Having right data about your destination at hand can help you reduce expenses and save nerves. Here is the list of the most important facts about the life in St. Petersburg with hyperlinks to more detailed information. It’s just like the chapter «content» in a book, and don’t miss it as it’s a guide to our guide)
The city can be reached by car, bus, train, plane and ferry. Bus and train lines connect St. Petersburg with many Eastern European countries, and there is a high- speed rail connection between Helsinki and St. Petersburg. The city is a two-hour flight from Berlin and a three-hour flight from Paris. For details, read our post here.
Moscow and St. Petersburg are linked by numerous rail and air routes. Most trains depart from Moskovsky railway station in St. Petersburg and arrive at Leningradsky station in Moscow. There are both daytime and overnight trains. The fastest is Sapsan with travel time of about four hours. High-speed trains run several times a day with the first departure at 05.30\05.40 in both directions.
In the high season, there are a few bus routes.
St. Petersburg’s airport, Pulkovo serves flights to Moscow’s three main airports Domodedovo, Vnukovo and Sheremetyevo.
The city operates extensive subway network serving almost all districts. Public transport also consists of bus, trolleybus and tram network. St. Petersburg doesn’t have an overground tram system like the S-Bahn in Berlin. There are private mini-buses marked with the letter K before the number of the route. The railway system consists of five stations serving both commuter and long-distance trains.
The city has several dozens taxi services, none of them is run by the city itself, as is the case in Beijing or New York, all the operators are private companies. More info here.
The weather is very unsettled with high level of humidity and only 62 sunny days a year, on average. Mild winters (in comparison with other parts of Russia) compensate for rainy summers. You never know what the evening will be even if it’s sunny and warm in the morning. We have a special article about Saint Petersburg weather.
English is not widely spoken in St. Petersburg even by young people, though some people will be glad to help you find the right address and point you in the right direction. In the city center, the names of most streets are also written in the Latin alphabet as are the names of metro stations.
Most shops and service providers work from 9-10.00 untill 21-22.00. Most shopping centers close at 22.00 even on weekends. Weekends don’t differ much from weekdays regarding opening hours.
Russian public holidays are the New Year’s Eve (in 2016 the first workday was January 11); February 23; March 8; May 9; June 12; November 4. Read more about schedules and public holidays in our post here.
St. Petersburg provides a wide range of accommodation options that are not much different from those you can find at any other big city around the globe. The local peculiarity is that in St. Petersburg there are many so-called mini-hotels. A mini-hotel is a hotel consisting of just a few rooms and reduced personnel. Many hotels, short-term-rent apartments and hostels are located within walking distance from main attractions, and they are not much more expensive than those in distant districts. Read our post to know more about accommodation options and hotel chains operating in St. Petersburg.
Russia’s official currency is the Russian ruble (another way of writing is rouble, but we prefer ruble)+. The abbreviation is RUR. One ruble is divided into 100 kopeks.
In Russia, it’s permitted to pay for goods and services only with rubles, other currencies officially cannot be used. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere, even at many little shops. ATMs can be found at shopping centers, halls of metro stations, railway stations and other facilities and venues.
It’s highly recommended to exchange money at bank offices or separate exchange units easily recognized by the sign «Exchange» or, in Russian, «Обмен валюты». Every bank sets its own exchange rates.
St. Petersburg city authorities operate nine tourist information centers. These can be easily identified by «I»s which can be seen at most major destinations. Addresses of these centers are in our article here.
St. Petersburg is located in the Moscow standard time (MST) zone: GMT/UTC +3. Daylight saving time is no longer observed.
The electric current in Russia is 220V AC. Wall sockets are designed for two-pin plugs. Plugs with thick pins may not fit into Russian standard wall outlets. In this case, you need an adaptor which can be bought at most supermarkets. Modern buildings and apartments are usually equipped with wall outlets compatible with plugs with thick pins.
In the city center you can see many signs in English, which makes the life of a traveler who’s unfamiliar with the Cyrillic alphabet much easier. If you are such a traveler, we think you should read our list of Russian signs with their translation into English and maybe print it.
The city launched the visitor’s card a few years ago, and it proved to be a very useful tool for travelers as it offers discounts or free access to many attractions and transport. The official website of the card is here: http://petersburgcard.com/en/about-card/petersburgcard
International telephone code of Russia is +7, code of St. Petersburg is 812, and of the Leningrad region is 813. For information about how to make a call from St. Petersburg, read our post here.
