The essentials when travelling in Russia, especially when you do it solo (like I did!):
This is based on my own experience when I was there (March 2018). There may be more updates and changes since then.
- Download Yandex Map. It is more accurate and comprehensive than Google Map.
- Suburban and long-distance trains – operated by state-owned JSCo RZD (Russian Railways). Check their official website for schedules and prices.
- Underground metro – use a token purchased at the station or a prepaid travel card.
- Buses, trams and trolleybuses – pay cash on board or use a prepaid travel card.
- Marshrutka – a minivan with a specific, fixed route and a flat fare. It is similar to ‘angkot’ in Indonesia. Pay cash to the driver before getting off.
- Taxis and Uber are also easy to find there and the fares are relatively cheaper than those in Western Europe.
There are several options for travel cards that come with different plans (these can be purchased at the station), i.e. Metro Card with either an unlimited access for one month or a certain number of journeys valid for a certain number of days; Transport Card for overland transport (buses, trams and trolleybuses) with different plans and validity or a Rechargeable Travel Card (Troika in Moscow and Podorozhnik in St. Petersburg) for both metro and overland transport. You can load on the card either just money or passes (one-day or monthly passes).
If there will be lots of visits to museums and other attractions, it might be worth considering buying a tourist pass that also functions as a rechargeable transport card (St. Petersburg Card or Moscow CityPass).
- Download Google Translator with camera (very useful when I was in the супермаркет and trying to read the food labels!)
- Learn a bit about the Cyrillic alphabets beforehand. It helped me to at least recognize certain places and streets even though I didn’t know how to pronounce them (not so many people here speak English).
- Buy a SIM Card. It is cheap and comes with a quite big data package. I bought a Tele2 SIM Card at RUB 600 and got 20GB data. It was pretty easy to find free wi-fi, but I didn’t want to risk getting lost somewhere in a place which an unfamiliar language without Internet access. 😁
Cash or Cards?
- Always have small bank notes and coins handy (sometimes it is not easy to get changes in small shops)
- ATMs are widely available everywhere. I learned that it would be better to withdraw an uneven amount from the ATM, e.g. RUB 2,850 instead of RUB 3,000. One time I withdrew RUB 5,000 and ended up with five RUB 1,000 notes (the ATMs had the English language option, but somehow when I pressed something, the next screen was still in Russian).
- Payment by Visa and Mastercard (including contactless PayWave and PayPass) is acceptable everywhere.
Most foreign nationals, even those from Western European countries, require a visa applied in advance. I also shared about the Russian tourist visa here (for Indonesians only).