Category: mini travel guide

Mini Travel Guide: Western India

Looking for a travel guide to Western India? Click through for a local's best India travel tips - what to do, where to go, and how to travel India cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Looking for a travel guide to Western India? Want to know where the best beaches are and which street good is the best? Me, too! Which is why I brought in a local to share her best India travel travel tips – what to do, where to go, and to how travel Western India cheaply, safely, and respectfully!


Hello, this is Sheena, and that’s also the name of my blog about design in India, travel and food. I was born in Western India, and though I lived in New Zealand while I was growing up, I’ve lived here for the last five years too (it’s the fresh coconuts that keep me here) – in Mumbai where in first met Sarah in real life, in Goa and in my hometown Pune.

Looking for a travel guide to Western India? Click through for a local's best India travel tips - what to do, where to go, and how to travel India cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Must Go in Western India

Mumbai

Still called Bombay by locals and used interchangeably, this bustling metropolis is the country’s financial center and the home of Bollywood, India’s film industry. It’s a fast-paced and densely populated dichotomy, housing some of the world’s most expensive real estate and it’s second largest slum.
Mumbai isn’t really for sightseeing. If you’ve been to Chor Bazaar, the iconic thieves market or the Gateway of India, you’ve seen enough so reserve your time for exploring and eating well.

Goa

Goa is the antithesis to Mumbai and my favourite place in the world. It’s India’s sunshine state and boasts lush paddy fields, endless palms, and a gorgeous, dramatic coastline. The former Portuguese colony is where the hippies came in droves and later the psychedelic trance movement began and Goa has mostly retained its bohemian charm.
I love the beautiful sun soaked beaches of Morjim, Ashwem and Mandrem in the north, and the quiet and solitude of South Goa but know that all over Goa, the drinks are cheap, the food is incredible and the locals are hospitable.

Matheran 

A hill station and strict no-car zone, Matheran is perfect for a short weekend trip. Ascend via foot, on horseback or via the slow chugging toy train.
Stroll past beautiful crumbling British and Parsi bungalows, and shop for chikki and handmade leather shoes (it’s likely needed as you’ll definitely see a few broken sandals on your walks). Make your way to one of several scenic viewpoints for the sunset. It’s quiet and green and the perfect place to unwind.

Kutch

Kutch is off the tourist trail which is odd because the region has quite a lot to offer. From Dholavira, a recently excavated ancient Indus Valley civilisation and one of the country’s most prominent archaeological sites to the Rann of Kutch, a salt desert known for its wild ass and flamingo sightings to villages around Bhuj dedicated to making textiles and handicrafts.

Looking for a travel guide to Western India? Click through for a local's best India travel tips - what to do, where to go, and how to travel India cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Must do in Western India

South Bombay for architecture

Design and architecture lovers will love South Bombay. It has the highest concentration of Art Deco buildings in the world, second only to Miami. To check them out, walk down seafacing Marine Drive, or watch a film in one of Mumbai’s art deco cinemas such as Liberty or Eros.
There are also many examples of gorgeous colonial architecture in a variety of styles such as Gothic Revival, Victorian and Indo Saracenic. Starting at the sprawling Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, walk the length of DN Road in Fort from the iconic CST station until Flora Fountain and turn left and follow the road to Horniman circle.
If you’re short on time, stroll around Oval Maidan where there are some fine examples of architecture on either side – include the Bombay High Court and Rajabai Clock Tower.

Kala Ghoda 

Kala Ghoda is Mumbai’s art and design district and houses museums and galleries – check out NGMA and Jehangir art gallery, design shops such as Obataimu and Filter and ultra cute cafes such as Kala Ghoda Cafe and The Nutcracker. Nearby Colaba is also host to many contemporary galleries – pick up a Mumbai Art Map for free and check them out!

Sanjay Gandhi National Park 

A massive national park in Borivali that’s actually within Mumbai city limits and is one of the its best kept secrets. It’s lush and green and offers a real respite from the city. It also houses Kanheri Caves, a Buddhist site of rock cut monuments which is especially lovely to visit during the monsoons when it’s dotted with tiny waterfalls that you can splash in.

