From Moscow's bright lights to Siberia's ancient tribes, the world's biggest country is a glorious mishmash of modernism and traditionalism, yet the country often makes the news for all the wrong reasons.
This is incredibly unfortunate as Russia is home to an array of cultural delights and boasts a long and varied history that has inspired countless works of arts. In many ways, you could say Russia is the most interesting country on Earth, and to prove this here are 25 surprising facts about Russia that will only make you want to visit this glorious country.
1. Communist? Not in our books!
While media outlets like to associate Russia with all-things communist- despite the breakup of the Soviet Union occupying almost 30 years ago- the country's cities are like most others in Europe. Contrary to popular belief, even the naming of the famous Red Square isn't related to communism.
Red Square actually derives from the word "krasnyi", which once meant beautiful. It has nothing to do with the red budenovka hat that became an archetypal part of the Communist military uniforms during the civil war.
2. Cold? Russians don't know the meaning of the word!
Due to its northern, geographical standing, Russia is one of the coldest countries in the world, and in rural parts of the country, temperatures have been known to be less than -40 degrees Celsius.
But Russians are used to the harsh conditions, and consider it wimpy if someone lowers the ear flaps on their Ushanka (fur hat) unless the temperature is below -20C.
3. A Russian traffic jam is hell on Earth!
Major metropolises have long suffered from traffic jams, and Russia's capital, Moscow is no exception.
So bad can it get that wealthy Russians have been known to hire ambulances so they can bypass the traffic!
4. While you may think it unfair, foreigners pay much higher entrance fees than Russians for many attractions
Under the "discounts for Russian citizens" scheme, natives and citizens can pay a significantly reduced fee, which is fair enough when you consider that most tourists who can afford a plane journey and a hotel, can also afford to pay a higher entry fee to famous attractions.
You may not think it fair, but if it allows more impoverished Russians to experience their culture and history, then you can't really argue with the scheme.
5. Russian McDonald's serve a dish you can't buy in America
The McShrimp is served across the fast food retailer's various Russian outlets, and according to many Internet users, it is actually quite good.
A perfect substitute for fries, it can also be used as a side dish to accompany your scrumptious Big Mac.
6. The world's most terrifying walkway?
At 439-meters long, the Sky Bridge is one of the world's most spine-chilling walkways and is one of many attractions at Sochi's SkyPark.
Other rides that we recommend vertigo sufferers avoid include the "MegaTroll" zip-wire ride, which whisks you 700 meters in the air at speeds of 90mph. The park also boasts "the highest swing in the world."
7. Padlock trees are a regular feature in and around Moscow
Paris may be considered the City of Love, but Russians are just as soppy when it comes to dealing with their emotions, so much so that various padlock trees are found in the capital.
Couples place love-lock padlocks on trees to express their love, mimicking the tradition of Parisians and tourists who visited Paris's Pont des Arts bridge before the local council removed all of them.
8. Women galore
Model scouts have long scoured Russia to find the next top female model, and with many possessing striking features, tall and slender bodies, and natural, platinum blonde hair, that isn't surprising. But their job is made a lot easier when you consider that the country boasts 11 million more women than men!
While there are many good looking Russian men, it's little wonder they aren't held in the same esteem as their female counterparts!
9. A restaurant in Moscow is staffed entirely by twins
Twin Stars restaurant in Moscow claims to be the only one of its kind to employ identical twins. Each set of twins sports matching attire, and judging by the BBC report on the establishment, are often very good looking.
The owner claims he was inspired by a 1960s Soviet-era film The Kingdom of Crooked Mirrors, which sees a girl cross into an alternate world and find her twin.
10. Russia has more time zones than any other country
Being the largest country in the world means a whole host of time zones are going to exist across its 17.1m square kilometers, and in Russia's case, 11 different time zones exist- more than any other country!
To put things in perspective, Moscow, which is situated in the east of the country, is 9 hours behind the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, which is closer to Japan than it is Moscow.
11. Welcome to the coldest inhabited place on Earth
It should come as little surprise that a place as cold as Russia is home to the coldest populated place on Earth. Located along the Indigirka River, 19 miles northwest of the more populous rural locality of Tomtor, Oymyakon's 500 inhabitants regularly endure death-defying temperatures.
Unbelievably, on February 6, 1933, a temperature as low −67.7 °C was recorded at its weather station. Waking up in the morning must be a real drag...
12. The Hermitage is home to around 70 cats
The glitzy Saint Petersburg museum The Hermitage has kept up a longstanding reputation of housing over 70 cats to guard its treasures against rodents.
The tradition goes back to a 1745 decree of Empress Elizabeth (daughter of Peter the Great).
13. Adolf Hitler planned his victory celebrations in Russia
The grandiose Astoria hotel in St Petersburg is where history's most evil tyrant, Adolf Hitler, intended to host a celebratory banquet once he'd conquered the city.
However, while the Germans conquered many European cities, they failed miserably when making inroads in Russia, and Hitler never did realize his dream of dining there.
14. Russia's literacy rate is among the highest in the world
Russia doesn't only boast a host of world-class academic institutions- it also one of the world's most impressive literacy rates.
A staggering 99.7% of the population can read and write by age 15, bettering the likes of America and Britain.
15. Politics never looked so good
While Russian society still predominates towards a more traditional, patriarchal society, Russian women have started to enter the political area in recent years in both parliament and government.
