First Thoughts On St. Petersburg, Russia — WOW!

Filed Under: Travel

We’re spending a few days in St. Petersburg, Russia, a city I hadn’t previously heard much about. Russia isn’t a popular tourist destinations for Americans, probably partly because of their policies and how they’re portrayed in the media (rightly or wrongly, depending on your perspective), and partly because the visa process is a bit of a pain, unlike much of the rest of Europe.

Prior to this trip I’ve always been fascinated by the perspectives I’ve heard about St. Petersburg. A vast majority of Americans in the travel “community” I talked to about it hadn’t been and didn’t have many opinions. Those who have been to St. Petersburg raved about it, often saying it’s one of their favorite cities in Europe.

That’s just about how I’m feeling about St. Petersburg at the moment — it’s an incredible city. I had no clue what to expect, but the architecture and canals are stunning. I can’t think of any other city I’ve been to that has had as many major landmarks as St. Petersburg. Every direction you look you see something that makes you go “oh my gosh, look at that!”

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In terms of the layout of the city itself, St. Petersburg reminds me of a mix of Amsterdam and Stockholm. There are beautiful canals, and then also an impressive harbor.

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The architecture of St. Petersburg at first glance almost seems Parisian, although many aspects are unique to Russia, like the style of the Orthodox churches. So I haven’t been to another city that really compares to it in that regard.

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I’ll have some more thoughts on St. Petersburg over the coming days, but figured I’d share my initial thoughts.

The one thing that makes Russia very unique is the people, and I’ll have a separate post on that. Service in Russia is unlike anywhere I’ve ever been. And the people watching has been amazing.

To address two question I assume I’ll get:

Isn’t it dangerous for gays to travel to Russia?

I’ve only been here for a couple of days, so can only share what my experience has been, rather than provide general advice. I’ll admit I was ever so slightly apprehensive about this before the trip (in the sense that I was consider ordering a rollaway bed in our room), though based on my experience so far, the concern was unfounded.

Admittedly we’re not making out in the streets or wearing rainbow shirts, but I haven’t felt uncomfortable in the slightest. We’re sharing one bed in our hotel and didn’t get any weird comments or looks (though admittedly US hotel chains are good at training their employees in that regard).

In terms of perception, my guess is that there are parallels between Russia and the US (though the US has greater legal protections, obviously). In the US you generally won’t feel uncomfortable for being gay in major cities like San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles, etc., while when you get into some smaller towns in the South you may find you’re still called names and discriminated against.

Of course the major difference is that Russia doesn’t have the same legal protections. So I’m not trying to provide any generalized advice here, but just sharing that I’ve felt completely comfortable.

As far as “supporting” a country that opposes gay rights by traveling to it, see my thoughts on that here.

In terms of general safety, I’ve also felt that St. Petersburg is quite safe. I’ve heard there’s a fair bit of pickpocketing, etc., though the same is true in cities like Paris.

Isn’t Russia crazy expensive?

Again, I can only speak to my experience in St. Petersburg over the past couple of days, but so far I’ve had reverse sticker shock. Moscow is supposedly much more expensive than St. Petersburg, and the USD is strong and RUB is weak right now, but I’ve been surprised by how cheap things have been.

It’s significantly cheaper than I was expecting, and certainly cheaper than Paris, London, Stockholm, etc.

Our 30 minute Uber Black ride yesterday cost ~$11. We had dinner at one of St. Petersburg’s best restaurants yesterday, and had two drinks each, as well as appetizers, mains, and split a dessert, and it was ~$90.

So I’ve actually found it to be much cheaper than I was expecting.

Bottom line

Based on my experience so far, I’d highly recommend a trip to St. Petersburg. It’s such a charming and beautiful city, and it’s relatively reasonably priced. The people watching is also incredibly amusing, though more on that in a future post. 😉

I’m excited for the next few days here, and then also to visit Moscow!

Would you consider traveling to St. Petersburg, Russia?

  1. Loved visiting LED a few winters ago. Big difference between summer and winter and I’d love to visit again during this time of year. One of my favorite memories is watching workers every morning on the tops of buildings picking ice and snow off of rooftops and watching it plummet to the sidewalks below. Pedestrians always had to pay attention to sidewalk closures and warnings of “Lookout Above!” Gave a safe trip!

