Guide to Saint Petersburg, Russia

I was recently in Saint Petersburg, Russia for the World Cup 2018. The city, the energy, the people, everything — amazing. I will forever tell people that SPb is worth a visit, and hope to return to Russia to check out Moscow some time. Do remember, in this guide, that Saint Petersburg is an extremely Western city with perhaps more Western influence than other parts of Russia.

Side note, for anyone going to a major event like a World Cup in the future — I highly recommend you stay in the country for as long as possible. In this case, in Russia, the Visa process was simplified incredibly, and even free overnight train rides were offered from city to city (if you held a FIFA Fan ID and Match ticket). Two great resources for me included Reddit (where I ended up finding my ticket!) and WhatsApp groups (for this event, found here via HAND Russia).

Map

You know I love everything maps, so here’s the Google Map I put together for SPb. For more Maps and Guides from the other cities I’ve visited, check out this post here. 🙂

160-something places mapped out, but it’s all crowdsourced from previous visitors, my visit, and some Russian friends themselves.

Hostels

I stayed at the Soul Kitchen. It’s a certified 10/10. I’ve honestly never seen reviews and ratings as highly as I saw here, and it’s completely deserved. Stay here if you have the chance.

… as if I need to name any others. I heard good things about Hostel Simple Hostel, Like Home Hostel, ART Hostel, At Sunny’s, Peter Hostel, and Ticket to Train Hostel.

Top Tips

  • Use T-Mobile, otherwise if you need a SIM, grab one at the airport from Beeline.
  • Most everything you do will likely be in the Nevsky Prospect.
  • Peter & Paul Fortress for the Canon shooting at noon. Buy the ticket to see it from above. It’s extremely loud (made me jump)! Combine this with a quick visit inside the Mosque. It’s beautiful. There’s also the Russian Artillery museum in the area that you could combine.
  • Poke your head in a Metro station, they are unbelievable. Metro 2033 vibes.
  • Go to a Russian Bani (bathhouse) — I chose Yamskiye and it was a cool experience. Beating each other with leaf bushels etc. 800 rubles for the “LUX” experience with the hottest sauna I’ve ever been inside.
  • ^Combine this with a trip to grab some food at the hipster rooftop area Loft Project Etazhi. Very, very cool. NOTE that it’s 100 rubles to access the roof, cash only.
  • Bolshoy Prospekt (street) in the Petrogradsky District feels like a mini-Paris.
  • Eat at BIRCH. Make reservations! One of the best meals I’ve had.
  • Also eat all the Pelmeni (dumplings), Ponchiki and pishki (donuts) and Perogies (potato dumpling)
  • Zoom is the cutest little coffee shop cafe that gives you drawing paper. Go here.
  • Eat at Teplo. Amazing food (I had the blini) and courtyard if it’s nice outside. Combine this with a trip to the central Post Office to poke your head in, maybe send a Russian letter (Cash only). Can head to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral afterwards.
  • Have brunch @ Bonch and get dessert pies at Shtolle. Maybe hit the Petrovskaya Akvatoriya afterwards (it’s on the top floor of the mall) for the scale museum (30-45 mins max).
  • Get the Podorozhnik train card at any metro station booth. It’s cheap, reloadable, and makes everything SO easy. It works in buses, trains, metro, etc., and I loaded mine with 250 rubles and didn’t get through it all. Rides average 40 rubles.
  • New Holland Island is amazing! An old army barrack/prison that’s been converted to business for the first time recently.
  • White Nights boat tour (White Nights is between June-July where the sun never really sets, it’s mind blowing)
  • A show at the Mariinsky Theatre
  • Visit the top (colonnade) of the Saint Isaac’s Cathedral – stunning views
  • Free walking tour. I didn’t do it, but tons of options.
  • Erartra Museum
  • Street Art Museum (about 30 minute Uber outside town, $5, but pretty neat if you like graffiti). Tours in English are rare (Saturdays I think) but includes a glimpse into an operational Russian Factory. Really interesting…
  • Grand Maket Show Museum (Russia model museum) OR Petrovskaya Akvatoriya — very cool model representations of SPb and Russia. I did the latter, as it’s in Nevsky/City Center requiring no travel. Both cool options, especially if it’s raining, but I’d hold it to just one of the two.
  • Visit the football stadium for a Zenit game.
  • REMEMBER that both the Metro and the bridges across the Neva River CLOSE AT NIGHT FROM 1:20 TO 5 AM
  • Be wary of openings/closings, as some museums are closed on Tuesdays for example.
  • Peterhof (see more below)
  • Hermitage Museum (see more below)

