TOURIST INFORMATION IN ST. PETERSBURG
The Main Tourist Information Office is in Historic Heart of St. Petersburg
Sadovaya ul 14/52, near Nevsky Prospect
Tel: 812-242 3909
Hours: 10:00am-7:00pm Monday-Saturday
Tourist police Tel: +7 812 764 9787/278 3014.
Government Of St. Petersburg tourism website: visit-petersburg
There are also branches outside the Hermitage, St Isaac's Cathedral and Pulkovo airport and at these locations: 1) Sennaya Square, Sennaya Square, 37; 2) Rastrelli Square, Rastrelli Square, 1a; 3) Peter and Paul Fortress, Alexandrovsky Park, 5 build. 1; 4) Vosstaniya Square, Ligovsky prospekt, 10 build. 1; 5) Pulkovo airport, Pulkovskoye Shosse, 41, lit. 3A; 6) Dvortsovaya Square, Dvortsovaya Square, 1а; 7) Marine Facade port, bereg Nevskoy guby V.O., 1; 8) Outlet Village Pulkovo, Pulkovskoe Shosse, 60, build. 1; 9) Millionnaya Street, Millionnaya street, 25;
Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: “Knowledgeable and friendly tour guides are plentiful in St. Petersburg, where the maze of streets off the main thoroughfares can be bewildering. The Russian Union of Travel Industry, (812-4) 325-1144; www.rata.spb.ru, arranges tours and provides information for tourists. [Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]
Orientation in St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg occupies bridge of land only 40 kilometers (25 miles) wide. On the west side is the Gulf of Finland a tongue of the Baltic between Estonia and Finland. On the east side is Lake Ladoga, Europe's biggest lake, which is about 240 kilometers (150 miles) long and averages of 80 kilometers (50 miles) wide. The Neva River winds through the city and breaks up into several branches as it forms a delta.
Reminiscent somewhat of Venice or Amsterdam, St. Petersburg is built on 101 islands in the Neva Delta and laced with canals and linked with over 600 elegant bridges. Conceived at the height of the Baroque period by European planners, it features straight boulevards, large plazas and grand edifices that sometimes, occupy entire blocks. The Neva River is fed by the Moika River, Fontanka River and many canals, the most famous of which is Groboyedev Canal.
The heart of St. Petersburg is relatively small and located around the Hermitage and the Admiralty on a small strip of land between the Neva and Moika rivers. The entire area is filled palaces, embassies and government buildings. Nevsky Prospect, stretching east from the Admiralty, is the main street. Pedestrian only streets include Malaya Konnyushennaya and Malaya Sadovaya.Most places of interest to tourists are located within walking distance of one another and the whole area can be covered in an hour or two.
On the north side of St. Petersburg there are three other areas of interest to tourists: 1) Vasilevsky Island, whose northern end has many excellent old buildings; 2) Petrograd Side, a group of delta islands whose main landmark is the SS Peter & Paul Cathedral; and 3) Vyborog Side, divided by a channel from the Petrograd Side, and extending along the north bank of the Neva.
The Neva River divides the city into two sections. All bridges across the river are drawn up at night from about 1:45 am to 5:15 am, except in winter. Closing times vary; check schedule for bridges you need to use. (The Big Obukhovski Bridge on the Ring Highway is not drawn up.)
The post-Soviet name change is problem here as it is other Russian cities even though some people continued using the pre-Soviet names during the Soviet period. Names still continue to be changed. Many roads are being upgraded. Admiralty Avenue and Konnogvardeysky Avenue, Nevsky and Liteyny Avenues, Birzhevaya and Vladimirskaya Squares and associated sidewalks have been upgraded. Truda Square has been reconstructed. Sennaya, Suvorovskayas and Konnyushennaya squares will be upgraded.
Accommodation in St. Petersburg
The selection of hotels and other types of accommodation has improved immeasurable since the Soviet era. In addition to the usual top end hotels, there are several hostels, a number of bed and breakfast, businesses hotels and value hotels geared for travelers. The problem is that most of the cheap places are outside the city center. Generally booking agencies and travel agencies can book rooms at the overpriced expensive hotels. There are some descent third class and business hotels that have rooms for around US$40. Contact Ost-West Kontactservice in St. Petersburg about hotels (Tel: 279-7045, Fax: 327-3417)
It is best to choose the hotels located in the city center or near the city center, such as Admiralteysky District or Tsentralny District, where the city's main tourist attractions are located. If can also stay in Petrogradsky District or Vasileostrovsky District, if you want an area less crowded with tourists, but still close enough to the city center.
