The image of Russia abroad is marked by a thousand clichés that could deter the most adventurous of travellers. We know that the cold climate stereotype can be discouraging, the rumours of dangers can be scary and the perceived Russian personality off-putting. This is precisely why we decided to show Russia, the real one, the one we grew up with – the one we know and we love.
For ten years, we have been putting together personal itineraries for foreign travellers. Already 20,000 clients have discovered Russia through us, touring the most famous sites, to make their own opinion of the world’s biggest country.
What is « Artel Troïka » ? In the past, « artel » was a group of independent workers, craftsmen and painters. With this word, we want to highlight our main skill: the expertise of all our partners from across Russia.
And Troika? It is the most famous metaphor of author Nikolai Gogol. In his book “Dead Souls”, he compares the whole country to a troika, which is a sleigh pulled by three horses. “And you, Russia, do you not fly like an ardent troika who cannot escape? (...) Where are you running? Answer. – No answer,” Gogol wrote.
Our services are adapted to the curious, those who seek to go beyond tourist scenery to discover the country off the beaten track through encounters with locals. We encourage our travellers to learn some everyday expressions in Russian like “dobri dien » (hello in Russian), without losing their foreign accent that softens the toughest of locals. The country that solicits so many questions for visitors opens itself upon arrival to reveal its warm, complex, poetic… and even mysterious side.
We want to share our philosophy of a truly personal trip with you.
Stop in wonder in front of the iconic frescoes of painter Andrei Rublev, or the stunning spectacle of the white nights, travel along the banks of Baikal on the famous Trans-Siberian railroad or even hunt under the aurora borealis in the North. These are just a few of the experiences you can discover in Russia. To truly explore the riches of this country, all you have to do is choose your itinerary, how long you want it to be, and when you want to leave.
Our accommodation and hosts are selected according to their ability to offer personal service, a unique experience and a warm welcome – rather than impersonal hotel chains. In Moscow, you can stay in a building of the Belle Époque just a few steps from the Bolshoi Theatre, and in St Petersburg, enjoy an intimate private hotel on the bank of the Moika.
In the Russian regions, the refinement of big cities gives way to the warmth of personal experiences, silence and vast spaces. Stay in an isba chalet made from larch wood with windows facing the shining domes of Orthodox churches or even in a meteorological station at the heart of Lake Baikal, surrounded by gleaming turquoise ice.
Russia is not an ordinary destination, but it’s not just made up of two main cities, Moscow and Saint Petersburg. In winter, just a few hours by train, you can go dog-sledding or travel by snowmobile to experience the true magic of a Russian winter. In summer, cross the cold waters to explore the island monasteries of Kiji and Valaam or experiment in the white nights of Russia’s northern forests.
The guide adapts to your needs and expectations so you can truly experience the atmosphere of each destination at your own pace
The guide will not only teach you about the country’s history but will share their favourite sports and explain the social codes that intrigue you
Whether you are visiting the Hermitage or the Kremlin, your guide will already have your tickets so you don’t have to waste any time
During a leisurely stroll on the frozen Lake Baikal, star-gazing on Lake Kurils or visiting the reindeer herders of Altai, our trips to the great Russian wilderness may not be the most refined, but do not entail a high level of physical exercise either. Our trips are adapted to those who want to get back to nature in the peace and quiet, rather than adrenaline-fuelled adventures.
The tour suggestions on our website have been carefully developed by our team. The recommended number of days, season and estimated budget are always included. Logistical questions, frequency of activities or visits and order of travel are adapted to your individual needs. You can personalise your tour with themed visits and a wide range of activities. You can even extend your trip if you want to get off the beaten track and visit the heart of rural Russia or admire the landscapes of the North, Siberia or the Far East.
