January is a fairly cold time of year, but also the most festive. Unlike Europe and other Western countries, Russians extensively celebrate the New Year, transferring all the Christmas traditions, such as gifts, family dinners and visits from Santa, onto New Year’s Eve. The cities are well decorated, with Christmas trees, bright lights and festive spirit everywhere. That being said, like any big national holiday, the New Year period (December, 31 – January, 8) brings the city to a halt for a few days. Everybody is off work and school, so most tourist destinations will be more crowded than usual after a few days of eating and partying. An ideal itinerary for early January would be to find some local friends to celebrate with, to explain Russian traditions and give an insight into local culture.
Temperature: -90°F to 80°F (-68°C to 27°C)
In the last month of winter, temperatures drop well below zero and there is plenty of snowfall, which can be a bit of a nuisance in the city. Despite the unappealing weather, it’s a great time to enjoy winter sports, such as ice skating, though only northern cities will allow for outdoor skiing and ice skating. When travelling south towards the Black Sea, temperatures are fairly mild. In February, there is a celebration called ‘Maslenitsa‘ to mark the last week before spring. This week is set every year, according to when Easter will be celebrated, but usually falls towards the end of February (sometimes first week of March). It is also known as ‘pancake week’, as it is customary to continuously indulge in pancakes. The last day of the week – the Sunday – has preserved a Slavic tradition of burning a straw figure of ‘Lady Maslenitsa’. This celebration is hosted by many local parks and green spaces. The whole affair is accompanied by singing and dancing.
Temperature: -95°F to 80°F (-71°C to 27°C)
Despite having just celebrated the end of winter, technically the end is not here just yet. The temperatures will remain cold, but at the same time destinations of interest will remain fairly empty. Moreover, hotels will have dropped rooms rates significantly compared to the summer, making a comfortable stay more affordable. It is an opportune time to visit Moscow and St Petersburg to see all the museums and palaces without long queues and crowds. It will also be more pleasant to visit the environs of both cities, especially in the later part of the month. It’s worth noting that March, 8 is International Women’s Day in Russia. It would be polite to wish a “Happy Women’s Day!” to any Russian women you may meet along the way, or go the extra mile and buy some flowers. The day is also a public holiday for the whole country.
Temperature: -75°F to 90°F (-59°C to 32°C)
April is a difficult time to be around big cities – as this is the transitional month between winter and spring, what was frozen before begins to melt everywhere. As a result the pavements are generally muddy and full of puddles, and nature parks are unsuitable for visits. In the cities, a lots of parks shut down for drying out. An alternative travel destination could be Karelia – the snow would have just melted here and it is possible to enjoy the beauty of the lakes without ice.
Temperature: -70°F to 100°F (-57°C to 38°C)
The beginning of May is an exciting time to be in the capital, Moscow. A ongoing tradition from Soviet times, Russians have a day off on May, 1, which is also known as Labour Day. It is common that on this day labour unions have peaceful demonstrations, which while entertaining to watch, are also a bit of a nuisance when it comes to getting around the city. There is also a large military parade held in Moscow on Victory Day (May, 9), but most people prefer to watch it on screens from the comfort of their homes. By May most of Russia’s nature recovers from the winter and attractions can be enjoyed alongside green scenery and mild weather.
Temperature: -30°F to 100°F (-34°C to 38°C)
Undoubtedly, June is the month for St Petersburg. The whole month has never-ending daylight during the White Nights, when the continuous daylight allows the cultural life of St Petersburg to be seen at its best – there are musical and theatre festivals, museum events, and so on. As a result this is the most expensive time to come. Tickets to events sell out fast and are quite pricey, and hotels have higher room rates, so booking in advance is recommended.