Accommodation options include one-star to five-star hotels, hostels and daily rental apartments. To fully immerse yourself in the historical atmosphere of the city, you can book a room in an old mansion or choose one of St. Petersburg's more famous hotels, such as Astoria or Grand Hotel Europe. Cheap Accommodation Option is staying in a hostel, a private house with family or a bed a nd breakfast, which is often the same thing as a private houses with a family. There are a number of private room and B & B bookings are offices. There are several agencies that advertises in the local and Western press. A system similar to that of Budapest, in which agents for privates houses have offices at the train stations, is starting to be established The Pullford Agency and other local agencies rent private apartments for around US$90 a night per bedroom. For information try Tel: 011-7-812-325-6277, www.pullford.com.
Top End Hotels in St. Petersburg
Hotel Astoria (Bolshaya Morskaya Ulitsa, 39) According to to the New York Times: “Lovely, with all the amenities of an Old World luxury hotel and, with free Internet access, cable TV and DVD players, most modern. Opened in the waning days of the Tsars, the Astoria brought out the bourgeois in American (John Reed, Louise Bryant, Emma Goldman) and Russian (Lenin) guests alike. Doubles, stated in dollars, from US$300.” Tel: (7-812) 313-5757; www.astoria.spb.ru.
Grand Hotel Europe (Mikhaylovskaya Ulitsa 1/7, on Nevesky Prospect) lies in the heart of the busiest section of Nevesky Prospect. Completely renovated between 1989 and 1991, it is an obscenely lavish hotel with marble floors, gilt columns, grand staircases, and a restaurant with a caviar bar. The hotel has a sumptuous Art Nouveau lobby bar. The cathedral-like L'Europe Restaurant, serves French. Douubles start at around US$500. Tel: (7-812) 329-6000; www.grandhoteleurope.com.
Alexander House (Embankment Kryukova Kanala 27) is a comfortable and friendly 14-room hotel in an early 19th-century canalfront mansion, beautifully renovated and offering satellite TV and high-speed Internet. (doubles from 130 euros, US$169 at US$1.24 to the euro) is access.; (7-812) 259-6877; www.a-house.ru.
Transportation in St. Petersburg
Most places of interest in St. Petersburg can be reached on foot. The heart of city is relatively small and located around the Hermitage and the Admiralty on a small strip of land between the Neva and Moika rivers. For places further afield those that can not St. Petersburg has a good Metro system and an extensive tram systems with about 200 kilometers of track.. It once had the largest system of trams in the world with 2402 cars on 64 routes and 340 kilometers of track. But in recent decades track has been removed particularly in the busy city center. There are also buses, minibuses and cheap taxis.
St. Petersburg is a transport hub between Russia and Eastern and Western Europe, Baltic and Nordic countries. The road, rail and air transport network is well developed. Traffic jams are common on main roads, especially where they enter the city. Downtown areas and city bridges tend to be congested, especially on weekends. Heavy goods vehicles account for about 10 percent of traffic.
St. Petersburg is located on 42 islands at an estuary of the River Neva on the Gulf of Finland. The Metro will help you avoid traffic jams. If you need to travel to remote areas of the city, you can take a tram, bus, trolley or minibus. The ticket prices for buses, the Metro and fixed-route minibuses is around 40 rubles (65 US cents). Most public transportation services close at night.
If you are planning to stay in St. Petersburg for several days, you can save some money by purchasing a Podorozhnik card, which reduces the price of each ride by RUB 9 to 14. There are also “temporary” cards available for tourists, which have a fixed price (starting at RUB 65) and provide an unlimited amount of uses.
Unless you know the Cyrillic alphabet you may have difficulty reading the signs and stops. You will most definitely need a map that has both the English names and the Cyrillic names written down. Look for one before you leave for Russia. Getting to St. Petersburg: Ferry boat companies offer mini-cruises to the city. You don't need a visa. The train journey from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is only six hours.
Metro in St. Petersburg
The Metro in St. Petersburg is good and modern but not nearly as extensive as the one in Moscow. This means that if you are traveling outside the historic center you will probably use trolleys and buses as well. Some stations don’t have platforms. Passengers get in the train in a central hall with metal door that open when a train arrives. Metro cars have a metro route map with most station names in the Latin alphabet. Names on station walls are in Cyrillic.
