Russia is a country that has long fascinated and bewildered people around the globe. Visions of bears, snow, stern-faced people and the KGB pop into the average person’s mind when you mention Russia. But Russia is so much more than all of that!

Growing up, Russia slightly scared me, while at the same time intriguing me. I imagined a place where everything was gray and gloomy. I imagined sad, fading, Soviet-style buildings, with no color, no beauty, and no fun.

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But the picture I had in my mind of Russia was pretty different from what I actually experienced when I got there. Yes, there were stone-faced people jammed into the metro every day, yes there was snow and yes there was lots of Soviet architecture. But there certainly was color! And beauty. And fun! Also, I sadly never saw any bears while I lived there.

Gorky Park is beautiful in any season!
Gorky Park is beautiful in any season!

Maybe you already have a trip planned to Russia and would like a few tips. If so, you’ve come to the right place!

Here are my top Russia travel tips:

Learn some Russian before you go

If you are venturing into Russia on your own, apart from a tour group, then you will most likely need to know a little Russian before you go. At least learning the Cyrillic alphabet will greatly benefit your time there. It’s actually not as difficult as it looks, and once you master the alphabet then you will be able to read navigational signs – a necessity for traveling around Russia and Moscow in particular. Once you’ve learned the alphabet, you can move into a few basic phrases. One of the most useful words to learn is “spasiba” which means thank you. If someone holds the door for you, or helps you in some way, you can say spasiba (spah-SEE-buh) and sound like a local. It’s one of the easiest words to learn, which is good because you will find yourself using it a lot in Russia.

Learning to read the signs helps not only in getting on the right metro but also in knowing which exit to use when exiting!
Learning to read the signs helps not only in getting on the right metro but also in knowing which exit to use when exiting!

Don’t let the stoic faces scare you away

Russians are actually very warm and helpful people. They might appear otherwise, but just talk to them and watch them open up. Russians will go out of their way to help you, and love meeting foreigners. Once they find out you speak English, they will want to practice their English with you, if they know any. The younger generation, as is usually the case in most countries, studies English and should be able to converse in at least basic English. So get out there and make new friends!

Ok, this guy in St. Petersburg might not have been willing to help. But most people won't be wearing McDonald's bags on their heads, I promise!
Ok, this guy in St. Petersburg might not have been willing to help. But most people won’t be wearing McDonald’s bags on their heads, I promise!

Explore!

Russia is a fascinating and beautiful country in any season. Each season has its own charm and no matter the weather there is always something new to discover. Russians love flowers and beauty and fancy things. So whether it’s strolling through acres of flower gardens in the summer or ice skating among fancy ice sculptures in a park or in Red Square, there is always something to see and do. Get out there and discover it all! Russia is not a place to be bored.

One of many unique buildings to be seen in Moscow
One of many unique buildings to be seen in Moscow

 

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

It might be intimidating to ask for help when you need it when everyone around you seems to be in a mad rush to get somewhere. Or when everyone around you seems unhappy and unfriendly. But don’t let it stop you. There will most certainly be times when you will need to ask for help. Particularly if you are are in Moscow and trying to navigate the metro system. At first it can seem incredibly overwhelming and confusing, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it and once you do, it’s actually very simple. Or maybe you are above ground and trying to figure out which way to go to get to where you want to go. Don’t be afraid to ask someone. If they know, they will certainly try to help. Even if they don’t know they will try to help.

Have you been to Russia? What was your experience like?

 

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