St. Petersburg has abundant cultural and nightlife opportunities. For opera, dance and classical music it is among the best in the world. It also a very lively club scene. Keep in mind that with the exception of the White Nights season in late June, the culture scene shuts down in the summer. The main season of from September to May.Several hotel restaurants and many the Russian restaurants have floor shows with jazz combos to folk dancers and the like. There are many movie theaters around town, including multiplexes at shopping malls. Many of them show first-run Hollywood films. Several Soviet-era movie theaters have been renovated.

For entertainment news, check the English weekly newspaper, St. Petersburg Times (www.times.spd.ru) . The sister paper of the Moscow Times, it has good information on clubs, music events, restaurants and museums. It also has a home page with entertainment information. Pulse is an entertainment monthly with lots of nightlife information. St. Petersburg has a fairly large expat community and there are vars and activities that cater to it. .

Bars and Nightclubs in St. Petersburg: The number of nightclubs in St. Petersburg increased dramatically after the end of the Soviet era. St. Petersburg has an especially active rave scenes. There are lots of techno bars and large raves are held around the city at interesting sights such as abandoned military installations. There are also jazz clubs, blues bars, and gay bars. Many of the clubs have strip shows. There used to be casinos filled with gangsters, and scantily clad women. But these — the legal ones anyway — are now gone. Some exclusive clubs still require patrons to check their weapons at the door. The Nevsky Prospeky filled with clubs, cafes, and bistros. It is a good place to check out Russian punks. There are lots of pubs, bars and beer gardens scattered through the city.

Theater, Music and Opera in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg has over 30 major theaters, concert halls, opera houses, and "palaces of culture". The quality of the ballet, theater, opera and music productions is excellent, There is a good choice of concerts, ballets every night. In an average week there are hundred or so theater performances and poetry readings; a dozen ballets and operas; as well as scores of concerts, operettas and puppet shows. Performances usually start at 7:00pm.

The best known venue in St. Petersburg is the Mariinskiy Theater, formerly named and recognized around the world as the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater. The Mikhailovsky Theatre (Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theater) also has an extensive ballet and opera program and unlike other venues often has a full program in the summer months. Petersburg has two symphony orchestras: Saint Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, .the more famous of the two, and the Saint Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra, founded in 1931. The St. Petersburg Philharmonia is one of the finest concert halls in Europe. There are other concert halls and a choir hall, all of which offer programs during the September-June season.

The St. Petersburg Circus is entertaining Light operettas are given at the Musical Comedy Theater. There are a couple of puppet theaters. The Oktyabrskiy Big Concert Hall and the several palaces of culture host pop music and classical music concerts and welcome foreign performers. Cultural and sporting events are performed at the Yubileyny sports palace and other arenas and stadiums. Tickets to see world-class.orchestras can cost as little US$2. Large Hall (Ploschchad Iskusstv, Nevsky Prospekt Metro Station) is the home of the St. Petersburg Philharmonic. Other venues include Smolny Cathedral and Petersburgsky Concert Hall. Operas are staged at the Conservatory, on Teatralnaya ploshchad. Arts Square is a complex that includes the St. Petersburg Philharmonia and the Russian Museum.Pop Music Venue include the Kirov Stadium and 7,000-seat Ice Palace arena where Western artist like Sting and Aerosmith perform. There are also a number small halls and clubs that handle smaller rock and pop acts. It is best to check entertainment magazines and posters around town for information on this. St. Petersburg has been traditionally regarded as more of center for rock and pop than Moscow.

St. Petersburg is has a very active theater scene. There are around 20 profession theater groups and scores of amateur ones. Nearly all the performances are in Russian.The Maly Theater, Otkryty Theater, and Liteiny Theater all host serious drama that can be appreciated even if you don’t speak Russian. Locally, they are regarded as avant-garde and their their repertoires include works by contemporary American playwrights, such as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. The Pushkin Theater is one of the most beautiful theaters in Europe.

