Written by Yasmin Boaitey

Not too long ago I traveled to Russia solo! Russia is a country that I have always wanted to visit due to the interesting Soviet history. My maternal grand uncle from Ghana also spent several years of his life studying in Moscow and lived there for many years after. However, I had been put off by the ongoing reports of violent racism towards people of color. Documentaries Like Reggie Yates ‘Extreme Russia’ have emphasized the idea of Russia being unsafe for any Westerner to visit, especially people of color. When I initially told friends and family of my plans to visit Russia, they warned me against going and prayed for my safety!

I found that my experience in Russia was great! I didn’t encounter any racism and never felt like my safety was at risk. I visited both St. Petersburg and Moscow, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However, I noticed that people stared A LOT in St. Petersburg and I saw virtually no people of color!

In summary, I found my time in Russia extremely interesting and would recommend any person of colour to visit. Russia is a country that has survived a tumultuous history but remains resilient and proud of its unique identity and history!

Pre-trip Planning

I started my trip in St. Petersburg, the quintessential beautiful European city known as The Venice of the North. I recommend visiting St. Petersburg before Moscow, as souvenirs are a lot cheaper and there is less to see.

I stayed at the Oktiabrskaya Hotel which had an ideal central location and is a 40-minute drive from the international airport. Prices per night start at £73 inc. breakfast. The hotel also provides tour guides, I booked a tour guide for the day at a price of £20. 

Below is a list of 6 must-see places in St. Petersburg.

Hermitage Museum

1.The State Hermitage Museum– The Hermitage Museum is a museum of art and culture and the second-largest art museum in the world, founded in 1764 by Empress Catherine the Great. The museum has a stunning interior and beautiful collections reflecting Russia’s interesting history. Tickets cost $ 17.95 for one-day entrance.

Church of Spilled Blood- St. Petersburg

2. Saviour on the Spilled Blood– The Church of the Resurrection, also known as the “Savior on Spilled Blood” is a historically significant church built in memory of Alexander II who was assassinated in 1881. The church has an amazingly beautiful interior and is one of the main landmarks of St. Petersburg. Entrance to the church is only £3!

Smolny Convent

3. Smolny Convent– Smolny Cathedral’s is a stunning blue-and-white building and is undoubtedly one of the architectural masterpieces of Russia. It’s definitely worth a visit and is one of the most beautiful churches I visited in Russia. Entry is also free!

4. Dine at Puzata Hata– Puzata Hata is a lovely traditional Ukranian/Russian restaurant serving delicious traditional dishes. I ordered the beef Stroganoff and Russian dumplings which were delicious. The interior of the restaurant is also lovely and very traditional. The restaurant has great prices and my 2-course meal cost no more than £10.

Nikolayevsky Palace

5. Watch a Russian folk show at Nikolayevsky Palace – This traditional folk show was one of my main highlights visiting Russia. The show includes a Classical quartet and traditional Russian dancing. Prices start at £40 and include 2 complimentary glasses of champagne and appetizers!

Taken from visit St. Petersburg

6. Walk along Nevsky Prospect – Take your time to stroll along Nevsky Prospect, the lane has some amazing architecture and interesting shops to window shop! My favourite shop was the Eliseyev Emporium, serving delicious coffee and lovely Russian souvenirs.

My time in Moscow

After spending several days in St. Petersburg, I took an overnight train to Moscow. The overnight train was comfortable but very basic! No breakfast is included but there is an option to purchase food, there is also free wifi available on the entire train and the locked bunk cabins are comfortable enough to sleep on and sage. If you are someone who prefers luxury travel, I would recommend paying extra and travelling via plane. I purchased a budget ticket which cost $29 one way.

I stayed at the Izmaliovo hotel in Moscow, which was cheaper than St. Petersburg and centrally located (15 mins from the Red Square via metro) and had amazing facilities which included several souvenirs shops, several restaurants/bars, a gym, sauna, a supermarket and a bowling alley! The price was reasonable at £26 per night.

Red Square, Moscow

1. Kremlin and Red Square- Based at the literal centre of Moscow and arguably Russia’s most important landmark. The Kremlin and Red Square is a must go to for any tourist. Within the huge square is Lenin’s Mausoleum and the GUM shopping mall, which has the most beautiful interior and external light decorations at night.

St. Basil’s Cathedral

2. St. Basils’ Cathedral- St. Basil’s Cathedral is based within the red square and is Russia’s most iconic landmark. The beautiful church has beautiful Russian architecture and is even more breathtaking in real life. Entry to the church is £6 and is just as beautiful inside.

3. Moscow Metro- The beautiful Moscow Metro is a must see and was a definite highlight of my trip. Its a cheap and convenient way to travel around the city (£0.50) per journey and has the most beautiful Soviet-era mural, chandeliers and marble walls. It’s also very easy to use as apple pay and contactless payments are accepted. Make sure you visit Komsomoloskaya Metro station, which has the most exquisite chandeliers and an interesting statue of Lenin.

Eat & Talk Restaurant, Moscow

4. Dine at Eat & Talk Restaurant– If you fancy delicious cocktails and fusion food, I recommend visiting the Eat & Talk restaurant which has a great menu and serves everything from sushi to traditional Russian soup. The place also has a great ambience and plays all the latest hip hop and r & b tunes. The restaurant is also affordable, my meal was only £10.

Leo Tolstoy, State Museum

5. Leo Tolstoy State Museum – If you are a lover of classical Russian literature like myself then the Leo Tolstoy State Museum is a must-see! Entrance to the museum is affordable at £8 and you get the opportunity to see the original transcript of Tolstoy’s classic War and Peace. There are also interesting artefacts relating to his personal life.

GULAG Museum

6. GULAG History Museum– GULAG History Museum is one of the best museums I have visited in a long time! The museum commemorates the horrors of Stalin’s USSR and tells the many stories of political prisoners in a personal and humane way. I strongly recommend visiting the museum to get a better idea of Russia’s challenging and dark history under Stalin’s dictatorship.

Would you consider visiting Russia?