St. Petersburg is Russia’s second largest city. Situated at the eastern tip of the Baltic Sea and the Neva River, the city was formerly known as Petrograd and Leningrad. The city, situated in the delta of Neva River, spreads over a number of islands and has a number of bridges and canals, hence its nicknames; ‘Venice of the North’ and ‘The City of the 101 Islands’. The city was founded by Tsar Peter the Great in May 1703. For more than two hundred years it was the capital of the empire. After the Russian Revolution in October 1917 the capital was moved back to Moscow.
St. Petersburg has around 5 million inhabitants and ranges among Europe’s largest cities. It is the administrative center of Leningrad Oblast, a separate region, and of the Northwestern Federal District. The city is also the artistic and cultural center of the country. It is home to the Kirov Ballet, the rival of Moscow’s Bolshoi ballet. The city center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It had been Russia's political and cultural center for 200 years, and has retained much of the old splendor. St. Petersburg is romantic and beautiful, full of Tsarist architecture, arching bridges and waterways. The broad boulevards elegant palaces, majestic churches, cathedrals, monumental squares, and numerous bridges make it a charming and elegant city.
A popular art festival is held here in the summer, called the White Nights. Due to the city’s northerly position, the summer nights are reduced to few hours of dusk so the musical concerts and other cultural events all happen in mysterious twilight enhanced by the beauty of the city itself.
St. Petersburg has a maritime climate. Winters are cold, with freezing temperatures, cold winds and snowfall. The lowest winter temperatures are around -12°C, in the coldest months of January and February. Summer lasts from June to August with temperatures usually around 20 °C. The warmest month is usually July, the coldest is January and most rainfall occurs in August.
January average temperature -8 deg Celsius, 28 mm rainfall February average temperature -7 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall March average temperature -3 deg Celsius, 25 mm rainfall April average temperature 3 deg Celsius, 30 mm rainfall May average temperature 9 deg Celsius, 43 mm rainfall June average temperature 15 deg Celsius, 56 mm rainfall July average temperature 17 deg Celsius, 66 mm rainfall August average temperature 15.5 deg Celsius, 76 mm rainfall September average temperature 10 deg Celsius, 61 mm rainfall October average temperature 5 deg Celsius, 51 mm rainfall November average temperature 0 deg Celsius, 41 mm rainfall December average temperature -5 deg Celsius, 36 mm rainfall
Pulkovo Airport is located 17 km from the city center and handles mostly traffic to and from nearby countries and internal air traffic.
Taxi: prices are high but taxis are plenty. A ride to the city center will probably cost you around 50 EUR. Minibus: a minibus takes you to the Moskovskaya metro station from where you can catch the metro to anywhere in the city.
St- Petersburg is a major train hub. There are good train connections with Helsinki, the Baltics and Central Europe, as well as central Russia.
Good boat connections are available from Helsinki and Tallinn. There is a regular ferry from Stockholm. Passenger boats along the Volga-Baltic waterway link St. Petersburg to Moscow, the River Volga, and Lakes Onega, Ladoga and Neva.
St. Petersburg has an efficient and cheap metro system, the second largest after Moscow. It is the most effective way of getting around in the city. Trains are fast and frequent. Services run from 5:00 am till midnight.
Traveling by tram is slower but more picturesque.
Services are frequent and tickets are cheap. They can be bought from the conductor.
Taxi services run 24/7 but are rather costly.
These popular small vans seating 14 to 20 people are often the fastest way of getting around the city. There are no regular stops so you have to tell the driver where you want to get off.
This is a popular mode of transportation with many Russians but it is not always safe and not recommended.
St. Petersburg is a great city for walking. The main attractions are located in the city center and on the embankments of the city's waterways.
The city was built in the delta of the Neva River and has over 500 bridges, ranging from very narrow pedestrian bridges such as the Lions and Bank chain bridges, to the medieval Bolshoi Okhtinsky Bridge, to giant drawbridges.
The eight bridges across the Neva River open at night to allow ships to pass up and down the river. The bridges open from May to late October approximately from 2:00 am – 4:30 am. It has become a favorite tourist activity in the summer when the night is never dark, to go watch the bridges raise.
