by Beatrice Grundheber and Larissa Mass
Saint Petersburg is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe; just a few hours by plane from many European cities, but underrated and still unknown to many. Russia’s beautiful northern city is home to magnificent palaces, golden rooftops, and an impressive history, but above all, a lively scene of young and thriving creative people.
I loved St. Petersburg when I lived there ten years ago, and I was thrilled to rediscover my favorite city following an invitation to visit from the tourism board of St. Petersburg. So much has changed in the past decade. St. Petersburg is not as rough as it used to be, and it has become cleaner, more popular, and somehow “Instagramable.” Nevertheless, it has not lost its charm and fascination. Together with my Russian-German friend and co-Berliner Larissa Mass, who is currently living in St. Petersburg for a year, we will show you this city we know and love. We will share all the most important things you need to know about a trip to the city and show you all the locals’ favorite places.
Hello St. Petersburg! Everything You Need to Know About Your Trip
Three to four nights or an extended weekend is enough to visit the most significant sights and to experience and understand the atmosphere of the city. Traveling is easy by plane as Pulkovo airport is only a few hours flight from most European cities or can be reached via transfer in Moscow. From Moscow, it is also possible to arrive by train. We recommend the express train “Sapsan.” It’s relatively cheap and takes less than four hours. The cheapest and most adventurous option is the night train. However, we’d recommend this only when traveling in a group, or for those travelers who understand some Russian. Train tickets can be purchased online on the Russian Railways website.
A trip to St. Petersburg is especially lovely in the summer. From November to March, the weather is mostly unstable and rather cold, so Petersburgers spend most of their time at home during these colder months. The city is best explored in the most enjoyable months from May to August. During this time, many Petersburgers meet in the streets and only then does the city reveal its full charm. You should definitely experience the city during the White Nights, around the time of the solstice. The White Nights take place from late May to mid-July and the longest day in St. Petersburg is from the 22nd to the 23rd of June. This time is particularly magical as it never gets dark and you will find many young Russians walking on Nevsky Prospect, celebrating on Rubinshteina street or spending the weekend in the Cultural Center Sevkabel.
Important: Most nationalities require a visa to enter Russia. The visa must be requested and approved before your trip to Russia.
AirBnb & Co.
The city is spread out over 42 islands and the largest and most important the islands are Vasilyevsky Island, Petrogradskaya Island, and Admiralteyskaya Side. There are about 90 rivers and canals with more than 300 bridges, including 13 drawbridges that are raised from the end of April to November. Many islands can only be reached by car, taxi, or Uber, so we recommend you find accommodations on the Admiralteyskaya side, where all sights, restaurants, and bars can be reached on foot or inexpensively by Uber.
Apartments in the Admiralteyskiy district, for example on Kazanskaya street, are highly recommended if you want to see all the central sights in a short time. Cafes and restaurants with wonderful breakfast options are everywhere in this area.
One special highlight is all the Airbnb apartments on Rubinshteina street where in the evening, you can enjoy the lively nightlife district. A century ago, it was a very posh area where the Russian composer Anton Rubinstein once lived.
With a little luck, you can even rent an apartment in the remarkable “Tolstoy House,” a huge residential building with three courtyards built at the beginning of the 20th century. The building belonged to Count Mikhail Tolstoy and is famous for its facades and high Renaissance archways, and is known to be one of the most beautiful courtyards in St. Petersburg.
Between Neva and Moyka River: The Most Beautiful Sights
Sightseeing is an absolute MUST-Do in St. Petersburg. You cannot leave the city without visiting the main sights and learning about its amazing history. Peter the Great founded the city in the early 18th century, and many of the city’s beautiful buildings have been preserved from the Tsarist period. All the most famous and outstanding sights are clustered between the Neva and Moyka rivers and are within walking distance of each other. The most beautiful buildings include the Peter and Paul Fortress, the Church on Spilled Blood, the Hermitage, and the Nevsky Prospect.
Another highlight is the opening of the drawbridges. Every night at 1:20 am, the bridges over the Neva River are lifted so big ships can pass through the city. The spectacle can best be watched on the shore between the Annunciation Bridge and the Palace Bridge. You can watch the event from the river as numerous boat trips are offered. At 5:00 in the morning, the bridges are lowered down again.
