St Petersburg is the most majestic city in Russia. It has become one of the most distinguished tourist cities in Europe along with Paris, London, and Rome. Visiting Russia and not visiting St Petersburg is simply unthinkable. Indeed, tourists from different parts of the world strive to get to this gorgeous city.
St Petersburg City Guide
St Petersburg has always been a popular tourist destination in Russia. It is one of the most beautiful European cities. I have often heard that the city has a special atmosphere: a unique mix of European culture and Russian traditions.
In any uncertain situation, go to St Petersburg — this is a popular Russian saying about the city. It seems that the beauty of St Petersburg relaxes, calms down and heals. Indeed, it is possible to come to St Petersburg just once — and want to come back there over and over again.
In this guide you will find information for planning your perfect vacations in St Petersburg:
- General info about St Petersburg city
- Weather in St Petersburg
- What is the best time of year to visit St Petersburg?
- How to get to St Petersburg
- The main attractions of St Petersburg
- How many days do you need in St Petersburg?
- Where to stay
- Where to eat
- What to bring from St Petersburg
You may also wonder:
- Is it safe to go to St Petersburg?
- Is St Petersburg expensive?
- Is English spoken in St Petersburg, Russia?
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GENERAL INFO ABOUT ST PETERSBURG CITY
St Petersburg is situated in the Northern part of Russia, on the shore of the Gulf of Finland. It is the second largest city in Russia with a population of more than 5 million people.
Population: 5+ mln people
Time zone: GMT +3 (Moscow time)
St Petersburg was founded by Russian Emperor Peter the Great not so long ago — in 1703. As you see, St Petersburg is a young city. Before the 18th century, the capital of Russia was Moscow. Peter the Great moved the capital to St Petersburg. Since then, the city has grown in size and splendour.
Facts about St Petersburg:
• The city is often called the cultural capital of Russia. It is not in vain! St Petersburg has more than 200 museums, 100 theatres, more than 100 churches, hundreds of monuments. Each year St Petersburg hosts dozens of exhibitions, festivals, and concerts. When you come to Russia, you just can not skip St Petersburg, no way! (If you miss, you will regret all your life, believe me)
• Nevsky Prospect is the central street of St Petersburg. Whenever you go for a stroll there, you will find plenty of interesting things: museums, restaurants, or shops. Nevsky Prospect never sleeps — it is always busy.
• The Neva is the largest St Petersburg river. I would rather say that the Neva is not just a river — it is on the symbols of the city. This powerful cold flood is related to so many important dates in the history of St Petersburg.
• St Petersburg changed its name several times. In the 20th century it was Petrograd, then Leningrad, then again — St Petersburg. Older generations still often use the Soviet-style name ‘Leningrad’.
By the way, the region around St Petersburg is called the Leningrad region (not the St Petersburg region). I think that this is because ‘the Leningrad region’ is shorter and easier to pronounce in Russian.
• The short name of St Petersburg is Piter (we pronounce it like the name ‘Peter’ in the English language). Russians never say ‘St Pete’.
• We celebrate St Petersburg city’s birthday on the 27th of May. It is a big city fest with lots of concerts, festivals, and fireworks.
In Russia, the chief of the city is the mayor. In St Petersburg, the chief of the city is the ‘governor’. I suppose that this tradition dates back to the imperial times of Russia.
WEATHER IN ST PETERSBURG
St Petersburg is a Northern city. The climate is moderate, transitional from moderately continental to moderately maritime. We have a short summer and a long winter.
The weather in St Petersburg is changeable, humid and windy. Here are the average temperatures for every month:
The weather changes rapidly during the day. Always keep that in mind! Do not rely on forecasts too much.
As a local who lives in St Petersburg, I highly advise having windproof and waterproof clothes and shoes for a comfortable walk in the city. I have an umbrella but use it rarely. St Petersburg’s rain is usually accompanied by strong winds. Umbrellas are not very helpful in this situation.
The warmest part of St Petersburg is Nevsky Prospect. The temperature at this street is usually 3-4 degrees higher than in other parts of the city.
