Formally known as the Russian Federation, Russia is located in the northern corner of Eurasia and is surrounded by Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea.
Geographically, Russia is the largest country in the world. According to its 2010 Census, it has almost 143 million people, making it the ninth-most populous in
the world. Moscow is the capital of the country. With over 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples in Russia, there is an immense sense of cultural, linguistic and religious diversity.
Russia is a huge nation, which is littered with touristic gems. The country has 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 40 UNESCO biosphere reserves, 40 national parks and 101 nature reserves. Its main cities are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Samara, among others.
Some of the must-sees for any traveler to Russia are as follows:
- The Orthodox churches with their beautifully painted and gilded domes such as the Saint Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
- The Kremlin in Moscow that houses centuries of Russian history and memorabilia.
- The Red Square in Moscow.
- The Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow that houses the largest collection of Russian art in the world.
- The Winter Palace and State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.
- The Pushkin or ‘Tsar’s Village’ in St. Petersburg that is home to the famed Catherine Palace and Park.
- The Peter and Paul Fortress in St. Petersburg.
You can also head off the popular track and visit some of the more remote attractions offered by this gigantic country. Some outstanding examples are: the environmentally rich Golden Mountains of Altai; the famous Lake Baikal in Siberia; the stunning volcanoes of Kamchatka; the White Monuments of Vladimir and Sulzar; the historic monuments of Novgorod; the ancient city and fortress of Derbent; and the historic city center of Yaroslavl, among a host of others.
Things to Know Before Traveling to Russia
- You will need a visa to enter the country. You can get a Russian visa at the Russian Embassy, serving your country. You will need visa support letters, which can be availed from your travel agency, medical tourism company (if you plan a medical vacation), and hotels.
- Once in Russia, you should carry a photocopy of your passport with you, at all times. You are required to get your visa validated in every city you visit. This can be done by your hotel at a nominal cost.
- The water quality is not standard in Russia. So it is recommended that you drink and brush your teeth with bottled water. Additionally, avoid ice and raw foods.
- The electrical current in Russia is 220V AC. You can use a standard European 2-prong plug. Make sure you get your own converter since they are difficult to find in Russia.
- Remain cautious as you travel through the country. Leave your valuables at home or keep them in the hotel safe. Don’t carry too much cash with you. Avoid being alone at night in the parks and outer city streets.
- Avoid taking unlicensed cabs since they are known for being unscrupulous with foreigners. Negotiate your fares with licensed companies before embarking on your journey.
- Travel to and from the airport should be arranged by your travel agency. It is safer and cheaper to use airport and train station transfers.
- Tipping is expected in most tourist establishments and ranges between 10 and 15 percent.
- The Russian currency is rubles. Try to exchange your currency at reputed hotels, banks, and currency exchange kiosks. Please remember that traveler’s checks are hard to cash.
- While most businesses will accept credit cards, keep some Russian currency with you. Visa and MasterCard are largely welcome.
- Even as you will find a variety of ATMs in the major cities, please remember that Russian keypads do not have letters. So if your PIN is a combination of letters and numbers, you must remember the numeric value of the alphabets!
- Exchange all your Russian currency back to your national currency before you leave Russia. Most exchanges outside Russia do not change rubles.
- Russia has nine time zones! Both Moscow and St. Petersburg are: +8 hours Eastern Standard Time (New York City, Washington, D.C., Miami, and Boston);
+9 hours Central Standard Time (Chicago, St. Louis, and Dallas);
+10 hours Mountain Standard Time (Denver);
+11 hours Pacific Standard Time (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle).
- If you need prescription medication, make sure you bring them with you. Most medical stores will have the usual over-the-counter medicines but the packaging is in Russian script and most pharmacists do not speak English.
- Check the weather reports before heading to Russia and pack adequately. It does get extremely cold during the winter but is quite warm during the summers, including in Siberia.
- Remember to indulge in Russia’s immensely diverse cuisine. Try some distinctly Russian foods and drinks such as the popular black bread, blinis, stuffed cabbage rolls with meat, chicken kiev and shashlyk, heavy sour cream called smetana and of course, the ever-popular Russian vodka drinks.
With its gargantuan physical size and centuries-old history, Russia can seem an overwhelming destination to explore. But the new Russia with its modern buildings, relatively open and booming economy, and technological advances has slowly evolved as an attractive tourism destination, not to forget a medical tourism destination as well. Traditionally plastic surgeries such as tummy tucks, facelifts, and nose jobs; bariatric procedures such as gastric sleeve, lap band, and stomach plication; and orthopedic procedures such as hip and knee replacement in India and Thailand have been popular with West Europeans, owing to the logistical and cost benefits.
The relatively new rise of Russia’s medical infrastructure, and its low cost of living and labor has helped create an emerging medical tourism destination. Even as other countries offer a range of services, from dental packages in Mexico; cosmetic surgery in Thailand; weight loss surgery in Belgium; to medico-surgical packages such as cervical disc replacement in India, Russia is becoming a forerunner for patients from the EU and rich Middle Eastern countries.
Russia is truly a hidden treasure for travelers of all inclinations. Whether you want to explore its profound depths as a tourist or are seeking top class medical treatment at low costs, Russia has become the quiet challenger to existing conventional and medical tourism hubs.