The Metro runs from 5:40am to 12:30pm, after which you will have to take a taxi. The Metro fares are ridiculously cheap, a few cents a ride. The ticket system is the same as in Moscow except that the both single-ride tokens and multi-ride passes are used. Sometime the token slots are hard to see. If that is the case just give the token to the gatekeeper. If you have a pass you place it in the machine and collect when you pass through. If you are going to be in St. Petersburg for a while get a 10-ride ticket or a multi-ride past. It saves you the hassle of constantly buying tickets.
Metro trains run every three minutes during rush hour, The interval is a little longer at other times. Metro cars may be very crowded during rush hour. Tickets can be purchased at 'Kassa' offices at metro stations. Non-Metro trains provide transport within the city and to surrounding communities and countries.
Buses and Trams in St. Petersburg
The tickets for bus, trams and trolleybuses (buses connected to electric lines over the buses) are the same. They can be purchased form drivers, at some kiosks and shops and Metro stations. They are cheapest at the Metro stations but not all Metro stations have them. Tickets need to be validated in a machine or by a conductor when entering a bus, tram or trolleybus.
Buses and trolleybuses are often over crowded on main routes during rush hour. Some buses have routes to the suburbs or surrounding cities. Trams may be slow during rush hour. Some routes were removed from city center, due to traffic conflicts. The main bus station is near a metro station, a few miles from city center.
Privately-run mini-buses or route taxis (marshrutka) are 14-20 passenger vans. They are usually white or yellow and have a letter “K” and a route number (K14) on their route number plate. Pay driver when boarding. Marshrutka drivers may speed or drive recklessly. Drivers are often illegal immigrants and do not speak Russian well. They operate are fixed routes, but there are no fixed stops. To board, flag oncoming minibus. To get off, say, “Ostanavites pazhaluista!”
St. Petersburg Coach Station ( in the city center, on Obvodny Canal Embankment) is main bus station for regular long-distance and international buses. The station opened in 1963 and underwent an extensive reconstruction in 2003. According to visit-petersburg: There are nine platforms for departures and four platforms for arrivals. There are ticket offices and an automated ticket sales system that allows you to book quickly regardless of your destination. In the terminal building there is left-luggage, cafe, medical aid station, and drug store with snacks and drinks. The bus station operates about 250 departures a day to destinations such as Moscow, the cities of the Republic of Karelia, the Novgorod and Pskov regions, Stavropol Krai and other regions of Russia. International destinations include cities in Belarus, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and other countries of Europe.
Taxis in St. Petersburg
Taxis are available a round the clock but go up sharply at night. It is probably best to arrange taxi transport through your hotel and work out with staff beforehand how much you pay. Pulkovo Taxi provides service to the city from the airport and operate taxis though out the city. Other taxi companies and shared taxis also provide transport. Fax a reliable taxi company a day before your arrival and arrange taxi service. Some hotels provide van services for their guests.
Residents often use “gypsy cabs” (private vehicles, not licensed as taxis). However, using them is risky for tourists, especially women traveling alone. Crimes involving “gypsy cabs” are among the most common crimes against western tourists in St. Petersburg. If you decide to use a gypsy taxi, you can flag one down by standing on the sidewalk and holding at your hand to let passing driver know you want a ride. In St. Petersburg, you can take a taxi ride on the frozen Neva river in an air cushion taxi vehicle.
Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: “Taxis are scarce, not equipped with meters and — for foreigners — expensive. While a local would have bartered a better price, I paid the equivalent of US$20 for a four-block ride. Locals and experienced visitors flag one of the many ordinary citizens who use their own cars to make extra money and agree on a price before getting in. The locals also advise: speak Russian or be with someone who does, sit in the back and never get in unless the driver is alone.” [Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]
Trains and Train Stations in St. Petersburg
St. Petersburg has five major train stations Baltiysky, Finlyandsky, Ladozhsky, Moskovsky and Vitebsky. They are all located near the city center and each one services the place it is named after: Finland Station on the north side of town; Moscow Station on the east; and Baltic Station, Warsaw Station and Vitebsk Station in the south. Non-Metro trains also provide transport within the city and to surrounding communities.
