Europe > Russia > Northwestern Russia > Leningrad Oblast > Saint Petersburg (district) > Saint Petersburg
- For the city in Florida, see Saint Petersburg (Florida)
Saint Petersburg (Russian: Санкт-Петерб́ург Sankt-Peterburg), known as Petrograd in 1914-1924 and Leningrad in 1924-1991, is the second largest city of Russia, with 5 million inhabitants, and the former capital of the Russian Empire. Founded in 1703, it is not ancient, but its historical cityscape is remarkably well-preserved. The center of Saint Petersburg occupies numerous islands of the Neva River delta, divided by waterways and connected by huge drawbridges. Since 1991 it and some historical suburbs, including Peterhof, have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site . It is home to one of the world's largest museums of art, the Hermitage. Many Russians know the city as Piter (Питер), a familiar diminutive of Saint Petersburg.
Situated between the Neva in the north and the Obvodny Canal in the south and crossed by the Fontanka and Moika rivers, this area has hosted the center of Saint Petersburg since the 1730s. It includes the Hermitage Museum and the main avenue of the city, Nevsky Prospekt, and is full of architectural monuments of the late 18th-19th centuries.
Briefly contemplated as the city center around the 1720s and hosting the seaport from the 1730s through the mid-19th century, the eastern part of the Vasilievsky Island has long been the center of the city's academic life. Many examples of the 18th century architecture as well as the famous early 19th-century ensemble of the Spit of the Vasilievsky Island are there. The more western parts have been gradually developed since 1850.
It hosts the site where the city was founded in 1703 and includes the Peter and Paul Fortress dating back to the first half of the 18th century, but the rest of the borough was mostly built over in the late 19th-early 20th century and is rich in notable architectural monuments of that period. The islands of its northwestern part have been a recreational area covered mostly by parks, villas and sports facilities.
|Northern Saint Petersburg
Mostly an urban commuter area of monotonous and often ugly Soviet-era apartment blocks. There are some notable landmarks scattered across it, such as the Academy of Forestry with its park, Military Medical Academy, Polytechnical University and Buddhist Datsan, particularly in the quarters closer to the central boroughs, but otherwise there is little to see there. It hosts the Finlyandsky Train Station.
|Southern Saint Petersburg
Underestimated by most visitors, this area boasts gorgeous industrial architecture and magnificent Stalinist buildings. A former industrial borough, it was the place of strikes preceding the revolution of 1917, and the scene of the siege of Leningrad during WWII. Many attractions which in other cities would qualify as "must-see", such as the Narva Triumphal Arch, Chesme Church and Pulkovo Observatory, are scattered across it, particularly in the quarters closer to the central boroughs. In the 1930s the Soviet authorities planned to move the city center to the south.
Very little visited, this area hosts historical gunpowder factories, a few beautiful churches and parks, the Ice Palace hockey arena and the Ladozhsky Train Station.
Saint Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 on the Neva river, amidst the land he had just conquered from Sweden, outside the area populated then by the Russian people. Pre-planned rather than spontaneous almost from the very beginning, the city, called by Peter "my window on Europe", was designed to look European rather than Russian, and many European architects were invited to work here. As the capital of the Russian Empire from the early 18th century to the early 20th century, the city grew steadily, saw many crucial events of the Russian history, and was a major cultural center. Many world-famous artists, scientists, writers and composers, such as Mendeleev, Dostoevsky and Tchaikovsky, lived and worked here.
In 1917 the Russian Revolution started. The significance of Saint Petersburg has declined somewhat after the transfer of the Russian capital to Moscow in 1918, but this allowed its cityscape to remain largely intact to this day. During World War II, the city was besieged by the Wehrmacht for 872 days, resulting in more than a million of civilian losses, mainly from starvation.
The city has undergone several name changes since its founding. Due to the German origins of the name "Saint Petersburg", its name was changed to the more Russian-sounding "Petrograd" in 1914 in the wake of World War I. Subsequently, its name was changed to "Leningrad" in honour of the founding leader of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. It was only in 1991, after the breakup of the Soviet Union that the original name was restored, though the surrounding area remains known as the Leningrad Oblast.
Saint Petersburg has almost always been, or at least tried to be a city with strong foreign connections, and this is where its authenticity lies. Don't expect it to be overly indigenous. Matryoshkas and other such souvenirs popular among foreigners have very little to do with its authentic life.
The language spoken in Saint Petersburg is Russian, as in most parts of Russia. English is usually taught in schools and universities, so younger people are supposed to understand it to some extent, but the chance of finding anybody who is fluent in English on the streets is, though better than elsewhere in Russia except Moscow, still not that great. Average people will probably be able to point out a direction, but don't expect much more. The signs and labels in most places, especially off the beaten path, are still in Russian only, with a notable exceptions of metro (subway) and street signs in the city centre. It may be a good idea to get familiar with the Russian Cyrillic alphabet before the travel, as this is easy and lets you recognize street names and so on.
There is a local weekly English-language newspaper, The St. Petersburg Times.
The city's position at 60°N makes for huge seasonal variation in day length. Days are less than 6 hours long at the end of December, but it never gets darker than twilight during the White Nights season in June. Not only are the days very short in late autumn and early winter, but the weather may be overcast for weeks, without a hint of blue sky, which may feel depressing. The driest season with least precipitation is early spring. July and August are usually the rainiest months, though the difference is usually not big enough to worry about. But if you care about this, it is a good idea to have an umbrella or raincoat handy.
In November–March there are hardly any tourists—even domestic tourists—so you won't see the barest hint of the long lines of the summer at the Hermitage. Saint Petersburg's neoclassical streets are also simply gorgeous in the snow. Temperatures can range from relatively mild, slightly above freezing point, to bitterly cold. From time to time it may get well below the averages, to -25°C (-13F) and below, often with high humidity and wind, so be prepared to dress warmly. Most major tourist attractions (except fountains and all sorts of water transport, of course) are still open and some hotels offer lower prices during this time.
Snow cover persists on average from November till early April (late April in the countryside), with most of it falling during the first half of the winter. Snow is not always removed from streets in time and may exacerbate traffic problems. The danger of slipping may be high in winter, as the surfaces are often covered with ice. Wear good boots, take small steps, and watch your feet! Also beware of icicles falling from roofs.
The rivers and canals are frozen on average from late November till April. Usually from late April till November the Neva is navigable, and during this season most of its huge bridges are drawn up to let ships pass for several hours each night according to a published schedule. This is a spectacular sight during the White Nights, but also a major transport inconvenience.
In April, the sludge resulting from melting snow and the dust which forms when it dries up may get tiresome.
May 9 is Victory Day (День победы) celebrating the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany. This day is marked with an opening military parade on Palace Square, directly in front of the Hermitage, visiting various war monuments, giving flowers to war veterans who are dressed in full military outfits, and an evening parade down Nevsky Prospekt which includes survivors of the Siege of Leningrad.
June is peak tourist season during the famous White Nights (roughly 11 June–2 July), when the sun sets only for a brief period of twilight, and the streets stay alive around the clock. The last ten days of June, during the White Nights Festival of all-day performances, concerts, festivals, and parties, are the busiest time of the season and it can be difficult to reserve accommodation and transport. Book early.
July and August are usually the warmest months. This is a rather northern city, and it rarely gets really hot, but even more modest warmth can be hard to bear in summer because of the high humidity. Rain showers usually come and go throughout this time, so it is always a good idea for one to have an umbrella or rain jacket at all times, even on sunny clear days.
Late September—early October is a lovely time in the city. The temperatures drop to moderate, often with strong winds, and the tourists are all gone. Rain is still common.
|Daily highs (°C)||-3.6||-3.3||1.8||8.5||15.6||20.2||22.2||20.2||14.4||8.1||1.8||-1.7|
|Nightly lows (°C)||-8.8||-8.8||-4.2||1.0||6.6||11.8||14.4||13.0||8.1||3.4||-2.1||-6.4|
Average of Saint Petersburg
Fountains work from May through mid-September. Most trees are in leaf from May through October.
When deciding on the time of your visit, keep in mind the days of school holidays, when museums and other similar venues can become considerably more crowded. School holidays happen in early November, the first half of January and late March. Moreover, general holidays are held around the New Year into early January, as well as in early May.
Keep in mind that New Years is the biggest holiday of the year in Russia. Reserving a hotel room is usually not a problem during this time, but be prepared for very large crowds and noisy celebrations.