Take a vacay in Goa 

Goa is made for tourism. The Saturday night flea market has independent artists and travelling hippies hawking their ultra-cool wares and it’s my favourite shopping destination in the country. The sunshine state also has some of the finest restaurants in the country offering many international cuisines. Eat at La Plage and Sublime in Morjim, Bomras in Candolim and Thalassa in Vagator.

Looking for a travel guide to Western India? Click through for a local's best India travel tips - what to do, where to go, and how to travel India cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Must eat in Western India

Street food in Mumbai

The city’s favourite is the ubiquitous vada pav or the great Indian burger consisting of a fried potato patty in a soft bun but there’s also chaat – an array of dishes with a mixture of textures and flavours – sweet, savoury, spicy and sour. You have to try pani puri, sev puri and dahi papdi chaat. If you’re worried about Delhi Belly (Relax, you’re in Bombay!), try it at Swati Snacks in Tardeo or Elco in Bandra.

Parsi and Irani cafes

Mumbai has many Parsi and Irani cafes owned and run by communities of settlers originally from Iran and followers of the prophet Zoroaster with bentwood chairs, marble tabletops and unique, delicious grub.
Try patrani macchi or steamed fish in banana leaves, jardaloo sali boti or lamb curry with apricots topped with potato sticks, and berry pulao, the latter available at Britannia, a veritable Mumbai institution run by the cutest 94 year old Anglophile and his family.

Local Goan cuisine

Goa is for meat and seafood lovers. You’ll find the best fare in small shacks on the beach, where you can often see the day’s haul come in. Ask for rava-fried prawns, recheado squid and tangy fish curries. It’s also home to the vindaloo (but better than you know it) and many lesser known but equally delicious dishes such as sorpotel, Goa sausages, xacuti and cafreal.

Looking for a travel guide to Western India? Click through for a local's best India travel tips - what to do, where to go, and how to travel India cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Cultural tips for traveling in Western India

Mumbai is cosmopolitan and safe, especially for solo women travellers though as with anywhere, it pays to be cautious.
Like many tourist oriented destinations, Goa runs in season, typically beginning after the monsoon in October and running until before the peak of summer in April and this is the best time to come! Goa is mostly liberal (no topless sunbathing though) and you may mostly dress as you wish except when visiting the churches, where arms and legs need to be covered.
Dress modestly in Kutch.
Learn to bargain. Haggling is a big part of the culture although more and more street vendors now work with fixed price for which there are usually signs.

We generally tip around 10% in restaurants.

Looking for a travel guide to Western India? Click through for a local's best India travel tips - what to do, where to go, and how to travel India cheaply, safely, and respectfully!

Cheap travel tips for Western India

The Indian rail system is very well connected and although it fills up well in advance and can be quite confusing, there are quotas allocated for tourists which can be obtained from tourist offices.
Government buses are another good bet for getting around, they’re affordable and timely, and easier to snag a seat on.
Try to couch surf or stay with friends in Mumbai, as Mumbai offers very little value for money when it comes to accommodation. If your budget can be stretched a wee bit, Abode boutique hotel offers great options with a heady dose of cool design.
In Goa, cheap accommodation is plentiful. Stay in simple huts on just off the beach for under $15 and rent a scooter or motorbike to get around as taxis are expensive.
Airbnb is usually cheaper than a hotel and puts money in the pockets of local families. Here’s an arty bungalow in Kutch for $26 a night and here’s a two-bedroom apartment (with sea views!) in Mumbai for $79. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Thanks so much for sharing, Sheena! Indian readers, I’d love to hear from you – what are your must-gos and must-dos for in Western Indian travels?
Photos by Terry Boynton // wikipedia // Rathish Gandhi // R4vi // Igor Ovsyannykov // cc

Mini Travel Guide: Namibia

Looking for a travel guide to Namibia? Click through for Namibia travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to do it all cheaply!
Looking for a travel guide to Namibia? You’re in the right place! I brought in a local to share her very best Namibia travel tips!

