St. Petersburg is a city where it’s impossible to just sit at home and do nothing. There is always something interesting going on or an interesting place to be. The city itself is very walkable and anything under 2km (about 1.2 miles) is considered walking distance so bring good walking shoes! There’s also a fair chance that whenever you go out it will probably rain so an umbrella is in handy, and also don’t forget cash. A lot of places here don’t use card, and the satisfied feeling of the cashier when you pay in exact change will erase any previous discomfort over the inevitable language problems that just occurred.
With so many favorite spots, it’s hard to narrow everything down but here are some of my most favorite places (as in I’ve been back many, many times) should you ever find yourself in St. Petersburg, Russia.
Cup in Cup 20 Dekabristov Ulitsa
My friend showed me this coffee shop, and I instantly fell in love. The vibe is young, Western, and hip but not in a bad way—kind of falling toward the more urban/earthier side of hipster. The music is of the American alternative variety where you can hear Big Thief or Bon Iver (I’m still waiting for them to play some Russian indie music). The amazing thing about cafes and restaurants here is that there isn’t a sense of turnover like in the US and you can literally sit somewhere for hours nursing a cup of tea and staring at the falling rain from out the window. My favorite here is the apple pie (which is served with a scoop of ice cream!) and the mate tea (of which they give you an entire pot!)—all of which costs less than $4 which is perfect for the student budget.
Gatchina Palace 1 Karasnoarmeyskiy Pr. Gatchina, Russia
Gatchina is a cute little suburb on the outskirts of St. Petersburg that is easily accessible by train or by bus. The palace is incredible—extensive grounds, a nice homage to WW2 and those who died to protect and save the palace from the Nazis (the palace was destroyed and occupied but restoration is currently still in process), beautiful restored rooms and collections, and an underground tunnel! You can see much contrast in the lavish public rooms (throne room, ball room, dining hall etc…) and the small, private family rooms. We also climbed The Signal Tower and were able to get gorgeous views of the entire town and the surrounding woods. My favorite part was the grounds. My friends and I strolled around drinking kvas and eating 30 cent ice cream cones and even rented a small boat that we paddled around the grounds. Would definitely say this is a must-visit place (it’s also not crazy touristy)!
Yarumen 9 Malaya Morskaya Ulitsa
I think I eat lunch hear at least once a week. It’s a cozy nook located right next to a metro station and a convenient 30 min walk (or 15-minute bus ride) from university where you can get your fix of noodles, curry, or Japanese eggs. Speaking of the eggs—they’re out of this world. I highly recommend the tempura egg don. It’s this rice bowl with sea weed and tempura Japanese eggs. First of all, eggs in Russia for some reason just taste so much better than eggs in the United States. I’m not sure why (my friend and I went on a google adventure once to answer this very question that unfortunately did not lead anywhere), but this combined with the delicious Japanese style boiled eggs and you have a winning combination. Another plus is that the waiters here are so kind and ready to offer an encouraging smile as you limp along in Russian. I’ve gone here so many times too now that they all recognize me.
General Staff Building of the Hermitage 6/8 Dvortsovaya Ploshad
I prefer The General Staff Building of the Hermitage so much more over the actual Hermitage (ok the entire Hermitage is amazing but The General Staff Building feels much more manageable). Here you can find masterpieces by Caspar David Friedrich (AP Euro romanticism anyone?) or my personal favorite Black Square by Malevich or rooms full of Picasso. It’s overwhelming and wonderful to just lose yourself as you wander through floors and floors of contemporary and impressionistic art (+ some late German romanticism in there too). It’s much less crowded than The Winter Palace and the art collection feels like an enlarged version of my favorite floors of the Chicago Art Institute or MOMA. I strongly recommend (plus it’s free admission for students!).
Dixy Any Street Corner in Russia
I usually dislike grocery shopping. It’s overwhelming—the choices, the prices, the measurements…As a slightly obsessive person who likes to thoroughly research and compare everything before finally making a tentative decision, grocery shopping in all its varieties is a nightmare I’d rather avoid. But I love Dixy. It’s so fun to pop in and see all the different flavors of chips you can get (Crab? Lobster? Steak? Paprika?). I also buy my favorite shampoo here (an all natural Siberian brand I’ll have to stock up on to bring back to the United States), and I never pass up an opportunity to buy шпроты or canned sprats that are absolutely delicious on brown bread. My friends and I frequently stop here for dessert as well because there’s this 20 rouble (35 cent) ice cream that is out of this world. Russian ice cream is also just so much better than American. Not sure what it is that makes the difference (need to go on another google adventure) but it’s just much creamier (meaning lactose intolerant me needs 2 lactaid pills instead of 1).
Mariinsky Theater II Teatralnaya Ploshad
Even if you aren’t a big ballet buff (I certainly am not), I think that nothing in the world compares to the feeling of going to a ballet at Mariinsky. I think it’s something in the energy—there is something so innately special about going to a concert (or any show really) where literally everyone is there because they love it and want to experience something special and it’s highly unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in a concert hall before. For example, during the heartbreaking pas de deux of Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet when the dancers first fall in love, literally everyone was crying their eyes out and I, too, just couldn’t stop crying. It was so beautiful. It was so heartbreaking. All at once, I just was in love with art. It was magical. It was beautiful. There aren’t enough words to describe just how incredibly cathartic and moving the experience was. Also to add to this, someone once said there isn’t a bad seat in the entire Mariinsky II and whoever said that was true. Whether you’re up in the nosebleeds or paying premium on the first floor, there really isn’t a bad place to be. The hall is stunning on the outside and the inside; the acoustics are such that it feels at once grand and intimate all in one.
And thus, here’s a sampling of my favorite places so far in St. Petersburg, Russia! I love it here so much and hope that you all can come here too someday and experience how beautiful it is for yourself!