The Journey Begins

Thanks for joining me!

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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Our previous article on this topic “Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Russia” sheds the light on the recent changes in Moscow and St. Petersburg towards becoming barrier-free cities.

General overview is a good point to start. However, if you want to get the whole picture, you need to ask those, who had a real experience. In 2018 we were happy to organize our tailor-made tours for two foreign guests in wheelchairs. Anita Davis from the USA and Anne-Marie with her family from France were in several cities in Russia and agreed to share their review on the accessibility of the environment.

low-mobility tourist in Moscow

Anne-Marie

Anne-Marie, her husband, their daughter in a wheelchair and her grandmother Béatrice had a 12-days tour in Moscow and St. Petersburg. The family visited all the major sights of two Russian main cities, like Kremlin and the Hermitage, and had a Back to the USSR tour in Moscow. Besides sightseeing they had a family dinner with ExploRussia and tried traditional Russian cuisine: borchsh, herring with black bread, syrniki, kvas.

Below is what Anne-Marie says about her experience of exploring Russia with a daughter in a wheelchair:

Unfortunately, none of the excursions in your amazing country is 100% accessible for people with disabilities. So, if you travel in a wheelchair, you will need an assistant to help you get around the city.

For example, it’s not easy to use underpasses in Moscow. Though there are ramps, some of them are of the wrong width and the covering can spoil your wheels…Moscow has the most beautiful Metro in the world, but you will need special assistance service to use it, which you have to order in advance. In some stations, the entrances were so narrow that we had to fold the wheelchair to get inside.

Speaking about St. Petersburg, it’s easier to cross streets there, but you might face challenges with crossing bridges because of the stairs. Besides, almost all restaurants we visited there were either on the second floor or on the underground floor, which was also very inconvenient to us.

If I had travelled with my daughter along, it would have been impossible to lift the wheelchair. During the whole trip, people were ready to help, but I think you can’t travel relying only on other people’s help. What we managed to do during our tour became possible thanks to your assistance, and there were four of us.

Before coming to Russia we weighted the possible challenges and our abilities to cope with them. We have the best memories about what we saw in Russia, and about amazing people we met. We will recommend visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg to our friends and colleagues, who are capable of travelling on their own feet.

Anita Davis

Anita had the Trans-Siberian Railway Tour, and visited Moscow and St. Petersburg. She also had a cooking class with Explorussia cofounder Olga and her family where she learned to cook traditional Russian dishes.

Below is Anita’s review:

Mostly things on the tour went pretty well thanks to the patience and assistance of guides and drivers who sought out easier routes, helped me carry the scooter occasionally up long flights of stairs and did battle- literally-with a few officious types. My heart goes out to these guides and drivers with deepest thanks. I realized it wasn’t going to be an easy trip, I’ve been to many countries now where getting around is difficult. I’m fortunate in that I am more able to get around than many disabled folks, I’d have a lot of concern for anyone who is less physically capable than I, and would advise them to bring at least one and maybe two very strong helpers with them.

Experience with the hotels

At the hotel in St. Petersburg, the staff was slow at first to operate the lift for the stairs at the entrance, but they became more responsive over time as they realized that they had a guest who needed the machine…. The hotel room was spacious and comfortable, the food in the restaurant was exceptionally good. Like nearly all the hotels I encountered there were no safety handholds for getting into/out of tubs/showers. Suggestion: Let disabled guests know that they might need to have their travel companion to help them, or maybe they could bring a walker frame to help get themselves into and out of the tubs.

Visiting The Hermitage

I have dreamed for decades of visiting this museum at length, and I treasure every moment I was able to be there. Getting into the museum was a different story, one which still upsets me. On the first day, the staff demanded that I sacrifice my ability to move around by myself. They wanted to take away the wheels that I operate myself, and force me into a chair with wheels that someone else would have to operate/push. Their wheelchair was not suitable for someone of my size, but the main point was I could not accept this loss of my autonomy as a human…. Finally, after my brave guide spoke with upper management we received the okay to enter the museum and had a wonderful visit. With the exception of a steep set of stairs inside the museum that has a lift, but NO museum staff would/could operate it. The museum has this equipment, but it’s not useful? Again, I dragged myself up. Wheelchair-bound clients would be stopped here, and would need someone who could carry them up….

Overall, remember that I LOVED this trip and would do it all over again if I could. My guide there was wonderfully fun to be around and very knowledgeable, she had an understanding of my needs and did an admirable job of instructing the driver in getting to good parking places to minimize difficulty for me…”

tourist with mobility challenges in Moscow


So, let’s get back to the question in the title. We are still quite far from calling Moscow and St. Petersburg 100% wheelchair friendly zones. However, our experience showed the well-planned organization of the tour helps to minimize the popping-up challenges as it happened with Anne-Marie family and they explored Russia’s two capitals and dived deep into Russian culture.. So, if you, like Anita Davis and Anne-Marie are not afraid of any borders and have a dream of travelling the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway route, visiting the Hermitage or maybe watching Russian ballet, we will do our best to help you accomplish it and offer you even more. Russia is definitely the country to impress!

International Guides Conference

Moscow Urban Adventures guides conference

We live in a world where the wide variety can make our lives way more difficult. How often do you stand in front of a store shelf trying to figure out which item to purchase? This choice can really affect your life. For instance, a good tour company will make your trip absolutely unforgettable even if the weather was suboptimal. The question is how to find a company like that.

We in ExploRussia believe that in order to create the best experience for tourists, it is necessary to keep learning and improving. There is always room for professional development. This year we went to an international guide conference organized in Krakow by Urban Adventures for this purpose. NB! ExploRussia is operating Day Tours under Moscow Urban Adventures global brand. It was a very productive week with over 100 tour guides from different cities and continents. For most of us, the conference was a great chance to meet colleagues from other countries and feel the international spirit of the global team. At the end of the day, we all have the same mission – to create the best day ever for our guests.

