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A Trek Through Russia

By Yang Feiyue | China Daily | Updated: 2015-01-06 08:43

With the depreciation of the rouble, Chinese tourists can visit the country's many historic sites on a budget. Yang Feiyue reports.

Traditional art culture, abundant historical and cultural resources and beautiful natural scenery attract tons of tourists to Russia.

According to Rosstat, Russia's national statistics bureau, 267,000 Chinese tourists visited Russia in 2002. That number rose to 869,000 in 2012 and 915,300 in 2013, according to Jiang Yiyi, director of the China Tourism Academy's International Tourism Development Institute. "The number of Chinese tourists to Russia is expected to break 1 million in 2015," says Jiang.

"Russia has a lot to offer Chinese tourists, including classic ballet dance, the Red Square, Kremlin, Golden Ring tourist route, Kazan Cathedral, the Baikal Lake and primitive forests," says Jiang.

"Besides, most of the senior Chinese are nostalgic about the Soviet Union and influenced by Russia's political culture and philosophy."

Getting a Russian visa is very easy and convenient. Tourists can get their application approved in two to three days if they have their passports, photos and ID cards, says JiXiaojing, director of the European division of HH travel, a subsidiary of Ctrip, a major online travel agency in China.

The depreciation of the rouble might also help boost the number of Chinese tourists to Russia. "We have witnessed a 50-percent growth in recent orders for travel to Russia," says Dai Yu, marketing direct-or of Ctrip.

"Some of our high-end tourists have traveled to Russia to buy luxury items, such as Hermes," says Ji.

Anon stop flight from Beijing to Moscow takes about nine hours, and the best time to travel in Russia is from June to October, while the rest of the year will be cold, Ji adds.

However, the winter tourism season has its own perks. "The snow-clad architecture and landscape scenery are a treat, and heating facilities will make things easier for tourists in the cold climate," says Ji.

The cost to travel in a group-which includes airfare, lodging and meals - from Beijing to Moscow is around 5,000 to 6,000 yuan ($806-$968) during the offseason, while in peak season the cost is more than double, says Dai.

The most popular trips to Russia usually last seven days, and cover the essence of what Russia has to offer. Moscow and Saint Petersburg are two major destinations.

In Moscow, tourists can visit the Kremlin, and see historical palaces and precious cultural relics from the era of the czars. They can tour the Red Square and take in the landmark architecture of Saint Basil's Cathedral and the Gum Department Store. Sparrow Hills, which is one of the highest points in the city, offers an excellent view of the Russian capital.

Other highlights include the Cathedral of Christ the Savior and the Novodevichy Convent, which is home to a large collection of paintings and portraits from the 16th century.

In Saint Petersburg, tourists can visit Catherine Palace and its Amber Room, the extravagant and elegant interior decoration at Pavlov's Palace, as well as the State Hermitage Museum, which is one of the world's most famous museums, on a par with the British Museum in London, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, according to Ji.

Other highlights include Nevsky Prospect, which was named one of the most beautiful streets in the world, and Peter the Great's Summer Palace, once a summer resort for czars and featuring waterscapes and fountains.

However, underdeveloped public tourism infrastructure and a lack of Chinese-language services will make getting around difficult for independent travelers. The cold temperatures might also drive some tourists to travel to Southeast Asia or Australia instead, says Jiang.

The depreciation of the rouble hasn't had a major effect on Russia's tourism market, Jiang says, adding that "costs to Russia remain a bit higher than some European countries, and luxury items in Russia are not as cheap as those in the ROK and France".

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A Trek Through Russia

People hold up smartphones to take photos and videos as they watch fireworks during New Year celebrations at Red Square in Moscow on Jan 1. Dmitry Serebryakov / AFP


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