Russia is the largest country in the world. Militarily and economically is among the world leaders. Russia owes its prosperity mainly to the huge reserve of natural resources. It is one of the most important sources of oil and natural gas for the largest market in the world – the European Union. Russia occupies a large area and borders on three oceans – the Pacific, Arctic and Atlantic Ocean (via Baltic Sea). The beautiful scenery of the country offers many opportunities for tourism. Especially beautiful are the Far East of Russia, which is a real paradise for lovers of wildlife.
Geographic location, boundaries and size. With an area of 17,075,200 square kilometers Russia is the largest country in the world. It occupies vast territories between the Baltic Sea to the west and Pacific to the east. From north to south lies between the Arctic Ocean and the steppes of Central Asia. Russia occupies the entire northern part of the Asian continent, which has the largest area in the world. However, Russia is a European country first, because its capital and largest cities are located in Europe and second, because the country is culturally very different from the countries in Asia and yet not distinct from the other nations in Europe. The Russian Federation includes 21 republics, the largest of which is called Yakutia and is located in the far east of Russia. Within the country falls also the exclave Kaliningrad that lies entirely within the borders of the European Union. Kaliningrad has no common borders with the rest of the Russian Federation, but borders by Lithuania to the north and Poland to the south. Russia has many islands in the Pacific and Arctic Ocean. Most famous are the Kuril Islands (between Japan and the Kamchatka Peninsula) as well as the largest Russian island, located north of Siberia – Novaya Zemlya, which separates the Bering Sea and the Kara Sea. Very big is also the island of Sakhalin, which is located in the Okhotsk Sea (part of the Pacific). In spite of the fact that most of the islands located among the waters of the Arctic Ocean are quite large in area, they are almost deserted because of harsh weather conditions. Russia borders on many countries, five of them are members of the European Union (Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland). Besides the European Union, Russia borders nine more countries – Norway, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, China and North Korea. Given the vast territory of the country some of Russia’s neighbors are located in completely different parts of the world (for example Norway and North Korea are distanced approximately 6,000 kilometers from each other). Russia also possesses large areas of the icy continent Antarctica, which are mainly used for scientific research.
Climate. Russia’s vast territory falls within the borders of four climatic zones – subtropical, temperate, sub polar and polar.
The subtropical climate zone covers only the extreme south west regions of the country, where is located the most famous sea resort of Russia – Sochi. There on the Black Sea coast is the warmest place in Russia. Sochi coast is protected from invading from the north cold air masses through the high Caucasus mountain range. For this reason, summer is longer and much warmer than in other parts of the world which are located on the same latitudes. Spring and autumn are pleasant and winters – mild and humid. Many of the local plants remain green even in January.
North of the subtropics are located the temperate latitudes. They cover the largest area of the Russian territory and are home to the majority of the population of Russia. Within the borders of the temperate latitudes fall cities such as Moscow, St. Petersburg, Omsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and many others. Although conditions in the temperate latitudes of Russia vary strongly, however, we could conclude that summers are warm to hot, but short and winters are long and very cold with record low temperatures. Another feature is that the climate in the European western part of Russia is significantly warmer than the far eastern regions. For comparison, Vladivostok is located at 43° north latitude in the southern parts of Eastern Russia on the Pacific coast and has an average daily temperature around 23 – 24°C in August and (-9) – (-10) °C in January. Meanwhile Sochi which is located also at 43° north latitude, but on the Black Sea in western Russia enjoys warm Mediterranean climate and temperatures up to 11°C in January and 27°C in August.
North of the temperate latitudes are the sub polar regions. They are characterized by harsh and uninviting weather. Winters are very long, but when summer finally comes, it is usually short and cool. Small summer duration and low temperatures do not even allow the soil thawing into a depth.
In the northern parts of Russia the climate is arctic. Winter conditions last 12 months a year. The landscapes are dominated by snow and ice all year around, but in winter they are immersed in total darkness because the sun never rises above the skyline. For Russia we can say that it is one of the coldest counties in the world. Not only because it has a huge territories beyond the polar circle, but also because here were measured the lowest temperatures on Earth outside Antarctica. Near Oymyakon, Yakutia has measured the unbelievable (-71) °C! Furthermore, there is hardly to find another country in the world in which so much of the population live in sub polar and polar regions.