Russian visa requirements are complex but are not hard to manage with some online research. See the Get In section of the article on Russia for information. A visa is not required for a trip of less than 72 hours if you arrive in St. Petersburg by ferry or by cruise liner and you have a pre-arranged program of excursions by an approved local company.
- 1 Pulkovo Airport (Аэропо́рт Пу́лково, Aeroport Pulkovo), Ul. Starovaya (ул. Стартовая), Northern Capital Gateway LLC (~17km south from the center), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. IATA: LED, serves many international and domestic destinations. A new terminal opened in 2014. There is unlimited free Wi-Fi. The airport has business lounges that are free for first and business class travelers but are available for use by all passengers upon payment of a fee. The lounges include snacks, drinks, televisions, and showers.
To travel between the airport and the city
- City buses numbers 39, 39Ex and minibus K39 operate service between the airport and the Moskovskaya (Московская) metro station (RUB30-40, 35 minutes). Buses are available 05:30-01:30. From the Moskovskaya metro station, you can take metro line 2 (blue), which operates between 5:45AM and 12:20AM, to the city centre (20 minutes). If you arrive late at night and the metro is not operating, you can also take a night bus from the metro station to the city centre. Minibus K39 also stops at the Aeroport commuter rail station. From there, you can take a train to Saint Petersburg's Baltiysky Station (17 minutes, 6:00AM-11:30PM), next to the Baltiyskaya metro station. This is only convenient if it is near your accommodation.
- Marshrutka (minibus) K3 operates service from the airport with stops at the Moskovskaya (Московская) metro station and the Sennaya Ploshchad/Spasskaya (Спáсская) metro station, in the city centre.
- Taxis can be ordered from the service booth in the arrivals hall. Prices are fixed based on the zone of travel; the cost to the city centre is RUB900-1000. Without traffic, the trip takes 30 minutes, but it can easily take an hour during rush hour. As an alternative, Taxi 068 has a mobile app that you can use to book a taxi to the center for RUB600, but you will need a Russian phone number to communicate. If calling from the airport arrival hall, it will take 10-20 minutes for the taxi to arrive. Uber fares to the city center are approximately RUB1,000.
- Pre-booked taxis will cost RUB1,300-1,600 to the centre, but you will be welcomed in the arrival hall by your driver carrying a sign with your name. Pre-booking through the internet is without risk, no credit card information is asked, and pre-payment is not required. Some taxi companies, such as LingoTaxi, have English-speaking drivers and dispatchers.
Tickets can be bought at the train stations or online. Long distance train tickets are generally more expensive if bought close to the date of travel. See Russia#By train 2 for more details on travelling in Russia by train.
There are five principal train stations in Saint Petersburg:
- 2 Baltiysky Station (Балтийский вокзал), Nab. Obvodnogo Kanala, 120 (: Baltiyskaya). This is one of the busiest railway stations in Russia by volume of suburban traffic. The station was modeled by architect Alexander Krakau after Gare de l'Est in Paris. Construction started in 1854. The station was opened on 21 July 1857 as the Peterhof Railway Station. The station retains a glass roof over the terminal platforms and is flanked by two-storey wings. The left one used to be reserved for members of the Russian royalty who went to their palaces in Strelna, Peterhof, Oranienbaum. A glass panel on the façade still features the original clock, designed by Pavel Bure, a celebrated watchmaker to the tsar and the ice-hockey players' ancestor. Trains operate to/from Petrodvorets (Peterhof), Lomonosov (Oranienbaum), Gatchina, Luga. Also used by trains to/from Aeroport station, with connecting buses to Pulkovo airport.
- 3 Finlyandsky Station (Финляндский вокзал), Lenin Square (пл. Ленина, ул. Комсомола), 5 (: Ploschad Lenina ("Площадь Ленина").). Built by Finnish State Railways as the eastern terminus of the Riihimäki-Saint Petersburg railroad, it was designed by Swedish architects and opened in 1870 but was heavily reconstructed in the 1950s and 1970s. The station formerly contained a special pavilion for Russian royalty. Trains operate to/from Helsinki (Allegro high speed) and Vyborg.
- 4 Ladozhsky Station (Ладожский вокзал), Zanevsky Prospekt (Заневский проспект, Площадь Карла Фаберже), 73 (:Ladozhskaya «Ладожская», : 4М, 4МА, 5, 21, 24, 27, 30, 77, 82, 92, 123, 168, 429, 453, 462, 531, 532, 533, 860Л : 8, 10, 59, 64; :1, 22; : К-5, К-17, К-21, К-32, К-77, К-92, К-95, К118, К-123, К-167, К-187, К-271, К-322, К-369, К-401, К-429, 430, 430А, К-462Р, 531К, К-533.). This is the newest and most modern passenger railway station in Saint Petersburg, designed by architect Nikita Yavein, is one of the largest in Russia with a capacity of up to 50 commuter departures and 26 long distance departures accommodating 4,500 passengers per hour. Built at a cost of RUB9,000,000,000 (US$300 million), the station opened in 2003 for the 300th anniversary of the city's founding. Trains operate to/from Petrozavodsk (RUB835), Arkhangelsk (RUB1,697), Tyumen (RUB3,038), Tula (RUB1,435), Krasnodar (RUB2,839), Murmansk (RUB2,030), Ekaterinburg, Cheliabinsk, Omsk, Novosibirsk, Astana (Kazakhstan), Helsinki (night-train Leo Tolstoi), and other cities.
- 5 Moskovsky Station (Moskovsky station, Moskovsky vokzal, Московский вокзал), Nevsky av., 85 ? Ploshchad Vosstaniya (Площадь Восстания), 2 (:Ploshchad Vosstaniya (closer)(Площадь Восстания) and :Mayakovskaya (Маяковская); 1М, 1Мб, 3, 3М, 3Мб, 4М, 4Мб, 5М, 5Мб, 7, 15, 22, 26, 27, 54, 65, 74, 76, 91, 141, 181, 191. 1, 5, 7, 10, 11, 22), ☎ . It has an easily recognizable Neo-Renaissance frontage on Nevsky Prospekt and Uprising Square, erected in 1844-51 to a design by Konstantin Thon. Although large "Venetian" windows, two floors of Corinthian columns and a two-storey clocktower at the centre explicitly reference Italian Renaissance architecture, the building incorporates other features from a variety of periods and countries. A twin train station, currently known as the Leningradsky railway station, was built to Thon's design at the other end of the railway, in Moscow. Trains operate to/from Moscow, Novgorod, Ukraine, Azerbaijan, Volgograd, Kazan, Samara, Rostov-na-Donu, Ufa, Sochi, and other cities.
- 6 Vitebsky Station (Витебский вокзал, Станция Санкт-Петербург-Витебский), Zagorodny av.(Загородный проспект), 52? (: Pushkinskaya (Пушкинская), : Zvenigorodskaya (Звенигородская); 1М, 1Мб, 4М, 4Мб, 5М, 5Мб; : 16; : 3, 8, 15, 17; : К-25, К-90, К-124, К-177, К-258, К-338, К-800, К-900.). Formerly known as the Tsarskoe Selo Station, it was the first railway station to be built in Saint Petersburg and the whole of the Russian Empire. Architecture: Construction started in 1901 and lasted for three years. Stanislaw Brzozowski gave the new two-storey station an ornate frontage in an assortment of historical styles, with decorative reliefs, floriated Jugendstil detailing, outsize semicircular windows and two regular features of 19th-century train stations: a pseudo-Renaissance cupola and a square clocktower. - However, it was Sima Minash's opulent Art Nouveau interior that established the building as the most ornate of St. Petersburg stations. Minash was responsible for the sweeping staircases, foyer with stained glass and spacious halls boasting a series of painted panels that chronicle the history of Russia's first railway. The building's soaring arches and expanses of glass proclaimed the architect's familiarity with advanced construction techniques of the West. In 2003, the station underwent a painstaking restoration of its original interior and Jugendstil decor. Apart from the replica of the first Russian train, curiosities of the Vitebsk Station include a detached pavilion for the Tsar and his family and a marble bust of Nicholas I. Trains operate to/from Pushkin (formerly Tsarskoe Selo), Pavlovsk, Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Moldova, Bulgaria, Germany, Riga (14 hours, from RUB2,200), Estonia Ticket prices (from): Ukraine, Odessa (RUB3,813), Kiev (RUB3366); Belarus,Grodno (RUB2,999), Vitebsk (RUB1,629); Lithuania, Vilnius (RUB2921); 'Local trains': Nevel (RUB815), Novosokolniki (RUB689), Velikie Luki (RUB880), Soltsy (RUB549), and other cities.