The interior of St. Petersburg's Moscow Station is nearly identical to Moscow's Leningrad Station except there is in the Intourist office. Finland Station is St. Petersburg's nicest and best equipped station. It is used to handling foreign travelers who arrive on the train from Helsinki. The train journey from Helsinki to St. Petersburg is only six hours. Finland, Warsaw and Vitebsk Stations are all conveniently located on the same Metro line.
Train Between Moscow and St. Petersburg: The overnight train between Moscow and St. Petersburg takes eight hours and is usually on time. A first-class cabin costs about US$80 and a second class berth cost around US$30 but the rates can vary depending on the train and even the season. It is a good idea to make reservations, especially on the weekends.
The fastest way to get to St. Petersburg from Moscow is the high speed Sapsan train (RUB 2,000 and above if the ticket is booked in advance, RUB 4,000 and above for urgent ticket purchase). The entire journey takes 3.5 to 4 hours and the train runs several times a day. Taking a regular train would be cheaper (RUB 1,500 and above), but the journey will also be way longer — 9.5 hours.
Driving in St. Petersburg
According to ASIRT: 1) There are numerous canals and bridges. Traffic backups are common near main bridges. 2) Drivers may drive recklessly. 3) Driving is difficult due to poor road conditions and erratic signage. 4) Main streets are heavily traveled. Rapid growth in vehicle ownership further increases congestion. [Source: Association for Safe International Road Travel, 2008 asirt.org ]
5) Many roads are being upgraded. 6) The Neva River divides the city into two sections. All bridges across the river are drawn up at night from about 1:45 am to 5:15 am, except in winter. Closing times vary; check schedule for bridges you need to use. (The Big Obukhovski Bridge on the Ring Highway is not drawn up.)
7) Due to low elevation and its location on the Neva Bay, flooding is part of life in St. Petersburg. Severe floods are most common in fall. Flood control projects include a dam across the Gulf of Finland completed in 2011 and used successfully the same year. The dam was set up to keep storm surges from the Baltic Sea from reaching the city and causing severe floods. The dam also serves as the final piece of the city’s Ring Road.
8) Secondary streets are often narrow and have parking on both sides. Traffic jams are common during rush hours. 9) There is a high volume of through-traffic. 10) In winter, heavy snows may increase traffic congestion.
River and Canal Tours and Drawbridges in St. Petersburg
River and Canal Tours are popular in St. Petersburg during the spring and summer, roughly from May to September. There are hydrofoil trips to Petrodvorets and Lomonosov and water taxis on the Moyka at Nevsky prospekt. Canals and river trips can easily be arranged through hotels and travel agencies.
Excursion boats leave from Anichkob Bridge landing on the Fontanka River just off Nevsky prospekt. Boats leave every 15 minutes beginning around 10:45am and charge about US$5.00 for a 75-minute ride. There are also 80 minute rides that leave from Hermitage No. 2 landing every 40 minutes for about US$2. Sometimes there are long lines for these boats.
Small motorboats can be hired from the mooring post next to the Police (Green) Bridge, or a little farther on by Nevsky Prospekt on the Griboyedev Canal. Boat rentals cost US$20 to US$40 depending on how far you want to go." Insist on a boat with an English-speaking guide going on to Neva River to see the cruiser Aurora, whose guns signaled the start of the Bolshevik Revolution. The normal circuit routes passes under St. Isaac's cathedral to New Holland, one of the island's that makes up the city, an on the Neva and the Summer Gardens on the Fontanka.
Drawbridges : There are over 200 bridges in the city, 12 of them are considered to be drawbridges. The bridges start opening in April, at the beginning of the navigational season, and stop in November. The best time to watch them is during the White Nights — from May to mid-July. Popular spots to watch St. Petersburg's drawbridges are the Admiralty Embankment and Mytninskaya Embankment, from where you can see three different drawbridges at once. You can also watch them from the water via services provided in summertime by small local ship companies in the city center. Drawbridges only open at night, from 2 to 4 AM, the full schedule is available on Mostotrest's website. You can also follow the schedule using the app “Mosty Spb.” (the Bridges of St. Petersburg).
Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons
Text Sources: Federal Agency for Tourism of the Russian Federation (official Russia tourism website russiatourism.ru ), Russian government websites, UNESCO, Wikipedia, Lonely Planet guides, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Bloomberg, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Yomiuri Shimbun and various books and other publications.
Updated in September 2020