The World Cup is around the corner and very soon you will be in Russia. In this blog post I have collected a number of practical travel tips to Russia that are good to know before going here!
You can NOT drink the tap water
It is probably one of the most important travel tips to Russia: Do not drink the tap water.
Even the majority of locals stay far away from it. I have met some people who say that they can drink it if it is boiled first, but basically you should buy your water. You can buy water in all supermarkets from 0.5 l to 5 l. bottles. The 5l bottles can be refilled at small water stations that are located around all cities. Most of these small water stations are automatic, but some of them will have a worker inside, whom you simply give your bottle too, who will fill it for you with water. Remember to say whether you want to have sparkling or regular water. You should also pay attention to these words on the water bottles in the supermarkets:
- Sparkling water: газированная вода
- Regular water: негазированная вода
If you get some water in your mouth in a shower, there is no need to panic and go to the hospital. The water isn’t THAT dirty and your body should be able to handle it. But when it comes to drinking water and brushing teeth, I would recommend using bottled water.
Be prepared with Google Translate or a notebook
Although it varies from place to place, Russians are generally not very good at English. Yes, they learn English from a young age, but many have zero or very little practical experience. Most restaurants have menus in English and people who work in tourism, certainly speak English, although it probably is with a rather thick accent.
Be sure to get a sim card so you have data and can use Google Translate or get a dictionary or a notebook, where you write some useful Russian phrases and expressions.
A lot of police in the streets
Be prepared to see lots of police in the streets, near touristic places, in the metro, etc. during the World Cup. In general, it is common to see police in Russia. For example there are usually always 1-2 policeofficers at the entrance to the metro. But in the past couple of weeks, the number of police officers has probably doubled on the streets. In Kazan, where I am at the moment, one can be certain to meet a group of 2-4 policeofficers every 500 meters in the city center.
They may ask you for your passport if you are loud or disturbing in some way, but besides that, they just wak around peacefully 24 hours a day.
Pay extra attention when you go out in the evening / night. Avoid drinking outside and be loud and disturbing in a drunk state outside. You may risk a fine on the spot or be taken to a police station and be detained for a few hours.
Be aware of the traffic – even on the “sidewalk”!
In Russia, cars traditionally meant money and money meant power. Today, this power allows people with cars to drive and park wherever they want. On the street, on the curb, on the sidewalk and basically anywhere where there is a free spot. Although there are sidewalks, there is usually no sidewalk that is ONLY for pedestrians. If the road is wide enough for a car to drive on or park, you can be sure that the cars will take over the sidewalk.
In recent years, more and more people have started cycling in the big cities. It is still nothing compared to fx. Copenhagen (one of the most bicykle friendly cities in the world), but compared to just 5 years ago, where I would be really shocked if I saw a cyclist in Russia, it has become more normal now. In Moscow and St. Petersburg you can also rent city bikes (I don’t know about the quality of the bikes though). However, if you choose to rent a bicycle in Russia, you should be VERY carefull. There is no infrastructure for cyclists and car drivers are in no way accustomed to keeping an eye on cyclists on the roads.
Bring your passport
It is very common to be stopped by the police on the street and be asked to show your documents. You should therefore always have your passport or a copy of your passport on you, as well as your immigration card which you will receive when going to Russia. Be aware not to throw away this immigration card as you are required to show it at the airport when you leave the country.
Russians have two types of passports: a domestic passport and an international passport. Russians always carry their domestic passport with them and it is used for many different everyday situations.
The passport functions as an ID-card and is used in many situations in stores and in the public. You would need your passport if you want to buy a SIM card, get a library card or sign up for a fitness center.
You should also not be surprised if you are asked to show your passport when you want to return something you have purchased in a store. A passport is the primary identification in Russia.
Tips are not required
It is not expected that you leave tips in Russia, whether it is at a restaurant, an excursions, for taxi drivers or hairdressers. However, it has become more and more common in the last couple of years and people will certainly not think you are strange if you give a tip for a good service.
If you have been somewhere, where there has been a waiter or other kind of person who has provided a good service, you can leave a tip. The most common and easiest way to do it is to round the bill and say you do not want money back when you pay. Let’s say, for example that your bill is 450 rubles. You then give 500 rubles and tell your waiter that you do not need money back (in Russian – “mne ne nuzhna zdacha”).
In some tourist places, especially in the metropolitan areas of Moscow and St. Petersburg, it can happen that the bill contains a service fee.
Always have cash on you
The last one of my travel tips to Russia is that you should always have cash on you.
Cashless payment is very common in Russia, but you can easily come across a cafe or an attraction where they do not accept cards. That’s why it’s a good idea always to have some cash on you, no matter where you are. Especially when driving around in taxis in Russia, it’s a good idea to always have a bunch of 100RUB and 50RUB banknotes and coins on you, as drivers often cannot give you money back.
Do you have any questions for some of these travel tips to Russia? Comments? Ideas for other topics/guides for my next blog post?
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