  2. St. Petersburgh is one of my family’s favorites city destinations. My husband has dual citizenship since he was born in Moscow when his family was posted there for work. As a result, we don’t have the same formalities for visa. Russia is a large country and has so much to offer in terms of tourism! I am glad that you enjoyed the city as much as we do. It’s our annual get away from the usual stressful work life in the US. We love the history and the culture. The locals are a fun loving bunch, especially if they find out that one speaks Russian as a foreigner. We also love Vladivostok and own a villa near Lake Baikal for the summer. I am happy to hear that you had so much fun and if you travel in the future, we would be happy to host you if we are there.

  3. Was just in St. Petersburg and it is definitely a fascinating city. From talking with our private guide while there, it sounded like St. Petersburg is much different from the rest of Russia in terms of people, culture, etc. but I haven’t been anywhere else in Russia so I couldn’t tell if that is true or not.

    FYI – There is a reason it looks very similar to Paris and France. The royal family in St. Petersburg spoke French in Noble circles and there was a large connection to the royal family there (Although you could say that about most of Europe since they were pretty much all related).

  4. Saying that you won’t ever feel uncomfortable for being gay in NY/LA/SF sadly isn’t true…at all. I have friends in all three of these cities who are still getting spit on for “looking gay.” I’ve been confronted numerous times in San Francisco, and while I didn’t feel as if I was really in any physical danger, it’s definitely uncomfortable.

  5. @ Garrett — I publish 5,000+ words on the blog every day, so my word choice isn’t always perfect. You’re absolutely right, “ever” wasn’t the right word. But I think the generalization is certainly true.

  6. The pictures made us nostalgic. Definitely one of our favorite cities in Europe. Wish it was easier to get a visa.

  7. Anyone that asks if Russia is expensive today is not following the world economy. Russia used to be outrageously expensive when their economy was booming with high oil prices and their population used to visit any major city in Europe and line up outside fancy designer stores to shop. Those days are long gone and now their money has had a huge depreciation against the USD since 2015.

  8. At least gays don’t get shot and killed at a traffic stop.


    You should write a blog post about how to become affiliates with credit card companies. Come on!!!

  9. @ Donna — Hah, thank you, though these were all iPhone shots. Generally prefer not lugging a camera around while sightseeing. 🙂

  10. @ Ben — Make sure you catch the drag shop at the gay bar (I forget the name of the bar, but IIRC, there’s more than one).

    @ Garrett — That’s what your fists are for…(just kidding)

  11. Hi Lucky,
    My name is Anthony Roginsky and I hold dual citizenship of the US and Russia. I have lived in Los Angeles most of my life and am an avid follower of your blog. I am happy that you are enjoying your stay in my home town. It is certainly a great city. If you happen to have any problems with your visit or legal issues you can contact me to easily sort them out.

  12. I know I will get grief for this but St Petersburg is pretty much the only city in Russia truly worth an effort in visit. The rest of them, including Moscow, are fine if you are already in the country but otherwise are unremarkable. If I remember correctly, you are heading to Moscow next, curious to see what you think.

    As to the country being safe or unsafe for gay travelers, it’s a relative notion. You will not be arrested and executed for kissing Ford but you can easily be attacked when leaving a gay club at night or even walking around some areas of the city. Stay safe and enjoy the trip.

  13. “…while when you get into some smaller towns in the South you may find you’re still called names and discriminated against.”
    Yeah, because no one in other areas(North, East, West) of the country ever act like morons. It’s only the South. Only. Ever.
    Nice report on the rest though.

  14. I was born in Russia but have lived in the US for 20 years. Last summer I visited Russia for the first time since 1997, with my American husband (we actually went again to St Petersburg this summer for a couple of days as part of our larger trip, since he liked it so much and insisted on a couple of days there). We were both shocked by how safe, beautiful and cheap both Moscow and St Petersburg were. I didn’t need a visa (dual citizen), but my husband got it (3 years, multiple entry) very quickly through an agency in NYC (the process was so smooth that I was worried it was fake and he was going to be refused entry at SVO, haha). Now I am just surprised not more people visit, especially those who want a luxury trip for a bargain price (although frankly, the city was full of Europeans who came on buses – very weird, why??? and Chinese… so maybe more tourists wouldn’t be such a good thing).