Tickets for Concerts and Performances are cheap but tickets for premier events are not as cheap and easy to get as they once were. Tickets to most events can be bought in advance at the theater or stadium box office, at special kiosks scattered about the city, or obtained by local tour companies. Tourist agencies and service desks and concierges at hotels can help you with tickets. They often take large commissions for their service. Conceirges often can get good tickets.

Cheaper tickets are available through booking offices and informal booth or tables set up the streets or in main Metro station, or at box offices of theaters. There are often scalpers selling tickets outside the venues. If you buy a ticket from a tout (scalper) make sure the date is correct and the ticket is not a fake. Box offices are the best places to get tickets if they are available but tickets for top events often sell out quickly. A Kirov ticket that sells at the box office for US$40 is sold for US$150 at hotels. Sometimes cheap tickets go on sale an hour before the performance.

Tickets are easily available online for large theatres and the websites have an English versions that are easy to use. Book and purchase online, and then bring a print out on the day of the show. The Mariinsky, Mikhailovsky and Alexandrinsky theaters have such websites. Smaller theaters often don’t.

Ballet Theaters in St. Petersburg

The main theatres in St Petersburg that host ballet are the famous Mariinsky Theatre (See Below), The Hermitage Theatre, located in the former Winter Palace, the Mikhailovsky Theater and Aleksandrinsky Theatre. Some of these theaters also host music and dramas. Tickets for performances at the Maly Theater (Ploschchad Iskusstv, Nevsky Prospekt Metro Station) are easier to get and cheaper. The quality is still high. Another good ballet company is the St. Petersburg Ballet Ensemble. The three most popular small theater that stage ballet are the Kassir, Afisha and Biliter.

Mikhailovsky Theatre (1, Arts Square ) is one of the oldest opera and ballet houses in Russia. Known for a while as the Mussorgsky Opera and Ballet Theater, it was founded in 1833 and is situated in a historical building and named after Grand Duke Michael Pavlovich of Russia. It has an extensive ballet and opera program and unlike other venues often has a full program in the summer months.

Alexandrinsky Theatre (Ostrovsky Square, on Nevsky Prospekt between the National Library of Russia and Anichkov Palace) is also called the Russian State Pushkin Academy Drama Theater The theatre was built for the Imperial troupe of Petersburg which was founded in 1756. Since 1832, the theatre has occupied an Empire-style building that Carlo Rossi designed. It was built in 1828-1832 on Alexandrinsky Square (now Ostrovsky Square). The theatre and the square were named after Empress consort Alexandra Feodorovna. The building is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Historic Centre of Saint Petersburg and Related Groups of Monuments.

Hermitage Theatre was designed by the Italian architect Giacomo Quarenghi commissioned by Catherine the Great in 1783-1789 on the site of the former Winter Palace of Peter I. The auditorium of the theater is arranged like in an antique one: semicircular rows of benches are raising from the amphitheater. The hall of theater has conserved it original form. The Russian Ballet Theater created in 1990 by a family of professional actors and soloists of the Mariinsky Theater has been organizing and holding performances on the stage of the Hermitage Theater for more than 20 years. The auditorium is laid out and arranged so that with a sufficient area space for artists, it does not require the use of binoculars; everything that happens on stage, can be seen from any point. In addition, the layout of the hall allows sound and light scatter competently, without distortion.

Konstantine Tachkin Ballet Theatre (SPBT, in the heart of Saint Petersburg on Liteiniy Prospect) gives on average 200-250 performances per year and is the only classical ballet company in the world that is completely independent of government financial aid or sponsor’s funding. Its repertoire includes masterpieces of such as Giselle by Adolphe Adam, Don Quixote, La Bayadère and Paquita by Ludwig Minkus, Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, The St Petersburg Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty by Tchaikovsky, Les Sylphides (Chopiniana), Romeo ans Juliet by Sergei Prokofiev and others.

