Backpacking Russia (Ultimate Budget Travel Guide for 2024)

In this article, we are going to go through everything you need to know about backpacking Russia.

Russia is the largest country in the world, with a land area equivalent to 11% of the earth’s total landmass. Pretty impressive, right?

With stunning tundra landscapes, huge cities, stunning beaches and an array of wildlife, it’s truly an amazing place to visit.

Some of the most popular sights include the capital city of Moscow, St. Petersburg, Lake Baikal, Sochi, Kazan and the Ural Mountains.

Although often not depicted as a travel destination, Russia has so much to offer. It’s also a great place for backpackers as accommodation, food and transport is generally very cheap.

Russia is also the first country I ever backpacked, all the way back in 2007! I also returned three years later and backpacked my way from London to Lake Baikal in Siberia.

So let’s dive right into the article, and find out all the things you need to know before backpacking Russia.

Boring stuff: I have visited each of the places I recommend and give you my honest opinion, warts and all. All photos are my own unless otherwise stated and may not be reproduced without permission. Affiliate links may earn a commission at no extra cost to you.



What regions make up Russia?

The Russian Federation is made up of eight districts. These are:

  • Central – District Capital: Moscow
  • North-Western – District Capital: St. Petersburg
  • Volga – District Capital: Nizhny Novgorod
  • North Caucasus – District Capital: Pyatigorsk
  • Southern – District Capital: Rostov-on-Don
  • Ural – District Capital: Yekaterinburg
  • Siberian – District Capital: Novosibirsk
  • Far-Eastern – District Capital: Vladivostok
Izby House in Irkutsk
Izby House in Irkutsk

Russia Highlights

Kaliningrad – a tiny Russian enclave on the Baltic Sea

Moscow – Red Square, St Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, Lenin Mausoleum, Bolshoi Theatre…

St. Petersburgthe Hermitage, Church on the Spilt Blood, the Winter Palace…

Yekaterinburg – final resting place of the Romanovs and gateway to the Ural Mountains

Mount Elbrus – Europe’s highest mountain!

Lake Baikal – the world’s largest and deepest body of fresh water.

Vladivostok – the end of the line, Russia’s port city on the Pacific Ocean.

Kamchatka – the land of fire and ice, volcanoes and more bears than people.

The Trans-Siberian Railway – everyone should take this journey at least once in their life!

Suggested Russia Itineraries

1 week – Moscow and St. Petersburg

2 weeks – St. Petersburg – Moscow – Yekaterinburg

3 weeks – St. Petersburg – Moscow – Yekaterinburg – Rostov-on-Don

4 weeks – St. Petersburg – Moscow – Novosibirsk – Irkutsk – Lake Baikal (Trans-Siberian routes)

5 weeks – Moscow – Yekaterinburg – Novosibirsk – Baikal – Vladivostok (return by Trans-Siberian)

6 weeks – Moscow – Novosibirsk – Baikal – Yakutsk – Kamchatka

Daily budget for backpacking Russia

Money in Russia
Money in Russia

Depending on where you visit in Russia, the cost of accommodation, food and transport will vary. For example, the touristy areas of Moscow may be more expensive than the more rural areas of Russia.

On average you are looking at a daily budget of around ₽4,800 ($63). This will cover basic accommodation costs, food, and transport whilst backpacking Russia.

To help you stick to your budget, we have plenty of money-saving tips later on in the article!

Russia Visas

Citizens of 55 countries including Azerbaijan, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Israel, Laos, and the U.A.E can enter Russia visa-free for between 30-90 days depending on the agreement with that country.

If you are a citizen of Japan, the USA, the EU, the UK or a country in Asia or Africa you will have to apply for a visa. For some countries you can apply for a visa online, otherwise, you will have to go to your nearest Russian embassy or consulate.

