- Value Of The Ruble
- Ways To Spend When In Russia
- Spending in Russia: An Overview
- Russian Accommodation, the Most Expensive Part of Your Budget
- Eating During Your Time in Russia
- How Much Should You Budget for Leisure Activities in Russia?
- A Sample Budget for Travelling Around Russia
- Tips On How To Reduce Expenditure Costs In Russia
“Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer.” - Unknown
The Russian Federation is far more popular with tourists than it was 20 years ago just after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which marked the end of the USSR as a country. You can now visit pretty much all of Russia’s nature and cities. According to the Travel & Tourism Report 2017, tourism in Russia added 860 billion rubles to the country’s GDP, a figure that had been growing since 2000.
Tourism brings in money because tourists are spending.
So have you got your money ready to spend in Russia? Have you considered how you will manage your spending? Have you already set a budget?
In this article, we're going to look at budgeting for a trip to Russia, how much accommodation will cost you, the cost of food, and planning activities so that you can be prepared in advance for your expenditure.
Value Of The Ruble
The Ruble, the oldest decimal currency and the second oldest national currency after the Pound sterling, is the currency used in Russia. The denomination is divided into 100 kopeks.
Wikipedia reports that: "The financial crisis in Russia in 2014–2016 was the result of the collapse of the Russian ruble beginning in the second half of 2014. A decline in confidence in the Russian economy caused investors to sell off their Russian assets, which led to a decline in the value of the Russian ruble and sparked fears of a Russian financial crisis." Yet, according to Trading Economics, "The USDRUB increased 0.4347 or 0.68% to 64.7197 on Thursday May 23 from 64.2850 in the previous trading session. Historically, the Russian Ruble reached an all time high of 82.45 in January of 2016 and a record low of 0.98 in August of 1993."
It's good to know what to expect from the Ruble before entering Russia or getting your currency exchanged. We've already mentioned that 1 Ruble equals 100 kopeks, but in terms of the notes and coins you will be handling when abroad, there is:
- 10 (the odd few 10 Ruble notes are still in circulation, but rarely seen in Moscow or St. Petersburg)
But what you really want to know is how many Rubles you get for your money right? To put it into perspective for you, XE Currency Converter indicates that, on 23rd May 2019, 1 Great British Pound (GBP) = 82.09 Russian Rubles. This means that if you take £500 of spending money with you then you will be walking around with 41,051.75 Rubles on your person! It all sounds pretty good until you come to the realisation that a hamburger at a fast food store is costing you five hundred Rubles...
If you thought you were good at spending then in Russia you will feel like you are really good!
Ways To Spend When In Russia
Nowadays, there are so many different ways to spend when you're abroad, so tourists don't have to rely on exchanging currency and then guarding their wallets for the duration of their trip. If you are going away for two or more weeks, what are you supposed to do with all of your spending money? Are you expected to trust all of the hotel staff and leave notes in your room or do you take the cash out with you and risk being pick-pocketed? Of course, there is the option to use a safe at some hotels or you can now use e-money which makes everything a whole safer and much more convenient too. Let's explore the options.
If you take foreign currency with you, it may be straightforward but what happens at the end of the trip when you discover that you either didn't take enough cash, meaning that you have to withdraw cash or pay to spend on your credit card, or that you took too much and will probably lose out when you try to reconvert it back. Either that or you'll spend more than you really need to be by trying to get rid of all your loose change!
Another thing to consider when getting currency converted is to check the best deals around as, believe it or not, you will do much better from some places than others.
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If you take your credit or debit card abroad, you can spend as much or as little as you want but watch out for foreign usage charges, withdrawal fees and, of course, cards getting blocked by your bank (even if you've informed them of your travel plans a lot of the time!).
A prepaid card is a somewhat new tool but it's very handy as you can load cash onto it and spend it in shops or withdraw from an ATM with no charges applicable and, what's more, they only let you spend what's on the card. This is only useful though if you have physical funds to load on in advance, rather than using credit to pay off at a later date.
Spending in Russia: An Overview
Prices of general living have risen rapidly in Russia in recent years, and St. Petersburg is now on par with, if not slightly more expensive than, most major European cities when it comes to grocery shopping, eating out, nightlife, entertainment, and sightseeing.
Saying that, the cost of entering museums and attending cultural events is generally lower than elsewhere in Europe, but some popular venues still operate a dual price system which means that foreigners pay more than a Russian citizen would. Unfortunately, this cannot be avoided at certain landmarks, like the Mariinsky Theatre.
