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explore Saint Petersburg, Russia

Explore Saint Petersburg, Russia

Explore Saint Petersburg a world-class destination and Russia‘s second largest city, with a population of more than 5 million perched at the eastern tip of the Baltic Sea and the Neva River.

The city was formerly known as Petrograd, and later Leningrad.

This is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places on earth and virtually any building in the large historic centre, threaded with canals dotted with baroque bridges, can be considered an attraction—and indeed, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is a magical city, with a long list of major attractions. Its Hermitage Museum, housed in the Winter Palace of the Romanov Dynasty, is both one of the world’s greatest and oldest collections of art, treasure, and antiquities, and one of its most beautiful buildings.

Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, in the territory of the Inkeri town of Nien which was a capital of Finno-Ugric province Ingermanland which was part of Novgorod Republic, and Sweden. The first settlements in this region date from 2500 years ago. Archaeologists found old graves full of izhora silver treasures, also korela-inkeri epos of Kalevala halfly was written near Sester river, modern Sestroretsk. In this time the lifestyle of aborigines was very different it was forest people which lived in tunnels underground, famous for hunting, mushroom medicine, and making steel. St Petersburg the former home of the tsars and the centre of imperial Russian culture, was known as “The Venice of the North” in its heyday. Re-christened Petrograd 

during the First World War, the city was renamed Leningrad in 1924 in honor of communist revolutionary and founder of the Soviet Union, Vladimir I. Lenin. Bombed, besieged and starved during World War II, the city took a back seat to Moscow during the Soviet-era.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city has rapidly been making up for lost time and is by far the most cosmopolitan and Western of Russia’s cities. Renamed once more in the aftermath of the fall of the Soviet Union, most Russians know it as Piter, a familiar diminutive of Saint Petersburg.

During the hardship years of Yeltsin’s presidency, much of the city was controlled by the infamous Tambov gang, but have since reduced in influence. With world-class architecture, astonishing views and friendly people, there’s a lot to do here.

There is a huge seasonal variation in day length due to the city’s position at 60°N.

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.

What to do in Saint Petersburg, Russia

Walking around with locals

The alternative way to explore St Petersburg is to know it from inside, walking and talking with locals and trying local activities. Those people who have lived here for years would like to tell you a plenty of stories, open some secret places (as roofs or courtyards etc.) and treat you as a friend.

  • Sputnik. Tours by locals for 1 to 10 people. Some tours are free and others are cheap. Many of them are unique like Russian cooking classes, rooftop, flea market, Uzbek food tours, art galleries, lofts etc.
  • Petersburg Voyage(Tours by locals). Daily Tours in English in small groups. A good way to find out about St. Petersburg more!
  • Discover Walks St Petersburg, Sytninskaya st. Saint Petersburg 197101. Meet actual Native of St Petersburg in addition to exploring major landmarks. Join a walk with locals who will “decode” the city with you, and also learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves. Severeal tours to join every day, by r
  • Communist Leningrad walking & driving tours. All major and unknown communist sights in the capital of the Revolution by locals + Kommunalka admission.

Festivals and events

  • Victory Day, on May 9, celebrates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany in 1945. 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.
  • Scarlet Sailstakes place on the weekend of the summer solstice, the longest day of the year, around June 24. It includes concerts, water shows, and fireworks, with festivities going until 4:00AM. The main streets are closed for the festivities.
  • City Day27th of May.
  • Stars of the White Nights Festivalincludes performing arts events in June, centered around the Marinsky Theatre.
  • New Year’s Eve the biggest holiday of the year in Russia.

There are plenty of ATMs and legitimate currency exchange booths in the city centre. There are also many 24-hour supermarkets.

Souvenirs are commonly available on Nevsky Prospekt, particularly near the Hermitage, although prices for everything are higher here than on side streets.

  • Raketa wristwatches for over half a century tourists have been hunting for Russian watches in Saint Petersburg. But be aware of many counterfeits. The most wanted Russian watches in Saint Petersburg are the one produced locally by the “Petrodvorets Watch Factory – Raketa” Russian’s 300 years watch factory (By the way the Factory, located in Peterhof, is open to visits. Founded by Peter the Great in 1721, this Manufacture is the last one in Russia, and one of the very few in the world to produce its mechanisms from A to Z. Since counterfeits are mostly found, we advise you buy only those Russian watches in the shops listed on the factory’s site.
  • Matryoshka Gift & Jewelry is a modern brand of gifts, jewelry and accessory with Russian identity. The Matryoshka brand concept is based on one of the easiest to recognize symbols – famous doll in doll known as matryoshka. The world known forms, pure colors and funktionality of the products are the basic elements of Matryoshka brand. Each Matryoshka product is the perfect and unique gift from Russia. Matryoshka shops located in Dekabristov street, 28, in Hotel “Angleterre”: Malaya Morskaya street, 24 and in “Passage” shopping centre on Nevsky pr.,48