Since SPBT was founded, it has toured Spain, Germany, Belgium, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Ireland, France, Italy, Austria,Switzerland, Finland, USA (with Gala concert program), Brazil, Turkey (Istanbul), South Africa, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, China, Macau and Taiwan. There are sixty professional ballet artists in the company, all graduates of either the world famous Vaganova Russian Ballet Academy or other significant ballet schools. Well-known former dancers work with them as ballet masters and mistresses: People’s Artist of Russia Lyubov Kunakova, Merited Artist of Russia Yuri Gumba and Natiana Linnik.

Maryinsky Theater

Maryinsky Theater (Teatralnaya ploshchad, near Yusupov Palace) is where the international-level Maryinsky Opera and Maryiinsky (Kirov) Ballet perform. Spelled various ways, such as Maryinsky and Marinsky, and known as the Kirov in the Soviet era, it is were many great ballerinas made a name for themselves, including Anna Pavlova, Vaslav Nijinsky, Maria Danilova, Rudolf Nuryev, Natalia Makarova and Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Marinsky Theater has a pistachio green facade and is the most famous theater in St. Petersburg. Like the Winter Palace and St. Isaacs Cathedral, the Maryinsky is one of the most sumptuously decorated building that you will ever see. Almost 400 kilograms of gold was used to guild the walls, fasçades and five tiers of balconies. The chairs are upholstered with sapphire velvet, the same material used for the curtain that hangs in front of stage. There is no such thing as a bad seat and the whole theater is softy light with chandeliers. The theater was badly damaged during World War II but has been completely restored.

The exterior of the Mariinsky II Theatre building is made of beige Jura limestone, interspersed with syncopated floor-to-ceiling windows of various sizes, and a metal roof. These windows will afford, from outside, a view of the theatre’s inner foyer and, from the inside, of the Kryukov canal. A glass and steel canopy extends over the main entrance to the theatre at the corner of Dekabristov St and the Kryukov Canal. While the auditorium is a contemporary hall, its principles are those of famous 18th and 19th century opera houses, with a horseshoe shape and three balcony levels. This configuration has proved to be ideal for intimacy, acoustics, sightlines, audience comfort and overall cohesion of the hall.

Today the Mariinsky Theater embraces the new building on the Decembrists, 34, the Concert Hall on Pisarev, 20, and the historic building of the Imperial Theater. The new addition to the Maryinsky Theater that extends over a canal behind the theater and performance arts center, built on New Holland, an island in the Neva River formally used the Russian navy, was built at a cost of US$120 million.

It is possible to buy tickets even for royal box, if there is no high-level delegation using it. Avid theater-goers and opera fans say the acoustics are best on the third tier. Watching ballet is best on the first floor because you can see the pattern of the dance. Tickets begin at about US$30. The box office is at 1 Teatralnaya Square. Tel: (7-812) 326-4141; Website: www.mariinsky.ru. When there are no performances visitors can enter the theater and have look around.

Maryinsky Opera and Kirov Ballet

The Maryinsky has the same number of employees as it did in the Soviet era: 2,000. It has more artistic personnel than it did back then and supports two full orchestras, ballerinas, singers, a youth orchestra and an academy for young singers. The Vaganova Academy is affiliated with the ballet company.

The Maryinsky is the home of the Kirov Ballet. Although less well known that the Bolshoi, the the Kirov Ballet has distinguished itself over the years as the better ballet. In the late 1800s its great director Marius Petipa choreographed the definitive interpretations of Sleeping Beauty, Raymonda, The Nutcracker and Swan Lake. Natalia Dudinskaya, Tamara Karsavina, Irina Kolpakova, Ninel Kurgapkina, Natalia Makarova all danced for the Kirov.

