The reasons to visit Russia in winter
You may think that visiting Russia in winter is a bad idea due to the harsh climate and only few hours of daylight. However, it has so much to offer during its winter time. You are able to explore a very romantic, glimmering and heart-warming country perfectly adapted to the weather conditions. It was our intention to travel in January as we assumed Russia will have a certain charm during this period. And we were proved to be right! By now, you are probably asking yourself, what is so special about winter in one of the coldest countries in the world? Where can we go during this time? How am l going to survive there? Well, first things first. Below you will find a map of the different destinations during our 15 days trip. You can use it to plan your journey depending on your requirements and wishes.
We recommend to spend 4 days in Moscow since there are many sights to visit. Afterwards, it is worth visiting the Golden Ring. All cities of the Golden Ring are well connected by train but have a similar architecture. We spent 2 days there. From Moscow we went to Yaroslav and from there to Rostov. In Rostov, we spent the night and the next day we visited Sergiev Posad on the way back to Moscow. Honestly, we didn’t find Yaroslav so special. However, we stayed during sunset in Rostov and it was truly magical.
A very interesting question is to whether include the Artic Circle in your itinerary? The flights and hotels should not be the deciding factor as they are inexpensive. The decision is rather based on your ability to deal with the cold and the few hours of daylight. We can assure you that it is a life experience that you will always remember.
Our last stop, St Petersburg can be visited in 3 days, maybe 4 if you are a museum type of person. You can get there easily by train from Moscow. There are also daily flights for reasonable prices.
Things to know before you travel to Russia in winter
☆ Trains in Russia are very comfortable, fairly modern and affordable.
☆ Russian dumplings are a must try. So yummy!
☆ The visa process takes quite a while so do it well in advance. Ask us if you need more info!
☆ Most of the signs are in Russian and not too many locals speak English.
☆ Plan your day properly. Remember that there is a lot less daylight if you visit Russia in winter.
☆ It can get extremely cold during winter, so dress appropriately. Wear always thermal clothes under your winter/waterproof clothes. Furthermore,wool socks and good winter boots are essential in Russia.
One of the first things we discovered in the famous centre of Moscow was a Christmas market on red square which is able to outperform even the famous German Christmas markets. It takes place between December and February and the buildings around and the side streets are lightened up with thousands of bulbs. Particularly, when the sun sets, it provides a very romantic appearance enhancing the anyways beautiful and colourful Red Square. The Christmas market itself has beautiful wooden stands which serve typical Russian food and hot mulled wine to warm up your stomachs.
The centre of the Christmas market, however, has an ice rink that is very popular among Muscovites for ice skating and ice hockey training. Of course, we had to try our ice skating skills and in comparison with the Russians, we were full beginners. Nevertheless, it was a lot of fun and quite nice as the sun appeared right at the moment when we entered the ice rink. It was an absolute amazing experience to do some rounds in this sun-kissed setting in the cultural and political centre of Moscow. We highly recommend this activity even if you have never tried to ice skate before. It is additionally inexpensive and very well organized.
What to eat
Besides the Christmas market, we were very much impressed by the culinary highlights that Moscow has to offer. One of those was a little Russian dumpling place called Lepim I Varim with a very beautiful interior architecture. As lamps they use cooking pots and fruit jars which provide a modern and lovely lighting. The dumplings are all hand-made right in front of your eyes. They are very fresh, tasty and inexpensive. Another restaurant you might like to try is Stolovaya 57, inside GUM at the Red Square. They offer a big selection of Russian food for a good price. If you are willing to go to a more fancy place, do not miss Cafe Pushkin. It is a 19th century building divided in different levels with different decorations and atmospheres. During weekdays they have an affordable daily menu in the Library Hall, which is also richly decorated.
Cultural To Dos
On a cultural side, it is worth visiting a concert or an opera in the world famous Bolschoi Theatre. It got renovated a few years ago, so it is in a very good condition. The theatre is 6 stories high and glimmers due to the golden frescoes and pillars. The main hall is like out of a fairy tale princess story. Notable is also how the Russians go to the Opera. Due to the amount of snow in Russia in winter, all people go with deep winter boots to the theatre. Once inside, everyone unpacks their high heels and their nice leather shoes in order to look fancy and fine. You can check out prices and schedules here.
How to get there and around
Moscow can be reached by airplane from all bigger cities. If you are coming from St. Petersburg, you have the choice between inexpensive flights or comfortable trains. In Moscow, the best way to get around is by subway as it is a good network, is warm (an important topic to consider) and the stations are sights themselves.
The Golden Ring
The easy-to-reach golden ring provides an opportunity to discover some smaller cities around Moscow with very important historical meanings. For us, particularly Rostov with its lovely multi onion-domed Kremlin put a smile into our faces. We arrived in Rostov in the late afternoon and walked right away to the centre. The sun was just setting and put the buildings into beautiful orange and reddish colour. The Kremlin does not see many visitors in winter, so we were for ourselves for the whole time there.
☆ Have everything written in Russian otherwise you will struggle to get around.
☆ Do not take a bus to leave or enter Moscow, traffic jams are common.
☆ Hotels are very cheap in winter, but pricy in summer.
How to get there and around
The best way to travel the Golden Ring are the trains going several times a day. It can be a challenge to buy the tickets as the staff does not speak English. However, there are always locals around to help out.
It is the city of the old Zars who built beautiful palaces including the Hermitage, the second biggest museum in the world. To explore all of its treasures, it takes several days. However, even when you are culturally not so obsessed with art and history, then it is still worth going there for a few hours. It is impressive to see the dimension of the palace and the breathtaking palace rooms showing the richness of the Zars. St. Petersburg is in general beautiful and worth going, however, we believe that the best time is during the white nights mid of the year. That is when all life takes place outside and the canals, parks as well as bars are filled with thousands of Russians enjoying the endless sun.
How to get there and around
St. Petersburg has an international airport with connections to many major cities around the world. When comingg from Moscow, you can book inexpensive flights or comfortable trains. Within St. Petersburg you can use the subway or trams that run mostly outside of the city centre.
Reasons to include Murmansk in your itinerary
The most extreme way to discover Russia in winter is to go to the north. Murmansk is the world’s biggest city northern of the Arctic Circle located in the far northwest of Russia. The city itself does not have too many sights but is worth visiting just to experience how the people live with temperatures of up to minus 40 degrees. However, the most impressive sight was an old nuclear powered ice breaker. Also, it is possible to do trips in the surrounding forests in order to hunt the Northern Lights. Please be aware that there are only a few weeks when you can properly spot them. Furthermore, it always depends on the weather and the solar winds.
Another highlight are the numerous husky and reindeer farms, where the animals can be observed. One of the best moments is when the huskies realise they will soon be able to go on their exercise. They start barking, howling and jumping around in excitement. Once in front of the sledge, it is fascinating how fast they can accelerate the sledge. After the pulling of the sledge, each dog got 10 minutes of individual love, care and even a massage from the trainer. They are beautiful, strong and good hearted animals! Another must of Russia in winter.
How to get there and around
The best way to get that far up north is by airplane. In Murmansk, the best way is to take taxis which are inexpensive but can be challenging due to language barriers.
✈ Check out our top 6 things to do in Russia during winter.