The Place to Be: Cultural Center Sevkabel
Last year, Port Sevkabel on Vasilyevsky Island was established as “The Place to Be” by local residents. Cable drums used to be made here, and today, it is a vibrant heart of the young cultural scene. The iconic setting of the old industrial buildings is now home to design markets, food fairs, skate parks, and festivals. It is the perfect place to watch the sunset over the Gulf of Finland and in the winter, ice skate and drink mulled wine.
On the weekends, it’s also worth checking the DJ list of the club KPD, which is located in Sevkabel.
Cappuccino, Sirniki, and Israeli Cuisine – The Best Food in the City
The challenge along on the Neva River is not trying to find a great café, but rather choosing one among the many outstanding cafés in the area. The cappuccino is always good and the milk froth decorated as lovingly as the interior decoration of the building. “Seize the Impress” is highly recommended, with its fantastic Sirniki – a sweet, Russian fried quark pancakes, which can also be tried here with popcorn, a rather non-Russian version of the delicacy.
After a visit to the Hermitage, you can relax in the cool “Cafe Brat” with a cozy, living room atmosphere. The menu also offers a wide selection of vegetarian and vegan options. Despite the central location, the café is not an overcrowded hotspot, as it is tucked away on the first floor of a building and the visitor has to ring the bell downstairs.
Israeli street food is currently being hyped in major Russian cities, making it one of the hottest cuisines, and there are several Israeli restaurants in St. Petersburg. The most well-known is at the beginning of Rubinshteina street. The interior design by “Bekitzer” is industrial-alternative, and the taste in music suits the young, tattooed, casual European employees.
For those who want something fancier but still at fair prices, relax with a good selection of wines, modern Russian cuisine, and fantastic desserts at the “Polnij Ballet” in the Admiralteyskiy district on Gorokhovaya Street.
A visit to Russia must include enjoying good Georgian food. Right next to the Kazanskaya Cathedral, you will find the modern, minimalist decorated George “Cafe Suliko” – we recommend you share the fabulous Chatchapuri cheese patty.
Party like the Petersburger – Karaoke Bars and Electro Clubs
The nightlife scene in St. Petersburg is relaxed – the best bars are in Rubinshteina street and there is one quirky bar next to another.
For example, there is the somewhat dignified “Social Club“, which is called by the founders “a space for the modern dandy.” On the comfy sofa sets, you have a great view of the Rubinshteina street and its chic facades from the 19th century.
Right next to the Social Club is the unique concept bar “Commode”. The bar itself is a former apartment divided into several rooms where you can join in the fun and sing karaoke or play board games. The guest pays an hourly fee (around two or three euros) and gets the drinks from the bar at cost price.
And if you feel like dancing after a couple of drinks, you’ll find the best venues right next to the Church of Spilled Blood, among the depths of the courtyards on Konyushennaya Square where there are several clubs and bars.
The charming “Tanzploschadka” transforms from a bar to a large dance floor with the added bonus of the charming courtyard with a bar, garlands, and a basketball net. In the summer, you can even dance on the terrace. Tougher club atmospheres with electronic music can also be found on Konyushennaya Square.
These are just a few of the many fabulous places in St. Petersburg – just ask your way around once you’re in the city. The locals are super friendly and English is spoken widely among the younger generation. We hope this guide jumpstarts and inspires your adventures, but asking for advice from the local is still the best way to discover any city.
About the authors:
Beatrice Grundheber is a freelance digital marketer and editor-in-chief of the Berlin blog project berlinograd.com. Larissa Mass is a freelance journalist currently teaching at a university in St. Petersburg. The two Berliners share their love for Russia, the Russian language, and the Russian creative community. In fact, they have traveled more together in Russia’s major cities such as Moscow, Sochi and St. Petersburg than in Germany.
Beatrice Grundheber was invited on this press trip by the tourism board of St. Petersburg. All views are her own. #VisitPetersburg
Photography by Beatrice Grundheber; Unsplash.com
Cover photo by Darya Vanchuk via Unsplash.com