Waters. Given the vast territory, Russia has enormous water resources. Through the territory of the country run many deep rivers. Yenisei is the largest river in Russia. It has a total length of around 5539 km and the river system can be traced through Lake Baikal reaching the territory of China. This great river, like most large and deep Russian rivers runs north through the territory of Siberia and flows into the Arctic Ocean. The Amur River is known for the beauty of the land through which flows. It is really great with a length amounting to about 4440 kilometers and is one of the ten largest rivers on the planet. It runs through some of the most beautiful places in the country. It however, is borderline river and through the territory of Russia passes only the lower current. Much of the stream of the Amur River plays the role of the state border between Russia and China. Ob is the third largest river in the country. It crosses from south to north the West-Siberian Plain and flows into the Arctic Ocean through the impressive delta, which forms a very deep cut into the shore bay. The length of the Ob River is 3700 km and is the third longest. The both Ob River and Irtysh River however, form together the most impressive river system in Russia. Fourth-largest in the country is the deep Lena River. It is the largest in this part of Russia. It runs from south to north crossing the cold lands of Eastern Siberia and flows into the Leptev Sea, which is a part of the Arctic Ocean. The largest river in European Russia and in Europe as a whole is the Volga River. It runs in southwestern Russia and has a total length of 3530 km and a huge catchment area. It flows into the inland Caspian Sea. Much of the lower river crosses lands situated below sea level. We have to mention also the much smaller, but very beautiful Neva River. However, we can not miss it because it goes through St. Petersburg turning the city into the northern Venice. Numerous channels and branches that pass through the city turn it into a real masterpiece. In addition to its deep water rivers and impressive density of the river network, Russia is known also for its numerous and large in area lakes of different origin. The largest of all Russian lakes and one of the largest in the world is Lake Baikal. It is situated among the mountain ridges in the eastern parts of Russia and reaches a depth of about 1642 meters. Because of this fact Baikal is the deepest lake that exists on our planet today. Its shape is narrow but elongated. During the winter months almost the entire surface of the lake is covered with an ice sheet. Other large lakes in Russia are Ladozhsko Lake from which springs the Neva River (the lake is located near St. Petersburg), Onega Lake, Seliger Lake (which is very popular place for tourism) and others.
Relief. Russia has a varied landscape, ranging from low, marshy plains and located below sea level lands to the high and inaccessible mountains. The lowest areas of the country you will find around the lower reaches of the Volga River and around the shores of the Caspian Sea, while the highest point in the country is Mount Elbrus in the Caucasus. This is also the highest point on the European continent. It rises to about 5642 m altitude in southwestern Russia and is located just over 100 kilometers from the Black Sea coast. As regards the relief we could share the topography of Russia into 3 different parts. With the lowest altitude are the western parts of Russia (the so-called European Russia), although there are high and inaccessible mountains of Caucasus. This part of the Russian Federation extends westword from the Ural Mountains. The central parts of the country are located in Asia and have a higher average altitude. Here is located the lower West – Siberian Plain and Srednesibirskoye Ploskogoriye. The lands with greatest elevation are located in the Far East of the federation. This part of the country is dominated by mountainous terrain. Here are Yablonoviyy Ridge, Kolimskiy Ridge, Verkhoyansk Ridge, Cherskogo Ridge and other. The coastline of the country is heavily indented with numerous deep cut into the mainland inlets and countless large and small peninsulas. One of the largest and most famous is Kamchatka Peninsula. It is located in the far east of Russia, has mountainous relief and is sparsely populated.
Economy of Russia. After the fall of communism in Russia in 1991 the country took a completely new and different direction of economic development. That was the beginning of a difficult and painful transition from a planned to a modern capitalist economy. This proved more difficult than anyone expected. In the 90s Russia faced many problems as the key role played poverty and unemployment. For this reason, millions of Russians tried to find their fortune abroad, and that was another smashing blow for this great country, because in such a hard time usually go abroad the most competitive, most educated and ambitious people. Gradually, however, Russia began to become more attractive to foreign investment. The country itself became a big source of investments. Today Russia is a country with a diversified industrial-agrarian economy, which is governed by the principles of capitalism. The idea that everyone should be equal as regards to the living standard remained in the past and today this is a country of huge contrasts. The Russian Federation is home for growing number of millionaires and billionaires. Today in the country is living growing number of people belonging to the middle class that can afford better quality of life, including annual holidays abroad. Unfortunately, the increasingly evolving capitalist society in Russia pay “high price”. Times in which everybody is responsible for himself, people living in poverty are very much.