ExploRussia Co-founder Ruslan

“What a wave of energy, different questions, experiences and expertise coming together. I was blown away with motivation and with this feeling which we call in our network Togetherness. Just loved it!” Ruslan, ExploRussia Co-founder

It started with the workshop session for ExploRussia guides and managers, where we worked on specific skills. It may seem like being a tour guide is mostly about historical knowledge. But in reality a guide must also be a good communicator and have good interpersonal skills .

“The best part, for me, personally was the training session preceding the conference. Here I had a chance to practice public speaking and improve presentation skills which is essential for any good guide” Maria, Moscow local guide

Urban Adventures conference

Photo is made by David Vuit https://www.facebook.com/davidvuit/

On the third day, we entered a huge room full of guides also looking to get inspired.. The space was full of enthusiasm, good energy, friendly atmosphere and, togetherness. It was a great opportunity to learn about some guiding aspects, and how to create ‘wow moments’ for the most unforgettable journey.

“That it’s very important to go to these conferences once a year, it gives a boost of positive energy” Yulia, Moscow local guide

Seeing all these charismatic and talented people makes you want to become one like them. It is really crucial and valuable to understand that you are on the right path. You do what you are meant to do. Events like this big conference can definitely help with that.

ExploRussia local guide Olga

“I was right, this conference gave me a new angle of view to Urban Adventures and made me confident that I made a right choice to decide to be a guide earlier this year.” Olga, Moscow local guide.

The final day was celebrated with a party where a guide of the year was announced. Yes, there is such an award in the guiding world and hopefully one day a winner will be from Russia. This year two of our tour guides, Polina Koshleva and Tanya Neyman, were nominated for the title. It is certainly a very tough decision to pick only one tour guide when there are so many professional and outstanding people. Moscow team proved that each of us is a special person with incredible tour guiding skills. Some of our colleagues from other countries even realized that Russia is a place to visit.

“The Moscow team was so warm and outgoing. During the conference, the Moscow team was gracious enough to bring some treats from their home city. I had to try them all, they alone were worth going to Moscow for.” Shawn, US

Urban Adventures guides

Photo is made by David Vuit https://www.facebook.com/davidvuit/

“Moscow people were easy going and opened to conversations. They seemed to be a great team and just good friends to each other. All the participants were very professional and skilled.” Anastasia, Germany

“Such a wonderful time with great people from Moscow Team! Being honest, their positive attitude to our training exceeded my expectations. Working with so engaged, hardworking, open and smart people is pure pleasure for any trainer. I wish anyone to be guided by people with such professional attitude to their job and so kind simultaneously. Keep up with good work, never stop to develop and enjoy your job! You are already walking on “The Art of Guiding” Mateusz, Poland

For our team it was a great time to bond with each other and discuss future plans, what we can bring home from the conference, how could we refresh the existing tours and create new ones. Definitely, for our team, it was the trip of the year! With all the new ideas and knowledge, we expect the upcoming year to be absolutely fantastic!

Family from the USA in Moscow

Look what Scott and his family from the USA (Taxes) say about their tour to Moscow in November:

Expressing into words how much our family loved our trip to Moscow this past Thanksgiving will not be easy to do. ExploRussia did an extraordinary job of planning our trip with thoughtful precision from collecting us at the airport to planning our meals and carefully selecting activities that were interesting and fun for both my husband and me as well as our 13 year old daughter and 16 year old son.

We felt our visit to Moscow touched on all areas: we visited the Kremlin, toured cathedrals, rode subways, sampled foods in the local market, prepared and ate dinner in a tour guides home and shopped in gorgeous department stores. Tanya, who was our main tour guide, did such a masterful job of not only walking us literally through all of the top tourist spots of Moscow but she had a unique way of bringing it to life with her witty stories and historical information her true love of all things Russia. Make no mistake – Tanya made our trip. It was hard to say good bye to her when our trip was complete. Her amount of attention and detail was incredible.

Our stay in Russia absolutely exceeded our expectations. It is hard for us to understand why Moscow would not be a TOP destination for fellow Americans to travel. We loved the history, architecture, culture, COLD weather, and the people so very much. There are so many fun things to do in Moscow and Tanya really balanced our schedule beautifully so we saw all of the highlights without making it too exhausting. She made sure we fell in LOVE with her city too. She was successful!! Her English is wonderful and she does the “American SMILE” just like an American. All of the guides we were assigned were wonderful — it is just that we had Tanya for the bulk of our trip.

All in all, we highly recommend ExploRussia and if you can get her — book Tanya. We would definitely rewind and do the entire trip again!!

Nesting doll with Putin and Trump

If you are brave enough to visit Russia in winter, you would probably want to come back home with something that says “Yes, I made it to Russia”. Buying souvenirs in Russia may sound easy at the beginning. Every tour guide book will have a list of the best Russian souvenirs, such as Russian nesting dolls, caviar and a bottle of Vodka. If you are willing to come back home with a very special Christmas gift and avoid the clichés we recommend you to make some preparations.

How to buy souvenirs

It is pretty obvious that the closer you are to the city center, the more expensive are the souvenirs. Still many tourists make their purchases not far from the Red Square. They may not know good places or their time is very limited. If so, I recommend to keep in mind that you can bargain. It doesn’t mean that supermarkets and department stores will welcome this attitude, but many markets and souvenir shops can easily cut off the price if they see that you are well-prepared for the trip. Ask questions, thus you will know more about what you are buying and you will show your seriousness.

