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Moscow, home to fairytale pepper-pot churches, Red Square, Lenin’s tomb and some serious nightlife is an obvious pull. So too is St Petersburg; its Heritage Museum is an embarrassment of riches that will have you wandering open-mouthed from one masterpiece to another.

Away from the big cities is the real Russia. Relax in the spa town of Pyatigorsk in the Caucasus Mountains, go rafting or Skiing in Siberia or play some real-life ‘Risk’ in Kamchatka: it’s famous for extreme sports.

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From the icy volcanoes of Kamchatka to tightrope walkers in the mountains of Dagestan, telly traveller Simon Reeve shares his hidden highlights of Russia
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Wanderlust recommends

Ride the Trans-Siberia Railway

Go snowmobiling in north-west

Herd reindeer in Chukotka, Siberia

Get to know your vodka

While away a weekend in the Hermitage

There are few better places in the world to see the ballet: you can book online for Moscow’s Bolshoi and St Petersburg’s Mariinsky theatres

Travel on the Moscow metro – a work of art all in itself

Wanderlust tips

If you’re buying caviar to take home, look for the label CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), an international trade-control to reduce sturgeon poaching.

Russians have notoriously sharp elbows in queues or at bus or train stations; sharpen your own or let it slide.

Many smaller towns have their own airport but be aware that facilities are often extremely limited.

When to go to Russia

June and September are popular times to visit Russia.

July and August are the hottest months but can be rainy.

Avoid late October and March/April when the snow can be slushy rather than picturesque.

Russian winters are bone-chillingly cold but quite beautiful.

International airports

Sheremetyevo-2 (28km from Moscow), Domodedovo (22km from Moscow), Pulkovo 2 (17km from St Petersburg). Many other cities also have international flights.

Getting around in Russia

Russia is massive but is blessed with an excellent train and internal flight network. River cruises or scheduled river passenger boats are also good options for getting around. Long distance buses serve areas not covered by the trains. Driving can be hairy.

Russia accommodation

Russia has everything from 5 star palaces, ghastly Soviet-era concrete mega-hotels to friendly homestays and cheap crashpads.

Organised campsites are rare but wild camping is usually allowed. For something different, try staying in a turbaza – a basic Russian style holiday camp with outdoor activities thrown in.

Russia food & drink

Soups, salads, nibbles, nutty breads, calorific main courses and sugary desserts are all on offer in Russia – slimming it’s not. Look for the colourful and warming borsch (beetroot soup), exquisite caviar, zharkoye (hotpot) and pelmeni (Russian-style filled dumplings). Vegetarians should note that borsch is often made with beef stock.

Drinking is a national pastime in Russia. Look for different types of vodka like starka (apple and pear leaves) or pertsovka (pepper).

Health & safety in Russia

See your GP about vaccinations before you travel: tickborne encephalitis is a problem in rural Russia during the summer.

Pick-pocketing is a big problem in cities and bus stations and watch for groups of children who have been known to surround foreigners and take what they can get. Check with the FCO before travelling for the latest advice about danger zones.