You choose the date of departure that suits you and the length of the trip. You are not travelling with a group, but with people who are close your heart: couples, families and friends. There is an English-speaking guide in every location and each transfer is done by car or private minibus. We do not host you in sterile hotel chains, rather we have selected charming boutique hotels, that are designed to make you feel at home. When you are not on a guided tour, you will have free time to explore. And when you are visiting, your guide will never make you feel like a run-of-the-mill tourist. We will introduce you to the way of life in our country, and should there be any surprises, we have a 24h helpline with English operators during your whole trip.
Individual tours are more expensive than a package holiday because the fees for guides and transport (among others) are only divided between a limited number of people – compared to, say, 30–40 on group tours. Nevertheless, an individual tour of Russia gives you the chance to design a unique holiday according to your rhythm and desires, in the company of your close ones.
Our team is based in Moscow, so we can’t meet you in person before the trip. The preparation of your programme, personalisations and adaptations are all communicated by email and telephone. Thanks to their extensive knowledge of this country, your English-speaking advisor will help you with expert advice and suggestions every step of the way.
5-step reservation procedure
1. Select the main ideas that intrigue you when browsing our website based on what you want to get out of Russia. Make a list of them and add-ons that might interest you. Fill in the request form.
2. One of our advisors in Moscow will prepare a detailed quote and travel programme. You will be contacted by mail or phone to discuss the specifics. Remember, it’s easy to make changes, just ask your advisor.
3. Once you have received the quote and confirmed your interest, we will ask you to make a deposit of 20% of the total value (see “How to pay”). When we receive the deposit, we send you a voucher so you can apply for your tourist visa.
4. Get a tourist visa and buy your plane tickets.
5. 14 days before departure, you pay the outstanding amount. If you order your trip less than 14 days before arriving, you must pay 100% of the sum immediately. Your advisor then sends you a programme with the times, electronic train tickets, vouchers for hotel reservations and services.
You are ready to go to Russia!
The prices are for informational purposes only. The exact price depends on the date you choose, the type of hotel, number of visits and what accommodation class you have chosen for the train trips. To get the exact price, please request a personal quote.
Your quote includes a full breakdown of every service in chronological order with information about the type, duration, quantity, time and date. The costs are fixed after confirming your departure and upon reception of payment of the deposit, excluding any particular conditions previously highlighted in the quote.
– bank transfer to our Russian bank: the details of our EUR and USD accounts can be found at the bottom of the bill. Please note that Russian banks do not use IBAN for bank transfers.
– bank card.
Official information about card payment procedure from Sberbank Russia
10% of the trip value, if cancelled 45–60 days before departure
30% of the trip value, if cancelled 7–45 days before departure
50% of the trip value, if cancelled less than 7 days before departure
100% of the trip value, if cancelled 3 days before departure
Getting your money back on a cancelled trip follows the same steps as per the initial payment.
All services subject to additional charges are clearly highlighted in the bill.
- tourist visa: ca €65 per person if you apply directly to the Russian visa centre, or €110 if you use a special visa agency.
- travel insurance: about €40 (if you don’t have it already)
- air tickets to Russia: get the best price by ordering your ticket online well before the departure. We don’t sell tickets for international flights.
- guidebook: for your free time in the towns of Russia. We recommend Lonely Planet because it has maps of the historical city centres of the country’s main towns.
- lunch and dinner: In Moscow, Saint Petersburg and the towns of the Golden Ring, we don’t include lunch and dinner (consult the section about “Restaurants in Russia”). The average price per lunch in a local restaurant should not exceed €10. It is common to invite the guide to lunch with you when you are on a full-day excursion.
- registration: According to Russian law, you must be registered at your accommodation within 7 days of arriving onto Russian soil. This is looked after by the hotel. Depending on the hotel, this service may cost up to 500 rubles (about €7).
- tipping: Services offered by our partners (guides, drivers, etc.) are already paid for, so they don’t expect any tips. If you so choose, because their services were exceptional, you can give the driver or the guide a tip of 300–1,000 rubles per day.
The following conditions are not common in the West and may seem incongruous. Some of the requirements are very similar to administrative formalities of the USSR. We must reassure you that, by respecting the rules, you will have no problem getting a visa. All of our travellers have obtained their visa in time for their trips.