Hi! I’m Ellie. My dad is an anthropologist whose life work has been studying and living among the Himba in Namibia. My family has lived in Namibia on and off since I was a young child and I recently returned from a two month trip there this summer.
Namibia is a former German colony that only gained its independence from South Africa during apartheid in 1990. My sister was actually the first American born in Namibia after it became its own country!
Namibia is the second least densely populated country in the world after Mongolia. It offers a really varied landscape with everything from grassy savannahs to desert mountain ranges to gorgeous beaches. Although urban life has expanded a lot in Namibia during the past twenty years, a small part of the population is still indigenously living.
Must do in Namibia

Must Go in Namibia

Etosha National Park

This national park is a game reserve for Namibian wildlife and houses a wide variety of African of animals that roam freely within the almost 2,000 square miles of the park. Visitors are allowed to drive wherever they wish and take pictures. You are not, however, allowed to get out of your car except at designated settlements. Giraffes, zebra, elephants, springbok, and kudu are among the commonly spotted wildlife.
If you have luck on your side during your visit, you might see lions and rhinos, or even an extremely rare leopard or cheetah!

Swakopmund

The third largest city in Namibia, and the most charming in my opinion, is the beachside town of Swakopmund. It is filled with gorgeous old buildings and houses and has some of the most beautifully curated curio shops Namibia has to offer.
Nearby is a camel riding farm owned by a lovely German lady. In the next town over (Walvis Bay) you can book a kayaking trip in a secluded lagoon that is home to thousands of seals and flamingos.
An antique shop owner in South Africa told me she had visited Swakopmund in the 1950s and the streets of the town used to be lined with rose quartz.

Epupa Falls

This stunning waterfall is located on the northern border between Namibia and Angola. There is a resort hotel here, but anyone who wants to is welcome to go swimming in the pools at the top of the falls. Swim with caution because even if you survive a trip down the waterfalls, there are plenty of crocodiles lying in wait at the bottom.
The drive up to Epupa Falls is through Kaokoland where the Himba, Hawkavona, and some Herero live so you’ll get a chance to see a few of their villages and homesteads.

Duwisib Castle

It’s been in various states of disrepair in the times I’ve visited, but this is a giant, castle-like house that is literally in the middle of nowhere but definitely worth a visit. It was originally built by a German soldier for the wealthy American heiress he married, but he was tragically killed during WWI and his wife never had the desire to return to Namibia without him.
The castle was abandoned for many years and the horses from their stable were set free and now make up the wild horse population of Namibia.
Must see in Namibia

Must Do in Namibia

Climb the sand dunes at Sossusvlei

These are some of the tallest sand dunes in the world and definitely worth the exhausting climb to the top. You can see for miles in every direction and even do some sand boarding if you’re feeling adventurous.

Visit the mining ghost town of Kolmanskop

There was a huge diamond mining boom in Namibia during the early 20th century and the remaining buildings in this ghost town are partially filled with sand that makes them both haunting and fascinating.

Wood carvers market in Okahandja

This is a huge open air market filled with African/Namibian curios of every kind. The wood carvers there are famous for their beautiful work and it’s definitely a fun experience to barter with the vendors as they hawk their wares.

Peter’s Antiques

This shop is located in Swakopmund and is as good as any natural history museum in Namibia. It is filled with fascinating treasures that include voodoo dolls (they have a witch doctor come in regularly to perform a protection spell for the shop against any bad voodoo in their collection), a wide variety of masks, ancient weapons and tools, and hundreds of other items of interest.
Must eat in Namibia

Must Eat in Namibia

Namibians love meat so their cuisine includes a lot of the animals that are native to the country. If you are a fellow meat lover, you can have the opportunity to try ostrich, kudu, springbok, gemsbok, zebra, and maybe crocodile tail (if you’re really brave!). If you are a vegetarian (like me) there are plenty of options at almost every restaurant.
Cultural tips for travel in Namibia

Cultural Tips for travel in Namibia

Most Namibians speak English and are very friendly and helpful, but learning a few greetings in Afrikaans and/or some of the native dialects will endear you to locals.
Many of the vendors at street markets will charge a lot more for goods than they would cost at a curio shop, so be careful when bartering and keep your options open. Namibia is a safe country on the whole, but do take extra care with your personal belongings and don’t leave luggage in a car unattended.
cheap travel in Namibia

