How to survive Russian winter: a few tips from a local.
How to deal with the cold
Visiting Russia in winter? Many foreigners complain that winters in Russia are too cold. Welcome to Matryoshka’s Diary, where our author Elena will share a few tips to help you deal with the cold.
Does it snow in Russia 365 days a year?
Of course, not! The weather heavily depends on what region you are in. For instance, in Sochi (1,600 km south of Moscow), even in February the average temperature rarely falls below -6°C.
Nevertheless, if you find yourself in a place like Yakutsk (8,300 km east of Moscow) where the climate is far more severe, expect to face temperatures as low as -33°C in February.
In Russia you might see guys from time to time strolling through the streets in winter with sneakers or T-shirts on or ladies wearing high hills and very short dresses. We would not advice doing the same – this requires the Russian genes (we were born to survive and thrive in a cold climate!).
1 – Learn how to ski / snowboard
There’s no better way to survive a Russian winter than to embrace it. That means skating, skiing, strolling through outdoor holiday markets and drinking gluhwein (mulled wine). The New Year holidays (31 December to 8 January) are typically the coldest time of year, but the most festive. Throughout the country, Russians enjoy outdoor activities in spite of the cold – and you should, too.
2 – Take advantage of the vibrant cultural life
There are seemingly endless performances, galleries, festivals, and events. Go to explore some festivals (the Smelt Fish Festival in Vladivostok), theatres (Bolshoi theatre is always a good idea) and museums (have you been to the State Russian Museum?).
There are 261 museums in Moscow and over 100 museums in Saint Petersburg. Russia’s museums are a great place to learn about the country’s complex history, famous rulers and compelling culture.
Tips from Elena – what museums to visit in Moscow:
- The State Tretyakov Gallery is the leading art gallery in Moscow. Go here for a crash course on Russian art. Guided tours in English are a popular way to explore the museum.
- If you’ve had your fill of seeing the Kremlin from the outside, then step into its museum to view an impressive collection of Russian state regalia, arms and armour.
- The red-brick State Historical Museum showcases the history of the people of Russia and the land. Its ornate interiors are a visual delight.
- History buffs will love the Cold War Museum, located 65 meters underground in what was once a secret underground military complex.
- You can hop from shop to shop and bus stop to bus stop, keeping warm and exploring all of the brilliant cultural gems around the city.
3 – Dress up really warm
Well, it’s not rocket science but first things first: To fight the cold you must keep yourself warm, especially if you come from a country where people are not accustomed to negative temperatures.
If it is freezing outside, consider wearing several layers: A T-shirt, shirt, sweater, and finally a winter jacket. Thermal underwear is always a good idea! Do not forget a hat, scarf, and gloves (or mittens – they are even warmer).
At the same time, always dress according to your plans. If you’re just going to the theater and don’t plan to stay outside for more than five minutes, thermal underwear probably is not the best idea.
Underneath a down-filled waterproof coat, wool is going to be your best friend. When the thermometer dips below -15°C, wool stockings, socks, sweaters, scarves, hats, and gloves are going to keep you warm – too warm, in fact. When you go indoors, you will need to shed some of those layers; otherwise, you’ll be a walking banya under the collar.
4 – Mind the icicles (and the icy stairs)!
The spring sun is always a welcome sight in Russia. As the place starts to thaw out the general mood lightens but be careful – as the ice starts to melt, sharp icicles can fall from roofs so always keep a look out and try not to walk too close to buildings.
At some point during the winter, so much snow has accumulated that people give up trying to shovel it. The stairs into the metro are particularly dangerous during rush hour when you’re swept up in an impatient, rushing crowd of Russians. Make your way to the handrail, and hold on tight as you descend.
5 – Drink tea, lots of tea!
Even if some Russians advise you to knock back a few vodka shots from time to time to keep warm, they are more likely joking. Alcohol does give you a feeling of warmth but it can be dangerous: When flushed with spirit, people can fail to notice the cold – which can lead to frostbite. So, it is far better to drink tea or other hot non-alcoholic drinks.
However, nearly everyone survives winter, and there are hundreds of things available to pass the time!
A popular joke about foreigners’ attitude towards Russia’s climate goes like this: A student studying in Russia is writing a letter to his relatives: “During ‘green winter’ it was more or less OK, but when the white one started, things got really hard…”
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