Visas are required for everyone, except citizens of some countries of CIS (Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgizstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan and Armenia). You can apply for a visa in any Russian consulate around the world. For getting a visa you should have an official invitation from a russian citizen, or organization. Usually you don't need to visit the Russian embassy personally ,because, as a rule, many travel agencies in Western Europe and the US can also apply for your visa and are concerned about all the appropriate documents. It usually takes between 2-3 weeks and costs around $70 ( not including the agency fare ). On arrival to Russia you must register your arrival in OVIR (Department of visas and registration) within 72 hours. If you want to visit Russia on your own you'd better get in touch with any Russian hotel which receives foreigners. Most of these hotels are situated in Moscow and Petersburg. Note - once, if you had a valid russian visa, you did not need an additional visa to the CIS countries while transiting throught by public transport. Know, that this agreement is no longer excist ! What means, that if you have, let's say, a visa to Russia, and you intend to cross throw, Belarus (or any other CIS country) on your way to Moscow - you will need to obtain the belorussian visa in advance !
Getting to Russia
There are a lot of flights that connect Moscow, St. Petersburg and many other Russian towns with Europe, Asia, Africa and both Americas. Besides, Russia has a lot of daily railroad routes which links Moscow and St. Petersburg to Paris, Berlin, Warsaw, Prague, Budapest, Helsinki, Athens, Istanbul and also The Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania). In Asia it's the famous Trans-Siberian railroad Moscow - Beijing via Mongolia, and a permanent ferry line from the Russian port of Nakhodka to Japan and South Korea. If you're coming into Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus by train from Poland, Slovakia or Hungary, you will be a witness to the exotic enough part of the journey - the changing of the train's wheels. Since the Russian rail gauge is some 25 cm wider than it's European standard, all rolling stock entering or leaving the former USSR has to move a time-consuming conversion that involves raising the cars some 2 meters above ground on hydraulic platforms, detaching the wheel truck assemblies, and rolling out the wheels from underneath and rolling in the necessary replacements.
Going to Russia
Russia has a well developed transport system. Even a far away region is always connected with the center by railroads and airplanes. The exception is the regions next to the Arctic ocean and a number of places in Siberia and Far Eastern Russia mainly non inhabited and non cultivated. Airplane is the most expensive means of communication. It's cheaper than it's in the West though. Here are some examples of the air fares within Russia (return) :
Moscow - Vladivostok $450
Moscow - Ekaterinburg $200
Moscow - Irkutsk $ 280
Moscow - Sochi $160
Traveling by train is very popular. You should only take into account, that you will have to spend in train a lot of time, if you travel for a long distances (for example a trip between Moscow and Beijing takes 7-8 days). Buses are usually used for local routes. Public transport in Russia is very cheap, comparently to the Western Europe. The cheapest fare of one way trip between Moscow and Sankt-Peterburg (700 km) is $5-7.
Russian cities, central region
Samara (former Kuibushev)
A big industrial city of Samara (1.5 million inhabitiants) is one of the oldest Russian provincial towns , which successed to keep it's charm in spite of the fact , that many russian towns lost it during the Soviet era. There is a big number of interesting 18th century buildings and churches in the old part of the city. Its wide Volga river promenade , with a passanger river port, where you can take a ship, or a "Raketa" on underwater wings and to travel all over the river. There is a permanent passenger lines by river to two main directions: Moscow - Astrakhan, via Kazan, Togilatti, Samara, Nizjni Novgorod and many other cities along the Volga for more than 2,000 kilometers. The other line is "Asrakhan - Perm", is a little longer. A trip from Moscow to Astrakhan, which is situated in the delta of Volga , where it falls into the Caspian sea , takes 5-8 days, depends of the ship and it's route and stopovers. Some shipping comipanies organize full pension on board and excursions to ancient russian towns along the river. A usual price for those trips is comparently cheap (100-120 USD). It's a regular ferry connection with the countries of the Caspian basin : Azerbajan, Iran, Turkemenistan, Kazakhtan (with stopover in Astrakhan).
An industrial town , some 70 km. north of Samara , was founded in the 60's around the biggest soviet car-building plants of "LADA". The city stands on a bank of the Volga river, the largest European river. Up to now the majority if the city's population work at this plant, or are somehow connected with it. By the way, the "LADA" plant organize tours to it's work shops and laborataries. The city itself is typical modern russian town with wide ovenues and 5-9 storey houses. The main feature of Togliatti is the Volga and a huge water reservoir named "Voljskoe Vodokranilishe". The sourtherest point of it is a tree- kilometers- long damb, with hydro - electric power station, which cross the river some kilometers south of Togliatti. If you enter the city from the east, you will see the great russian river with it's steep bank covered with thick forest, sometimes up to 400 meters above the river. The water reserve is 650 kilometers from north to south, 20-25 kilometers wide, in some places it reaches even 80-100 kilometers. There is a port, where you can take a ship, or a "Raketa" on underwater wings and to travel all over the river.
Located at the confluence of the Oka and the Volga rivers, Nizhni Novgorod has been an economical and cultural center of the vast Volgo-Vyatsky region. With its 1.4 million population the city is the 4rd biggest city in Russia. The Nizhni Novgorod Kremlin is the central part of the ancient town which occupies a relatively small territory on a hill dominating the confluence of the Oka and the Volga rivers. The first wooden fortress was built here in 1221. At the time of the Nizhni Novgorod Principality erection of the stone walls began. The walls that you now see date as far back as 1500 - 1511. There are many picturesque buildings within the Kremlin: Clock tower , Archangel Michael's Cathedral, Palaces and museums. From the Old City walls you'll discover a splendid view of the Volga and the Lower part of the city.
The most western town of Russia and an important commercial and military port. Kalinigrad (former Konigsberg), a capital city of eastern Prussia, was captured from Germany by Soviet army, during the Word War-II. This beautiful city was turned into ruins during the battles and air raids in 1944. Todays Kaliningrad is complitly renewed town. Some historical monuments preserved through the years, as Cathedral on an island in the city center with the nearby grave of Immanuil Kant. Two daily trains connect Kaliningrad to Moscow, fout trans a week to Sankt Petersburg (via Vilnius) and daily train to Gdansk (Poland). Several daily buses departure to Poland, Lithuania and Latvia from the central bus terminal. Some interesting small towns are located along the sea shore, as Svetlogorsk (former - Rausen), Zelenogradsk and Yantarny. All these towns belong to the so called "Yantarny bereg" (Amber coast), the famous sea resorts of the former USSR. All of them easily accessible by suburban train from Kaliningrad (about an hour away). Special note ! Avoid of moving into Poland by local train (via Mamonovo/Braniewo), that departure at 15:55 daily from Kaliningrad to Gdynia (Poland). This route is usually used by russian dealers, who try to bring into Poland cheap cigarettes, Vodka, clothes and so on. The women hide under clothes a packages of cigarettes. Some of them will ask you to bring anything through the custom - don't do it ! You can never know what is actually in their bags and packages ! Do not take a chance ! On the border the car will be entered by the customs officers who will search for illegal cigarettes and vodka. It will be accompanied by noise, shouts, disorder. All this can continue for some hours. On the polish side of the border a "party" will be repeated anew.