Why do we have bucket lists ? is it to keep our dreams alive or help us reach our goals or to feel satisfied and content when we do ? whatever it is Russia has been a bucket list destination for me ever since I started travelling from when I finished school. December 2017 finally saw me tick it off the list and many people asked me was it worth waiting for all these years and what was it like.

The answer is simple – “ it was everything and more “ the depressed grey skies did not damped our spirits as we set out to see Moscow and St Petersburg over a period of 10 days on a budget. Later I read that there was only 6 minutes of sunshine in Moscow for the entire December and this lead to an increase in psychiatric treatment, I can categorically state we did not see a single ray of sunshine for 10 days and it was exceptionally cold, but then when going to Mother Russia one does not expect to go and find hot sand dunes and beaches to lie on.

I took a flight with Turkish Airlines from Johannesburg to Istanbul, the stop over in Istanbul is a great offer for anyone wanting to get a taste of the cosmopolitan city. Passengers get to stay 1 night in a 4 star hotel if they flew economy class and 2 nights at a 5 star hotel if they are business class passengers in Sultanahmet and Taksim. Passengers can also make use of the Touristanbul if they have a layover, however they cannot make use of the hotel stay and tour Istanbul on the same journey.From Istanbul to Moscow, Turkish Airlines had me there in just under 3 hours. I managed to squeeze in one good movie and eat a delicious lunch before landing. The entire process was quick and easy

What you must do in Moscow :

  • Stay in a capsule hotel like Molotoff – these Japanese design capsules are great fun. Located less than 700 metres from Red Square they are clean and affordable.
  • Take the red City Sight Seeing bus to get a feel of the city
    Go inside St Basils Cathedral – Legend says that Ivan the terrible ordered to build this masterpiece of Russian architecture in honour of the Kazan siege, and then ordered to blind the architects so that they could never again build something so beautiful.
  • Bunker 42 – 65 metres underground this anti- nuclear bunker is the only declassified military object in Russia. After the tour visitors can eat at the restaurant
  • Eat one of the ice creams at GUM mall – this glitzy 19th century mall is filled with name branded stores and a caviar restaurant.
  • Watch a ballet at the Bolshoi – Home to one of the oldest ballet companies in the world and Europe’s second largest Opera house, the grandeur of the theatre is astounding.
  • Go to the roof of the Central children’s mall to get a view of the city from one of the highest points ( its free) – It was opened in 1957 and became the largest in the country, it united both amusement park, a museum and a club of interests. The top floor is the museum of toys.
  • Toss a coin at Kilometre zone – the brass plaque in the ground marks the point from which all distances from Moscow are measured. Tourists stand on the spot and toss a coin over their shoulder for good luck
  • Puskin state museum of fine arts – World famous works by Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Matisse and Picasso. The first floor is used for temporary exhibitions.
  • Historic metro route with 12 stations – these palatial stations are artistic monuments, each offers a different depiction of the Soviet ideal; some have mosaics, others stained glass panels while others are filled with statues. One ticket at the metro will allow you to hop on and hop off at each station so long as you don’t actually exit any of the stations.
  • Walk down Ulitsa Varvarka, one of Moscows oldest streets , filled with churches – the street and churches are almost all that remain of historic Zaryadye, a bustling quarter of artisans and traders. 
  • Radisson Hotel, one of Stalin’s 7 sisters – Formerly the Ukraine Hotel, it has 34 floors and 1600 rooms. It is Europe’s tallest hotel. Visitors can go to the top floor to get a view of the city.
  • Eat at No1 Restaurant, good local food – It is worth the queue, the vibe inside is cosy and the staff friendly. The menu has a large selection of traditional food like Borsch, a staple Russian / Ukrainian dish.
  • Drink a Moscow Mule – a cocktail drink made from vodka, spicy ginger beer and lime juice garnished with a wedge of lime. It is popularly served in a copper mug.
  • Walk all around the Red Square region, there is so much to see – it has been the heart of Moscow for over 500 turbulent years and its magnificent buildings recall the city’s eventful history.
  • Catch the Sapson train to St Petersburg – this speed train travels at 240km per hour and offers economy class up to business class. I recommend the business class, the price isn’t very different and the food and comfort is worth the price plus unlimited wifi.

What you must do in St Petersburg:

  • Watch an Opera at the world renowned Mariinsky theatre – This lavish theatre is home to both ballets and operas.
  • Take a walk to the striking blue and white St Nicholas Cathedral – completed in 1762 it was originally intended for sailors and employees of the nearby Admiralty and was known for years by residents as the “ Sailors Church “
  • Enjoy a drink at the cozy Shamrock pub, the ballerinas after go here after their performances
  • The city of rivers and canals, there are many famous bridges one of them being the Lions Bridge. Two pairs of lions date back to 1825 sit proudly , this was one of the city’s earliest pedestrian bridges and is now a popular romantic spot with a number of “ love locks “ found along the railings.
  • The vodka museum – located next to a restaurant it tells you about the origins and history of the drink. Included with the ticket are 3 shots of different types of Vodka
  • Faberge museum – the largest collection of works by Carl Faberge including 9 of the famous Imperial Easter Eggs. Best to arrive early in the morning.
    Red City Bus, hop on hop off – the perfect way on a freezing day to get a feel of the city sight seeing spots.
  • Church of spilled blood – a cacophony of colour stands out with its twisted domes. Built as a memorial to Alexander II in 1881 on the site of his assassination. It only opened to the public in 1997.
  • Hermitage museum – after six hours of walking we had still not seen everything, however we did have great fun with the museum map and played our own “ amazing race “ game dashing around the museum ticking off all the images on the map that we presumed we very important, There are over 3 million items in the museum.
  • Fine dinning at Sadko restaurant – serving fresh, delicious Russian food while enjoying live music the interior done by famous architect A. Kurochkin, combines Russian traditions and modern European style. The bright Zhostovo painting on the dark arched ceiling accentuates the shining of the magnificent lamps of the scarlet Munrano glass.
  • Buy a set of Matryoshka dolls – consisting of a series of carved dolls, each smaller than the next this is one souvenir that every tourist should go home with.


Many people say going to Russia is expensive, in actual fact it is not if you do it smartly.
Metro is the cheapest way to get around and we found Uber very cheap. Fortunately in both major cities many tourist attractions are within walking distance so all you need is a good pair of walking shoes. Most churches are free expect for the famous ones.Food is reasonably priced and once you have figured out how the local supermarkets work you wont need to eat at restaurants all the time.

South Africans no longer need to apply for a visa, we receive a stamp in our passport on arrival. My advice , if you are planning your next New Years celebration make it in Red Square like we did. Fly with Turkish Airlines via Istanbul and get a taste of that city on your way, who knows you might be booking your holiday in Turkey next.