Most means of transportation stop functioning at night. The subway is closed from midnight to 5:45 a.m., and transfers between lines close (and open) at this time, while the departure of the last (and the first) trains from each station varies slightly. Taxis are always available but are much more expensive at night. Every private vehicle is a potential taxi. Flagging down a vehicle and paying for a ride somewhere is perfectly normal in Russia and quite popular although ill-advised for tourists. Safety is, of course, an issue. As a rule, you should never get in a private cab if it already has passengers inside.
Also, refuse requests from the driver to take on more fares unless you reached your destination; if he insists, ask to stop at a safe-looking place, pay and leave. If the driver stops for gas, step out of the car, along with your belongings, and get some fresh air while he is fueling it. Those traveling alone (men and women) should feel free to wave off any suspicious ride for any reason whatsoever. Gypsy cabs which linger near popular bars and restaurants at night have been known to be especially dangerous, with several instances of druggings and robberies.
At night the city is divided in two by the Neva; all the main bridges are drawn up to allow for boat traffic, except during the winter, when ice makes the river impassable. Remember to make it to your side of the river in time; otherwise, you could find yourself stuck on the wrong side until early morning. Some bridges close once per night to permit crossing; see below for details. There is however the tall cable Big Obukhovski bridge which is not drawn up, as it is an important part of Saint Petersburg Ring Highway, but it’s rather remote from the city center which would multiple the taxi fare several times.
The Historic Center of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments are UNESCO world heritage, so definitely worth your while.
Hermitage Museum/The Winter Palace is Saint Petersburg’s prime attraction, a massive palace-museum showing the highlights of a collection of over 3,000,000 pieces spanning the globe. The Hermitage is truly one of the world’s great museums, with an imposing setting displaying priceless works by Rembrandt, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Rubens and more. Getting a tour guide is recommended; they can charge as much as $100, but the additional information they impart can be well worth the price, and they can readily take you directly to the items you want to see.
Ticketing is complex, but the Hermitage itself is 300 rubles for Russians and 400 rubles for foreigners (2013) and they do check if you have a Russian passport, even if you speak Russian. Students of all nationalities get in for free, but don’t forget your student card with photo (the ‘administration’ will likely reject your ID if it doesn’t have a date on it). Entrance is free on the first Thursday of every month. Large bags aren’t allowed in the museum, and a massive cloakroom downstairs (no charge, as usual in Russia) exists to assist with jackets and bags. A ticket allowing photography costs 200 rubles. Some rooms and all temporary exhibits prohibit all kinds of photography.
You can buy tickets on-line, and have a confirmation emailed to you. It is the same price as the local ticket ($18 including photos), you just walk straight to the front of the queue. Hand your booking confirmation and passport to information desk. She will get the ticket office to check your details and issue the tickets.
The queues at the ticket office can be long, and purchasing a ticket online can help you bypass this queue first thing in the morning. However, at other times the museum can limit the admission rate because of the numbers already in the museum. In this case having purchased your tickets in advance won’t save you as much time.
The museum has a cafe and large shop near the entrance, and numerous small shops throughout the galleries. Audio guides are available in English, and most signs in the gallery are in English and Russian. Guide books are available for around 300 rubles.
- Russian Museum,Inzhenernaya Ul. 4 (Across Ploshad Isskustv from the Grand Europe Hotel), ☎ 595 42 48. 10AM to 6PM daily ex. Tuesday. An extensive collection of Russian paintings and sculpture. People who are disappointed that the Hermitage is mainly western European art love this museum, since most of the artists are relatively unknown to non-Russians. The main building, the Mikhailovskiy Palace houses the main exhibits, and the Russian Museum also oversees the permanent and temporary exhibits at theStroganov Palace, Marble Palace and Mikhailovskiy Castle. Tickets to each can be purchased separately or as a universal pass. Foreigners 350 RR, Russians 150 RR.
- Peter and Paul Fortress. You can go in for free, but to enter the church and exhibitions you need tickets. You can get a combo ticket for everything, or you can just enter the church. Other than the church, which is where the all of the Romanov Czars of Russia from Peter the Great (bar two or three) are buried, the other things on the island aren’t terribly impressive, so it might be worth it to just see the church. Note that if you buy a combo ticket for everything, you still need to have a ‘special ticket’ for a lot of exhibitions within the fortress!
