Air routes into Russia are from most corners of the globe.
Airports & Airlines
Plenty of other cities have direct international connections, including Arkhangelsk, Irkutsk, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Khabarovsk, Krasnodar, Mineralnye Vody, Murmansk, Nalchik, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Perm, Yekaterinburg and Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.
Departure tax is included in the price of a ticket.
Russia borders 14 countries. Popular land approaches include trains and buses from Central European and Baltic countries or on either the trans-Manchurian or trans-Mongolian train routes from China and Mongolia.
Russia shares borders with Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland and Ukraine. Before planning a journey into or out of Russia from any of these countries, check the visa situation for your nationality.
On trains, border crossings are a straightforward but drawn-out affair, with a steady stream of customs and ticket personnel scrutinising your passport and visa. If you’re arriving by car or motorcycle, you’ll need to show your vehicle registration and insurance papers, and your driving licence, passport and visa. These formalities are usually minimal for Western European citizens. On the Russian side, most cars are subjected to cursory inspection, with only a small percentage getting a thorough check.
The main crossing is between Yarag-Kazmalyar in Dagestan and Samur in Azerbaijan. Take a shared taxi from Derbent to Yarag-Kazmalyar. You have to be in a vehicle to cross the border over the Samur River; marshrutky (fixed route minibuses) are the way to go. On the Azeri side take a shared taxi to Baku.
The direct Moscow–Baku train (platzkart/kupe or 2nd/3rd class R9920/7080, two days, three hours and 30 minutes, three weekly) goes via Astrakhan, Makhachkala and Derbent.
A somewhat relaxed version of border control has been reestablished between Russia and Belarus, despite the two being part of a single Customs Union. You must have visas for both countries; crossing without them is a criminal offence. Don't even consider entering Belarus on a Russian visa or vice versa.
There are several daily buses between Minsk and Moscow (12 hours), but be aware of the potential problems with using the Russian–Belarus border.
Car & Motorcycle
Highway crossings between Russia and Belarus can't be used by the citizens of third countries. Non-Russian and Belarus passport holders travelling from the EU by road should use border crossings with Latvia or Estonia.
There are services to/from Kaliningrad, Moscow, Smolensk and St Petersburg, but be aware of the potential problems with using the Russian–Belarus border.
Practical Tip: Russia–Belarus Border Problem
There are potentially serious implications for those transiting into Russia via Belarus on an international bus or train as you will not receive a Russian border stamp or an immigration form on entering the country. If you plan to exit Russia via a different route, this will be a problem and you could be fined.
We’ve not heard of any travellers running into serious difficulties but it would still be wise to make careful enquiries with visa authorities in both Belarus and Russia before you’ve confirmed your travel arrangements.
The road from Manzhouli to Zabaikalsk in the Chita Region is open to traffic; it’s also possible to cross from Heihe to Blagoveshchensk using a ferry across the Amur River. A bus runs between Manzhouli and Zabaikalsk, but asking Russians for a ride is usually faster.
The classic way into Russia from China is along the trans-Mongolian and trans-Manchurian rail routes.
Vladivostok and Khabarovsk have other options for travelling overland to China.
There are three border crossings, of which Narva is nearest to Tallinn. Conveniently for motorists, you can avoid queues by booking a time slot for your crossing from (but not into) Estonia for a small fee at www.estonianborder.eu.
There are daily trains between Tallinn and Moscow (kupe R7600, 15 hours, 30 minutes) and St Petersburg (R4100, seven hours and 20 minutes). By bus you can connect to/from Tallinn with St Petersburg (from €15, seven hours, seven daily) and Pskov (R1000, six hours, daily).
There are many daily buses between Helsinki and St Petersburg and Helsinki and Petrozavodsk, as well as three buses a week from Rovaniemi to Murmansk.
Car & Motorcycle
Highways cross at the Finnish border posts of Nuijamaa and Vaalimaa (Brusnichnoe and Torfyanovka, respectively, on the Russian side).
High-speed Allegro trains (from R5000, 3½ hours, four daily) connect St Petersburg and Helsinki. The daily 31/34 Leo Tolstoy service between Moscow and Helsinki (R5600, 14 hours and 20 minutes) also passes through St Petersburg (R4100, seven hours, 30 minutes).
The Georgian Military Highway over the Greater Caucasus mountains provides a connection between Vladikavkaz in Russia and Tblisi in Georgia. It's possible to catch buses from Vladikavkaz to Lars where you'll need to arrange a taxi across the border itself to Kazbegi. As long as your papers are in order you should also be able to drive yourself between Russia and Georgia on this route; no border permit is required.
Roads into Kazakhstan head east from Astrakhan and south from Samara, Chelyabinsk, Orenburg and Omsk. There are buses (R1000, 11 hours, two daily) between Omsk and Astana, Kazakhstan's capital.
There are direct trains on even days between Moscow and Astana (platzkart/kupe R10,000/14,000, two days and six hours) in addition to services connecting Samara and Novosibirsk with Almaty.
Rīga is connected by bus to Moscow (from €50, 15 hours, daily), St Petersburg (from €20, 11 hours, four daily), Pskov (€30, six hours, three daily) and Kaliningrad (from €20, eight hours, two daily).
Car & Motorcycle
The M9 Rīga–Moscow road crosses the border east of Zilupe (Latvia). Be prepared to lose at least a couple of hours at the border as checks are slow, especially on the Latvian side. The A212 road from Rīga leads to Pskov, crossing a corner of Estonia en route.
