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Russia

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  • Church on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg
    Church on Spilled Blood, St Petersburg
  • The Kremlin, Moscow
    The Kremlin, Moscow
  • Siberia, Russia
    Siberia, Russia
  • Throne Room, Hermitage. Russia
    Throne Room, Hermitage. Russia

Russia is at once breathtaking, baffling and stunningly beautiful. Monumental in every respect, it’s a land where untamed wilderness sits alongside bustling urban centres, and adventure lurks around every corner. From imperial splendour to icy Siberian tundra and from time worn Soviet-era monuments to uber-hip urban culture, Russia is a land of contradiction and superlatives. No wonder Churchill described it as “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

In the west of this vast country, the cities of St Petersburg and Moscow serve up sweeping postcard sights by the dozen. Moscow is the rapidly beating heart of the ‘New Russia’, where Asia and Europe combine to create a boisterous metropolis on a grand scale. Whether it’s history, culture or a hedonistic nightlife you’re after, Moscow certainly has it all. St Petersburg, with its majestic film set of palaces, cathedrals and waterways is well deserving of the title ‘Venice of the North.’ Peter the Great’s ‘Window on the West’ is the most European of all the Russian cities with its baroque and rococo grandeur mirroring (and exceeding) the best of the grand capitals of Europe.

For the first time in its history, Russia is now wide open for foreign visitors to experience, and exploration beyond the two main hubs is well advised. The Golden Ring, a collection of ancient gems, transports the traveller back to a bygone age. Towns such as Suzdal and Vladimir, rich in old world charm are a daytrip from the capital, and with Europe’s longest river the Volga travelling south through Russia’s rich heartland to the Caspian sea, it is possible to witness a varied selection of cities, panoramas and peoples. These in turn provide a magical insight into the country beyond its increasingly Westernised veneer.

Those who look further afield towards the east, meanwhile, will find a land of varied, often sublime natural beauty. The region of Russia stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Pacific Ocean in the east is vast, rich in diverse cultures and contrasting landscapes. From the lake dwellers of Baikal and the old imperial city of Irkutsk (The Paris of Siberia), the mountains of the Altai and the shamans of Tuva, Siberia has many secrets. It is an area long hidden, rich in mythology and today remains much of a paradox.

It is a combination of the above and so much more, fused with a touch of mystery that is drawing an increasing number of tourists to the Russian Federation, all eager to discover and experience the puzzles and mythologies of modern Russia for themselves. Numbers are set to increase further still in the run up to 2018 when the country will play host to the football World Cup. The poet Fyodor Tyutchev wrote: ‘Russia cannot be understood…In Russia one can only have faith’ and it has been said that Russia is impenetrable. Indeed, perhaps indeed she is. However you’ll have the time of your life trying to find out!

  • Capital:

    Moscow.

    Geography:

    The Russian Federation covers almost twice the area of the USA, and reaches from the enclave of Kaliningrad in the west over the Urals and the vast Siberian plains to the Sea of Okhotsk in the east. The border between European Russia and Siberia (Asia) is formed by the Ural Mountains, the Ural River and the Manych Depression. All in all Russia has 16 international borders with countries including Finland, Lithuania, USA, Japan, Ukraine, Azerbaijan and China.
    European Russia extends from the North Polar Sea across the Central Russian Uplands to the Black Sea, the Northern Caucasus and the Caspian Sea. Siberia stretches from the West Siberian Plain across the Central Siberian Plateau to the Lena River and takes in the Sayan and Yablonovy ranges in the south. East of Siberia stretches the Russian Far East, a region almost as big as Siberia itself, running to the Pacific coast and including the vast Chukotka and Kamchatka peninsulas.

    Given the vast size of the country, Russia's terrain is hugely variable. From the Siberian tundra to the mountains of the Urals, the beaches on the Black Sea coast, and the plains of western Russia, such variable geography means one can experience many different Russias.

    Government:

    Federal republic since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

    Head Of State:

    President Vladimir Putin since 2012.

    Head Of Government:

    Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev since 2012.

    Electricity:

    220 volts AC, 50Hz. Russia uses a standard two-pin European plug.

    Timezone:
  • Currency Information:

    Rouble (RUB; symbol руб) = 100 kopeks. Notes are in denominations of 5,000, 1,000, 500, 100, 50, 10 and 5. Coins are in denominations of 10, 5, 2 and 1, and 50, 10, 5 and 1 kopeks.

    Credit Cards:

    Major European and international credit and debit cards, including Visa and MasterCard, are accepted in the larger hotels and at foreign currency shops and restaurants, but cash (in Roubles) is more reliable. American Express cards are rarely accepted outside Moscow and St Petersburg.

    ATMs:

    ATMs are widely available throughout Russia, although if you're venturing into rural areas, they may be less widespread so carry a reserve amount of cash. Most ATMs will offer English as well as Cryllic translations.

    Travellers Cheques:

    Cash is preferred. If carrying traveller's cheques, major currencies are accepted in big cities, but US Dollars and Euros are preferred elsewhere.

    Banking Hours:

    Mon-Fri 0930-1730.

    Currency Restrictions:

    The import and export of local currency is prohibited. The import of foreign currency is limited to the equivalent of $10,000, but sums greater than the equivalent of $3,000 must be declared. The export of foreign currency is limited to the amount imported.

    Currency Exchange:

    Foreign currency should only be exchanged at official bureaux and authorised banks. You will usually need your passport to change money. It is wise to retain all exchange receipts. Bureaux de change are numerous and easy to locate. Large shops and hotels offer their own exchange facilities. All major currencies can be converted in big cities. Outside the main cities, travellers are advised to carry US Dollars or Euros. It is illegal to settle accounts in hard currency and to change money unofficially, although in practice both sometimes happen and are not risky. However, in general everyone will want to be paid in Roubles.

    Currencies: Exchange Rates:

    • 1 EUR = 50.03 RUB
    • 1 GBP = 64.23 RUB
    • 1 USD = 39.60 RUB

  • Best Time To Visit:

    As you'd expect Russia's climate is hugely dependent on where in the country you find yourself. With temperatures known to hit a tarmac-melting 37°C (99°F) in the cities and fall to -30°C (-22°F) and lower during the Siberian winter, there's no point generalising about Russia's weather except to say, be prepared. The most favourable temperatures are found along the Baltic coast, where many Muscovites decamp for balmy summer holidays, whilst the site of the 2014 Winter Olympics, Sochi, also doubles as a beach resort, due to its tropical climate, earning it the epithet 'Florida of Russia'. Minus the overly tanned pensioners of course.

    While the notion of visiting a snow-blanketed Moscow or St Petersburg has a definite romance, most tourists prefer to come calling in the warm summer months of June, July and August. This means the "shoulder seasons" of April, May, September and October are good options for visitors keen to avoid the peak crowds – prices are generally lower from September to May, and tourist sites almost invariably less crowded. Spring is often characterised by slushy roads. And if your heart's set on that winter wonderland? December's the best bet. Seasonal climates apply elsewhere in Russia – Siberia can have devastatingly cold winters, while its summers are generally fairly pleasant, if a little rainy. The region of Russia near the Black Sea has mild winters, but again attracts a fair amount of rain.

    Required Clothing:

    Those visiting over summer should pack a mixture of lightweight and mediumweight clothing – natural fibres such as cotton and linen are best. For the winter visitor, meanwhile – layers, layers, layers. Wools and cashmeres are great material for keeping in the warmth. Sturdy shoes are always a good idea, no matter what time of year.