If you are not into bargaining (so am I) and you need a fixed price, you can find places with reasonable prices however the prices are not displayed. Whatever it is we will be happy to show you them!

Where to buy gifts

Most of the tour guides will agree that the cheapest place to buy gifts in Russia is Izmailovsky Market, especially if you go there on Wednesdays. It is located a bit outside of the city center near the subway station Partizanskaya. The good thing is that there you can find everything – traditional souvenirs on Vernissage, a flea market which itself looks like a museum of the Soviet culture, and antiques. Moreover, recently Design factory “Flacon” opened a big and impressive area with unique gifts that locals would like.

Izmailovo flea market

“ I really liked the Izmailovo market as I recall has a wide selection of souvenirs all in one place including artifacts and antiques. They usually have unique items which can only be found there. The design of the market also emits a nice atmosphere” Costas, Greece

There are many places for you to find fun and classy souvenirs such as modern museums, bookstores and markets. Our Moscow Modern Art&Design tour has devoted a whole area where you can find unique gifts made by locals.

Christmas market Moscow

One good reason to visit Moscow on Christmas holidays is our New Year markets. Surprisingly, they are not extremely overpriced as you may think. You can find vendors who come from other cities and sell things that are usually not easy to find in the capital. It definitely worths taking a look at least for the inspiration!

The best gifts

1. Vodka

Vodka from Russia

When you think about Russia, cold is one of the first things that comes into your mind. Yes, Russia is not the warmest country in the world, but we surely know how to warm ourselves.

2. Russian Fur hat

Russian ushanka fur hat

Of course, vodka is a great solution, but not the only one. We are proud of our fur hats or we call them Ushankas They are so famous that during the World Cup 2018 that was in summer I could see tourists wearing Russian hats. I guess, for some tourists Russian summer is like winter, although it was + 30 C.

3. Wool socks and valenki

Wool socks from Russia

Also, take a look at wool socks with colorful patterns and valenki – a traditional Russian winter footwear.

4. Russian shawl

Russian shawl

The best gift for women in my opinion is Russian scarves and shawls with traditional Russian patterns, specifically from Pavlovsky Posad. They used to be popular only among grannies. But several years ago woolen and cotton scarves became trendy. There are many colors to choose from so it feel really fit you and will help to look like a true fashionista. Don’t forget keep an eye on quality. Some of the vendors can sell shawls or hats made in China.

5. Hand cream

Russian hand cream

Cold weather also makes you to take care of your skin. Many of my friends always carry around a hand cream. If you forgot how important it is to protect your skin, try Russian cosmetic brands and then get the products you liked as a gift. Some of the popular Russian brands are Natura Siberica, Babushka Agaphya’s recipes and Organic shop. If you are interested in young and trendy companies 2211 will be a good option.

6. A book

Russian book

For those art lovers a good gift is an art reproduction album from the Tretyakov Gallery with famous Russian paintings or a book by Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky. You may find books in English in the Moskva bookstore on Tverskaya st. 8, or Respublika near Mayakovsaya metro station or in Central Kids Store on Lubyanka.

7. Russian food

Russian food

I reckon that it’s always good to bring food as gift. You give a chance to your friends and relatives to try something new. Plus, you will know for sure that they won’t lay it on a shelve. Believe it or not Russia is also a good place to buy chocolate. It doesn’t matter if you like dark or milk – everything is delicious. For the New Year you can find a great variety of decorated packages with the mix of sweets. Simply perfect for kids! They may also appreciate Belyovsky marshmallows and even honey, which comes in different flavors like raspberry, mint and ginger.

8. Russian drinks

Russian drinks

To remember Russian cosy evenings get herbal tea named ‘Ivan Tea’ or a syrup for the traditional Russian drink honey drink sbiten’. Only in winter, there are so many New Year and Christmas decorations. Some of them truly look like a piece of art. Come to a winter festival which chance to find something special. One of them will be soon on Danilovskij market, where we organize the Food Tour.

9. A nesting doll or a handmade toy

handmade toy from Russia

Apart from the popular Nesting dolls, which can be easily bought in Russia, look for a toy of the Russian Santa, Grandfather Frost, and his granddaughter Snow Maiden. In many shops, vendors will look like them.


ExploRussia invites you to Russian Christmas with locals tour, which can be organized in any winter day. We will dive deep into Russian Christmas traditions, visit Russian Orthodox church and for sure buy best Christmas gifts.

Winter holidays in Russia

Let it snow

In Russia The New Year and Christmas mood usually starts at the beginning of December. But since the New Year is the main holiday, some of us can start waiting for the New Year’s holidays as early as in September-October. Slowly everything around will send a message that ‘New Year is coming’ – commercials while you’re watching the news or your favorite tv show, a special magazine edition, decoration in your favorite shop and special offers for New Year’s gifts. Russia is absolutely a perfect destination to feel the festive atmosphere thanks to the winter snowy weather all around. Moscow is a city that never misses celebrations and decorations. It is part of our culture to make everything big and stunning, like a good show.

Russian Santa Claus

In December the festivities are already in every kindergarten, every school and every office. If you manage to have several jobs, then you might have 3-4 New Year parties! Or you can celebrate New Year more than once thanks to nine time zones that we have. One of the celebrations can be at the Red Square. Can you imagine yourself on the New Year’s Eve at the heart of Moscow?

New Year party in kindergarten

On a kid’s party, you can meet a Russian version of Santa Claus, Grandfather Frost (‘Ded Moroz’ in Russian) and his granddaughter Snow Maiden (‘Snegurochka’ in Russian). Please don’t ask what happened to the rest of the family, it stays unknown even for us. They will play various games with children and will do a Russian circle dance called ‘horovod’. As there are no alcoholic drinks at this party, we have a special children’s champagne. If a kid wants to get a present from Grandfather Frost, he or she usually has to sing a song or recite a poem.