The weather in St Petersburg is often cloudy. There are only about 70 sunny days per year (which means 5-6 days per month). But when the sun finally comes to St Petersburg, the city magically changes. I adore walking along the Neva embankments on a sunny day. The river reflects the blue sky and becomes blue itself. It looks like a sea.
WHAT IS THE BEST TIME OF THE YEAR TO VISIT ST PETERSBURG?
Most St Petersburg city guides advise you to visit St Petersburg in the summer. Indeed, the high tourist season begins in May and lasts until the end of September.
Personally, this is my favourite time of the year. And my two main reasons to love summer are:
- There are plenty of festivals, concerts, and cultural events that take place outside. Each week, there is something new happening in the city. I would only mention my favourite festival ‘Opera For All’. During this festival, opera singers perform on outside stages in the most beautiful places in the city. For instance, there were performances, in Peter and Paul Fortress and Catherine Park. The entrance to those open-air performances is free.
- This is the time of white nights. White nights are a geographical phenomenon that is typical in the Northern regions of Earth. This is the season when the day lasts for more than 16 hours. The sun goes down very late and rises very early. For instance, I can see the sun shining at 10 p.m.
Surely, it is so pleasant to be able to walk until late in beautiful St Petersburg!
Look at the chart that shows the length of the day per month in St Petersburg. Pay attention how long days are in May, June, July, and August. This is the season of white nights.
Several famous must-do activities in St Petersburg are available only in summer. One of them is a boat tour on rivers and channels. It can be done from April to October, while the rivers are free of ice. If you want to see the famous fountains of Peterhof, you should come in summer too. The fountains do not operate from October to May.
However, you should remember: high tourist season means that hotel prices are higher and lines to museums are longer.
The most comfortable time of the year to visit St Petersburg city is May-September. But if you want to avoid crowds, plan your trip for less touristy months: from October to April.
FOR PLANNING YOUR TRIP:
HOW TO GET TO ST PETERSBURG
• By plane
Pulkovo Airport is an international airport in St Petersburg. Direct flights connect St Petersburg with many cities across the globe: Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Istanbul, Rome, London, Dubai, Tel-Aviv, etc.
Pulkovo Airport is located on the outskirts of St Petersburg, 20 km away from the city. Pulkovo consists of one single terminal — Terminal 1. Both international and internal flights arrive to / depart from Pulkovo. The airport has everything for a comfortable trip: ticket offices, lounges, children playrooms, souvenir shops, coffee houses, and restaurants.
European low-coster WizzAir offers cheap tickets to flights between St Petersburg and other European cities. You can purchase tickets for as low as 30 USD. There are flights to St Petersburg from London, Bratislava, Bucharest, Copenhagen, Oslo, Salzburg, Sofia, Stockholm, Vilnius, Bergamo, Venetia, Bologna, Turin, Catania, and Malta. Check flights here.
How to get from Pulkovo Airport to the city centre:
— book a taxi transfer.
The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is to book a transfer. A taxi ride from Pulkovo to the centre of St Petersburg will cost you ~ 1200 Rubles (15 USD). The ride takes about 80-90 min.
— use public transport.
You may also use public transport. There is no metro station in Pulkovo. There is no direct bus or train from Pulkovo to the city centre either. Thus, if you want to use public transport, you have to make a change:
- First, take a bus from Pulkovo to the metro. The closest metro station is Moskovskaya station. Bus N39 and marshrutka N39 connect Pulkovo and Moskovskaya metro station. A bus ticket costs ~ 55 Rubles (0.85 USD). The route takes 35-40 min.
- Second, take the metro from Moskovskaya to Ploshchad Vosstaniya or Nevsky Prospect stations. It will take you 25-30 min. A metro ticket costs 60 Rubles (0.9 USD).
Keep in mind that public transport in St Petersburg does not operate at night.
• By train
There are 5 railway stations in St Petersburg:
- Moskovsky railway station
- Baltiysky railway station
- Finland railway station
- Vitebsky railway station
- Ladozhsky railway station.