Tickets for travel originating in Russia can be bought at the train stations or online. Long distance train tickets are generally more expensive if bought close to the date of travel. See Russia#By train 2 for more details on travelling in Russia by train.
Sapsan high-speed trains (4-5 hours, 6 per day, RUB2,300-3,500 for 2nd class if bought several days in advance) make travel between downtown Saint Petersburg and downtown Moscow very easy. Some trains make a few stops including Tver. The crew speaks English.
Overnight rapid trains (8-9 hours, RUB800+) are slower buy usually cheaper. Price and comfort levels vary, with the luxurious private Grand-Express "hotel train" (featuring some compartments with showers!) at the high end, all the way down to budget connections in third-class platzkart cars. Second-class coupe coaches, which include a bed and sheets, are a good value.
VR Group operates high-speed Allegro trains running at up to 220km/h between Helsinki and Saint Petersburg (3.5 hours, 4 per day, €59-79 for 2nd class). Tickets originating in Finland can be purchased from the VR Group website, via some travel agencies, and at major VR train stations in Finland. Border-crossing formalities are completed on board the train immediately after departure from Helsinki. The trains are almost always on time and there are no delays in crossing the boarder. On-board currency exchange is available.
International buses and buses to major cities in Russia all leave from the main bus station (Avtovokzal), near the Obvodny Kanal metro station. Some may make additional stops elsewhere in the city; see below. Buses are the preferred method of travel to/from Estonia and Latvia, but generally do not make sense for travel to Finland or within Russia.
The process of crossing the border by bus takes much longer than when travelling by train or air. Border agents only speak Russian and are sometimes not aware of visa requirements, which leads to delays.
The train is much more preferred method of travel than the bus within Russia. Domestic bus schedules can be accessed on AviaBus.
- Lux Express operates service to/from Helsinki (€15-20, 7 hours, 3x per day). This is the cheapest way to travel to Helsinki, although it takes twice as long as the train.
- Matkahuolto provides information on traveling by bus to/from Finland. There are direct buses between Saint Petersburg and Helsinki (7-8 hours, 4 per day, €35) and Lappeenranta (6 hours, 3 per day, €31), with further connections to other cities in Finland.
- Sovavto operates daily buses between Saint Petersburg and Turku (10 hours, €53), with stops at several cities including Helsinki (7.5 hours, €35).
- 7 Lux Express, Mitrofanjevskoe Shosse (Митрофаньевское шоссе), 2/1 (: Baltiskii), ☎ . operates service to/from Tallinn (€14-30, 7 hours, 7x per day) with a stop in Narva (€9-16, 5 hours, 7x per day), Tartu (€22-25, 7 hours, 5x per day), as well as a service to/from Riga (4x per day, 11 hours, €33-35), with continuing service to the rest of Europe. Office at Mitrofanjevskoe Shosse 2-1, near Metro Baltiskii. Tel: +7 812 441 37 57. Lux Express buses depart from Baltiskii Station and the main bus station (Avtovokzal).
- 8 Ecolines (Amron-ecolines, Transportnaya Kompaniya), Podyezdnoy pereulok (Подъездный переулок), 3 (: Pushkinskaya (Пушкинская)), ☎ . 10:00-20:00. Operates daily departures to Riga (€36, 10-12 hours, 3x per day) as well as service to Minsk (€34, 15 hours, 1-2x per day) and Kiev (€68, 19 hours, 2x per day). Office at Pod'ezdniy pereulok 3 near Metro Pushkinskaya 10:00-22:00. Tel: +7 812 314 2550, +7 901 300 6170. Ecolines buses depart from Vitebsky vokzal (near Metro Pushkinskaya) and the main bus station (Avtovokzal).
If you join a cruise tour of St. Petersburg, then you don't need a Russian visa but you have to stay with the tour. See Russia#Visa free entry by ship.
- RechFlot and Stolichnaya Sudokhodnaya Kompania (SSK) operate river cruises on the inland waterway "Volga-Baltic" which links Moscow, the River Volga, and Lakes Onega, Ladoga and Neva.
Passenger Port of St. Petersburg “Marine Façade" is the main boat terminal in St. Petersburg, and is where 90% of cruise ships dock. It was built on reclaimed land on the western shore of Vasilyevsky Island at the mouth of the Neva River, 8km west of the city center. With its 7 berths and 4 terminals, Marine Façade is able to handle 7 large cruise ships and more than 15,000 passengers per day. Bus #158 operates between terminal 3 and the Primorskaya (Примо́рская) metro station.
Smaller cruise ships sail up the Neva river and dock at either English Embankment (Англи́йская на́бережная; Angliyskaya Naberezhnaya) or Lieutenant Schmidt Embankment, both of which are closer to the city center.
Bridge draw schedule
Except during the winter, the 9 low bridges in St. Petersburg are drawn during the night to allow for the passage of boat traffic. Therefore, if you don't make it to the side of the river where you are staying before the bridges are drawn and there are no high bridges to cross, you will be stuck until the bridges are lowered. Note that there are "breaks" when some the bridges are lowered in the middle of the night for approximately 30 minutes to briefly allow everyone to get home. The bridge schedule is particularly noteworthy for those staying on Vasilyevsky Island, which is unreachable at certain times of the night. Seeing the bridges drawn in the middle of the night is a must for all visitors to the city!
The Bolshoy Obukhovskiy Most, 14km south of the Alexander Nevsky Bridge (Most Aleksandra Nevskogo), is never drawn, allowing for 24-hour crossing of the Neva River. However, the bridge is out of the way and will increase the cost of your taxi or Uber.
The official bridge draw schedule is published online.
The following are the times when the bridges are drawn and will not be able to be crossed:
|Palace Bridge (Dvortsovyy Most)||To Vasilyevsky Island||From 1:25AM to 2:50AM & from 3:10AM to 4:55AM|
|Blagoveshchensky Bridge||To Vasilyevsky Island||From 1:25AM to 2:45AM & from 3:10AM to 5:00AM|
|Troitsky Bridge||To Petrogradsky, near Peter & Paul Fortress||From 1:35AM to 4:50AM|
|Liteiny Bridge||Near Lenin Square / Finlandsky Railway Station||From 1:40AM to 4:45AM|
|Birzhevoy (Exchange) Bridge||Between Vasilyevsky Island & Petrogradsky, near Peter & Paul Fortress||From 2:00AM to 4:55AM|
|Volodarsky Bridge||Near Lomonovskaya||From 2:00AM to 3:45AM & from 4:15AM to 5:45AM|
|Tuchkov Bridge||Between Petrogradsky and Vasilyevsky Island||From 2:00AM to 2:55AM & from 3:35AM to 4:55AM|
|Bolsheokhtinsky / Peter the Great Bridge||Just north of Alexander Nevsky Bridge||From 2:00AM to 5:00AM|
|Alexander Nevsky Bridge (Most Aleksandra Nevskogo)||On Nevsky Prospekt||From 2:20AM to 5:10AM|
|Finlyandsky Bridge||Just south of Alexander Nevsky Bridge||From 2:20AM to 5:30AM|
Saint Petersburg's metro system is the second largest in Russia, after that of Moscow. The metro is a cheap and effective way to get around the city, and also a major tourist attraction due to the beautiful decorations of the stations. Amateur photography (without a tripod, etc) is allowed, although professional photography is prohibited.
The trains are fast and run frequently. During rush hour, there are often only 30 seconds between trains. Fares are RUB35 per entry regardless of the distance traveled. The system can be accessed by inserting a brass token into the turnstile slot, by tapping a Sputnik smart card purchased from a machine at the station, or by tapping a Mastercard PayPass or Visa PayWave card on the white circle near the turnstile. Large baggage requires payment of 1 additional fare.
Opening and closing times vary; the subway is closed from approximately midnight to approximately 05:45, depending on the station.
Metro maps can be found in every train car and always have station names in the Latin alphabet. The station names on the platforms are also in the Latin alphabet, and many other signs are in English. Station announcements on the train are only in Russian, but if you listen carefully you will hear the conductor announce the current station name and the next station as the doors are closing.