Russian traditions for the New Year

Traditional New Year food

Every adult party is different. The essentials are the “so-called” Soviet champagne, mandarins, salad Olivier, or Russian salad as it’s usually called abroad. It is a kind of tradition that food must be prepared for the next 2 weeks. Thus, you will have something to eat during the long New Year holidays. It’s also hard to imagine our New Year without the president’s speech about the achievements we made, fireworks, strikes on the Kremlin clock, and musical concerts on TV. Young people always ask who would watch these TV shows, but apparently, there is an audience.

New Year gifts

New Year gifts

New Year is a great time for giving and receiving gifts. A bottle of sparkling wine and a box of chocolates would be always a safe choice. But if you want to be creative, you can visit one of the New Year markets for interesting New Year/Christmas handmade toys. It’s also a good way to spend your time in Moscow. The decorations can blow your mind. The entire space literally shines from garlands and balloons. Get one of the special Russian beverages, like sbiten’ (a traditional honey drink made with natural herbs and spices), buckthorn tea or medovukha (an alcoholic drink brewed from water, honey and yeast) and enjoy a beautiful concert. Markets will be a space where various artists, musicians and even magicians will perform for you. One of the best is at the Red Square.

Skating Rinks

Skating Rink on the Red Square

Before or after the market explore one of the Moscow’s ice rinks. We have so many of them – in front of GUM at the Red Square, Gorky Park, Chistye Ponds, VDNKh to name a few. Russia is traditionally famous for the best figure skaters. So even if you’ve never tried, that would be the right place to start. For the inspiration, you can visit one of our ice shows. For instance, Evgeni Plushenko, four-time Olympic medalist and a three-time World champion, launches a show ‘Swan Lake.’

Museums

GULAG museum Moscow

If the weather is really cold, you can always visit museums. The good thing is that during the New Year holidays around 80 museums will have free admission. Among them, Memorial Museum of Cosmonautic, GULAG Museum, various house-museums of the greatest Russian writers.

Banya

Russian Banya in winter

Absolutely, the best place to warm up your body and soul in winter is definitely banya, which is the Russian sauna. This old tradition will certainly appeal to everyone. There are Public Banyas such as famous Sanduny. You can get not only physical but also aesthetic pleasure here: in the highest category room for male there is an empire style fireplace, a Gothic hall, a Turkish hall and an antique swimming pool.

Golden Ring in winter

Dog in Vladimir

Once you feel that you would like to see something outside of the capital, we recommend taking a trip to the Golden Ring. It’s a ring of ancient towns located a few hours drive from Moscow the capital of Russia. On our two-day tour, you can visit beautiful cities such as Vladimir and Suzdal where the White Monuments are listed among UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Russian Christmas

golden ring New Year tour

New Year is all around in Moscow, but what about Christmas? We do not want to disappoint you, but to most of the Russians, December 25th means absolutely nothing, unless they have a birthday. Why is that? First, as it was said before, the main holiday for us is the New Year and it was during the Soviet era. Second, unlike Catholic countries, we celebrate Christmas on January 7th. The reason is that the Orthodox Church in Russia still recognises the Julian calendar, while the country switched to the Gregorian calendar. Remembering the previous calendar, we even celebrate Old New Year on January 13th, which is more like a family holiday, compared to big parties on December 31.. Still after the collapse of the Soviet Union Christmas is getting more and more popular. These days many people go to church to celebrate Christmas.

In order to feel this special holiday through the eyes of a local person and see the importance of old traditions, you can join our Christmas tour. The good thing is that you can do it on any winter day.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’! S Novym Godom i schastlivogo Rozhdestva!

Wheelchair traveller in Russia

Photo was taken from site http://lgotyinfo.ru

Accessible tourism as a separate direction in the tourism sector is growing worldwide. It gives more than 1 billion travelers with disabilities the opportunities to gain experience and explore places which were unavailable to them before. The United Nations World Tourism Organization promotes an initiative “Accessible Tourism for All” among all countries and declares that facilitating travel for people with special needs is an integral element of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy. ExploRussia shares the principles of sustainable tourism and wants to figure out the situation with accessibility for wheelchair travelers in our country.

Having the status of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Russia still seems to be not accessible for all people and most of the wheelchair travelers avoid tours to Russia.

However, within the last few years, the situation is slowly but constantly changing. Such events as Sochi Winter Olympic Games 2014 and World Cup 2018 have made its impact and pushed major cities of Russia to become more friendly for people with disabilities, including those in a wheelchair. Besides, in 2011 the government launched a state program, called “Accessible Environment”. It’s aimed at making barrier-free infrastructures so that people in wheelchairs could get around streets and use social services.

We would like to show what the exact situation with wheelchair accessible travel in Russia is, and answer the question “How challenging is it to visit Russia if you are in a wheelchair?” For that, we want to observe two major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg and see how it goes with tourist sites, public transport and streets there.

Sheremetyevo airport

Upon your arrival in Russia

All Airports in Moscow and St. Petersburg meet international standards and are fully equipped for passengers in a wheelchair. All of them have special services which you can require for free: the staff will assist you in all necessary procedures, just check the information on airport websites:

Sheremetyevo, Moscow
Domodedovo, Moscow

Vnukovo, Moscow
Pulkovo, St. Petersburg

To get to the city center from the airports it is convenient to use Aeroexpress. Upon request, passengers with mobility challenges can get assistance free of charge. Trains have folding ramps to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users, as well as special seats and toilet facilities. The new double-deck carriages are equipped with unique lifts, which are used to transport passengers in wheelchairs between the decks.

winter palace accessibility

Accessibility of tourist sites

Most popular museums, cathedrals, theatres and other sights in Moscow and St.Petersburg are fairly accessible for travelers in wheelchairs.

