Visas: UK citizens – along with citizens from most other countries – will need a tourist visa for entry, which you must obtain before you travel. Applications must be made online through The Russian National Tourist Office’s website – www.visitrussia.org.uk. The fee depends on whether you want the Tourist Office to handle the application from start to finish, or whether you’d like to make contact with the Russian Consulate yourself once your application process has begun. Tourist visas (single entry; valid for up to 30 days) require a passport valid for a minimum of six months, and costs around £115.
Russian National Tourist Office: 70 Piccadilly, London W1J 8HP (0207 495 7570; www.visitrussia.org.uk); 16 Forth Street, Edinburgh EH1 3LH (0 131 550 3702)
Public holidays: New Year’s Day (1 Jan); Russian Orthodox Christmas Day (7 Jan); the celebration of the anniversary of the founding of the Red Army (23 Feb); International Women’s Day (8 March); International Labour Day (1 & 2 May); Victory Day-1945 (9 May); Russian Independence Day (12 June); Great October Socialist Revolution Anniversary (7 Nov). Good buys: Caviar and modern art. Local dishes: Russian food tends to be rich, heavy on meat, potatoes, and pickled vegetables, and light on fresh vegetables, dairy products and fresh fruit. A typical starter is zakuski (meaning hors d’oeuvres) which are often the most interesting items on the menu. Good reading:Colin Thubron’s Among the Russians, is a precise but eloquent account of his personal experience of travel in Soviet times. Letters from Russia by the Marquis de Custine is a French aristocrat’s account of visiting St Petersburg. Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here? has some fine pieces on Russia.