Russia is the world’s largest country, a lifetime may not be enough to fully explore it. With over 17 million square kilometers total area, it has remarkably varied landscapes and land-forms spanning a total of nine time zones bordering 14 different countries. So where to start exactly? A Russian proverb says, “Moscow is the heart of Russia and Saint Petersburg is its head.” In this 8-day suggested itinerary, you will be able to explore Moscow and Saint Petersburg. You’ll find out if that proverb is still applicable today.
Things to know before travelling to Russia:
1.Food and Water Safety – The food safety standards in Russia are quite different than those in the states and other European countries. Tap water is not safe to drink in Russia. Moscow and Saint Petersburg offer a huge variety of cuisine, but be sure to avoid certain things in order to ensure a safe travel experience. Stay away from unlabeled vodka or what they call ‘Samogon’ as these are extremely dangerous. When eating out, avoid street foods or look for a street food vendor serving many customers. Also, to avoid dietary problems while travelling, purchase and drink only bottled water.
2.Language – English is not widely spoken in Russia but mostly members of the younger generation in the larger cities can. Before entering the country, it is advisable to learn a few Russian words and phrases to facilitate your travel and to get to your destination quicker. Some helpful phrases are the following:
Hello = “Здравствуйте” (zdrast-vue-tye)
Good morning = “доброе утро!” (dobroye utro!)
Good night = “Спокойной ночи!” (spah-kohy-nuhy noh-chee!)
How are you? = “Как ваши дела?” (Kak vashi dela?)
My name is <your name> = “Меня зовут…” (Menya zovut…)
Good bye = “До свидания” (dah – svih-da-nee-ye)
Where can I change some money? = Где можно обменять валюту? (Gde mozhna abmeenyat’ valyootoo?)
3.Vaccines and Medical Emergencies – Before the trip, make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccines for Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Rabies and flu. Pack some medications for fever, allergy and diarrhea. Having these items on hand will save you a lot of trouble.
4.When to go – Going off season does not guarantee more time to visit the best places. Even if you don’t mind the extreme temperature of the winter, the days are short for sightseeing which mean palaces and museum hours are limited. Most tourists visits Russia from mid- May to mid-September because of longer days and shorter nights, but that would entail higher prices and obviously more crowded sites. It is best to visit before the peak season begins meaning late April to early May.
5.Getting Around – Most cities in Russia have good public transport system and bigger cities such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg have excellent metro systems. Navigating the metro is quite tricky as almost all signs are in Russian. Get acquainted with the Metro official web to get the basic and most crucial information about the metro (website: http://engl.mosmetro.ru/)
Detailed Day by Day
Day 1: Moscow
Schedule a flight that will arrive on a Thursday in Moscow; that way you can enjoy your tour with light traffic on a weekend. Given how vast distances are in Moscow and exploring the city requires a fair amount of travel, it is recommended to stay in a hotel which is centrally located. Moscow has heaps of accommodation to suit every pocket, from budget hostels to luxury hotels.
Where to stay in Moscow:
Lotte Hotel Moscow (Novinskiy Blvd, 8/2, Moscow 121099, Russia)
Dedeman Park Izmailovo Moscow (Nikitinskaya Street, 10A, Moscow 105425, Russia)
Ararat Park Hyatt Moscow (Neglinnaya St., 4, Moscow 109012, Russia)
Swissotel Krasnye Holmy Moscow (Kosmodamianskaya Emb., 52/6, Moscow, Russia)
The St. Regis Moscow Nikolskaya (Nikolskaya St., 12, Moscow 109012, Russia)
Four Seasons Hotel Moscow (2 Okhotny Ryad Street, Moscow 109012, Russia)
After check in, minimize your jet lag by spending a lot of time out in the sunlight so your body can adapt to its new surroundings. Wear a comfortable walking shoes as you will do a lot of walking for today. Enter from the Resurrection gates, south of Tverskaya Street, and start your tour of the Red Square (Krasnaya Ploshchad). Here, you will find the GUM Department Store, Lenin’s Mausoleum, the Kremlin and the iconic Cathedral of St. Basil.
Day 2: Moscow
Russians typically have breakfast at seven or eight in the morning. The usual Russian breakfast includes hot tea or coffee, sandwiches with cheese or sausage, eggs, pancakes and porridge. Make sure to eat enough as you’ll cover at least three miles on foot for today. Meet up with your tour guide at 9:30 in the morning, so you could get into the Kremlin by 10 in the morning.
Moscow Kremlin (Moskovsky Kreml) is an enormous complex with one of the world’s best fortresses. It is an enigmatic symbol of the Muscovite period and the Soviet Union. Today, two thirds of the Kremlin are closed to visitors, but the remaining areas are open to public for sightseeing. You will be able to visit its churches and cathedrals, all of which were constructed and built by master craftsmen of the age. You can also explore some of the palaces and buildings which showcase unique architectural styles.
Day 3: Moscow
Start your third day in Moscow by going to one of the best morning hot spots in the city serving Russia’s favourite morning staple, porridge or some great farm-to-table food. After breakfast, immense yourself in Russian art by visiting Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts and Tretyakov Gallery. Then head to the Museum of Contemporary Russian History, located in Tverskaya Street. Housed in the former Moscow English Club, the museum exhibits Soviet history from 1905 up to the 1980s. Here, you will find old photographs, paraphernalia, propaganda posters to torture instruments. The museum basically shows the birth and death of the Soviet Union.