For example, the State Hermitage, the main museum of St. Petersburg has electric lifts, large-capacity elevators and adapted toilets for visitors with mobility challenges. Besides, St. Isaac Cathedral, a magnificent church, is equipped with ramps, lifts and an elevator to enable wheelchair travelers to visit the Colonnade and enjoy the panoramic views of the city. We advise to check the accessibility rules beforehand because in some places not all types of wheelchairs can be allowed, but in this case, their own wheelchairs may be offered for use.

Red Square accessibility

If it’s your first time in Moscow, your must-see destinations are probably Red Square, Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum, St Basil’s Cathedral, the GUM department store, Bolshoi Theater, Cathedral of Christ the savior. Most of these places are welcoming to visitors of all abilities but there are exceptions. For instance, St.Basil’s Cathedral and some places in Kremlin are accessed via stairs and it’s not possible to install special equipment there. Please be aware, that Red Square is paved with cobblestones, so the ride will be rough, but passable. There is also asphalt road along the GUM but due to the fact that Red Square is a place for different events, construction or deconstruction may be on the go and this road will be closed. So one should check beforehand.

Before visiting the sites, you might need to check the corresponding websites for detailed information, this is the one for the Hermitage, for instance. Sometimes you need to inform the staff about your arrival beforehand so that they could prepare for your visit: turn on a special lift or escort you inside a building. In most cases the staff is hospitable and ready to assist, however, there may be lack of experience of communicating with a person in a wheelchair (such visitors are still quite rare) and may not know how to deal with special equipment they have for wheelchair travelers.

Moscow street accessibility

Getting around the cities

It is still quite far from saying that our streets are barrier-free and totally accessible for disabled people. However, significant improvements have been made over the last 5 years.

In Moscow city center, for example, about 55% of walking zones are ready for individuals in a wheelchair. Many sidewalks are smooth and nearly all intersections have curb cuts. Crossing the big streets is usually done via underpasses, which are equipped with ramps. Sounds good, but one without an assistance can hardly manage to use these ramps, though: some of them are of the wrong width and with a very sharp angle of slope. We recommend you to build your route in advance to choose the most accessible way. There is a website that shows barrier-free streets, cafes, public toilets and places of attraction in Moscow. It’s only in Russian now, so you can use Google translate to help you.

Underground pass Moscow

Photo was taken from site mos.ru

The second most popular city for foreign tourists, St. Petersburg, has a special route for wheelchair travelers. It covers the most popular sights in the city center: the State Hermitage Museum, The General Staff Building, Stroganov Palace, Kazan Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. On the route, you can find barrier-friendly cafes, restaurant, and parks, and you don’t need to worry about the road itself: streets are plain and embankments have a smooth coating.

Besides, the main street of the city, Nevsky Prospect is also a wheelchair friendly zone.

Moscow metro accessibility

Public Transport

Moscow has a vast modern system of ground public transportation. Today, 90% of all busses and 70% of trolley buses have lowered floors and ramps, and are ready for passengers in a wheelchair. Drivers can also help disabled passengers, if necessary.

The Metro in Moscow being very famous for its beauty, can be a challenge. Most of the platforms in the center were built in 1930-1970 and are not equipped with lifts. However, a special service for passengers with mobility challenges was introduced a few years ago. Metro staff can help you buy tickets, plan your trip, and assist you in using the Metro. It is free of charge, but you need to book it in advance, ideally 2 days before your planned trip. Dial 8 800 250-73-41 and start speaking English. An operator who answers the phone might not speak English but he or she will connect you with the one who does. More information is on the Metro website. It’s in Russian, so again, remember about your friend Google translate.

Accessible bus

There is MCC (Moscow Central Circle) and the trains are super-modern there. The stations of the Moscow Central Circle are adapted for people with disabilities.

If you prefer to use a taxi, there are several options, like social taxi or Invataxi, their cars are adapted for wheelchair travelers.


To sum up, we can say that Moscow and St. Petersburg are welcoming to wheelchair travelers, though sometimes it might still be quite a challenging adventure to explore our country in a wheelchair. Here are three plain tips we advise visitors to follow:

-Plan your itinerary in advance, using information about the accessibility of the streets.

– Include more time to get from one place to another.

-Don’t be shy and ask passers-by to assist you. The local people are friendly and ready to help, despite the difficulties with the English language.

And be sure, that for your readiness to some inconveniences, Russia will pay you back with its hospitality, and diverse experience. To organize a tailor-made tour for you please contact us.

It's cold in winter in Russia

Today is November 2nd, in Moscow we saw the first snow already not to tell about Siberia. The first snowflakes are a signal of coming winter and cold weather of course. But cold weather is not the reason to become gloomy. Quite the contrary most people are happy because it is a great chance to go in for winter activities like ski, skating, to enjoy the beauty of white mono-colored world, to feel the real cosiness of winter nights when you stay at home with a cup of hot herbal tea with honey, to enjoy Russian banya, what is more all Russians love New Year celebration and start preparations at the end of November. So we can tell about winter romantics too much, today we want to focus on the tips on how to enjoy Russian weather in winter and show what it is like to stay in Russia during winter.

