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Saint Petersburg

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For other places with the same name, see [[St. Petersburg (disambiguation)

St. Petersburg (Санкт-Петербу́рг Sankt-Peterburg; [1]) is Russia's second city, with a population of 4.2 million perched at the eastern tip of of the Baltic Sea and the Neva River.

The Hermitage and the Winter Palace across the Neva River

Understand

Founded by Peter the Great, the former home of the Czars and the center of Russian culture, St. Petersburg was known as "The Venice of the North" in its heyday. Renamed Petrograd in 1914, the city was renamed again as Leningrad in 1924 after Lenin's death. Bombed, besieged and starved during World War II, during the Communist era the city took a back seat to capital Moscow.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city has been rapidly making up for lost time and is by far the most cosmopolitan of Russia's cities. Now formally known by its original name again, most Russians call it what they always have, the friendly diminutive Piter (Питер).

Events

May 9, Veterans Parade
  • During the last 10 days of June, the longest days of the year, St. Petersburg celebrates the White Nights in a cultural extravaganza. Book early as accommodation and transport can be packed during this time.
  • From july 18th to 31 the 16th annual Message to man international documentary, short and animated films festival will be held in SPB.
  • The G8, the world 8 most industrialised countries, will hold its 32nd summit in Saint Petersburg in July. Many events and actions by anti globalists are to be expected.

Get in

By plane

Pulkovo Airport (LED) serves a wide variety of destinations in nearby countries and within Russia. Terminal 1 serves domestic flights, while Terminal 2 is for international connections. The airport is 17 kilometers from the center.

Taxis infest the airport, but the prices are astounding, working out about 50 euros to get into St. Petersburg. Instead, take a bus to the nearest Metro station, Moskovskaya, which will cost you all of 14 RUR. From there you can get anywhere on the St. Petersburg Metro for a 12 RUR token.

By train

St. Petersburg is a major train hub. The 5-hour train ride from Helsinki (Finland) is one of the most comfortable ways to reach the city. Trains also connect to destinations in the Baltics and Central Europe. Alternatively, you can head inland to Moscow.

There are five principal stations:

Note: Finland station is no longer used for trains to Finland! Currently there seems to be no train service to and from Tallinn

Note: Warsaw Station seems to be closed or on reconstruction, trains arrive at the Baltic or Moscow Stations

By bus

The cheapest way of reaching St. Petersburg from neighboring countries is long-distance bus. Buses from Belarus, Ukraine, Germany, Finland, the Baltic states and Scandinavia arrive at the bus station. Métro: Ligovsky Prospekt.

By boat

In summer, cruises from Helsinki and Tallinn sail to St. Petersburg. There is also a regular ferry connection from Stockholm, which arrives at the harbor station. Subway: Primorskaya.

Passenger boats also operate on the inland waterway "Volga-Baltic" which links Moscow, the River Volga and Lakes Onega, Ladoga and Neva.

To get out, you could try your luck for Freighter travel, although the port is very large. It would be easier if you have connections in the port. Try to find a dispatcher [2].

Get around

Traffic

Most means of transportation cease functioning for the night time. Subway is closed from 24:00 till 05:00, varying slightly for different stations. Taxis work 24/7, but are costly. Hitching a ride is quite popular, though it is not always safe. City is separated in two by Neva during the night - don't miss the bridges being drawn. One bridge - Volodarsky - will let you cross the river from around 3:45 am to 4:15 am. Other bridges are drawn all night long, from around 1:45 am till 5:15 am. See the schedule for each bridge.

By subway

St. Petersburg's metro system is second only to Moscow's in size and the best way to get around. Trains are cheap, rapid and very frequent (intervals go as low as 90 seconds in peak hours). The pay is 12 RUR per-entry no matter how far or how long you travel. There is a map of subway in every train car, often with station names in roman alphabet. Travelling during peak hours is a risky kind of sport, and one should avoid unnecessary jorneys, if not used to big crowds.

By tram

A more scenic but slower way to see St. Petersburg is by tram. In recent years, due to the traffic troubles train lines are removed from the downtown often.

By bus or trolleybus

Buses and trolleybuses are cheap (12 RUR) and frequent. Tickets are sold by a conductor and very often by the bus driver. Buses and trolleys on main routes are frequently overcrowded.