With the bad, comes a few good surprises, however. Public transport in big cities like St Petersburg is on the whole quite cheap, and even taxis are quite reasonable.
If you plan to drink most nights when in Russia, you'll be pleased to hear that Vodka is inexpensive when compared to other spirits and, if you smoke, then you may notice that cigarettes are more affordable than at home.
In terms of travel and accommodation, so long as you plan your trip well then you get away with spending very little for the duration of your trip! See our advice and tips below on booking these all important aspects of your holiday.
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Russian Accommodation, the Most Expensive Part of Your Budget
While you can budget for your trip away quite simply, if you want to avoid any unpleasant surprises, you should budget for what we’ll call “fixed costs” before you travel to Russia. When we say “fixed costs”, we’re referring to something you’ll have to pay for regardless of what you’re doing, and accommodation is part of this. When considering your accommodation in Russia, you should consider:
- The type of accommodation
- The location of the accommodation
- The services provided
- The comfort
These criteria can easily double the price of accommodation. Even if you choose between full or half board. The question you need to ask yourself is “Am I going to Russia for a comfortable experience or am I on a strict budget?”
If you’re going to Russia to relax, you might want a hotel with a spa, like the Azimut Hotel Olympic Moscow or the Hotel Kosmos, for example. Generally speaking, hotels are about half as expensive as they are in the UK and will cost even less if you’re in cities other than Moscow such as Saint Petersburg or Kazan.
There are plenty of great hotels where you’ll get far more for your money than you would here in the UK.
To save money, you can even look at getting an Airbnb or a dacha (a Russian country house). If you’re travelling in a group, this is a great way to split the cost of your accommodation. A lot of Russian flats and houses include multiple rooms so you won’t have any trouble finding something for 4, 5, or 6 people. Make sure that you check whether or not fees are included when you make your reservations.
If you’re on a really strict budget, you can always check out youth hostels. With some places costing just a couple of quid for the night, you’ll be hard-pressed to find cheaper places to stay. There are 200 in Moscow and dozens in other cities around Russia.
Be careful about certain hostels that are away from the centre of cities as these are sometimes unregulated illegal establishments. You should also be wary of prices displayed in pounds as they’ll fluctuate according to the exchange rate.
Eating During Your Time in Russia
You can eat really well in Russia for very little. However, you’re going to have to step outside your comfort zone and go through restaurant menus in Russian.
Well, you could always spend your time in Russia eating fast food like McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts. It’d be a shame to be in a country and eat stuff that you can get anywhere in the world.
It’s probably a better idea to go to proper restaurants than to eat street food. There’s no service charge like you get in Italy and you’re free to leave a tip or not, unlike in the United States where it’s pretty much obligatory.
That said, there are Russian chains as well if you want to eat on a budget:
- Teremok, a fast food place that does traditional Russian dishes.
- Lepim y Varim, specialists in pelmenis.
- Pelmenya, another place that does pelmenis.
- Varenychna N°1, for reasonably-priced specialities.
There are tonnes of different Russian specialities, but you should definitely try the following:
- Borscht, a type of soup.
- Beef stroganoff, a classic.
- Pelmini and vareniki, types of dumplings.
- Shashlik, a type of meat skewers.
- Pierogi, another type of dumpling.
- Sirniki, desserts that are somewhere between pancakes and doughnuts.
There are pelmenis for all tastes.
So how much does this cost?
For around £1.50 you can get a pierogi and a pelmeni and a beer for around £4. You don’t need a lot of to get food in Russia. On the other hand, you’ll end up paying up to three or four times the cost if you end up going to a chic restaurant.
You’ll be looking at around £20 per person if you want to eat in a decent restaurant. Things can go up to £30 per head if you go somewhere really nice.
How Much Should You Budget for Leisure Activities in Russia?
There are plenty of things to do in Russia. It is the biggest country in the world, after all! There are thousands of activities in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and hundreds in Kazan according to TripAdvisor.
Of course, not everything you can do in Russia is free. This depends on what you’ll do. There’s no limit to what you can do in Russia. Other than your budget, that is...
Think about getting tourist cards such as the Moscow Pass: This will cost you around £50 for 40 museums, 3 excursions, for 3 days.
Choose 2 or 3 activities that you will definitely do like the State Hermitage Museum or the Kremlin, for example.
Set a spending limit for other activities like visiting an Orthodox Russian monastery, a trip across a tundra in a 4x4, or a boat trip.