All railway stations, except for Ladozhsky, are situated in the city centre. Each station has a metro station nearby. Most trains arrive at Moskovsky railway station. It is located on Nevsky Prospect, the main street of St Petersburg.
There are trains between St Petersburg and such European cities like Helsinki, Tallinn, Vienna, Berlin, Riga and some others. Usually, a flight costs less than a train ticket. But if you want to try something new, why not travel from Europe to St Petersburg by train? I would like to make such a trip one day.
• By Cruise Liner or Ferry
St Petersburg has a large passenger port ‘Maritime Facade’. It is located in the western part of the city, at Vasilievsky Island. Each year, thousands of tourists arrive in St Petersburg city by sea.
Arriving in St Petersburg by sea has an important advantage. Passengers of cruise liners and ferries can stay in St Petersburg for 3 days with no Russian visa.
The ferry ‘Princess Anastasia’ connects St Petersburg with Helsinki (Finland), Tallinn (Estonia) and Stockholm (Sweden). For example, a round trip from Helsinki to St Petersburg costs about 200 USD per person. The trip takes 5 days: 2 days of route + 3 days of touring St Petersburg. You may check schedules and prices for ferry trips to St Petersburg here.
St Petersburg is also a part of North-European cruises. Many cruise companies offer sea tours in Northern Europe. Those tours last for 9-10 days. Usually, they include Denmark, Germany, Finland, and Russia. During those 10 days, you will be overwhelmed by the number of beautiful places around you. Visiting 5 countries in 10 days is a hard travel task. So, then your cruise is completed, you may need another vacation to have a rest!
THE MAIN ATTRACTIONS OF ST PETERSBURG
St Petersburg city amazes its guests with the splendour of its architecture, museums, bridges, palaces, sculptures, gardens and embankments. The whole historical centre of the city is included in the UNESCO World Heritage list. This is the list of the main attraction that you can not miss;
— St Petersburg palaces.
For two hundred years St Petersburg was the capital of Russia. In those two centuries, St Petersburg turned from a small northern fortress into a luxurious European city.
The Russian empire does not exist anymore. But the imperial heritage is still the pride of St Petersburg. And if you visit the city, probably, the first places you would want to see are former imperial palaces. The most known among them are Winter Palace (in St Petersburg city), Peterhof and Catherine Palaces ( in the suburbs).
— Drawbridges. What would you think if I told you that there are more than 90 rivers in St Petersburg? Probably, you will imagine that locals move through the city on boats only. In fact, boats are mostly dedicated to leisure tours. Locals cross the rivers by bridges. We have 800+ bridges here!
Some bridges in St Petersburg are small and modest. Sometimes you do not even notice them. But some bridges are impressive: by size, decoration, and engineering design.
Palace Bridge is one of the drawbridges. It has become the symbol of St Petersburg. At night, some of the wings of draw bridges rise. This is a spectacular show that attracts tourists and locals. But do not think that this is done for the pleasure of tourists only. The bridge’s wings rise to allow passage for cargo ships and barges. Nevertheless, do not miss the chance to go to the embankment of the Neva to enjoy this night performance.
— White nights. White nights are summer nights during which sunlight remains bright. The entire night consists of the twilight only. This is my favourite part of the year. Officially, the season of white nights lasts from June 11 to July 11. But in reality, days are long already in the middle of May. I consider mid-August as the end of the white nights season.
White nights are a symbol of St. Petersburg. At this time of the year, the city hosts various festivals, concerts and folk festivals. Be ready to pay more for accommodations and tickets during the white nights season. This is the peak tourist time in St Petersburg.
— Ballet. St Petersburg is the city of ballets. Whether you like classical or contemporary ballets, you will certainly be satisfied with the playbill of St Petersburg theatres.
