The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia takes place over 16 days (Feb. 7-23). Hopefully, you’ve secured travel arrangements ahead of the Winter Games.
But if you’re like a handful of Westerners making last minute plans and are unfamiliar with the popular summer and winter vacation destination, a visitor’s guide should come in handy ahead of your arrival.
This Sochi Winter Games travel companion provides you with information on the Olympic venue, things to do, must-see destinations, the food, culture, safety tips and how to navigate between various points in the pristine mountain city.
Traveling to the 2014 Sochi Winter Games
At this point, spectators who live outside of Russia should be well aware of various requirements for international travel. Surely, you’ve made lodging arrangements, purchased ticket to the Winter Olympics and applied for your Spectator Pass. However, the single-most item that you need in order to pass customs is a visa to the Russian Federation. Without it, you’re sure to miss figure skater Kim Yuna (South Korea), skier Alex Pullin (Australia), Canadian speed skater Clara Hughes, Lolo Jones, Shani Davis, Shaun White or any other of the remaining 227 athletes from the United States.
The City of Sochi
Given the fact that Sochi is a darling of a city, it’s odd that the Winter Olympics have never been held there.
Nested alongside the Black Sea, millions of Russians flock to the city and take advantage of the resort-style amenities offered year round in a mild climate that is perfect for soaking up sunshine. The picturesque southern city boasts a subtropical climate one would expect to see in Jamaica or the island of Grand Bahama.
The lazy beach city is located about 1,000 miles south of Moscow. And get this: by Russian standards, the town is relatively young. It only received its township status in 1917. Imagine that? Perhaps, that’s why it’s compared with other hip cities and stretches of beach like Daytona and Miami Beach in the United States.
The rustic city looks out to the pristine waters of the Black Sea to one side and the snowy mountains on the other. As such, in just minutes, one can go from soaking in medicinal herbal baths at one of many lavish resorts, to the snowy peaks for alpine skiing.
View: Google Map of Sochi and the Black Sea
Tickets for the 2014 Winter Olympics
Getting tickets to the Olympic venues and other cultural events are offered on the official Winter Olympics website, but with one caveat: you must purchase Sochi Winter Games tickets with a Visa credit card issued in Russia, only.
For international visitors without the requisite card, you may be able to buy tickets from a verified broker before the start of the Olympic Games. CoSport is a well-known ticket broker that handles transactions – including FIFA World Cup tickets — from buyers around the world, including the United States and Canada.
Lodging: Where to stay during the Winter Olympics at Sochi?
The seaside town has numerous highly-rated hotels and resorts. I recommend JetSetSports, which is an Official Sochi 2014 Hospitality supplier. They can handle all of your accommodations needs and have travel packages that include tickets to all events.
If you want a more private affair and desire to mingle with natives for a hands-on experience in Russian culture, there are options to rent/lease private apartments, homes and smaller-sized accommodations.
Note : Marriott International recently opened a five-star hotel in Sochi. The Marriott Krasnaya Polyana Hotel is strategically constructed at the foothills of the popular Caucasus Mountains and is a short walk from world-class ski slopes.
Sochi entertainment and things to do beyond the Olympic events
For many, this trip to Russia may be the only time they venture to a foreign country. And while the Olympic host committee has in place an enormous mix of things to do while at any of the several event clusters, the city of Sochi offers so much more for your tourist appetite.
The setting alongside the sea is often compared to sandy beaches in California and sunny Florida, but in a more subdued manner. For instance, Sochi has a menagerie of fine and casual restaurants, art museums, Zoom Flumes, walking tours and discotheques that stay open until 4 a.m. MSK. Additionally, many of the restaurants host live entertainment for diners.
Need more? Check out the many parks and botanical gardens, subterranean caves, waterfalls and mountain treks Sochi has to offer.
The Travel Channel has a food and drink photo gallery that gives you an idea of Russian fare to tempt your taste buds.
Try the Khachapuria while you’re on vacation. It looks like the American version of an apple or strawberry pastry, but it’s a “salty and savory cheese-filled bread from neighboring Georgia and is a popular savory snack found throughout Russia as well,” according to the TC.
Perhaps, the single-most place to understand the wide array of Russian culture is the 2014 Cultural Olympiad Project. Since 2010, thousands of diverse events have taken place there – Sochi as a focus – and each year has focused on a different art form or theme.
Art and culture aficionados can attend many scheduled festivals, concerts, installation art shows, and just about everything that comprises Russian culture.
The Final of the Culture Olympiad will be held daily while the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Sochi take place.
Sochi weather forecast and what to pack
According to The Weather Channel, the opening ceremonies for the Winter Games should be uneventful. Temperatures will hover around a high of 50 degrees and a low of 38 degrees with a light clip of winds, NNE at 3 mph.