- The Admiralty,North end of Nevsky Prospekt (Next to the Hermitage). Not open to visitors, but worth seeing from the outside.
- The bridges on the Neva. Open 2 times per night to allow boats to pass.
- Museum of Artillery, Combat Engineers and Signal Troops. Housed in old Arsenal fortress-like building near the Peter and Paul Fortress and surrounded by moat. HUGE collection of weapons from the beginning of history until the present, including an extensive collection of Soviet weaponry from WW2 and the Cold War. Tanks, ballistic missiles, Katuscha trucks, countless Kalashnikovs. Personal note: Absolutely awesome, one of the highlights of all my European travels. If you speak Russian and can pass as a Russian, a 2-hour private guided tour costs around 15 euros.
- Ethnographic Museum, (Next to the Russian Museum Mikhailovskiy Palace).An interesting and educational display of the traditions and costumes of various ethnic groups found in the lands of the former Russian Empire.Foreigners 350 RR, Russians 100 RR.
- Alexander Nevskiy Monastery. Located at the Eastern end of Nevskiy Prospekt next to the River Neva. The site also has theTikhvin Cemetery which houses the tombs of some of the world’s most famous composers; Tschaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky and Borodin, and also the author Fyodor Dostoevsky, along with many other famous Russian figures.
- Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood,Canal Griboedova, 2a (Between Nevsky Prospekt and the Neva), ☎(812) 315-16-36. A traditional style Russian church built on the spot where Tsar Alexander II was assassinated in 1881. The interior is elaborately decorated with over 6000sqm of mosaics. Photography without a tripod and extra lighting permitted for free. 250 RR
- Our-Lady-of-Kazan Cathedral(Казанский собор, Kazansky Sobor), Nevsky Prospekt and Canal Griboedova(Metro: Nevsky Prospekt). Impressive neoclassical exterior, richly decorated interior. Includes the tomb of Gen. Kutuzov, hero of the war of 1812. Free entry.
- Saint Isaac’s Cathedral, Isaac’s Square, 4, ☎ (812) 315-97-32. 11am to 7pm daily ex. Wed. Located near to the Admiralty. It was built in 1818 and is a major attraction in the city. It is the third highest cupola cathedral in the world. There are night time visits, too, and the view from the colonnade (observation deck) is one of the best views of the city, for those who are willing to climb 400 steps. Foreigners 300 RR, Russians 120 RR.
- Peter the Great’s Cabin. Peter the Great’s men built the small wooden cabin in a matter of days for him when he planned the city and it has been preserved in a small brick building in the district Petrogradskaya. It is located close to the Cruiser Aurora on Petrovskaya Naberzhnaya.
- Loft Project ETAGI,Ligovsky prospekt, 74. Culture centre located in five-storey former bakery building with several exhibition spaces (combined surface around 5000 square metres). Contemporary art exhibitions, concerts, events (flea markets). Parts of Etagi loft are two art galleries, four exhibitions spaces, a cafe (with great interior and outside terrace), a hostel and a bookshop.
- Andreyevsky Cathedral,6 line V.O., 11, ☎ +7 (812) 323-34-18. Perhaps the most beautiful religious building on the island, built in 1780. The main cupola is framed by three narrow towers, and is topped by a two-tiered belltower. The gilt, three-layered iconostasis inside is an impressive 17 meters tall.
- Church of the Assumption of Mary,Naberezhye Leitenanta Schmidta, 27. This five domed church was built in 1897. In 1935, as happened to many churches in Russia, it was converted by the Soviets into a warehouse, but in 1993 it was reopened for services. The ongoing careful renovations began in 1996.
- Erarta Museum and Galleries of Contemporary Art,No 2, 29th line, Vasilyevsky Island, ☎ +7 (812) 324 0809. 10am-10pm, Tuesday closed. Erarta project brings under one roof Russia’s largest non-government Museum of Contemporary Art (with over 3,000 works in its collection as of the time of writing) and one of the branches of its international Galleries (other branches located in London, New York, Zurich and Hong Kong). Erarta is a new project, just entering its second year of existence but has already been nominated for Russia’s museum of the year in its first year of existence due to its unparalleled status in the Contemporary Art segment. The Museum especially is worth visiting for its creativity, not only exhibiting other artists’ works but also acting as an author itself with unique projects such as “U-Spaces” (total installations created by the Museum itself to immerse the viewer in a particular world), Art-literature (accompanying essays of experts and regular visitors’ thoughts about particular works of art, helping explain what kind of emotions they trigger in others), Art-animation (videos and cartoons taking the viewer into the world of particular works), Art-theatre (Russia’s only multi-media play staged in the Figurina hall, whose cast is made up of only characters from her paintings). The building has a cafe (3rd floor), a restaurant, a gift store and a print shop. It has an overall floor area of 8,600 square metres (and is currently being expanded to 10,200 sqm). RUB400 for the Museum.