Stations are deep underground, and transferring trains at transfer stations involves long walks that can take up to 10 minutes.
Trains can be extremely crowded during rush hour. Be aware of your belongings and expect to have to push your way out of the train upon arrival at your station.
By bus, trolleybus, or tram
Buses (автобус) and trolleybuses (троллейбус - trolleibus) run frequently and cover much of the city. Route information is available using Google Maps. Information for trolleybuses and trams is also available online.
Trolleybuses are indicated by the letter 'm' (the lower case version of the Russian letter 'т') on the stops, and diesel/gas buses by the letter 'A'. Both buses and trolleybuses may show the same route number, but the trolleybus route in this case is frequently shorter, and can vary in some minor respects.
Trams (трамвай – "tramvai") are not common in the city center due to traffic issues but are available outside the city center.
Tickets (RUB30, more to the suburbs) are sold by attendants on board the vehicle. They usually only speak Russian and prefer exact change.
Buses and trolleys on main routes are frequently overcrowded. If you are caught without a valid ticket, you will be fined RUB300.
Taxis are always available but are much more expensive at night. Every private vehicle is a potential taxi. Flagging down a vehicle and paying for a ride somewhere is perfectly normal in Russia and quite popular although ill-advised for tourists. Safety is, of course, an issue. As a rule, you should never get in a private cab if it already has passengers inside.
Refuse requests from the driver to take on more fares unless you reached your destination; if he insists, ask to stop at a safe-looking place, pay and leave. If the driver stops for gas, step out of the car, take your belongings, and get some fresh air while he is fuelling it. Those travelling alone (men and women) should wave off any suspicious ride for any reason whatsoever. Gypsy cabs which linger near popular bars and restaurants at night have been known to be especially dangerous, with several instances of druggings and robberies.
Drivers do not usually speak English. Watch out for overpriced taxis outside Hermitage museum. They have meters that run at 4 times the rate of regular taxis. Negotiate a flat fare before getting on the taxi. If the driver insists on using the meter you should walk away.
Uber is a safer and cheaper method of transport than taxis. Drivers usually don't speak English, but communicating with the driver is not necessary since the fares and destinations are all handled through the app.
Route taxi (маршрутка - marshrutka) is sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere. Vans have 14-20 seats, are usually white or yellow, always with a letter K followed by the route number plate (such as K-28). Often they are small Chinese or Turkish buses. There are no regular stops; you must tell the driver when you want to get out, or wave while on the roadside to stop one. You must pay to the driver at entry, usually RUB30-40. If you cannot reach the driver on your own, pass the money through the other passengers and be ready to pass other's money if you sit close to the driver. The Marshrutka experience may seem exciting sometimes, especially when you see some brave driver counting change while steering with his knees at 110km/h (70mph). Many marshrutka drivers are illegal immigrants and speak Russian poorly (if any at all).
By local train
Commuter trains (электричка, elektrichka) may be useful to get to the suburbs. Fares are based on travel distance. Speeds are moderate, but trains operate infrequently. Information is available in Russian online.
While the terrain in Saint Petersburg is flat, the city is not bicycle-friendly due to limited bike lanes, bad weather, and dangerous car traffic. However, you are allowed to take a bicycle onto the elektrichka trains upon payment of a small fee and go to a less crowded suburb to enjoy a ride.
Saint Petersburg is simply put one of the greatest sightseeing cities on earth. No visit can do it justice—you'll have to move here to really be able to see all the sights. Really, budgeting a month of full-time tourism would not be unrealistic. And that's after all dramatic events of the 20th century that took place here! Perhaps no other city outside Italy can compare in sheer volume of beautiful, grand things to see.
As the center of the Russian world for 200 years of the Romanov Dynasty, the city reaped the rewards of Peter the Great's impossibly grandiose and tyrannical vision, and the Empire's extreme inequality. The wealth of the wealthy in Imperial Russia was almost unfathomably extreme, and led to the extreme opulence of the palaces and ecclesiastical buildings throughout the city center, as well as the suburban palaces at Peterhof, Lomonosov, Strelna, Pushkin, and Pavlovsk. The greatest concentration of sights is found within the huge area of the center inside the Obvodny Canal, along the south embankment of Vasilievsky Island, and in the southern half of Petrogradsky Island.
So, OK, you don't have months to explore the city—what are the highlights? It's a difficult question to answer. The most obvious destination is the Winter Palace on Palace Square (right by the Admiralty and the Bronze Horseman), which houses the Hermitage Museum, and which was the winter residence of the Romanov Tsars and essentially the center of the Russian Imperial government. The Hermitage Museum is easily one of the top five art museums in the world, but even if you don't care about art, wandering around the enormous palace itself is extremely rewarding. The nineteenth century, whimsical Church on the Spilled Blood nearby is another internationally recognized icon of the city, with a spectacular setting on the Griboedov Canal near the Mikhailovsky Garden, and filled—literally filled—with beautiful mosaics.
Speakings of canals, strolling the palace-lined banks of the Moika, the Fontanka, and the Griboedov Canal in the historic center is a must. During the summer months, you can also enjoy this magnificent architecture from the boat by joining any of the popular (albeit expensive) "channel tours," or opt for a budget boat trip along the Neva river on a so-called riverbus, which is a tiny boat zooming along the river on several routes that are integrated into the system of public transport.
In the same neighborhood, walk down Nevsky Prospekt, which serves as Saint Petersburg's main grand avenue for shops (especially the historic mall of Gostiny Dvor), theaters, and another realm of palaces and cathedrals, most notably the massive Kazan Cathedral. The Kazan Cathedral is functioning, so its easier to visit than the other big cathedrals (no lines, entrance fees, etc.). In the same neighborhood, but off Nevsky, are the Square of the Arts, where you'll find the Russian Museum—an absolute can't-miss for art lovers. The Mariinsky Theater is one of the world's most beautiful performance venues, and you should check it out even if you can't see an opera or ballet performance. Mammoth Saint Isaac's Cathedral, with its impressive balcony views, is another obvious sightseeing destination.
Across the Neva River are more can't-miss sights. The Peter and Paul Fortress on the Petrograd Side is easily one of the city's top three attractions. Aside from its sheer beauty, visit it for its immense history as the final resting place of the Romanov Tsars, as well as its role as a notorious prison for the most high-profile political prisoners under their rule. On Vasilievsky Island, you must at least take a taxi over to the Strelka for the views by the Rostral Columns, across the street from the Old Stock Exchange, home to the Naval Museum, surely one of the best of this kind on the planet. Then take another ride along University Embankment before heading back across the river. Better yet, stop along the way at the weird and wonderful Kunstkamera museum of ethnology, home to Peter the Great's bizarre collection of oddities.
Complicating the desire to see the city's highlights in a short period of time are the magnificent suburban palaces at Peterhof, Pushkin, Lomonosov, Strelna, and Pavlovsk. Any tourists who visit Saint Petersburg and don't see neither the Tsarskoye Selo palaces at Pushkin, nor the Bolshoi Palace at Peterhof, really should be a bit ashamed of themselves. It's like going to Paris and skipping Versailles. Of the three, the Pavlovsk Palace would be the least unforgivable to miss, but if you have the time—go.
More time? The center has a world of more sights. Mars Field with the Memorial to the Revolutionary Fighters and the Eternal Flame, the Circus, wonderfully baroque Smolny Cathedral, Peter the Great's Cabin, the rolling parkland of the Tauride Palace and Gardens, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, the Yusupov Palace where Rasputin was killed (if you get the chance to see a performance in the theater inside, jump on it), the neoclassical bust-filled Summer Gardens, Mikhailovsky Castle, the Marble Palace, the small but powerfully heartrending Museum of the Defense and Blockade of Leningrad, and much, much more. Literary buffs should seek out Dostoevsky's local haunts, including the famous "Murder Walk" from Crime and Punishment, which will take you right from Raskolnikov's apartment to the door of the very apartment where the grisly deed was done.
Head back across the river to the Petrograd Side, past the Peter and Paul Fortress, you'll find the Saint Petersburg Mosque, the really impressive Military Museum, the museum-ship of the Cruiser Aurora, the ever... interesting Museum of Political History, and the Botanical Gardens. On Vasilievsky, the whole Neva embankment is filled with great museums and grand buildings. Especially great places to visit (aside from the aforementioned Naval Museum and Kunstkamera) include the Menshikov Palace (run by the Hermitage), the Twelve Collegia, and the Mining Museum. And don't forget to hunt down the some 3,300 year-old sphinx statues from the Theban Necropolis!