1. Be ready for the weather in winter

How is Russia during winter? The question is simple, but the answer is not. It’s often cold in Russia in winter but Russia is big, bigger than you even imagine. The climate differs from West to East considerably. Most of the territory of Russia is located in the temperate climate zone, less in the Arctic climate zone, less in the subarctic climate zone, and the least in the subtropical climate zone. In winter, there are periods when almost all Russia (normally) is covered with snow. The exceptions are the southern areas of the Black Sea coast.

snowy Moscow in winter

Winter in Moscow and St.Petersburg starts in the middle of November and ends in March. Winter in Moscow is moderately cold, weather in December is usually softer. Often the weather is unstable, the temperature in winter fluctuates from -5 ° C to -20 ° C. Due to climate change, periods of abnormally high temperatures also occur. The weather in January and February is usually colder, often with prolonged frosts that last from 1 to 5 weeks, when an arctic or Siberian anticyclone comes to central Russia. At this time, the temperature can drop to -25 ° C, and in the afternoon not higher than -10 ° C.

The climate in St. Petersburg could be called mild since the air temperature in winter rarely drops below -10 ° C. However, due to the almost constant gusts of strong wind, there is a feeling that the air is much colder than the thermometer shows. Air masses from the Atlantic Ocean approaching the city affect the climate. Heavy snowfall during the day may cover the city with snow, but in the evening it can start raining.

When you travel on the Trans-Siberian Railway the weather changes a lot and from west to east it is getting colder. The average temperature in winter in Western Siberia (Novosibirsk, Altai Mountains, Khakassia) ranges from -15 ° C to -30 ° C. Due to strong winds, the frost in these places is felt a little stronger. The snow covers the land at the end of November and reaches a thickness of 15-20 cm.

Trans-Siberian train station

Eastern Siberia (the Irkutsk Region, the Republics of Tyva and Buryatia, the Trans-Baikal Territory, and the southern part of the Krasnoyarsk Territory) in winter is represented by low temperatures as low as -40 ° C, but due to the absence of winds, the cold can be easily handled.

As we go further on the Trans-Siberian Railway, the last point is Vladivostok. Winter on this territory is the same as in Western Siberia but with a lot of sunny days. It may sound unbelievable but Khabarovsk and Vladivostok are among the five most sunny cities in Russia. Bright rays illuminate the Far Eastern lands about 300 days a year – by the way, this is more than in Krasnodar which is on the South of Russia! This is due to the humid Pacific air which disperses all the clouds over this territory.

The northern territories of the Krasnoyarsk Region are real tundra. The climate here is so severe that this place could be a prototype of the image that is created about the Siberian winter. The duration of the period with air temperature more 10 ° C is less than one calendar month. In winter, the thermometer can easily fall below -40 ° C, and in summer it rarely rises above + 10 ° C. In the mountainous and northern areas the snow cover lies all year round. Perhaps this is the real Siberia, the climate of which is the real test of the will and endurance of a man. But don’t worry our Trans-Siberian Railway tour does not include severe places, anyway in case you are interested we can organize the tour.

So the main conclusion from all these facts about winter weather is: When you go to Russia in winter think about warm clothes!

2. Bring good clothes

winter clothes in Russia

We do not argue that 20 degrees below zero is quite frosty weather, frankly speaking, any degrees below zero is already cold. Nevertheless, the right choice of clothes allows you to enjoy the Russian winter without the risk to become an ice statue. The main secret of the winter dress code in Russia is the correct number of right layers of clothing.

While traveling on the Trans-Siberian Railway many tourists are quite surprised that even in twenty-degree frost, in fact, it is not as cold as they imagined. The reason for this surprise is that the air in Siberia is very dry and fresh. So if you have the right clothes the Russian winter is not terrible at all but is very pleasant.

Wear warm underwear which is called thermal underwear and can be bought in any sportswear store. Put on wool socks. If on the thermometer you see minus twenty degrees or even lower, put on an extra layer of wool or fleece clothing over your underwear. An extra pair of warm socks keeps your feet warm.

Warm trousers, a scarf or a high warm collar as well as comfortable and warm winter shoes will allow you to stay outdoors for a long time, even in extreme frost.

Russian girls in winter

Wind-resistant winter jacket, warm hat, and thermal gloves will let you stay warm. Do not forget to close up and tuck the gloves into the sleeves.

Done! You can go to meet the winter adventure.

If you forget to take warm clothes with you, then you can easily buy everything in any big mall in Russia, visit Decathlon, Uniqlo, Sportmaster.

3. Make stops to warm up

Winter decorations in Moscow

Once you put on your warmest clothes, you go to explore the winter city or winter nature. Do not hesitate to make as many stops on your way as you want. Make a stop at the supermarket to buy a chocolate for the evening cup of tea. Make a stop in a cafe to drink hot tea, have lunch, take a breath to continue your tour full of new energy. Make a stop in a museum if you are in a big city. It will make you warm and you will learn something new. In winter it is not necessary to make long-distance walking tours, take a bus or a metro and this is one more chance to warm up. BTW if you are in Moscow, never miss the chance to see the magnificent Moscow Metro.

4. Eat well

Borscht

One more tip which we like most of all. In winter it is necessary not to be hungry. Russian cuisine is full of thick soups and hearty meals, which quickly fill up your stomach.

For breakfast eat a porridge, bliny (Russian pancakes) or syrniki (small farm-cheese pancakes). If you travel to Russia at the beginning of March then you will have a great chance to take part in exciting winter outdoor Russian festival Maslenitsa and try hundreds of tasty pancakes with different addings, but the tastiest is with red caviar. Learn more here.

For lunch eat soup. Borscht – the most famous beetroot soup, Ukha – made of Russian fish, Shchi – cabbage soup, Rassolnik – with pickled cucumbers and barley. And do not forget about rye bread. Yummy!

For dinner try Beef Stroganoff – finely chopped, fried pieces of meat in thick tomato-sour cream sauce served with mashed potato or buckwheat.

