Marvellously mammoth and irresistibly intriguing, unfurl the secrets of Mother Russia, from Tsardom to Soviets to Pussy Riots.
As you traverse her vast expanse, the domed sky seems as limitless as the infinite horizon. The fusion of Byzantine and Slavic cultures shaped a young Russia before the days of Tsarist excess and the resulting revolutions. Meet a curious and resilient people while exploring architectural marvels in lively cities and ancient towns. Span the wild tundra and witness Lake Baikal, shimmering in the silvery Siberian light.
The city exudes European charm with classical architecture lining the picturesque Neva River Delta. Wander canal-side to soak up its colourful jigsaw of mismatched apartments and arrive at the spectacular Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. No matter the time of year, there’s plenty café culture and eateries to get your fill before uncovering the thriving independent music scene at a new breed of emerging clubs and bars.
- Take a City Tour – See the fascinating sights of St. Petersburg including the enormous Palace Square and the Hermitage Museum. Here you will see one of the world's largest collections of art displaying priceless works by Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Matisse and Picasso just to name a few. This collection will truly blow your mind!
- Peter and Paul Fortress – This beautiful and fascinating architectural landmark was once used as a political prison under the Tsars, today it houses the City Museum, the Mint and the Peter and Paul Cathedral.
- Visit St. Isaacs Cathedral with its stunning gilded some that still dominates the city skyline centuries after its construction.
- Our Experience journeys provide you with a unique and wonderful experience, dining in the home of a renowned cultural figure, Yury Petrochenkov and his wife. You will also visit the marvellous Russian Museum of Ethnography as well as a Russian Banya (bathhouse).
- Stroll around the oldest collection of garden statues in Russia in the Summer Garden, the location of Peter the Great's first Summer Palace.
- A canal boat tour, it is a great way to see this beautiful city in the summer.
- Explore the Russian Battleship, 'Aurora' which became a symbol for the Russian Revolution and is permanently docked on the Neva River.
- Holy Saviour on the Spilt Blood, built on the spot where Alexander II was fatally wounded. You can see the beautiful gold-draped onion domes of this lovely Russian church from all over the city.
- Climb the Colonnade of St Isaac’s Cathedral for an amazing panoramic view of St. Petersburg. It’s well worth the 300 steps!
- See a world-renowned Russian Ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre.
- Visit the magnificent summer residence of the Russian Tsars in the town of Pushkin where you will find the finest example of Russian Baroque, Catherine Palace, which contains the amazing Amber Room. Whilst Catherine's Palace is incredible for it's interiors Alexander's Palace, the last home of Nicholas II and his family, oozes an amazing history
- Admire exquisite and elaborately decorated Fabergé Eggs at the Fabergé Museum in St Petersburg’s Shuvalovsky Palace.
- Take the hydrofoil for the 30km scenic journey west of St. Petersburg to the incredible grandeur of the Summer Palace and Park of Peterhof (Petrodvorets), often referred to as the Russian Versaille, which was the inspiration for Peter the Great to build an imperial palace in the suburbs of his new city.
Uncover the majestic epicentre of Russia’s political, historical and architectural might. A cultural treasure-trove surviving centuries of revolution, where an ancient veneer converges with modern-slick. In a city of 10 million, there’s something to ignite your senses at every turn.
- Sight: Marvel at the opulence of Moscow's architecture and make sure you snap a sunset shot over colourful domes from a secret rooftop spot.
- Sight: Check out the incredible views of the Kremlin from the floating bridge in Zaryade Park.
- Taste: Work up a thirst and sip on some tasty lagers at Moscow's historic Moscow Brewing Company.
- Sound: Listen to an operatic performance or see a ballet at the world famous Bolshoi Theatre
- Experience: Head to Gorky Park - a favourite hang out spot for locals. Rent a bike, watch a movie at the outdoor cinema, see live music performances, you can even take a yoga class.
- Experience: Take yourself on an underground exploration of the chandelier-draped metro stations
One of our fave stops on the Trans Siberian, Kazan became part of Russia in the 16th Century but remains a centre for Tatar culture. Russia’s second largest ethnicity, Tatars are Turkic people native to the Volga-Ural region. Catch a glimpse of the different cultures scattered across Russia, a diversity that is present on peoples faces and etched on buildings, you’ll taste it in the food and hear it in the clubs that line the cosmopolitan Bauman Street.
- Sight: Kazan's Kremlin is a site not to be missed! Inside its bright white walls see the the spectacular turquoise-domed Kul Sharif Mosque.
