Travellers’ tips for St Petersburg
In the summer the weather can be changeable, the mosquitos are terrible, and the daylight lasts pretty much 18 hours long.
Hands down winner in the food category is Stolle — we discovered this by accident and I’m too embarrassed to say how many times we went back for the excellent value mains (around 6 euro), coffee and sweet pies (around 4 euro) and excellent savory pies that make excellent picnic fare (1-3 euros per slice). There are several around town, we loved our original find next to the Mariinsky theatre. Expect to be addicted.
Sushi is ubiquitous if not cheap. We found the sushi excellent at Gin-no Taki, пр. Чернышевского, 17. Interestingly, the most popular sushi in Russia is made with cooked fish, not raw.
Fast food means blinis. I like the wildberry ones at Teremok (Nevsky pr 60 and all over town) and the chicken and mushroom ones at Chainaya Lozhka– ask for an English menu at the counter. (Nevsky Pr. 44 and plenty of other spots too)
Transforce, Nevsky Prospekt 88: if you’ve got kids (or a husband) along they’ll love the at-the-table computer games, submitting their order by computer and the film screens that surround you showing your virtual journey (space, tropical islands…). At the end of meal you can use the computer screen at your table to choose to tip, either positively (up to 15% for excellent service) or negatively (minus up to 15% from your bill if you dare to indicate the service or food were abysmal). For the record we tipped 7% (good service, fairly ordinary food). Fun concept. We did have some question marks around the games themed on nuclear power production.
Cafe St Petersburg next to Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood is a good spot for affordable casseroles, borsch, russian salad etc.
Original language films are shown at Aurora on Nevsky Prospect, 60 (one film per day in its original language).
We liked the grungy vibe and efficiency of Stirka Laundrette (Ul Kazanskaya 26) where you can wash and dry your clothes (250 Rubles) while kicking back with a beer, a tea or a vodka or two – there’s also a DJ and water pipes. Don’t stay to fold your clothes there though or they’ll smell of cigarette smoke.
The Hermitage. If you have a day or less to spend there, take a little time beforehand deciding what you want to focus on or join one of the tours (200 rubles). To skip the queue, buy your ticket online (but not if you want to join the aforementioned tour).
A ballet at the Mariinsky. The cheapest tickets are very affordable, even for foreigners who pay a higher rate than Russians. Consider treating yourself to champagne in the interval.
Take a picnic and enjoy a sunny day in the gardens at Peterhof. We took the metro and a bus, the boat is more expensive but faster and less complicated.
The Church of the Saviour on Spilt Blood. You won’t be able to miss it anyway, but it’s worth going inside too — amazingly the inside makes the outside look a little dull and colourless when you first come out!
If you have some extra days:
*Peter and Paul Fortress,
*Political History Museum (plenty of caffeine, a good night sleep and/or a good basic knowledge required),
*Visit the Kunstkamera and the two sphinxes on Vasilevsky Island.
*See something at the Mikhailovskiy Theatre too.
Note that the Summer Gardens and palace are currently closed.
We stayed in three places, none of which I would particularly recommend.
Note that every time you stay in a hotel or hostel for three days or longer you need to register and this will cost you whatever the ho(s)tel decides to charge you: it could be nothing, it could be 30 euros, apparently some places won’t do it for you at all (I don’t know what happens then, maybe you have to register yourself??) read hotel reviews online as they often indicate if these charges are high at any given place – possible solutions to this are: stay a long time in one place or move every two days.
Also note that youth hostels seem to be very badly sign posted and difficult to find, make sure when you book to write down the phone number so you can call if you can’t find it.
Do yourself a favour and learn a little cyrillic – it’s worth the time investment, if only for getting around on the metro.