    Hopefully you can make it to Mariinsky Theater in Stp, we were lucky enough to get tickets to both opera (at Mariinsky II) and ballet this time around during their White Nights festival ( Also, of course, Peterhoff and Catherine’s Palace in Pushkin (although we got kind of sick of palaces at the end… they all start to look the same)

    Our favorite casual places to eat in St Petersburg were Idiot and Pelmenya (if you go, you have to get the garlic sauce as an accompaniment, and if you like beer, Grimbergen (sp?) Double on tap), and Palkin for fine dining. Grand Hotel Europe has the best cocktails at their lobby bar (we stayed there last year… were at the W this year and it’s more “sceny” (which I found annoying) and the room was nicer (bigger, and with huge windows), but the drinks don’t even compare).

    In Moscow, I highly recommend LavkaLavka for dinner (we were in Moscow for 3 days but loved it so much that we went 2x… once for dinner and once for lunch… great seasonal cooking emphasizing ingredients from local farms (also great polugar – a traditional drink that was part of the Russian drinking culture way before vodka)… we were also super lucky to have been there during chanterelle season). White Rabbit is considered one of the top 50 restaurants in the world (I believe the only one in Russia), but we were totally underwhelmed.

  15. Was in St. Petersburg in 2013 and yes, it’s one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I also agree, it’s reasonably priced, English is widely spoken, it’s well organized for tourists and quite a few places where to have nice meals for all palates. Most probably wouldn’t love to live there as the weather 8 months out of 12 is tough, but during summer I’d love to get there as many times as I could. I am also lucky as I live in Dubai and there’s a direct flight DXB-LED and it’s not at all pricey, which makes it quite comfortable.

  16. @Lucky

    You must ride the Metro in St Petersburg, and make sure to stop at the Avtovo station. The design and finishing of the station is unlike any you may have been in. Definitely a “oh my gosh, look at that!” moment

    We were told not to take pictures but with an iPhone who would know.


  17. Second the comment on taking the metro. I took a ton of pictures and it seemed to be ok.

    I was “meh” on St. Petersburg, but I may be the only person who has really ever said that ever. But I did love taking the metro.

  18. I really enjoyed LED and MOS also.
    If you are in MOS, try and grab dinner at the White rabbit. It’s ranked in the 20s for the best restaurants in the world and the food there is amazing.

  19. On my last visit to St. Petersburg we did a tour with a local company who was able to arrange a private home lunch, that aspect into everyday life of someone living in St. Petersburg was an eye opener. I highly suggest it.

  20. Nice post. This is where you excel strongly in my opinion. It is nice to see content that was not posted all over. Good pics too.

  21. Great photos. I had never considered St. Petersburg, but it is on my list now! Looking forward to the full report.

  22. I’ve wanted to visit the Hermitage for quite some time, not sure why I haven’t just done it yet!

  23. having been to russia a few times, took trains from st. petersburg to ula ude (and bus to mongolia.) the most annoying part was to book an one way ticket to Moscow. i was told it was not allowed to book from delta diamond agent.

  24. Ben,
    If you’re still in St. Petersburg find a half day (or at least 3 hours) and go to Peterhof. It’s such an amazing place on the Gulf of Finland with beautiful gardens, fountains and a palace. If you’re short on time I would not recumbent to visit palace (though it’s of course nice), just spend all the time in gardens. It’s so unbelievably beautiful.

    The best how you can get to Peterhof is by speedboat from Dvortsovaya emb. (city centre, right in front of the Winter palace). Alternatively you can go by taxi, it’s about 30 min ride with no traffic. The best time to go there is about 3 pm or a bit later (no crowds).

    Palaces and gardens around St. Petersburg is another piece of beauty, worth a visit definitely. Id you cannot make to Peterhof, just go to Pushkin (Ekaterininsky palace) or Pavlovsk (Pavlovsk palace, no crowds, stunning gardens). Both Pushnkin and Pavlovsk are short ride from Pulkovo, so it’s easy to visit before leaving St. Petersburg if you’re short on time.

    Have a great time in Russia! Even a country going to a wrong direction right now and actually downhill it still has a lot to offer, safe well organised with good infrastructure and kinda welcoming.

