City Breaks: Forget the new Cold War, we're all off to Russia

Relations may be frosty, but British tourist numbers are booming, says Mark Rowe

The black gold flowing from Russia's oilfields has led to an influx of newly wealthy Russians exploring London's property options. But the travel is not all one way. Russia's re-emergence as a superpower has led to the biggest increase in tourism to the country since the Gorbachev era of perestroika in the 1980s.

In the past few months the number of flight options to Russia has dramatically increased, and this has coincided with a significant relaxation in the state's visa regulations. As a result, tourists can now more easily visit some of Russia's provincial cities. Regent Holidays, which has been operating to Russia and the former Soviet Union since 1980, has noticed the shift in interest, with bookings increasing by 300 per cent since the 1980s.

"Back in the 1980s China was our top destination, but for the 2000s Russia has dominated," says Alison White, the company's tours and marketing executive. "Russia remains popular, regardless of political differences both within Russia and between Russia and the UK, though the nature of the kind of traveller has changed significantly, with individual and tailor-made travel the most popular choices."

A major catalyst was the launch, in June 2007, of the Russian airline KD Avia, based in the Russian province of Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic Sea. This summer KD Avia will operate daily services from Gatwick to its base in Kaliningrad, formerly Konigsberg until 1946. The airline has connections to Moscow and St Petersburg, along with several provincial Russian cities, including Chelyabinsk, Ufa, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Rostov, Samara, Perm, Kazan and Volgograd.

The airline predicts that its traffic will grow to between 1.5 million and two million people per year and is banking on attracting passengers exasperated by negative experiences of Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport. Meanwhile, BMI will double the number of flights it operates to Moscow to 14 a week at the end of March.

Since October the airline has also operated a route to Ekaterinburg, the scene of the execution of Tsar Nicholas II and his family in 1918. Ekaterinburg is in the middle of the Urals, one of the geographical borders between Europe and Asia. Apart from a notoriety associated with the Tsar's execution, it has a striking cathedral and several museums.

However, Neil Taylor, a veteran tour operator to Russia and author of a number of books on the former Soviet Union, feels that a number of barriers need to be dismantled before mass tourism to the Russian provinces takes off. "These places are intrinsically interesting but they require a lot of work to visit for the typical traveller," he said. "A thousand pounds can get you a holiday in the US, Thailand or Australia, places where operators and the countries do a lot of promotion. Russia does no promotion whatsoever.

"There's no concession to tourism. A visitor to Kaliningrad or other cities has to accept the motto of 'take us as we are'. Tourism boomed in the late 1980s because we all adored Gorbachev, but today the political coverage of Russia is quite hostile. If you do not speak a smattering of Russian, or can't at least read Cyrillic, you will soon be lost – even if you go slightly off the beaten track in St Petersburg. You can get around South America without speaking Spanish but the same principle doesn't apply in Russia."

For travellers still determined to visit Russia, Mr Taylor suggests they start with the city of Kaliningrad. "Visas can be bought on arrival at the airport, and the place provides a glimpse of Russia and what other provincial towns would offer," he said. "You can get international food there and wander into cafés and restaurants – things that were just difficult or inappropriate to do during Soviet days."


Actress sees off speculation about her appearance in an amazing way

Arts and Entertainment
Serge Pizzorno of Kasabian and Noel Fielding backstage at the Teenage Cancer Trust concerts
musicKasabian and Noel Fielding attack 'boring' musicians
videoWatch Lynda Bellingham's tragic final Loose Women appearance
A view of today's Spanish papers
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The last great picture - Winner 'Black and White' and overall 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year'

Arts and Entertainment
High notes, flat performance: Jake Bugg

Review: Despite an uphill climb to see Jake Bugg in action, his performance is notably flat

The Putin automaton will go on sale next month in Germany
videoMusical Putin toy showing him annexing Crimea could sell for millions

Powerful images of strays taken moments before being put down

Arts and Entertainment
S Club 7 pose for Children in Need 2001
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
'Right Here' singer Jess Glynne is nominated for Best Newcomer at the MOBO Awards 2014
musicExclusive: Jess Glynne hits out at 'ridiculous' criticism of white artists nominated for Mobo Awards
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Brand has written a book of political analysis called Revolution

Review: Witty banalities aside, the comedian has an authentic voice

Arts and Entertainment
Separated at birth? Frank Sivero (left) claims The Simpsons based Mafia character Louie on his Goodfellas character
arts + entsFrank Sivero sues Simpsons studio over allegedly basing mobster character on Frank Carbone
Carl Bernstein (left) and Bob Woodward (right) with former 'Washington Post' executive editor Ben Bradlee

The Washington Post editor helped Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein bring down President Nixon

Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London