Cheap travel tips for Namibia

Renting a vehicle is a necessity for travel in Namibia because distances between cities and settlements is great. You can rent a bakkie (small truck with a covered truck bed) or a kombi (small van) and take advantage of the camping that is available at many Namibian accommodations.
There are places to purchase inexpensive blankets and pillows and most of the street vendors are happy to trade their goods for bedding, so it’s easy to get rid of at the end of your trip. If you don’t mind sleeping in your car, this can be an easy and less expensive way to see Namibia.
Airbnb is pretty much always cheaper than a hotel and nicer than a hostel. Here’s a historic beach house for $67 a night and here’s a three-bedroom beach apartment for $78. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Thanks so much for sharing, Ellie! Are there any Namibian readers out there? Any Namibian travel tips to share?
photos by: Damien du Toit // Christiaan Triebert // David Siu // DIVA007 // Damien du Toit // Arne Smith on Unsplash

Mini Travel Guide: Vanuatu

Looking for a travel guide to Vanuatu? Click through for Vanuatu travel tips from a local - what to do, where to go, and how to do it all cheaply, safely, and respectfully!
Looking for a travel guide to Vanuatu? Not even sure where Vanuatu is? Vanuatu is a Pacific island nation 1,090 mi east of northern Australia. If you like beaches or volcanoes, this is the place for you!

Hi! I’m Gaea. I spent three years in the Peace Corps on the stunning islands of Vanuatu. I lived on two of the islands and visited as many of the other 80 as I could. I documented my adventures here.

To really experience the diversity of life on these tiny islands you need to taste fresh baked laplap, hike a volcano, watch coconut-hatted dancers and drink a few shells of kava. Though each piece of this country has a unique culture and language, the things they share are broad smiles and bright laughter.

Must do in Vanuatu

Must Go in Vanuatu

The Outer Islands

Port Vila, the capital city and main international airport, was born from the blending of hundreds of culturally distinct groups who live on the outer islands. Head out of town and stay at a bungalow on the outer islands.
Spend your evenings drinking kava with the papas or storian (chatting) with the mamas. You’ll be treated like family and bungalows are great launching points for hikes, swimming or cultural experiences like gardening and dancing.

Tanna Island and Mt. Yasur Volcano

Mt. Yasur on Tanna Island is one of the most active volcanoes in the world. Listen to the rumbling of the volcano as you hike three hours to the rim where the eruptions happen in front of your toes. Stay until Friday to visit the Jon Frum cargo cult, a religion that bridges the divide between Christianity and traditional beliefs.

Pentecost Island and Land diving

The land divers of Pentecost bless each yam harvest by leaping from a tower of lashed together branches with vines tied to their ankles. After two Kiwi travelers watched them dive, they created the watered-down version we know as bungee jumping.
This ceremony only happens between April and June when the vines are the right, so time your trip appropriately. While you are there, enjoy the Jurassic Park feeling of Pentecost Island by hiking through the jungle to crystalline waterfalls.
Must do in Vanuatu

Must Do in Vanuatu

Dive

The coral reefs surrounding the islands of Vanuatu are home to world-class diving and snorkeling. If you’re a first time diver, get your feet wet with a single dive. For experienced divers, head to one of the many wrecks or look for sea turtles and dugongs among the coral bommies.

Cultural festivals

Almost every island has a cultural festival to celebrate and share their dances, arts, language, and history. Spend a weekend sleeping in a bungalow, eating food fresh from the garden and learning about the complex culture of one corner of the country.

Drink Kava

Whether you head to a kava bar in town or drink in a traditional nakamal on the island, the kava experience is not to be missed. Kava is made from the root of the kava plant and tastes much like the ground it’s grown in.

Knock back your half a coconut shell quickly and then enjoy the view or the conversation.