- Sight: The Temple of all Faiths draws on sixteen different religions for inspirartion. Its sixteen minarets, spires and cupolas are embelished with bright greens, yellows and blues each representing unification - the essence of the city.
- Smell: Wander down Bauman Street, one of the oldest in the city. Here the smell of sizzling shisha wafts under your nose as you rub shoulders with locals amongst the cafes, bars, restaurants and museums that straddle the avenue.
- Taste: Tuck into traditional flavours of Tatarstan in restaurants and cafes that earned Kazan its foodie status.
- Expereince: take a swim near the waters of the mighty Volga and hit the manmade beach on the bank of the Kazanka River.
- Experience: Step back to Soviet times at the Museum of Soviet Life filled with kitsh knick-knacks, relics and reminders of day to day life under the Iron Curtain.
One of Russia’s oldest settlements, it functioned as the capital when Moscow was a mere idea. It’s one of the smallest towns in the Golden Ring, but what it lacks in population it makes up for in UNESCO World Heritage sites. This might not tickle everyone’s fancy, but there’s an interesting museum of wooden architecture here that depicts what rural life was like for Russian’s throughout history. A great contrast to the opulence you’ll see in the major cities.
- Sight: Wander the historical core of Suzdal, its Kremlin. Here you will find Suzdal's oldest surviving building the Cathedral of the Nativit of the Virgin as well as an impressive bell tower.
- Taste: Sample the local sweet brew made with fermented honey - Medovukha
- Taste: Feast on traditional Russian Bliny topped with caviar or delicious marinated forest mushrooms in the refectory of the Kremlin.
- Listen: Hear the ringing of bells on the hour every hour at the Cathedral of the Transfiguration, as they have done for centuries.
- Experience: Relax in Suzdal at a traditional banya - a revitalising sauna - and if you're feeling brave, try an invigorating birch branch massage.
The cultural centre of Siberia has an interesting story to tell. Originally a fur trade frontier, the winter outpost became the saving grace of countless rebels, academics and elites exiled here after the Decemberist Revolt against Tsar Nicholas I. Today, it’s Siberia’s most important centre, filled with universities, museums and historic sites.
- To delve into the history and findings of the surrounding areas visit the Museum of Wooden Architecture and the Baikal Limnological Museum.
- Stroll around the city taking in the Angara River, classic architecture, wooden houses, churches and cathedrals and the central market.
- Experience a unique encounter visiting a region where Shamanism, an ancient healing tradition and way of life, is still practiced. This is a brilliant way to experience the Buryat people's hospitality, cuisine and traditions.
- Tailor your journey to head out of Irkutsk and spend some time at Olkhon Island. Apart from being a great place to get away from civilisation, get amongst nature and enjoy the pristine air and water. There are a number of sacred places that make Olkhon very important to the native Buryat people, the most well known of which is Shaman Rock.
- Ride the rails along the Circum Baikal Loop that was built more than 100 years ago! The train travels at a leisurely pace right along the shore of Lake Baikal allowing plenty of photo opportunities and stopping at its most significant architectural sights and stunning viewpoints.
- Explore the many hiking & walking tracks around the shores of the oldest and deepest lake in the world with the knowledge of a local guide.
Quite possibly Russia’s most breath-taking natural landmark, it holds four world records as the largest, deepest, clearest and oldest lake on Earth. It’s no surprise this transformative triumph of nature is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Hovercraft over its icy surface in winter or take a refreshing dip in summer – you may just discover it’s also the coldest lake in the world.
You’ll know you’ve reached the city centre when you come face to face with Lenin - or at least a 25-foot bronze statue of his head. A common meeting place for locals, it’s a great spot to people-watch in the cosy centre of Shamanism and Buddhist culture. The original home of the Buryats, a roving race that shares many similarities with the Mongols, no greater than their ecological traditions and harmonious interactions with nature.
- View the world’s largest Lenin head standing at 7.7 metres tall!
- Make your way to Lenin Street, known by locals as Arbat Street, as it resembles Moscow's historic street lined with beautiful 17th - 19th century architecture. This is a great spot to meet the locals and experience day-to-day life in Ulan Ude.
- The Ivolginsky Datsan, built in 1945 is the main active and most important Buddhist religious centre in Russia. It is the chosen residence of the leader of all Russian Lamas and is also home to the preserved body of the Khambo Lama, who died in 1927 and remains sitting upright in the lotus position.
- About fifteen minutes from the centre of the city is the open-air Ethnographic Museum, it's the largest settlement of local architecture and documents the life of native Siberians and the colonisers. Take a look at the reconstruction of an ancient hunnu, an Evenk (native) settlement consisting of several small tipi's made of deer fur.