With due consideration to our location in Russia, our agency can’t offer any support for the application process (excluding the travel voucher that is required for the application under “Confirmation of the Russian organisation fulfilling activities of tourism operator”).
In order to get a visa in your country of residence, you have 2 options:
1) apply to the visa centre (for example, in the UK http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/)
2) apply using a specialised agency. This is a good option for people who are not located near an application centre
Preparing your documents for the tourist visa
Read more about the list of required documents on the visa centre website (in the UK: http://ru.vfsglobal.co.uk/).
Among the required documents, our agency only prepares your “visa invitation”, which you receive once you have paid the deposit on your trip. You will need the information from this document to fill in the online visa application. Look carefully and you will notice that the information in the invitation is organised in the same order as that of the online visa application.
In the plane (before landing), your flight attendant may give you an immigration card that you need to fill out in blue or black ink with no marks or deletions. Furthermore, you will have to enter information about your passport visa and the company inviting you. You will need to give this in at passport control. Alternatively, this document may be automatically printed out for you at passport control (depending on the airport). Immigration officers are not famous for their hospitality, as in most countries, but if your documents are correct, you won’t have any problems. Once you get to the booth, it usually takes up to 5 minutes.
Important! You MUST keep the immigration card for your entire stay. You will be asked for it upon leaving the country.
According to Russian law, you must be registered at your accommodation within 7 days of your arrival to the country. This formality is looked after by the hotel. When you arrive, reception will ask for your passport and immigration card (you usually leave it with them for a couple of hours) in order to get registered with the local authorities.
Police in towns
Russian police may be present in some public places to maintain public order. It is extremely unlikely that they will ever check your documents when you are in Russia.
We prefer small hotels in the centre to major international chains. We work closely with managers and pay careful attention to our clients’ feedback in order to negotiate the best conditions possible for our travellers. This allows us to offer a selection of hotels at rates similar to those on major global booking websites, and in some cases, up to 10% cheaper.
Important! The visa invitation is free for clients who use our recommended hotels. If you choose to make the hotel reservation by yourself, you will be charged €25 per invitation per passport.
The level of service in Russia (compared to the number of stars) does not always match up to what you would expect in the West. We strongly recommend that you read the description and browse the photos of each hotel on our website before making a decision.
As a general rule, Russian breakfast is always included in the price of a room. You can check this in your quote in the section “Accommodation”. The breakfast is quite generous compared to countries further south. If you have chosen a hotel with a buffet, you will be sure to get bread, butter, jam, yoghurt, omelette, sausages and pasta. In guest houses, breakfast usually comprises of pancakes with sour cream or jam as well as porridge (oatmeal or other cereals prepared in milk). In Russia, breakfast is accompanied by tea or coffee.
The most comfortable bathrooms are found in modern hotels that are usually equipped with a shower. Plumbing is designed to accommodate European tap.
In most Russian hotels, check-in starts at 2.00pm and check-out is mandatory at 12.00pm, although it’s usually possible to extend your time or check in early for an additional fee.
You can leave your luggage in the hotels we recommend, especially if you arrive before check-in or have time after check-out.
Guest houses in Russia are private affairs that are often run by a whole family, either in the countryside or small towns. When choosing this type of accommodation, we always let you know if the bathroom and toilets are private (as opposed to shared with your floor neighbours). The owners rarely speak foreign languages.
In some regions, like Baikal where there is no other choice, or for an authentic experience, you can stay in the home of a local inhabitant. The hosts will make you at home in one or more private rooms that include bedding and towels. The bathroom and toilets are shared with the owners.
In Russia, the banya is a tradition and a ritual. In the countryside, a banya is a wooden building with at least two rooms. One of them is heated with a wood burner to about 80°C, and the other one is designed to accommodate belongings and relax between sessions – time that is spent drinking tea and chatting. In the towns of the Golden Ring, you can go to the banya at the hotel or guest house. In our most remote destinations (e.g., Altai, Baikal, Northern Russia), the banya is often the only means to wash.