I think this honestly covers a huge chunk of the city, along with the map for random bars/etc. you’d like to do as well. As for what NOT to do:

What I would skip

  • The tap water. Don’t drink it.
  • Taxis. Don’t take taxis.
  • Vodka Museum – pretty boring overall
  • Church of the Savior on Blood at Konyushennaya Square, not worth the lines to go inside. Sure it’s impressive, but takes time. Better from the outside anyways.
  • Submarine C-189 – cool to see the inside of a Russian U-Boat, but pretty anticlimactic after you’ve poked your head in.
  • Kunstkamera Musuem
  • State Museum of Political History of Russia
  • Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad

Hermitage

Where to begin. I spent 8 hours in here!

Although it’s free with a Student ID, and on the first Thursday of each month, I’d advise buying a ticket. It was like 700 rubles, and allows you to bypass the line. BUY A TICKET HERE! Down this alley there are automated machines and you’ll wait in 0 line. Seriously a life saver.

I then spent another 500 on the audio tour once inside. It was ok, but necessary I guess, as I hadn’t planned out what to see inside the museum before my visit. If you’re ambitious and LOVE museums/art/history, you might do that, but I think the audio gave some nice context. BRING YOUR OWN HEADPHONES and you won’t have to hold it to your ear like a 90’s cell phone.

General Staff Building — see work from Matisse, Picasso, and more. Highly recommend this abstract art area vs. the mostly-historic vibe in the Hermitage. Inside of the building was very cool too. Across the square from the Hermitage.

Peterhof Palace

8/10. Really cool and worth a trip, but make it a 1/2 day at most. It’s doable in 3-4 hours, and I can’t imagine spending much more time than that.

Options are:

1. Rent a car (I wouldn’t advise, drivers in Russia be crazy).

2. Take a “marshrutka” (small Russian bus) — dirt cheap

3. Metro (Meteor) – take a train from Baltiyskiy to Новый Петергоф.  I could also recommend taking a Hydrofoil boat just 1 way from the City. More expensive, but a really cool option!

I somehow managed a ride with 2 Russian young guys that wanted to show me around. The hospitality during World Cup was insane. They paid for my meals too! Otherwise I would’ve taken the Metro. Unfortunately, I didn’t make it to Pushkin/Catherine Palace this time but you would get there via Moskivskaya subway station.

Culture

Monies. Get yourself a “no foreign transaction fee” credit card and you’ll be all set. At the time I’m writing this, 100 rubles (руб). = $1.60, making 1000 rubles = $16. I found most everything to be extremely inexpensive, especially outside of the city center and tourist central area. Get yourself a nice meal and go to all the museums, if even for just 30 minutes or 1 hour. It’ll be like $5.

Politics. Never really came up, and no reason to bring it up. However, I found the Russians happy to discuss and curious to hear our thoughts. They (in a very non-statistically significant representation) think every leader is just trying to do right by their people, and that foreign governments is really none of their business. Maybe good if more of us could think this way…

Getting around. Take Uber. It’s insanely cheap. But I love walking, and found that all the street signs also had English street names under the Cyrillic name.

Food. Most places will not have an english menu, but will likely have at least one waiter/waitress that speaks english. Make sure you ask, so you get what you want! Have some donuts.

Partying. They go all night, literally. The cheap beer kinda sucks, but the vodka is great. Careful of girls taking you to bars and leaving with a large tab (I’ve heard of happening), and of course pay attention to the bouncers and leave if necessary. Oh, and you cannot drink on the streets in Russia like you can in Europe. This was a big song there at the time of my visit:

Additional resources

Russian Language (Cyrillic)

Closing out with some useful phrases, but remember that body language is everything. Although English isn’t widely understood, I found the younger males specifically had learned a lot of English online. Cyrillic is surprisingly not that difficult (to read) — so check out this website for more if you’re interested.

  • Hello = Privet
  • How are you? = Kak dela?
  • My name is Steffan = Menja zovut Steffan
  • Cheers! = “Dost”
  • Yes = Da
  • No = Net
  • I don’t understand = Ja ponimaju
  • Thank you! = Spasibo! (my personal favorite Russian word)

Oh, and if you’re texting with anyone Russian, they do their smiley faces like this )

Don’t forget, for more Maps and Guides from the other cities I’ve visited, check out this post here. 🙂

Feel free to reach out with any questions, and enjoy Russia! 🇷🇺

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