- Exchange Building(Naval Museum), Birzhevaya Square, 4, ☎ +7 (812) 328-27-01 (email@example.com, fax: +7 (812) 328-27-01). 11AM-6PM Tu-Su. The Exchange Building, which houses the Naval Museum, is the centerpiece of the Strelka ensemble. It was built in 1816 in the Neoclassical style. The Naval Museum, one of the largest in the world, contains historical displays of the Russian navy from its founding to the present day, including weaponry, models of ships, and even some original mastheads. Extensive World War II display, and also (not directly related to Naval history) a diorama box of the storming of the Winter Palace. Foreigners 320 rubles, Russians 90 rubles.
- Ivan Kruzenshtern Statue,Across from Naberezhye Leitenanta Schmidta, 17. A statue of Admiral Ivan Kruzenshtern, was built in 1870 in honor of the 100-year anniversary of the renowned Admiral’s death.
- Kunstkamera(Room of Curiosities), Universitatskaya Embankment 3 (Close to the Palace Bridge; enter around the corner on Tamozhenny Pereulok), ☎ +7 (812) 328-07-12 (firstname.lastname@example.org). 11AM-6PM Tu-Su, closed every last Tuesday of the month. This museum is primarily famous for its one-room freak show collection of 300 year-old deformed fetuses in formaldehyde (of which you are not allowed to take pictures). The rest of the museum consists of trinkets from various world cultures (over one million exhibits). It’s of interest mainly as it is the oldest state museum in Russia, established by Peter the Great in 1704—consequently it has a very dated feel. Foreigners 200 rubles, Russians 100 rubles.
- Menshikov Palace,Universitatskaya Embankment 15, ☎ +7 (812) 323-11-12. 10:30AM-5:30PM Tu-Su. Operated by the Hermitage, this museum displays some art and an exhibition on life in the early 18th century, in a palace built for the first governor of St. Petersburg, and before him Peter the Great. The Baroque palace was built in 1721, and was one of the first grand stone constructions of the city. Look especially for the grand staircase, and the Walnut, Naval, and Chinese rooms. Note: you will be given and required to wear special woolen “slippers” over your street shoes as to not damage the flooring.
- Mikhail Lomonosov Statue,Mendeleevskaya St. A statue of the famous 18th century Russian Renaissance man himself, famous for his contributions to mathematics, literature, painting, natural science, chemistry, physics, mineralogy, history, philology, and art.
- Mining Institute Museum,21st line V.O., 2, ☎ +7 (812) 321-40-82 (email@example.com, fax: +7 (812) 327-73-59),. By appointment for group tours only. One of the largest and oldest geological museums in the world, containing more than 230 thousand items, collected from more than 80 countries. Even if you don’t make it inside on a tour, it’s worth passing by to admire it’s imposing 1811 Imperial-style facade.
- Narodovolets (the People’s Will) Submarine D-2,Shkipersky protok, 10, ☎ +7 (812) 356-52-66 (firstname.lastname@example.org). W-Su 11AM-5:15PM. A small museum aboard a WWII submarine, dedicated to the actions of the submarine throughout the war (run by the Naval Museum).
- Naval Institute,Naberezhye Leitenanta Schmidta, 17. The oldest naval academy in Russia, founded by Peter the Great in 1701. Some of its most famous graduates include Ivan Kruzenshtern, Rimsky-Korsakov, and many others. The building was completely rebuilt in 1798.
- Rostral Columns.The first monuments you’ll immediately notice on the Strelka, the Rostral Columns are yet another symbol of the city. Constructed in 1810, the columns are each adorned with six rostra (traditionally, the prows of captured ships), symbolizing the might of the Russian Baltic Fleet. At the base of the columns you’ll see sculptures representing the great rivers of European Russia, the Volga, Dnieper, Neva, and Volkhov. In addition to their decorative purpose, the columns also served as lighthouses, and to this day the gas flames are lit on holidays.