  25. PS. If you need any help or recommendations from a local with planning in St. Petersburg or Moscow (or even a “tour” in Moscow over a weekend), just drop me an email. I’ll be happy to assist you and Ford.

  26. Some great feedback in the comments. Might have to slide Russia on to my to visit list above some other places.

  27. Was there just 3 yrs ago in St Petersburg and Moscow–just after they passed the anti-gay “propaganda” laws and when the ruble was extremely strong. We stayed using points at the W St Petersburg and the RC Moscow. (Where are you staying…since I last nearly bumped into you at the W Bogota!)

    We felt safe as gay travelers in both cities…but that’s fairly standard in most big cities. We even took a shot of us kissing in protest of the law in front of St. Basil’s (with tons of police looking on since they were setting up for arrival of the Olympic torch in Red Square in a few days). No one cared or said a thing–though our tour guide looked a bit surprised! It’s still one of my proudest travel photos.

    We loved St Petersburg and gladly would return, but were disappointed with Moscow overall–finding it cold, stark, and unremarkable in most ways that matter to us. It was late Sept/early Oct, so it was also cold–but I liked that. We found the dining to be incredible, actually slightly better even in Moscow than St Petersburg. Both cities were interested, but we found St Petersburg to be far more charming, beautiful, romantic, and “European” than Moscow. Moscow reminded us of Beijing–cold, stark, and largely uninteresting aside from a few amazing landmarks. We’d never return to Moscow or Beijing…while other places in Russia and China still beckon.

    Glad you’re venturing out there…and hope you enjoy!

  28. Funny, we just got to Helsinki from Moscow on Monday. Spent 6 days in St. P and 3 in Moscow after touring the Baltics (plus Denmark and Sweden….it’s been a long trip.) We liked both, but I think more surprised by Moscow….we had already heard that St. P was a pretty city.

    I can’t say I agree with most of the opinions here, though. There are some nice monuments, the Hermitage, Peterhof, etc., but I think Paris beats it by a mile in beauty. Definitely a must see for us…but I doubt I’d ever go back….too many other beautiful cities out there to visit.

  29. Ok, now you’ve got me interested, even though because of the Visa question I was sure we’d never even consider it.

    I think I read somewhere that one can visit St Petersburg by ferry from Helsinki for a few days without needing a full Visa. Anyone have the details on that? Or is just wishful thinking on my part?

  30. Silly me, after posting that it occurred to me to google it, and yes: 72 hours visa free by taking the ferries from Helsinki and Tallinn with St Peter Line.

  31. St. Petersburg is Russia’s intellectual capital where the people are more worldly. Moscow – well, it isn’t.

    St. Petersburg’s summer white nights are amazing, as well as their smokin’ hot women. Always enjoy when the bras come off in summer!

  32. Ah, Russia… Looking at the webpage for the St Peter’s line ferries, which is the only one that qualifies for visa free, they tell you what time the ferry leaves from Helsinki, and what time it leaves from St P, but not how long it takes for the journey itself.

    They tell you the required “bus tour” from the ferry dock to town, to meet the Russian “cruise tour law”, costs $24 Euros. And the fuel surcharge and harbor docking fee are $15 Euros more. But not how much the ferry itself costs. Why would you want to know that?

    It’s a good thing my 2016 vacation is already booked, and I’m thinking of ST P for 2017, because it looks like I’m going to need quite some time to figure it all out. 😉

  33. Saint Petersburg is a gorgeous city, although on a scale like few others. It is a long walk among attractions! Hermitage is one of the greatest art museums in the world, if not the absolute best. The palaces are impressive! The ballet – performed every night at multiple venues – is extraordinary. The women of St. Petersburg are tall, stunningly attractive, and mentally tough, too.

    Moscow, on the other hand, is a business city. It has all the attractions you’ve seen and heard of – St. Basil’s, Kremlin, gorgeous metro stations, etc. – but no charm whatsoever.

    Russia’s major cities were much more expensive a few years ago, but their oil-dependent economy has the ruble in an extended slump. Financially, this is a good time to visit.

    Russians tend to be warm and kind with friends or fellow travelers/adventurers, but cold as ice to most strangers. It is best not to talk too much about politics while in-country and NEVER engage in a drinking endeavor with a Russian man or you will be lucky to survive – their capacity for vodka is nearly endless.