Named after a Bolshevik politician assassinated in 1934, the Kirov is a resurrection of the tsars Imperial Russian Ballet. The Kirov is famous for it's the pure classicism. "The technical supremacy of the Kirov is legendary," wrote Julie K.L. Dam in Time, "but it is the combination of athleticism and artistry that makes the company unique." After the collapse of Communism there were plans to change the Kirov’s name, but the ballet's directors decided to keep the name after learning that American astronomers had name a newly discovered planet Kirov.

Since 1988, the Maryinsky has been headed the internationally-known, superstar conductor and artistic director Valery Gergiev who in the opinion of many has elevated the Maryinsky to a position above the Bolshoi. The Maryinsky is also in better financial shape than the Bolshoi. Among its sponsors has been Philips, Siemens, Daimler-Chrysler, the Baltika brewery and Gazprom.

The Kirov is as famous as it has ever been. The opera company and orchestra are first rate, especially under Valery Gergiev’s direction. The ballet, opera and orchestras spend much of the year on tour. They are rarely in St. Petersburg during the summers. If you buy a tickets make sure it is the Maryinsky and Kirov companies that you are actually seeing. The Russian Ballet and visiting groups often perform at the Mariinsky Theater

Performances of the theater's world-class opera company attract crowds of young people who act as if they're at an American rock show, talking excitedly about the performance during intermission and thronging around concession kiosks buying cards and photos of their favorite opera and ballet stars. Orchestra seats, individual cushioned wooden armchairs with legroom galore, are 200 euros.

History of the Maryinsky Theater

The Maryinsky Theater is one of the first musical theaters in Russia. With it began a whole epoch in Russia. Musical performances appeared in Russia in 1730s thanks to the Italians and the French. In a 1783 Catherine the Great issued a decree in St. Petersburg callin for the establishment of a theater “ not only for comedies and tragedies, but also for the opera." At that time the Stone (Big) Theater was built and Russian companies shared the stage with Italian and French troupes.

The Mariinsky Theater designed by Albert Cavos opened in 1860. One of the major forces behind bringing it about was Empress Maria Alexandrovna, the wife of Emperor Alexander II. At the end of the 19th the theater was given a major upgrade. Rehearsal rooms, theater workshops and a special room under the stage and orchestra pit were added. The architect Victor Schroeter designed new lateral wings extending to front staircase and lobby. The dome was crowned by it famous cupola. Blue Velvet, silver brocade, stucco and sculptures were installed, making the theater one of the most luxurious in Europe. Even the chandelier was a work of art: a masterpiece of Enrico Frachioli with 23,000 crystal pendants. It is said the crystal pieces helped give the theater perfect acoustics.

The emblem of the Mariinsky Theater theater — a curtain with a repeating pattern of plume dresses of Empress Maria Alexandrovna — was created in 1914 based on sketches by Alexander Golovin. An "Honored Artist" of the Mariinsky Theater is the bell located behind the stage placed there in the 1930s. There is a secret door to the Grand-Lodge backstage that place there for imperial ladies to greet the performers after the show. Among those that were visited in this was the ballerina Mathilde Kshesinskaya.

Among the "best voice" to appear at the he Mariinsky Theater were Osip Petrov, Fedor Chaliapin, Medea and Nikolai Figner, Sofia Preobrazhenskaya and Leonid Sobinov. Top ballet stars have included Mathilde Kshesinskaya, Vaslav Nijinsky, Galina Ulanova, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. "The Dying Swan" performed at the Mariinsky Theater by ballerina Anna Pavlova is one of the symbols of Russian ballet. The Kavos opera "Ivan Susanin", Glinka's "A Life for the Tsar", Dargomyzhsky’s "Mermaid" and Petipa and Tchaikovsky's "Sleeping Beauty" all had their debuts at the Naruunsky. For a quarter century, the theater has been run by the world-class musician, Valery Gergiev.

