Special Feature: Products Sally Recommends
An Insider's View of St. Petersburg: Resources
Best Time to Go
May through September. But if you go July-August when Europe is on holidays, expect to pay a little more for everything.
Comfortable clothes, about three times as much film as you would normally expect to use (St. Petersburg is VERY photogenic) and the smallest possible camera. Carry this in a sturdy canvas bag rather than around your neck, and always put your hands through the loops and twist these around so that no bag-snatcher can rip the bag out of your hand.
Take your favorite mosquito repellent. Remember St. Petersburg is surrounded by water and has canals not unlike those of Venice. Also take an umbrella and waterproof anorak.
Take comfortable, very modest and relatively unobtrusive clothing and leave your good jewelry at home. Make sure you have everything insured and don't stand out as a wealthy tourist. And remember that, to Russians, all tourists look wealthy !!!
Ask your hotel concierge to help you in finding a taxi driver-guide who speaks good English and knows the city well. Otherwise chat up some of the taxi drivers waiting outside the better hotels.
Grand Hotel Europe, (De Luxe)
Ph: 113.80.66; 11/7 Ulitsa Brodskogo
This hotel along with the Astoria and the Nevski Palace (which I did not visit but about which I have heard great reports) are the three really great hotels in St. Petersburg, and are up to top European and International standard. The Grand Hotel Europe is located in a beautifully restored building and owned by Western European investors.
Astoria, (De Luxe)
39 Ulitsa Gertsena, Ph: 210.50.20
In the center of town. The hotel was built at the turn of the century and has been beautifully renovated. Excellent restaurants, sauna, swimming pool, 436 suites.
Here are some others which are not exactly the sort of hotel I would recommend, but which Russians consider excellent.
Pribaltiiskaya, (De Luxe)
14 Ulitsa Korablestroitelei, Ph: 356.02.63;
7km from city center on Gulf of Finland shore. A 17-story, communist era giant to accommodate 2,400 persons, which preferably would not include me. But then, I hate huge hotels with little charm. 6 restaurants.
Pulkovskaya, (De Luxe)
1 Ploshchad Pobedy, Ph: 264.51.11
8 km from the city center. Also built during communist rule for 1,600 persons. If you love milling around Grand Central Station you'll be quite at home at this hotel.
Moskva, (De Luxe)
2 Ploshchad Aleksandra Nevskogo, Ph: 274.20.51
A mini hotel by communist standards, the good news is that this only has 7 floors. The bad news is that 1,415 people are squeezed into them. No intimate little candlelight restaurants here. Instead, prepare for 2 football stadium sized restaurant halls. Don't look round to see if I'm there. I won't be !!!
You have to accept the fact that prices for the hotels that the Russians specify as 'De Luxe' are astronomically high. Especially when you consider that the staff get paid less than a measly US$1 a day in most cases. But the hotel owners have learnt the rules of supply and demand very quickly, and I suspect, though I could never prove it, that there is a two-tier system whereby foreigners are heavily surcharged. The cheaper hotels are often very clean, very basic and with shoebox-size rooms, but in Russia that is a fact of life one must accept. I do so gladly because St. Petersburg is a total knockout.
There are many other hotels under construction, and for those on a budget there are the Russian Youth Hostels, 28 Sovetskaya III Ulitsa, Ph: 277 05 69 Fax: 277 51 02.
There is also a reasonably-priced homestay program which gives you an opportunity to live with a Russian family and observe how residents live. You can specify the part of the city nearest to which you want to stay, and a family where one or more members speak English or your other language, i.e. German, French, etc. You can also specify your area of interest, i.e. art, music, ballet etc. It's a bit of a lottery, but if you are lucky you may find yourself living with a family with whom you will become lifelong friends. Inexpensive, but don't expect luxury. Your local Russian Consulate, Embassy, or Aeroflot office can give you details if your travel agent cannot do so.
The restaurants in the top three hotels above are excellent but quite expensive. Currently there are new restaurants springing up weekly. The best of these usually cater only to foreigners and Russia's Nouveau Riche and insist on payment in foreign currency. Your best bet is to call any of the three top hotels listed above, and ask the Concierge for advice on the restaurants in the price-range you are looking for.
I strongly recommend the Guide book on St. Petersburg published by Knopf in the USA and as the Everyman Guides published by David Campbell Publishers Ltd, London. In the writer's opinion this is the finest guide book on this city and supersedes all others. Aeroflot Russian Airlines also publishes a surprisingly good St. Petersburg booklet which is well worth getting. It is free (when you can get it) at your nearest Aeroflot office.
Our personal choice is to fly in with British Airways or Lufthansa. Other alternatives are rail from Western Europe, ferry from Sweden or Finland, a Baltic cruise or organized bus tour with touring companies from Western Europe, and driving from Western Europe. We do not recommend the last alternative.
Walter & Cherie Glaser are an international travel-writing team based down under in Melbourne, Australia.