Wheelchair accessible travel in Russia

GetLocals Information for accessible travel in Russia Can you travel easily in Russia?

Russia still has a long way to go before it’s a truly suitable country for disabled people to travel around, but progress is being made. Moscow is a city of great opportunities for work and leisure. Millions of tourists visit the capital annually. It is comfortable for people with mobility issues. Beginning with train stations and airports, accessibility for wheelchair users is being upgraded, including handrails, lifts, wide entrances and so on. 

Accessible tourism for all is growing worldwide. It gives more than 1 billion travelers with disabilities the opportunities to experience and explore countries 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. GetLocals shares the principles of sustainable tourism and wants to promote Accessible travel within Russia for wheelchair travelers.

Russia is a major tourism destination and with the relaxing of the visa regime for many travelers tourism is expected to grow threefold over the coming years. For many Russia still seems inaccessible for most people with disabilities; most  wheelchair travelers avoid tours to Russia.

However, the situation has been changing rapidly over the last few years and accessibility for everyone has been growing at a huge pace. International events such as Sochi Winter Olympic Games 2014 and World Cup 2018 have made an impact and pushed major cities of Russia to become more friendly for people with disabilities, including those in a wheelchair. Even before this 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. Changes have been happening all the time over the last few years in an effort to bring Russia inline with other countries.

We at GetLocals would like to show you the situation in Russia today for wheelchair accessible travel within Russia, and answer the question “How challenging is it to visit Russia if you are in a wheelchair?” Looking at the two main cities in Russia St Petersburg and Moscow we will give you an idea how much things have changed in Russia making accessible travel in Russia a real reality.

Here we go:

 Arrival in Russia Should I Worry?

All Airports in Moscow and St. Petersburg meet international standards and are fully equipped for passengers in a wheelchair. All airports have special services for free: All airport  staff will assist you in all the necessary procedures, just check the information on airport websites:

Sheremetyevo      Moscow

Domodedovo        Moscow

Vnukovo                Moscow

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 travelling between the airport to the city centre has become very accessible for all.

All the buses traveling between St. Petersburg’s Pulkovo Airport and the city are equipped with special ramps to help people in wheelchairs get on and off.


Can I get a taxi?

Of course you can! 

Most services offer door-to-door escort, climbing and descending stairs, including in houses without elevators, though some taxi companies can ask for extra payment in some cases. It’s always better to order these taxis in advance (ideally several hours before your journey).

In Moscow there’s a city’s social taxi (link in Russian) service – you can email [email protected] or call +7 495 951-77-68. It’s even available for a group of people with limited mobility.

There’s also the Invataxis service that even provides a wheelchair free of charge. You can order online or call +7 495 580-60-64 or +7 495 504-39-90 (available for English speakers). Invataxi also arranges guided tours in English for disabled people (both for groups and individuals). The price is flexible depending on the circumstances, transfers from the airport costs 4,000 rubles ($70).

In St. Petersburg there are also several taxi services for people on wheels and groups with disabilities.  By the way Invataxis is available in St. Petersburg too.

Taxovichkof taxi service has a website in English, so you can easily book online or call +7 812 330-00-02, there is a range of services drivers offer. The price starts from 1,200 rubles ($21).


Comfortable hotels for city guests

Modern Moscow hotels greet their guests with disabilities with comfortable rooms providing accessible accommodation. People in a wheelchair can move freely not only along wide corridors but also in spacious rooms and bathrooms. Hotels that accept people with limited mobility provide parking places on their territory as close to the building as possible. By the way, most buildings of the capital have such parking places. 


 Accessible Russian tourist sites

With sights including the Kremlin, Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Pushkin National Art Museum, Moscow is a dream destination for travelers of all abilities. Due to the country’s past history of discrimination towards the disabled and “invalids,” few would expect the city of Moscow to be accessible to those with mobility challenges. Surprisingly, though, the city can be accessed by those in wheelchairs, despite a number of obstacles which remain. While wheelchair travelers will have limited access to many museums and sights, the public transportation system can be utilized with planning. In a country whose government draws the ire of the world for its aggression and recent moves toward expansion, its growing access to the disabled community is a surprising reality that should be celebrated.

Most popular museums, cathedrals, theatres and other sights in Moscow and St.Petersburg are fairly accessible for travelers in wheelchairs.

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 and a bit bumpy, 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 are 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 travelers. Please be aware things are changing very fast on this front.

St Petersburg is a city full of attractions and unforgettable experiences which everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime.

But what about disabled visitors – how accessible is the city to people in wheelchairs? Here is some essential information regarding the city’s most popular attractions which are also wheelchair-friendly…

The Mariinsky Theatre is the place to go to enjoy world-renowned Russian ballet. For years, this opera house was not adapted for wheelchair users, but work is in hand to provide excellent accessibility. The opera house is fitted with ramps and features polite and attentive staff to make your visit truly unforgettable.

The Catherine Palace was the summer residence of Russia’s emperors and empresses. It will amaze you with its splendour and richness, its stories and legends. And its legendary Amber Chamber is a must! The palace is fully adapted for wheelchair visitors, with lifts and adapted toilets. Outside, all the paths are made of fine gravel, with ramps to help you get from one level to another.

The State Hermitage is St Petersburg’s main museum. Located in the Winter Palace, once home to Russian emperors, as well as in the buildings of the Small, Old and New Hermitages, the Hermitage Theatre and Reserve House, it contains all you need to know, not only about the history of the Tsars, but also the lives and works of the people who produced the countless masterpieces collected under its roof. The Hermitage is one of the most accessible attractions in the city, with its electric lifts and large-capacity elevators. Toilets for disabled visitors are fully adapted.


Accessible travel around the cities

In recent years much has been done to improve the accessibility of Moscow’s streets for people with disabilities. Pedestrian roads and crossings are now mostly equipped with ramped curbs and traffic lights with audio signals for people with impaired vision.

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 and these improvements are constantly being updated.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.

The second most popular city for foreign tourists, St. Petersburg, has a special route for wheelchair travelers. 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 with accessible access to most public amenities. Accessible travel in St Petersburg is moving at a fast rate, new facilities are being updated and added all the time.

Shopping accessibility

As a rule, large shopping centers of the capital are situated in modern buildings that meet the accessibility requirements for all the categories of disabled people. Therefore, shopping in such centers is accessible to all. There you can visit a cafe, cinema, entertainment areas, etc. 

Moscow is a hospitable city and is always happy to warmly welcome its guests. The city makes great efforts to make cultural facilities and services accessible and comfortable for people with disabilities. Very little time will pass and there will be no inaccessible places in the city. 


Public Transport is it accessible?

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 and if you plan any Moscow trip using this metro you will have no problems.
If you prefer to use a taxi, there are several options, like social taxi or Invataxi, their cars are adapted for wheelchair travelers.

Thousands of disabled tourists visit Moscow and St. Petersburg each year, and the cities are becoming more and more wheelchair friendly. Most cultural institutions and tourist facilities are trying to install the necessary equipment for people with special needs.

So it’s now possible to visit lots of theaters, cinemas, and restaurants. If you want your tour to be comfortable and hassle free it’s always better to plan in detail and contact the organizations you want to visit in advance, making sure they have everything needed to give you a warm welcome.

To help you plan your trip to Russia we suggest :

  1. Plan your itinerary in advance, using information about the accessibility of the streets.
  2. Include more time to get from one place to another
  3. 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. You will find many young people in Russia speak English.

    If you would like to book an accessible Russian tour with us please contact us.

    Have a great time in Russia!