Address: ul Razvodnaya 2 Web: http://www.peterhof.org Open: 9:00 am -9:00 pm; all the fountains function from May to mid October, daily, 11:00 am - 5:00 pm.
Peter the Great’s answer to Versailles. Petrodvorets or Peterhof is a complex of palaces and grand fountains which used to serve as the summer residence of Peter the Great. It is an outstanding example of 18 th to 19 th century Russian architecture. The complex features several magnificent palaces, the most outstanding being the Great Palace, towering at the edge of a natural 16 meter-high terrace.
The place, not surprisingly nicknamed the capital of fountains, features 150 fountains and cascades. There are numerous golden statues and a collection of sculptures and paintings.
A nice way to see the city is from a boat. Small or large boats are available to hire for long or short excursions.
In the winter when the rivers and canals freeze over, skating is a popular pastime. It is free on most canals but if you want to skate in the summer, you'll have to pay to go to one of the ice palaces.
The Hermitage museum features over 3 million exhibits and is one of the world’s finest art museums. This magnificent collection of art treasures is housed in a spectacular palace. It would take several visits to this overwhelming museum to see it all. The palace is situated on the banks of the Neva River and is fully 200 meters long. It is built in Russian Baroque style and is the most elaborate and biggest palace in the city. Formerly it served as the official residence of the Tsars.
The collection includes artifacts from ancient art to 20 th century works. One of the great highlights is a collection of spectacular royal regalia made of jewels, gold and silver.
The Nevsky Prospekt is the most famous street in St. Petersburg, Russia. It is 5 km long and was planned by the French architect Alexandre Jean Baptiste LeBlond working for the founder of the city, Peter the Great.
The street, stretching from the historic Admiralty in the north to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery, is renowned for its splendid architecture and famous former patrons, like Tchaikovsky, Gogol, Rimsky-Korsakov and Nijinsky. It represents the heart of the city and is a magnet for both locals and tourists. The street cuts through the historical part of the city and is intersected by numerous rivers and canals.
The most beautiful section is around the Griboedova Canal, where the magnificent Kazan Cathedral and the Church of Our Saviour on the Spilled Blood are located on opposite banks. Apart from architectural marvels the street also features the city’s finest shops and restaurants.
PETER AND PAUL FORTRESS
Address: Petropavlovskaya krepost Phone: 812 238 4550 Open: Thursday – Monday: 11:00 am - 6:00 pm; Tuesday: 11:00 am - 6:00 pm Access: Metro (Gorkoskaya)
The oldest building in St. Petersburg, the Peter and Paul Fortress was constructed on the opposite site of the Hermitage on the Neva River and was planned by Peter the Great to protect the city against Swedish attack. That it never managed to do, but it served as a prison for years, where many famous prisoners languished, including Trotsky and Gorky. Today the fortress houses a museum. There is also a Peter and Paul Cathedral with the iconic golden spire visible from the entire city. The church harbors the remains of all Russian Emperors since Peter the Great.
ALEXANDER NEVSKY MONASTERY
Address: Ploschad Alexandra Nevskogo Open: daily: 11:00 am – 7:00 pm; closed on Tuesday and Saturday.
The Alexander Nevsky Monastery complex is home to some of the oldest buildings in the city, as well as to cemeteries which contain the graves of some of the giants of Russian culture, including Tchaikovsky, Dostoevsky, and Glinka.
The monastery was founded in 1710. By the 20 th century the complex was home to 16 astonishing churches, but only 5 have survived today: the Holy Trinity Cathedral, the Church of the Annunciation, the Church of St. Lazarus, the Church of St. Nicholas, and the Church of the Holy Mother of God, the Joy of All Those who Mourn. During the Revolution many Orthodox centers suffered much damage but a lot has survived here and the restoration works have been ongoing in recent years.
One of the major attractions within the complex is the monastery's graveyards; a resting place of many Russian key figures. The Tikhvin Cemetery contains many famous graves, such as Tchaikovsky, Rubinshtein, Mussorgsky, Rimsky-Korsakov, Glinka and Dostoevsky.
