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St Petersburg Travel Guide

About St Petersburg

A monumental city of sweeping avenues and broad canals, St Petersburg is urban Russia at its most impressive. The centuries have been kind to the former capital of the Russian Empire – St Petersburg looks as grand today as when Peter the Great laid the foundation stones in 1703. The then-emperor invited Europe’s leading architects to fill the streets with extravagant palaces and elegant baroque cathedrals, and their legacy remains.

It’s said that if Moscow is Russia’s head, St Petersburg is its heart. For 300 years this has been the country’s cultural capital, producing authors, poets, painters and playwrights.

It remains a bustling hub for the arts, showcasing everything from painting and literature to street theatre and rebel rock. Focal points include the Mariinsky Theatre, home to the famous Kirov ballet company, and the Hermitage, the world’s largest art museum, founded by Catherine the Great in 1764.

Today, superimposed over the old city is a modern metropolis, complete with alternative cafés, techno clubs and some of the deepest metro stations in the world. In addition, a new 69,000-seat football stadium has been built to host the 2018 World Cup. Fans are in for a memorable time, particularly as it will coincide with the city’s famed “White Nights” season, when the sun barely sets from mid-June to early July.

The historic heart of this timeless, romantic city is focused on the crescent of land bound by the Neva and Fontanki Rivers. Here you’ll find the Admiralty, the Hermitage and Dvortsovaya Ploshchad (Palace Square), as well as Nevsky Prospekt, St Petersburg’s most elegant avenue.

West of the Admiralty is Mariinsky, home to the famous theatre, and north across the river is Vasilyevsky Island, with its universities and museums, and Petrogradskaya Storona, home to the Peter and Paul Fortress.

Key facts

4.9 million (estimate 2012)
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Featured Hotels


Soul Kitchen Hostel

Budget hotels are thin on the ground in St Petersburg, but Soul Kitchen impressively fills the gap with boutique rooms, comfy dorms and communal areas you'll actually want to spend time in. The impressive list of perks includes free Wi-Fi, free phone calls and a shared kitchen. It also has a lovely canal-side location, a block from St Isaac's Cathedral.

Hotel Dostoevsky

This tidy, contemporary hotel has a great location, across from the Cathedral of Our Lady of Vladimir, in the bustling Vladimirskaya district.. The hotel offers in-room internet access, cable television, IDD phones, a fitness centre, plus the three must-haves for any Russian hotel – a restaurant, bar and sauna.

Pushka Inn

Set in a stately 18th-century mansion overlooking the Moyka River, the Pushka offers tastefully decorated rooms at a reasonable price. A boutique atmosphere pervades, and rooms have wooden floors and fabrics and furnishings in subtle colours. Wi-Fi access is complementary and, unusually, a buffet breakfast is included in the room rates.

Corinthia Hotel St Petersburg

With an enviable location on Nevsky prospekt, the Corinthia offers sleek modernity in place of the usual historical flourishes. The hotel features a grand 19th-century frontage, but inside everything is stylish and contemporary, with designer furniture, LCD TVs and high-speed Wi-Fi. There’s even a Russian restaurant, a Viennese café and two bars.

Kempinski Hotel Moika 22

It would be hard to find grander facilities than at the Kempinski Hotel Moika 22. Minutes from the Hermitage, it combines 21st-century facilities with touches of imperial grandeur. Rooms have high-speed Wi-Fi, 24-hour room service, and goose-down pillows and duvets. The hotel also boasts two restaurants, a bar and lounge, an English-style tearoom and a famously well-stocked wine cellar.

Matisov Domik

This small and peaceful hotel is set in a quiet residential neighbourhood, 10 minutes from the Mariinsky Theatre. The hotel runs regular shuttle services to Nevsky prospekt and the 46 rooms range from modestly sized singles to family sized studios, suites, and apartments. A breakfast buffet is included in the price.