- See a performance at the Buryat National Academy Theatre of Opera and Ballet where you can also see spectacular views of the city.
- Take a step back in time with an excursion to the Old Believers Village. The Old Believers separated from the Russian Orthodox Church in 1666 in protest of new reforms, they were exiled and fled to avoid imprisonment and execution, some even burnt themselves alive as a form of protest! Today they still practice a form of the religion that stopped across much of Russia centuries ago. You will be warmly welcomed into their culture and homes for a home cooked lunch and traditional song and dance.
A vibrant modern city rich in minerals and history. Visit the enormous Byzantine-style church built on the site of the Romanovs’ execution, stand on the boundary line of Europe and Asia, take in the urban panorama from the Vysotskiy Viewing Platform and stroll around an impressive collection of museums and historic monuments.
The eastern terminus of the Trans Siberian Railway is where Tsar Nicholas II laid the line’s founding stone in 1891. The Bay is striking and the town hilly, bearing some resemblance to San Francisco. Tire yourself out wandering the streets and learning about naval history, then hop on a ferry to Japan.
Capital city: Moscow
Population: 144 million
Time zones: GMT+03:00 (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Volgograd), Irkutsk GMT +08:00 (+5 Moscow time)
Electricity: Type C (European 2-pin) Type E (French 2-pin, female earth)
Dialing code: +7
Most nationalities require a visa for Russia and you must apply for it in advance. Visas are not available on arrival or en route.
You will need a Letter of Invitation (LOI), sometimes referred to as a Visa Support letter to submit with your visa application. Sundowners Overland will provide the necessary documentation including your Letter of Invitation and Cover Letter that is required to support your visa application.
Once you have received your Cover Letter, Russian Travel Confirmation and Invitation Letter from us, you will be able to start the application process to obtain your visa. The earliest date you can apply for your Russian visa is three to six months prior to your intended entry date, depending on nationality. Please check with your local consulate/embassy.
Russian visas are issued with a specific start date and expiry date based on the Letter of Invitation and will only be valid for the duration of your pre-booked Sundowners Overland arrangements. All travel must be completed within these dates. Completed visas cannot be changed or extended. Note: In order to ensure that your visa covers all days when travelling overland, as well as safeguarding against unforeseen delays or rail schedules, the dates on your visa will be longer than those on your actual itinerary.
If you would like to stay or travel in Russia before or after the commencement of your Sundowners Overland arrangements, please contact us to discuss your options and the visa procedure as you may be required to obtain a second Letter of Invitation. Please note each embassy has varying restrictions on the number of Invitation letters that you can submit, with most only allowing a maximum of two.
Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information on the cost and method of payment. Cash is generally not accepted and often payment will need to be arranged before you apply with the embassy/consulate. The actual application process will vary depending on your nationality and the consulate/embassy at which you will be applying. Please check the appropriate consulate website for specific information.
In Russia and some countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS – States of the former Soviet Union) you are required to pay a visa registration fee when you check in at hotels and hostels.
You must register your Russian visa no later than 7 days after your arrival into the country. You will need to register your visa at each city, please ask hotel reception to do this for you. Although the process is now electronic, we recommend you ask reception for a hard paper copy that can be kept with your passport and immigration card at all times. It is strongly recommended that you keep your passport and all original documents in a money belt and have photocopies of your passport, visa and the original hotel card/immigration card ready for presentation to police if requested. Travellers who lose this departure card or do not obtain the necessary registration will not be able to check-in to hotels and will be liable for a substantial fine imposed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and administered by the local police.
All costs and responsibility for registration lies with individual travellers and is usually between USD$5 - $10 in each city – Some hotels provide this service free which is a bonus.
Travel Insurance is mandatory for all group journeys and Sundowners Overland strongly recommends travel insurance for all other journeys. You must ensure that your insurance policy covers you for the entire duration of your journey, for all activities you will be participating in and that you have purchased the highest level of cover available to you for medical emergencies (including repatriation/evacuation cover) which are relevant to ALL the destinations that you will be visiting. Contact us for further information and quotes.
A new legislation has recently been introduced that requires all travellers bringing prescribed medicine into Russia to carry the prescription in the traveller’s name, plus the name of the drug and the prescribed quantity. If this is not in Russian, a notarised translation is also required. Some medicines such as cold and flu tablets, which can be bought over the counter in many countries, may require a prescription in Russia. Please check with your nearest Russian Embassy if you’re unsure of regulations regarding any medication you intend to travel with.
Covering such a large expanse, as well as a diverse array of landscapes and cultures, each season in Russia offers a unique experience to travellers.