If you prefer classical ballet, book tickets to Mariinsky Theatre. It is one of the most known and influential theatres in the world. I am sure that you will fall in love with ‘The Sleeping Beauty’, ‘Swan Lake’ and ‘La Bayadère’. Sometimes it is hard to book tickets to Mariinsky Theatre — they can be sold out very quickly. Do not get upset! St Petersburg has many other brilliant places to watch ballet: Mikhailovsky Theatre, the Hermitage Theatre, and Alexandrinsky Theatre.
— St Petersburg museums. St Petersburg is the cultural capital of Russia. I have never seen statistics about how exactly the museums there are in the city. To be completely honest, even locals sometimes do not know about this or that museum. Here in St Petersburg, we even have several special programs that pursue the goal to promote small museums.
But right now I will name you the most known museums in St Petersburg. I advise you to start with them for two equally important reasons: 1) they possess extraordinary collections and house unique exhibitions & 2) they have tours or audio guides in multiple foreign languages.
- The Hermitage Museum. The Hermitage Museum in one of the largest museums in the world. It possesses the richest collection of paintings, sculptures, jewellery, arms, furniture, etc.
- Russian Museum — Russian Museum is the largest collection of Russian art in the world.
- Peter and Paul Fortress. Peter and Paul Fortress is the birthplace of St Petersburg. The history of the city begins here.
- Erarta — Erarta is a large museum of contemporary art.
- Faberge Museum — an exquisite collection of world-famous Faberge eggs and jewellery.
- Kunstkamera — the first museum in Russia. The museum has a unique collection of antiques revealing the history and life of many nations. Kunstkamera is particularly known to many for its “special” collection of anatomical rarities and anomalies.
- Artillery Museum — a large collection of Russian military equipment, uniforms, and decorations.
- Grand Maket Russia is a museum that I call ‘Russia in miniature’. It is a detailed 3D layout of all regions of Russia.
— The impression of St Petersburg would not be complete without visiting splendid imperial palaces in the suburbs of the city: Peterhof, Pushkin and Pavlovsk.
HOW MANY DAYS DO YOU NEED IN ST PETERSBURG, RUSSIA?
I advise you to stay in St Petersburg at least for three days. In three days, you can explore the most known attractions of St Petersburg. I am sure that you would like to see the famous Winter Palace, Palace Square, Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St Isaac’s Cathedral, and Peter and Paul Fortress. Plan to spend two days in St Petersburg city. Leave the 3rd day for an escape to one of the suburbian imperial palaces: Tsarskoe Selo or Peterhof.
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It is important to plan thoroughly an itinerary before your trip.
Do not forget: some activities are available only during the warm season. If you visit St Petersburg in summer, a boat tour of rivers and channels is a must. St Petersburg is often called ‘the Venice of the North’. Be sure to visit the famous Lower park of Peterhof. This is an extraordinary place that leaves nobody indifferent. I have been there so many times! And still, each summer I want to go back to this former residence of Russian emperors.
What is the best way to explore the city?
St Petersburg is a great place for those who love promenades. I adore wandering in the centre of the city with my camera. I walk along embankments, cross bridges, enter yards, and sip coffee in tiny coffee shops.
There is also another option — a city tour on a hop-on/hop-off bus. Hop-on/hop-off buses ‘City Sightseeing’ are special tourist buses. These red double-deckers ride across St Petersburg and stop near the most popular city’s landmarks. Each passenger has an audio guide. You may hop on and hop off the bus whenever you want. A one-day ticket costs 2000 Rubles (25 USD). You can always find double-deckers near St Isaac’s Cathedral. The buses are painted red so you will easily notice them.
WHAT TO BRING FROM ST PETERSBURG
There is a souvenir market near the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. Sellers offer a variety of traditional Russian souvenirs: matryoshka dolls, Pavlovo Posad shawls, valenki, Palekh and Fedoskino lacquer boxes, as well as postcards, magnets, keyrings, and many other gifts.
My favourite place for buying St Petersburg-style gifts is Singer House. Singer House is a book store on Nevsky Prospect, near Nevsky Prospect metro station. On the ground floor, there is a large department with all kinds of souvenirs. First of all, you will find lots of books and guide books about St Petersburg city. I am sure that you would also like to have a mug with St Petersburg’s views. Do not miss such sweet souvenirs as candies, chocolate bars, and cookies. I also like small pins with St Petersburg landmarks.
