Top Events

Easter, March/April

Victory Day, May

Sadko Festival, June

White Nights, June/July

Kamwa Festival, July

January

Much of Russia becomes snow- and ice-bound during this and subsequent winter months, but the weather rarely causes disruption to transport. Book transport tickets well in advance of the busy New Year period.

Russian Orthodox Christmas (Rozhdestvo)

On Christmas Eve (6 January), the religious fast from morning to nightfall, after which they tuck in to a feast that includes roast duck and kutya (porridge). Special masses are held in churches at midnight.

Hyperborea Festival

This Karelian festival celebrates all that is wonderful about wintertime with parties, exhibitions, and an ice- and snow-sculpture competition that attracts entrants from across Russia and the world. The festival runs into February.

Magic Ice of Siberia

Local and international teams compete for various prizes for their ice sculptures in the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk in early January.

February

In the depths of winter, the devout deny themselves meat, milk, alcohol and sex during Lent’s 40-day pre-Easter fasting period. Many restaurants offer special Lenten menus.

Butter Week (Maslenitsa)

The Russian for this Shrovetide festival comes from the word masla (butter). Folk shows and games celebrate the end of winter, with lots of pancake eating before Lent (pancakes were a pagan symbol of the sun).

Defender of the Fatherland Day

This holiday on 23 February is celebrated with parades and processions in honour of veterans. Women also give small gifts to the men in their lives.

March

Lent continues. Come prepared for wet, cold weather.

Women’s Day

Celebrated on 8 March, this is like St Valentine’s Day, with women getting presents of flowers, chocolates and the like, and a chance to rest up while men take care of the daily chores.

Tibetan Buddhist New Year

A movable feast lasting 16 days, Tibetan Buddhist New Year (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

A 10-day Arctic fun-fest replete with reindeer-sled races and snowmobile events. Kola’s indigenous Sami (Lapp) people join the celebrations with displays of traditional culture. Kicks off in late March in Murmansk.

Golden Mask Festival

This Moscow-based festival, usually held in late March and early April, involves two weeks of performances by Russia’s premier drama, opera, dance and musical stars, culminating in a prestigious awards ceremony.

April

In Western European Russia, melting snow makes the streets a slushy mess. However, it’s a great time to brave Siberia and the far north, where winter still rules but with less savage force.

Easter (Paskha)

Easter Sunday begins with midnight services. Afterwards, people eat kulich (traditional dome-shaped bread) and paskha (cheesecake), and exchange painted wooden Easter eggs.

Alexander Nevsky Festival

The second weekend in April sees this celebration in Veliky Novgorod honouring Russia’s best-known prince. Members of historical clubs dress up as knights, engage in mock battle and storm the kremlin walls.

May

The long-awaited arrival of pleasant spring weather makes this one of the best months for travel. Between International Labour Day (1 May) and Victory Day (9 May), some offices and museums have limited hours as people take advantage of the holidays for extended R&R.

Victory Day

On 9 May, this Russian public holiday celebrates the end of WWII, which Russians call the Great Patriotic War. Big military parades in Moscow and St Petersburg are well worth attending.

Glinka Festival

At the end of the month, the composer Mikhail Glinka is honoured in his home town of Smolensk with this weeklong festival of classical music that draws in top talent.

Cossack Fairs

Held in Starocherkassk on the last Sunday of the month from May to September, with much singing, dancing, horse-riding and merrymaking.

June

A popular month for den goroda (city day), when towns celebrate their birthdays with parades and street festivals: Veliky Novgorod has one on 12 June and Tver on 25 June. The weather is hot, but be prepared for rain too.

White Nights

As days lengthen, Russia’s cultural capital, St Petersburg, hosts a huge party made up of a variety of events, including a jam-packed itinerary of shows at the Mariinsky Theatre & Concert Hall. Events run until late July.

Sadko Festival

Held on the second weekend of June in Veliky Novgorod, this event includes Russian and international teams performing traditional folk art, dancing and singing. There's also a craft fair.