- Rumyantsevsky Park and Obelisk,between the 1st and 2nd lines along Universitetskaya naberezhye. The big obelisk in the center of the park was moved here from Mars Field in honor of Count Peter Rumyantsev’s victory in the Russo-Turkish War of 1791. On the southern end, look for two statues of the famous Russian painters Repin and Surikov.
- Russian Academy of the Arts,Universitetskaya naberezhye, 17. Russia’s largest center for advanced study in the arts, founded by Lomonosov and Shuvalov, and was until the 20th century the only school of its kind in Russia. The impressive neoclassical building was built in 1788.
- Research Museum of the Academy of the Arts, (Inside the Academy of the Arts),☎ +7 (812) 323-35-78. W-Su 11AM-6PM. A huge collection of drawings, prints, paintings of both Russian and Western artists, as well as casts and sculptures, all on display across three floors of the Academy. The models of great Petersburg architecture, of the Smolny Monastery, St Isaac’s Cathedral, Mikhailovsky Castle, etc., are especially worth seeking out.
- Theban Sphinxes, (across the road from the Academy of the Arts).You wouldn’t expect it, but these two granite sphinxes are three thousand years older than the city itself! They were excavated in 1820 in the temple of Amenhotep III near Thebes. Upon seeing them, the Russian writer and diplomat Muravyev wrote to the Tsar, and convinced him to purchase the statues for display in Petersburg. They were installed in 1834. Oddly enough, sphinxes seem to be popular in the city – there are another six made by Russian sculptors lurking about.
- The Twelve Colleges,Universitetskaya naberezhye, 7/9. One of Domeniko Trezini’s many neoclassical buildings in Petersburg, built in 1742. The ensemble is comprised of twelve identical, connected, three-story buildings. The main facade faces Mendeleevskaya St, rather than the Neva, because at the time of construction, there was a canal in place of the street, across from which was the main market on the island. Today the ensemble houses the Geological and Agricultural departments, as well as Admissions.
- Zoological Museum,Universitetskaya naberezhye, 1, ☎ +1 (812) 328-01-12 (email@example.com, fax: +1 (812) 328-29-41). 11AM-6PM daily. A wild lesson in taxidermy, the museum contains over 17 million species, stuffed, mounted, and fossilized (although due to constraints of finitude, the building “only” displays some 500 thousand). The collection began at the Kunstkammer, and grew into its enormous state under the later Imperial period. You won’t have to look hard, but look for the complete blue whale skeleton, as well as the world’s only stuffed mammoth.
Opera and Ballet
No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without seeing an opera or ballet performance. The Mariinsky is perhaps the most well-known institution, but it is by no means the only theater in the city. Tickets are sold throughout the city at kiosks and shops called Teatralnaya Kassa, which charge a nominal (usually about 20 RR) fee for “insurance,” which is theoretically optional. The theater box offices themselves sell tickets directly, too, and usually for the same price. Sometimes blocks of tickets sell out at the kiosks but tickets are still available at the theater, or vice versa, so it is worth checking both places if you have your heart set on a particular performance. It is possible to take not-so-small children into some performances if you take a private box, although you will need to ask when you buy your tickets.
Do not buy your tickets “online”. “Online” prices are 10x higher than the actual price and are geared for foreigners who don’t know Russian. Example: 10th row seats at the Conservatory’s performance of “The Marriage of Figaro” online cost $107, but if you go to the theatre directly a few days before, you pay 500 rubles ($15 US).
- Mariinsky Theater,Theater Square 1, ☎ 326 41 41. The Mariinsky Theater (formerly the Kirov, which is the name the troupe still uses when touring abroad) is world-class for both opera and ballet. There are English supertitles for operas sung in Russian; operas in other languages have Russian supertitles. Performances are offered in two halls: the main theater, and the newly-built Mariinsky Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased on the theater’s website
- Mikhailovskiy Theater,Ploshad Isskustv 1 (Between the Russian Museum and the Grand Hotel Europe), ☎ 595 43 05. The exterior is not as recognizable as the Mariinsky, but the interior is nearly as grand, and the theater hosts both Russian and foreign headliners in opera and ballet.
- Petersburg Opera,Galernaya Ul. 33 (West of the Bronze Horseman), ☎ (812) 312 3982 (firstname.lastname@example.org). An intimate theater (half-sized stage, and only about 150-200 audience seats) which puts on the major repertory operas at a lower price than the major theaters and has a fascinating foyer – one has to see it to believe it.