Although its winter in Sochi, temperatures are known to go through huge swings in a short span of time and travel, especially if you’re going from the beaches to mountain venues. Therefore, be prepared to dress in layers to guard against harsh temperature fluctuations.
Sochi 2014 Winter Games venues
Imeretin Valley is the central hub for most contests and is built in such a way to make walking distances short in events held at the Olympic Stadium and indoor venues of the Olympics. Here is a listing of venues with the holding capacities that allows you to plan accordingly (from largest to smallest numbers of spectators):
-Fisht Olympic Stadium: Opening and closing ceremonies, 40,000
-Bolshoy Ice Dome: Ice Hockey (final), 12,000
-Iceberg Skating Palace: Figure Skating, short track speed skating, 12,000
-Adler Arena Skating Center: Speed Skating, 8,000
-Shayba Arena: Ice Hockey, 7,000
-Ice Cube Curling Center: Curling, 3,000
-Main Olympic Village
-International broadcasting center and main press-room
-Formula One pit lane
Krasnaya Polyana venue, Mountain Cluster ( spectator count N/A)
-Biathlon and Ski Complex: Biathlon, Cross-country skiing and Nordic combined (cross-country skiing)
– Center Sanki: Bobsleigh, Luge and Skeleton
– Khutor Alpine Resort: Alpine skiing
-Rosa Khutor Plateau Olympic Village
-Rus Ski Gorki Jumping Center: Ski jumping and Nordic combined (ski jumping)
-Freestyle Skiing and Snowboard Park: Freestyle skiing and Snowboarding
Dates of the 2014 Winter Olympics skiing events ( subject to change)
-Cross Country Skiing: Feb. 8-9; 11; 13-16; 19; 22-23
-Ski Jumping: Feb. 8-9; 11; 14-15; 17
-Nordic Combined: Feb. 12; 18; 20
-Alpine Skiing: Feb. 8-9; 12; 14-16; 18-19; 22-23
-Freestyle Skiing: Feb. 8; 10-11; 13-14; 17-18; 20-21
Go here for a complete schedule of events (full and daily calendar)
Note about travel alerts to Sochi : Check your foreign office for advice before traveling to Russia. If you must travel to other parts of Russia, beware of areas that are currently experiencing caucus tension. The Department of State advises all U.S. citizens to be vigilant and aware of their own personal safety during their visit to the 2014 Winter Olympic events in Sochi. Moreover, Americans should register in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive necessary security and safety information.
Travel tips for your journey to Sochi
-Portable translator: If you’re not multilingual, getting your hands on a travel translator is a must. Electronic versions are plentiful, but I recommend the Nyrius LT12 12 Language Global Digital Talking Translator (over 8,400 phrases) and Foreign Pocket-Sized Electronic Speaking Dictionary. It retails for $50, but Amazon has it for $29.99 (63 percent off) with free shipping. If you prefer paper versions, there are a number of other brands on the Internet and at brick and mortar stores like Walmart.
-Safety in numbers: While traveling, especially outside the “wall of security” Olympic organizers have installed, it’s wise to travel with a partner or group. You’re less likely to fall victim to scams, pick-pocketing or other crimes.
-Get vaccinated: Check with your doctor to make sure you’re up to date on your vaccinations. The CDC has a list of recommended shots to take such as Hepatitis-A, Japanese Encephalitis and others.
-Getting around Sochi: I’ve found that many sites suggest getting a reputable guide that can accompany you around the city. This could be a plus if you are not amenable to public transportation and creating an agenda on your own. Be sure you check references and look for companies that are certified by independent bodies. At a minimum, use hotel concierge staff; they typically are the most knowledgeable sources for local information.
-Don’t smoke: Sochi officials say smoking is prohibited in all areas in and around the Olympic venues. This includes public areas as well.
-Respect Russian laws: This should be a no-brainer, but it is worth mentioning. Foreigners are often at odds on knowing what constitutes legal/non-legal behavior. Laws in Russia differ widely from those in the United States and other countries. For those with a social agenda, it’s advisable to leave your cause at home because it could land you in prison. This goes especially for LGBT travelers who are at odds over the Kremlin’s stance on gays and lesbians. According to recent Fox News report, President Vladimir Putin said gays are “welcome at Sochi Games but must ‘leave children in peace.'” In short, it is against the law to promote gay rights propaganda to minors.
Bradley is a professional writer, journalist, sportswriter and avid fan of the Olympics, NBA, NFL, NCAA, PGA and tennis. He keeps a watchful eye on Miami Heat and Miami Dolphins developments.