For major cities and resorts it's a good idea to book a night or two in advance (especially during the busy summer season in St Petersburg). Elsewhere you can usually just turn up and find a room.
- Hotels Range from contemporary and professionally run to moodily idiosyncratic DIY enterprises and an occasional Soviet-era dinosaur.
- Hostels Moscow and St Petersburg have rich pickings but you'll now also find many good ones in other major cities and towns.
- B&Bs & homestays Not so common but worth searching out for a true experience of Russian hospitality.
B&Bs, Homestays & Serviced Apartments
European-style B&Bs are rare in Russia, but there are plenty of opportunities for staying in Russian homes. For an insight into how most Russians live, stay in an apartment-block flat, where apartments are usually rented as a whole but sometimes shared with the owners. Most of these options are listed on major home-sharing sites.
Moscow and St Petersburg have organisations specifically geared to accommodate foreign visitors in private flats at around €30 to €40 per person, normally with English-speaking hosts, breakfast and other services, such as excursions and extra meals.
Many travel agencies and tourism firms in these and other cities, as well as overseas, also offer homestays. The price will depend on things like how far the flat is from the city centre, whether the hosts speak English and whether any meals are provided. It's also worth checking whether a homestay or serviced apartment agency can provide visa support and registration and what the costs of this might be.
A number of agencies can arrange homestays, mainly in Moscow and St Petersburg, from as little as US$15 a day, but more commonly it’s €30 to €60 depending on location and quality of accommodation. Some travel agencies can also make homestay arrangements.
International Homestay Agency (https://homestayagency.com)
Worldwide Homestay (www.worldwidehomestay.com/Russia.htm)
Camping in the wild is allowed, except in those areas signposted ‘Не разбивать палатку’ (No putting up of tents) and/or ‘Не разжигать костры’ (No campfires). Check with locals if you’re in doubt.
Kempingi (organised camp sites) are rare and usually only open from June to September. Unlike Western camp sites, small wooden cabins often take up much of the space, leaving little room for tents. Some kempingi are in quite attractive woodland settings, but communal toilets and washrooms are often in poor condition and other facilities few.
Increasingly common across Russia, particularly along the main Trans-Siberian route from St Petersburg to Vladivostok, Western-style hostels are a boon for budget (and other) travellers, as they not only offer affordable accommodation but also friendly and clued-up English-speaking staff. A dorm bed in a Moscow or St Petersburg hostel runs from R500 to R1000.
Western-style hotels or international chains are represented in most regional capitals. A few hotels (usually budget ones) aren’t registered for foreign guests or will only take you if you’ve already registered your visa, though these are fairly rare.
Many large, Soviet-era hotels offer a maddeningly wide range of rooms at differing prices – there’s always a price list displayed (on the wall or in a menu-style booklet on the counter), which states the cost for every category. Staff are generally obliging about allowing guests to look around before checking in; ask ‘Mozhno li posmotret nomer?’ (May I see the room?).
Not all hotels have genuine single rooms, and ‘single’ prices often refer to single occupancy of a double or twin room. Some hotels, mainly in the bottom and lower-middle ranges, have rooms for three or four people where the price per person is less than a single or double would be. Beds are typically single and where there is a double bed you’ll generally pay somewhat more than for a similarly sized twin room.
An increasingly widespread midrange hotel species is the mini-hotel, which often occupies a couple of floors in an apartment block. These typically have their little idiosyncrasies, mostly related to breakfasts, which are typically ordered in advance from a menu and served at an agreed hour, sometimes in the room.
Hot-water supplies are fairly reliable, but since hot water is supplied on a district basis, whole neighbourhoods can be without it for up to a month in summer and some low-end hotels that have no autonomous heaters get affected, too.
A lyuks room is a suite, with a sitting room in addition to the bedroom and bathroom. A polulyuks is a somewhat less spacious suite.
In cities and towns, many midrange and top-end hotels catering to business people drop their prices at weekends. There can also be significant seasonal variations, with top prices kicking in over holiday periods, such as the first nine days of January and May.
When you check in most hotels will ask to see your passport – they may then keep it for anywhere up to 24 hours in order to register you with the authorities. Some budget and midrange hotels still operate a system where on each floor a dezhurnaya (floor lady) guards the keys for all the rooms in her little kingdom, and from whom you can arrange things like hot water to make tea.
Modern hotels generally have a check-out time, usually noon. However, some places charge by sutki, ie for a stay of 24 hours. Check which you’ve paid for before rushing to pack your bags. If you want to store your luggage somewhere safe for a late departure, arrange it with the dezhurnaya or front-desk staff.
Komnaty otdykha (resting rooms) are found at all major train stations and several of the smaller ones as well as at a few larger bus stations. Generally they have basic (but often quite clean) shared accommodation with communal sink and toilet. Some have showers but you’ll often pay an extra fee to use them. Sometimes there are single and double rooms and, rarely, more luxurious ones with private bathrooms. The beds generally can be rented by the half-day (R50 to R1000) or 24-hour (R800 to R1700) period. Some will ask to see your train ticket before allowing you to stay.
Turbazy, Rest Houses & Sanatoriums
A turbaza is typically a no-frills holiday camp aimed at outdoor types. Basic accommodation is usually in spartan multiroom wooden bungalows or domiky (small huts). Don’t expect indoor plumbing. In the Soviet era, turbazy were often owned by a factory or large company for use by its employees. Many became somewhat decrepit, but these days more and more are privatised and have been spruced up. At some, you can arrange boating, skiing, hiking or mountaineering.
Doma otdykha (rest houses) are similar to turbazy, though usually more luxurious. In peak seasons it’s often essential to book through travel agencies in regional cities, as demand can be very high.
Sanatory (sanatoriums) have professional medical staff on hand to treat any illnesses you may have, design your diet and advise on correct rest. Most are ugly concrete eyesores in otherwise attractive rural or coastal settings. Sanatoriums can be spas, sea resorts (there are several good ones in Sochi and the Kaliningrad Region) or resorts where you can get some kind of nontraditional treatment (with kumiss, fermented mare’s milk, for instance). They are mostly popular with locals.