And of course, do not forget about citrus. Oranges, tangerines, lemons are an excellent source of vitamin C, this vitamin helps us fight stress, strengthening the immune system.

winter vitamins

In a cafe, if you see tea with a wild rose – take it! It invigorates, warms, and gives the same vitamin C. A good option is to make ginger tea, you can add honey and lemon, it warms well and is good for immunity. and do not forget about spices, cinnamon, curcumin is very good. Also, try special Russian soft drinks (mors), they are made of cranberries, sea buckthorn.

5. Try winter activities

Skating

Skating rinks are becoming the main winter entertainment in Russian cities. In Moscow, there are hundreds of skating rinks. The most popular are on VDNKH, in the Gorky Park and on the Red Square.

VDNKH skating rink is the biggest one in the world – the area of the ice surface is 20,549 square meters, and together with the infrastructure the total area of the rink reaches 67,300 square meters.

Skating rink in Moscow

The Gorky Park is fully covered with ice so you can enjoy light installations and optical illusions, figure skating, and hockey, parties, and food markets.

Almost all big skating rinks provide rental services, so you may easily enjoy skating.

If you like ice hockey, you may go to a hockey game. The 3 most famous teams are HC Spartak, HC CSKA, HC Dynamo Moscow and SKA in St.Petersburg. The stadiums are usually full of fans, Russians love hockey very much.

Mountain skiing in Rosa Khutor

Cross country skiing and mountain skiing are very popular in Russia too. You may ski in the parks, there are places where you can rent skis. For those who are fond of mountain skis and snowboarding, there are many ski resorts. The most famous are Roza Khutor near Sochi, Sheregesh (Western Siberia), Elbrus Ski Resort in the northern Caucasus.

And do not forget to make a snowman, to play snowballs and enjoy downhill sledding. These will definitely will make your trip funny and unforgettable.

6. Join a home party

Moscow Cooking Class

Russian people are fond of home parties! It is usually time when all the friends cook something together and then try it and discuss what they will cook next time. Sometimes hosts cook and friends try, but still, it is all about food, chatting and discussing something very important, we call it soul talks. While in summer these parties are moved outdoors to Russian dachas, in winter everybody cook indoors with a warm atmosphere.

When you are in Moscow or in any other city never refuse to join a home party. We offer to join a home cooking class in a real flat with real people to speak about Russian life, to share jokes and of course to know the secret ingredients of Beef Stroganoff, Herring under the fur coat salad, cook them, try vodka if you wish with homemade pickled cucumbers and salted fish.

It is a great chance to know better what Russian soul is and then to surprise your friends and relatives with new recipes and stories about Russia and Russian cuisine.


New Year's eve in Russia

ExploRussia invites everybody to visit Russia in winter! It is proved that frost is an excellent medicine for stress and depression. Walking through the snow-covered landscapes make a positive effect. That is why in winter many adults experience children’s delight when they see falling snow!

You may choose what you want more Winter Trans-Siberian adventure, Maslenitsa, and Golden Ring Tour or visit Moscow!

Tourist from the USA in Moscow

Doctor Steven from the USA had his private tour to Russia this September, including Moscow and St.Petersburg cities. A talented gastroenterologist, professor at the medical college and legal councel in medical court cases, Dr.Steven was a lucky one. During his stay the weather was sunny and so good, that our guide Sasha (in the photo) could show not only main landmarks but also all the hidden pathes along the way.

And below is Dr. Steven’s revew:

St.Petersburg: “The Tuesday morning walking tour with Yekaterina was very nice and she was a great guide . Irina did the rest of my tours ( Hermitage, the visit to Paul I’s palace and boat ride). Irina was extremely knowledgeable and has a very nice way about her. I found her to be the perfect guide.

All in all a fantastic trip thanks to you and your marvelous group of guides.”

Moscow: “Everything in Moscow went very well. Sasha did an amazing job. She is knowledgeable and very friendly. Her English is superb. Please tell her we spoke about her. The Russian museum tour was very interesting and well conducted. The transportation was comfortable and on time. Thank you for helping me have a great vacation.”

After the tour: “Natalia, I can’t thank you enough. ExploRussia treated me like an oligarch or Tzar ( before the revolution ;). Your guides are so knowledgeable and friendly. Their English is very good. I would recommend your company to any tourist who wants a grand tour of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Which city did I like the best? That’s like asking which of my children do I like the best. Both are wonderful, beautiful cities with great history attached to them.”

Altai landscape

Start packing your luggage! We present 6 facts about Altai Mountains, after which one can not but wish to explore these places. Of course, we could just post the photos of Altai and who once saw them could not remain indifferent and start planning the tour to Altai. But we would like to share some more exciting information about one of the most beautiful and mysterious places on our planet.

Altai Mountains

1. “Higher than mountains only mountains can be”

The Altai Mountains, or call it simply Altai (from the Mongolian “altan” means “golden”), is one of the most significant mountain systems in Central Asia and Southern Siberia. They are located on the territory of four countries – Russia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China – they occupy more than 2000 km stretching from the north-west to the south-east.

Russian Altai is located in the south of the Western Siberia, covers the territory of the Altai Republic, the Altai Territory, the Republic of Tuva and the Republic of Khakassia. The geological history of the region is almost two billion years, it experienced two glacial epochs, and this is reflected in the modern relief.

The highest point of Altai is Belukha Mountain (4506 m). It looks more like a powerful ice wall rather than a classic triangle. Belukha is located exactly in the “center of the four oceans” – the Indian, the Arctic, the Pacific, and Atlantic oceans are equally spaced from it.

Altai in Mountains

2. Power Place

Traditional rites and beliefs, Shamanism, Buddhism, Islam, Christianity (Old Believers and Orthodoxy), various spiritual practices all these can be found here in Altai. One of the most powerful places is the Uymon valley and the surrounding of Belukha mountain.