Transfer or car rentals on the quote refer to the private transport that is reserved to bring you to and from locations. Our drivers speak Russian only, although some may know a few expressions in English. During your time in Moscow, Saint Petersburg or the Golden Ring, different drivers will bring you to each town that you visit.
The day before your departure, you will receive an email with the definitive programme and exact meeting times with your driver. Considering the time it takes to travel in big cities, particularly Moscow, we always plan a large margin for the transfer. At your request, we can reduce this allocated time, but we decline responsibility for any delay in getting to the train station or airport.
Departure time for transfers:
- transfer from the hotel in the centre of Moscow to the airport: 4 h before scheduled flight departure during the day and 3 h for night flights (before 7.00am)
- transfer from the hotel in the centre of Moscow, Saint Petersburg or Yaroslavl to the train station (any time): 1h30 min before scheduled train departure.
Meeting point with chauffeurs:
- Arriving in Russia, your chauffeur will be waiting in the arrivals hall with a sign “Artel Toika”
- Train/plane transfer or visit, your chauffeur will be waiting in the hotel entrance or reception. Russian hotels forbid the use of signs for clients
- Train arrival, the chauffeur will be waiting for you in front of your carriage with a sign “Artel Troika”
Extremely important! If there is no sign of the chauffeur upon leaving your train carriage or in front of the hotel for 10 minutes after the fixed time (on the programme), we urge you to stay put and contact our 24h helpline.
The vehicle category is clearly indicated on your bill, but we are unable to provide the model. In large cities in Western Russia, transport is usually in a Ford Focus (or equivalent) for 1–2 people, VW Caravelle (or equivalent) for 3–6 people, Mercedes Sprinter minibus (or equivalent) for groups of 7–16 people. Every vehicle has safety belts and airconditioning.
In more remote locations (Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, Russian North, Altai), the vehicles are Russian-made like the 4x4 UAZ that accommodates up to 6 people (or equivalent). They are reliable vehicles without airconditioning.
For offroad trips over tough terrain (north of Lake Baikal or Kamchatka), we use specially designed 4x4 vehicles that are produced in Russia or abroad. They are equipped with padded seats and usually a 220V plug to charge small electronics (e.g., mobile phones).
Petrol and parking expenses are always included in the transport costs.
A private guide will only accompany you during the allocated time. We believe that an excellent guide is essential to the success of your trip and this is why we pay particular attention to the guides that work with us. When you are in Moscow, Saint Petersburg or the Golden Ring, you will have a different guide for each city. We would be delighted to offer you a guide that is well-versed in your areas of interest, or for example, who is used to working with a young audience – just let your advisor know.
A guide in Moscow or Saint Petersburg is charged for at least 4 hours, even if the visit is shorter. A full-day is 8 hours. The exact hours during which you have a guide are clearly indicated on your quote. You can also consult our website for more detailed information on the excursions, sites and monuments included in the visit, duration, etc.
The time and meeting point with your guide are always indicated in the final programme that you receive the day before departure. Unless otherwise mentioned, you always meet your guide at the beginning of the day in the hotel reception. According to hotel rules in Russia, your guide is not authorised to carry a sign. Instead, he will wear a red badge around his neck, emblazoned with “Artel Troika”.
If you are on a full-day outing, the guide will offer you a selection of uncomplicated restaurants that offer simple local dishes (max. €10 per meal). In such cases, it is customary to pay for the guide’s lunch. Considering the climate and the local customs, a lunch break with a warm meal is necessary.
Guided visits may be switched around, but the total number will not change. These are for reasons beyond our control. For example, some museums only let us know their opening schedule a few days before your arrival.
The exact number of tickets for museum entries is clearly indicated in the quote. These tickets are only for use in guided tours and cannot be ordered separately. The price of tickets in the quote includes our commission and is always slightly higher than the price at ticket offices or online. However, the tickets that you can buy online, like for the Hermitage or the Kremlin, do not include entry for your guide.