Circus and Sports in St. Petersburg

The St. Petersburg Circus — the Bolshoi State Saint-Petersburg Circus (Ciniselli Circus) — is entertaining. It occupies its own building at Fontanka river embankment, 3, about 500 meters south of the Summer Garden. It hosts spectacular shows with animals, acrobats and clowns as well as scantily-clad dancers and pop music. There are daily performances that begin around 7:30pm. Ticket costs as little as US$2. Circus on Fontanka and The Circus in Avtovo are two other circus in St. Petersburg. The main puppet theaters are the Bolshoy Tear Kukol at ulitsa Nekrasova 10 and Teatre-Marionetok at Nevsky Prospekt 52. Tickets are generally less than US$1.

St. Petersburg is home to several soccer and hockey clubs. Soccer games are played in the Kirov Stadium. The tickets are cheap and stadiums and arenas are early full. Watch out for hooligans. There is also harness racing, and troika racing in the winter.

Figure skating, track-and-field, boxing, basketball and automobile and motorcycle racing events. Are also held. In most cases, prices are inexpensive. Swimming is not recommended in the Gulf of Finland because of the high level of organic and other pollutants. However, indoor swimming pools are available, with some restrictions. In some cases to use a public pool, you must have written permission from a Russian doctor saying you are in good health. Fishing is popular in the Neva River and the Gulf, but eating fish from the Neva is not recommended. There are good bicycle paths in some city parks and along the Gulf.

Winter sports include cross-country skiing and ice-skating. There are many outdoor skating rinks and a few indoor ones. Cross country skiing is possible at city parks outside the city center and in the Repino-Zelenogorsk resort area. Rental skates and skis are available.

Restaurants and Food in St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg has some the trendiest restaurants in Russia. There is a lot of them. Sometimes the food is good. Often though it expensive and disappointing. You can get Chinese, Uzbek, Korean, Polish, Mexicoan, Georgian, Scandinavian, French, Spanish, Middle Eastern, Japanese, Italian, Indian, American and Russian food. Many of the "Western-style" restaurants offer a mixture of Russian and international dishes. Service is sometimes slower than in American restaurants. The English weekly newspaper, St. Petersburg Times (www.times.spd.ru) and entertainment monthly Pulse have information on restaurants.

Many restaurants, cafés and clubs are also located on Nevsky Prospekt and the side streets around it. St. Petersburg also has its share of fast food restaurants andl pizza There are fast food shops specializing in roasted chicken and Russian treats. The first McDonald’s opened in St. Petersburg in 1996. For those on a budget there are a lot of snack bars and street vendors and stalls and large markets with a large variety of items Several hotel restaurants and many the Russian restaurants have floor shows with jazz combos to folk dancers and the like.. Sometimes this kind of entertainment can be pretty loud.

Steve Dougherty wrote in the New York Times: “Avoiding the high prices of the city's elegant hotel dining rooms, I could nonetheless boast back home that I lived on caviar (red caviar, that is) throughout my stay: thin blini pancakes, spread with sour cream and a forkful or two of the caviar, then folded into a bite-size envelope, were delicious, affordable and ubiquitous. [Source: Steve Dougherty, New York Times, December 31, 2006]

According to “Cities of the World”: “The growing season in St. Petersburg is short. Seasonal produce appears in the local markets for shorter periods than in Moscow. In winter, local greenhouses provide a small supply of produce; fresh fruits and vegetables are also brought from the southern parts of Russia and Europe at inflated prices. Finnish supermarkets offer a selection of fruits and vegetables year-round at prices considerably higher than those in the Washington, D.C. area. The selection of meats available in local Western-style grocery stores is more limited than in the U.S., though acceptable chicken and pork is usually available. Beef tends to be significantly inferior to that found in the U.S.” [Source: Cities of the World, Gale Group Inc., 2002, from a 2000 Department of State report]

Shopping in St. Petersburg

Nevsky Prospekt and the streets around it are the main shopping area in St. Petersburg. Department stores here are open until 10:00pm seven days a week. St. Petersburg is very Westernized and in many ways it a better place to shop for foreign stuff than for Russian stuff. There is a market for tourist with lots of souvenirs around the Resurrection Church north of Nevsky Prospekt Metro station. There are some good galleries and antique shops around Nevsky Prospekt. Kiosks selling junk used to be set up around Metro station. Most of the markets around town are food oriented.

