St. Petersburg is a gorgeous – and surprisingly boisterous – city full of mesmerising art, impressive history, and unforgettable hospitality. It is one of the world’s great cities. But a trip to Russia can still seem daunting. Luckily for travellers for whom the Winter Palace, Hermitage Museum and Mariinsky Theatre have felt out of reach, Europe’s fourth-largest city is becoming much more accessible. From January 2021 Russia is launching a 16-day, $50 e-visa for citizens of 53 countries, including all of the European Union and Schengen Zone, China, Japan and New Zealand (but not the UK, USA or Canada). Street signs, metro maps and announcements are now in English as well as Russian, taking the stress out of getting around, while wheelchair access is also improving at most of the city’s sights and restaurants. Throw in a literary anniversary, and there has never been a better time to experience St. Petersburg for yourself.
The high-speed ‘Sapsan’ train connects St. Petersburg with Moscow. There are also direct trains to Helsinki. Visitors from further afield can fly into Pulkovo airport.
WHEN TO GO
The city’s beautiful White Nights last from late-May until mid-July, with their peak during the last two weeks of June.
WHAT TO PACK
A Russian phrasebook – if only for some light reading in the occasional long queues for the museums.
The quintessentially St. Petersburg experience has to be a visit to one of its exquisite museums. They say you could spend a lifetime inside the Hermitage’s five buildings and still not see all of its art and treasures. A day would only be enough to see a small fraction of its over 17,000 paintings, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, Da Vinci and Rubens. The same can be said for the Russian Museum, with collections of works by the Russian masters Ilya Repin and Ivan Shishkin. The other iconic experience in St. Petersburg is the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, one of the most beautiful buildings in the whole of Russia.
BEST FAMILY ACTIVITIES
For a city of five million people. St Petersburg has plenty of green and eco-friendly spaces. The coolest of them is New Holland Island, a free cultural park that stages exhibitions and other events within its wood and glass pavilions. These pavilions also host theatre performances and film screenings, while the outside spaces include natural playgrounds for toddlers and older children, and a herb garden.
BEST FOOD AND DRINK
The city’s enormous food scene brings together cuisines from all over the world. But there are still places to try Russian flavours created with locally-sourced ingredients. One such spot is Mechtateli (‘Dreamers’) Cafe on the embankment of the Fontanka river, which relies on produce from St Petersburg and the nearby Karelia region. Another place to taste food grown in the city is the central Kuznechny Market, where much of the food and drinks on offer are made with produce from the sellers’ gardens.
BEST ACTIVITIES FOR 2021
2021 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Fyodor Dostoevsky, and so a visit to St. Petersburg has to take in some of the places connected with one of the city’s most treasured figures. Throughout the year the Dostoevsky Museum, at the great writer’s old apartment on Kuznechny lane (a couple of turns from the city’s central boulevard, Nevsky Prospekt) will be hosting events celebrating the author of Crime and Punishment, The Idiot and The Brothers Karamazov. There will be events at many other museums too. But so connected are Dostoevsky’s novels to the city where he spent much of his life, that it’s possible to just take an impromptu detour into his 19th Century St. Petersburg on the way to other unmissable places. The protagonist of Crime and Punishment Rodion Raskolnikov lived near Sennaya Square, which is a short walk from the Mariinsky Theatre and Yusupov Palace.