I fell in love with Saint Petersburg so deeply that I came back to the beautiful city the following month. As the saying goes, “Happiness is multiplied when shared,” so I will share with you the best places to go, ways to get around the city, tips and tricks to save your rubles, and more.
St. Petersburg is the second largest city after Moscow, with a population of just over five million. It is often called “the Venice of the North,” like the other six cities (Amsterdam, Bruges, Copenhagen, Hamburg, Manchester, and Stockholm) because it has a network of canals. Located on the Neva river, which flows out to the Baltic sea, the city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in 1703. Like Venice, St. Petersburg is renowned for its arts and culture.
Before we dwell into the gems of this Venice of the North, I have to warn you: it’s very easy to fall prey to the changing weather here. One day it’s 12C (53F) degrees, sunny with blue skies, and you can walk around with a t-shirt, but the next day it’s -9C (15F), freezing with snow covering the streets and sidewalks. As a result, I got sick twice. Make sure you dress appropriately.
Here are seven tips to enjoy the most beautiful city in Russia—if not in the world:
1. Always take the metro
The fastest and most convenient way to get around the city is by metro. It’s pretty clean, cheap, fast, and better than being stuck in traffic. It will get you from A to B in no time. A single journey ticket costs less than $1 dollar or 45 rubles, but you’re better off with a 10, 15 or 20 trip multi-use card. You can buy a 10 trip card, which lasts for seven days for 355 rubles or $5.89. All stations have English information boards and ticket machines where you can refill your card using cash or credit card.
The underground stations are a piece of art. Make sure you give yourself enough time to appreciate the beauty of the Russian architecture. The only downside is that the escalators are like a stairway to hell. It takes at least 2-3 minutes in each station to go up or down. Russians dug the underground tunnels way deeper than you can imagine. In fact, the Saint Petersburg Metro is one of the deepest metro systems in the world and the deepest by the average depth of all the stations. The system’s deepest station, Admiralteyskaya, is 86 meters below ground.
2. Visit The State Hermitage Museum
The Hermitage is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world. It was founded in 1754 by Catherine the Great and has been open to the public since 1852. The Hermitage consists of five main buildings: the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theatre.
The ticket cost for adults is 600 rubles ($10) and there are guided English tours every two hours. If you are a student, you get in for free. It’s also free on the first Thursday of every month and it is closed on Mondays. There are many rooms with a wide range of art exhibitions, like Egyptian history, Roman Empire, and Russian history. It would take days, if not weeks, to explore each room.
In this video, I give a tour of the museum:
3. Eat at the Market Place
There are plenty of restaurants and places to eat in Saint Petersburg and it was a bit of a challenge for me to figure out where to eat. I care the most about the hygiene of a restaurant and how healthy the food is. From day one, my girlfriend recommended the Market Place and since then I have been eating there every other day.
They serve a good range of international foods like pasta, wok, fish, grilled skewers, salad, etc. It will be tough not to drool, trust me. The best part is…your bill will never exceed $10! Most dishes cost between 200-350 rubles (around $3-$5).
The daily lunch is available on weekdays from 12 to 4 p.m. The daily menu includes buck wheat or rice, either chicken, beef or fish, coleslaw, delicious soup with sour cream, and the choice of Compote or Morse fresh Russian juice.
4. Visit The Saint Petersburg Mosque
Islam is considered as one of Russia’s traditional religions, legally a part of Russian historical heritage. A 1997 law named Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism as important in Russian history. With its beautiful mosaic architecture, the Saint Petersburg Mosque is not to be missed. When it opened in 1913, it was the largest mosque in Europe outside Turkey, its minarets 49 meters in height and the blue dome is 39 meters high. The mosque is located in downtown St. Petersburg.
Visitors should wash-up, remove their shoes before entering, and women have to cover their hair. The busiest time is Fridays between 12-4 p.m.
5. Coffee Break at Biblioteka in Nievsky Prospekt
Everyone has a sweet tooth, even the people on Paleo, vegetarian or carnivorous diets. If you are on such diet, make sure you put it on a pause until after you finish your visit to St. Petersburg. Everyday, I explored coffee shops and I found Biblioteka to be one of my favorites.
Translated from Russian, “biblioteka” means library. The most unusual thing about this place is that it’s not just a cafe or a restaurant. On the third floor, there’s also a conference room, and a few bookstores. If you wish, you can spend the entire day in this space. At the cafe, try the Dutch Apple Pie with fresh cream or the Cherry Tart. Accompany that with their green tea with fresh mint leaves. You can always ask for a refill. They also have a variety of soups—my favorite was the mushroom soup with sour cream and lemon.
6. Visit The Church of The Savior on Blood
The city’s architecture is predominantly Baroque and Neoclassical, but the Savior on Blood goes back to medieval Russian architecture in the spirit of romantic nationalism.
The architecture will take your breath away. The colors on top of the dome look like a carefully painted canvass. It will be difficult to understand how humans could build such beauty.
It’s closed on Wednesdays.
7. Dinner at Katyusha, the most traditional Russian restaurant in St. Petersburg
If you want to travel back in time to the old days of Russia, an authentic Russian dinner at Katyusha is a must. Make sure to try Borscht soup. The waiters are all stunningly beautiful Russian women dressed in traditional jumper dresses. The interior design in charming—the tables are made of high quality oak wood and there are comfortable, colorful couches. For your entertainment, every night a singer comes in at 8 p.m. and performs while walking between tables. Prices are reasonable, around 2000 rubles, approximately $40 for dinner.
Demi Vitkute contributed to this post.