Cafes, coffee shops, restaurants, railway stations, shopping centers provide free Internet access, sometimes limited to a number of minutes. Internet via mobile networks is also available everywhere even underground, but it can sometimes be expensive.
St. Petersburg is well supplied with toilets, information on where to find them and cost of visit is in a post here.
In 2011 and again in 2013, St. Petersburg authorities and the federal parliament accepted medieval-style laws prohibiting «propaganda of same-sex culture». The laws envisage punishments for those who try to publicly promote the benefits of same-sex relationships and other non-traditional forms of sexuality. On paper, what’s defined as propaganda of homosexuality under the laws is not strictly defined, so there is enough space for interpretations. And misinterpretations. In practice, it means that to avoid risks, one should not openly demonstrate homosexual relationships. The St. Petersburg law caused outrage abroad: Amnesty International strongly opposed the law and the authorities of Milan, Italy even accepted a document declaring their condemnation of the action of their St. Petersburg colleagues. It has brought no relief for LGBT activists, but no charges or fines have yet been recorded in St. Petersburg.
Drinking alcohol, including beer, on the street is illegal. The police are obliged to fine such drinkers, however, fines are not issued often as policemen have enough work of other kinds.
You can purchase alcohol, including beer, at supermarkets and shops strictly from 11:00 until 22:00. At supermarkets buying booze after 22:00 is technologically impossible as a cash-desk machine will not process the purchase. At little shops, everything is possible, but if only you know the seller personally.
You must be at least 18 years old to purchase alcohol, so if a seller has any doubts about your age, he will ask you to show your passport or other official identification.
As of July 1, 2014, strict rules regarding smoking came into effect in Russia. To put it briefly, it’s prohibited to smoke in schools, universities, hospitals, government buildings, ports, airports, railway stations, public transport stops, eateries, theatres, cinemas etc. Outside these types of establishments you can smoke 15 meters away area.
St. Petersburg’s regional law regulates hours within which you can listen to loud music, drilling, yelling and making other kinds of noise. This time period is limited to 07:00 — to 23:00. From 23:00 to 07:00 you should be as quiet as possible. Violation of the law results in a fine. There are two exemptions to the law: rescue operations and religious actions.
Driving on Russian roads is rather difficult and minding the traffic rules doesn’t help much as they are often violated. First-time visitors to Russia are surprised by Russian drivers’ behavior. Nonetheless, rules must be obeyed. Most important of all are speed limits, especially given the fact that many roads are equipped with video control.
The speed limits in Russia are (for cars and trucks up to 3.5 tons):
— within cities, towns, villages — 60 km/h
— outside of the settlements — 90 km/h
— highways — 110 km/h
Criticizing Russian President Vladimir Putin or his ice-hockey teammates or oligarchs can get you fined or even placed behind bars. The law is similar to one applicable in Turkey regarding criticism of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. So, in public spaces, please, do not speak badly of Mr. Putin.
Ok, we’re joking! Just relax and have fun!
Though, of course, there are some themes not to be better raised when talking to the Russians.
Maybe the first thing you’ve heard about Saint Petersburg is that in the middle of the night from the end of May until the middle of July, you can read a book without artificial light. White nights happen as the sun doesn’t sink deep behind the horizon leaving some light to reduce city’s expenses on electricity and make it possible for you to make photos of the night Nevsky avenue without a flash. The White nights period even has its own official timing based on astronomical counts: since June 11 till July 2, but in reality a bit beyond this period. That’s the peak of visitors’ number.
What’s interesting here is that White nights, naturally, do not occur specially in St. Petersburg, it’s a phenomena to be seen all over north of Russia, in Baltic states as well as in Finland. But it’s Saint Petersburg that managed to turn it into tourist attraction and symbol.
St. Petersburg has several nicknames, and one of the most popular of them is the Northern Venice due to its numerous canals. A boat trip, usually of one hour duration, gives a unique view of the city quite different from the one you get from the ground.
St. Petersburg offers a great number of buildings that could be served an image for a postcard. Many call the city «an open-air museum» implying the beauty of its streets, palaces, rivers, bridges. The architecture minimum to be seen while visiting Saint Petersburg consists of
— the Nevsky avenue;
— Kazan Cathedral;
— St. Isaac Cathedral;
— The Winter palace;
— Palace square;
— Catherine palace in a town of Pushkin;
— Peterhof’s fountains, parks and palaces;
— The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood;
— Peter and Paul fortress;
— Spit of the Vasilievsky island with rostral columns;
— and at least one of the raised bridges (best of all, the Palace bridge, but really no matter which one).
