It’s no secret, Russia, even in its Western part, can be coldish in winter. Well sometimes so cold that you can’t stay outside for more than 1 hour… which is kinda annoying when your goals are to visit big and stunning cities such as Moscow and St-Petersburg. But, hopefully for you, life isn’t stopping in Russia with the cold. Although, more than giving you the impression of walking in a snowy-end-of-the-world American movie, Moscow and St-Petersburg can offer you many opportunities to discover, experience and above all enjoy the Russian winter!
Ice-Skating in VDNKh (Moscow)
One of the best Russian way to deal with the cold is to fight it with sport. Wondering how? Well running in streets or parks on 10cm of ice is something that Russians keep the secret of. But you surely can give it a try, fall (maybe) but still enjoy it. Ice-skating is fun, it warms you up and you’ll be with Russians while discovering another side of the city. Why in VDNKh you say? Simply because VDNKh’s ice skating rink is the biggest and most popular of Russia (which is not a small deal). So everything is well organised and above all you have as much place as you want to do your acrobatic/artistic figures!
The Hermitage museum (St-Petersburg)
The Hermitage museum is the most important museum in the world, presenting treasures in around 1000 rooms. But the Hermitage, being the Tsar’s main residence, is also a crucial aspect of the Russian history. Going there in winter is the best option. First (and for me the most important reason) you’ll visit this pearl away from the crowd, allowing you to take time and pleasure. Second because, as a sumptuous palace of the Neva, you’ll discover stunning views of wintery Petersburg from every room, giving you the opportunity of visiting the city while staying warm!
Dog-sledding in the countryside (Moscow)
Another great and sporty activity to do in winter is to enjoy a day outside of Moscow, doing dog-sledding. Who doesn’t love dogs? (well all my fellow cat persons, but for now let dog persons think that they’re right) And who doesn’t like some shashliks (meat skewers) in the forest? (not me for sure) So why not enjoying a warm and perfect day in the countryside, fighting winter with dog-sledding and shashliks?
(go for it, you deserve it)
Taking a goûter at Café Singer (St-Petersburg)
Close your eyes and imagine: you’ve been walking in Petersburg for 1 hour, you’re freaking cold and wet (because, well, it’s Petersburg) and the only thing that could cheer you up is a good cake and a hot chocolate (let your inner child live). Open your eyes: here it is. In St-Petersburg’s heart, in front of Our Lady of Kazan, stands with its magnificent glass roof the Café Singer. More than a café this is a true institution that will warm you up thanks to delicious hot drinks and tasty cakes served while admiring the Cathedrale.
The Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow)
If we apply the famous “In Rome do as Romans do”, then being in Russia in winter, you better go to the museum. Museums are always a good place to be during a fierce winter: it’s warm, big and full of masterpieces. What are you asking for? In Moscow the best one is for sure the Tretyakov Gallery. For an afternoon you’ll cross the centuries of Russian and European arts, looking at masterpieces, from iconas to sculptures and paintings. It’s definitely a must do that doesn’t require further explanations. (Seriously you have to go).
A bania anywhere in Russia
Of course Russians aren’t spending their winters in museums, they’re also, and probably even more, going to banias. Midway between the Scandinavian sauna and the Arabic hammam, the Slavic bania is perfect to find warmer temperatures, recover from stressing daily life (or stressing tourists’ imperatives) and stay in good health. Start with one of Moscow or St-Petersburg’s baths and dive into a new Russian traditional art and experience!
Izmailovo Kremlin (Moscow)
You’re probably wondering why I advise you to visit Izmailovo Kremlin in the heart of winter? Indeed, why going to a place where there is wind, snow and where you can’t walk fast to warm you up? Because the Izmailovo Kremlin, aka “Moscow’s Disneyland”, is a great place to buy furs, Russian winter clothes, souvenirs and eat shashliks! (No I’m not obsessed with food)
Walk and a hot-chocolate in Gorky park (Moscow)
In winter Gorki park can be a bit empty (except around the ice skating rink and when there is a public holiday) but this uphold all its beauty. The snow gives Gorki park a new face, and add some mystery to the green heart of Moscow. Plus, while walking in Gorki you’ll enjoy stunning views on the iced Moskva river, always impressive and beautifully dangerous. Hopefully, Gorki park hosts the Garage Museum of Contemporary Arts, and several delicious restaurants and cafés. My advice would definitely be to sit in one of these and drink a hot-chocolate! (Ok maybe slightly obsessed).
Radisson cruise (Moscow)
Going on a cruise in winter is quite surprising. Especially when we know that the Moskva river turns into a big ice skating rink. But thankfully, the Radisson cruises are running all year around by using ice-breaker-cruise-boats (what great century to live in) keeping you warm behind super-clean glasses. You’ll be able to discover Moscow under the snow by boat, while drinking a glass of wine and being seated in comfortable sofas!
This one is for the tough ones. For women, men, children that have the inner strength of dealing with fears and primitive instincts. Happening the night between the 18th and the 19th of January, Kreshenye is a traditional celebration. Securised and well-organised, you’ll gather with Russians from all ages and backgrounds to dive, one by one, in the iced water. Having celebrated it, I can tell you that this is wonderful. Not only because you’re being part of the Russian society, but also because you find that fear is the only obstacle to achieve this. Trust me, take a dive and you’ll be another person (and you won’t be ill for the whole winter!)