Kinotavr Film Festival

Running for a week in early June, Sochi’s Kinotavr Film Festival showcases more than a dozen feature-length Russian movies, with local film-makers and actors on hand. Open-air screenings too.

Ysyakh

Held around 21 June near Yakutsk, this celebration of Sakha culture includes the chance to sample traditional eats while watching local sports and spectacular costumed battle reenactments.

International Platanov Festival

Voronezh hosts this ambitious weeklong jamboree of theatre, music and the arts (http://en.platonovfest.com) in memory of local talent Andrei Platanov, a banned Soviet-era writer.

Moscow International Film Festival

Russia’s premier film festival runs for eight days at the end of the month and includes retrospective and documentary cinema programmes as well as the usual awards.

Uglich Versta

A few hundred bicyclists meet for three days of riding, singing and drinking during this annual cycle-fest in the Golden Ring town of Uglich. Expect competitions, kids' events, entertainment and a bicycle parade.

Sabantuy

In the middle of June this holiday celebrated all over Tatarstan and beyond features horse races, koresh (wrestling matches) and joking competitions – although the humour may be lost in translation.

July

The best time to visit the Volga Delta is between late July and late September, when lotus flowers blossom. Russians head to the coast and their dachas (summer country houses) as the weather really heats up.

Mir Sibiri

Similar to the UK’s Womad Festival, this large event floods the small Siberian town of Shushenskoe with almost 25,000 visitors. Tuvan throat singers usually steal the show.

El-Oiyn Festival

Held every two years on the first weekend of July, this ‘folk games’ festival gathers some 60,000 people for a celebration of Altai culture.

Solovetsky Islands Herring Festival

Head to Solovki to get your hands on some of Russia’s finest fish – literally, in the case of the bare-handed catch competition.

Kamwa Festival

The ‘ethno-futuristic’ Kamwa Festival, taking place in late July in Perm and Khokhlovka, brings together ancient ethno-Ugric traditions and modern culture.

Afishia Picnic

This one-day popular and rock music event (http://picnic.afisha.ru) is held in the Tsarist-era estate of Kolomenskoye on the banks of the Moscow River. It attracts a big international line-up.

August

Train prices can spike during this hot month as many people take holidays – book ahead if you want to travel on particular services along the trans-Siberian route.

Tuvan Naadym

Naadym offers four wild days of underpants-hoicking khuresh (Tuvan wrestling), stern-faced archery contests, gravity-defying feats of steppe horsemanship, lots of croaky throat singing and fireworks bursting over the Tuvan capital of Kyzyl.

Dzhangariada Festival

Held in late August or September, this Kalmyk cultural celebration takes place on the open steppe at a different location every year. It includes wrestling, archery contests and traditional singers.

September

One of the best months to visit the country as the heat of summer abates, but it's still nice enough to enjoy the outdoors of the countryside and beaches minus the holiday season crowds.

October

Russia’s brief, brilliantly colourful autumn is swiftly followed by the onset of winter – at the end of the month, come prepared for snow flurries and plummeting temperatures.

Russian Grand Prix

The Formula 1 (www.formula1.com) caravan hits Sochi. The race takes place in the former Winter Olympic Park.

November

In the southern Caucasus you may be able to catch the swiftly fading colours of autumn, but here and elsewhere the weather is certainly getting colder as winter fast approaches.

Unity Day

Held on 4 November, this public holiday celebrates the expulsion of Polish forces from Moscow in 1612. There's usually a parade in Moscow's Red Square. Unity Day replaced a Soviet holiday to celebrate the 1917 October Revolution.

December

Short days and long nights keep people inside for most of this month. If you’re prepared, it’s the best time to see freshly snow-covered landscapes.

December Nights Festival

Moscow’s most prestigious music event, hosted at the Pushkin Fine Arts Museum, features a month of performances by high-profile musicians and accompanying art exhibits.

New Year’s Eve

See out the old year with vodka and welcome in the new one with champagne while listening to the Kremlin chimes on TV.