- Conservatory Theater,Theater Square 3 (Across the street from the Mariinsky Theater). While the hall itself is not lavish – quite sterile, really – a good option for seeing Russian and repertory operas cheaply, performed by faculty and students of the conservatory where Tchaikovsky (and many other famous figures from the Russian music world) studied.
The music scene in St. Petersburg is diverse, with several classical, jazz, and pop concerts to choose from each week. Tickets are available at the same Teatralnaya Kassa locations as ballet and opera tickets, although tickets to pop concerts – especially US and European stars on tour – sometimes use exclusive distributors. For pop and rock concerts, unless you buy tickets for the dance floor (tanzpol), you are expected to sit quietly in your seat as if you were at a ballet – ushers are vigilant about keeping the audience from standing up, dancing, or cheering (polite applause is allowed, but that’s about all).
Several of the ballet and opera theaters above also offer orchestral and recital performances, so those are not repeated below. Also, don’t forget the many small clubs where up and coming bands play.
- Petersburg Philharmonic Grand Hall,Mikhailovskaya Ul. 2 (Entrance across from the Grand Hotel Europe). A world-class orchestra which records and tours abroad. The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals.
- Petersburg Philharmonic Small Hall,Nevsky Prospekt 30 (Next to the Metro station on Nevsky Prospekt). The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) of the Philharmonic hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals.
- Jazz Philharmonic Hall,Zagorodny Pr. 27 (South of Nevsky Prospekt, use Vladimirskaya Metro Station). Offers a variety of jazz performances several times per week.
- Ice Palace (Ledoviy Dvorets), (At Prospekt Bolshevikov Metro Station).One of several sports arenas that also serves as a concert hall for pop and rock concerts.
- Oktyabrskiy Concert Hall,Ligovskiy Prospekt 6 (Near Ploshad Vosstaniya). Pop and rock concerts in an auditorium close to the city center.
Most cinemas in St. Petersburg show Hollywood films dubbed in Russian. Art cinemas like Dom Kino often show independent American or British movies subtitled in Russian. DVDs of American/European films are also often dubbed. There have been crackdowns on sellers of bootleg DVDs, so it may be difficult or expensive to find DVDs in English these days. There are several DVD stores in the city – often near Metro stations – and it is worth asking about films in English.
Annual Message to Man international documentary, short, and animated films festival takes place in June or July, screening many films in English.
- Dom Kino,12 Karavannaya Ulitsa (Near Gostiniy Dvor Metro Station), ☎ 314 56 14. Sometimes shows films in their original language.
- Avrora Cinema,Nevksy Prospekt 60.
Canal boat tours
A tour of the canals by boat is a great way to see the city in the summer. The typical tour is through the Moika, out to the Neva to see the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Cruiser Aurora, then in through the Fontanka (sometimes as far as the Mariinsky Theater). Tours start at many points along the route and return to their starting point – hawkers for different boat companies abound – and the boats may or may not have a cafe and toilet on board. Almost all tours are in Russian. 400-600 Rubles seems to be the average price.
- Anglotourismo Boat Tours,Fontanka Embankment 21, ☎ +7 921 989 47 22. Canal boat tours in English, departing from near the Anichkov Bridge (Nevsky Prospekt and Fontanka) in season (May 2 – Sept 30).
Walking around with locals
The alternative way to explore St Petersburg is to know it from inside, walking and talking with locals and trying local activities. Those people who have lived here for years would like to tell you a plenty of stories, open some secret places (as roofs or courtyards etc.) and treat you as a friend.
- Sputnik(Tours by locals), ☎ +7 (950) 028 0370 (email@example.com). Tours by locals for 1 to 10 people. Some tours are free and others are cheap (from 10$). Many of them are unique like Russian cooking classes, rooftop, flea market, Uzbek food tours, art galleries, lofts etc. from 10$.
- Petersburg Voyage(Tours by locals), ☎ +7 (967) 513 26 80 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Daily Tours in English in small groups. A good way to find out about St. Petersburg more! from 35$.
- Discover Walks St Petersburg,Sytninskaya st. Saint Petersburg 197101, (email@example.com). Meet actual Native of St Petersburg in addition to exploring major landmarks. Join a walk with locals who will “decode” the city with you, and also learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves. Severeal tours to join every day, €15, by reservation.