Russia in December is definitely cold. Although it's not quite the coldest month of the year (that's January), it's pretty close, with plenty of snow and ice, and winter storms to boot. The average December temperature in Moscow and St. Petersburg is 26° F (-3° C), but other places like Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude, and Vladivostok are much colder. Storms can also frequently disrupt travel to and within Russia, so we recommend keeping your itinerary simple in December and sticking to Moscow and/or St. Petersburg.
However, if you come from parts of Europe or North America with extremely cold winters, you're unlikely to be surprised by the temperatures and conditions in Moscow or St. Petersburg. Bring your best winter clothing and you will be well prepared. If you're from places with milder winters and little or no snow, you'll probably need to do some winter clothes shopping before arriving in Russia.
If you have to travel to Russia in the winter, December (along with January) may actually be preferable to later in the season or even early spring. Fresh snow is always nicer than slushy, melting snow.
Crowds & Costs
December, and the whole of winter, is low season in Russia. Flights and accommodation is likely to be at its cheapest. However, if you're planning on being in Moscow or St. Petersburg for New Year's Eve celebrations, it's a good idea to book your first choice of hotel in advance.
Where to Go
As mentioned, we recommend sticking to Moscow and/or St. Petersburg during winter travel to Russia. There's a large concentration of indoor things to do in these cities, and getting around them is easy on the metro. By adding other places to your itinerary you risk being delayed by winter weather conditions, including storms, and many smaller towns don't have as many indoor attractions to keep you occupied for very long.
What to Do
If you visit Russia later in December you can enjoy the lead-up to the festive season. In Russia, Christmas isn't actually celebrated until early January, but New Year's Eve is a special occasion, and you will find trees, decorations, and lights all over the place. On 31st December you can also watch fantastic fireworks displays. If this is important to you, try to book a hotel with a view of the city skyline so you don't have to spend long standing around in the cold outside to watch the fireworks.
Other activities to enjoy in December are indoor museums and galleries, as well as dance (ballet) and music performances. Luckily, Moscow and St. Petersburg have some of the finest art and culture in Europe, including the Hermitage, the Kremlin, the Tretyakov, and the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, as well as renowned theaters like the Bolshoi. While getting around these cities you can also enjoy the spectacle of the metro systems, elaborately decorated with some of the finest public art in the world.
Ice skating is a popular winter pastime in Russia, traditionally done on frozen rivers and lakes. There are also special seasonal rinks set up for ice skating, so this is a great way to warm up.
Events in December
Russian Winter Festival. These take place throughout the country from late December and into January, but Moscow's is especially vibrant. Watch cultural and music performances and eat from food stalls in public spaces like parks and squares.
December Nights Festival, Moscow. A festival of music and art exhibits at the Pushkin Museum.
New Year's Eve, 31st December. Celebrated as you would expect, with fireworks displays in the major cities, and all-round revelry.
Traveling to Russia in December? Check out these great itineraries
Winter Holidays in St. Petersburg - 3 Days. This quick three-day tour of Russia's cultural capital includes a lot of seasonally appropriate activities, including time at indoor galleries and theaters.
Cultural Immersion in Moscow - 8 Days. The winter's a great time to take a deep dive into Russian culture on this fun tour that includes a Russian cooking class, a Russian language class, and other activities that you won't find on every tourist itinerary.
Moscow and St. Petersburg Highlights - 6 Days. The winter is an ideal time to check out the highlights of Moscow and St. Petersburg on a short but action-packed tour.