In the winter months see the iconic colourful domes of St. Basil’s Cathedral set amongst the snow covered city and experience the pristine winter wonderland of Siberia, jam packed with traditional winter activities including troika rides, dog sledding, steaming banya’s (Russian sauna) ice diving and even ice fishing – think snow, furry Russian hats and probably a bit of vodka too! Festivities amp up over Christmas and New Year with anticipation of the arrival of Ded Moroz or Father Frost (January 7), and celebrations on a grand scale in some of the cities most historical sites.
The warmer months bring long days and short nights in St. Petersburg during the White Nights Festival (May- July). Expect general merrymaking, late nights, spectacular fireworks, concerts and a mock battle among pirates in boats on the Neva River.
Russia positively blooms in spring and summer. Milder temperatures melt the blankets of snow to reveal a colourful array of spring blossoms; leaves return to the birch trees and perfectly manicured parks are once again exposed amidst some of the countries most famous palaces.
We recommend that you obtain US dollars and Russian Roubles as well as a low-fee local bank card or travel money card to use along your journey. Make sure your US notes are clean, crisp and issued after 1996, as older or damaged notes are not accepted.
Before travelling ensure you call your bank to advise which countries you are travelling too, to avoid your card being eaten by an ATM or cancelled. We recommend you bring multiple cards on the off chance your card is not returned by an ATM.
ATM’s are situated throughout Russia using VISA and MasterCard, and can usually be found near banks, shopping malls and poplar tourist areas. A very limited number of ATM’s are also connected to the Cirrus and Maestro networks. Many Russian ATM’s have a relatively low limit on withdrawals, which may mean you have to make a few withdrawals.
Expect a cash society when travelling to remote areas within Russia. We suggest you withdraw cash before venturing beyond the cities.
Moscow and St. Petersburg are on par with most expensive European cities and prices are generally higher than the rest of Russia. It is a good idea to add a little more to your daily budget while visiting these regions.
- 2 course meal and a drink in a decent restaurant USD$40.00
- Bottle of local beer USD$3.00-$5.00
- Bottle of Coke USD$2.50
- Short taxi ride USD$10.00
- Litre bottle of water USD$2.50
- Take-away Bliny USD$2.00-$4.00
- Souvenir Matryoshka doll USD$15-$60 depending on quality
- Metro ticket USD$1.00
*Prices are approximate average costs based on prices s at 11/03/17 and are based on the equivalent amount of local currency.
Borders are an integral part of our journey – patience, a sense of humour and a positive outlook will ensure you enjoy this experience. Border crossings take a long time (sometimes up to 12 hours) due to customs and immigration searching trains – often full of traders - and train schedules. Most formalities take place on the train, you should not have to remove your luggage or leave the train.
Upon arrival/departure you will need to complete an arrival/departure card and hand this to immigration officials, with your passport. You must complete two identical copies of the customs declaration form, with one copy to be presented on your departure from Russia and must be kept with your passport at all times.
Be mindful that the train toilets are locked for the duration of your border crossing, and you are not always able to leave the train compartment. You should check with your attendant what time the wagon will be locked and when the toilets will be available.
- As with any country you are visiting, learning a little of the language, reading as much about the history and culture of the region and observing the local conventions is a great way to start.
- Refrain from drinking alcohol in public. Drinking alcohol on trains is generally up to the good nature of your train attendant.
- A firm, almost bone crushing, handshake is the typical greeting when meeting someone in Russia. (Although the handshake between women and men is less firm.) Russians also maintain direct eye contact while giving the appropriate greeting for the time of day.
- When pointing, do not use a single finger but gesture with your whole hand.
- Public displays of affection are generally not considered appropriate.
- Whistling indoors is a social faux-par.
- Tipping is usually expected at high-end eating and drinking establishments, around 5-10 percent should cover it.
- In churches women should cover their head and shoulders, men in shorts may be refused entry.
- Avoid turning your back to altars.
- Russians are rather superstitious; you’ll see people rubbing the noses of the dog statues at the Metro Ploshad Revolutsii in Moscow for good luck.
Phone coverage is generally good in the major cities and more populated areas of Russia, however it may not be available or perhaps limited in remote areas and on trains. It is recommended you activate your global roaming with your phone provider before you leave or purchase a SIM card on arrival.
In Moscow and St. Petersburg most hotels offer Wi-Fi, if you are travelling beyond the major cities or your global roaming is astronomical, it is beneficial to purchase a SIM card. There are dozens of mobile phone companies, but the three most common are MTS, MegaFon and Beeline. You will find retailers at the airport, near metro stations and in shopping malls and streets.