What to do in Saint Petersburg, Russia
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 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.
You are now able to purchase online tickets for the same price as you would be able to buy them directly at the theatre. However, make sure that you use the official site of the theatre in question rather than third-party sites, as these often add a hefty commission for no good reason.
- Mariinsky Theater, Theater Square 1. 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 three halls: the main theater and the newly-built Mariinsky-2 and Mariinsky Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased on the theater’s website.
- Mikhailovskiy Theater, Ploshad Isskustv 1 (Between the Russian Museum and the Grand Hotel Europe). 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.
- Petersburg Opera, Galernaya Ul. 33 (West of the Bronze Horseman). 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.
- Conservatory Theater, Theater Square 3 (Across the street from the Mariinsky Theater). 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.
- Theater on Vasilyevsky Island, Sredny prospect 48. If it were in New York City, it would rather be an ‘off-Broadway’ theater. But being in St. Petersburg it’s a big but cozy theater on a big but cozy island. They stage Russian and foreign drama. They neither turn plays into ‘performances for schoolchildren’ nor into manifestations of underground art. They don’t change dramatists’ texts but choose the angles to show that a 150-year-old play isn’t just a ‘piece of art from the gorgeous past’ and is still reflecting human life.
- Youth Theater, Pionerskaya ploschad 1. Don’t take the theater’s name literally! Leave your age outside the theater but remember to take your heart and mind with!
- Theater of Russian State Institute of Performing Arts, Mokhovaya 35. The theater inherits the building from Tenishev School where Vladimir Nabokov It obliges it to… Frankly speaking, it obliges the theater to nothing but does create the specific atmosphere. It’s a theater and a school simultaneously. The auditorium is a deep wooden amphitheater with long and armless benches. The directors’ talent is to combine this antique interior with fresh stage ideas. The actors are the students who are finishing the institute. The repertoire changes every year. The actors often regard the house as a part of the stage. Don’t be shocked when somebody suddenly jumps from nowhere to the bench next to you. Here you have a unique chance to see the actors who have learnt everything to perform well but aren’t influenced by any theater with its intrigues and other paraphernalia yet. It’s the theater where actors not only canshow their best. They have to do it. Otherwise they will flunk their final exams.
- Buff State Musical and Drama Theatre, Zanevsky Prospect, 26. A nice modern building. Offers rich program in drama performances, both classical and modern.
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.
- Petersburg Philharmonic Grand Hall, Mikhailovskaya Ul. 2 (Entrance across from the Grand Hotel Europe). A world-class orchestra which records and tours abroad. The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals.
- Petersburg Philharmonic Small Hall, Nevsky Prospekt 30 (Next to the Metro station on Nevsky Prospekt). The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) of the Philharmonic hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals.
- Jazz Philharmonic Hall, Zagorodny Pr. 27 (South of Nevsky Prospekt, use Vladimirskaya Metro Station). Offers a variety of jazz performances several times per week.
- Ice Palace (Ledoviy Dvorets), (At Prospekt Bolshevikov Metro Station). One of several sports arenas that also serves as a concert hall for pop and rock concerts.
- Oktyabrskiy Concert Hall, Ligovskiy Prospekt 6 (Near Ploshad Vosstaniya). Pop and rock concerts in an auditorium close to the city center.
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 international documentary, short, and animated films festival takes place in June or July, screening many films in English.
- Dom Kino, 12 Karavannaya Ulitsa (Near Gostiniy Dvor Metro Station). Sometimes shows films in their original language.
- Avrora Cinema, Nevksy Prospekt 60.
Modern cultural centers
There many young artists, musicians, designers etc. These kinds of people have their own places, so called “creative spaces”. It’s interesting to see young designers and programmers working or tourists sleeping in ex-palaces on the river bank.
- Loft project Etagi, Ligovsky prospekt, 74. The oldest and biggest cultural center. Cafe, hostel, designer shops, book store etc
- Taiga, Dvortsovaya naberezhnaya, 20. Cultural center on the river bank. Good view over Petropavlovskaya fortress. Designer shops, offices, hostel, bar, ping pong etc
- Fligel, ulitsa Vosstaniya, 40. Recently opened cultural center. Bars, cafes, hostel, shops etc
- Creative spaces tour. Tour over cultural centers listed above run by Olga Polyakova, local activist in the creative industries.
Roof tops of St Petersburg
St Petersburg is beautiful city. But there is no observation platform like in Paris or London. Because of the constructions law that forbids building skyscrapers in historical centre. So there are few options where you can get great view.
- St Isaac’s cathedral. The highest church in St Peterburg has so called Colonnaded Walkway at 43 metres height
- Roof top tour. There are many young people in St P, who call themselves roofers. The roofer guide offers a rooftop tour right on Nevsky prospekt. This one is safe and legal. And it has very unique location.
- Roof top restaurants. Moskva, Makaronniki, Mansarda, Terrassa and several others upscale restaraunts.
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.
- Anglotourismo Boat Tours, Fontanka Embankment 21. Canal boat tours in English, departing from near the Anichkov Bridge (Nevsky Prospekt and Fontanka) in season (May 2 – Sept 30).
- You can also walkalong the canals and admire the numerous bridges; some of them very interesting (like the Bank Bridge).