I am going to keep it short: here are some of my travel tips for St Petersburg, the city I visited several times and fell in love with. I gathered here some information on the ways to save money and plan trips more efficiently.
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The currency is Russian ruble RUB, and 1 USD is roughly 64 RUB, and 1 EUR is 70 RUB.
I don’t remember seeing any places accepting dollars or euros, so you will have to use national money only. Cards are accepted in many restaurants and supermarkets, but have cash on you if you want to go to markets or smaller shops.
There are plenty of ATMs in the city, so you won’t have problems with withdrawing money: just remember that there will inevitably be commission for the operation. If you have cash dollars or euros, there are plenty of exchange bureaus on Nevsky Avenue. I have never had any problems exchanging money, and I always bring euros with me. If you don’t trust exchange bureaus, find a Sberbank (it is the biggest bank in the country) office.
2. English language
I am a native Russian speaker, so it’s a bit hard for me to judge this one. I know for sure that waiters in central restaurants speak English, maybe, some shop assistants in central shopping centers will speak it too, but I wouldn’t expect much.
The thing is that the situation must have changed considering that Russia has recently hosted the World Cup, so they tried to either hire English speaking staff or teach them English. I know that almost all informational displays in metro stations are written in Latin letters as well, so you will not have problems navigating the city. St Petersburg metro map comes written both in Cyrillic and Latin letters.
St Petersburg is a more popular destination than Moscow, so even before the World Cup it was easy to meet younger people who speak English, so you won’t get lost 🙂
Russia requires visas if you want to visit it, unless you have a passport of a South American country or a former Soviet republic. Luckily, I fit into the last category as Moldova was once part of the USSR, so I have the possibility to visit this amazing country with no hassle. There is some more info on Russia’s visa policy here.
But there is an option to visit St Petersburg without visas for 72 hours: this page has more info.
4. Combined tickets for Hermitage and Russian museum
There are lots of museums and places to see in St Petersburg, and all of them require entrance fees. Luckily, there is a way to save some money by buying combined tickets. For example, for 700 RUB (if the ticket is bought on site!) visitors get access to the Hermitage, the General Staff, the Menshikov Palace and the Royal Porcelain Factory. Another example is the ticket that costs 850 RUB and is valid for 3 days and gives you access to Mikhailovsky Palace (part of the Russian Museum), Marble Palace, Stroganov Palace and St Michael’s Castle. A very good deal, if you ask me!
5. Free entrance to museums
Just like I mentioned above, you will have to pay to enter museums in St Petersburg, but some of them offer free-of-charge days. For example, you can visit the Hermitage for free on December 7 and every first Thursday of the month. The Museum of A.S. Pushkin is open for free to visitors 4 days a year: February 10, April 18, May 18 and June 6. Just check on the website if the museum offers free entrance.
6. Buy tickets in advance
If you are going to travel to St Petersburg in high season, be ready for huge queues. When I say huge, I mean endless, when it comes to the Hermitage. No one wants to spend their precious time in queues, so I advise to buy tickets online. It is possible to buy tickets for the Russian museum, and, of course, the Hermitage. Well, the Hermitage is special: if you buy tickets on site, you pay 700 RUB (about 11,3 USD), but if you buy them online, they cost 17,95 USD. In this case, you will have to decide what is more appropriate: spending more money or wasting your time in the line. But if you travel during low season, I do not think there is a need to buy tickets online.
7. Free entrance and reduced fees
Lots of tourist places in St Petersburg offer free entrance to children and reduced fees for students (make sure you have your student or identity cards with you to prove it). For example, children younger than 16 can visit the Russian Museum for free regardless of nationality. Same goes for Peterhof. Just check the respective website.
8. Hydrofoil for Peterhof
Continuing with Peterhof: there are several ways to get there, but first you have to know that there two ways to enter the palace complex. The first one is via the Upper Garden, which is free to enter, and you can get to this entrance by taking the so-called marshrutkas from Avtovo, Leninsky Prospekt and Prospekt Veteranov subway stations. The other entrance is via the Lower Park, and you can get there by taking a hydrofoil boat from St Petersburg: this is by far the most picturesque way, but it is more expensive. As the Lower Park is ticketed, you will have to buy a ticket when you get off the boat. Please, keep in mind, that if you get out of the Lower Park to see the Upper Garden, you will have to buy a new ticket to get back to the hydrofoil.
9. Stay in the city center
Luckily for travelers, the main tourist sights of St Petersburg are located within walkable distance from each other. And it means no need to take buses or subway to get to a place of interest if you stay in the city center. Actually, I strongly advise you to do it! Of course, accommodation is more expensive in the center, but it is much cheaper than in Europe, and totally worth it. If you stay in the area I marked in the map below, consider yourself settled.
10. Local transport
Metro and local buses can get you everywhere, so you won’t really need taxis, and if you stay in the city center, you won’t need these buses either. In case, you need taxi, get the Uber, Yandex Taxi and Gett apps.
11. See the city at night
I strongly advise you to walk along Nevsky Avenue and the Neva embankments: St Petersburg at night is amazing! It is color and light everywhere, and if you stay late enough, you will see the drawing of bridges, which is quite a show.
12. Night canal cruises
Another way to see St Petersburg at night and enjoy the show of drawing bridges is by booking a place in a night cruise. It costs around 800 RUB and you will see the main tourist sights of St Petersburg and, depending on the route, the Fontanka River as well. You may bring some snacks and drinks with you. This cruise is included in the offer of the St Petersburg Tourist Card.
13. Fixed meals or business lunches
If you want to save money, you can do it on food. Meals are much cheaper in Russia than in Europe, and during weekdays you can take advantage of fixed meals or business lunches. Usually, they are offered by almost every restaurant in St Petersburg from 12 PM till 4 PM (time depends on the place), and for 250-300 RUB you will have a main course, second course, salad, dessert and a drink.
14. Try donuts!
If we are talking about food, I have to mention donuts. They are as famous as the Hermitage, and you can’t leave the city without eating them. There are lots of places serving donuts, I tried them in the April 12 café on Nevsky Avenue: they are cheap and delicious there 🙂
15. Choose carefully your visit time
St Petersburg is a northern city, and the weather is often unpredictable. Needless to say, winters are cold and harsh, and summer is quite short. The best time to visit St Petersburg is the end of June and the first half of July. Naturally, it is the high season, and it is crowded, but, if you are lucky, it will be warm and sunny.
I was there in the second half of October, it was not as cold as I imagined, but it was windy, and I had to wear a thick coat. Luckily, it was mostly sunny, but I do not advise to go there in October. September is good for autumnal walks to see the yellow and red foliage: Pavlovsk is spectacular during this period! Check for more info here.
16. Tap water
I am in a couple of Facebook travel groups, and once someone asked whether tap water in St Petersburg was safe. The responses were strange for me, with people claiming that they bought water to brush their teeth, because the tap one was so bad. Well, it’s not. I brushed my teeth, washed my hands and showered using tap water, and nothing happened 🙂 I wouldn’t advise to drink it, I never drink tap water in any country, however safe they claim it to be.
These travel tips for St Petersburg are just some pieces of information. I made a full guide of St Petersburg where I put everything I know about this city. I hope, it will help you in planning your trip 🙂
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