At night, enjoy a circus performance at the Old Nikulin Circus on Tsvetnoy Boulevard (13, Tsvetnoy Boulevard, Moscow, Russia, 127051; tel +7 495 625-8970)
Day 4: Moscow
After breakfast, head to the Cathedral of Christ the Savior (ulitsa Volkhonka, 15, Moskva, Russia, 119019; tel: +7 495 637-12-76), the most powerful symbol of the post Communist reconstruction of Russia. This is the largest church in the country, which is an exact replica of the one’s original built in the 19th century but destroyed under the Stalin Administration in 1931. After this, take a walk down Ostozhenka, Moscow’s Golden Mile. This neighborhood is considered the most expensive and desirable real estate in Moscow.
In the afternoon, join a small group tour that will take you down to Moscow’s labyrinthine metro network (this is a must-see) opened by the Soviet Union in 1935, which is perhaps their crowning achievement. Moscow’s metro system boasts some of the most impressive mosaics and architecture which can be considered the grandest in the world. It is a living reminder of how it was built with blood, sweat and tears.
Can you believe that this are actually Metro Stations and not a museum?
Day 5: Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg, founded by Peter the Great in 1703, represents everything European, from its canals, museums, bridges, cathedrals and so much more. From the early days of Tsar Peter the Great to the modern events in Russia, this city has a rich and vibrant history.
Fly to Saint Petersburg in the morning (Aeroflow, S7 and UTair operate non-stop flights between the two cities and one-way ticket costs between 32 USD and 46 USD). Check in at your preferred accommodation in the city. Saint Petersburg has plenty of luxurious hotels to choose from. There are also heaps of inexpensive hotels, youth hostels and bed & breakfast which are centrally located. Once rested, you can take a break from historical tour and join a guided food tour adventure in downtown Saint Petersburg. You will be able to sample authentic Russian food, visit specialty shops as well as eateries while learning some interesting facts about the city.
Where to stay in Saint Petersburg:
Pushka Inn Hotel (Reki Moiki Emb., 14, St. Petersburg, Russia)
Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg (Voznesenskiy Ave., 1, St. Petersburg 190000, Russia)
The State Hermitage Museum Official Hotel (Pravda St., 10, St. Petersburg 191119, Russia)
Hotel Indigo St. Petersburg – Tchaikovskogo (Chaikovskogo St., 17, St. Petersburg 191187, Russia)
Belmond Grand Hotel Europe (Nevsky Prospekt, Mikhailovskaya Ulitsa 1/7, St. Petersburg 191186, Russia)
Day 6: Saint Petersburg
Enjoy traditional Russian doughnuts at Cafe Pyshechnaya (25 Bolshaya Konyushennaya St., St. Petersburg). The cafe is the oldest in Saint Petersburg that serves the best classic Russian doughnuts. You can order coffee too while you watch as your doughnut is baked utilizing a traditional Soviet-era baking equipment.
After breakfast, begin the tour at the Peter and Paul Fortress, the original citadel of Saint Petersburg built by Peter the Great. Housing a cathedral where the tombs of every Czar after Czar Peter are located, the fortress also served as imperial prison. You may also go visit Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (Isaakievskiy Sober), the largest Russian Orthodox cathedral in Saint Petersburg. In the afternoon, take a stroll up Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street, where you can go try different restaurants or just go shopping. You may also go check out the Church of the Savior on Blood, built on the spot where Czar Alexander II was killed in 1881.
Day 7: Saint Petersburg
Start your 7th day at the Strelka of Vasilievskiy Island which offers an impressive view of the Neva River, the two Rostral Columns, the Winter Palace and the Peter and Paul Fortress. Have breakfast at one of the restaurants around the Strelka before heading to your next destination, the State Hermitage Museum and Winter Palace (2, Palace Square, St Petersburg). Hiring a guide is recommended so that you’ll learn some interesting facts about the exhibits. The Hermitage is jaw dropping in its size and the scope of art and architecture is vast. You will be impressed of the quality of the collections and exhibits will give you a glimpse of Russian Empire’s unimaginable wealth.
In the afternoon, head to the Yusupov Palace (94 Reki Moyki, St Petersburg), the primary residence of Nicholas, the last Russian Czar. The Yusupovs were a Russian noble family, one of Russia’s wealthiest families. For dinner, consider one of the popular restaurants among the locals, the Palkin Restaurant (47 Nevsky Prospect, St Petersburg, Russia; tel: +7 812 703-53-71).
Day 8: Saint Petersburg
On your last day, you can decide where to go that should be tailored to your specific interests. You can explore other attractions in Saint Petersburg like the Naval Cathedral of Saint Nicholas in Kronstadt, the Palace Square, Grand Maket Russia Interactive Museum, Peterhof State Museum Preserve and State Russian Museum. For last minute shopping, go back to Nevsky Prospekt. For your final night, you may consider watching a concert at Shostakovich Philharmonic Hall or watch a ballet performance at Mariinsky Ballet.
Have you been to Russia? Do you have any tips or suggestions to share? If so, you can leave your comments below.