Early summer and autumn are many people’s favourite periods for visiting Russia. By May the snow has usually disappeared and temperatures are pleasant, while the golden autumnal colours of September and early October can be stunning.
July and August are the warmest months and the main holiday season for both foreigners and Russians (which means securing train tickets at short notice can be tricky). They’re also the dampest months in much of European Russia, with as many as one rainy day in three. In rural parts of Siberia and the Russian Far East, May and June are peak danger periods for encephalitis-carrying ticks, though June and July are worse for biting insects. By September the air has cleared of mosquitoes.
Winter brings the Russia of popular imagination to life. If you’re prepared for it, travel in this season is recommended: the snow makes everything picturesque, and the insides of buildings are kept warm. Avoid, though, the first snows (usually in late October) and the spring thaw (March and April), which turn everything to slush and mud.
DON’T LEAVE HOME WITHOUT…
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
Russian Orthodox Christmas (Rozhdestvo; 7 January) Begins with midnight church services.
FEBRUARY to APRIL
Men’s Day(23 February) Originally established in 1918 as Defenders of the Fatherland Day.
Pancake Week(Maslenitsa; late February and/or early March) Folk shows and games celebrate the end of winter, with lots of pancake eating before Lent (pancakes were a pagan symbol of the sun).
Women’s Day (8 March) Celebrated like Valentines Day with women getting presents of flowers, chocolates and the like and a chance to rest up.
Tibetan Buddhist New Year (Tsagaalgan) A movable feast lasting 16 days, Tsagaalgan celebrates the lunar new year and hence advances by about 10 days annually. It’s mainly celebrated at family level in Buryatiya and Tuva, where it’s known as Shagaa.
Festival of the North (last week of March/early April) Murmansk and other northern towns hold reindeer races, ski marathons and so on.
Easter (Pashka; March/April) The main festival of the Orthodox Church year. Easter Day begins with celebratory midnight services. Afterwards, people eat kulichy (dome-shaped cakes) and paskha (cheesecake), and may exchange painted wooden Easter eggs. The devout deny themselves meat, milk, alcohol and sex during Lent’s 40-day pre-Easter fasting period.
Alexander Nevsky Festival (second week of April) Held in Novgorod, this festival sees historical clubs re-enacting the battle scenes at the Kremlin Walls.
Graduates Day (traditionally 25 May) A day for those finishing school – they parade about their hometowns in traditional student garb.
Glinka Festival (1–10 June) In the composer’s hometown of Smolensk, an annual festival is held in Mikhail Glinka’s honour.
Sadko Festival (first weekend in June) Held in Novgorod, this event offers traditional Russia folk music, games and food.
Stars of the White Nights Festival (June) Involves general merrymaking and staying out late, as well as a dance festival in Russia’s cultural capital, St Petersburg.
Tun-Payram (Opening-of-Summer-Pastures Festival) With traditional food, costumes and sports, this festival is celebrated in Askiz, usually on the first or second Sunday of the month, and then in villages.
Ysyakh (around 22 June) Eat traditional food while watching local sports and spectacular costumed reenactments of battles near Yakutsk.
Grushinsky festivals Folk music festivals held in Samara
JULY & AUGUST
Elo festival (first weekend of July) Experience traditional Altai culture
Belo-ozero Festival (second weekend of July) Medieval costumed performances at the Belo Ozero lakeside and the Kremlin ramparts
Maitreya Buddha Festival Held at Ivolginsk datsanUlan-Ude.
Buryatiya Folk FestivalCelebrated at the hippodrome near the ethnographic museum in Ulan-Ude; highlights include horse-riding and wrestling.
Naadym The main summer festival in Tuva with khuresh (Tuvan wrestling), long-distance horse racing and throat singing.
Syzran tomato festival Join in a tomato battle modelled on the Spanish La Tomatina festival
National Reconciliation Day (7 November) The old Great October Socialist Revolution Anniversary – still a big day for Communist Party marches. Otherwise, monarchists mourn and others drink while closing down their dachas for winter
Ded Moroz’s Birthday (Nov 18th) Head to Veliky Ustyug, Farther Frost’s home, to celebrate the Russian Santa Claus’s birthday.
December Nights Festival Moscow’s most prestigious music event.
Sylvester and New Year (31 December & 1 January) The main winter and gift-giving festival, when gifts are put under the yolka, (traditional fir tree). See out the old year with vodka and welcome in the new one with champagne while listening to the Kremlin chimes on TV.
Russian Winter Festival Features tourist-oriented troika (horse-drawn sleigh) rides and folklore performances at Irkutsk through into January.