This territory is the one, where in the early XX century Nicholas Roerich was looking for an entrance to Shambhala. For the Altaians Belukha is a sacred place, they believe that it is prohibited by spirits to climb on it. But the mature mountain climbers regularly try to conquer it. The most popular route has the category of difficulty 3B, but there are also more complicated options. They say that when you get to the top of the mountain the sensation of flight comes as if some force raises you up. However, the sacred mountain does not allow everyone to win the mountain top: some get injured while climbing some start feeling horror and return. There is a legend that Belukha keeps an entrance to the afterlife where the half-lion half-griffon lives. Anyway each year more and more people wish to feel the powerful energy of these places and to try their fate in finding the gates of Shambhala.

Shamans in Altai are conductors between the world of the living and those moved to the better world, between the world of people and the world of nature. Shamans practice divination and healing entering into a trance state during special rituals.

It is interesting that the canons, rules of this phenomenon are not fixed anywhere. This knowledge traditions and rituals are handed out from parents to children.

So Altai is called a “Power Place” with the things happening that are impossible to explain in scientific terms. Tourists who have visited such places tell mysterious stories. Some claim that they saw strange shadows in the night and heard moans, some tell that they met the legendary Yeti.

Altai Steppe

3. In Altai, you can see almost all natural zones of Russia: steppe, forest-steppe, taiga, and mountains

There are two Altais from the point of view of territorial division, the Altai Territory and the Altai Republic. Each of them is beautiful in its own way.

The Altai Territory is “cozy and warm” landscapes, green hills and at the same time giant green steppes, as well as kilometers of sunflower fields and red fields of buckwheat. It’s also a land of thousands of lakes, comfortable for bathing, including medicinal ones. There are 35 nature reserves that attract tourists all over the world.

The Altai Republic is a grand mountain system, turbulent rivers, and wild untouched nature. These places are simply created for active tourists, eager for adventure and for those who want to escape from hustle and bustle of big cities and be alone with nature.

Altai sheep

4 . Altai is one of the most ecologically clean places on our planet

In 1998, UNESCO included several natural sites of Altai to the World Heritage List under the common name “Altai – the Golden Mountains” including the Altai Reserve with the Water Protection Zone of Lake Teletskoye, the Katun Nature Reserve with the Belukha Nature Park and the Ukok Plateau.

Altai is a giant nature reserve, where 2000 plant species grow, 200 of which can be found only here – and nowhere else. 70 species of mammals and more than 300 species of birds live here, among them – a black stork, Altaian ular, peregrine falcon, golden eagle, and others. Altai is famous for being the home of snow leopards, which are endangered species of cats. The snow leopard is one of the most secretive cats on the planet: it lives in harsh rocks at an altitude of up to 5000 meters above sea level. Until now, no one knows exactly how many species remain on earth, but it is known that they live only in 12 countries of the world, and 1-2% live in Russia.

Altai crossroads

5. Altai is a real crossroads of civilizations, each with a rich heritage

The land of Altai remembers galloping hordes of Genghis Khan and ancient Scythians. There are sites of the Paleolithic epoch, petroglyphs and stone sculptures, Scythian kurgans (the name for barrow mounds), and the most mysterious place in Altai, the Plateau Ukok, which recently opened the mummy of the “Altai Princess”.

The Plateau Ukok is a small plateau in the south of the Altai Republic. The harsh, almost deserted region is hidden in the heart of Eurasia. For Altaians, the name “Ukok” means “the end of everything”. On the south side the Plateau Ukok is surrounded by Tavan Bogd which in Mongolian means “five saints”. According to the legend when the great Genghis Khan was passing by the mountain massif he saw “heavenly radiance” and ordered to name the mountains “Five sacred peaks”. Tavan Bogd is the largest center of glaciation in Altai, there are more than 60 glaciers on its slopes.

The Plateau Ukok became world famous not only due to its unique nature but also because of the archaeological findings. In 1993 when excavating one of the kurgans, scientists discovered a mummy of a woman. The mummified body is dated back to the 5 century BC, which means that the body spent about 2,500 years in the earth, but it was perfectly preserved – thanks to the ice filling the burial chamber. The age of the woman did not exceed 25 years and apparently, she belonged to the noble family: there was a hat with gold details on her head, and there were tattoos of the Altai griffin on her arms.

Locals said that the woman was the White Lady – the “keeper of Ak-Kadyn”, which is guarding the underworld and does not allow the evil to come out to the surface. They assured that the relics should not have been disturbed and accused scientists of fires, floods, earthquakes and other troubles that have occurred in the region since the excavation. As a result, the conflict came to the federal level, but the mummy of the “Altai Princess” was placed in a special mausoleum at the Republican National Museum by Anokhin in Gorno-Altaisk. Archaeological excavations are forbidden in the region, and the Plateau Ukok was declared a rest zone.

Altai camping in the mountains

6. The true silence of Altai

Altai is the exact opposite of the noisy cities with round-the-clock illumination and supermarkets at every step. The local way of life almost has not been changing for decades: here the herds of horses are still grazing, people believe in spirits, and mobile communication appears from time to time not to tell about Wi-Fi. There are villages that can not be reached by car for most of the year, and the local people carry water with a shoulder-yoke and eat home-made bread. It is an ideal place for everybody who wants to escape from the world of progress and find themselves in a wild environment. The water in the streams is purer than in taps and if you want to see stars you just raise your head. You may hear the true silence here.

To be honest it is almost impossible to list all the wonders of Altai as well as to speak about the colors, smells and sounds of this place. As for us, ExploRussia team and our friends and relatives, we can’t stop visiting and exploring Altai, once you have made a trip to Altai, you will be attracted here like with a magnet. We are generous and want more and more people to experience Altai themselves. We hope that inspiration to visit Altai is already here!