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Getting Around Russia: Transportation Tips

The more you prepare for your Russian travel adventure, the better. It is a vast country with endless transportation options, from planes and trains to river ships and rental cars. If you don’t speak Russian and are hoping to have an independent adventure, start learning a few key phrases now; you aren’t guaranteed to find English speakers outside the big cities. Printing out subway maps in English before you leave for big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg is also useful.

If you are an American, you will need a visa to enter Russia via airplane or train. The rules and laws are always changing, so give yourself plenty of time to acquire the proper documentation. Your mode of transportation may determine what you need. For example, the rules are different for travelers who enter Russia on an ocean liner versus those who travel within the country on a river cruise.

Flying to and Around Russia

There are three international airports in Moscow. Sheremetyevo and Vnukovo are about equidistant from the city center, about 18 miles away, while Domodedovo is about 26 miles outside of town.

If St. Petersburg is your destination of choice, you’ll land at Pulkovo International Airport, about 15 miles away from the center of the city.

Russia stretches across more than 6 million square miles, and while the national airline, Aeroflot, flies many places, it doesn’t go everywhere. Other local airlines also fly here, including Rossiya (a division of Aeroflot). However, we advise checking out the safety rating of any carrier before you book; AirlineRatings.com is one place to check.

Note that Aeroflot is one of the easier airlines to book with since its website is in English, while many of the others are only in Russian. Also be aware that airline employees may have different standards of customer service than you’re used to at home.

Russia Air Travel Resources:
Aeroflot.com
Airlines-Inform.com/world_airlines/russia/
Rossiya-Airlines.com/en

Renting a Car in Russia

If you have nerves of steel, an adventurous spirit and a willingness to learn a new alphabet, driving in Russia is for you.

You should be prepared to do a little homework first. Before you leave for Russia, buy a map in English that covers everywhere you’re going. If you are extremely organized and have a road trip plan, plot out directions on Mapquest or Google Maps and print them out before you go; in certain areas there is no guarantee of accessible Internet or that anyone speaks anything other than Russian. Most street signs outside the major metropolitan areas are not in English, and an English-speaking GPS unit won’t help you much if you can’t read the road names.

To avoid unnecessary issues, rent a car from an international agency. Contracts from Russian companies are usually in Russian, and their staff may not speak much English.

Russia Rental Car Resources:
AutoEurope.com
Avis.com
Europcar.com
Hertz.com

Russia by Train

The Trans-Siberian Railway is one of the most romanticized and best known train trips in the world, running from Moscow all the way across the country to Vladivostok. (An alternate route connects to the Chinese railway system.) Along the way travelers can experience a wide variety of cultures, visiting places such as the Siberian city of Irkutsk and the gorgeous Lake Baikal. Traveling by train is a low-stress way to see the landscape and create your own itinerary.

Visitors can go on an organized Trans-Siberian trip or choose their own schedule. A helpful website for independent travelers is Seat61.com. For guided tours, try TransSiberian-Travel.com or GoldenEagleLuxuryTrains.com.

Another rail option popular with visitors is the Sapsan, Russia’s high-speed train between St. Petersburg and Moscow. It travels up to 250 miles an hour, and many people find it more convenient than flying. The trip runs several times daily and takes four hours. There are a few different car classes to chose from, and you will also find a bistro onboard. Learn more about the Sapsan and other rail options at RussianTrains.com.

Russia Train Travel Resources:
GoldenEagleLuxuryTrains.com
RussianTrains.com
Seat61.com
TransSiberian-Travel.com

Russia by Metro

If you are spending most of your time in cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg, the metro is an easy and affordable way to travel. Plus, it is a great way to see fantastic architecture and, in St. Petersburg, to experience one of the deepest subways in the world. Be sure to print out a station map before you arrive, as you might not be able to get one in English at the station.

In Moscow the metro stations open at 6 a.m. and stay open until 1 a.m. Passengers can chose from a large options of tickets from one ride to a daily pass and beyond.

In St. Petersburg, trains start running around 5:30 a.m. and shut down between midnight and 1 a.m. As in Moscow, visitors have plenty of ticket choices.

Be sure to have cash to pay for train tickets, as American credit cards are often denied for a variety of reasons.

Russia Metro Resources:
Metro.SPB.ru/en
Engl.MosMetro.ru

Russia by Cruise Ship and River Boat

Many cruise lines such as Holland America and Princess Cruises have Northern Europe trips that visit St. Petersburg. Most ships dock for two to three days, which allows passengers a variety of options on what to see.

Cruise passengers can stay in Russia for 72 hours without visas only if they have booked tours through companies officially licensed by the Russian government (these can be booked aboard your ship). These companies will supply visitors with a tour ticket, which is called a blanket visa or booking confirmation, and will let you pass the customs/immigration offices without any other documents except your valid passport and a migration card that you will be given onboard. If you wish to tour on your own, your safest bet is to apply for a visa prior to arriving.

To explore more in depth, consider a Russian river cruise with a company such as Viking River Cruises, Uniworld or Scenic. These trips generally include stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg as well as quaint small towns like Yaroslavl and Uglich. For this type of trip you will need a visa, which your cruise line can help you obtain.

Russia Cruise Resources:
HollandAmerica.com
Princess.com
Scenic.com.au
Uniworld.com
VikingRiverCruises.com

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–written by Masada Siegel

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