Nowadays Russia owes its economic progress to the huge resources of minerals – oil, natural gas, precious metals, precious stones, various types of ore and others. The country produces cars, airplanes, ships and other technics. Very important for the Russian economy is also agriculture. The science remains very important to the local economy. Increasingly important for Russian economy is also the services sector, especially finance and tourism. The Russian ruble (official currency of Russia) is one of the world’s convertible currencies. Today’s closest economic partners of Russia are former Soviet republics and some countries in the European Union (including Germany). The Russian export consists mainly of oil and gas. The country imports consumer goods, machinery, automobiles, food and other products. Developing of the Russian Federation is important for tourism development of the European Union. For many countries in EU the Russians became the most coveted and beloved tourists, as they have a longer average length of stay at their chosen destination and source of solvent demand. Among the most attractive for Russian tourists are traditionally Mediterranean countries (Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Bulgaria, Tunisia, Egypt, Croatia, Malta, Turkey) and to a lesser extent the Caribbean.
Population. The population of the Russian Federation is about 142 million people. It is very unevenly distributed in the country. The greatest concentration of population is in the western parts. There are located most of the big cities in Russia. Population is very diverse in its ethnic origin – the largest share of the population consists of Russians, followed by Tatars and Ukrainians. In Russia live also many Byelorussians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and others. The Russian Federation is home to more than half a million Germans. Besides the traditional ethnic groups in Russia, in the country every year arrive also people from all over the world wishing to do business here, to work or to get a good education. Russia is a Christian country in which the largest religion is the Eastern Orthodox Christianity. A typical feature is that most of the Russians are religious, and the percentage of atheists is smaller compared to other countries in Europe. That can be seen with the naked eye as soon as you arrive in Russia. There is hardly to find any other country in Europe with so many churches and Christian temples. Furthermore, some of the biggest and most famous churches and cathedrals are among the main attractions in the country. The population of Russia is known worldwide for two things – with the beauty of Russian women and the excessive alcohol consumption. According to some people this is due to very cold weather, but the hard years of transition that the Russians experienced probably also contributes to this negative statistics.
Cities. Although Russia is not a densely populated country here you will find many cities with a population of over 1,000,000 people. Most of them are located in the western regions of the country, but of course there are exceptions. The largest cities in the Russian Federation are Moscow (10,500,000 inhabitants), St. Petersburg (5,000,000), Nizhny Novorgod, Omsk, Samara, Volgograd, Rostov, Ekateriniburg, Kazan, Ufa, Perm, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk and many others. Although it is smaller in comparison with those cities, we have to mention also Vladivostok, which is the most famous urban center on the Pacific coast of Russia.
History. Russia is among the oldest European countries. It is believed that the country was founded in the 9th century (in 862nd). Today Russia is the most populous Slav country in the world although primarly was founded by the Vikings. In 988th (a little more than a century after its foundation), the so-called Kievan Rus accepted the Christianity. This happened during the reign of Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich the first. Initially, Russia was not as large as it is today. It extended north of the Black Sea and fell entirely into the borders of the European continent. Although Russia was not a small country, it was several times smaller in comparison with the area that occupies today. But the real territorial expansion occurred in the 16th and 17th century when the country gradually reached the shores of the Pacific. However, even today in the 21st century, many places in the Far East remain sparsely populated and unattractive for residential. In 1867th Russia sold to the young American nation vast territories amounting to million square kilometers – these were the lands of the present-day Alaska. These lands later proved to be extremely rich in minerals, including gold and oil.
Russia in the 20th century. In 20th century Russia plays an important role on the world political scene. It actively took part in both world wars. In this moment of Russian history have died so many young people that practically the country still cannot fully recover from human losses. During World War I Russia is an ally with Britain, France and many other countries. War is being fought against the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, etc.). The main enemy of Russia by the side of the Central Powers was the Ottoman Empire. More than two decades after the military conflict has ended, began World War II. It proved much more destructive. The war began when on September 1, 1939 Germany invaded Poland, which triggers a whole series of events. The war ended in 1945 and Russia was one of the winners. Thus the country became the greatest power in the East and the U.S. become hegemonic in the West. Despite its victory, Russia has never managed fully to overcome the negative effects. Human sacrifices were huge! It is assumed that the Russian nation gave about 20,000,000 victims, which is unprecedented in human history!
