What to prepare
The list of things for your trip to Russia is heavily dependent on your chosen region, time of year and planned leisure activities. Nevertheless, we can give some general advice.
What it’s desirable to have with you:
A good windproof jacket (in summer, a light one; in winter, a down jacket)
One of the main “unpleasant surprises” of the Russian weather is not just the cold, but also a strong chilly wind and high humidity (even in the relatively warm season). No clothing protects against the wind and retains heat better than the famous Russian fur coat.
1 or 2 sweaters offering varying degrees of warmth
The best way to keep warm is not to pin all your hopes on one super-warm sweater, but to make the most of multilayering. A warm turtleneck (autumn and spring), in combination with a thin sweater (in early spring and late autumn) and 1 or 2 thick sweaters or a jacket (winter) will help to fight the famous Russian cold. Even in the summer, it’s worth taking a thin sweater: summer nights are cool, even after an abnormally hot day.
Good-quality, comfortable and ideally waterproof footwear
Distances in Russian cities, as a rule, are considerable, and walking still remains one of the best ways to explore your surroundings. In addition, during rush hour, on public transport you often have to stand (or even save yourself from fellow travellers advancing towards you in the carriage). We’re not talking here about the need for such shoes for nature tourists! In winter, you should definitely take insulated boots with fur inside and warm socks (preferably woollen).
Scarf, hat and gloves (winter). Headgear in summer
The best way to escape from the vagaries of the weather. In winter, a warm hat will help you avoid catching a chill in severe cold weather, while a scarf will protect your throat. In summer, the sun can shine all day, and given the small amount of shade on city streets, it’s necessary to insure yourself against the risk of sunstroke, wearing a cap or summer hat.
Nice clothes for the theatre, expensive restaurants or night clubs
In Russia, it is accepted, you should dress smartly when going “out”. You don’t need to turn up at the theatre in evening dress – a nice shirt and trousers will suffice for men and a modest dress (even a business one) or blouse with trousers for women. The same dress code applies in expensive restaurants. Night clubs often take you “based on your clothes”, so you should take for this purpose a pair of comfortable branded items.
Phrase book, dictionary or special phone translator-app
Unfortunately, the language barrier often gets in the way for tourists (especially those trying to explore the city on their own). Most signs are not duplicated even in English, and foreign languages are only spoken by the local population in big cities, and even then not all. So it’s always better to take a pocket phrase book and dictionary with you in your bag.
A scarf to cover your head in church (for women)
When entering a Russian church, a woman should have her head covered. Also unacceptable are bare arms, the bosom, and short skirts. Sometimes, at the church entrance stands a box of shawls which are free to take for the duration of your visit, but generally there is no such box and you simply cannot go into the church. The scarf should be big enough to completely cover the hair on your head and back.
Umbrella or raincoat (except in winter)
Prolonged rains are especially characteristic of the Russian autumn, but in spring and summer tourists can get caught out in a short downpour or more prolonged grey rain.
Belt pouch for keeping your money
As Russia is characterised by the predominant use of cash, you should make sure it’s kept safe. It’s best to keep most of your money in a belt or a pouch fastened directly to your body, and for purchases use a purse containing a limited amount (up to 3,000-5,000 roubles).
Insect repellent (summer)
Midges are a “headache” for many visitors to Russia. Despite their small size, Russian midges can give mosquitoes a run for their money in terms of persistence, voraciousness and the ability to dodge your attempts at revenge. Insect repellent is especially important when travelling to Siberia.
Sun remedies (summer)
Despite the fact that Russia is considered a cold country, in summer in the big cities of the Central region and the south it gets very hot – up to 35 degrees Celsius. The scorching sun is not a tourist’s best friend, so in the country of “General Frost” it’s best not to burn.
Russian sockets are European, with 2 round holes, though in some places there are still old versions with two narrower holes, where thick “Europlugs” can’t be used. You can buy the required adapter before travelling, or if you need one on arrival in Russia, you need to look in a hardware store. Since sellers are sure to only speak Russian, it’s best to learn the phrase: “I need an adapter” (mnye noozhen pyerekhodneek) in advance, or just expressively show the seller the plug of your appliance.
Portable battery charger (for train travel)
During long train journeys, you may find a temporary lack of electricity in the carriage sockets. If a phone is vital, it’s better to stock up in advance using an independent charger.
The versatile and very welcome companion of any tourist. In summer, they can be used to freshen the face and hands in the heat, while travelling by train they can help with hygiene, and in dank autumn, you can use them to quickly remove the spray of dirty water from trousers.
Russian classical literature
Travelling to Russia with a small volume of Russian classics can be an unforgettable experience in understanding the mysterious Russian soul. Walk around St Petersburg together with the heroes of Dostoevsky, inspect Moscow in the footsteps of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita in Arbat’s lanes, or drive the Russian outback with “Dead Souls” by Gogol. What could be more enlightening and interesting? And for long journeys by train, a good book is indispensable.