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Stretching from the cultural powerhouses of Moscow and St Petersburg in the west, to the frozen tip of Siberia in the east, Russia is vast

A staggering 5,700 miles in length, there is so much to discover within her far-reaching borders - from Siberia’s mysterious Lake Baikal to the soaring Ural Mountains and the fairy-tale domes of St Basil’s Cathedral.

The Trans-Siberian Express chugs through the lot, crossing seven time zones on its journey east from European Russia. With their fascinating histories, Russia’s cultured cities play host to a wealth of architectural and artistic gems, while the idyllic countryside unfolds with picturesque villages and gently rolling hills.

Wherever you look in this incredible country, you’re sure to have Tsars in your eyes (we do apologise for the pun).

 

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Culture and history

Although only a sixth of the population is Russian Orthodox, it’s the country’s largest religious denomination. It’s important to remember that during the Soviet era, all religious worship was suppressed – however the country still has many beautiful churches – just remember to cover your shoulders if you’re visiting one and for women, a longer length skirt is the norm.

Famous Russians include tennis players Maria Sharapova and Anna Kournikova, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, actor Yul Brynner and songwriter Irving Berlin. Russians are proud of their cultural heritage – and with literary heavyweights such as Tolstoy, Chekhov, Dostoyevsky, Pasternak and Pushkin, and composers including Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff – it’s hardly surprising.

The origins of Russia can be traced back to around the 9th century AD when the Slavs expanded into today’s European Russia from Belarus and the Ukraine. Christianity arrived in the region in the 10th century by way of the Byzantine Empire, and it has shaped Russian culture ever since. Over the next few centuries Russia was nigh on taken over by the Mongols.

Then, from the beginning of the 17th century, under the rule of the tsars of the Romanov Dynasty, Russia expanded exponentially, incorporating areas of the Far East, Central Asia, the Arctic and Siberia. By the end of the Romanovs’ rule in 1917, the Russian Empire had become the largest country in the world.

Discontent and economic breakdown led to the Russian Revolution of 1917, initially a liberal movement which was then seized by Lenin and the Bolsheviks to create a communist state. In the years leading up to 1945, the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) rallied 14 nearby states to its banner, including the Ukraine, Estonia and Latvia. Stalin followed Lenin, and the Soviet Union continued under strict communist rule.

However, by the 1980s, with their economic power significantly weakened, Michael Gorbachev introduced a series of reforms leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1992 the Russian Republic was born and it has been on a rampaging capitalist path ever since.

Things to do

Saga’s holidays to Russia take in the many sights of its great cities - Moscow and St Petersburg - and you’ll get to experience both as you catch the Sapsan high-speed train between the two. Picture yourself strolling through Red Square for morning coffee and then gazing upon the Winter Palace by sunset. Book seats at the ballet in the glittering Bolshoi Theatre, explore St Petersburg’s splendid Hermitage Museum and visit both the Kremlin and Armoury.

Many of our Baltic city and Scandinavia cruises stop off in Russia on route and our Russian waterways cruise makes for a fascinating adventure along the Moskva River and beyond. So, let’s cue up some stirring Stravinsky, pour a glass of vodka and drink a toast to Mother Russia.

Moscow

The great wheel of Moscow, and perhaps the whole of Russia, turns around Red Square – still very much the centre of the capital. Its sheer scale along with the awe-inspiring domes of St Basil’s Cathedral will have you gazing in wonder. Feel the weight of history as you visit the Kremlin and the Armoury and take your seat for a classical concert, ballet or acrobatic performance at one of the capital’s grand theatres.

St Petersburg

An elegant port city on the Baltic Sea, St Petersburg was the imperial capital of Russia for almost two centuries. Founded in 1703 it is decorated with a dazzling array of ornate palaces and churches, from the famous Winter Palace to the lavish Church of the Saviour, Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and the seafront Peterhof Palace.

The city has long been a cultural powerhouse with grand theatres and museums at every turn. The showpiece has to be the Hermitage Museum; founded in 1764 it is one of the oldest and largest museums in the world. The modern arts and cultural scene is thriving too, with a palpable energy to the city as well as a venerable past.

Flight time

From London to Moscow the average flight time is 3 hours 30 minutes. There can be long queues to clear customs in Russia, so pack your patience.

Currency

Ruble -

The currency in Russia is the rouble, which is divided into 100 kopecks - it’s best to take euros or US dollars to change in official bureaux or banks.

Passports and visas

To enter Russia you will need a visa – please visit Saga’s Russian tour, cruise or holiday pages for specific visa advice.

Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of six months after your visa expiry date. It’s a good idea to take a photocopy of your passport showing your passport number and photograph.

Bring this with you on holiday but keep it in a different place from your passport just in case it gets lost or stolen.

Phrases

A few words to help you get by in Mother Russia…

Hello - zdrastvooyte

Goodbye - da sveedaneeya

Thank you - spasiba

Please/you’re welcome - pazhalooysta

Yes - da

No - net

Good morning - dobraye utra

Good afternoon - dobraye den

Good evening - dobriy vecher

Good night - spakoynay nochi

Timezone

Both Moscow and St Petersburg are three hours ahead of GMT.

Electricity

Mains voltage is 220 volts AC (50 cycles). All sockets take (round) two-pin thin European standard plugs.

Language

Russian -

The official language is Russian but there are more than 100 minority languages spoken in the Federation. Many Russians also speak English and German.

Tipping

Between 5-10% is the norm in restaurants and cafes. Tip in cash and hand directly to the waiter.

Climate

Both St Petersburg and Moscow have humid continental climates. Thanks to its coastal location, St Petersburg doesn’t experience the severe cold that’s so common elsewhere in Russia.

In fact, it’s rare for the temperature to fall below -10˚C in winter or rise above 30˚C in summer. Summer and autumn are wetter than the winter and spring, so pack your waterproofs and brolly.

Compared to St Petersburg, Moscow tends to have more humid summers, with higher rainfall in mid-summer. However, on average summer and autumn are drier and winter temperatures tend to be a little colder.

Health

We recommend you drink bottled mineral water in Russia. It’s advisable to carry the name, address and telephone number of your local GP, as if you become unwell, your insurance company may require this information.

A reciprocal healthcare agreement operates between the UK and Russia. This entitles British nationals to free treatment in a Russian hospital.

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

Russia has a population of around 143.5 million, more than twice the UK’s, but less than half the United States’. Almost half of all Russians live in just two areas, Moscow and St Petersburg, and the further east you travel towards Siberia, the less dense the population becomes. Russia has one of the lowest population densities in the world.

At 16,377,742 square kilometres, Russia is the world’s biggest country and is a whopping 70 times bigger than the UK! Hard to imagine, really…

Smoking

Smoking is banned in public places – this includes airports, railway stations, bus stops and public transport, plus also government and municipal buildings and in lifts and stairways of apartment blocks.



Climate

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