siberia from the comfort of the train. A real highlight of a trip to Russia is halfway to the east in fact: Lake Baikal is probably one of the most beautiful freshwater lakes in the world, and a visit is unforgettable for most travelers – whether summer or winter.
Russia in numbers
- Size: With more than 17 million square kilometers, Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area
- Population: 144 million people
- Gross domestic product: $ 11,000 per capita per year
- In 1990 the Russian Federation was declared sovereign.
- The telephone code for Russia is +7
The 5 largest cities in Russia
With more than 12 million inhabitants, Moscow is by far the largest city in Europe. The Red Square in the center of Moscow has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1990. And this historic place is just one of many. The famous Moscow Ballet or the Kremlin’s Tower of Savior ensure that Moscow is an irresistible city trip for many visitors.
Besides the Red Square (which is where Vladimir Putin governs by the way), the capital offers numerous cultural highlights. These include some famous cathedrals, such as the Christ the Savior Church and St. Basil’s Cathedral.
#2 St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg is another historic center of Russia. Here, you’ll find outstanding architectural buildings and even the birthplace of many legendary stories. Unsurprising, given how many world-famous artists, like Fyodor Dostoyevsky to name just one, have spent years of their creative work here. St. Petersburg is known as the Venice of the North – because, like its Italian namesake, St. Petersburg is criss-crossed by many canals.
With more than 1.6 million inhabitants, Novosibirsk is the third largest city in Russia. This Siberian city owes this solely to the Trans-Siberian Railway, which led to a bridge being built over the Ob River in 1893. Novosibirsk was consequently built around the bridge. Due to its large international airport, this city is easily accessible and serves as a starting point for many people on their journey into the vastness of Siberia.
The fourth largest city in Russia is Yekaterinburg. 1.3 million people live in this city, which is only 40 km east of the (imaginary) division between Asia and Europe. Due to the immense size of Russia, there is a time difference of up to two hours from Moscow to Yekaterinburg. The main attraction of this city is the Church of All Saints or ‘Church on Blood’ The Ipatiev House was located here until 1977, in the cellar of which the last Tsar Nicholas II was murdered with his family in 1918. Since then, this church has served as a place of pilgrimage for supporters of the Russian monarchy.
#5 Nischni Nowgorod
Right at the mouth of the River Volga lies Nizhny Novgorod – the fifth largest city in Russia with 1.26 million inhabitants (as of 2018). As early as the middle of the 19th century, Nizhny Novgorod was an important trading city in Russia with an important role in the industrial revolution here. Nizhny Novgorod has retained this status to this day. The metropolis is home to dozens of universities, churches, museums and theaters. In terms of sightseeing, you get an impressive old town with some magnificent cathedrals thrown in.
TOP Tourist Attractions
The vastness of Russia offers endless opportunities for travelers to visit impressive sights. Naturally, there are some especially outstanding buildings to be found in the capitals. But nature also has many experiences to offer.
#1 Lake Baikal
The legendary Lake Baikal is the deepest freshwater lake on earth with 1642 meters. But that’s not the only reason it’s so famous… It also has the greatest volume of water AND counts as the oldest freshwater lake on earth with more than 25 million years. Baikal, which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996, is embedded in an impressive landscape and is a great holiday destination in summer, but also (frozen) in winter.
#2 St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow
St. Basil’s Cathedral makes for one of the most iconic photos of Russia. Located near the Kremlin, the cathedral has been admired since the 16th century. The impressive colorful towers inspire tourists from all over the world.
#3 State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
What would St. Petersburg be without the Hermitage Museum? This impressive building, located right on the Neva River, is the second-largest art museum in the world. There are almost three million objects in the archive of this museum, including famous works by Leonardo da Vinci, Rembrandt and Matisse. The building has more than 350 halls with around 65,000 exhibits.
#4 Trans-Siberian Railway
If you consider yourself adventurous, then this one is probably on your bucket list: A ride on the Trans-Siberian Railway. With a distance of 9288 kilometers, it is the longest railway in the world. The train tracks stretch from Vladivostok in the Far East to Moscow. A full trip on this route takes 144 hours, or approximately six days!