Few tourists make it out of the city center, south of the Obvodny Canal and north of Petrogradsky Island, but there are still huge amounts of things to see in the north and south of the city—especially in the south. Southern Saint Petersburg is home to the Narva Triumphal Arch and its sister monument—the Moscow Triumphal Gate, the huge Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad (which honestly should be one of the main attractions in this city, if not for its distance from the center), Moscow Victory Park, and one of the best examples of Stalinist architecture (more interesting than you'd think) at the House of the Soviets, fronted by a very large Lenin statue. The most wonderful sight in southern Saint Petersburg, though, may be the whimsical, candy cane-colored Chesme Church.
The eastern part of the city (colloquially known as the Right bank) is renowned for its nineteenth century industrial architecture in the districts of Okhta and Porokhovye (former gunpowder factories).
Northern Saint Petersburg is a bit less notable, but adventurous travelers can find some things of interest, especially in the old industrial district around the Finliandskii Station, at the Forestry Academy and Piskaryovskoye Memorial Cemetery for the fallen in the Siege of Leningrad.
Opera and Ballet
No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without seeing an opera or ballet performance. The Mariinsky is perhaps the most well-known institution, but it is by no means the only theater in the city. Tickets are sold throughout the city at kiosks and shops called Teatralnaya Kassa, which charge a nominal (usually about RUB20) fee for "insurance," which is theoretically optional. The theater box offices themselves sell tickets directly, too, and usually for the same price. Sometimes blocks of tickets sell out at the kiosks but tickets are still available at the theater, or vice versa, so it is worth checking both places if you have your heart set on a particular performance. It is possible to take not-so-small children into some performances if you take a private box, although you will need to ask when you buy your tickets.
- 1 Mariinsky Theater (Мариинский театр, Mariinskiy Teatr, Maryinsky, Mariyinsky), Theater Square (Театральная площадь), 1 (: 2, 3, 6, 27, 71 & : K1, K6K, K169, K306 to stop 'Theater Square'), ☎ . The Mariinsky Theater (formerly the Kirov, which is the name the troupe still uses when touring abroad) is world-class for both opera and ballet. There are English supertitles for operas sung in Russian; operas in other languages have Russian supertitles. Performances are offered in two halls: the main theater, and the newly-built Mariinsky Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased on the theater's website. Cavos rebuilt it as an opera and ballet house with the largest stage in the world. With a seating capacity of 1,625 and a U-shaped Italian-style auditorium, the theatre opened on 2 October 1860 with a performance of A Life for the Tsar. The new theatre was named Mariinsky after its imperial patroness, Empress Maria Alexandrovna.
- 2 Mikhailovskiy Theater (Mikhailovsky, Михайловский театр, Former: Mussorgsky Academic Opera and Ballet Theatre; Small Academic Opera Theatre of Leningrad; Small Academic Theatre; the State Academic Theatre of Comic Opera), Ploshad Isskustv 1 (Between the Russian Museum and the Grand Hotel Europe, : Nevsky Prospekt (Невский проспект), : К100), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. - The exterior is not as recognizable as the Mariinsky, but the interior is nearly as grand, and the theater hosts both Russian and foreign headliners in opera and ballet. It was founded in 1833. It is named after Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia. RUB600-2700.
- 3 St. Petersburg Opera (Санкт-Петербург Опера), Galernaya Ul. (Галерная улица), 33 (West of the Bronze Horseman. - From : Sadovaya "Садовая", : Sennaya Ploschad "Сенная площадь" further to stop "Plocshad Truda" : 186, 124, 169. - From : Admiralteyskaya "Адмиралтейская", further to stop "Plocshad Truda" : 22, 3, 27; : 22, 5; : 180, 16), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 12:00-15:00 & 16:00-19:00. An intimate theater (half-sized stage, and only about 150-200 audience seats) which puts on the major repertory operas at a lower price than the major theaters and has a fascinating foyer - one has to see it to believe it. RUB300-3,000.
- 4 Conservatory Theater (Санкт-Петербургская государственная консерватория имени Н. А. Римского-Корсакова), Theater Square (Театральная площадь), 3 (Across the street from the Mariinsky Theater, : Sadovaya «Садовая», : Sennaya Ploschad «Сенная площадь» then - 15-20 min walk. direction to channel Griboyedov or : 1, 67, 124; /: Nevsky Prospekt/Gostiny Dvor «Невский Проспект»/«Гостиный Двор», then - : 3, 22, 27; : 180, 169, 306), ☎ +7 921 780-1123 mobil, fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. While the hall itself is not lavish - quite sterile, really - a good option for seeing Russian and repertory operas cheaply, performed by faculty and students of the conservatory where Tchaikovsky (and many other famous figures from the Russian music world) studied. RUB300-1,500.
- 5 Alexandrinsky Theatre or Russian State Pushkin Academy Drama Theater (Александринский театр, Российский государственный академический театр драмы им. А. С. Пушкина), Ostrovsky Square(площадь Островского), 6 ( and : Gostinyy Dvor (Гостиный двор)), ☎ . 12:00-14:00 & 15:00-19:00.
- 6 Baltic House Festival Theatre (Балтийский дом former Ленинградский Государственный театр им. Ленинского Комсомола), Alexandrovsky Park, 4 ( Gorkovskaya (Горьковская)), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 11:00-19:00.
- 7 Saint Petersburg Comedy Theatre (Nikolay Akimov Saint Petersburg Comedy Theatre, Санкт-Петербургский академический театр комедии им. Н. П. Акимова), Nevsky Prospect (Невский проспект), 56 ( and : Gostinyy Dvor), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cash desks 11:30-15:00 & 16:00-19:30.
- 8 Komedianty Theatre (Saint Petersburg State Dramatic Theatre 'The Comedians', Санкт-Петербургский государственный драматический театр «Комедианты»), Ligovsky Prospect (Лиговский проспект), 44 (: Ploshchad Vosstaniya (Площадь Восстания)), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Founded in 1989
- 9 Komissarjevsky Theatre (Академический драматический театр имени В. Ф. Комиссаржевской), Italyanskaya Street, 19 ( and : Gostinyy Dvor (Гостиный двор), and : Nevsky Prospekt "Невский проспект"), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. W-M 11:00-15:00 & 16:00-19:00. The drama and comedy company was founded by actress Vera Komissarzhevskaya in 1901. In The Passage (магазин "Пассаж", Passazh), elite department store
- 10 Lensoviet Academic Theatre (Санкт-Петербургский академический театр имении Ленсовета), Pr. Vladimirski (Владимирский пр.), 12 ( and : "Владимирская", and : Dostoevskaya "Достоевская", and : Mayakovskaya "Маяковская"), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 11:00-19:00. In the former Korssakov family mansion. The resident company was founded as the Young Theatre in 1929, then renamed the New Theatre in 1933, and finally the Leningrad Soviet Theatre in 1939.
- 11 Liteiny Theatre (State Dramatic Theatre on Liteinyi Prospect, Государственный драматический Театр на Литейном), Liteinyi Prospect (Литейный проспект), 51 (: Mayakovskaya "Маяковская" 0.8km, : Gostinyy Dvor (Гостиный двор) 0.9km; : 15, : 8, 15, 3; : К258, К177, К90), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. In 1993 the Liteinyi's theatre troupe toured America with a production of George Bernard Shaw's Great Catherine in Russian.
- 12 Na Neve Theatre (Children's Theatre "Na Neve", Детский драматический театр «На Неве»), Sovetskiy Pereulok (Советский переулок), 5 ( Tekhnologichesky Institut (Технологический институт) 0.6km NE), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. The theatre was opened in 1987
- 13 Ostrov Theatre (Драматический театр «Остров»), Kamennoostrovskiy prospekt (Каменноостровский проспект), 26-28 ( Gorkovskaya «Горьковская». : 46, 76, 183, 223, 30. : 46, 76), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Ticket office: W-Th 14.00-19.30, F-Su 14.00-19.00; All performances start at 19:00. In the former Benois House.
