With big events about to dawn, the huge country is slowly opening up
Hundreds of thousands of international visitors are expected in Russia for two of the biggest events on the sporting calendar – the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014 and the FIFA World Cup in 2018. But Russia is still finding it hard to shake off its image as a difficult destination to see and travel around. There is little or no official information at the capital’s three airports; the taxi mafia takes advantage of tourists; hotels are either discouragingly expensive or sub-economy; visa applications are an unnecessary headache; and there are no tourist information centres, even in Moscow. Russia, it seems, doesn’t welcome visitors.
Things may be changing. Russia promises to renovate the capital’s airports. Visa-free travel during the FIFA World Cup has been proposed. Russia receives more than 15 million visitors each year, placing it 15th in the world. But scenic delights such as the Golden Ring of ancient cities, 23 UNESCO World Heritage sites, cruises on the Volga and trips on the Trans-Siberian Railway are under-marketed and often difficult to experience even for the most hardy of travellers.
[pictured: Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, demolished during the Soviet period and reconstructed during the 1990s]