If you’re travelling around Russia, you should budget for every activity you want to do. The problem is that there’s so much you can do. For example, you could go to Saint Petersburg, get on a boat to Finland, and end up spending nearly £100.
You can also get a dog sledge for around £50 or a snowmobile for £60. A guided trip to the State Hermitage Museum will cost around £40 (even though it’s definitely worth it). Other than the cost of accessing the beaches at the Black Sea, walking around won’t cost you anything.
If you want to do special activities in Russia, you’re going to have to get your wallet ready. Whether you’re travelling on your own or with your family, you’re also going to need to take differing tastes into account. Children mightn’t appreciate national parks, for example.
Let’s not forget the souvenirs and knick-knacks you can buy in Russia. There are figurines, Russian army insignia, etc. You could easily spend between £50 and £75 per person.
Find out more about the best things to see in Russia.
A Sample Budget for Travelling Around Russia
We’ve mentioned accommodation, food, and leisure, the main expenses you’ll have whenever you travel anywhere. However, there are also other expenses you need to consider:
- Administrative costs
- Transport costs
Transport can cost you around £1 per trip or £20 for a travel card for a week in Moscow, for example. You might want insurance that covers repatriation in the event of death, etc. Shop around for different insurance policies.
This can quickly add up to £300 to your costs in addition to accommodation, food, and leisure. There are also certain obligatory costs:
- Russian visas for tourists
- Flights to and from Russia
Again, this can cost around £300.
When you complete your visa application, you'll need to have already booked your accommodation before contacting the Russian embassy or consulate. If you're going on a tour, such as the Trans-Siberian Railway or a cruise, you'll need confirmation from the tour operator.
Generally speaking, you won’t need to go to a travel agency to get your trip to Russia organised. You can save around a quarter of the price doing it yourself.
There are different visas so make sure you get the right one, especially if you plan on stopping in neighbouring countries like China, Mongolia, Ukraine, or Belarus, before your departure. Make sure you check when your passport is valid until. The same is true if you’re going to the Caucasus (Georgia, Armenia) or Baltic States (Lithuania, Estonia, Lativa) when you’re getting your visa for Russia.
Tips On How To Reduce Expenditure Costs In Russia
Now that you know how much roughly everything costs when in Russia, wouldn't you now like to know how you could slash these prices even more? Below are a few tips on how to save a bit of pocket money, especially when visiting some of the larger cities.
- File your visa yourself
The process isn't all that complicated so to save on agency fees (which can often double the price), submit your own visa application at a cost of around £120.
- Book your plane tickets in advance
We are well aware that nobody leaves it until the last minute to book plane tickets unless they know they can get a good deal, but there are many price variations according to how far ahead you book. When travelling as far as Russia you probably won't want to leave it until a week before you are due to travel, so take our advice and book your flights around 3 months in advance. This is close enough to give you time to plan the rest of your trip and also far away enough to get you the best possible prices on air fees. If you still want to save more, you have the option of making a flight with stops.
- Book your hotel through Russian websites
The Russians have hotel comparison sites just like us, with one of the best being the Russian Ostrovok reservation platform which will no doubt save you more money than if you were browsing the UK version of Booking.com.
Also, to save even further, you might find Airbnb properties going cheaper, especially if you are a large group of friends or a big family travelling together.
- Use the metro wherever possible
The metro is the cheapest way to get around the city (except by foot, of course) and they have a great system whereby you buy a voucher with 20 trips loaded on it (which you can share with your friends). Taxis aren't too expensive as we've discovered but if you use them regularly for short trips then you will rack up money.
- Buy a tourist card to cut down the costs of visiting tourist attractions
As we've mentioned, some sites charge tourists way above the price that is asked of local citizens, so to avoid paying loads visiting some of the most popular attractions then why not buy a tourist card (in Moscow this is called the Moscow Citypass and in St Petersburg it is the Petersburg Card, for example) which could, but may not always, make your day trips a little cheaper. If you are a student with a valid student card, you may find that this gets you a few reductions too.
- Purchase a Russian SIM card
If you intend to travel around Russia for a while, then your best bet to keep call costs down is to buy a Russian pay as you go SIM card. There is also a prepaid SIM available which, for £5, gives you a certain number of free minutes and Internet usage for a fraction of what you would pay if using your English phone.
So have you got your budget ready for Russia?
Whether you're visiting the Golden Ring, Siberia, Yekaterinburg, Vladivostok, St Petersburg, Irkutsk, or Moscow, the world's largest country has no shortage of things to do and see!