By route taxi

Route taxi (marshrutka) is sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere. Taxis are 14-20 seat vans, usually white or yellow, always with a route number plate. There are no regular stops, you have to tell the driver when you want to quit or hand out while on the roadside to stop one. You have to pay to the driver at entry. If you cannot reach the driver on your own, pass the money through the other passengers and be ready to pass other's money if you sit close to the driver. Marshrutka experience may seem exciting sometimes, especially when you see some brave driver counting change while steering with his knees at 70 mph.

See

The Hermitage Museum
  • The Hermitage Museum [3] is St. Petersburg's prime attraction, a massive palace-cum-museum showing the highlights of a collection of over 3,000,000 pieces spanning the globe. The Hermitage is truly one of the world's great museums, with an imposing setting displaying priceless works by Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Michealangelo, Reubens and more. Ticketing is complex, but the Hermitage itself is 100 rubles for Russians and 350 rubles for foreigners. Students of all nationalities get in for free, but don't forget your student card with photo! Entrance is free on the first Thursday of every month.

An advice for foreigners visiting the Hermitage Museum: Get yourself on a tour. They're 200 rubles instead of 350, and include the photography fee and a whistle-stop tour of the museum (but note the free entry for students). Don't accept a tour from the numerous touts hanging around the queue. Instead, march past the queue and in through the main entrance, or the exit opposite if the queue's blocking the entrance (don't worry, you're not queue-jumping). Have a scout around for notices with museum tour times in your native language, or in extreme circumstances, ask at the desk. If you find a good candidate, you're all set to go to the Tours Office to book yourself on it. This is where things get slightly surreal.

To get to the Tours Office from the main entrance, go forward past the cashiers, and turn left down the corridor. The Tours Office is in front of you at the end, and may or may not be marked. Get yourself a place on your tour, collect the bit of paper, go to cashier No. 5 (who is not with the rest of them, instead turn left out of the Tours Office and she's in a box at the end of the corridor), pay, get your paper stamped, take it back to the Tours Office and get it checked, stamped again and muttered over and then you're ready to brave the coat dungeon.

Bags aren't allowed in the museum (and neither are cameras without the appropriate ticket), so stash them in the busy cloakroom.

  • Our-Lady-of-Kazan Cathedral (Kazansky Sobor).
  • Saver-on-the-Blood Church (built at the site of Emperor Alexander II's assassination).
  • Saint-Isaac Cathedral
  • Admiralty
  • Smolny
  • The bridges on the Néva, which open 2 times per night to allow boats to pass.
    Bridges by night

Do

There are many things to do in the evenings, for example music, dance, circus, opera. Performances start early (6pm). Do not be put off by the length of an opera at the Mariinski Theatre as there are many intervals. And the language is not an obstacle: the text is translated above the scene.

Learn

Universities and private schools offer Russian language courses (individual and group tuition).

Work

Buy

  • Nevsky Prospect is St. Petersburg's Champs-Élysées, lined with department stores and fancy shops.
  • Gostiny Dvor is the city's oldest and largest shopping center, dating to the mid-18th century. The name means "Merchants' Hotel", as its old role was to provide both shops and housing to merchants from far away.
  • Passazh is the Harrods of St. Petersburg, a smaller shopping center for the elite.

Eat

Budget

Night scene

Mid-range

  • Kafe Tbilisi, Sytninskaya ul., 10, 2329391, Metro Gorkovskaya behind the market. Georgian food. The dishes prepared in pots are excellent.
  • Kafe Ket, 22 Ul. Stremyannaya. In a country where only 1% of the population is reported to eat out in a restaurant more than once a year, Kafe Ket is a wonderful alternative to the pushy alternatives which have no place in the city other than to cater for the culinary whims of busloads of foreign tourists. This little restaurant serves the nicest Georgian food I've ever tasted, and they even make a reasonable job of trying to translate the menu into English.
  • Acquarel, next to the Birzhevoy bridge, 3208600, Right on the water this restaurant offers Italian food alongside a French/Asian fusion menu. Friendly people, delightful atmosphere, and a wonderful view, Acquarel is a wonderful and delicious dinner option or even a great place to relax and get a drink in their lounge chairs.