Moscow, Russia
The Moskva River and Kremlin, Moscow

Language in Russia

The Russian language uses the Cyrillic alphabet and it would pay to try and familiarise yourself with this a little before you go. All signage is in Cyrillic and English isn’t widely spoken, even in Moscow.

Getting to Russia

By Plane

If you are travelling to Russia by flight, it’s likely you will arrive in Moscow as it has 3 large international airports; Sheremyetevo, Domodedovo and Vnukovo.

You may also choose to fly into Pulkovo airport, which is near St. Petersburg.

Trip.com has some of the best deals on flights to Russia.

By Train

Travelling into Russia by train is easy as the country has multiple high-speed rail connections with Europe.

Train routes run to Russia from Finland, Poland, France and Estonia. It’s also possible to go on other routes but it’s important to do your research as some require a transit visa.

Weekly routes to Moscow from the following countries. Check RealRussia for timetables and ticket prices.

Belarus: Minsk to Moscow – 8 hours

Estonia: Tallinn to St. Petersburg – 8 hours

Estonia: Tallinn to Moscow – 17 hours

Ukraine: Kiev to Moscow – 12 hours

Kazakhstan: Nur-Sultan (Astana) to Moscow – 40 hours

Mongolia: Ulaanbaatar to Moscow – 98 hours

China: Beijing to Moscow – 140 hours

By Bus

You can travel to Russia by bus from Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Poland, Germany and London. Although often not the most popular choice, it’s very cheap.

By Ferry

Ferries run to Russia from Japan, Korea, Turkey, Georgia and Ukraine.

It is possible to visit St. Petersburg visa-free by taking a cruise from Helsinki, Tallinn or Stockholm with St Peter Line. See their website for full details.

Trans Siberian Railway
The Trans-Siberian Railway

Getting around Russia

Russia is a HUGE country, but luckily there are a variety of transport options to help you get around.

Plane – There are over 200 airports within Russia, so when it comes to domestic flights there are plenty of choices.

Train – Travelling by train through Russia is one of the best options, as it’s a lot cheaper than catching a flight and is often more convenient.

Be aware that some stations have retained their Soviet names on timetables which can be a little confusing (Yekaterinburg is shown as Sverdlovsk for example).

Metro – The metro system is located in 7 of Russia’s cities; these are Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara and Yekaterinburg. It’s the best way to explore these cities.

City bus systems – The public transport systems in Russian cities are usually made up of buses, trolleybuses and trams. Travelling this way is cheap, and very convenient.

Long-distance bus services – There are plenty of long-distance bus services around and they are a great option whilst backpacking Russia.

The Trans Siberian Railway

There are three main routes:

  • Trans-Siberian – Moscow to Vladivostok
  • Trans-Manchurian – Moscow to Beijing

Unfortunately, at present there is no “hop-on, hop-off” service, so if you wish to visit places along the route, you must buy individual tickets for each leg of the journey.

Saint Petersburg, Russia
Saint Petersburg, Russia

It’s inevitable that accommodation prices will vary depending on where you travel throughout Russia.

To give you an idea, I’ve come up with a list of the most popular spots in Russia and a cheap accommodation option for each one:

Moscow – Napoleon Hostel

St. Petersburg – The Roomers

Lake Baikal – Mini Gostinica near Lake Baikal

Belokurikha – Hotel Berkut

Sochi – Sochi Hotel

Kazan – Mironov’s House

Money in Russia

The currency in Russia is the Russian rubles (or rouble – RUB).

The exchange rate fluctuates but at the start of 2022, the average exchange rate is $1 = 75 RUB.

The important thing to remember about money in Russia is that It’s always best to exchange it in advance.

Cards are generally accepted in the country, but you’ll never know what the exchange rate is or if Russian banks will accept the card.

Also, a lot of things are paid for in cash in Russia including public transport and tipping so it’s always best to have cash on you.

