Guide to travel to Russia: What to do and Where to Go

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Some Memories from my Trip

The Ultimate Russian Challenge: The Trans-Siberian Train

My most recent interest since 2013 has been to dig into the cultures of the ex-Soviet Union when I moved to Moldova and Ukraine for summer 2013. Having more than 144 million native speakers, and the seventh most spoken language worldwide and especially in the 18 ex-soviet nations, I knew it would be a very useful tool for my adventures. It was especially interesting to me since I wanted to travel through the 5 Central Asian “Stan” countries, as well as in the Caucasus. So I went ahead and started learning Russian grammar and practiced through my travels and finally made it with at fluent conversational level in Russian by now. I have been back living in Ukraine for several months during the war of 2014 and after the war, back in 2016. My goal in learning the language was primarily to help communicate with locals to make my travels more interesting, as it is the intermediary languages in all 18th ex-soviet countries while learning the Culture, musical classics, Soviet Movies, etc…

That said, I have never lived in Russia, but extensive travels have helped me know more about the country. the first time was in 2010 when I concentrated my travels on its 2 most important cities, Moscow and St-Petersburg. These two cities are masterpieces of architecture and deserve a whole holiday to themselves. The second trip was planned to explore the whole country, in 2014. now that I could express myself in Russian, my goal was to cross the country from east to west, and practice my Russian on the trans-Siberian train with local people, while I learned about their culture.

The plan was to do a mix of the traditional Beijing-Moscow route, mixed with a leg of far east Russia. the problem I had was that starting from Mongolia and arriving in Ulan Ude in Russia’s Baikal Lake, that’s already 1/3 of the way through the Vladivostok – Moscow route. So what I decided to do was to go East from Ulan Ude, all the way to Vladivostok, and fly back to Krasnoyarsk to continue the journey westward. I would then skip Moscow and go south to new horizons and finish my trip in Sochi.

My Itinerary around Russia on the Trans Siberian Train

With a one month visa in hand, my plan was to travel during the week with many night trains, make legs of about 10 to 20 hours, and reserve my 4 weekends to settle 3 days in 4 different cities. That would allow me to experience more of each place in an Airbnb apartment and meet new friends. My choice of these 4 cities was first Khabarovsk for 3 days, Novosibirsk for 4 days, Samara for 3 days, and Sochi for 4 days. I also stopped in route to several other destinations but only on a shorter stop of 1 or 2 days in hostels and Couchsurfing (Ulan-Ude, Krasnoyarsk, Vladivostok, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg).

Overall, after one month traveling more than 10 000 km of this massive country, I thought I had gained enough knowledge to acknowledge the kindness of the Russian people and eliminate the false publicity that is often attributed to them, like aggressivity and coldness. Through all the people I met in more than 20 trains I’ve been in Russia, there is one thing that I learned. Once you earn the trust of a Russian, they will give the world to you. From Grandmas feeding me on trains, playing cards with kids in cabins, to Soldiers and Colonels sharing wartime stories with me over a shot of vodka, these countless hours in the Siberian forest went incredibly fast!

The Railroad of the Trans Siberian, Somewhere in Siberia

My tip for anybody wanting to do the trans-Siberian train is to plan it yourself. Don’t do like most tourists do, jumping on a non-stop train from Moscow to Beijing and rushing it in 6 days, washing yourself in a sink, and sharing your cabin with other foreign tourists. Go online to the very well made Russian Train Booking Website and book each leg as you feel. Trains are always on time, in pretty good conditions and the adventure of meeting different local people on several different cabins will make your trip unforgettable.

3 Best Russian Itineraries You Must Do On Your Next Trip

Following my series about Russia, I describe in this article the best itineraries to be done in this vast countries, from my own experience and personal researchers while on the field, and while talking with other travelers.

Itinerary 1: Moscow and around

Many people will only have a week to dedicate to visiting a country. And in a country as big as Russia, that means traveling very little distances. Limiting a visit that short will constrain to focus on Moscow and St-Petersburg. This is the itinerary that I have personally done in 2010, arriving by plane in Moscow and leaving the country on the western border into Estonia.