Temperature: 5°F to 110°F (-15°C to 43°C)
July is the month most likely to have proper summer temperatures. It is the peak season for cities of the Russian south: the Russian side of the Caucasus, North Ossetia, Sochi and Krasnodar would all be appealing destinations. It is important to note that locals especially will be coming to these regions for holidays – for example, the population of Sochi increases by one million people in the summer. Still, it is a time of year when even the coldest places in Russia warm up, so those put off by the cold may find paying a little extra and mixing with crowds worth the sacrifice.
Temperature: 10°F to 110°F (-12°C to 43°C)
Although the summer begins to end, the swimming season around Russia continues. The resorts in the south will continue to be filled with tourists, but temperatures should begin to decrease. August is a great time to explore the cultural beauty of Russia’s cities. While it won’t be too hot to continuously spend time in museum rooms that lack air conditioning, it also won’t be too cold to stroll around outside in the streest. The only drawback of August is the lack of theatre life. Planning to enjoy the opera or ballet would be a mistake, as theatres are on a quiet season when the main troupe goes on tour or takes a holiday. There definitely will be something, but it’s unlikely to be the first choice of entertainment.
Temperature: 1°F to 110°F (-17°C to 43°C)
Autumn is generally a lovely time in Russia. The south is still warm, the north continues to enjoy pleasant weather, with golden shrubbery becoming visible. The beginning of August is also known as the Indian summer – surprisingly warm weather is experienced just before the real cold starts. September is the start of the school/university year, so families tend not to go on holiday then. Although it is a lovely time to visit any part of Russia, a particular treat could be a visit to lake Baikal, a beauty of nature that is best enjoyed without too many people. It will probably be too cold to swim, but a breathtaking view is guaranteed.
Temperature: -14°F to 105°F (-26°C to 41°C)
The start of the month is still going to feel like autumn, but will start gradually getting colder towards the end. It is recommended to avoid places with high levels of precipitation, as rain will become a common occurrence and cast a shadow on a day of exploring. The southern regions will have pleasant weather, but there is fairly little to do in cities that are generally equipped as beachside resorts – at this time of year swimming is an unlikely option. Alternatively, the mountains will have hiking weather. The North Ossetia region will still be green and the mountains not too strenuous to climb. A good time to make use of those hiking boots.
Temperature: -55°F to 95°F (-48°C to 35°C)
November can be a very controversial month. The weather can either get cold and stay cold, or the temperature will hover above and under freezing for a longer time. It is not the best time to visit any large city, as the continuous change in temperature results in very dirty streets, puddles turning into ice and generally unpredictable conditions. Smaller towns tend to be cleaner, just because there is less transport and continuous activity on the streets. This month is opportune for exploring the Golden Ring, a ring of towns to the northeast of Moscow that have played an important role in Russian history. The main eight towns on the list are Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Ivanovo, Suzdal, Vladimir, Sergiev Posad, Pereslavl-Zalessky and Rostov Veliky, although there are more smaller towns along the way. Because they are further east, the temperature will be more cold and more stable. Although they would be just as pleasant to visit at mother times in the year, it is a good alternative in November, when other big destinations are not the best choice.
Temperature: -70°F to 85°F (-57°C to 29°C)
The last month of the year is very unstable weather-wise. There can be heavy snowfall or there can be hardly any snow at all. Generally speaking, the days are very short (little daylight) and being in large cities can be fairly depressing, because of the snow that melts as soon as it hits the ground. The last week of the month is especially busy when the country is getting ready for New Year celebrations. The best pick for this time of year is going further east where it will definitely be cold, like Siberia (not for the faint-hearted) and cities in the Ural mountains, for example Ekaterinburg, a city with a history, but often overlooked by visitors.
Temperature: -80°F to 80°F (-62°C to 27°C)
When not to go to Russia
There really is no reason not to go to Russia at any time of year, just because the weather conditions are so different around the country there isn’t a time when it’s bad everywhere. Perhaps for a first-time visitor wanting to see the most popular cities, such as Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the best choice would be summer and autumn. Although coming back later in the winter may feel like saying the country all over again, so don’t just plan for one trip to Russia – it will never be enough.