Is it safe to visit Russia? Moscow? St Petersburg?

We felt very safe walking around central Moscow and central St Petersburg both day and night. As with most major cities around the world, just take the same precautions that you would at home, watch out for pickpockets, don’t drink too much and avoid wandering down dark streets alone at night. All things considered, we felt a lot safer walking around Moscow and St Petersburg than say London or New York.

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Matryoshka Nesting Dolls for Sale in Saint Petersburg

Matryoshka Nesting Dolls for Sale in Saint Petersburg

Can Americans Travel to Russia?

Yes! And, despite all leftover Soviet Era / Cold War preconceptions, we found Moscow and Saint Petersburg to be quite modern and cosmopolitan. We also discovered the Russian people to be warm and welcoming. Visiting Russia as an American changed many of the biases Jonathan had learned since childhood. I had visited Moscow back during the Soviet Union days and found it now to be completely changed and a great place to visit.

Inside the Famous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg

Inside the Famous Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg

Do I need a visa to visit Russia?

Probably. Unless you are a diplomat or a from a limited list of other countries closely allied with Russia, the answer is yes. Certainly, if you are a United States or UK passport holder, you will need one. We have a guide for getting a Russia tourist visa here.

Do I need vaccinations to visit Russia?

No compulsory vaccinations are required for visiting Russia but always check with your GP or doctor before traveling.

Saint Basil's Cathedral in MoscowSaint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow

Do I need health insurance to Visit Russia?

Travel health insurance is always a good idea. Officials sometimes ask to see a copy when you apply for your tourist visa.

What are the hospitals like in Russia?

It varies across the country, but there are some excellent international standard hospitals in Moscow and St Petersburg. Luckily we didn’t need to test this.

Is it ok to drink the water in Russia?

Brushing your teeth with tap water should be fine, but best to assume that it isn’t safe to drink especially in St Petersburg as the water pipes in some places are rather old. Drink bottled water, or either boil water for 10 minutes, or use water purification tablets or a filter. Water from local shops or supermarkets is cheap to buy, but we found water ordered in restaurants vastly overpriced. A good excuse to stick to wine, or vodka as it was often less expensive.

Modern Downtown Moscow

Modern Downtown Moscow

Can I use my smartphone in Russia?

Yes, but check with your provider regarding roaming fees. Some U.S. phone companies charge up to $10 a day to use a phone overseas. If you have an unlocked smartphone, do what we did. At Moscow airport, there’s a Beeline Telecom office and bought a sim card for 700 rubles (around $11). We got unlimited internet, free incoming calls and 30 minutes domestic and international calls. Other popular phone companies in Russia include MTS and MegaFon. We chose Beeline as it was the first phone shop we saw. It took five minutes to organize. You’ll need your passport to register your phone. And yes, they speak English, well they did at the Moscow airport shop.

Is there WiFi?

Good, fast, free wifi is available pretty much everywhere in Moscow and St Petersburg. In the more rural areas, we used cellular service and the hotspot from our smartphones. We sometimes needed to use a VPN to access our favorite websites.

Do they have ATMs in Russia?

Yes, there are plenty of ATM’s everywhere in Moscow and St Petersburg. Most ATM’s have an English language option. Also, you usually get a better exchange rate at ATM’s than at currency exchanges. Just make sure to spend all of your Russian currency during your Russian visit because the rouble cannot be exchanged outside of Russia. Be sure to tell your bank where you will be traveling, so they don’t block your ATM card.

The Kremlin in Moscow

The Kremlin in Moscow

Can I use credit cards?

Major credit cards are accepted in many places. Remember always to opt to pay in local currency; it works out a lot cheaper in the long run. Again, be sure to tell your credit card company where you will be traveling, so they don’t block your card.

I don’t speak Russian, will that be a problem?

In major cities, many people will speak English, but bring a Russian phrasebook or download a Russian language app to your smartphone. If you are worried, use the services of a guide. Many people will say they don’t speak English but actually have a working knowledge. Learning a few basic phrases – “please,” “thank you,” “sorry, I don’t speak Russian” – shows you are making an effort and makes people more likely to want to help you.

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How expensive is it to eat in Russia?

With cafes, bars, restaurants, shops on virtually every corner, finding something to suit your taste and budget shouldn’t be too hard. For lunch or dinner, we spent an average of $20 per person. Fast food – yes if you miss McDonald’s, KFC, Subway, Burger King, you will find plenty of them in Moscow. We spent most of our time indulging ourselves with delicious Russian and other local ethnic food. Also, self-catering from supermarkets is always a way to save money.

This Grocery Store in Moscow was Once a Palace

This Grocery Store in Moscow was Once a Palace

What is Russian food like?

Russian food is quite hearty with lots of delicious vegetables. One popular dish is Borscht. Borscht is a traditional soup made with cabbage, beets, potato, and meat and it’s very yummy indeed. Or try the pelmeni, fabulously tasty dumplings. Tell your server that you want something authentically Russian and they will often make good recommendations. Experiment and try new tastes. We weren’t disappointed.

When is the best time to visit Russia?

The best time to visit Russia is between March and October when the weather is a little milder. The most popular month to visit is June not only because of the weather but because of the White Nights Festival that takes place in St Petersburg when there is 24-hour sunlight. You can often save money by traveling during the “shoulder season.”

Flower for Sale on the Streets of Moscow

Flower for Sale on the Streets of Moscow

Is there anything else I should consider before I visit Russia?

Consider using a guide for some of the attractions. It will solve any language barriers, and you will learn a whole lot more about the country and the places you visit. We mixed guided and independent travel and loved both. Our sponsor for part of our trip was Strelka Travel, and they provided us with excellent guides at major attractions. They showed us many things we might otherwise have missed.

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