Russia in January is cold. It's the coldest month of the year, on average, with December and February close behind. It's also very snowy. The average January temperature in Moscow and St. Petersburg is a chilly 23° F (-5° C), and these are some of the warmest cities in Russia! Irkutsk, Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude, and Vladivostok are much colder, but we don't recommend you visit those places in winter.
Winter storms can affect travel to and around Russia. It's partly for this reason that we recommend sticking to Moscow and St. Petersburg in January, rather than trying to fit in too much travel to other places that may end up being disrupted.
If you come from other parts of Northern Europe, Northern and Midwestern USA, or Canada, you are likely used to cold winters and may not find Moscow and St. Petersburg that different. Bring your winter clothing from home and you will be well prepared. If you're from the Antipodes, Southern Europe, or the Southern US, you may need to invest in a warmer winter coat, hat, and gloves. You'll soon understand why the stereotypical hat of choice for many Russians is made of fur.
If you have to travel to Russia in the winter, January actually tends to be preferable than later in the season. While temperatures may be lower in January, by March the snow is melting, bringing horrible slush.
Crowds & Costs
January is the low season in Russia, but because of New Year and Christmas (which is held on 7th January according to the Russian Orthodox calendar), a few visitors are attracted by these festive events. Outside Moscow and St. Petersburg you're unlikely to see many (or any) other travelers, but that's for good reason. Costs will be lower in general in January, although it's advisable to book accommodation as far in advance as possible if you're traveling in the first week of January.
Where to Go
Most travelers will find sticking to Moscow and/or St. Petersburg the most pleasant during mid-winter. These cities have so many indoor cultural attractions that you may not even care what the weather's doing outside. Plus, the great metro systems in both cities make getting around simple, minimizing the need to be outdoors.
What to Do
Try to visit Russia earlier in January so you can enjoy the festive season, even after it's finished at home. New Year's Eve is celebrated in a similar fashion to the rest of the world, but Russian Orthodox Christmas falls on 7th January. What many Westerners call Christmas trees are actually more commonly associated with New Year in Russia, so you'll see plenty of these about in early January. You can also enjoy delightful Christmas markets in the lead up to January 7th.
Other activities to enjoy in January are indoor museums and galleries. Luckily, Moscow and St. Petersburg have some of the finest in the world, including the Hermitage, the Kremlin, the Tretyakov, the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, and much more. 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 January
New Year's Day, January 1st, is a major winter holiday. The "old" New Year, on January 14th, is still celebrated by many people too, although it's not a national holiday.
Christmas Day, January 7th. Russian Orthodox Christmas is celebrated in January rather than on December 25th.
Magic Ice of Siberia Festival, Krasnoyarsk. National and international ice sculpture festival in the Siberian city.
Traveling to Russia in January? 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.
Highlights of Russia's Capital Cities - 8 Days. Discover the distinct cultural and artistic characters of European Russia's two largest and most vibrant cities.
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.