Markets

  • Apraksin Dvor. perfect for people watching, but keep your purse and camera close since it is a favorite of both shoppers and pickpockets. You can find almost anything here. 
  • Gostiny Dvor. The city’s oldest and largest shopping centre, dating to the mid-18th century. The name means “Merchant Yard”, as its old role was to provide both shops and housing to merchants from far away. It sells almost everything from Playstations to Saint Petersburg Vodka. Prices are high. 
  • Udelnaya flea-market. Blocks of concrete-steel-glass cubes selling various new goods, turns to roofed flea market stalls with good stock and widely varying wares which turns to non-roofed stalls and ending up with trade-places of blankets placed on the ground up-north where the market ends. Half way up the flea market on left side is Middle-Asian style open-fire grill-restaurant-tent with reasonable prices and delicious kebabs, shashliks and pork ribs. Bargaining in Russian will be appreciated.
  • Passazh. The Harrods of Saint Petersburg, a smaller and very beautiful shopping center for the elite.
  • Souvenirs Fair. A huge variety of cheap souvenirs from Matroyshka dolls to Soviet Memorabilia. Be aware that all the Russian Raketa watches sold are counterfeits. English is generally spoken here and the market caters to tourists.
  • DK Krupskoy, Pr. Obukhovskoy oborony 105. Used to be a book market but nowadays you can buy various things there. It’s a very well known place among locals but not by foreigners. You can find souvenirs by a very good price there. Much cheaper than stores in the city centre.

Russian cuisine is famous in the world, and high-quality authentic Russian dishes are available all over Saint Petersburg. But there is other interesting food in the city.

1) Central Asian (Uzbek/Tajik) food. There is huge Uzbek immigrant community and they have unique culinary traditions. Very cheap and very tasty. Most of the places are a hole in the wall type and hard to find. There are many places inside Sennoy market. Also foodies can sign up for Uzbek food tour.

2) Georgian food. Very unique and tasty cuisine. Georgian restaurants are scattered all over St Petersburg. It’s more expensive than Uzbek. But worth trying.

It’s hard to find Uzbek/Georgian food outside of ex-USSR. Try it here.

Bars in Saint Petersburg generally have the best beer selection of any city in Russia. The Baltika Brewery headquarters is in Saint Petersburg and the beer is very popular in the city. Many tour companies offer nightly “pub Crawl” tours of Saint Petersburg; these can be found easily via an online search.

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.

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.

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. Gypsy cabs are not recommended under any circumstances, especially those that linger near bars where expatriates and tourists congregate.

Day trips from Saint Petersburg

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.
  • Kronshtadt — 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 Kronshtadt 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 Islandin the mouth of Neva, 50km east of Saint Petersburg.
  • Pavlovsk — Luscious green park where you could feed the squirrels from your hands. Can be reached by train from Vitebskiy station. Pavlovsk is a former residence of Emperor Paul I. The elegant classical style palace looks much different from bright and colorful baroque. The estate is famous for its huge picturesque English garden.
  • Peterhof — Home of the sumptuous “Russian Versailles” and the recently open to visits “Petrodvorets Watch Factory – Raketa”, 30km southwest of Saint Petersburg.
  • Petergof Lower Park — The palace ensemble is often referred as the “Russian Versailles’. You’ll enjoy a picturesque walk through the gardens with three unique cascades and dozens of powerful water jets and admire Grand Cascade, with its staircases, waterfalls, an avenue of 64 fountains and 37 gilded statues. During the tour you will walk past elegant royal pavilions.
  • 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. The Catherine Palace is probably the most luxurious summer palace near St Petersburg. It is located in the town of Tsarskoye Selo 30 km south of St. Petersburg, Russia. During the tour you’ll walk through a magnificent gallery of gala rooms and discover the legendary Amber room.
  • 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 capitalof 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. Check the schedule of the 75 minute rapid train online.

Overnight trips

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. “Lastochka” high speed trains are the best way to get there and back.
  • 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).

Official tourism websites of Saint Petersburg

For more information please visit the official government website: 

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