  34. I was in Saint Petersburg and Moscow last month, very different but both amazing.
    In Moscow have dinner at White Rabbit, great place and innovative food, great people watching. In us$, not so expensive

  35. Russia is a great trip- I’ve been twice for pleasure in last year. Love Piter-4 seasons is wonderful and st. Regis-Nikolskaya in Moscow is terrific too. So much culture, history and the Faberge Museum in Piter and Diamond Fund in Moscow are not to be missed.

  36. In my heart there is a city that can’t be bit for beauty! It is called Venice (Venezia)

  37. I am lapping all this up and can’t wait for the detailed trip reports. I have one of those birthdays that ends in a zero next year, and we have booked FF points first class fares Sydney to London – Qantas one way, and Singapore Airlines the return (thanks for the tips on organising a stopover in Singapore). Looks like we will be taking a small party of 7 or so people to St Petersburg and Moscow for about 2 weeks in June. Bring on the trip details Ben and Ford! Can’t wait for your tips.

  38. this is what happens when one travels and stays longer than 5 hours, opens ones eyes and see the cities, glad Ford is in your life to enjoy these romantic travels with you rather than just being a butt in an airplane seat.

  39. been to Russia once in 2010 or 2011 can’t remember it was when there was huge summer forest fires near Moscow. it was expensive ruble was at its peak, every night at the Ritz Carlton I think costs 500 USD, St. Pete was better at Corinthia at about 300+, now you can stay at the PH for 200+ everything must be a whole lot cheaper. when I was there, there was no uber, ordering a taxi was a pita that came with a 20min minimum and costs about 20 bucks even if you wanted to travel 10mins. now with uber I cannot imagine how much easier it is to get around. if you are willing to do your own visa paper work gotorussia provides you with the visa support that makes it less complicated if you have not firmed up hotel reservations etc. they also provide other services in the Us with regards to visa application, you can check them out.

    with regards to white rabbit, my friends in the F&B industry had only good things to say about the place.

  40. @Mike
    Parts of Russia are.Heard of The Caucusus Mountain range / divide between Europe and Asia?

  41. The 72 hour visa free deal is for the ferries and cruise ships. But you have to do the ship companies’ tours. You can’t do stuff on your own. We went on our own two years ago to St Petersburg and the visa hassle was worth it. We saw so many cruise tours in large groups being herded from place to place. Did not look like fun.

  42. @ Jay. The Park Hyatt Moscow is way more than $200 if I recall correctly ( I used C&P for a stay earlier this year and that made it reasonable). Nice hotel.
    @ Jamie. Are you sure the tours are compulsory? My understanding is that you are free to do as you please. If you are correct, I would go though the ( slightly tedious) process of getting an individual visa for St Petersburg and fly in rather than ferry.