Sample costs of items across the country*

ItemCost in Rubles (₽)Cost in US Dollars ($)
Dorm Bed in Hostel₽650$8.50
Double Room in Mid-range Hotel₽2,500$33.00
Meal at a Cafe or Street Vendor₽200$2.66
Combo Meal at McDonald’s₽350$4.66
Meal at a Cheap Restaurant₽600$8.00
Imported Beer in a Bar₽200$2.66
Bottle of Wine from a Store₽500$6.65
Bottle of Water₽0.45$0.45
Moscow Troika Smart Card₽50$0.66
Single Metro Ticket₽55$0.73

The best places to visit in Russia

Volcano in Kamchatka
Volcano in Kamchatka

Here are the top places to visit whilst backpacking Russia. They have been split by district to make things easier for you!

The North-Western district

  • St. Petersburg
  • Veliky Ustug
  • Izhma
  • The Republic of Karelia
  • The Pskov Region

Visitors to Russia should allow at least a couple of days to discover charming Saint Petersburg. Highlights include the Hermitage, Winter Palace, Church on the Spilt Blood and the canals.

St Petersburg really is a highlight of Russia, so if you’re planning a trip be sure to include it in your itinerary. Check out this excellent guide to the beautiful Russian Palaces in the city (the Winter Palace was a highlight of my trip back in 2007).

The Central district

  • Moscow
  • Vladimir
  • Suzdal
  • Sergiev Posad

No trip to Russia is complete without exploring the country’s impressive capital, Moscow. Allow at least three days to see the major sights including Red Square, the Kremlin, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Lenin Mausoleum and more.

The Volga district

  • Nizhny Novgorod
  • Kazan
  • The Republic of Tatarstan
  • The Raifsky Bogoroditsky Monastery
  • Yelabouga

The Volga region is one of the true heartlands of Russia and encompasses the Volga River basin and stretches down to the Caspian Sea.

The Southern district

  • Rostov-on-Don
  • Azov
  • Taganrog
  • Novocherkassk
  • Sochi

From Black Sea beaches to Europe’s tallest mountain, Elbrus, the Southern District is packed full of exciting places to visit. Pyatigorsk is famous for its mineral springs and spas and Sochi was home to the 2014 Winter Olympics.

The Ural district

  • Yekaterinburg
  • The Ural Mountains
  • Taganay National Park
  • Kungur Ice Cave
  • Romanov Death Site

The Ural Mountains divide European Russia from Asia. The city of Yekaterinburg is a pleasant city with a dark past, as it was here that the Romanov family met their terrible fate in 1918. It’s not all gloom and doom though, and the city is filled with parks, lakes and impressive architecture.

The Siberian district

  • Novosibirsk
  • Stolby Reserve
  • The Omsk Region
  • Lake Baikal
  • Belokurikha

Siberia is a vast expanse of forest (taiga) that covers an area the size of the United States. The region’s crown jule is Lake Baikal, the deepest and largest body of fresh water in the world. In summer, the area is perfect for hiking, camping, picking berries and enjoying the great outdoors. In winter, the frozen lake becomes a winter playground!

The Far-Eastern district

  • Khabarovsk
  • River Amur
  • The Kheketsir Mountains
  • Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky
  • Land of the Leopard National Park

Russia is a wild country, but the Russian far east takes this to new extremes. From the “pole of cold” at Oymyakon in Yakutia can reach temperatures of -70 degrees Celcius! Conversely, the Kamchatka peninsula is the land of fire and ice. The volcanic peninsula is so otherworldly that the Soviets used it as a testing ground for their spacecraft!

Food and drink in Russia

When it comes to food in Russia, there is a variety of cuisine available. In the larger cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, there is more choice of cafes and restaurants. Japanese is a popular cuisine in these big cities, and western food is readily available.

However, as you head to the more rural areas of Russia, you will find there are fewer options and it’s harder to find menus in English.

There are plenty of tasty national dishes in Russia including pelmeni, borshch, pirogi and tvorog.

