City Break St. Petersburg
Table of contents
The resplendent former home of Russian royalty and the country's artistic centre, St Petersburg holidays are a true delight. The city has breathtakingly beautiful canals, palaces, mansions and museums, a rich cultural history and world-class ballet and concert halls. With all this historical importance, you might be fooled into thinking St Petersburg is something of a relic; this couldn’t be further from the truth. Expect a contemporary edge with buzzing modern art galleries and cutting-edge bars and restaurants.
St Petersburg contains the best-preserved Tsarist-era palaces and gardens in the country. You simply can't visit the city without wandering through this living museum of royal history. Many palaces have even been turned into actual museums which are impeccably maintained: The Winter Palace is now the unmissable Hermitage Museum and Mikhailovsky Palace is the spectacular Russian Museum.
St Petersburg is often described as the "Venice of the North" due to its network of picturesque canals and bridges. Wandering the canals is a delight, but cruising them offers a truly unforgettable experience. As you sail along the Neva and Moyka Rivers, you'll come across many of the city's major attractions. There are plenty of smaller canals to explore as well, including the romantic Winter Canal (Zimnyaya Kanavka).
As an unrivalled centre of art and collections, you can spend days exploring treasure troves in the Hermitage and still just scratch the surface. The Russian Museum, for instance, holds one of the greatest collections of Russian artworks in the world. If you're looking for more contemporary fare, head to the impressive Erarta Museum or the former-industrial Street Art Museum.
The city has a rich religious history with many majestic cathedrals and picturesque churches. The most elaborate and dazzling of these is the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, a classic Russian Orthodox structure with a lavish exterior resembling Moscow's St Basil's Cathedral. St Isaac's Cathedral is another jaw-dropper with an impressive golden dome that can be climbed for excellent panoramic views.
St Peterburg is a city of shows with many resplendent theatres and concert halls. The Mariinsky Theatre should be at the top of any visitor's list. This importance ballet centre premiered many major works by Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. To experience the theatre at its finest, it’s best to catch a live performance.
Beautifully situated in a historic 19th-century mansion, the Lotte Hotel offers an unforgettable city break. The hotel itself is tastefully decorated with elegant and ornate furnishings. It's also close to many of St Petersburg's most resplendent sites, including the must-visit Hermitage Museum.
SO Sofitel offers a slice of modernism within the confines of a pretty 18th-century mansion. Renovated with a chic and contemporary Baroque edge, the rooms are spacious with pretty rooftop views from higher floors. The hotel is ideally located right next to the impressive St Isaac's Cathedral with excellent links throughout the city.
The Corinthia is something of an institution in St Petersburg, once featured in the Michael Caine spy film Midnight in Saint Petersburg. The rooms are bright and airy, with Art Deco finishing’s throughout the hotel. It is also ideally located on Nevsky Prospect, the city’s high street with excellent links to shops, restaurants and attractions.
St Petersburg is a treat to visit whatever the season, but May to September sees the best weather. Summer months are particularly busy, especially in mid-July during the White Nights Festival, so attempt to visit in May or September if you'd like to avoid the crowds and get cheaper deals. Having said that, winter is also breathtaking — if cold — in the city as it’s like stepping directly into a Russian historical novel when the city is quilted in snow.
St Petersburg is well connected with Pulovo Airport and five major train stations which transfer international passengers every single day. The transfer from the airport is easiest done by taxi cab, but you can also take a cheaper combination of public bus and Metro. Once in the city, the 5-line Metro system is one of the best ways to get around town, with buses, trolleybuses and trams also available. As for taxis, ride-hailing apps are all the rage in the city.
The food scene in St Petersburg is superb, running the gamut from cheap eats to expensive haute cuisine. Modern Russian, international and local chains and world-leaning foods are all found throughout the city, along with a scattering of vegan/vegetarian options. Some stand-outs include Moyka 3, Cococo and Palkin, three modern Russian offerings with a focus on fresh produce. Bakery cafe chains like Bulochnye F. Volcheka make fine pick-me-ups, while canteen-style options make excellent offerings for when you just can't choose. For canteens, try Marketplace and Obed Bufet.
St Petersburg has a rich and varied nightlife, from sophisticated late-night classical performances to hip-and-happening bars and clubs. For the latter, Dumskaya Street is among the most popular neighbourhoods, filled with nightclubs like Belgrade and Lomonosov Bar which run into the early hours. For bustling craft beer bars, head to Bakunin, a brewery-come-bar with an expansive bottle menu.
St Petersburg’s weather is changeable with the constant threat of rain, so be sure to bring waterproof and thermal clothing. In winter, you’ll need to dress accordingly in snow-proof boots and layers. If you plan on visiting one of St Petersburg’s renowned theatres for a performance, be sure to dress-up in something classy. Make sure you pack comfortable shoes and a European plug adaptor for your trip (if needed).
You can expect to pay anywhere between R1000 to R2000 for a nice two-course meal in the city. Museum entry fees run between R100 to R400, with ballet and classical tickets costing around R3500. As such, you can expect to pay anywhere between R1500 to R15000 per day for a comfortable, mid-range city break stay, depending on your activities.
Be sure to book certain tickets in advance. You’ll need to sort your travel visa three months before you arrive. You should also book your Mariinsky tickets — or other performance — a month in advance. You can download a range of apps to make your travel more convenient before you arrive, including Google Translate (as English is not widely spoken), Yandex Taxi and the St Petersburg Metro Route Planner.