Why travel to Saint Petersburg?
'Venice of the North' is a splendid metropolis of grand, baroque
buildings laced around with canals and a dynamite joie de vivre.
Colourful, attractive, very walkable and deeply cultured, the city
contains perhaps the world's most spectacular museum - the amazing
Hermitage - among many other offerings.
Summer days are very, very long - in fact night hardly falls at
all around midsummer - so there's plenty of light-time to waft around
the streets in a haze of vodka-fuelled goodwill with your new Russian
chums...and chums there will be, for St Petersburg people are very,
The city is also artistic, sophisticated and not especially expensive. St
- Petty crime is not uncommon, including 'swarming' thievery by gypsy street children. See 'Safety'.
- This being an ex-swamp, mosquitoes swarm in the summertime,
so take a strong repellent and sleep precautions if you expect to be in budget accommodation.
- Springtime thaws lead to vast swords of ice dropping off roofs,
occasionally killing pedestrians.
- Russian drivers are borderline crazy and have no respect for pedestrians so take care crossing roads.
Best: April, May, October
when average low temperatures are still above zero (!) and highs reach a staggering 8C (46F). Chilly but low humidity, low rainfall, low mosquitoes, low tourist numbers, so get well wrapped up!
Winters will be incredibly cold, -2C (28F) to -10C (14F) or lower, but beautiful, with lowest rainfall, and offering a different perspective on Russian life!
Summer in St Pete has various drawbacks - it's obviously crowded with tourists but also with mosquitoes; it's the wettest and most humid time of the year, though June ushers in the lively White Nights festival. Summer average highs are about 22C (72F) but can go above 30C (86F), lows around 12C (54F).
Current Saint Petersburg temperature and time.
The famous 4km (2.5mls) Nevsky Prospekt street is an easy choice for a first St Petersburg walk, starting
at the Admiralty with spectacular interior and city views from nearby St. Isaac's Cathedral, and taking in
among many other sights the massive, baroque Winter
Palace in equally massive Palace Square (including the Hermitage
Museum, see below)); the sculpted Anichkov bridge;
the Beloselsky Palace and ending at Alexander Nevsky Monastery.
Along the way is the city's main shopping area.
Also near Nevsky Prospekt is the gorgeous, multicoloured Church
of the Spilled Blood and the Mikhail
The city's oldest building, Peter and Paul
Fortress and Cathedral (particularly the interior), a short
walk across the river, is the next move, along with the Strelka
district on Vasilevsky island and its grand old buildings and great
There are plenty more interesting streets and quirky sights to see
as you move around St Petersburg, including visitable apartment/
museums of famous Russians such as Rasputin,
Pushkin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dostoyevsky.
The Yusupov Palace, where Rasputin
was finally terminated, is lavish and worth a trip.
- Peterhof (Petrodvorets), Peter the Great's Grand Palace,
museums and gardens - with spectacular water features is 29km from
the city; go by bus or hydrofoil.
- Pushkin (Catherine's Palace), a renovated masterpiece
in the baroque style, surrounded by parks, is 25km south of
- Veliky Novgorod; this charming carpenter's town (UNESCO
World Heritage Site) is 186kms (110mls) down the road to Moscow,
3.5 hours by train, bus or car, and well worth a few hours. Most
attractions are religious and/or wooden. Many touristfrom s visit en
route St Pete- Moscow.
The metro (subway) system is brilliant, beautiful and easy to use - one token for any distance, but avoid rush-hours. Trolley buses and trains a little
complicated, metered taxis OK and sightseeing by canal boats - in
the summertime - excellent. As to taxis, beware private cabs and especially don't get in if there are others already in the vehicle. Be especially careful about gypsy cabs waiting near bars and restaurants late at night.
River cruises are an excellent way to appreciate the watery aspect
of this grand Russian city; boats big and small are available for hire long or
Banyas or Russian bathhouses (saunas) are an interesting cultural
experience, particularly if you enjoy being beaten.