Overnight trains run between Rīga and Moscow (platzkartny/kupe R6000/10,000, 16 hours, daily) and St Petersburg (platzkart/kupe R3400/6000, 16 hours, daily).
From Kaliningrad there are services to Klaipėda (R600, four hours, three daily) and Vilnius (R900, six hours, two daily).
Car & Motorcycle
The border crossing points from Kaliningrad into Lithuania are Chernyshevskoye–Kibartay, Sovetsk–Panemune, Pogranichny–Ramoniškių and Morskoe–Nida.
Services link Vilnius with Kaliningrad (platzkart/kupe R3000/5600, six hours, two to three daily), Moscow (platzkart/kupe R5470/10,170, 14 hours, two daily) and St Petersburg (platzkart/kupe R5400/10,300, 17 hours, daily). The St Petersburg trains cross Latvia and the Moscow ones cross Belarus, for which you’ll need a Belarus visa or transit visa.
There are direct buses between Ulaanbaatar and Ulan-Ude (R1100, 10 to 12 hours, daily).
Car & Motorcycle
It’s possible to drive between Mongolia and Russia at the Tsagaanuur–Tashanta and Altanbulag–Kyakhta borders. Getting through these borders can be a very slow process; it helps to have written permission from a Mongolian embassy if you wish to bring a vehicle through.
Apart from the trans-Mongolian train connecting Moscow and Beijing, there’s a direct train from Ulaanbaatar to Moscow (kupe R16,370, four days and two hours, twice weekly) as well as a service to and from Irkutsk (kupe R6445, 35 hours, daily).
The only crossing of the 17km North Korea–Russia border is via trains going over the Friendship Bridge across the Tumen River. Only Russian and North Korean citizens can use this crossing. That said, back in 2008, a couple of Western tourists did manage to enter North Korea using this route – we do not recommend trying it.
There are minibus connections between Murmansk and Kirkenes (R1200, four to six hours, two daily).
Car & Motorcycle
The border crossing is at Storskog/Borisoglebsk on the Kirkenes–Murmansk road. As this is a sensitive border region, no stopping is allowed along the Russian side of this road. Also non-Russian registered vehicles are barred from the Nikel–Zapolyarnye section of the M18 highway between 11pm and 7am and any time on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. On those days you will be diverted via Prirechniy, a longer drive involving a rough, unpaved section.
There are several daily buses between both Gdańsk and Olsztyn and Kaliningrad as well as daily buses to/from Warsaw (R1000, nine hours).
Car & Motorcycle
The main border crossing to/from Kaliningrad is at Bezledy/Bagrationovsk on the A195 highway. Queues here can be very long.
Warsaw is connected with Moscow (from R9150, 18 hours, daily). The Moscow trains enter Belarus near Brest, so you’ll need a Belarus visa or transit visa.
The two countries were essentially at war with each other at the time of writing, but it was still possible to cross in both directions by vehicle or train, with the exception of rebel-held zones in southeastern Ukraine and the Russian-controlled Crimea. Note that crossing into the rebel-held zones or Crimea from the Russian side is a criminal offence under Ukrainian law. To enter Crimea from Ukraine, you need special permission from the Ukrainian authorities and you must return by the same route.
Several daily buses run between Moscow and Kyiv (from R1400, 15 to 17 hours) as well as Kharkiv (from R1100, 14 hours) and other major Ukrainian cities.
Car & Motorcycle
The main auto route between Kyiv and Moscow starts as the E93 (M20) north of Kyiv, but becomes the M3 when it branches off to the east some 50km south of Chernihiv. Kharkiv is connected to Moscow by the M2 road.
Trains from Kyiv to Moscow cross at the Ukrainian border town of Seredyna-Buda. Trains on this route include the following:
Moscow–Kyiv platzkart/kupe R3800/7500, 12 to 13 hours, six daily
Moscow–Lviv platzkart/kupe R5200/9000, 23 hours 45 minutes, daily via Kyiv
Moscow–Odesa platzkart/kupe R5500/9300, 23 hours, daily via Kyiv
There is a train service to Kyiv from St Petersburg, but it is of little use for most travellers as the route goes via Belarus, which requires an extra hard-to-get visa.
UK & Europe
Travelling overland by train from the UK or Western Europe takes a minimum of two days and nights.
There are no direct trains from the UK to Russia. The cheapest route you can take is on the Eurostar (www.eurostar.com) to Brussels, and then via Cologne and Warsaw to Moscow. This journey passes through Minsk (Belarus), which may be problematic. All foreigners visiting Belarus need a visa, including those transiting by train – sort this out before arriving in Belarus. There may also be an issue crossing into Russia as you're unlikely to receive a visa stamp into the country or an immigration card.
To avoid such hassles consider taking the train to St Petersburg from Vilnius in Lithuania, which runs several times a week via Latvia. There are daily connections between Vilnius and Warsaw.
From Moscow and St Petersburg there are also regular direct international services to Berlin, Nice, Paris, Prague and Vienna (note all these services go via Belarus).
For European rail timetables check www.railfaneurope.net, which has links to all of Europe’s national railways.
Passenger ferry routes include the following:
- Batumi (Georgia) to Sochi (serviced by hydrofoil; the route is open only for Georgians, Russians and other CIS nationals)
- Donghae (Korea) to Vladivostok
- Helsinki (Finland) to St Petersburg
- Sakaiminato (Japan) to Vladivostok
- Stockholm (Sweden) to St Petersburg
- Tallinn (Estonia) to St Petersburg
- Wakkanai (Japan) to Korsakov on Sakhalin