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My Favorite 19 Things to do St. Petersburg – Understand
St. Petersburg has been the seat of Russian czars and is often referred to as the Paris of Russia. It is where the Russian Empire started and built out its imperial ambitions eastward. The city suffered during the Soviet Union and there is a lot of nondescript and gray buildings here. However, there are enough historic sites left to keep you occupied.
English isn’t widely spoken in St. Petersburg, but most people understand a few basic words (unlike in the more eastern provinces).
My Favorite 19 Things to do St. Petersburg – Safety
St. Petersburg struck me as a rather safe city. There are usually plenty of other passers-by around and it is a walking city after all. Watch out for the rather aggressive drivers and avoid the dark areas of town and you should be fine.
My Favorite 19 Things to do St. Petersburg – Get Around
The more interesting areas in St. Petersburg are on islands with just a few bridges and the road infrastructure ranges from excellent to pothole-afflicted. Traffic can be manic at any time (or not).
The metro is a good idea, but you will need to walk long distances just to get there. Uber is in town and prices are very moderate. I used it many times and usually had quiet but efficient drivers. Generally, drivers are aggressive, but they do stop at the last possible moment. There is no slow acceleration or breaking in town – it is full on or off at any time.
My Favorite 19 Things to do St. Petersburg – Sights
Despite the fact that most areas in St. Petersburg’s city center are raging and loud, they are very walkable. There are so many historic buildings (often in rather sorry states) that it’s a joy just to walk the streets and explore. You don’t need a lot of directions – simply go to a neighborhood and hit the sidewalks.
St. Petersburg’s inhabitants aren’t the most courteous, though, so be ready to be almost run over by other pedestrians in a rush. In summer the small parks in the city are fun as well and the long daylight hours help this city that has bohemian charm.
The State Hermitage Museum is a collection of buildings in the historic center of St Petersburg, which together now house one of the largest and finest art collections in the world.
You can visit the museum daily (except for Wednesdays) for 400 – 600 RUB (depending on which buildings you visit), but if you visit on the first Thursday of the month then it’s all completely free!
The elegant Winter Palace is part of the Hermitage complex. Between 1732 and 1917, it was the official residence of the Russian monarchs, until it was declared part of the State Hermitage Museum and open for visitors. You can see European and Eastern paintings, sculptures and decorative art here, but even the building itself is a work of art.
The old Peter and Paul Fortress is quite a gem on a sunny day. It is located on a small, separate island, on the Neva River.
The cathedrals are stunning and the view from the river towards downtown is fantastic.
There is no admission fee to walk into the compound (though there are museums inside that charge a fee). Plan about an hour or two for this area.
This attraction comes highly recommended, but I could not get myself excited enough to see a zoo in winter.
Obvodny Kanal Station (St. Petersburg Metro)
You may not ordinarily visit a metro station unless you’re traveling by underground train, but the metro in St. Petersburg is worth a visit just for its design and architecture. As well as being a cheap and effective way to get around the city, it’s a major tourist attraction due to its gorgeous station decorations. Built in 2010, The Obvodny Kanal Station is a stunning example:
Note that you can take amateur photos here, but professional photos in the metro are strictly prohibited.
Erarta is the largest contemporary art museum in Russia and you’ll feel like you are in New York City when you step inside. The whole building, exterior and interior, is just so modern. The only problem is that the permanent and temporary exhibitions aren’t that exciting. Contemporary Russian art can’t compete with the Old Masters and most artwork here just depicts one sad moment after another.
This golden-domed church is visible from lots of angles in St. Petersburg and it’s just stunning inside and out. This is a must-do for any visitor.
The Kazan Cathedral forms the center of St. Petersburg and it’s tough to explore the city without walking by at least once or twice.
The Pushkin Museum, right by Palace Square, is dedicated to the life and work of the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. The museum is actually Pushkin’s preserved apartment, where he lived between 1836 and 1837 – and where he died after being wounded in a dramatic duel. I skipped it this trip, but it’s meant to be well worth a visit.
My Favorite 19 Things to do St. Petersburg – Eat & Drink
Russian’s aren’t foodies, but St. Petersburg has an emerging hipster culture that covers food and drinks. There isn’t a lot of choice if you want incredible food but there are a bunch of places that will make you very happy.
Radosti (Радости Кофе)
Radosti is a small neighborhood cafe which you may mistake for a run-of-the-mill coffee shop. It’s not! The coffee is excellent, the lunches and desserts are prepared with great skill and the WiFi is fast. It’s also very affordable and the staff are incredibly friendly.
The name of this foodie heaven can easily trip you up. The owners chose a difficult name and then decided to write it in Cyrillic and Latin. It’s definitely unique. The rather complicated approach extends to the food, which is a composition of many flavors. I tried a number of dishes, including the herring smorrebrod, the vegetarian smorrebrod and the salmon salad.
The portions were small but the quality of the food was at Michelin star level. Each dish is just $5 and you’ll be full with 2 or 3. There is even fast WiFi and super-friendly staff. Tell me why I wouldn’t just go here for every meal?!
If you crave ramen and Asian rice dishes, Mashita will help you out. It’s as ethnic as it gets in Russia and for $5 you will get a filling fix.
Jiva Burgers (Джива Бургерс)
Jiva Burgers is all about Hare Krishna and vegetarian food. Oddly enough, the place has chosen to sell mostly burgers and mulled wine. The non-alcoholic drinks we tried were fantastic (and cheap). The vegetarian burger patties were creative and really cheap, but were dry and lacked flavor. Jiva is hidden in a back alley and up on the 4th floor, but still attracts a massive crowd.
Redrum Bar (Бар Redrum)
Despite its name, Redrum does not serve rum (the name was inspired by the movie The Shining), but instead is an excellent microbrewery. There are 20+ excellent beers on tap and the friendly staff will help you out. Unlike most US bars, the noise level is just about right and the atmosphere is relaxed.
Bar Bureau (Бюро)
Bureau is a great, small place to get a delicious burger and a drink. It does not look like much, but the owners are all about good food.
Kvartira Kosti Kroiza (Квартира Кости Кройца)
This is a popular speakeasy alternative in St. Petersburg. I did not have time to see the inside, though.
Apotheke Bar (Коктейль-бар)
This bar also comes highly recommended but I didn’t get to visit it, unfortunately. I wish I’d had time to explore it during my limited time in St. Petersburg.
Open not just on Thanksgiving, this is a small coffee bar that looks more like downtown Paris than St. Petersburg. I did not have enough time to try the drinks here, but I would really like to next time.
‘Oh! Mumbai’ is legit Western Indian food. The owners have brought great ethnic cuisine to St. Petersburg. I loved the taste of the vegetarian and chicken curries I tried, which were spicy and done to perfection. I had some trouble digesting, though, I have to admit, but the fantastic taste was worth it for me 🙂
You can get cheap and delicious Soviet-style donuts here, but the coffee isn’t too great.
You can never go wrong with Georgian food – well, almost never. Sakartvelo serves great salads, but rather underwhelming meat dishes.
Surf Coffee is a Hawaiian-themed coffee shop and bar (with Kona IPAs) right downtown. It is your best spot for relaxing after a rough day exploring the museums. The staff are friendly and the coffee is great. The WiFi is quite tricky to connect to if you don’t have a Russian phone number, though (and this is true for many places in St. Petersburg).