- 14 Tovstonogov Bolshoi Drama Theater (Большой драматический театр имени Г. А. Товстоногова), Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki (наб. реки Фонтанки), 65 ( Spasskayav (Спасская)) Sennaya Ploschad (Сенная площадь) 0.6km W), ☎ , , (ticket desk)fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Daily 11.00-15.00 & 16.00-19.00. Formerly known as Gorky Bolshoi Drama Theater (Russian: Большой Драматический Театр имени Горького) (1931–1992), often referred to as the Bolshoi Drama Theater and by the acronym BDT (Russian: БДТ), is a theater in Saint Petersburg, that is considered one of the best Russian theaters
- 15 Zazerkalie theatre ("Looking Glass" Children's Musical Theatre, Детский музыкальный театр «Зазеркалье»), Rubinstein Street (улице Рубинштейна), 13 (: Vladimirskaya 'Владимирская', Dostoevskaya 'Достоевская'), ☎ , fax: . The theatre appeared in August 1987 and was named after the Lewis Carroll's "Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There". The Children’s experimental theatre “Zazerkalie” appeared in 1992.
- 16 Youth Theatre on the Fontanka (Saint Petersburg State Youth Theatre on the Fontanka, Санкт-Петербургский государственный молодёжный театр на Фонтанке), Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki (Набережная реки Фонтанки), 114 (: Tekhnologichesky Institut 'Технологический институт', further by walk or : К3, К36, К115, К124, К186, К213, К350 to stop 'Naberezhnaya Fontanki'), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 12.00-15.00 & 15.40-20.00. It plays Russian classic plays in the winter seasons and hosts a rock concert in the summer. RUB200-1200.
- 17 Circus Ciniselli (Цирк Чинизелли, Большой Санкт-Петербургский государственный цирк), Naberezhnaya Reki Fontanki ( Набережная реки Фонтанки), 3 ( and : Gostinyy Dvor (Гостиный двор) 0.5km), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Daily 11:00-15:00, 16:00-19:00. It was the first stone-built circus in Russia; it is situated beside the Fontanka.Opened on 26 December 1877, with a large stage (13m in diameter) and stables (housing 150 horses). The architect was Vasily Kenel. RUB600-2300.
The music scene in St. Petersburg is diverse, with several classical, jazz, and pop concerts to choose from each week. Tickets are available at the same Teatralnaya Kassa locations as ballet and opera tickets, although tickets to pop concerts - especially US and European stars on tour - sometimes use exclusive distributors. For pop and rock concerts, unless you buy tickets for the dance floor (tanzpol), you are expected to sit quietly in your seat as if you were at a ballet - ushers are vigilant about keeping the audience from standing up, dancing, or cheering (polite applause is allowed, but that's about all).
Several of the ballet and opera theaters above also offer orchestral and recital performances, so those are not repeated below. Also, don't forget the many small clubs where up and coming bands play.
- 18 Saint Petersburg Philharmonia Grand Hall (Bolshoi Zal, Санкт-Петербургская государственная филармония им. Д. Д. Шостаковича, Большой зал), Mikhailovskaya Ul.(Михайловская улица) 2 (Entrance across from the Grand Hotel Europe, : Nevskiy prospekt), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cash desks 11.00-15.00 & 16.00-20.00. The orchestra established in 1802. The Bolshoi Zal (large hall) of this building is one of the best known music halls in Russia. The building currently housing the Philharmonia was completed 1839. Architect: P. Jacot; and Facade design: C. Rossi. - A world-class orchestra which records and tours abroad. The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals. RUB600-5,000.
- 19 St. Petersburg Philharmonic Small Hall (Malii Zal, Санкт-Петербургская государственная филармония им. Д. Д. Шостаковича, Малый зал), Nevsky Prospekt (Невский проспект), 30 (: Nevskiy prospekt), ☎ , fax: . Cash desks 11.00-15.00 & 16.00-19.00. The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) of the Philharmonic hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals.
- 20 Jazz Philharmonic Hall (Джаз-филармоник холле, Эллингтон холле), Zagorodnyy prospekt (Загородный пр.), 27 (South of Nevsky Prospekt, use : Vladimirskaya 'Владимирская' or : 16), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: email@example.com. Cash desks: Daily 14.00-20.00. Offers a variety of jazz performances several times per week. RUB800-1,200.
- 21 Ice Palace (Ledoviy Dvorets, Ледовый Дворец), prospekt Pyatiletok (Проспект Пятилеток), 1 (: Prospekt Bolshevikov 'Проспект Большевиков'), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Cash desks: Daily 11:00-20:00. It was built for the 2000 Ice Hockey World Championships and opened in 2000 & cost USD 60 Million. It holds 12,300 people. One of several sports arenas that also serves as a concert hall for pop and rock concerts. RUB800-10,000.
- 22 Oktyabrskiy Big Concert Hall (БКЗ Октябрьский, Большой концертный зал «Октя́брьский»), Ligovskiy Prospekt (Лиговский проспект), 6 (: Ploshad Vosstaniya 'Площадь Восстания'), ☎ . M-F 11.00-20.00; Sa, Su 11.00-19.00. For Pop and rock concerts and for performance of variety actors and also dancing and ballet collectives in an auditorium. RUB600-12,000.
Most cinemas in St. Petersburg show Hollywood films dubbed in Russian. Art cinemas like Dom Kino often show independent American or British movies subtitled in Russian. DVDs of American/European films are also often dubbed. There have been crackdowns on sellers of bootleg DVDs, so it may be difficult or expensive to find DVDs in English these days. There are several DVD stores in the city - often near Metro stations - and it is worth asking about films in English.
Annual Message to Man [dead link] international documentary, short, and animated films festival takes place in June or July, screening many films in English.
- 23 Dom Kino (Киноцентр Дом Кино), Karavannaya Ulitsa (Караванная улица), 12 (: Gostinyy Dvor (Гостиный двор)), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Sometimes shows films in their original language. RUB100-250.
- 24 Avrora Cinema, Nevsky Prospekt (Невский проспект), 60 (: Nevskiy prospekt), ☎ . Daily 11.00-20.00. RUB250-700.
Canal boat tours
A tour of the canals by boat is a great way to see the city in the summer. The typical tour is through the Moika, out to the Neva to see the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Cruiser Aurora, then in through the Fontanka (sometimes as far as the Mariinsky Theater). Tours start at many points along the route and return to their starting point - hawkers for different boat companies abound - and the boats may or may not have a cafe and toilet on board. Almost all tours are in Russian. RUB500-650 seems to be the average price.
- 25 Anglotourismo Boat Tours, Naberezhnaya reki Fontanki, 21 (: Gostinyy Dvor (Гостиный двор)), ☎ . Tours at 11.00, 13.00, 15.00, 17.00, 19.00, 21.00, 00.20. Canal boat tours in English, departing from near the Anichkov Bridge (Nevksy Prospekt and Fontanka) in season (May 7 - Sept 30). RUB600-750, Students: RUB500.
Russian language classes
- Russian Language and Culture Institute @ Saint Petersburg State University. 12-15 students per class. 4 weeks @ (21) 45-minute lessons per week: RUB33,600.
Private language schools
- EducaCentre, Komendantskaya square #1, Atmosphere Shopping Mall, 6th floor (Metro: Komendantskiy Prospekt), ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. (20) 45-minute group lessons per week: €180.
- EDUCA Russian Language School, Nevsky Prospekt #35, 4th floor (Metro: Gostiny Dvor), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Not to be confused with the similarly-named school listed above. Central location, although teachers are younger and less experienced. (20) 45-minute group lessons per week: €175.
- Language Studio. 20 hours of group lessons per week: €320.
- Liden & Denz, Italyanskaya ulitsa #17. Highly rated, although pricier than other schools. (20) 50-minute group lessons per week: €280, 2-week minimum.
- ProBa Language Centre, Zagorodnyi prospekt #17 (Metro: Vladimirskaya or Dostoyevskaya). Facilities are very basic.
There are plenty of ATMs and legit currency exchange booths. Do not exchange money on the street: the rate won't be any better, and you run a high risk of encountering any of numerous scams.
Small cornerstores are not necessarily more expensive than larger stores.
Churches often have small souvenir/religious shops with a large variety of items.
The famous place to shop is of course on Nevsky Prospekt in the Center. The streetfront shops there, Passazh, and the historic mall at Gostiny Dvor skew upscale, but there are street markets just off Nevsky, most notably Apraksin Dvor (south on Sadovaya from Gostiny Dvor) where you can get anything on the cheap (especially cheap if you speak Russian).