Splurge

Vegetarian

  • The Idiot, 82, Moika Emb., 3151675. A wide variety of vegan and vegetarian dishes, in a cozy cellar, totally un-SPB-like.

Drink

St. Petersburgers know how to party.

Nightclubs

  • Tunnel (Тоннеля). Zverinskaya Ul (Metro: Sportivnaya), [4]. Reputedly Russia's first techno club and certainly its most legendary, Tunnel is back after an extended shutdown. This disused bomb shelter isn't exactly pretty and the crush and "face control" at the entrance when the doors open at 12 midnight sharp are legendary, but the crowd and the DJs are worth it. Entry 250-350 rubles depending on who's playing.
  • Griboedov (Грибоедов). Voronezskaya Ul. 2 (Metro: Ligovsky), [5]. A suitably spaced out place for a club whose name can also be interpreted as "the mushroom eater", the acts here are famously offbeat, especially on weekdays when you're as likely to find a poetry reading as live reggae or a DJ spinning psychedelic trance. Also hidden in an underground bomb shelter, open daily except Tuesday.
  • Greshniki and Kabare are two gay discos in St. Petersburg. Greshniki, or Sinners Club, features dungeon decor and house music while Kabare is more oriented toward showy drag routines also accompanied by pop dance music.

Sleep

Budget

  • Nordhostel, [6]. For about EUR20 you get a perfect hostel located in the very center of the city - a stone's throw from the Hermitage. Free internet access and continental breakfast.

Sleep Cheap - Located on Mohovaya Ave, reasonably priced (700 rubles) accommodation. Very hard to find (go to number 18, and through the dark tunnel), no Internet Access or hot water (for a couple of weeks during the summer).

Mid-range

  • Hotel Moskva. 2 Alexander Nevsky pl (Metro Ploschad' Alexandrogo Nevskogo), tel. +7 812 274-4001. Incredibly gargantuan concrete monolith that continues to carry forward the Soviet traditions of former monopoly operator Intourist. Ugly and user-hostile, but the location right above a subway station is excellent and the price can be right, especially if booked in a package.

Splurge

Grand Hotel Europe Five star hotel in the centre of town. Hosts Ballet, and several restaurants. Many rooms have great views over the city. Well worth a visit.

Contact

There's a number of GSM 900/1800 and CDMA 2000 networks and the coverage is quite sufficient (every built-up area and most of the country roads). If you stay for a few days or more and need to make local calls it is advised that you buy a pre-paid SIM card (you may be asked for a passport) and a cell-phone if you don't have one matching local standards (possibly a used one) which is going to be much cheaper than roaming in most cases. Cell outlets are plentiful around the city (numerous at every subway station and shopping center). You can pay for your talks at most supermarkets, cell-phone shops and ATMs. Emergency service number is 112. For international calls, consider buying a calling card which would allow very cheap calls (a few rubles for a minute to Europe or the US). Calling from a hotel room may result in rather painful bill. There is a lot of internet cafes around the city, although it is not so easy to find one when you need (you'd better ask locals). Also there are so called computer clubs with dozens of computers for network gaming (usually crowded by kids playing CounterStrike) which also offer internet access in separate rooms for a little charge. Free WiFi is available in the airport, most major hotels, business and shopping centers, restaurants and other public places.

Stay safe

St. Petersburg has a somewhat dangerous reputation, although mafia gang wars are unlikely to affect the average tourist. Gangs are a problem. Much of the police force is corrupt and best avoided. Avoid travel alone at night and do not get into altercations with drunken Russians. Take care of money, documents, cameras, mobile phones, and anything of worth because of pickpocketing. Especially watch out on the Metro during busy times, as people start pushing and pickpockets are frequent. Juvenile delinquency is also a very big problem. St. Petersburg is also famous for violence and break-in's in some areas. The best way to stay safe is to stay in the city centre and avoid suburbs.

Cope

Get out

  • Pushkin — a city 25 km south of St. Petersburg, with beautiful parks and palaces.
  • Pavlovsk — very big and nice park. You could feed squirrel from your hands.
  • Peterhof — the sumptuous "Russian Versailles". Fountains, parks, museums.
  • Lomonosov — big park with museum. Not far from Peterhof (15 minutes by car).
  • Gatchina — big park and museum.


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