Must eat in Vanuatu

Must Eat in Vanuatu

Laplap

The national dish of Vanuatu is rarely a favorite with visitors, but it is worth tasting once. This starchy meal is made by baking mashed bananas, manioc or taro in a ground oven. For fancy meals, the laplap is covered in coconut milk or meat.
The more palatable option is laplap simboro, a version made by rolling the starch into “burritos” of island cabbage and boiling them in coconut milk.

Pineapples

Pineapples in Vanuatu are what the Greek gods dreamed of when they asked for nectar. Visit the Mama’s market in downtown Port Vila in January for the best selection.

Cultural tips for traveling in Vanuatu

Cultural Tips for traveling in Vanuatu

Smile. Everyone smiles and laughs at everything. Join in the merriment and be part of the fun.
The standard of dress in Vanuatu stopped with the missionaries. Men and women wear clothes that cover their knees and women are expected to wear skirts outside of town. Though men can go shirtless in informal environments, women should avoid wearing strappy tank tops or shirts that show their bellies.

Saying no to someone is rude. Instead, people will tell you what you want to hear, even if it lacks accuracy.

cheap travel in Vanuatu

Cheap travel tips for Vanuatu

There are two ways to get places in Vanuatu: quickly or cheaply. In town, the buses (16 passenger vans) have no set routes and will drop you where you are going in the order they picked you up. The taxis will take you directly there, but over charge you for the pleasure.
When traveling to other islands, planes are usually reliable but very expensive. Ships are cheap but may take a few days to reach your destination. If you have the time, bring a jar of peanut butter and some bread and make the ship ride part of the experience. Most importantly, be flexible in your travel plans.
Set up your return to be back in Port Vila a few days ahead of your international flight and then go with the flow. Whatever happens, there will be an adventure to go with it.
Airbnbs are cheaper than hotels and put money directly into the pockets of local families. Here’s a treehouse for $23 a night and here’s a two-bedroom, beachfront villa for $58 a night. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking!
Thanks so much for sharing, Gaea! I’m sure lots of Kiwi and Aussie readers have been to Vanuatu – do you guys have any tips to share? 
photos by Photo by Wil Stewart on Unsplash pablo garcia saldana // sarah cooks // gaea

Mini Travel Guide: French-speaking Canada

Looking for a travel guide to French Speaking Canada? You're in the right place! Click through for from-a-local Quebec travel tips on where to go, what to do, what to eat, Quebec cultural tips, and cheap travel advice!
Do you really need a travel guide to French-speaking Canada? I mean, how different can it be from America?TRICK QUESTION IT IS TOTALLY DIFFERENT.

Yes, they really do speak French there as a primary language. Yes, they really put gravy on fries. Luckily, we have a local to help us figure it out!


Hi! I’m Kayla. I have lived in various places in eastern Canada, and have French Canadian extended family, but I fell in love with la belle province of Québec during my years as a graduate student in Montréal.

I’m excited to share some tips on traveling in this region (with a slight bias towards the city of Montréal). It offers truly one of the most unique and enjoyable cultural experiences in North America!

must go in French-speaking canada

Must Go in French-speaking Canada

Montréal’s “Le Plateau-Mont-Royal”neighbourhood

I’ve seen it cited as one of the hippest neighbourhoods in North America, and I’m not surprised! It’s an exceptionally vibrant area of the dynamic and diverse city of Montréal.
Le Plateau features hip bars/restaurants/shops, a rich arts and music scene, a particular architecture involving charming wrought-iron staircases and old-stone masonry, and les ruelles verts (alleyways-turned-urban green space).

Old Québec, Québec City

If you can ignore the tourist traps in this area, Québec City hosts a beautiful, historic riverside “Old Town”, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Learn about the history of French culture in Canada and appreciate the rich cultural and language heritage that Québec has been able to preserve. To make the most of the beautiful waterfront location of the Old Town, top it off with a stroll along the mighty St. Lawrence River.

Coastal Québec and New Brunswick

I highly recommend spending some time outside of the urban areas, and coastal Québec and the neighbouring French-speaking area of the province of New Brunsiwck is a spectacular place to do that.