An example of this is the Ukranian born Natalia Poklonskaya who is currently Deputy of the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Federal Assembly. Poklonskaya's political career came after years as a prosecutor in Ukraine before she resigned in 2014 amid the Crimean crisis.
In 2014, a press conference of Natalia's went viral in Japan and China due to her attractiveness. Within a month, the video had notched up 1.7m views, leading many to label her "Putin's sexy prosecutor." Some fans went as far as to depict the politician in a whole host of anime drawings.
These included intricate illustrations of a Japanese-looking Poklonskaya donning purple hair, and sitting authoritatively at her desk as though she was a superhero planning to take over the world with her fearlessness and no-nonsense approach to justice.
Fanart was also produced by many Russian Internet users who gave her the nickname Nyasha because of her aesthetically pleasing appearance though she wasn't best please. Commenting on the matter, her stance seemed to be indicative of her high-powered, judicial position. "I am the prosecutor here and therefore won't tollerate any nyashas-myashas!," she said.
16. Bodybuilding Russians aren't to be messed with (and that includes her)
Coming to terms with the fact you're not as strong as a woman is an age-old fear and shame many men have, despite living in the 21-st century. So if you're one of those men who feel challenged by strong women, Russia may not be for you! After all, Russia has a reputation for producing some of the best bodybuilders, and a large number of Olympic champions have been produced in various weight disciplines.
Not only the preserve of men, Russian women are as much celebrated for maintaining a strong physique as they are their femininity.
17. Russia: The European capital of beauty pageants
Though America may claim hold to being the capital of beauty pageants, Russia is most certainly the European capital. Indeed, aspiring commercial models from all over the country aspire to land a coveted spot on the ‘Miss Russia’ beauty pageant, which has been known to kickstart the careers of some of the most beautiful faces in Russia.
The contest has been running since 1992, with much smaller, local competitions also taking place. Those deemed pretty enough to participate in the Miss Russia contest will have the chance to compete in both the Miss World and Miss Universe competitions held in America if they win the event.
18. A beard tax in Russia actually existed
Go back a few centuries, and hipsters would be pretty screwed in the finance department! In 1698, Emperor Peter I issued a beard tax in Russia because of the sheer number of citizens sporting long and hairy facial hair.
If you were poor but still wanted to keep your facial hair, authorities would detain offenders and shave it all off as the Emperor wanted his citizens to look like Western European models.
19. Russia produces some of the world's best female athletes
Though the men's soccer team continues to flounder (despite hosting the 2018 FIFA World Cup) and its usual litany of male tennis players dwindles, the female athletes have outshone the men for some time, particularly in tennis (Maria Sharapova) and athletics (Darya Klishina).
That being said, the men's basketball and ice hockey teams often go to the latter stages of most international tournaments, but there isn't a worldwide sporting male superstar like Sharapova.
20. Russia's fashion industry is world-renowned
While London, Paris, New York, and Milan are considered the fashion capitals of the world, Moscow is also a big player, and not just for the incredible amount of top female models it produces.
In fact, the designers are equally as lauded. From Syndicate of High Fashion member Valentin Yudashkin to Disney's favorite creative collaborator, Alexander Terekhov, their designs are ubiquitous throughout the country, from the well-dressed Moscovites to the uber-cool and trendy artists working in Saint Petersburg.
As you can see from the photo above, even members of the military are dressed to impress!
21. Moscow: A rich man's playground
Following on from the collapse of the Soviet Union, opportunistic Russians capitalized on this and became incredibly wealthy, with the country's capital, Moscow, now home to an estimated 62 billionaires.
To put things into perspective, London and Hong Kong each have 43 billionaires, which is nothing compared to the 63 billionaire Moscovites.
22. Russian pipelines are enormous!
As one of the world's leading petroleum exporters, Russia has the largest reserve of natural gas in the world. Such an abundance of prized resources have seen a series of elongated pipelines stretch across the nation.
In total, Russia’s incredible pipelines are 259,913 kilometres long. While such a topic may sound underwhelming, it is worth bearing in mind that Earth is only 40,075 kilometres in circumference, which means Russia’s pipelines could quite easily wrap themselves around earth six times!
23. Only in Russia will you (one day) find sea tunnels connecting Russia to Alaska!
Russian engineering visionaries reckon a series of tunnels can one day connect Mother Russia to America's coldest state, Alaska! The $65bn project would see three sea tunnels connect Russia to Alaska, and thus allow cars to travel there.
The TKM-World Link also proposes a superhighway that would connect London to New York!
24. Russia has a national day of conception (a.k.a. fun time)
While this sounds too good to be true, the governor of Ulyanovsk decided to tackle the country's declining population by incentivizing Russians to procreate with cash prizes and other gifts!
With enough support, he declared September the 12th a “Day of Conception" and over the years, the policy has been successful as birth rates typically triple in June- nine months after the holiday. The holiday grants workers in relationships and marriages half a day off work.
25. One lake in Russia has enough pollution to kill you within an hour!
Most developed nations have problems with pollution due to unregulated economic growth, but Russia's problem with pollution isn't only annoying, it can also be deadly.
While the fumes from Moscow's Range Rover's won't do you much harm, stepping anywhere near Lake Karachay is likely to result in death. Indeed, within an hour, humans can die from the radiation poisoning due to the tainted water, caused by nearby nuclear facilities. Unsurprisingly, Lake Karachay is considered the most polluted place on Earth.