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Frost-tinged, wind-whipped, ice-glazed. Snow blankets much of Russia for much of the year, and Moscow and St. Petersburg usually see flurries in May and September. Warming global temperatures have made for some unusually mild Januarys in recent years, but it's still a northern nation. Understandably, September through May prices are lower and tourist sites less crowded. Hotel and airline rates spike around the New Year's holiday, the main event in the Russian calendar.

Most visitors favor summer, in both Moscow and subarctic St. Petersburg, with sunsets that linger until sunrise, balmy temperatures, and all-night activity that makes you forget it's 3am and you haven't slept. Russians shed layers, sunbathe on park benches, and let loose after their long hibernation. Festivals and open-air concerts make up for the summer departure of the major opera and dance companies such as the Bolshoi and Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) theaters. Summer weather in both cities can be unpredictable, though, with spells of heavy heat (and rare air-conditioning) or drizzly cold. Bring layers and an umbrella no matter when you go.

Autumn is a few idyllic weeks in late September and early October when the poplars and oaks shed their leaves and the afternoon sun warms you enough to help you through the cooling nights. Spring, a few weeks in April, is slushy and succinct in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

If a winter wonderland is your fantasy, Russia in December won't disappoint you. The northern sun shines softly low on the horizon, and snow masks garbage-strewn courtyards and muffles the sound of traffic. Cross-country skiing fans can wind through forests within Moscow city limits or skate-ski along the frozen Gulf of Finland in St. Petersburg. Skaters have frozen ponds galore for ice season fun. The downside, other than a suitcase weighted with sweaters, is that many country palaces and other outdoor sites close for the winter.

Businesses and government agencies slow down considerably because of vacations the first 2 weeks of January, the first 2 weeks of May, and much of August. These are calmer times to visit Russia but can prove a nightmare if you have visa problems or other administrative needs. When a public holiday falls on a weekend, the nearest weekday is given off in compensation.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.