Russia’s second largest city, St. Petersburg, is one of the best places to start your acquaintance with this diverse and controversial country (you can read my Beginners Guide to Russia here). Located between Europe and mainland Russia since its foundation in 1703, St. Petersburg has received a lot of European influence, especially in terms of architecture and education.
Best visited during summer months, St. Petersburg offers plenty of food for culture and history lovers. It also buzzes with all the modern life attributes – restaurants, cafes, bars and galleries one could wish for. One can spend days exploring the city, admiring it’s rivers and canals with impressive buildings along the way.
Calling St. Petersburg home for more than 20 years I still visit on a half-year basis. The city changes fast – every time I see new places, new buildings, new store and new concepts opening their doors. Somethings have stuck, others have left by the next season.
Let me share with you my 5 favorite things to visit in St. Petersburg… apart from the typical sightseeing tips you will find in every guide!
Take A Boat Cruise
St. Petersburg’s second name is ‘Northern Venice’ – the city is built along canals and rivers. One of the best way to see the city is from the water. There are plenty of different routes, and you can organize your boat ride right on spot – just look for people offering boat cruises on Nevsky Prospekt (next to Fontanka or Kanal Griboedova).
My tip is to board an evening boat around midnight and take a ride during the white nights season (end of June – middle of July). These boats usually depart next to the Peter & Paul fortress.
Hang Out On Rubinstein Street
A couple of years ago Rubinstein Street turned into a hub for going out. Here you will find plenty of cafes, bars and eateries open up till the morning for every taste and price point. It’s also great for people watching.
My favorite food place is Bekitzer – serving authentic Jewish cuisine for very affordable prices. For drinking, check out Diligent Drinkers Club for a brilliant choice and advice on distilled drinks. Rubinstein 15 is an address for a beautiful courtyard one might want to have a look at. Next door on Lomonosov Str. 14, check the courtyard – it’s one of those typical well-looking St. Petersburg courtyards the city is famous for. Be sure to also go inside the house (you can do so by ringing the button at hotel ‘Sonata’) to have a look on beautifully preserved entrance as well as the iron casted elevator.
See The City From Above
Rooftops are another St-Petersburg “thing.” But be sure not to purchase any tours from private people offering their services. Apart from being illegal and unsafe, you might end up facing the police in the end. There are plenty of roof terraces and view point where you can see the city from above the legal way for a small fee. Here are some of my favorites:
- Open terrace of the Lotte Hotel offers some of the best views over St. Isaac’s Square
- Rooftop of the ‘Zinger’ house. You are not allowed to get inside the dome, but the views over Nevsky Prospect are brilliant. There are special tours which cost about 20 Euros
- Rooftop of the Karl Bulla Photo Studio-Museum offers great views over Nevsky Prospect and Sadovaya street. Entrance costs about 3 Euro.
- ‘Terassa’ restaurant has great views over Kazansky Cathedral. The place is fancy but you can always have a cup of coffee.
- ‘Moscow’ restaurant – a nice restaurant with a great rooftop terrace over Vosstaniya square.
- Solaris Lab – nice rooftop cafe, but don’t order coffee (it doesn’t taste very good!)
- Rooftop of Vedensky hotel – nice views over the Petrogradskaya side of the city.
Explore New Holland
Located on a separate island right next to the city center, these former food storage hangars have been renovated after heavily bombings during the WWII and have opened their doors to the public a couple of years ago as a complex consisting of restaurant, café, small theater, skating field, street art exhibition and a green area. In winter you can ice-skate here. Another must-see in the city’s modern scene!
Visit Book Store ‘Podpisnie Izdaniya’
If you are a book-nerd like me, or if you just like being surrounded by beautiful printed editions, you have to visit this small, but cozy book store! You can spend hours here (and I usually do) searching for a good read. Most books are in Russian, but you will still find some in English and other languages. There is a little coffee shop inside and my favorite activity is to get a cup of coffee go upstairs and sit back with a good read.