  43. We just spend our “Honeymoon in Russia” …
    I, forever fascinated with Katherine the Great and who had dreamed my whole life of visiting Russia some day, dreaded writing this piece after finally experiencing personally the city of the Tsars. This is because I could hardly imagine describing St. Petersburg in under a thousand words, but I shall try. The Venice of the North attracts circa four million visitors annually from all over the world and of course especially during the summer. St. Petersburg is easy to reach and we made it with Aeroflot (Russia’s flag carrier) from JFK – Moscow – St. Petersburg in less then 14 hours where Alexander, our hotel driver was already expecting us.
    As newlyweds, my husband Marcus and I had decided to spend our honeymoon here for a week during “White Nights” when the streets are filled with music, laughter and daylight with famous artists performing everywhere. We were fortunate to reside in one of the best luxury hotels that the city has to offer, The Belmond Grand Hotel Europe during our visit. This ‘grand’ elegant hotel from the pre-revolutionary days should later on reveal every modern amenity one could possibly imagine. This is the place where one wants to be when visiting the eternal city of the Romanoff’s, founded by Peter the Great in 1703. St. Petersburg is the cultural center of Russia and ranks high on the list of the most beautiful cities in the world.
    The Grand Hotel Europe is located in the heart of it all, within easy walking distance of many major attractions such as the Arts Square, dominated by a monument to Alexander Pushkin, Russia’s national poet. The square is at the center of a 19th century architectural ensemble including the Russian Museum, which boasts the largest collection of Russian art in the world. This amazing hotel is surrounded by some of the world’s greatest cultural icons, including the world-famous Michailovskii Theatre where we had the pleasure of spending an unforgettably magical evening at the hotel’s private lounge, witnessing in sheer delight the caprice eloquence of dancing expressions that fascinated the Romanovs and St. Petersburg’s ‘High Society’ then as it does today.
    Suite #355 was the perfect retreat for us honeymooners, cozy-elegant and specious, featuring luxurious bedding and a super elaborate bathroom with plenty of hot water for two, and due to their own water filtration system the water at the hotel is safe to drink as St. Petersburg’s tap water is notorious for its very poor quality. Breakfast at the hotel was a feast every morning and reflected a global theme but naturally, we got to taste traditional blintzes topped with Russian caviar!
    Four of our seven days in St. Petersburg we were fortunate to spend with Miss Helen Zaitseva, our professional Russian tour guide, super fluent in English with a double diploma, one of which was in Russian history of course! St. Petersburg, with 4.6 million inhabitants, is Russia’s second largest city after Moscow and an important port on the Baltic Sea. Located right at the mouth of the Neva, the city stretches across 42 island with countless natural waterways, channels and 342 bridges, which gave it the nickname “Venice of the North”, a bustling metropolis, which has lost nothing of its historic appeal and charm. The Tsar’s era left an overwhelming cultural heritage, full of stunning sights, such as magnificent palaces and cathedrals of which most today are museums. The historic center of Saint Petersburg and related groups of monuments in the immediate vicinity are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Any sightseeing should at least include: The Hermitage Museum with the Winter Palace, Peter and Paul Fortress, Tsarkoye Selo with Catherine Palace, Saint Isaak Cathedral, and Peterhof the “Russian Versailles”.
    We spend an undoubtedly worthwhile day with Helen away from the city in Peter’s Versailles, overlooking the Gulf of Finland. The driver of the Jaguar town-car dropped us off at the VIP gate of Peterhof palace after an hour and that was just the beginning. The grand cascades leading from the palace down to the sea, are flanked by dozens of water spouting gilded statues and the gardens were more than I could have ever imagined. Peter the Great loved and lived for surprises, in form of sudden ‘showers’, or otherwise.
    A tour that was not included in our package for two was experiencing St. Petersburg’s Metro! Marcus had asked Helen if she would be available to take us underground after one of our history tours and we can assure you that the metro is a cut above nearly any other public transport system in the world. It is also the world’s deepest subway, so be prepared for dizzying views from the top of the escalator and stunning wall art. The first plans to build a metro in St. Petersburg were drawn up in 1899, but were not implemented due to the outbreak of WWI and then the Revolution of 1917.
    The Russian cuisine was amazing and of excellent quality, rich in meat, poultry and fish. We dined at several restaurants all over town and also at the historic Literaturnoe Kafe (Literary Cafe) which opened in 1816. Many famous people, including the poet Alexander Pushkin, have visited this restaurant and his wax figure sits at one of the tables. My husband’s venison dish came with young, sautéed pinecones that were superb and the wild mushroom soup will hardly find an equal.
    We loved the food wherever we dined and the service was always good. But forever unforgettable to us will be our dinner at the restaurant L’EUROPE with its stunning art nouveau décor and crowned by the dramatic stained-glass mural of Apollo. Russia’s oldest continually serving restaurant is located in the Grand Hotel Europe and considered a culinary hotspot. Here we experienced the fabulous “Tchaikovsky Nights” where we enjoyed an invigorating ballet show and opera performance during a superbly presented dinner with friends. We cherished every bite and every subtle movement of this intoxicating evening.

    Published in The Montauk Sun July Issue

  44. FYI Southerners don’t dislike gays … Southerners dislike Northerners — gay or straight. We all have gay friends and friends who have gay kids … no big deal at all. They’re no less a part of our community. Northerners OTOH can go back where they came from… if the South is so bad how come y’all keep moving here?

  45. Went there last summer took the train from Helsinki to St. Petersburg. The city is beautiful and things were very inexpensive due to the exchange rates.

  46. My DW and I were there in 2013.
    We were on a cruise ship but booked a private tour guide.
    As long as we were in sight and sound of the guide, we did not have to have the visas.
    I think at that time it cost about the same for the private guide for two days as would it have cost for the visas.
    I did not think the city was tourist friendly and do not think I could have navigated around with so few signs in English.

