Eurasia is a vast continent with a rich and vibrant history, a melting pot of cultures woven together by a system of arterial routes both old and new. The borders of Europe and Asia have always been a point of fascination for travellers, and nowhere is more fascinating than Siberia, the geographical gateway between the two.
In this 6-part series, we share our thoughts on what makes the perfect Siberian city-break from the places you stay and food you eat, to the things you experience. Our journey will take you through some of the most enigmatic cities across Siberia and the northernmost parts of Asia, spanning the cultural capital of the Tsars, the land of blue skies, and the home of imperial China, Beijing. Today, we shall scratch the surface of Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg.
Why visit St. Petersburg?
'I've been there about 20 times and it's never enough.' - Eugene, Operations Director
‘The overall experience is great; I can recommend it to all who wish to see Russia. It's a former capital of the country and there are many places to visit that are different from those you can see in Western and Eastern Europe.’ - Uliana, Bookkeeper
St. Petersburg is the former capital of the Russian federation and has stood as Russia’s cultural center for over a century. Founded in 1703 by Peter the Great, the city has enjoyed a tumultuous history as a rival capital to Moscow and has seen many name changes from Petrograd (during World War 1) to Leningrad (after the death of Lenin), and back to its original name of St. Petersburg. Aside from its rich history, the city has a vibrant energy and truly caters to all with its own architectural marvels, huge open markets, traditional local cuisine and thriving art scene.
Where to stay in St. Petersburg
‘Plan a minimum of three full days if you can and to stay in central hotels no more than 600m to the Palace Square as it is so nice to walk there, you get to see all the little bridges, people-watch and shop.’ - Natasha, Business Account Manager
Choosing the right hotel is an essential part of any city-break whether you are there for 2 weeks or two days, and we always recommend sitting down and weighing up your options before you begin your journey. St. Petersburg offers plenty of choice from functional hostels to 5-star luxury hotels, we have compiled a list of some of our top recommended places to stay St. Petersburg below - For a full list of hotels in St. Petersburg, please see our hotels and accomodations page.
Pushka Inn Hotel
Conveniently located on the bank of the Moyka River, the Pushka Inn is one of the best hotels in St. Petersburg if you plan to visit the many museums and art galleries the city has to offer. The hotel itself is housed in a mansion built in 1860 by the Pushchins, and old noble family dating back to the 15th century. While the hotel has evolved over the years to accommodate a more modern clientele, the property retains many of the period features within its décor.
A great value hostel situated in the very heart of St. Petersburg’s cultural district; the Cuba hostel is the perfect place to stay when travelling on a budget. The hostel offers a range of utilities and services including storage lockers, luggage stores, laundry areas, kitchen and common room. The front desk is open 24-hours 7 days a week.
Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace St. Petersburg
A luxury 5-star hotel located within the prestigious Admiralteysky district, The Four Seasons Lion Palace is the epitome of Russian decadence and is well positioned to take in all St. Petersburg has to offer. The hotel rests within the walls of a 19th century royal palace and really brings the opulence of imperial Russia to the forefront. Aside from its enviable location in the heart of the city, the Lions Palace goes all out with an exceptional variety of features including several bars and lounges, a fitness centre and spa facilities.
What to do in St. Petersburg
‘The Peterhof is a must between May and October, Saint Isaac's Cathedral, during summer - opening bridges during white nights, the Winter Palace, Voronts’ - Uliana, Bookkeeper
When it comes to things to do, the Venice of the North never fails to disappoint. While St. Petersburg’s many canals and vibrant streets embellished with architectural flair are enough to charm most visitors, the city’s prominence as a place of rich history and artistic endeavour cannot be overstated. See our brief list of must-see attractions when visiting St. Petersburg below - To see all the tours we offer in St. Petersburg, please take a look at our St. Petersburg excursions for more information.
Ideal for Russian royal history buffs
The crown jewel of St. Petersburg, the Peterhof is an 18th century complex commissioned by Peter the Great with astounding gardens and a royal palace built in the Petrine Baroque style. The palace is heavily influenced by Louis XIV’s Palace of Versailles and is often referred to as ‘The Russian Versailles’. No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without a tour of this splendid household. Ideal for those wanting to know more about the history of Russian royalty.
Absorb the astonishing architectural visions of Peter the Great with one of our guided Peterhof tours.
Unmissable for lovers of ballet, opera and the arts
The centre of the arts in St. Petersburg, the 18th century Mirinski theatre has unveiled some of the world's top performers ranging from professional ballet dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Rudolf Nureyev and Matilda Kshesinskaya to outstanding singers including the likes of Fedor Chaliapin, Ivan Ershov and Medea. Sit back, relax and take in the ambience of this magnificent concert hall with its opulent interior and outstanding acoustics.
White Nights Festival
All-encompassing experience for music lovers, families and more!