Russia and the USSR. Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was founded on 30th December 1922 (5 years after the Russian revolution. Russian comunist party made economic revolution and took in a new and unfamiliar way that insulates the country from the rest of the world. Over the years the huge number of reforms aimed at limiting private property and transfer of all sectors of the economy in state hands changed the country beyond recognition. In the 60s and 70s of the 20th century the USSR reached its apogee. Gradually, however, it appears that the West paid much larger amounts of innovations, to stimulate technological development and invested huge sums of money in science. At the same time the USSR economy was planned and managed by the government. Meanwhile the USSR paid unimaginable amounts for arm because of the competition with the United States. All these facts together brought to the ruining of the USSR and its collapse in 1991. The end of the Soviet regime, however, brought a feeling in the air back in the 80s of the 20th century, when started the first subtle changes. This is the so-called “perestroika” when obsolete technology and infrastructure in the Soviet Union brought to the end of an era.
Tourism in Russia
Although Russia is one of the most famous countries in the world, it is still not very popular as a tourist destination. Among the main reasons is that Russia is one of the northern most and therefore among the coldest countries around the globe. However, this should not stop potential visitors because there are periods of the year with pleasant temperatures and perfect weather for hiking. On the other hand, Russia can offer a lot of fun, entertainment and interesting sights to its visitors. One of the main problems to solve is the issue with the huge distances. It is better to spend in Russia a longer period of time and to divide your holiday into several stages in which to visit different parts of the country. Another attractive alternative would be to hire a caravan with which to tour throughout the country. It is not necessary however to mention that if you choose to travel by caravan you will need much greater sum of money.
Sites. Like all other European countries, Russia can offer a huge variety of architectural monuments. Here you will find amazing palaces, museums, churches and cathedrals. They were built at different periods of time, but as a whole they have their own distinctive style typical for the Russian Federation. One of the most important sights of Russia is the spectacular Hermitage Museum. It is among the largest and most popular museums in the world and leaves breathless everybody who knows how to appreciate beauty and art. Obligatory stop while you are touring around the stunning Russian city should be Kuntskamera museum. It is also located in the cultural capital of Russia – St. Petersburg. Also in St. Petersburg is located and the biggest masterpiece in Russia (at least according to our team) – Peterhof palace, famous for its unique fountains. There are also many important places on the territory of Moscow – the capital of the Russian Federation. The biggest attractions here are the Kremlin and the St. Basil’s cathedral located on the fundamental Red Square.
Nature of Russia. Russia has an amazing variety of scenery that could hardly be found elsewhere. Local landscape strongly reminiscent of those one might find in Canada for example. This is on the one side because of the vast territory of both countries, and on the other side because of the similarities in climate conditions of Canada and Russia. The southwestern part of Russia including vast territories north of Black Sea and the Caucasus are occupied by steppes and grassy vegetation prevail. South of the Caucasus, however, there is a thin coastal strip has a quite different nature. South of the Caucasus you can find exotic subtropical and Mediterranean plants – evergreen trees, shrubs, flowers, thermophilic species, and some types of palms that otherwise are not typical of the Black Sea region. Nature in the western parts of Russia is similar to that of Germany and Poland. In these parts of Russia predominate deciduous forests which in winter lose their leaves. In this part of the Russian Federation winters are harsh, but summers are sometimes very hot.
If there is something that represents the Russian nature, however, it is the taiga. It occupies a very wide belt between the Baltic Sea to the west and the Pacific to the east. These lands are mostly covered by stunning pine forests that are home to unique species. North of the taiga in the subpolar climate zone is situated the arctic tundra. There is scarce vegetation presented mainly of herbaceous species with shallow root system. The reason is that the soil remains frozen in depth even in summer. North of the tundra is the realm of eternal ice and cold.
Landmarks. Russia is a country of immense natural beauty and breathtaking sceneries. The only drawback is that many of the places worth visiting are located thousands of miles away from each other. Some of the most scenic spots are located in the extreme eastern regions of the country, ie in the opposite direction compared to the most attractive tourist urban centers. The list of the most attractive tourist destinations in Russia includes the Kamchatka Peninsula, Lake Baikal, Amur River basin, Bering Strait, Lena and Yenisey rivers and many others. This untouched and bizarre part of the country is covered with dense coniferous forests and is home of unique diversity of species.