If you are interested in the Romanovs, there is a stall of postcards with portraits of the members of the Russian Imperial family.
Three places for buying classy St Petersburgean souvenirs:
— Eliseyev Emporium. The Eliseyev Emporium is a luxury grocery store on Nevsky Prospect. During imperial times, the store belonged to the Eliseyevs. They were a family of rich merchants and manufacturers. In the Emporium, you can find exquisite products that are made according to old Eliseyevs’ recipes and traditions. I am always fascinated by their chocolates. There are chocolate bars with fruits and berries, nuts, and even dried mushrooms!
— flagship stores of the Imperial Porcelain Factory (there are several of them on Nevsky Prospect). The Imperial Porcelain Factory is the oldest porcelain manufactory in St Petersburg. It was established in 1744. The Factory produced the finest porcelain for Russian tsars. At present, these exquisite porcelain items are often used as diplomatic gifts by the Russian president.
Do not be afraid of the prices. Indeed, some items are expensive. But there are also a variety of affordable tea sets, plates, or statuettes. A tea set (cup + plate) costs 2500 Rubles (32USD)
— souvenir shops in the Hermitage Museum and the Russian Museum. When you visit the Hermitage or the Russian Museum, take time to visit their souvenir shops too. First of all, those shops sell extraordinary art books.
You will also find plenty of souvenirs that will serve you for a long time. Pay attention to neckties, scarves, and umbrellas with famous paintings printed on them.
WHERE TO STAY IN ST PETERSBURG
St Petersburg has all kinds of hotels and hostels. So if you wonder where to stay in St Petersburg, you will have a variety of accommodations to choose from. There are many hostels for budget travellers. There are also 5-star hotels for those who prefer luxury.
If you come to St Petersburg for the first time, think of staying in the centre of the city: Admiralteysky, Vasileostrovsky and Petrogradsky districts. You will be close to the main city attractions and good places for eating out. If you like nightlife, it will be easier (and cheaper) to get back to your hotel at night.
Accommodations in St Petersburg are not cheap. But you can find affordable hotels in the centre of the city:
- Yards of Capella by Academia Excellent location in the historical centre of the city. Comfortable rooms, friendly staff and the Winter Palace in 5 minutes walk. Prices per night start at 60USD
- Sakvoyazh Hotel is located in one of the cosiest parts of the city — on Vasilievsky Island. Spacious rooms, tasty breakfasts and a metro station nearby. Prices per night start at 60 USD
- Nomera na Nevskom 111 — great location in the centre of St Petersburg, just a walking distance to most of the city’s major attractions, cafes and shopping centres. Prices per night start at 50 USD
- Shelfort Hotel is a cosy hotel on Vasilievsky Island. It has everything for a comfortable stay: a quiet area, comfortable rooms, delicious breakfasts, and helpful staff. Prices per night start at 50 USD
- Renome Hotel is a comfortable hotel near Moskovsky railway station. If you like contemporary clean design, Renome Hotel would be a good choice. The hotel is situated in the central part of the city, close to metro stations, shopping centres, bars, restaurants, and city sights. Prices per night start at 80 USD
WHERE TO EAT IN ST PETERSBURG
It would not be a lie to say that St Petersburg is a great destination for a gastronomic tour. It is impossible to count museums in the city. But when it comes to cafes, bars, restaurants, and coffee shops, it seems that their quantity is just beyond the bounds of possibility!
Here in St Petersburg city, we have McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks. If you miss them, you can have a bite there. However, opt for visiting Russian places for eating out.
This is my shortlist of places where I and my friends love to go. They all are situated in the centre of the city so you’ll easily find them:
— to try local specialities: restaurant ‘Koryushka’
Restaurant ‘Koryushka’ is situated near Peter and Paul Fortress. The must-try dish is legendary St Petersburg fish — smelt.
