Despite only being a few hours’ flight from the UK, Russia doesn’t always feel that easy to reach.
In fact, the country sometimes seems doomed to linger on bucket lists without ever being seriously considered. But if you delay wondering when is the best time to visit Russia, you could be missing out – in a lot of ways, now is the perfect time to visit Russia. And here’s why:
1. Your money will go further
While it’s a trying time for the national economy, the Rouble’s recent crash makes Russia one of the best value destinations in Europe. In fact, 2015 saw Moscow go from being one of the top 10 most expensive cities in the world to just scraping into the top 50. I noticed a huge difference in the country during my last visit and would definitely no longer rank Moscow with the likes of these budget-busting cities.
Though it might seem crass to tout this economic crisis as a selling point, I really do think tourism could help Russia get back on its feet and bring some new revenue to the country.
2. Fewer tourists
One of the first things I noticed on my return to Russia this year was the drop in Western tourists. While it could simply be down to the time of year (this was my first trip to Russia in July), I would be surprised if political tensions weren’t keeping some tourists away – particularly Americans. The absence of British or American (and even German) voices was particularly noticeable in Saint Petersburg.
Of course, this brings huge advantages for those who do make it to Russia: not only can you enjoy a more authentic experience away from the masses, but queues for cultural institutions like the Kremlin, The Hermitage or The Russian Museum are far more bearable.
3. Russia polishes up well
The simple fact is: Russia is looking good these days. Countless international sporting events including the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the 2015 World Aquatic Championship in Kazan and the upcoming FIFA World Cup in 2018 have thrust the country into the spotlight and brought about much-needed investments in city planning and up-keep.
Some of my favourite areas in Moscow have been given an overdue facelift and the city is looking better than ever. Of course, the good news is that this investment looks set to continue up to 2018.
4. Improved infrastructure
Once upon a time, St. Petersburg’s development lagged behind that of capital Moscow, but today investment is pouring into the city’s infrastructure – the metro is developing at its quickest rate in years, with several new stops and a whole new line slated to open in the next few years. Meanwhile, the city’s chief airport Pulkovo was given a complete overhaul in 2013 when an entirely new, ultra-modern terminal was built.
5. More ready for tourists
Hosting huge international sporting events means welcoming huge numbers of international visitors – something that seems to have had a positive impact on Russia. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are undoubtedly more tourist-friendly than they were on my last visit – both cities now have shiny new Boris bike-style hire schemes and the Moscow Metro even boasts English signage! (Though it must be said this is limited and found mostly hidden underfoot…)
6. Burgeoning hipster hangouts
Both Moscow and Saint Petersburg also seem to be embracing the painfully-cool hipster trend at long last. Moscow is now home to the coolest park I know, Gorky Park, which features a dance area, rowing lake, beach volleyball pitch, a bowls club, cafes and restaurants, a contemporary art gallery, a parkour space, halfpipes and much more, while Saint Petersburg’s ul. Gorokhovaya has become a bohemian haven littered with bars and restaurants.
La Boule in Gorky Park, Moscow
7. Why wait?
Countless people have told me they’d love to go to Russia ‘one day’ – but why wait? There are plenty of reasons to visit Russia – the country is beautiful, enchanting and will surprise you at every turn.
Stop waiting – just go.