#5 Sochi Beach
You might know Sochi as the location of the Winter Olympics, or as the organizer of Formula 1. But Sochi is also an important seaside resort. Located directly on the Black Sea, you can relax on beautiful beaches and linger under palm trees enjoying a wonderful climate.
Safety for travelers
Most of Russia’s tourist areas are safe. Although in Moscow – as in most major cities – you should be careful of your wallet in busy places, you basically don’t have to worry about personal safety.
This varies in some regions of this country however. Some governments recommend avoiding regions such as Ingushetia, Chechnya or Dagestan. The Ukraine border area and the Crimean peninsula are currently also not suitable places for a vacation.
The LGBTQ community is having a hard time in Russia – in general, there is an aversion to homosexuality in Russia. Unfortunately, this also applies to travelers. You may not encounter tolerance in this regard, so plan carefully.
The Council of Europe criticized Russia in 2019: In addition to homophobia, ethnic or religious minorities may experience discrimation. Muslims in particular have a hard time in this Orthodox Christian country. Hate speech is quite common in traditional media as well as on the internet. While you may well not be discriminated against as a tourist, you should take into account that race-driven crimes are unfortunately a regular occurrence here.
Holidays in Russia
- January 1st to 5th – New Year celebrations
- January 7th – Russian Orthodox Christmas Day
- February 23 – Defender of the Fatherland Day
- March 8th – International Women’s Day
- May 1st – Spring and Labor Day
- May 9 – Victory Day
- June 12th – Russia Day
- November 4th – Unity Day
Visa for Russia
Most travelers need a visa to enter Russia, however there are some exceptions for certain nationalities wishing to visit for less than three months. Exemptions include a lot of South America and some of Eastern Europe.
Check with your national government to see how to obtain your visa.
Currency in Russland
The Russian currency is the ruble. The ruble is divided into 100 kopecks. 100 rubles is currently worth around 1.7 euros.
The ruble is issued in several banknotes: 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 50000. For coins, there are both kopecks, which are broken into 1, 5, 10, 50 units, as well as the ruble in 1, 2, 5 and 10 units.
Dos and Don’ts in Russia
Just like everywhere else, Russia has certain customs you should adhere to to be respectful.
|If you’re visiting friends in Russia, bring a small gift. This is a custom in Russia and it can seem impolite to forget.||Steer clear of empty bottles on the table – this is considered a bad omen in Russia.|
|Tipping in restaurants is custom for good service (about 10%)||Never give someone yellow flowers – they’re considered a sign of looming separation or divorce.|
|In night clubs, expect elegance. Russians dress particularly chic when they go out at night.||Don’t shake hands in front of or in the door – this is seen as inappropriate.|
|It is better not to smile at strangers – because that is perceived as sanctimonious or even fake.|
Your packlist must-haves
The most important thing in Russia (at almost any time of the year) is suitable clothing designed for the harsh weather. The Russian winter is infamously long and very cold! Even in summer it can get cold at night.
Other things that you should never forget in Russia are:
- Copies of your ID cards – because there may be controls on the way.
- A translation app with you. Above all outside of the metropolises and tourist hotspots, English is hardly spoken.
Secret Tipps by bloggers
- Adventurous spirits should visit Kamchatka or another active volcano to see “strangely prehistoric, undulating landscapes”, says Enlo Wang from 56 Parallel.
- It may be a temptation to travel the full seven days of the Trans-Siberian Rail journey. If it is, make sure you split it up by stopping along the way. “No Russian ever dreamed of traveling by train for seven days just for the sake of it”, says Julia from That’s What She Said.
- For extended trips, Karen from WanderlustingK recommends learning the cyrillic alphabet, which took her about four hours. It’ll help with reading train signs to determine directions and place names, even though you don’t speak Russian.
TOP Instagrammable Places
- #altayrussia (80,4l)
- #redsquare (1,2 Millionen Posts)
- #moscowcity (5,2 Millionen Posts)
- #siberia (4,7 Millionen Posts)
- #russianriver (234k Posts)
Did you know? Fun facts about Russia
Moscow currently has the highest density of billionaires out of every city in the world. A whopping 79 live here in Russia’s capital.
The word ‘Vodka’ comes from the word ‘Voda’, which means ‘water’.