Perched on Russia’s eastern coast on the Sea of Japan, Vladivostok is seven time zones, over 9,000 miles, and a seven-day train trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow. While the language, architecture, and many customs may be shared between the Russian capital and this international commercial port and naval base, Vladivostok has an eastern flavor all its own. “The city is much closer to Japan, Korea, and China than distant Moscow,” says Irina Barbashova.
Vladivostok is considered one of the most beautiful oceanfront cities in the world and is often compared to San Francisco. The city sits on hills above the bay, and there are naturally beautiful areas nearby, great food, and locals and visitors out enjoying the water and the beautiful beaches. Vladivostok even has its own version of the Golden Gate Bridge, the beautiful Russky Bridge.
The Barbashov family took a trip to Vladivostok's famous sea glass beach, and shared their tips for a beachcombing trip to Russia.
Here’s a quick rundown of some basics of visiting Vladivostok.
Before you go:
- A trip to Russia requires a lot of advance planning. You can try to do it all yourself or you can use a service to help you get all the documentation you need in order to enter the country. You’ll need visa support document, which includes a tourist voucher and reservation confirmation from a Russian travel agency, in order to apply for a visa. Gather your passport, photos, travel insurance, and all the details of your trip and then you can apply online through the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs website or in person at a Russian Consulate. You will have to pay upwards from US$160 and then wait for your visa to arrive. Give yourself plenty of time and consider using a professional service to help make the process go smoothly!
- Study the Cyrillic alphabet, and the sound each letter makes, and how to say hello, goodbye, please, thank you, yes, no, where, toilet, and any other words you might need regularly in Russian. “People on the streets of Vladivostok don’t necessarily speak English,” says Irina. “Children learn Chinese and Korean as a foreign language.” Add the Google Translate app to your smartphone and download the Russian language so you have access to it even when you have no wireless or cell connection.
- Learn about customs, styles, and etiquette before you arrive so that you are comfortable meeting locals. “People were nice in Vladivostock—definitely a mellow relaxed beach-town vibe,” says Anna Barbashova. “People dress a tad more formally there, for example, you wouldn’t see people walking around in sweatpants.”
- lights to Vladivostok from the U.S. involve at least one stop at an airport in Asia, and your entire trip can take more than 24 hours from start to finish, even from the west coast of the U.S. Book your flights early to get the best prices. Travel during the off-season is usually less expensive.
- If you are visiting Moscow and St. Petersburg in western Russia, book a compartment for a seven-day trip on the Trans-Siberia Railway, which winds between Europe and Asia. You’ll pass through pine and birch forests, mountains, and have plenty of time to make friends with fellow passengers—and get an idea of the sheer size of Russia.
- The airport in Vladivostok is not far from the city center. You can get to your hotel via bus, taxi, train, or car. “We rented a car which we found very convenient,” says Anna. “The roads are nice and wide. The only difficulty might be navigation for people if they can’t read Russian.”
- If you are interested in going to Glass Beach at Steklyannaya Bay, a car lets you visit the beach when you want and for as long as you want. Anna noted that buses are infrequent to the beach and stop there for only a short time.
- To visit the city and the surrounding areas, consider a guided tour. “I think the best way to look around the area is to hire an English-speaking local to guide you,” says Irina. You can also use taxis to get around.
When to visit:
- The Barbashova family liked visiting during early spring, but the weather can be very chilly. “I think April was a lovely time to visit because we had the beach pretty much all to ourselves,” Anna says. “We actually had to shop for winter jackets when we got there because it was colder than expected.”
- August through October are considered the best months to visit for the mildest weather.
What to bring:
- Bring your passport and don’t lose the registration card you receive when you enter Russia, as you need it in order to leave.
- Bring some cash in Russian rubles, and crisp bills of your own currency to exchange while you are there. ATMs are usually located inside banks and are not always easily available.
- Russians can be conservative, so be sensitive to local customs. Bring long pants, long-sleeved shirts, and a large scarf so you can cover your head, shoulders, and legs when visiting churches and other cultural places.
Where to stay and eat:
- Irina recommends the Villa ArtE hotel (villa-arte.ru). “It is not in the center of city but it is located on the way to the airport and not far from Glass Beach,” she says. It’s a good place to stay if Glass Beach is your main destination while visiting.
- Next to the hotel is the historical Lesnaya Zaimka restaurant (lesnaya-zaimka-vl.ru/en/). “The name translates as Hunter’s Lodge, but it looks more like Hunter’s Palace in my opinion,” laughs Irina. During the Soviet era, it was a meeting place for heads of state. “U.S. President Gerald Ford and Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev had a reception after signing the agreement to limit nuclear weapons in 1974,” adds Irina. The cuisine includes wild boar, venison, and sea food, as well as vegetarian and vegan dishes.
- The Barbashova family also enjoyed dinner at Zuma Restaurant (zumavl.ru/en/), several breakfasts and lunches at Moloko & Med (milknhoney.ru), and MIDIYA Cafe (midiavl.ru ). Irina’s daughter, Nadia, is a vegan and since their visit fell during Russian Orthodox Lent, restaurants were serving their lenten menus (постное меню) with dishes containing no animal products. “It was a pleasant and very convenient surprise,” Irina says.
- Vladivostok is famous for its sea food and Pan-Asian food. Irina adds, “It is pretty common to see scallops as an option to add to your omelet for breakfast!” Local specialties include Pian-se dumplings, stuffed with spiced meat and cabbage, and giant crab legs, sea urchin, and king prawns freshly prepared by vendors at Sportivnaya Market.
While you are there:
- For beachcombers, the number one attraction is Glass Beach at Steklyannaya Bay. You can take the #26 bus, but check the schedule to make sure you have enough time at the beach. “Local people are not interested in the beach,” Irina says. “We saw couple of tourist busses stop and let Korean and Chinese travelers spend 15-20 minutes on the beach.” When a local woman walking on the beach saw Anna picking up glass, she said “Why do you want it? It only looks nice while it’s wet. When you bring it home it will become dry and ugly.” Anna just responded, “I know!” and continued beachcombing. Anna adds, “There was a sign which stated that gathering sea glass was not permitted, but it seemed handmade by the man who monitored the parking lot. We are unaware of any restrictions on gathering sea glass.”
- Visit the Russky Island Bridge and the outlying islands and take the funicular to the top of Eagle’s Nest Hill for views of the city. You can visit lighthouses along the coast or swim in Golden Horn Bay.
- Irina also recommends a trip to the S-56 Submarine Museum. You can climb inside this decommissioned Soviet U-boat, which earned medals for the German ships it destroyed in World War II.
- Be respectful of locals, don’t take photos of police or government buildings, and use common sense when in crowded areas. Ask your hotel about any unsafe areas, be vigilant at night, and be careful of speeding traffic, even in marked crosswalks.
This article appeared in the Beachcombing Magazine September/October 2019 issue.