Russia's chief international carrier remains Aeroflot, the former Soviet behemoth. Delta is the only major U.S. airline that flies into Russia, though all major European carriers serve Moscow and St. Petersburg. You can often find good deals through British Airways, Air France, and KLM. For a cheaper option, try the Eastern European airlines, such as Poland's LOT or Hungary's Malév, or Asian carriers such as Air India that use Moscow as a fueling stop.
For internal flights in Russia, such as between Moscow and St. Petersburg, the luggage weight limit is 20 kilograms (44 lb.); sometimes carry-ons are weighed as well. Above that weight, you'll have to pay a fee, usually at a separate cash desk apart from the check-in counter.
The main port of entry for international flights is Sheremetevo-2 Airport (tel. 495/956-4666 or 495/578-9101; www.sheremetyevo-airport.ru), a dingy gray terminal 30km (19 miles) north of downtown that was built for the 1980 Olympics. The passport control lines are formidable, as the border officers inspect every passport and visa. Luggage carts are free, though they sometimes run short in number, so grab one as soon as you see the baggage carousel. Porters hawk their services for exorbitant rates. A currency exchange booth and ATM are available after you've cleared Customs; rates are better in town. An information desk with English-speaking personnel is in the main arrivals hall, along a row of car-rental desks and airline ticket offices. Package tours generally include transport to and from Russia's airports.
If you're on your own, your best bet is the Aeroexpress train to Savyolovsky Train Station, which runs once an hour and takes 40 minutes compared to the 1-to-2-hour car ride (tel. 800/700-3377; www.aeroexpress.ru). It costs 250 rubles for adults. Tickets are available in the airport after you emerge from Customs.
Be prepared for the odorous herd of taxi drivers in the arrivals hall. If you prefer taxis, better to reserve in advance. Moscow Taxi (www.moscow-taxi.com) and Taxi Blues (tel. 495/925-5115; www.taxi-blues.ru) offer good English-speaking services. Women travelers, try Pink Taxi (tel. 495/662-0003; www.womantaxi.ru) with exclusively women drivers and passengers. If you arrive without a ride, push your way to the official taxi desk near the exit. Official cabs are either yellow or have TAXI written in big letters in English and Russian. Rates are determined by a zone map, and a ride to the city center runs about 1,500 rubles. The freelance cabbies will try to convince you that $100 (or even 100 euros) is your cheapest option.
There is no train service to downtown, but buses leave from the airport parking lot and stop at Rechnoi Vokzal metro station (bus no. 851) or Planernaya metro station (bus no. 517). The fare, about 20 rubles, must be paid in rubles to the driver. Allow yourself at least an hour to reach downtown in a taxi, and at least 90 minutes by bus or metro.
A few European airlines now arrive at the bright, renovated Domodedovo Airport (tel. 495/933-6666 or 495/720-6666; www.domodedovo.ru), 50km (31 miles) south of the center. Domodedovo has all the same services as Sheremetevo but in a friendlier setting, and has two major advantages: It runs a train direct to Paveletsky station, just south of the city center, and it has a clear, fair, and computerized taxi service greeting passengers as they exit. The taxis aren't cheap but make sense if you are in a small group. Taxis from Domodedovo to the center take about an hour (it could be more than 2 hr. in heavy traffic) and cost around 2,300 rubles. The train ride to Paveletsky is 40 minutes and costs 200 rubles (view the schedule at www.aeroexpress.ru). Two metro lines meet at Paveletsky station, where taxis are also available. Private buses run from Domodedovo to the nearest metro station, Domodedovskaya, every 15 minutes for just 80 rubles. Look for the buses labeled Scania. It takes about 30 minutes depending on traffic.
Flights from St. Petersburg usually arrive at Sheremetevo-1 (tel. 495/232-6565), adjacent to Sheremetevo-2 but smaller. Taxis from there cost slightly less than from the international terminal. Other domestic Russian flights come into Vnukovo (tel. 495/436-2813), 30km (19 miles) southwest of the city. Taxis to the center of the city cost about 1,500 rubles. Vnukovo also runs a train directly to Kievsky Station close to the city center that costs 100 rubles. The train runs every hour between 7am and 9pm; the trip takes about 40 minutes.
All international flights into St. Petersburg land at Pulkovo-2 Airport (tel. 812/704-3822 for Pulkovo-1 [domestic flights] or tel. 812/704-3444 for Pulkovo-2 [international flights]; www.pulkovo.ru), which is friendlier and more manageable than Moscow's Sheremetevo-2 Airport. Pulkovo also has the advantage of a 2003 renovation that opened up the halls and lightened up the atmosphere, making the long lines for security and passport control much more tolerable.
Use of luggage carts is free. The airport money-exchange booths offer poorer rates than downtown; a better bet are the airport ATMs, which give rubles at the official Central Bank exchange rate. Internet access is available. The arrivals hall has an information desk with English-speaking personnel, car-rental desks, and airline ticket offices.
Tour groups won't have to worry about transfers to and from the airport, which is 16km (10 miles) south of the city limits or about a 45-minute ride to the center of town. If you're an individual traveler, arrange a taxi in advance from Pulkovo-2 by calling the official airport cab company at tel. 812/312-0022. Otherwise, you can negotiate a ride upon arrival. Official cabs are often scarce, and charge about 800 to 1,000 rubles to Nevsky Prospekt. Official cabs are either yellow or have TAXI written in big letters in English and Russian. The ubiquitous independent cabbies rarely go below 1,300 rubles for the same trip. Public bus no. 13 takes you to the Moskovskaya metro station, south of the city center. Tickets are just 18 rubles, purchased aboard. No trains serve the airport.