Address: 3, Peter and Paul Fortress.
— to eat fast and tasty food: ‘Teremok’
‘Teremok’ is a chain of fast-food restaurants. But this is a Russian style fast food. They serve blini (Russian pancakes), soups, pelmeni, and Russian drinks like sbiten or mors. They have reasonable prices and comfortable dining rooms. We often go to ‘Teremok’ with friends when we want to have a fast and tasty dinner.
Addresses in the city centre: 60, Nevsky Prospect
11A, Bolshaya Morskaya Street
34A, 7th Line of Vasilievsky Island
— to enjoy a nice city view: restaurant ‘Schastye’
In Russian, the word ‘schastye’ means ‘happiness’. And indeed restaurant ‘Schastye’ is a lovely place to have a rest. Probably, the tastiest ‘dish’ of this café is the spectacular view of St Isaac’s Cathedral. A crispy croissant and a cup of coffee will cost you more than in other cafes but they are worth it 100%.
Address: 24, Malaya Morskaya Street
— to relax in a cozy atmosphere: café-bar ‘HUGS’.
Discovered by chance, ‘friendly bar’ ‘HUGS’ (as the owners call it) has indeed become one of the favourite places for meeting with friends. This cozy place with a quiet atmosphere is a must for those who want to escape noisy city streets. In the menu — whatever you may need for a tasty hangout: toasts, salads, soups, pasta, meat dishes, cocktails, non-alcoholic drinks, and desserts.
Address: 38, Canal Griboyedova Embankment.
— to try Russian food: restaurant ‘Katyusha’
‘Katyusha’ is a restaurant with traditional Russian dishes in the centre of St Petersburg. Have you heard about famous Russian soups borsch and rassolnik? You should try them in ‘Katyusha’. The better time to go to this restaurant is for lunch. They offer lunch sets that include soups, salads, and the main dish for reasonable prices.
Address: 22-24, Nevsky Prospect
— to eat vegan: café ‘Botanika’
‘Botanica’ is one of the most popular vegetarian cafés in St Petersburg. Soups, salads, sandwiches, desserts and even pelmeni (dumplings) are vegetarian!
Address: 7, Pestelya Street
— legendary place you can not miss: ‘Pyshechnaya’ on Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street
‘Pyshechnaya’ on Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street is a place apart. The most legendary café in the city! It is a tiny Soviet-style café that serves pyshkas. A pyshka is a sweet bagel richly covered with sugar powder. Should be eaten hot, by dozens, and with extremely sweet Russian-style coffee. You can not miss it!
Address: 25, Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street
YOU MAY ALSO WONDER
— Is it safe to go to St Petersburg Russia?
Yes, St Petersburg is a safe city, for men and women equally.
The main tourist ‘danger’ in St Petersburg is pickpockets. It is so in all touristy places. So be vigilant and take care of your purses, bank cards, and camera lenses!
Right down the universal emergency telephone number in Russia — 112. You can call from any phone, from any mobile carrier. Calls from a mobile phone are free.
— Is St Petersburg expensive?
St Petersburg is a popular tourist destination. Hence, it is more expensive than many other Russian cities. Remember that accommodation and tickets prices rise during summer.
However, you can find that prices in St Petersburg are not exorbitant. Compared to European countries, they are even low. An average cost:
- a hotel room — 50 USD per night
- lunch in a cafe — 8-9 USD
- lunch in a restaurant — 25 USD
- tickets to major museums — 10-12 USD
- a boat trip — 10 USD
- one-ride metro ticket — 0.75USD
- local SIM with 10 Gb of internet and 150 minutes of calls — 4-5 USD
— Is English spoken in St Petersburg?
Hotel and museum staff speak basic English. Restaurant menus usually have an English version too. Stops in the metro are announced in Russian and English. This is probably all things done in English in St Petersburg. Not so much, I know. So you better learn basic words in Russian, write down your hotel address in Russian and use Google Translate.
Have you been to St Petersburg? Can you recommend a nice place to visit there?