St Isaac's Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the city, and was, at the time when it was built, the largest church in Russia standing at a height of 101.5 meters. It was dedicated to Saint Isaac of Dalmatia, a patron saint of Peter the Great who had been born on the feast day of that saint.
The cathedral’s golden dome dominates the city’s skyline. From the colonnade around the cupola a great panorama of the city can be seen. The cathedral took almost 40 years to build. Its barren neoclassical exterior gives no glimpse into the lavish decorations that await you inside. The interior is richly decorated with frescos, mosaics, painted ceilings, sculptures and stained glass windows. It can take 140,000 worshippers but today services are only held on special occasions.
St. Petersburg offers a wide variety of cuisines, from Russian, Georgian and Azerbaijani, to the usual global food. Prices differ greatly. The upmarket restaurants will cost you dearly, whereas good and cheap food is available at various local cafés.
There is a wide variety of great Caucasian and Georgian restaurants serving delicious food. There are numerous trendy chill-out cafes, and also the most budget friendly, the original fast food parlors.
Fast food restaurants are plenty. They are mostly located in the city center and along Moskovsky Prospekt. Typical Russian fast food is ‘bilni’, pancakes with sweet or spicy filling.
Avoid buying food at kiosk stands near metro stations, though. The hygiene in these places is often dubious.
Date: May - July Web: www.mariinsky.ru/ Location: Mariinsky Theatre and Philharmonic Hall
The liveliest of the city’s festivals, the festival is a must-see for every ballet, opera and classical music fan. The special atmosphere of the festival owes much to the natural phenomenon it is named for, as during the summer months the nights are never dark. The program is world class. It features leading international and Russian artists performing famous historical as well as modern pieces.
Date: December 25 – January 5 Location: just outside the city
The event is celebrated with traditional activities such as horse-drawn sleigh rides, folk shows, dance, music and dancing bears.
THE ST PETERSBURG MUSIC SPRING
Date: April or May
Musical festival showcasing classical music.
AUTUMN RHYTHMS/ OSENIE RITMY
The international jazz festival mainly held in the city’s various jazz clubs invigorates the autumnal cultural scene.
The theatre holds performances by the Kirov Ballet but these are only held in the winter months.
Maly Theatre houses the superb Maly Opera and Ballet.
Sensational choral concerts can be caught at various churches, where the acoustics are exceptional. Catch a performance at the Preobrazhenski Church (at 10:00 am and 6:00 pm), or at Alexander Nevsky Monastery (at 6:00 pm).
LIVE MUSICE AND NIGHT CLUBS
The city is throbbing with life at night. There is entertainment for every taste. New clubs are constantly emerging so it is best to ask the hotel concierge for the latest hot-spots.
The city of St. Petersburg is quite young according to European standards. It was founded in 1703 by Peter the Great. The land along the Neva River has belonged to the Ancient Russian state since the 9 th century at least. Throughout history Slavs, Finns, and other ethnic groups have moved through the territory. From the 9 th century onwards the area was part of the Municipality of Novgorod, and was an important trade center with Northern Europe and later the Hanseatic League. In 1240 Swedish forces landed at the banks of Neva River, at a time when Central Russia was fighting Mongol invasion. The Russians won and Prince Alexander who led the fight got the name Alexander Nevsky (i.e. Alexander of Neva).
In the 16 th century the Novgorod was subdued by Moscow and the lands along the river became part of the centralized Russian State, Muscovite Russia. In the beginning of the 17 th century the Swedes occupied a significant portion of North-Western Russia, cutting Russia off from the Baltic trade. By the end of the 17 th century the situation grew intolerable and Peter the Great was determined to win back Russia’s access to the Baltic and strengthen ties with the West. The Northern War with Sweden lasted from 1700 till 1721. In 1703 the Russians seized control of the Neva River and founded St. Petersburg on May 16 of the same year. The canals had to be built to drain the marshy land along the river. In 1712 Peter the Great made the city his capital. He forced the nobility, merchants and administrators to move here from Moscow. He brought architects and artists from all over Europe. By 1725, when he died, St. Petersburg was a prominent trade center, handling 90% of Russia’s foreign trade.