The rules of some museums require us to include an extra fee for the right to have a guide in our price (e.g., the Kremlin, Novodevichi Convent). In some cases, like for the Trinity Saint Sergius Lavra, the visit is always conducted by a local Russian-speaking guide, with a translation provided by your personal guide.
According to the rules of certain museums and sites, visits are only organised for a minimum number of visitors. In these cases, you can see the details in the “number” column of your quote.
In some cases, like Bunker-42 in Moscow, you have to join a Russian group, in which case, your guide will translate for you. This is always indicated in the quote.
During your trip in Russia, you will visit a number of Orthodox churches, many of which still preserve their religious functions. In such cases, there are some clothing rules. Women must cover their head with a scarf. Men should not wear anything on their head. Bare shoulders and shorts are considered disrespectful and you will not be allowed enter religious sites wearing such items.
Be it from Moscow to Saint Petersburg, heading North or riding the Trans-Siberian, night trains are fast, easy and efficient. The level of comfort and service is often superior to night services in Western Europe. It is also a great way to save money on accommodation. We recommend to you study the rules of train conduct and the description of the different service levels on Russian trains. The chosen travel class is always indicated in your quote under the “train tickets” section.
First class or "SV"
Compartment for 2 people with 2 padded beds (90 cm wide) with a folding table, room for luggage storage, AC and TV. The door can be locked from the inside.
Second class "coupé"
Compartment for 4 people with 2 bunk beds on each side (70 cm wide) with folding table, room for luggage storage and AC. The door can be locked from the inside.
Third class or "platzkart"
Open compartment split into sections with 4 bunks (70 cm wide) and 2 bunks with room for luggage storage and AC in superior train models.
The three classes have 2 toilets per carriage – one at the beginning and one at the end. There is no shower.
Each carriage has an attendant that is responsible for checking your tickets (before embarking) and cleanliness of the carriage and compartments. Upon request, she can bring you tea or coffee in your compartment. She also has a selection of beverages, in particular, bottled water.
Bedding and towels are always included in the ticket price.
In superior train models, hot meals are included in the price, but the quality is similar to food you would be served in a plane. Night trains usually have a restaurant car, and bar car in the highspeed “Sapsan” and “Strizh”.
Highspeed trains with seating travel between Moscow and Saint Petersburg (4 h trip), Moscow to Vladimir (1h40) and towards some other large cities. There are 3 types of train: "Sapsan", "Strizh" and “Lastotchka” which vary in comfort and amenities. Train announcements on board are made in Russian and English.
You will receive every train ticket by email from your advisor. These electronic tickets must be printed before departure. The information on your train tickets is provided in English.
Important! All train tickets in Russia are allocated by name. You must present your passport to be authorised to embark!
1. You must arrive at the train at least 30 min before departure with your printed electronic tickets in hand.
2. In the central hall of the station, find your train number (on the ticket) on the departures board and check your quay. Go to the quay. In Moscow or Saint Petersburg, the train is usually there 30–40 min before departure.
3. The carriage number is indicated on your ticket in English. Walk up the train until you identify your carriage.
4. Present your passport and tickets to the carriage attendant. You don’t need to get your tickets punched before embarking.
5. Your seats or beds number are on the ticket. Watch your step when embarking, there can be quite a distance between the quay and train.
We are not associated with the restaurants we recommend. We made this selection based on travellers’ recommendations and our own experience. Every restaurant usually offers Russian cuisine, but they are not designed exclusively for foreign tourists, Russians also frequent them. The waiters will not sing "Kalinka-Malinka" and waitresses are not adorned in red robes with kokochniks on their heads. In our recommendations, we have gone for quality and gastronomy. If you would like something a bit more touristy, say with bears or gypsies, we recommend checking out brochures in the hotel.
Our recommended restaurants often have English menus, and usually there is at least one waiter who speaks fluent English. If you can’t choose, check out our suggestions. The most famous dishes are usually available in both upmarket and provincial restaurants.