Moscow deserves 2 to 3 days to visit all of its highlights, including the Kremlin, the Red Square, and the St-Basil Cathedral. Moscow Subway is also a must, and can easily be taken to go around the city. From there, you can decide to concentrate on the Golden Ring, ancient cities close to Moscow that can be done in 2 or 3 days. Those are Vladimir, Suzdal and Sergiev Posad. Take note that Moscow is a very expensive city, and personally, I preferred what St-Petersburg had to offer.

The Kremlin, Moscow, Russia

On the way to St-Petersburg, if you have extra days, Novgorod is a nice city to stop, to make the 650 km between St-Petersburg and Moscow less painful. The train is not cheap by the way, count at least 100$ to 150$.

In St-Petersburg, I would personally allow the most time, as sightseeing is endless! There is so much to see and so much time to enjoy the beauty of the architecture, easily making it the most beautiful city in Russia. You can also plan some time around St-Petersburg to go to Petrodvorets and even maybe Tsarskoe Selo Pavlovsk.

Itinerary 2: The East and Caucasus

From St-Petersburg, I would go south and include Moscow, just as explained in itinerary 1. Counting an extra week, you will have time to explore the Caucasus. From Moscow, you can head to Nizhny Novgorod and include Samara on the way, a very nice city full of beaches on the shore of the Volga River. There are cruise ships leaving from there that many Russians take part. Kite Surfing is also possible on the river, which felt more like a beach destination than a Russian city when I was there in July. Include Volgograd to visit Mamayev Kurgan, the tallest women statue in the World.

Continue South to enter the Caucasus, from Roston on don and straight to Krasnodar. I personally preferred going straight to Sochi, which has experienced heavy development in the last few years with the Olympics. There is a lot to do in Sochi in the summer, tourism is booming and it seems like the most happening city in Russia!

If you are lucky enough to have a double entry visa in Russia, I would include a visit to South Ossetia. I haven’t been there myself, but I have heard so much about it from Russian friends that I imagine it as a little paradise with incredible beaches and endless wine reserves.

For the more adventurous, go to Crimea, which I had the chance to visit while it was still part of Ukraine.

Itinerary 3: The Trans-Siberian

This is the dream trip. Like described in my previous article in details, you can do one of two itineraries of the trans-Siberian. The first is from Beijing to Moscow, the Second is from Vladivostok to Moscow. I personally started in Mongolia and went east, then flew back to Krasnoyarsk to go all the way to Sochi. I liked the idea of doing the whole Territory, so that motivated my choice. I highly recommend planning the trip on your own, purchasing tickets online, which leaves the most flexibility to stop at cities of your choice on your way.

Stops that I recommend are Novosibirsk, the Capital of Siberia. Krasnoyarsk was also amazing. Vladivostok is a must, definitely one of the most beautiful cities in Russia. Khabarovsk is pretty nice too, people were very friendly. Yekaterinburg in the Ural region is also an important center of culture and has many historical sites to visit. Volgograd is interesting, as well as Samara. Out of the city, I haven’t been and that is on my “to go” list are: Irkutsk, Tomsk, and Kazan.


The Digital Globetrotter’s Russia Top 5 Lists

As usual with my country review series, I present my top 5 of different aspects of Russia. Its a great way to start planning your itinerary by seeing the highlights of my trips.

Top 5 Favorite Cities

1. Novosibirsk
2. Krasnoyarsk
3. Sochi
4. Vladivostok
5. Moscow

Top 5 Most Beautiful Cities

1. St-Petersburg
2. Vladivostok
3. Sochi
4. Moscow
5. Samara


Top 5 Best Nature

1. Siberian Forest
2. Black Sea Coast from Krasnodar to Sochi
3. Baikal Lake and Baikal Natural Reserve
4. Altai Mountains
5. The Far East around Vladivostok

Top 5 Food & Drinks

1. Borsch
2. Shashlik
3. Russian Dumplings
4. Russian Pancakes
5. Russian Salad

Top 5 St-Petersburg Attractions

1. Hermitage Museum
2. Peterhof Palace
3. White Palace
4. Canals
5. Chuch of the Saviour

Top 5 Moscow Attractions

1. Red Square
2. St-Basil Cathedral
3. Moscow Metro
4. Kremlin
5. Bolshoi Theatre



Here are a few pictures I shot from this country and that I expose in my Photography Studio To visit the studio Click Here or click on a picture to go directly to the country collection.

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