Nothing, absolutely nothing, tastes better than hot Russian crepes (bliny/блины, pronounced blee-NYH, or just bleen for one) with caviar, mushrooms, caramel, berries, or what have you with a cup of tea on a cold winter street. Teremok (Теремок) is the street-corner kiosk "chain" for bliny but it now has indoor fast food spots around the city, along with Chainaya Lozhka (Чайная ложка) and U Tyoshi Na Blinakh (У тёщи на блинах).
The other really tasty local offerings for street food/fast food include pirozhki (one: pee-rah-ZHOK, several: pee-razh-KEE), shawarma (шаверма), and pyshki (пышки). Pirozhki are fried buns stuffed usually with beef, vegetables, potatoes, and mushrooms, and are easy enough to find, but not quite as widespread as in Moscow. Shawarma is a decidedly Saint Petersburg phenomenon (i.e., you won't find much of it in other Russian cities), served mostly by Azeris, and is everywhere—in cafes and on the street. Russians swear up and down that the street shawarma is either made of rats or will just make you sick, but by God, the street vendors cook up the most delicious kababs you'll ever find. Pyshki are Russian doughnuts, wonderful with coffee, and are strongly associated with Saint Petersburg. The place to get them in the center is named, naturally, Pyshki, at Ul. Bolshaya Konyushennaya 25.
For restaurant dining, offerings are diverse. Forget whatever you've heard about Russian food—it's delicious. A pretty unique place to eat Russian cuisine would be the attractive restaurant on the grounds of the Peter and Paul Fortress. International, Western European, Asian fusion (Russified Chinese food is really good, but requires a culinary dictionary to order), etc. are just as easy to find as Russian, and sushi is very popular. Some of the most exciting food to try comes from the former Soviet Republics. Georgian cooking, despite its obscurity, is one of the world's great cuisines, and should not be missed. The Central Asian (usually Uzbek) restaurants are a lot of fun too.
The city acts as a beer destination for Moscovites visiting St. Pete for business or vacation reasons--hence its pubs frequently have a much wider choice of beers than an average pub in Moscow (not to mention other cities in Russia). St.Petersburg, being the fatherland of the most popular beer in Russia — Baltica (Балтика), is considered the beer capital of the country, while Moscow is more of a Vodka Capital. Baltica, by the way, comes in a large variety of numbers. Numbers 7 and 8 (seem-YORK-uh, vahs-MYOR-kuh) are the most popular: seven is a lager, eight is a Hefeweizen-style wheat beer.
Saint Petersburgers know how to party. There is a wide and excellent selection of great clubs that will satisfy all tourists looking to spend the night out. The city hosts clubs of all music. Rock, pop, jazz, hip hop/RnB, and a lot more. The most popular trend within music and clubbing in Russia at the moment is house/techno.
Because of the difficulty in operating gay clubs and the social stigma associated with visiting gay clubs, many young men prefer to use gay iPhone applications like Hornet and Scruff to arrange to meet at coffee shops and more discreet locations. This change in technology and the new political issues in St. Petersburg is transforming how gays meet, from nighttime dark watering holes to public straight venues during the day.
The best area for a tourist to stay in is generally considered to be near the Nevsky Prospekt Metro. Indeed, one of the nicest hotels in the city (Evropa) is right there. You'll be able to walk to most of the main attractions, and there are tons of restaurants, shops, cafes, clubs, etc. right on Nevsky. Staying off Nevsky along one of the beautiful canals, though, would also be a fabulous idea.
A less expensive option near Nevsky Prospect is Hotel Vera and is one of the few hotels which offers full handicap access for guests.
The Swiss B&B swissSTAR is located in the historical centre of the city, close to metro station "Sennaya Ploshad". swissSTAR has a total of 8 rooms, 5 of which with ensuite bathroom. Accommodation from 40 Euro per night incl. breakfast. Tel. +7 911 929 2793. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For information on using telephones and buying SIM cards in Russia, see Russia#Connect.
The emergency service number is 112.
Free WiFi is available in most hotels, cafes, restaurants, bars, and shopping centers.
Computer and printer access
There are many computer clubs/internet cafes, usually crowded by kids playing CounterStrike.
- CafeMax (Кафемакс), Nevsky Prospekt 90-92 (Metro: Mayakovskaya or Ploschad Vossitanya), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 24 hours per day. A cheap internet cafe with printer access. Will print items, such as train tickets purchased online, if the file is emailed to the attendant.
Policemen & bureaucrats. For any Western traveller disturbing the system, permission to visit the country can be refused at the border. (One example was "Your documents are not written in Cyrillic"!) The registration system is good way for some bribing. The average street policeman usually cannot speak any foreign language, but if you look like a tourist, you could be a target for money income source. Don't panic! Always ask for a receipt and the name(s) of the officer(s).
Saint Petersburg has a somewhat undeserved reputation for being a dangerous city. Things have calmed down since the Wild West (or Wild East) days immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, but some common sense is still required.
Take care of money, documents, cameras, mobile phones, and anything of value because of pickpocketing. Especially watch out on the Metro during busy times, as people start pushing at the train doors, and pickpockets are frequent, particularly (but not only) at Gostinyy Dvor Metro Station. When riding the Metro, keep in mind that robbery can be a real threat; you should constantly watch what is going on around you and who is standing very close to you. Nevsky Prospekt and nearby markets are also pickpocket hangouts.
Theft of photo equipment is really a big problem in Saint Petersburg. Photo bags probably won't save your camera—it can be opened in less than 5 seconds; the straps can be slashed with a knife even more quickly. Cameras should be kept in bags slung across the body at all times, with your hands keeping a firm grip on them, and no watches or jewelry should be visible at all. Quite obviously, do not show in public that you have a lot of money. Robberies are not uncommon, and many foreigners have been threatened at gun and knife point. However, foreigners are not targeted specifically, and robbers will attack both foreigners and natives that carelessly reveal their wealth.
As with most other major cities, avoid traveling alone at night, and do not get into altercations with drunks. If traveling at night, it is recommended to stay on the main sidewalks and avoid any dark alleys or yards.
Downtown and western parts of the city are safest. Suburbs like Kupchino, Veteranov and Ligovo are struggling with criminality and poverty. Sennaya should be avoided at night time (if you don't have anything particular to do near the Sennaya subway station, try to avoid it at day time, too).
As a general rule, the farther you are from the city center, the more dangerous it is.
Gangs are a problem, although mafia gang wars are unlikely to affect tourists. Some gangs, however, such as neo-Nazis or angry hooligans, are out looking for problems and commit crimes that can affect tourists. Hatred toward people with darker complexions is not uncommon, and neo-Nazism is a concern. St. Petersburg, and Russia in general, can be regarded as a seriously dangerous destination for tourists of darker complexions so travelling in groups is highly advised.
Saint Petersburg's football club, Zenit Saint Petersburg, is one of the biggest clubs in the country, and has its own band of hooligans. If you decide to visit the football stadium to watch the club play, you should buy tickets to center sectors. If you do not do this and a fight starts, you are likely to get dragged into it by either the hooligans or the police, since both will think you are part of the brawl.
Take special care on Nevsky Prospekt, particularly the area with the city tour buses, a favorite spot of pickpockets and particularly of those after photo equipment. On the bright side, "Nevsky Prospekt" sees little mugging.
Russian driving is wild. Drivers attack their art with an equal blend of aggressiveness and incompetence. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. As a pedestrian, take great care when crossing the roads, as pedestrian crossings are in 99% of cases ignored (even by police). If you are thinking of driving yourself, bear in mind that the local traffic police are extremely corrupt, even by Russian standards. Pedestrian crossings with a traffic light are quite safe to use, most car drivers will stop.
Bar fights do occur. In the center of the city and around Nevsky Prospekt, they are rare. However, in the suburbs and local cheaper pubs, fights occur almost daily. If you are staying with locals living in these areas, it might be a good idea to avoid these bars. Police are unlikely to show up as they consider fights as small, unimportant, regular and a waste of time, and they will probably laugh at you for calling.
Gypsy cabs are ubiquitous and a little risky; never take one lingering near bars/clubs where expatriates and tourists congregate.