Compared to Western Europe, service in Russia may be a bit slow. Furthermore, we have a tradition of serving warm dishes with the zakuski (snacks). If you would like to have your dishes separately, you should ask your waiter to serve the zakuski first, followed by the main course and, only at the end of the meal, the coffee. It’s also a good idea to tell the waiter that you would like your drinks immediately, without waiting for the meal to be served.
In Russia, it is common to leave a tip (cash only) in the amount of 5–10% of the total value.
You cannot drink the tap water in Russia. Therefore, restaurants sell a selection of bottled water. The foreign brands (often from France or Italy) are usually quite expensive. We recommend ordering rather Russian mineral water, it is far cheaper.
Most restaurants have a selection of overpriced wines from France or Italy. If you would like a glass with your meal, we suggest choosing a dry Georgian wine (like a Saperavi red) or Russian wine from the regions of Krasnodar or Rostov. Don’t forget that zakuski are commonly served with vodka, a local speciality that is high quality and sold at reasonable prices like “Baikal” that is flavoured with pine nuts, or the more upscale and renowned "Beluga".
Ideally prepared with wild cep mushrooms, this hearty soup is flavoured with fresh herbs and sour cream. Vegetarian.
Another hearty soup – this time for meat eaters – is flavoured with smoked meats, pickled gherkins and lemon.
This dish is originally from Ukraine but remains extremely popular in Russia. Here it is made with beef and beetroot and seasoned with sour cream and herbs.
The Russian version of ravioli: these steamy mouthfuls are stuffed with beef or pork, but sometimes fish or game.
These traditional Russian pancakes are perfect with honey, jam or berries. This meal will be a staple during your travels here.
A refreshing crushed berry drink picked from the forest or garden. Often drunk instead of water at the dinner table.
When you are in Russia, you will notice that most locals speak Russian only and that most signs are exclusively in Cyrillic. This makes it important to learn some Russian and be able to decypher the alphabet.
The hotels we offer in Moscow and Saint Petersburg have English-speaking staff on reception. Unfortunately, we can’t guarantee that staff in other locations, even the Golden Ring, master even any level of English (restaurants, guest houses and other services).
Nevertheless, most restaurants that we recommend in Moscow, Saint Petersburg and the Golden Ring have English menus so you will be able to understand and order what you want to eat.
Airports and train stations usually have Russian and English signs. In the centre of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, street signs and metro signs are often in English too. Signs around the Golden Ring are nearly exclusively in Russian.
If your programme includes free time without a guide, we recommend that you select a good guide book with city maps. There are no tourist offices with free maps here or signs in languages that can help you find your way. They will be helpful in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, but essential in the regions.
Important! We are aware of the language barrier in Russia. If you are lost or need help, please contact our 24h helpline!
Like in major cities around the world, Russia’s biggest cities are bustling and stressful and the inhabitants appear outwardly cold and hostile. Sometimes it may not look like it, but we are warm and welcoming with our guests – it’s just that we are not in the habit of smiling at strangers. Unfortunately, the language barrier is a major obstacle when trying to get to know the locals, even in major cities. If no one answers when you ask for directions, don’t be disappointed. People are often afraid of not being able to explain properly. Most of the time, Russians are happy to help foreigners and try to explain with gestures when they don’t have the words. Try asking younger people who are more likely to speak English. Apart from that, most social norms in major Russian cities are similar to those in Europe.
If you have chosen to meet locals in Moscow or at the countryside, you will have your guide to help you communicate. Every family we work with is delighted to talk about their daily life, answer questions and, more generally, to welcome you as a guest with open arms. Meeting a Russian family is a convivial moment, filled with shared interest and respect. Most of the families we work with are of a certain age, and are more interested in meeting people out of curiosity than for the money. Like in other countries, it is common to greet hosts with a small gift when you are invited into someone’s home. This could be chocolate, speciality teas or a small souvenir. Most families are from the older generation that grew up in the USSR when foreign travel was restricted. They are interested in learning more about your lifestyle and asking questions.