All of them, except sightseeings in Peterhof and Pushkin and a raising bridge (which can be seen in the midnight only), are located along the routes of two bus city tour companies. About the city tours read our post here.
Well, the Hermitage is a constant resident of all world’s top-10 museums ratings and so on. It’s really №1. And some other museums (including branches of the Hermitage itself) which are also worth visiting are overshadowed by the Hermitage and, as a consequence, overlooked.
Here is a short list of museums you may be interested in:
1. The Hermitage.
2. Peter and Paul fortress. The fortress is a museum as itself and contains many other museums including the exhibition of the history of the city http://www.spbmuseum.ru/themuseum/museum_complex/peterpaul_fortress/?lang_ui=en.
3. Erarta. The largest contemporary art museum in Russia hosted in a separate four-stocked building and offering some astonishing installations. http://www.erarta.com/en/. About Erarta museum you can read this article.
4. Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood. That’s a church built at the spot where Russian Emperor Alexander II was killed in 1881 by terrorists https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_the_Savior_on_Blood.
5. Russian museum. Founded in 1895 by Russian Emperor Alexander III for collection of Russian art. Here one of most famous paintings in the world, The Black square by Kazimir Malevich, can be seen. http://en.rusmuseum.ru/.
6. Kazan Cathedral. This is a church, not a museum, but open to tourists as well. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kazan_Cathedral,_Saint_Petersburg.
7. St. Isaac’s Cathedral is a mix of a museum and a church. Officially, it’s a museum, but it’s also a place for a few services a week to be held. You can get inside the Cathedral and visit its colonnade from where a picturesque view of the city is open. http://eng.cathedral.ru.
8. Catherine Palace. Located in a town of Pushkin, it contains a newly built Amber Room which is the most important attraction here. http://eng.tzar.ru. About how to get to Pushkin, read our article here.
St. Petersburg is home to professional teams in volleyball, basketball, football, ice-hockey and some other sports. The most famous are the Zenit football club and the SKA ice-hockey club. Essentials of all the professional teams and the venues where they play against visiting rivalries you can pick up from our post here.
Visiting many places to have fun doesn’t require the knowledge of Russian and even understanding of the Cyrillic alphabet. The full list (except churches) is here.
Outside of St. Petersburg lie little towns with parks, palaces or ancient fortresses worth visiting: Vyborg, Peterhof, Pushkin, Pavlovsk, Gatchina, Shlisselburg, Staraya (Old) Ladoga, Ivangorod, Kronshtadt, Koporye, Priozersk.
There are two ancient cities near St. Petersburg, also worth visiting if you have enough time for a day trip to Veliky Novgorod (with its Kremlin and an architecture open air museum Vitoslavlitsy) or a two-day trip to Pskov (Kremlin and remains of a medieval city).
Saint Petersburg is within just a few hours trip from Vilnius, Riga, Tallinn and Helsinki. All the Baltic and Finland’s capitals are connected to the city by rail, coach routes, Tallinn and Helsinki also by a ferry line. Helsinki can be reached by plane in just 50 minutes.
There are two companies in St. Petersburg operating city tour lines. The routes cover all major sightseeings in the city center. Read our post here.
Every day at 12.00 one of two canons located on the Emperor’s bastion of the Peter and Paul fortress fires a shot. This one-second ritual attracts a lot of visitors, and the sound of the shot can be heard well beyond the fortress, even a few kilometers from it. You can synchronize your watches with the cannon.
Excursions on roofs with, yes, the possibility to fall from the top onto a sidewalk, are becoming increasingly popular among visitors. All these excursions are unofficial, being conducted only by amateurs. We visited some roofs, and they really offer a superb and unusual view of the city.
St. Petersburg is known for its floods, some of them did severe harm to the city and its citizens. During the city’s history, more than 330 floods were recorded, but only few of them were sensible and noticeable. And it’s not a paradox, the reason of this seemingly disproportion is that a flood is recorded when the water level exceeds the zero water level of the Kronshtadt depth gauge, and not necessarily that water is flooding the streets and squares. And though the city is defended by the recently built sea-wall, anyway from time to time water intervenes.
Saint Petersburg is a rather safe city measured even by European standards. Of course, pickpockets, robberies and other unpleasant things are not unheard of, but don’t happen often. In case of emergency, dial 112. For further details, go to our post here.
Overhead ice is very dangerous and a few persons every winter \ early spring die from falling pieces of it. Look up and be careful, that will reduce risk, though, of course, avoiding the danger completely is impossible.