Bolshoy Gostiny Dvor (near the Grand Hotel Europe on Nevesky Prospect) is regarded as one of the world's first indoor shopping centers. Built in the mid 1700s under Empress Elizabeth, it occupies an entire block, and is comprised of separate emporiums that are lined up on elegant yellow arcades with hanging lanterns. In the early 18th century after the city was founded caravans and merchants gathered here to sell their wares.

Udelnaya Fair (Petrograd & Vyborg Sides, Fermskoe Hwy 36) , according to Lonely Planet is a “treasure trove of Soviet ephemera, pre-revolutionary antiques, WWII artefacts and bonkers kitsch from all eras is truly worth travelling for. Exit the metro station to the right and follow the crowds across the train tracks. Continue beyond the large permanent market, which is of very little interest, until you come to a huge area of independent stalls, all varying in quality and content.” Hours: 8:00am-5:00pm Saturday and Sunday.

Au Pont Rouge (central St. Petersburg, nab reki Moyki 73-79) is located in the historic heart of St. Petersburg. According to Lonely Planet: “Dating from 1906–7, the one-time Esders and Scheefhaals department store has been beautifully restored and is one of the most glamorous places to shop in the city. This glorious Style Moderne building is now dubbed Au Pont Rouge after the Krasny most (Red Bridge) it stands beside. Inside you'll find choice fashions and accessories and top-notch souvenirs.” Hours: 10:00am-10:00pm.

Artmuza (Vasilyevsky Island, 13-ya liniya 70-72) is, according to Lonely Planet, one of the city's largest 'creative clusters' with around 13,000 square metres of space over several floors hosting a variety of art galleries, studios, fashion boutiques and designers. On the ground floor look out for the joint atelier of Snega Gallery and Slavutnitsa where designers specialise in making clothes and accessories based on traditional Russian costumes and patterns. Tel: 812-313 4703. Hours: 11:00am-10:00pm

Shopping Malls and Department Stores in St. Petersburg

DLT Department Store (on Bolshaya Konyushennaya street 21–23 just north of Nevsky Prospekt) .was built in 1909. The building's architecture mixes modernist and art nouveau influences popular at the turn of century. Inside is five floors of upscale, luxury and chic shopping with YSL, Chanel, Versace, Alexander Wang, Gucci, Marc Jacobs and others. On the top floor there is a restaurant.

Vladimirsky Passage (Vladimirskiy Prospekt, 19) is housed in the I. W. von Besser 1904 apartment building reconstructed into a shopping center that opened in 2003. Externally, the mall seems small, but this impression is deceptive. The shopping center covers 27,000 square meters and occupies four floors. You can buy clothes, name brand shoes, souvenirs, gifts, household products and stuff for children. Each floor features one category of goods. There are also beauty salons, sports clubs, tanning studios, cafes, bars, restaurants, saunas, cinemas, children's entertainment center, a hotel and a 24-hour supermarket.

TVK "Garden City" bills itself as both shopping center and Expo Center. Currently, the complex has about a hundred shops and attracts about 6,000 visitors daily. The Expocentre features permanent exhibitions, sale "in the concepts" and a program of thematic exhibitions. It has an OBI hypermarket, LAND supermarket, Fitness House sports club and McDonalds.

June (intersection of Prospect and Kosygin Industrial Avenue) , is a shopping and entertainment that includes Carousel hypermarket, five-theater Mori Cinema, "Bowling City", "Children's World" and "Sportmaster", The food court includesa Burger King, Batista, Carl's Jr., La Cucaracha, Two Sticks, Little-potatoes, Teremok, U Svejk, Tuesday, KFC.

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

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