It’s no secret, Russia, even in its Western part, can be coldish in winter. Well sometimes so cold that you can’t stay outside for more than 1 hour… which is kinda annoying when your goals are to visit big and stunning cities such as Moscow and Saint-Petersburg. But, hopefully for you, life isn’t stopping in Russia with the cold. Although, more than giving you the impression of walking in a snowy-end-of-the-world American movie, Moscow and Saint-Petersburg can offer you many opportunities to discover, experience and above all enjoy the Russian winter!
Ice-Skating in VDNKh (Moscow)
One of the best Russian way to deal with the cold is to fight it with sport. Wondering how? Well running in streets or parks on 10cm of ice is something that Russians keep the secret of. But you surely can give it a try, fall (maybe) but still enjoy it. Ice-skating is fun, it warms you up and you’ll be with Russians while discovering another side of the city. Why in VDNKh you say? Simply because VDNKh’s ice skating rink is the biggest and most popular of Russia (which is not a small deal). So everything is well organised and above all you have as much place as you want to do your acrobatic and artistic figures on ice!
Also, if you want to make the most of VDNKh Park, you may want to visit the Museum of Cosmonautics, located just next the VDNKh metro station, and that would be another great way to get warmer and to discover the great history of Russian space conquest!
The Hermitage Museum (Saint-Petersburg)
The State Hermitage Museum is the most important museum in the world, presenting treasures in around 1000 rooms. But the Hermitage, also known as the Winter Palace, was the Tsars’ main residence and represents a crucial aspect of the Russian history. Going there in winter is the best option for two reasons:
- First (and for me the most important reason) you’ll visit this pearl away from the crowd, allowing you to take time and pleasure.
- Second because, as a sumptuous palace of the Neva, you’ll discover stunning views of wintery Petersburg from every room, giving you the opportunity of visiting the city while staying warm!
You could literally spend days in the numerous rooms of this wonderful palace, I remember that my first time in there, I stayed until the closing time to gaze at every single piece of art, rushing through all the rooms to have a glimpse of them… Maybe I would have enjoyed it better if I had taken guided tour of the Hermitage Museum earlier that day to admire the most important masterpieces and learn interesting facts about them, and then continue the visit by myself.
Dog-Sledding in the Countryside (Moscow & Saint-Petersburg)
Another great and sporty activity to do in winter is to enjoy a day outside the city center, doing dog-sledding surrounded by the magic Russian nature. Who doesn’t love dogs? You may be more of a cat-person, but I’m sure you have a thing for huskies, we all do, don’t we? Personally, I also have a thing for Russian food, sometimes I wonder if I should treat myself a little less, but you know what? I may not stay here forever, so I want to enjoy every delight I can find in Russia. Take the shashlik or the oladushki for example, the first ones are delicious skewered, marinated and grilled cubes of meat, while the second ones are some mouthwatering small thick pancakes. These are a great treat after a good ride in the snow with the huskies and a good way to get warmer, not only because you’ll be inside or near a fireplace, but because this is one way to discover the Russian soul, the warmer soul you’ll find on Earth in my mind!
(then go for it, treat yourself, you deserve it too)
Having a Goûter or Teatime at Café Singer (Saint-Petersburg)
Close your eyes and imagine: you’ve been walking in Petersburg for two hours, you’re freaking cold and wet (because, well, it’s Petersburg) and the only thing that could cheer you up is a good cake and a hot chocolate (let your inner child live). Open your eyes: here it is. In Saint-Petersburg’s heart, in front of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kazan, stands with its magnificent glass roof the Café Singer. More than a café, this is a true institution that will warm you up thanks to delicious hot drinks and tasty cakes served while admiring the Kazan Cathedral. And once you got warmer, and maybe by the time it got a little bit sunny, you may be up for a guided tour by walk from cathedral to cathedral?
I think another good way to enjoy Saint-Petersburg on a rainy day, or on any cold day, is to visit its main sights in a private vehicle and listen to the incomparable history of Saint-Petersburg. By the way, do you know the history of Singer House? It was initially designed as a skyscraper for the Singer Sewing Machine Company, yet the building code in Saint Petersburg didn’t allow buildings taller than the Winter Palace, so the architect got round this law to build an elegant six-floor Art Nouveau structure crowned with a glass tower, overtopped by a glass globe sculpture.
The Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow)
If we apply the famous “In Rome do as Romans do”, then being in Russia in winter, you’d better go to the museum. Museums are always a good place to be during a fierce winter: it’s warm, big and full of masterpieces. What are you waiting for? In Moscow, you must visit the Tretyakov Gallery, this is surely the best museum in town. In an afternoon, you cross the centuries of Russian and European arts, looking at masterpieces, from icons to sculptures and paintings. It’s definitely a must do that doesn’t require further explanations. (Seriously, you have to go).
Also, if you want to discover more about Moscow without getting cold or soaked to the skin, a good idea is to visit Moscow in a private vehicle, stopping here and there to admire its majestic monuments. On a sunny day you may prefer to have a walk in the city center, though by car you can see more of the city and go further than the city core.
Enjoy a Traditional Banya ‒ The Russian Sauna (anywhere in Russia)
Of course Russians aren’t spending their winters only in museums, they’re also, and maybe even more, going to banyas. Midway between the Scandinavian sauna and the Arabic hammam, the Slavic banya is perfect to find warmer temperatures, recover from stressing daily life (or stressing tourists’ imperatives) and stay in good health. Start with one of Moscow or Saint-Petersburg’s baths and dive into a new Russian traditional art and experience!
If you don’t know how to enjoy a proper banya, Tsar Visit masters this for you, have a look, here we propose a 2-in-1 experience with Russian banya and the visit of the Trinity Lavra of Saint Sergius in Sergiyev Posad.
Izmaylovo Kremlin (Moscow)
You’re probably wondering why I advise you to visit Izmaylovo Kremlin in the heart of winter? Indeed, why going to a place where there is wind, snow and where you can’t walk fast to warm you up? Because the Izmaylovo Kremlin, aka “Moscow’s Disneyland”, is a great place to buy furs, Russian winter clothes, souvenirs and to eat shashliks! (No, I’m not obsessed with food…)
If you’ve got some spare time, I would highly recommend you to visit the palatial Moscow metro stations before heading to Izmaylovo Market.
Have a Walk and a Hot Chocolate in Gorky Park (Moscow)
In winter, Gorky Central Park of Culture and Leisure may be a bit empty (except around the ice skating rink and when there is a public holiday) but this uphold all its beauty. The snow gives Gorky Park a new face, and add some mystery to the green heart of Moscow. Plus, while walking in Gorky Park you’ll enjoy stunning views on the frozen Moskva River, always impressive and beautifully dangerous. Happily, Gorky Park hosts the Garage Museum of Contemporary Arts, and several delicious restaurants and cafés. My advice would definitely be to sit in one of these and drink a hot chocolate! (Ok, maybe slightly obsessed with food…)
And to enjoy fully your walk and learn some cultural facts, I think it’s worth visiting Gorky Park with Leo, a French expat in Moscow!
Embark on the Radisson Yacht for a Cruise on the Moskva River (Moscow)
Going on a cruise in winter is quite surprising. Especially when we know that the Moskva River turns into a big ice skating rink. But thankfully, the Radisson cruises are running all year round by using ice-breaker-cruise-boats (what great century to live in) keeping you warm behind super-clean glasses. You’ll be able to discover Moscow under the snow by boat, while drinking a glass of wine and being seated in comfortable sofas!
And there’s so much to see from the Radisson Royal Flotilla Yacht, it may be a good idea to have a guide to accompany you on your cruise on the Moskva River.
Take a Dip in Icy Water for Kreshenye (anywhere in Russia)
This one is for the tough ones. For women, men, children that have the inner strength of dealing with fears and primitive instincts. Happening the night between the 18th and the 19th of January, Kreshenye is a traditional celebration during which people immerse themselves 3 times under water to honor the Holy Trinity. This Orthodox tradition, known as the Great Blessing of the Waters, celebrates Epiphany and marks the baptism of Jesus. Securised and well-organised, you’ll gather with Russians from all ages and backgrounds to dive, one by one, in the iced water. Having celebrated it, I can tell you that this is wonderful. Not only because you’re being part of the Russian society, but also because you find that fear is the only obstacle to achieve this. Trust me, take a dive and you’ll be another person, what’s more you won’t be ill for the whole winter!
Have you missed the Epiphany this year? No worries, you still can wash away your sins and have the experience of a spiritual rebirth by diving in a hole in the ice, and get warm in the banya again!
Want to know more about Russia? Read more on our Tsar Visit Travel Blog!