Fauna. The animal world of Russia is amazing. Here you will find incredible predators. One of the most famous is brown bear, which is widespread in this part of the world. You can find it throughout the country except for the extreme northern regions. Far North is the kingdom of the most formidable predator – polar bear. Its habitat in Russia includes the lands around the Arctic Ocean and extends from the Bering Strait to the east to the so-called White Sea (Bay of the Barents Sea) to the west. In Russia, also lives a kind of tiger – Amur (Siberian) tiger. It is widespread in the southeast in the forests around the Amur River (hence the name). Throughout the country there are also large populations of wolves and foxes. In the Far East also around the Amur River you can find the Amur leopard, which is one of the most beautiful predators on the planet. Russia is home to a huge variety of large and small herbivores. Here are large populations of deer, rabbits, wild pigs atc. Russia is home to a huge number of birds, some of which impress with their size and strength. There are eagles, falcons, hawks, owls and other birds of pray. Biggest and heaviest fowl in Russia is called wood grouse. Given its weight it spends most of its time on earth and among the branches and fly only when it search place to spend the night or to escape predators. In Russia can be found also different types of amphibians and reptiles. Contrary to expectations in the country there are also some kinds of poisonous snakes. The most famous is the Vipera Berus, which has a very wide range of distribution covering most of the country. Furthermore into the borders of the country you can find 9 more other venomous snake species, but with a smaller range of distribution.
Danger. It will be better before travel to Russia to learn about what are the dangerous areas of the large Russian cities, because during the years of transition in Eastern Europe in some cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg many urban areas became dangerous and because of this reason is better to be avoided. For example, in Moscow one must be very cautious at night after 9 pm, because in the late evening hours the streets are quite dangerous. After 9 pm will be better to avoid areas near train stations. It is advisable to avoid also the southern and southeastern districts of Moscow. In St. Petersburg the central part of the city is considered to be the safest because it is a tourist place of great importance. Here is a large concentration of monuments and foreigners, respectively. This means a stronger police presence and greater safety. Do not go out too late at night (especially after 9 pm), because St. Petersburg is not much safer than Moscow. One of the biggest problems in Russia is the so-called “skinheads” who create problems for residents of foreign origin. Their victims could become foreign students or tourists.
Prices. Prices of consumer goods and services in major cities of Russia (Moscow, St. Petersburg) are generally higher than countries such as the United States or Canada, but equal with those in the richer countries of the European Union. We should not forget that the capital of the Russian Federation together with Tokyo, London and Oslo are the most expensive cities in the world, so when you sit in a restaurant first pay attention to the menu prices because otherwise you could remain unpleasantly surprised when you receive the bill. Actually, maybe this is the place to say that the glory of Eastern Europe as a cheap destination is an absolute illusion and here prices of many goods and services are much higher in comparison with the U.S. or Canada. In fact, prices in Russia are equal, and in some respects even surpass those in Western Europe, which once again serves as confirmation that Europe is quite expensive tourist destination. Between $ 800 and $ 900 is the average price of a flats in inexpensive Moscow neighborhoods (this is about a small flat with one bedroom).
What kind of souvenirs would be good to buy from Russia? There are hundreds and even thousands of things that one could buy from the Russian Federation, but perhaps the most interesting and unique product is a traditional Russian wooden doll called Matryoshka. Typical for the wooden toy is that for the decoration are used mainly (but not only) red and yellow paints. The most interesting is that in each Matryoshka there are many other smaller pieces that appear when you open the bigger one. This beautiful doll is a wonderful gift and souvenir from Russia and will remind you of your long and amazing journey.
What is the best time of the year to travel to Russia? If you want to see the country in the “best light”, it is best to choose the summer months – June, July and August. Because of the harsh and long term winter season, it is well to take advantage of the warmest months of the year. Note that in the northern parts of Russia in the second half of August you can already feel the coming autumn. In most of the year weather in Russia is very cold and heavy snow persists for months.
What clothes should I wear for tourism in Russia? For many people it is difficult to make the right choice of clothes when they are planning to travel in Russia. Indeed, much of the country is located quite north and therefore weather is cold. This means that no matter in which part of the Federation you are planning to travel – if your journey is planned for the winter months you should wear warm winter clothing. However, temperatures in January can be in the range of more than 70°C! While in Yakutia in January thermometers often show below (-60) °C, at the same time in Sochi daily temperature usually reaches 11°C. Same goes about the summer. While the Black Sea coast is hot (at least 25 – 30°C), there are parts of the Federation, which are covered under a thick snow and ice. Therefore our advice is to get additional information about the climatic conditions of the concrete destination, in which you are planning to go.