Whale-watching off the small Québec town of Tadoussac, exploring the rugged coast of the Gaspésie, and indulging in fresh seafood in the charming coastal communities along New Brunswick’s north shore will satisfy your nature-loving side.

Must do in French-speaking Canada

Must Do in French-speaking Canada

Café culture

Unlike some other parts of North America, eating and drinking is truly appreciated as a social activity here, and exploring independent cafés is a great way to enjoy the unique joie de vivre.

Farmer’s markets

A culture of buying and eating locally produced/grown/caught food is alive and well. I strongly recommend checking out the Jean-Talon Market in Montréal’s Little Italy during peak summer – it’s North America’s largest outdoor market!

Festivals

There are nearly continuous festivals year-round, from Québec City’s famous Winter Carnival, to Acadian Festivals in New Brunsiwck, to Pop Montréal (indie music heaven) and Montréal’s Jazz Festival (the largest in the world). There is always a spectacle to see and something to celebrate.
Must eat in French-speaking Canada

Must Eat in French-speaking Canada

Montréal Bagels

In my humble opinion, Montréal bagels rival – or surpass – the bagels of New York City. Buy hand-rolled bagels fresh out of the wood-fired ovens at either of the two most famous bagel shops (St. Viateur or Fairmount) located in Mile End, an historically working-class Jewish neighbourhood turned hipster mecca.

Poutine

Fries + gravy-like sauce + cheese curds. Need I say more? This bowl of gooey goodness is popular across Canada, but was invented (and perfected) here. Many restaurants and poutine shops offer unique twists on the classic, too. For example, foie gras poutine is a thing. Seriously.

Maple Everything

Maple products are reasonably priced because the region is such a large producer of the sweet stuff. Pick up maple syrup (or maple sugar…or maple butter… or…) at a farmer’s market to get the best price.

If you visit during early spring, usually around March, you can visit a cabane à sucre (“sugar shack”) to see how the syrup is made. A popular maple treat is the tire d’érable or maple taffy, which is maple syrup poured on snow to harden it and then rolled up on a stick to be eaten like a lollipop.

Cultural tips for traveling in French-speaking Canada

Cultural Tips for traveling in French-speaking Canada

Many urban québécois, most New Brunswickers, and virtually anyone working in tourism/hospitality are bilingual in English and French (and quite possibly other languages!).

However, it is a francophone region, so you may occasionally have a “lost in translation” moment. But hey – take the opportunity to practice or learn the beautiful language! It will be appreciated. While brushing up on my own French, I was told that it’s not the quality that matters: “C’est justel’effort!”

Cheap travel in French-speaking Canada

Travel on the Cheap in French-speaking Canada

Have a picnic in a park

Eating (and drinking) outside is very popular during the hot summer months. Save some money on restaurant meals by hitting up a grocery store and heading to a nearby green space.

Lodging

Like anywhere else, hostels are a cheap way to stay, but I really recommend renting a room or apartment through AirBnB to feel a bit more like a local rather than a tourist! Here’s an adorable loft in downtown Quebec City for $56 USD per night! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 towards your first booking!

Use public transit or walk

In the urban areas, walking will allow you to experience more sights and sounds, plus there are lots of buses and Montréal has a fantastic metro (a.k.a. subway) system.

Thanks so much for sharing, Kayla!  I’m sure heaps of you readers are from this area of Canada – what else do we need to know about?

P.S. 7 travel tools I will not shut up about

Mini Travel Guide: Russia

Looking for a travel guide to Russia? Click through for Russia travel tips from a local - where to go, what to do, and how to travel Russia safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Russia is a beautiful, diverse, and huge country with lots to offer travelersHello, I am Varvara (my name is the Russian version of Barbara).

I grew up in St. Petersburg, moved to Moscow for work, and now I live in Nizhny Novgorod (one of the biggest cities in central Russia). It’s a big of a challenge to attempt a mini travel guide for the biggest country in the world (we’re surrounded by three oceans and have eight time zones!) but I will do my best.

