Russia’s huge expanse is well connected by a network of motorways and secondary roads. However, roads outside of Moscow and Saint Petersburg can be poorly maintained so care should be taken to avoid potholes and fissures in the road surface. Russian drivers are famous for their chaotic and aggressive driving style, so only confident expat drivers should consider taking to the road. Federal motorways connect all major cities and towns and can be identified by the ‘M’ prefix, although some more remote places are better reached by rail or aeroplane.
Motorways in and around Moscow and Saint Petersburg are heavily congested, with lengthy traffic jams in rush hour. Using the country’s efficient public transport is the preferred choice for those in a hurry. Speed limits are 100km/h (60mph) on motorways, 90km/h (50mph) on secondary roads and 60km/h (40mph) in built up areas. Foreigners staying in Russia for up to six months are permitted to drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP). All foreign nationals intending to stay longer must apply for a Russian driving licence. More information can be found here.
Taxis are widely available in Russia although many are unlicensed. The government has taken steps to regulate drivers, however the lack of official taxis continues to be a problem, with unsafe vehicles transporting passengers at inflated prices (particularly foreigners). Official taxis cannot be stopped in the street so the best way to avoid being ripped off by unscrupulous drivers is to pre-book your taxi from a reputable company such as Welcome Taxi and agree on a price before starting your journey.
Russia’s extensive bus services are run by a mix of private and public companies. Buses are a cheap way to get around Russia’s major cities. Information about timetables and routes tends to be scant so if in doubt, you can ask about bus schedules at the local tourist information office or in train stations. Tickets can be bought on board (with cash only) or from the many kiosks marked with the ‘proezdnyve bilety’ (public transport tickets) sign located outside metro and train stations. Bus tickets are also valid for metro and tram networks.
Coach travel is a cheap and basic way to see the sights in Russia. However, due to Russia’s size, reaching your destination by coach may take many days. There are a number of coach tour operators which connect some European countries to Russia, such as Eurolines, who operate in the west of the country and Leger.
The Russian rail network is the second longest and most extensive in the world (after China), with trains serving almost every town and city. Russia’s vast rail infrastructure is divided into 17 regional railways running fast intercity trains and local services which although slower, are punctual to the second. The state-owned Russian Railways (RZD) is the largest rail company and runs services across vast distances, connecting Russia with the rest of Europe. Discounted tickets can be bought in advance at the RZD website.
For the more adventurous, the Trans-Siberian Railway – the longest single railway in the world - offers an epic six-day journey connecting Moscow to the Russian Far East, Mongolia and China.
Trams and Light Rail
Metro is the most popular form of urban transport in Russia and there are extensive underground systems in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kazan, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara and Yekaterinburg. Tickets can be bought from kiosks or manned booths situated inside and outside stations. Most large cities are covered by efficient tram and trolleybus networks which offer a low cost way to get around.
Due to Russia’s size, air travel is the quickest way to travel between cities. There are 270 airports in Russia, with Moscow’s Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo International Airports being the largest and busiest. Aeroflot is the country’s largest airline and there are over 100 other international and domestic airlines to choose from, such as Rossiya, offering cheap internal flights between all major cities. The average price of a one-way plane ticket between Moscow and Saint Petersburg is 5,200 RUB (£46) with a journey time of around 1.5 hours.
Other ways to get around
Russia is connected by ferry to Finland, Sweden, Korea, and Japan and tickets can be booked through AFerry. Although Russia is a vast country, cycling is becoming an ever more popular way to beat the horrendous traffic in cities. Moscow’s Department of Transport has recently pledged to install 700km of bike lanes across the city, although those choosing to cycle in Russia should be acutely aware of the country’s rather erratic drivers.