Saint Petersburg has a relatively big problem with street children who make their living out of stealing. They can be a hassle and can beg you aggressively. Act like any other Russian would: say no, then just ignore them and go away. If they start touching you, be very firm in pushing them away.
Gay travelers must practice extreme caution while staying in Saint Petersburg, as attacks often occur. Many Russian people look upon public demonstrations of homosexuality with undisguised contempt.
Another subtle danger that can affect your trip is the inevitable effect of winter weather. Poor harvesting of snow and ice is a big problem in city. Caution is advised in snowy winters because of falling ice from roofs, and pedestrians should pay special attention to ice on the streets. Snow on marble is very, very slippery—take small steps and watch your feet!
St. Petersburg regularly experienced floods during its history, sometimes catastrophic. However, the construction of the preventive dam has been completed, and catastrophic floods are unlikely to happen again.
Overall, be warned that if you are used to living in the US and/or Western Europe, Saint Petersburg, as well as the rest of Eastern Europe, will seem different, and, at times, a bit intimidating. On the other hand, Russian people are usually friendly, welcoming and interested towards foreigners, and nothing should happen to you unless you put yourself in harm's way. If you don't care about them they don't care about you, and nothing should get in your way of having a great holiday.
The below private hospitals have English-speaking Russian doctors (very few, if any, hospital staff are expats). Depending on the type of service provided and the terms of one's insurance policy, these hospitals may be able to arrange direct billing with European and American medical insurance companies.
- 9 American Medical Clinic, Moyka Embankment 78 (Just west of St. Isaac's Square, : Admiralteyskaya 'Адмиралтейская' or : Sadovaya 'Садовая'), ☎ , fax: , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. 24 hours. Includes dental clinic and pediatric unit. Consultation from RUB2700.
- 10 Euromed, Suvorovsky Prospekt (Суворовский пр.)60 (: Chernyshevskaya 'Чернышевская', further To stop Tulskaya ulitsa : 22, 22a, 136; : K15, K76), ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. 24 hours. Multi-specialty medical center that provides a full range of medical services,applying international standards and protocols of diagnostics and treatment. Includes it's own laboratory and pharmacy units, in-patient department with comfortable 5-star hotel class wards, ambulance team. English-speaking personnel provides direct insurance billing and any administrative support to the patient (accommodation, visas, transfers, medical evacuations).
- 11 MEDEM, Ulitsa Marata (ул. Марата) 6 (: Mayakovskaya 'Маяковская'), ☎ . 24 hours. Includes dental clinic, pediatric unit, and other services. Consultation RUB2700-13,800.
The city's water-system is not ideal because of a number of old pipes and as a result does not provide 100% clean water (too much heavy metals). Some locals boil or also filter tap water before use; you might want to buy it bottled if water quality affects you. It's germ free, though, so brushing your teeth with it is fine—it's just not great for drinking. Cold water is cleaner than hot. No hot water for 3 weeks every summer.
There are numerous public toilets, most of which are attended by a person who will charge about RUB15 for entry. Toilet paper is not always provided. The toilets are typically extremely dirty by Western standards. If you are a Westerner, you can get away with wandering into the Western hotels, which have lovely bathrooms. Just don't ever push your luck with suit-clad martial arts masters guarding the hotel entrances, they are tough as nails if provoked. Many restaurants also allow tourists to use toilet without being a customer.
The first 24 hours in Saint Petersburg may be a shock to the system. The welcome from immigration officials seems like a hang-over from Communist times- don't expect to be spoken to or even looked at by officials. Flying into Saint Petersburg may seem unusual, with the sight of old concrete tower blocks and factory chimneys. The suburbs of the city are a contrast to those with which you may be familiar. Nevsky Prospekt is the most 'Westernized' street in the city and would be more familiar to Westerners traveling to Saint Petersburg. If you are from a Western country, you will find this either shocking or amusing.
Saint Petersburg is plagued by a number of mosquitoes during the summer, especially in June, as the swampy surroundings of the city give the mosquitoes excellent living conditions. In budget accommodation with few countermeasures against the mosquitoes, this can be a problem at night, putting your well deserved sleep at risk. Less of an issue in the city center, mosquitoes can be much more numerous on the outskirts. They are not dangerous, though, just a nuisance.
- Belgium, Shpalernaya street, 38, ☎ , e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mon-Fri, 9AM - 4PM.
- Canada, Parkovaya street, 4, office 326, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Mon-Fri, 10AM - 5PM.
- New Zealand, Nevsky Prospekt, 32, ☎ , fax: . Mon-Fri, 9-30AM - 5PM.
Day trips can be done on your own or via an organized excursion offered by many tour operators. Even though it is a lot to see in one day, Peterhof, Kronshtadt, and Lomonosov are all located in the same general direction west of Saint Petersburg and are all accessible by hydrofoil, so it is popular to see all three sites in one day.
- Gatchina — Big palace and park located in a beautiful village 50km south of Saint Petersburg.
- Kronstadt — Old seaport town on Kotlin island, 20km directly north of Lomonosov. Main Russian naval base from early 18th century. You may take a hydrofoil back to the Hermitage for RUB 400 one-way.
- Lomonosov (AKA Oranienbaum) — Park with museum honoring Michael Lomonosov. 9km west of Peterhof via the A121 highway. Train station name is Oranienbaum ('Orange tree' in German). TIP - You may also visit Kronstadt and take a hydrofoil back to the Hermitage for RUB 400 one-way, an inexpensive alternative to the more expensive ones leaving from Peterhof.
- Oreshek Fortess — a medieval russian fortess at Orekhovy Island in the mouth of Neva, 50km east of Saint Petersburg.
- Pavlovsk — Lusicous green park where you could feed the squirrels from your hands. Can be reached by train from Vitebskiy station (not the main hall, but the smaller hall for local trains, which is on the right side as you face the station). Pavlovsk train station is close to the northwestern gate to the park, and from there it is a long (but pleasant) walk though the park to the palace.
- Peterhof — Home of the sumptuous "Russian Versailles" and the recently open to visits "Petrodvorets Watch Factory - Raketa", 30km southwest of Saint Petersburg.
- Pushkin (A.K.A. Tsarskoye Selo) — 25km south of Saint Petersburg, with beautiful parks and palaces, most notably the Catherine Palace built for Tsarina Catherine I.
- Repino — House-museum of the artist Ilya Repin, located just off the Gulf of Finland, where he lived and worked. To get there: Elektrichka train from the Finlandsky Station (45 minutes, round trip fare RUB 120, eleventh stop on the westbound line — check in advance to make sure the train you board stops in Repino — then from the station cross the main road and walk down the path to the left of the supermarket through a resort complex to the next major road. Turn left and walk about 1.5km to the gate marked Penaty. The walk takes about 45 minutes. The museum and grounds close at 3PM, or earlier if there are no visitors.
- Staraya Ladoga — the first capital of Russia is a pleasant little village four hours away with an incredible wealth of historical sights, including its own stone kremlin and church frescoes by the hand of none other than Andrei Rublev.
- Vyborg — town situated on the Karelian Isthmus near the head of the Bay of Vyborg, 130km to the northwest of St. Petersburg, 38 km south from Russia's border with Finland, where the Saimaa Canal enters the Gulf of Finland. Swedish built castle, started in the 13th century and extensively reconstructed by Russians in 1891–1894. Mon Repos, one of the most spacious English parks in Eastern Europe, laid out in the 19 century. Fortifications of the Mannerheim Line (built by Finland against the Soviet Union) are close by. Now available for day trips with high-speed rail.
If you leave Russia and plan to return, make sure you have a multiple entry visa.
- Novgorod — Ancient town with churches and museums, 180 km from St. Petersburg, can be accessed by high-speed trains.
- Narva, Estonia — 160km southwest of Saint Petersburg. Located on the Narva river, which serves as the border between Russia and Estonia. Twin castles (Russian, established Grand Duke Ivan III, and Danish/Swedish).
- Vologda — this city is considered the heart of Russian North, a popular local travel destination. Reachable by overnight train, from there you can go to Moscow or further north to Arkhangelsk.
- Petrozavodsk and the rest of Karelia — popular Russian travel destination for its beautiful nature and access to White Sea islands. Reachable by overnight or high-speed train.
- Moscow — the Russian capital is reachable by overnight train or in the daytime by the high-speed Sapsan train (about 4h) or by plane. As much to see as in St. Petersburg, so plan on several days here.