It's the largest nation in the world, yet one still full of mystery for many Kiwi travellers. Russia has a population of more than 144 million, a land mass of more than 17 million sq km and incredible attractions, such as Moscow's Red Square and St Petersburg's Hermitage Museum. Yet we know it these days mostly for headlines involving Presidents Trump and Putin.
So should we visit? The Hits Drive Show host Stacey Morrison thinks so. For the latest episode of travel podcast Trip Notes, Stacey picked Russia as our Destination of the Week. It's a place she visited with her husband, Scotty Morrison, when he was on tour with Moana and the Tribe and she says "it was amazing".
"It was quite austere but goregous and resilient," Stacey says. "I really got a sense of the resilience of Russian people, and how beautiful the architecture is. And how they feel about their country and their history... they're very invested in how they got to be what they are."
And if you're inspired to visit Russia for yourself, here are some things you should know before you go.
Know when to go
Russia can be cold. Really, really cold. But if visiting in winter, it's the wet you should be ready for. Snow falls are beautiful, but once the snow melts, you'll be left with soggy shoes and freezing toes unless you're properly prepared. The spring and summer months of May to September are the best time to visit.
Know where to go
While much of Russia is regarded as relatively safe, with mostly crimes like pickpocketing to look out for, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade advises caution around some areas. Current travel advice is that Kiwis should not travel to Chechnya, within 10km of the Ukranian border, and a few other areas; and increased caution should be exercised elsewhere due to the threat of terrorism and crime. For the latest advice, and to register your travel plans, go to safetravel.govt.nz/russian-federation.
Get a visa
Apply for a visa well in advance of travel, but know that tourist visas are only issued to those who have fully booked and confirmed travel arrangements. You'll also need a Russia Letter of Invitation, which can be obtained through a Russian tour operator. To make life easier, talk to a travel agent who can help advise you on your visa application.
Register on arrival
The process isn't over once you've secured your visa — you also need to make sure you register your visa within seven days of arrival. Hotels will take care of this for you but if you're in a private guest house or an Airbnb, your Russian host must apply at the local police precinct or post office.
Respect local customs
As with any destination, it's important to be aware of local customs and sensitivities, and respect them wherever possible. For example, it's fine for tourists to visit churches but make sure you're dressed modestly and don't disturb anyone there to pray. You should also be wary of taking photos of government buildings and military structures — this can easily get you fined, or arrested.
Credit cards are becoming more widely used in places like Moscow and St Petersburg but outside of the big cities you'll definitely need cash.
Russians take pride in their appearance when going out to restaurants, night clubs, the theatre, etc. While we Kiwis like to keep it casual, ditch the puffer jacket and jeans for the night and take the opportunity to bust out your best look.
A note for LGBTQI travellers ...
While homosexuality is not illegal in Russia, legislation passed in 2013 made it a criminal offense to promote non-traditional sexual relationships to minors. This means public displays of affection between same sex couples is strictly forbidden for both locals and foreign visitors.
Karen Zhao, Intrepid Travel's Russia product manager says "When you are travelling in Russia as an LGBTQI person, it's best to be discreetly dressed and not show any public affection with another person of the same sex. Be aware of the possible discrimination this may cause.
"In big cities like Moscow and St Petersburg, there are plenty of international chains and big hotels that will accommodate LGBTQI couples in double-bed rooms if you request first, but in smaller cities and areas, caution is advised and you may only be accommodated in twin-share rooms.
"Refrain from making any political statements or joining in any local public LGBTQI activities. Speak to the local LGBTQI community first if you have other concerns or questions. Otherwise, Russia is a very friendly country to visit, with fascinating culture and stunning landscapes."
Subscribe, and each new episode will automatically download every fortnight — ready for you to listen on your way to work, while you dream about your next holiday. You can also go to nzherald.co.nz/tripnotes to watch video from the podcast.
For more travel inspiration, go to intrepidtravel.com