Vodka is the national drink of Russia and is usually knocked back in one gulp and then chased with a salted cucumber or a bite of black bread. However, vodka in Russia is not for the faint-hearted with such a high alcohol concentration, so be wary if you aren’t a big drinker!

Best time to visit Russia

Siberia
Siberia

The best time to visit Russia largely depends on what district you visit, and the purpose of your trip.

However, generally, the most popular time to visit the country is between June-August which is Russia’s summertime.

Although the weather is warm, the popular cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg get incredibly crowded during this time of year.

If you don’t mind the weather being a bit cooler, you can choose to visit Russia in May or September. The crowds will be a lot thinner, and accommodation prices will often be cheaper.

Many people like to visit in the wintertime to see a snowy Russia. It’s important to note that October and November are the wettest months of the year, so December would be a better choice if you don’t mind sub-zero temperatures!

16 money-saving travel tips for backpacking Russia

  • Stay in a hostel dorm or a cheap economy room (There are plenty out there).
  • Exchange currency beforehand rather than pay by card.
  • You can often volunteer in exchange for food and accommodation by using sites like the Help Exchange.
  • Getting a tourist pass in Moscow and St. Petersburg will save you money when it comes to entering attractions.
  • Some popular attractions have ‘free admission days’.
  • Use overnight trains to save a night’s accommodation. Book the tickets about a month in advance for an even cheaper deal.
  • Always use the metro in big cities if possible!
  • A troika travel card in Moscow costs around ₽50 ($0.66) and can be topped up at any time. With this card, any public transport journey in Moscow will cost ₽42 ($0.56).
  • Gastro food courts are perfect if you want cheap restaurant-quality food.
  • Stick to delicious Russian dishes as western food is a lot more expensive.
  • Research transport options before heading to another destination, as long-distance buses are often even cheaper than the train.
  • The government sometimes organise free entertainment such as concerts or screenings of matches.
  • Eat at a street vendor or small local cafe to cut your costs.
  • Stock up on supplies at the local supermarkets.
  • Buy a cheap travel Sim Card to save on network charges.
  • Don’t use taxis as they are expensive.

Is Russia Safe to Visit?

Police in Russia
Police in Russia

Although Russia has a very sketchy reputation, today generally speaking it’s as safe as many other countries in Europe.

Police and security cameras are located throughout popular cities, and the city of Moscow even has its own tourist police force.

However, no country is ever 100% safe and there are things to be cautious of whilst backpacking Russia.

Pickpocketing is incredibly common, especially in popular tourist spots like St. Petersburg and Moscow.

It’s also important to note that if you’re a member of the LGBT community, you should refrain from public displays of affection.

In Russia discussion of homosexuality issues or gay rights in the presence of minors is punishable by law, so there is a need to be careful.

Tourists are also strongly advised against travelling to the North Caucasus, as it’s considered to be the most dangerous region in Russia. With terrorist activities, higher crime rates and corruption, this is an area of Russia to avoid.

With the above in mind, it pays to have good cover while backpacking through Russia. Our partners at World Nomads are experts at providing cover for backpackers. You can get a free, no-obligation quote here.

Corruption

On my second visit to Russia, I experienced police corruption first-hand. I was with friends drinking a beer in a public park and the police came and said that it was illegal and we must go with them (we had seen many other people doing the same, so it seemed suspicious from the outset).

It soon became clear that the police were after a bribe, and we each paid 2,000 ($25) to avoid being taken to jail. We were made to get in the police car and pass the money under the seat so no one could see what was going on.

I will add that this was over 10 years ago so perhaps things have improved, but be wary of the police and avoid interactions with them where possible.