After his death the capital was returned to Moscow, but during the reign of Empress Anna Ivanovna (1730-40) it again returned to St. Petersburg. In the following century the city’s splendor grew. A series of great palaces, government buildings and churches were built. St. Petersburg became one of Europe’s greatest capitals. After the emancipation of the Serfs by Alexander II in 1861, the city saw a large influx of these impoverished people who made their home on the outskirts of the city. The industrialization era peaked during the 1890s. However, the massive influx of the poor seeking employment, bad hygiene, epidemics and overcrowding started a growing discontentment in the city. Radical movements sprang up and Socialist organizations organized many assassinations of royal officials, including Alexander II in 1881.
MODERN (20 TH CENTURY)
The revolution of 1905 began in St. Petersburg and spread rapidly into the provinces. The revolution was sparked off as the strikers, marching to petition the tsar in the Winter Palace, were fired upon by troops. At the start of WW I the old name of the city, Sankt Peterburg was felt to be too German so they changed it to Petrograd.
In 1917 the Russian Revolution began. The first step was the February Revolution, which removed the Tsarist government and established two centers of political power, namely the Provisional government and the Petrograd Soviet. The Provisional Government was overthrown in the October Revolution. Until March 1918 the new government operated from St. Petersburg but later it moved to Moscow for fear of a German attack on St. Petersburg. After Lenin’s death on January 24, 1924, Petrograd was renamed Leningrad in his honor. The new name also symbolized the social and political upheavals and changes going on in the country. The city was a center of the 1930s industrialization program, handling 11% of Soviet industry by 1939.
During WW II Leningrad was besieged by the Germans from September 1941 to January 1944. The city was constantly shelled and was completely cut off from supplies, resulting in over 1 million dead, 800,000 of which were civilians. The Fuehrer was determined to eliminate the city from the face of the earth. The city suffered a great devastation, many buildings were leveled. After the war the city was reconstructed according to old plans. The city more or less maintained its status as an intellectual and art center.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the citizens of Leningrad voted the city be renamed to the original Saint Petersburg. Foreign investments helped boost the city’s economy but crime levels rose sky-high.
The new millennium brought change for the better. The city is being vastly renovated; its infrastructure and architectural gems are being restored. In 2003 the city celebrated its 300 th birthday. Today the city is Russia’s larges port, and an important cultural and tourist center.
A typical greeting is a very firm, almost crushing handshake.
When women friends meet they greet with three kisses and men with a pat on the back and a hug.
Russians have a middle name which is a version of the father's name. For a woman it ends in –ovna and for a man it ends in –vich. All three names (first, middle and family name) are used in formal situations.
Russians can be quite conservative when it comes to public display of affection. Russians tend to dress quite conservatively as well. When visiting a religious landmark dress accordingly.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city gained a reputation for being unsafe but the situation is a lot better now than it was.
The same safety precautions apply as in any major city. Avoid walking around alone at night. If you do travel around at night stay on the main sidewalks and avoid dark alleys. Do not get into arguments with drunken people. It is also wise to avoid suburbs.
St. Petersburg has a problem with gang violence, such as the football hooligans and the Neo-Nazis.
Watch out for pick pockets in busy tourist areas and on the metro. Do not flash money, expensive watches or jewelry in public.
Note that there are many children living literally on the streets who make their living by stealing.
St. Petersburg is not particularly gay friendly and may be the targets of drunken troublemakers.
Games for money are often played on the Metro and in railway stations. Do not be tempted to join in as these games are designed to trick you and take your money.
Emergency Numbers Fire: 01 Police: 02 Ambulance: 03 Special police service for foreigners: 1649787
The best time to visit the city is from May to September. June is very popular because St. Petersburg hosts the hugely popular White Nights Art Festival, the city’s liveliest event. Expect bigger crowds during that period. The highest temperatures can be expected in July and August but even these are not too high. They usually hover around 20°C.
Winters are long and cold but well suited to winter sports.