05 Dec Wheelchair Accessible Travel in Russia
Accessible tourism as a separate direction in the tourism sector is growing worldwide. It gives more than 1 billion travelдers with disabilities the opportunities to gain experience and explore places which were unavailable to them before. The United Nations World Tourism Organization promotes an initiative “Accessible Tourism for All” among all countries and declares that facilitating travel for people with special needs is an integral element of any responsible and sustainable tourism policy. ExploRussia shares the principles of sustainable tourism and wants to figure out the situation with Accessible Russia for wheelchair travellers.
Having the status of one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, Russia still seems to be not accessible for all people and most of the wheelchair travellers avoid tours to Russia.
However, within the last few years, the situation is slowly but constantly changing. Such events as Sochi Winter Olympic Games 2014 and World Cup 2018 have made its impact and pushed major cities of Russia to become more friendly for people with disabilities, including those in a wheelchair. Besides, in 2011 the government launched a state program, called “Accessible Environment”. It’s aimed at making barrier-free infrastructures so that people in wheelchairs could get around streets and use social services.
We would like to show what the exact situation with wheelchair accessible Russia travel, and answer the question “How challenging is it to visit Russia if you are in a wheelchair?” For that, we want to observe two major cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg and see how it goes with tourist sites, public transport and streets there.
Upon your arrival in Russia
All Airports in Moscow and St. Petersburg meet international standards and are fully equipped for passengers in a wheelchair. All of them have special services which you can require for free: the staff will assist you in all necessary procedures, just check the information on airport websites:
Pulkovo, St. Petersburg
To get to the city center from the airports it is convenient to use Aeroexpress. Upon request, passengers with mobility challenges can get assistance free of charge. Trains have folding ramps to accommodate the needs of wheelchair users, as well as special seats and toilet facilities. The new double-deck carriages are equipped with unique lifts, which are used to transport passengers in wheelchairs between the decks.
Accessible Russia tourist sites
Most popular museums, cathedrals, theatres and other sights in Moscow and St.Petersburg are fairly accessible for travelers in wheelchairs.
For example, the State Hermitage, the main museum of St. Petersburg has electric lifts, large-capacity elevators and adapted toilets for visitors with mobility challenges. Besides, St. Isaac Cathedral, a magnificent church, is equipped with ramps, lifts and an elevator to enable wheelchair travelers to visit the Colonnade and enjoy the panoramic views of the city. We advise to check the accessibility rules beforehand because in some places not all types of wheelchairs can be allowed, but in this case, their own wheelchairs may be offered for use.
If it’s your first time in Moscow, your must-see destinations are probably Red Square, Kremlin, Lenin’s Mausoleum, St Basil’s Cathedral, the GUM department store, Bolshoi Theater, Cathedral of Christ the savior. Most of these places are welcoming to visitors of all abilities but there are exceptions. For instance, St.Basil’s Cathedral and some places in Kremlin are accessed via stairs and it’s not possible to install special equipment there. Please be aware, that Red Square is paved with cobblestones, so the ride will be rough, but passable. There is also asphalt road along the GUM but due to the fact that Red Square is a place for different events, construction or deconstruction may be on the go and this road will be closed. So one should check beforehand.
Before visiting the sites, you might need to check the corresponding websites for detailed information, this is the one for the Hermitage, for instance. Sometimes you need to inform the staff about your arrival beforehand so that they could prepare for your visit: turn on a special lift or escort you inside a building. In most cases the staff is hospitable and ready to assist, however, there may be lack of experience of communicating with a person in a wheelchair (such visitors are still quite rare) and may not know how to deal with special equipment they have for wheelchair travellers.
Getting around the cities
It is still quite far from saying that our streets are barrier-free and totally accessible for disabled people. However, significant improvements have been made over the last 5 years.
In Moscow city center, for example, about 55% of walking zones are ready for individuals in a wheelchair. Many sidewalks are smooth and nearly all intersections have curb cuts. Crossing the big streets is usually done via underpasses, which are equipped with ramps. Sounds good, but one without an assistance can hardly manage to use these ramps, though: some of them are of the wrong width and with a very sharp angle of slope. We recommend you to build your route in advance to choose the most accessible way. There is a website that shows barrier-free streets, cafes, public toilets and places of attraction in Moscow. It’s only in Russian now, so you can use Google translate to help you.
Photo was taken from site mos.ru
The second most popular city for foreign tourists, St. Petersburg, has a special route for wheelchair travellers. It covers the most popular sights in the city center: the State Hermitage Museum, The General Staff Building, Stroganov Palace, Kazan Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. On the route, you can find barrier-friendly cafes, restaurant, and parks, and you don’t need to worry about the road itself: streets are plain and embankments have a smooth coating.
Besides, the main street of the city, Nevsky Prospect is also a wheelchair friendly zone.
Moscow has a vast modern system of ground public transportation. Today, 90% of all busses and 70% of trolley buses have lowered floors and ramps, and are ready for passengers in a wheelchair. Drivers can also help disabled passengers, if necessary.
The Metro in Moscow being very famous for its beauty, can be a challenge. Most of the platforms in the center were built in 1930-1970 and are not equipped with lifts. However, a special service for passengers with mobility challenges was introduced a few years ago. Metro staff can help you buy tickets, plan your trip, and assist you in using the Metro. It is free of charge, but you need to book it in advance, ideally 2 days before your planned trip. Dial 8 800 250-73-41 and start speaking English. An operator who answers the phone might not speak English but he or she will connect you with the one who does. More information is on the Metro website. It’s in Russian, so again, remember about your friend Google translate.
There is MCC (Moscow Central Circle) and the trains are super-modern there. The stations of the Moscow Central Circle are adapted for people with disabilities.
If you prefer to use a taxi, there are several options, like social taxi or Invataxi, their cars are adapted for wheelchair travellers.
To sum up, in terms of Accessible Russia Travel we can say that Moscow and St. Petersburg are welcoming to wheelchair travellers. Though sometimes it might still be quite a challenging adventure to explore our country in a wheelchair. Here are three plain tips we advise visitors to follow:
-Plan your itinerary in advance, using information about the accessibility of the streets.
– Include more time to get from one place to another.
-Don’t be shy and ask passers-by to assist you. The local people are friendly and ready to help, despite the difficulties with the English language.
And be sure, that for your readiness to some inconveniences, Russia will pay you back with its hospitality, and diverse experience. To organize a tailor-made tour for you please contact us.