If you will just be visiting the cities and urban areas in Russia vaccines aren’t too important. If you will be spending time in the Russian wilderness, then it is advisable to have the following vaccines (all of which I had before camping in Siberia):

  • Hepatitis (A, B and C combined)
  • Rabies
  • Tick-borne encephalitis
  • Typhoid

Russian wildlife

Russian Bear
Russian Bear (Medved)

Russia is home to a wide variety of wildlife, and what you could encounter will differ depending on the area you visit.

Generally, a lot of the time animals are more afraid of us, than we are of them but it’s still important to know what dangerous species are around.

Bears – Bears will only attack people in self-defence or if they feel threatened (e.g wounded bears, mothers with cubs or bears who have just come out of hibernation).

Boars – Boars use their tusks as weapons, and will often attack anything that they deem a threat due to poor eyesight.

Dogs – Stray dogs are found all across Russia and can attack if they are defending their territory.

Elk – Elks are incredibly fearful animals, and will attack if they think someone poses a threat. Due to its size, an Elks kick can be fatal.

Snakes – There are a variety of venomous snakes located within Russia and these include the Common European adder, the blunt-nosed viper, the European cat snake and the Japanese striped snake. However, it’s the Northern viper that’s the most deadly.

Spiders – The Karakurt spider is one of the most dangerous spiders in the world, and if bitten you should seek medical attention immediately.

Ticks – Ticks in Russia can carry encephalitis and Lyme disease, which, unfortunately, can lead to swelling of the brain, seizures and the inability to move. If you will be spending any time in the taiga, it is recommended to get the tick-borne encephalitis vaccine.

Wolves – Wolf attacks on people are rare, but it’s often down to two reasons. Either their habitat has disappeared meaning they are moving into neighbourhoods, or their food source is running low during early spring.

Books about Travel in Russia

I have also written my own book about backpacking across Russia from Moscow to Irkutsk. You can buy it on Kindle here.

Conclusion

Russia is an incredible country, with a wide variety of landscapes and architecture. Although it’s often overlooked as a travel destination, it should be on the bucket list of every traveller.

With a range of transport options, cheap accommodation and a variety of different cuisine it’s the perfect destination if you’re a budget traveller.

Backpacking Russia is the best way to see the country, and trust me you won’t be disappointed!

If you have any questions about travelling on a budget in Russia, feel free to leave a comment below or get in touch via the contact form!

Check out my other backpacking guides

Backpacking China

Backpacking Hong Kong

Backpacking Kazakhstan

Backpacking the Silk Road

Backpacking the Baltics

Backpacking the Balkans


Dunhuang, Gobi Desert, China

About the author:

Steve Rohan is a writer from Essex, England. He has traveled to over 60 countries, lived in Armenia, China and Hong Kong, and is now living the digital nomad life on the road.

Steve prefers “slow travel” and has covered much of the world by train, bus and boat. He has been interviewed multiple times by the BBC and recently featured in the documentary Scariest Places in the World. See the About page for more info.

Where I am now: Yerevan, Armenia 🇦🇲

2 thoughts on “Backpacking Russia (Ultimate Budget Travel Guide for 2024)

  1. Julian Penketh says:

    And now? how would it be to travel in Russia? The place is vast. Should be much the same as before Putin’s ridiculous invasion. Always wanted to take the trans-sib. Don’t want to wait ten more years (been waiting 30 as it is!). Another idea i had was to do one of the silk routes then tag on the trans mongolian train to at least get that part of the journey to Asia if I cannot travel on the Trans-sib part.

    • Steve Rohan says:

      Hi Julian,

      Aside from more stringent checks at customs (especially if you have evidence of visits to Ukraine), travelling across the vast expance of Russia will indeed be much the save as it ever was (an adventure, and not always easy). I would highly recommend doing the trans-sib if you have the chance. I’d also recommend taking one of the slower, local trains rather than the tourist services like the Rossiya if you want an authenitc experience (and a cheaper ticket). The Silk Road is also an incredible experience, but there isn’t just one train and a lot of changes (plus parts will need to be done by bus). Best wishes, Steve

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