  47. The Grand Hotel Europe has excellent house made vodka infused with linden and honey. One of the best vodkas I’ve ever had, no mix needed.

    I went to St. Petersburg in 2007 and absolutely LOVED it. If you have time the Marinsky Opera House is absolutely amazing. Such a beautiful city.

    Have a great time!

  48. THANK YOU SO MUCH for comparing St. Petersburg to Amsterdam s that is the city that Peter had in mind when building it. That little fact is so often overlooked especially with the nickname of “Venice of the North”. Peter was fascinated with the Dutch and loved Amsterdam and the canals that let people travel everywhere. There used to be more in St. Pete’s but over time they got filled in as not everyone found them to be as fun and useful as Peter had.

    I really hope you end up going to Teremok (the Russian fast food chain) for a quick bite. They serve authentic traditional Russian food and really good and cheap crepes, both savoury and sweet. Also, the best soup in the world, aka Shavel. Seriously, you need to try it.

    I also hope you took the subway, at least to see the stations as they are beautiful (mostly on the 1st, aka red, line). And the reason for the ban on photos that people have mentioned is that the subway, just like in Moscow, is still considered an army installation as it is a strategic defence point in the city and doubles as a bomb shelter. You may get a talking to if a police officer catches you taking the photos.

  49. I was there less than two months ago. St Petersburg is absolutely stunning. Given the current situation, I also had doubts about going, but my partner had work there and I tagged along. We used points to get from YYZ to HEL via CPH, and then took a very nice train into central St Petersburg.

    The border guards on the train were a bit dour, especially compared to the chatty Finnish, who joked about hockey (I carry a Canadian passport) and other things. Everybody else was generally very helpful, even if their English was sometimes close to nonexistent. Didn’t know what to expect, but my partner and I never had any issues. Granted, there were no PDAs, although we didn’t behave any different from what we do at home. However, if you observe us it’s very clear there is more there than just two guys travelling together.

    The city is amazing. Apart from all the classic stuff, I also went on the Metro to look at WWII (or Great Patriotic War, as it’s called) related places not in the centre, where I was the only foreign tourist. At some point I had the Monument to the Heroic Defenders of Leningrad to myself where the nice lady offered to play a 10 minute film inside the museum just for me, even while not speaking a single word of English (or obviously Russian for me).

    Yes, some things are disconcerting. It’s common to see police and Interior Ministry guards walking together on the street, dressed in things that look like riot-ready gear. At some point they closed the entrances to a Metro station and started asking ID of all the young men there. I just kept walking past the group and continued on without any consequence.

    As for the Metro, I found a local guide which gave me an extensive tour and an interesting perspective on the historical, architectural and cultural aspects of many stations. I took tons of pictures and saw others do the same without a problem. He said it was more of an issue a few years back but now it’s allowed. I even took them close to the little cabins with security guards and cameras at the bottom of the escalators without any issues. Not even a glance. I did try to discuss some politics with him to get a different perspective on things, but didn’t get too far, so I decided to stick to history and architecture.

    And finally, yes, the visa can be a pain. It also depends on which passport you use. Some requirements like the 10 year log of travel are only asked of AU, CA, GB, US and other countries. My partner also has an Italian passport, which he used, and his application was much simpler.

    In any case, I was very happy I went. It really is stunning.

  50. Cordell and I were just there July 12, 13, 14! It would have been fun to finally meet you in person. We loved St. Petersburg but were only allowed to go escorted by our Seabourn guides as we didn’t get a Visa. Hopefully you made it to Peterhof and Catherine’s Palace. Both were wonderful.

  51. St. Petersburg is such a beautiful city, it’s so different than any other city in Russia. The only thing I don’t like about St. Pete is the weather which is usually bad (nice sunny days are rare). Besides the weather, it’s one of my favorite places in the world.

  52. It is alive city, not only all this architecture. Sounds like fun lol 🙂 Russians are really badass! I remember my trip to Saint-Petersburg few months ago – wanted to experience the nightlife, ended up at some hot bar called Zavist… maaan girls there were sweeeeeet! That’s what I call naughtiness 😉

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