Domestic flights into St. Petersburg, from Moscow for example, come into the neighboring Pulkovo-1 Airport (tel. 812/704-3822). The facilities are similar to those of Pulkovo-2, though more basic. Taxi service is the same as at Pulkovo-1, and public bus no. 39 takes you to the Moskovskaya metro station. To book your transfer by Internet, go to www.saint-petersburg.com/transfers/index.asp.
The St. Petersburg-Moscow train route is the country's best-maintained and most romantic. An overnight ride on a sleeper brings you into Leningradsky Station and costs 1,200 to 3,500 rubles, depending on the train's class and hour. The pricier rides come complete with slippers, in-cabin television, and a late-night meal. Two fast day trains, the Express and the Aurora, make the trip in about 5 hours, with a seat running 2,300 to 4,500 rubles. Leningradsky, like all of Moscow's train stations, is conveniently located on the Circle Line of the metro. Western European trains generally arrive in Belorussky Station, barely north of the city center and within walking distance of the hotels on busy Tverskaya Street. A second-class ticket in a sleeping car from Warsaw takes 24 hours and costs about $70; from farther west the time and cost rise accordingly. Most European trains travel through Ukraine or Belarus, both of which require a transit visa. Contact the Ukrainian or Belarusian embassy in your country for details, or pick a route through the Baltic states or Scandinavia. The train from Beijing takes 5 days and costs about $250. Note: Rail passes that serve the rest of Europe do not serve Russia.
Another easy train connection is from Helsinki, 5 1/2 hours away (plus a 1-hr. time difference). The trip ends at St. Petersburg's Ladoga Station (Ladozhsky Vokzal, Zanevsky Prospekt 73; tel. 812/436-5310). Taxis from there to Nevsky Prospekt cost about 600 rubles. Three daily trains run to and from the Finnish capital, both stopping in Vyborg to clear Customs.
In St. Petersburg, trains from Poland, Germany, and the Baltic states, arrive at Vitebsky Terminal (Vitebsky Vokzal), metro station Pushkinskaya, 52 Zagorodny Prospekt. If you are entering Russia from a European Union member country, you will need only a Russian visa. But if you enter through Belarus or Ukraine, you will need transit visas for those countries.
For those rare arrivals by car, take the vehicle straight to your hotel and inquire about secure parking. Unfortunately, no current maps in English indicate one-way streets or other such crucial details for drivers. The Travellers Yellow Pages map in English, otherwise quite good, is available at www.infoservices.com and at major Moscow hotels. Do not underestimate Moscow traffic, which has mushroomed in the past decade and can leave visitors trapped in a labyrinth of jammed one-way streets, especially from 8 to 10am and 5 to 8pm. Watch out, too, for the traffic police, who, always eager for pocket money, can stop you just to make sure your documentation is in order. Garages are rare despite rising demand. Muscovites park on sidewalks and in doorways if they can't find free spaces, but because theft is common this is not advised. There are also an increasing number of guarded parking areas, usually just a strip of parking places commandeered by a private company with a fare collector hanging out on the corner. Rates are usually fixed regardless of how long you stay parked. Renting a car with a driver is a more reliable and often cheaper option than driving yourself.
A few intrepid travelers come to St. Petersburg by car from Finland. Not including the long lines for Customs and document check at the border, the 370km (230-mile) drive from Helsinki is about 6 hours. Once in St. Petersburg, head straight to your hotel and settle the parking question. It's easy to park in St. Petersburg, since nearly any sidewalk or embankment is fair game, though underground garages are extremely scarce in this city built on swampland. It's harder to guarantee secure parking, however. Existing maps in English do not indicate one-way streets or other crucial driving details, though the Russian-language pocket-size Atlas of St. Petersburg Roads (Atlas Dorog Peterburga) is quite useful. Traffic in St. Petersburg has gone from a trickle to a substantial rush-hour event over the past decade. Be sure to have all of the car's documentation in perfect order, as the ever-hungry traffic police will quickly spot and fine any infraction.
Several European tour companies offer bus trips to Moscow, usually departing from Germany. However, the journey is long (2 days from Berlin) and along poorly maintained highways, and the waits at the borders are significant. For any trip traveling through or originating in Ukraine or Belarus, you must get a transit visa from those countries. Buses arrive at Tsentralny Avtovokzal (Central Bus Terminal) at 2 Uralskaya Ulitsa (tel. 495/468-0400). The Shcholkovskaya metro station is adjacent. Taxis from the terminal take about 30 minutes to reach the center at a rate of about 450 rubles.
A few tour companies offer bus tours to St. Petersburg from Scandinavia on top-class Finnish coaches. From Helsinki the ride takes about 6 hours, including the long stop to clear Customs. Ordinary, nontour buses, which are cheaper than the train, are also available to and from Helsinki. If you travel on your own, you must take care of your Russian visa yourself. The road from Helsinki is relatively well maintained, unlike many others in the region. Buses arrive at St. Petersburg Bus Station (Avtobusny Vokzal; 36 Naberezhnaya Obvodonovo Kanala; tel. 812/766-5777).
Many Scandinavian cruises include a stop in St. Petersburg, at the major commercial port 20 minutes north of the city center, at 1 Morskoy Slavy Sq. (tel. 812/322-6052; metro: Primorskaya and Vasileostrovskaya). Minibuses to the metro (K-47, K-128, K-129, K-183, K-273, K-310, K-349, K-359, and K-690) run frequently and cost around 25 rubles.
Most cruises include an organized bus trip to the center. This is the most convenient option, since the metro is a long walk and the minibuses are often overcrowded. The official taxis serving the port charge more than elsewhere; expect to pay about 500 rubles to Nevsky Prospekt in the city center.
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.