Looking for a travel guide to Russia? Click through for Russia travel tips from a local - where to go, what to do, and how to travel Russia safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Must go in Russia

St.Petersburg

This is always my number one recommendation and only partly because this is my hometown. St.Petersburg was the capital of Russia for more than 200 years (Moscow became the capital 1918), so all the glory and beauty of Russian culture is here.
St. Petersburg is a city of canals, rivers, islands and bridges – we call it Russian Venice. The best timing to visit St.Pete is June-July, which we call White Nights (make sure you book it in advance, this is a very high season).
During this time of year, night is extremely short. So it’s a super romantic time to walk around the beautiful city all night in just twilight, watch the opening of the drawbridges and wait for the sunrise. You should also check out canal boat trips and take a rooftop tour.
Plan at least one day for St.Petersburg’s suburbs. There are many to choose (in old times there were a lot of royal residences around the city), but the best is Peterhof (or Petrodvorets). This is a Russian Versailles (maybe even better) with enormously large and beautiful park, palaces and more than 100 fountains. You can’t miss it!

Moscow

The capital is definitely a must-see. There are the obvious must-dos: Red Square and the Kremlin, Cathedral of Christ the Savior, St.Basil’s Cathedral, art exhibitions at Tretyakovskaya Gallery, and the University building at Vorobyovy Gory.

I also recommend going for a walk in Moscow parks (Gorky park is the most famous), boulevards (e.g. Chistiye Prudiy, which means “Clean Pond”) and rest near city ponds (Patriarshy Prudiy surrounded by Stalin’s architecture).

Find some time to walk around the curvy roads of old Moscow districts (Zamoskvorechie, Khitrovka) and find the spirit of old disappearing city where around the corner you can find the cute small Russian church.

Golden Ring

Moscow and St.Pete are great but they are west type of cities. If you really want to taste Russian culture, take a trip to the cities of the Golden Ring around Moscow. The trip will take at least two days, the rest will depend on the route and your time limitations.
The most popular cities of the Golden Ring are Sergiev Posad, Yaroslavl, Rostov, Vladimir, Suzdal. The cheap way would be to travel by bus or train but you would definitely need somebody local to accompany you. In case you have a budget, take an organized tour – it will worth it.
Looking for a travel guide to Russia? Click through for Russia travel tips from a local - where to go, what to do, and how to travel Russia safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Kazan

If you have have more time, I highly recommend you to explore more to the East. I particularly love Kazan. This is something absolutely not how you imagine Russia (even how a Russian person would imagine Russia).
The city is a capital of the Republic of Tatarstan which is still the part of Russia but looks like an absolutely different world (with their own language, president, religion, food). It really reminds you that Russia is a multicultural country.
Take a walk along the pedestrian Bauman street, then inside the Kazan Kremlin where you can look into the reconstructed amazing Qol-Şarif mosque and have a dinner at the roof-top restaurant in Marriott Hotel with the view on Kremlin and the mosque. If you have one more day – travel to Sviyazhsk Island (the trip will take two hours by car) – the small authentic city situated on an island.

Kamchatka

I fell in love with Kamchatka Peninsula. The trip is a bit expensive (mainly because of the road – you need to cross almost half of the globe, guys). Kamchatka is an absolute kingdom of nature – volcanoes, the Valley of Geysers, hot springs, waves of the mighty ocean coming to the virgin shore covered with the volcanic black sand.

I do not think this is something you could see anywhere else. It’s great for particularly adventurous folk: take the helicopter trip, go hunting the bear (seriously, not joking) and enjoy the seafood bought right on the fish market. The best time to visit is autumn.

Looking for a travel guide to Russia? Click through for Russia travel tips from a local - where to go, what to do, and how to travel Russia safely, cheaply, and respectfully!

Must Do in Russia

Go to the ballet

The Russian ballet is world famous so this is something you must see. In Moscow, try to get tickets to the Bolshoy theater, in St.Pete try the Maryinsky theater. If possible, reserve tickets in advance because they sell out quickly.

