Where to stay
I stayed at the Apple Hostel which I have some mixed reviews about. What’s great about it is the location which is right off Nevisky Prospekt and the people who work there are probably the most helpful I have ever met at a hostel and spoke great English. The kitchen offers free coffee, tea and filtered water along with an adorable old woman who would try to feed you whatever she was cooking. On the flipside, I didn’t love the living situation and didn’t find the beds to be too comfortable. But for a short stay, I would definitely recommend this place.
What to do
Anglo Tourism boat tour along the Neva River is a must do for a comprehensive tour of the city and its prominent buildings.
Outside of Kazan’s Cathderal
Walk around Nevisky Prospekt to get a feel for the city’s gorgeous architecture and eclectic feel. Take in Kazan’s Cathedral and Church of the Spilled Blood along the way. I definitely recommend going to Kazan Cathedral (ladies, cover your head with a scarf since it’s an Orthodox church) to see more amazing and ornate decor. This church ranks very high on my list of the most beautiful places of worship I have ever seen!
Climb up 200 stairs of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the highest point in the city to get an aerial view. It’s certainly worth the effort!
Spend a couple of hours at the Hermitage, one of the largest museums in the world. While the art itself is probably no different than I’ve seen at say the Louvre or the MET, the design of each of the rooms was impressive and one of a kind. The place is huge so allow yourself enough time to do it justice.
Every summer, at 1:24am each night, there’s a drawing of the bridges that’s supposedly a must-see event.
Visit at the beginning of White Nights season around the beginning of June. It’s great weather-wise but you’ll likely miss the hiked up prices for the season.
What not to do
– Walk around near the River alone at night (if you are female).
– Leave without your passport and other documents. (I got stopped by the cops and saw several others being checked as well).
– Leave the train bookings to the last minute… I learned the hard way that trains get booked up really fast, you have to wait in line for a couple of hours to buy them and the attendants usually don’t speak English and they try to sell you the more expensive tickets if you are a foreigner. All in all, a very unpleasant experience.
Where to eat
– I tried Conchita Bonita for Mexican and Tandoor for India both of which were excellent. Tandoor is right by the Hermitage Museum so it’s a great lunch place after visiting the museum.
Inside the Dostoevsky inspired Idiot Cafe
– The Idiot Cafe seems to be a popular place for tourists and the artsy locals. While I didn’t eat there, it seemed to have great reviews. I did go inside to use the restroom and have to say I was impressed by the Dostoevsky-inspired decor that invoked some real Russian flair.
– Another interesting place I found was Troitsky Most… a vegetarian cafe with an extensive menu.
I got out of the train station and felt a waft of cold air hit me in the face. It was 5 am and I had just arrived in the Eastern European window city to Western Europe: St. Petersburg. After an 8-hour overnight train ride from Moscow where my friend and I met some very interesting (and drunk) locals, we had finally made it to Russia’s cultural capital.
I’ll go ahead and spoil the suspense by telling you I absolutely loved St. Pete. Its beauty is obvious from the minute you enter the city. English signs are present everywhere along with English speakers. Frankly, it just had a more welcoming air than Moscow and that set the stage for a fun time.
I really lucked out with the weather in St. Petersburg. To begin with, it was White Night season which means that even at 1am it feels like it’s 8 at night. Apparently the weather in St. Pete can be quite dreary and uncooperative, so I was happy that sunshine followed me from Moscow to St. Pete.
If there’s one thing I love, it’s a walkable city and St. Pete is definitely one of those. Heading straight on Nevsky Prospekt you are surrounded by interesting architectural remnants of the Soviet era and a perfect blend of Eastern and Western European influences. The Neva River intersects the city in multiple places making for some interesting vistas on a boat ride. I spent the first day walking around Nevsiky Prospekt and enjoying the architecture. I think the walking tour is best done early in the morning before the natives and hordes of tourists throng the streets and make you gasp for air. Anytime before 11am would still be early since people party well into the wee hours.
I spent the evening walking around some more. A word about the nightlife: I hear it’s great. My friend partied away all night in an area known to have the most risque clubs in town. It even has a place called “Obamabar”… not sure why it’s called that. I was less inclined and probably too tired for a wild night out and decided instead to walk around and get a feel for St. Pete at night.
I wanted to walk toward the river to catch a nightly event called the Drawing of the Bridges that occurs around 1:24 am during the summer months. It’s supposedly quite a spectacular event that draws a lot of crowds. However, that Saturday night as I ventured out toward the river to catch this show, I have to say I felt quite uneasy about being a solo female walking around. Hordes of drunken people were sloppily traipsing the streets and there was no dearth of leering men. I felt quite uncomfortable and after an incident of a man following me, I abandoned my quest for the bridge show and walked back disappointed around 1am. Let’s just say I prefer St. Pete by day…at least when traveling solo.
All in all, St. Pete certainly lived up to all its hype and I can’t wait to go back for another couple of days to do it more justice!