Courtesy of Spbkinoforum CC BY 3.0
The White Nights Festival is an annual event that takes place in St. Petersburg to mark its near-midnight sun phenomena. Each year between the 21st April and 21st August, the skies above St. Petersburg only ever reach twilight and never go completely dark. To celebrate this natural phenomena, St. Petersburg erupts into a series of festivities starting with the ‘Stars of the White Nights’ ballet and opera performance, and the famous ‘Scarlet Sails’ (known as Alye Parusa in Russian).
Over the past few decades, this festival has evolved to include international music performances from The Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and more as well as renowned carnivals; the best of which is in the Peterhof suburb where actors dressed in period costumes from the time of Peter and Catherine the Great give performances that reproduce past historic events. You can even take a ride in a period carriage around Catherine park.
The go-to place for Russian naval history
Kronshtadt is a Russian naval base located on Kotlin island, west of St. Petersburg. This little-visited location is teeming with military marvels including the offshore man-made island, Fort Alexander, Anchor Square with its numerous war memorials and the Kronstadt History Museum which houses a selection of regional artefacts. Most notably, the island is home to a 20th Byzantine-style orthodox naval cathedral, with its spectacular ornate interior. Boat trips run regularly to and from the Island and are a great way to get around.
Erarta Contemporary Art Museum
Perfect for modern art enthusiasts
Courtesy of Erarta Museum and Galleries of Contemporary Art CC BY 3.0
Constructed in 2010, the Erarta museum is the first modern art museum in St. Petersburg and boasts that largest collection of private modern art in the whole of Russia. The museum’s aim is to locate, collect and popularise the work of talented modern artists in Russia and currently houses 2800 storage units of paintings, graphics, sculptures and installations.
Where to eat in St. Petersburg
It is no exaggeration when we say that you can get just about anything you want to eat in St. Petersburg. Its bustling streets are filled with tavernas where you can experience local cuisine as intended. While for more modern tastes, there is a plethora of Japanese restaurants, Pizzerias and innovative chefs experimenting with a new take on traditional Russian cuisine. We have cherry-picked a few restaurants we feel you simply must try:
Explore an authentic Caucasus cuisine in St. Petersburg
Mamaliga’s main aim is to introduce its guests to the wonders of authentic Caucasian cuisine, harmoniously blending Georgian, Imereti, Armenian, Svan, Adjarian, Gurian and Megrelian culinary traditions. The restaurant offers a regular menu where you can find dishes including phali, basturma, satsivi, dolma and more. House specials include stewed Canahi, chocolate Zgapari and spicy kuchmachi. Of course, no Caucasian restaurant would be complete without a barbecue!
Discover St. Petersburg’s finest Israeli and Mediterranean street food
Betkizer is well known in St. Petersburg as the go-to place for Israeli and Mediterranean street food. The bar area has been paired down to create a cosy and contemporary space for travellers that want to escape the tourist-packed areas and try something a bit different. Betkizer regularly hosts live music and offers an in-expensive alternative that is ideal for backpackers.
Experience the best of traditional Russian cuisine
Tsar is considered the epitome of traditional Russian cuisine in St. Petersburg. This high-class restaurant was designed by Sergei Tretyak with the intent of ‘reviving forgotten traditions’ and is host to an extensive collection of antiques and a royal throne. Aside from offering some of the best seafood and several varieties of caviar, the restaurant also compliments their main dishes with https://realrussia.co.uk/Excursions/City?City=St-Petersburgan extensive vodka menu.
Enjoy the best of contemporary Russian cuisine
KoKoKo has gained international acclaim as the brainchild of ballet patron and celebrity style icon, Matilda Shnurova. The restaurant offers a contemporary twist to classic Russian favourites experimenting with flavour and presentation to create bright, bold and exciting dishes that always tell a story.
Top tips from our team when visiting St. Petersburg:
‘Plan your time more realistically, it is like any major city, even if you are there for a week you can't see it all; use a city tour for your first day to orientate yourself then concentrate on two or three central experiences - you can always go back!’ - Chris, Managing Director
‘My advice is to bear in mind that from Dec to March it may be extremely cold there - so May-Oct season would be the best time to visit’ - Uliana, Bookkeeper
‘Take a city tour with an overview and by car as the city is very big’ - Natasha, Business Account Manager
‘Take a jacket whatever the season’ - Nastya, Travel Administrator
Share your experiences!
We really hope you enjoyed the first instalment of our Siberian city-break series! If you have been to St. Petersburg and have any experiences of your own we would love to hear about them in the comments below. Alternatively, if you are yet to visit St. Petersburg and this post has inspired you, why not look at some of the tours we have to offer?
We separate our tours based on the level of involvement we would have with you, ranging from DIY to self-exploration to a fully guided, immersive experience with one of our expert tour guides. We can also create custom tours on request if there is something you wish to see that is not covered in one of our tour packages. Click the button below to learn more about our St. Petersburg excursions!