Try a Russian Sauna (“Banya”)

Not to be confused with a  Finnish Sauna or a Turkish hammam. This is not just washing your body, this is a whole bathing ritual. Russian “banya” is super wet, super hot and is complemented by being hit with bunches of dried branches and leaves.
If it’s winter, the best way to cool yourself is to jump out of “banya” right into the snow (you would probably like to choose the authentic place for “banya” beforehand to make this crazy thing).

Maslenitsa

This is the one-week festival celebrated by eating pancakes every day. We wrap up the festival by burning the scarecrow of Maslenitsa which symbolizes the end of winter and start of spring. There is no specific dates as Maslenitsa is celebrated 40 days before Easter, thus dates are different every year. If you skip it during your travel, watch the movie “The Barber of Siberia” to get the sense of what I mean.

Ice swimming and fishing

No need to be sad if you are visiting Russia in the winter – there are plenty of extraordinary things to explore. For example, ice swimming on the Orthodox day of Christ Baptizing. This does not mean you have to try this, but it worse to see. Another winter extreme is under ice fishing.

May 9th celebration and city parade

Many European countries celebrate the end of the Second World War, but Russia does it most enthusiastically. In every city you will have parades of army and military equipment and veterans are thanked with flowers and words of “Thank you for the peace.” At the end of the day there are always fireworks.

Must eat in Russia

Must Eat in Russia

Shchi (cabbage soup)

the authentic Russian soup could be done from fresh cabbage or from sauerkraut.

Pelmeni

Are dumplings consisting of a filling wrapped in thin, unleavened dough. The meet inside could be different, it also could be fish. In case you are struggling with the choice in the restaurant, take Siberian pelmeni and ask to serve them with sour cream called “smetana”.

Pickles 

All kind of pickled vegetables: mushrooms (dozens of types of mushrooms), tomatoes, cucumbers, wild leek, salty herring. If you decide to try drinking vodka, you always should eat something salty afterwards – pickles are the best for this purpose though they are good separately as well.

Pancakes

Sure, you’ve had pancakes before, but not like this. Russian pancakes are special, very thin and when served with caviar you would die for them.

Potatoes

They’re our most popular side dish. Try fried potatoes with chanterelles mushrooms, fried in the sour cream. They are especially good in the autumn just taken fresh from the wood.

Cereals (“kasha”)

All kind of cereals if they are cooked good are super tasty. Depending on with what it is served it could be morning dish with berries or if it is meat or pumpkin it could be a separate independent dish.

Cultural tips for traveling in Russia

Cultural tips for traveling in Russia

Get the visa. All foreigners need visa to get to Russia and the process to get it is not quick. Take care that you have it in advance. I’ve heard stories of people who thought they didn’t need a visa and their the travel plans were all ruined.
Prepare for translation. While the young generations in big cities can speak English, the majority of the population will struggle to understand you. Moreover, most of the headings, street names are written in Cyrylics (we are improving, but there is still a way to go). So, get prepared to speak slowly and try several times and learn some common phrases in Russian to survive.
Do not worry that nobody smiles. Foreigners think we could look gloomy and not friendly. This is just the outside! However you should know that as soon as you are a friend, we will put all the food on the table and you will feel enormous hospitality when you are not a “stranger”.
cheap travel in Russia

Cheap travel tips for Russia

Do not take the taxi in the airport. At your arrival as soon as you enter the airport building you will start being attacked by people offering you a taxi drive. Never take it – this is super expensive, plus they can cheat you knowing you are foreigner.
In Moscow – take the express train to the city; in other cities better take a public bus to get to the center. Take the subway. In the cities where there is a subway (Moscow, St.Petersburg) you can use it without any hesitation.
Besides, that it is the cheapest and the fastest way to travel across the city, the metro stations are amazingly decorated and each station has it own style. There are even separate excursions to explore the metro.
Airbnb is cheaper than a hotel and a faster way to make Russian friends. Here’s a whole apartment in central Moscow for $69 a night and here’s a highly-rated apartment in Kazan for $32! If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s a $40 credit towards your first booking.
Thank so much for sharing your insights, Varvara! I’ve been wanting to visit Russia since fourth grade when I discovered the school library’s copy of Baba Yaga. Are there any other Russian readers who can share their travel tips? Have you traveled to Russia?