Why You Should Look Past the Headlines and Consider a Winter Trip to Russia
Photo by Gabe Zaldivar
Russia is a vast place. It is a shame that many people have an image of the country that is based solely on the poor diplomatic skills of its leadership. If it wasn't for the government's aggressive rhetoric and anti-EU stance, more travelers might consider visiting Russia. Those that do peer behind the headlines will see a country that values culture and knows how to get the most out of every season, even winter.
There are attractions in Moscow and Saint Petersburg that can’t be experienced at any other time of year. If you can handle the chilly weather, this is actually a great season to visit Russia, especially this year. Because of the weak Ruble, Russia’s cities have become good alternatives to the more expensive European destinations to the south and west.
A look behind the headlines at the real Russia
Leafy Saint Petersburg is known for its autumn scenery, but the city’s neoclassical architecture is quite attractive with the addition of snow as well. The best hotels in Saint Pete's offer their lowest rates of the year in December and January. You should be able to book a room without a problem during the holidays in both Saint Petersburg and Moscow.
Things that might make it worth packing a parka and booking a flight to Moscow Sheremetyevo: the outdoor Gallery of Russian Ice Sculptures, ice skating rinks in Gorky Park and right in the middle of Red Square, and outdoor New Year’s Eve activities that equal Times Square's in terms of energy if not attendance. Moscow's high-end shops, glitzy nightclubs and sleek restaurants are all climate controlled, so you won’t be shivering all the time. All these sights and attractions are served up with Russia's charming down-to-earth stylishness.
A soft landing in Saint Petersburg
An Associated Press article recently described Saint Petersburg as an option for first-time visitors who are looking for a “soft landing” in Russia. This is because of the classical architecture, the holiday lighting displays and touristy options like riding a troika (horse-drawn sleigh) through one of the city parks. Saint Petersburg also has some great art galleries and nightclubs. There are plenty of classics too: you could catch a ballet at the Mariinsky Theater or hear the Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, which is the oldest symphony orchestra in Russia.
An international trip that's as cheap as a domestic vacation
Then there are the practical aspects of choosing to vacation in Russia. Earlier this year, round-trip flights from New York to Saint Petersburg were in the $600 range. This winter, airfares are in a similar price sphere. (You may be able to get something even lower with a little leg work).
So, for the same price as a domestic flight, you could head across the Atlantic and spend a few days or a week in one of the world’s most storied cities (both Moscow and Saint Petersburg would qualify for that description). Things won’t get any more expensive once you arrive. The Ruble has struggled this year, faring even worse than the Euro. People who are traveling from the U.S. or Great Britain will be able to make their money go quite far in Russia.
Russia could be worth a try
In short, whether you choose Moscow or Saint Petersburg, you will find plenty of classic winter experiences, lots of culture and a side of Russia that isn't covered by the international media. People are often surprised to find that the same things that draw them to other winter destinations — the skating, lights, ice sculptures, cozy indoor spaces, snowy scenery — can all be found in Russia's cities as well. Prices are so low this year and the exchange rate so favorable that a trip here could actually be the same price, overall, as a domestic vacation in the U.S.
More by Josh Lew
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