Skating in the winter is free on most canals but in the summer you'll
have to pay at one of the ice palaces.
25 Dec- 5 January, Russian Winter celebrates with traditional activities
such as music, dance, sleigh rides, folk shows, just outside the
late February-early March, Goodbye Russian Winter, as above.
June, the White Nights arts festival is St Pete's liveliest event.
April/May, St Petersburg Music Spring Festival, classical music.
mid November, Autumn Rhythms is a jazz festival based in St Pete's clubs.
some precise dates or more information see: European
Festivals or Arts
Museums: The incredible Hermitage Museum - with a building as wonderful
as its contents, the extensive and beautifully housed Russian Museum,
the superb Museum of Decorative Arts, the tasty Russian Vodka Museum
and the Kunstammer, housing Peter the Great's collection of freaks
Hermitage Museum, Russia's best art collection in the stunning Winter Palace
This massive edifice houses nearly three million artifacts - in an awesome environment that often overshadows the exhibits - which
would require nine years to see, so do some research and choose
your targets carefully, but do include a visit to the amazing
state rooms of the Winter Palace.
Avoiding huge Hermitage queues: buy a two-day voucher (discounted and the museum certainly justifies a couple of days)
a few days in advance from the Hermitage online. Print the voucher and then exchange it for an entry ticket on arrival at the groups/disabled entrance. To see the most popular section of the museum, the Treasure Gallery, book a guided tour as soon as you arrive.
Classical Music: St Pete has two first-class Philharmonic
orchestras. Book through Maximilian Ticket Agency.
Dance/Opera: at Mariinsky (formerly the Kirov) Theatre, Mikhailovsky Theater, or the cheaper and more intimate St Petersburg Opera.
Choral Music: fabulous churches offer sensational sounds, mostly
free. e.g. Preobrazhenski Church 10am and 6pm, or Alexander Nevsky
Monastery at 6pm - with a spooky bonus cemetery hosting Tchaikovsky,
Borodin, Rimsky-Korsakov and Dostoyevsky.
Live Music & Clubs: The city has endless night action of all
sorts in varied styles, constantly morphing into something new,
so just take a walk, ask the concierge or check the monthly 'Neva News', the bi-weekly 'St Petersburg Times',
or 'Pulse' magazine for event info/listings.
Russia in general is fairly safe, though people of a dark complexion travelling alone may be targetted by radicals as locals fear Chechnya terrorists.
There have been issues with fake policemen demanding papers and money in the past but this seems to be a dying art. Never give a policeman your passport and consider carrying only a photocopy.
As always keep most valuables in the hotel safe and carry only what you need in secure inside pockets. The main concern is crowded metro pickpockets (avoid rush-hours) or groups of gypsies (often women and/or children) swarming and pawing tourists, lifting valuables in the process. The best defence is to never encourage them in any way, keep a tight grip on valuables, shout "Nyet!" and do not hesitate to shove or strike them. The police will be sympathetic. More on Travel Safety.
Drink bottled water to be on the safe side, St Pete infrastructure is ancient in places, including water piping and sources.
Hostels and B&Bs are a good, cheap alternative to pricey hotels, more fun less
money and especially useful during festivals - such as White Nights
- when reasonably priced places are difficult to find.
Eating in Saint Petersburg doesn't mean bland and potatoes.
Offerings vary from the best Russian and Georgian cuisine through
all the usual global foodstuffs; even vegetarians can eat green
at the long-running Café Idiot.
Meals can be good value in good local cafés or hugely costly
if you choose upmarket tourist establishments.
The usual Russia tourist souvenirs of dolls (inside dolls, inside
dolls), painted boxes, old-fashioned watches and T-shirts are on
offer just about everywhere a tourist might pop up, but paintings
are a more interesting option, from fine street art to sophisticated
works on sale in posh galleries.
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