Your Ultimate Guide to St. Petersburg, Russia
Russia often isn’t the first destination travelers think of when planning a trip across the pond; but gather all the facts about country’s culture capital—St. Petersburg—and you might reconsider. Peter the Great’s city is a jaw-dropping study in imperial architecture and unmistakable European influence (there are enough bridges and canals to rival Venice). Back from her own trip to the Baltic gem, JS correspondent Chelsea Stuart gives us the low-down on where to eat, sleep, and drink in SPB.
A Brooklyn-based writer and editor, Chelsea's work has appeared in Matador Network, The Huffington Post, the TripAdvisor blog, and more. When not planning her next trip, you'll usually find her drinking way too much iced coffee (always iced—she’s from New England) or bingeing a Netflix original series.
A simultaneous play on the Russian word for sandwich (buterbrod) and an homage to SPB poet Josef Brodsky, Buterbrodsky Bar is one of the most stylish restaurants in the Vasilyevsky Island neighborhood. The intimate café wears shabby-chic well, with plaster walls, exposed brick, antique mirrors, and fireplaces piled high with books. On the menu, you’ll find dainty open-faced sandwiches in the Danish smørrebrød tradition along with typical Russian soups and salads. Don’t miss out on a flight of nastoykas (liqueurs); Buterbrodsky is well-known for its homemade, small-batch fruity spirits.
St. Petersburg isn’t hurting for stylish hangouts, and the Social Club is just one venue that proves such. A former Soviet-era kommunalka (communal apartment) on Rubinstein Street—the city’s gastronomic center—the spot is now a chic café, bar, and meeting place with velvet sofas, geometric light fixtures, and Art Nouveau details. On the menu? European-inspired seasonal dishes like pumpkin and citrus bruschetta, cacio e pepe, and duck breast with parsnip cream and prunes.
Another hip addition to Rubinstein Street’s well-developed restaurant scene, Geografiya features an eclectic menu with plates from every corner of the globe. Whether you’re in the mood for tapas, tartars, or Singaporean noodles, they’ve got you covered. Looking to get the party started at dinner? Drop by on Friday or Saturday when a DJ spins from 9 p.m. on.
If you’re looking for the St. Petersburg of the Soviet era—albeit a little kitschier—you’ll find it just off of Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main thoroughfare. Katyusha is a time capsule of a restaurant, with a menu that is Russian to its core (think herring under a fur coat and rassolnik soup with beef), waitresses in traditional garb, and decor that does its part. Tabletops are adorned with lace doilies, patterned ceramics are hung on the walls, lampshades are silky and tasseled, and post-meal tea is served in a traditional Samovar-style kettle.
There’s a lot to love about the Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg, but we’ll start with its prime location on Nevsky Prospekt (the city’s main thoroughfare), within easy walking distance of the State Hermitage Museum, Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood, and the shops and restaurants on Rubinstein Street. Throw three 19th-century facades, opulent interiors, and four restaurants and bars into the mix, and it makes for an ideal SPB base. For visiting culture vultures, the hotel also offers an “Art à la Carte” package which includes accommodations and admission to your choice of select institutions like the State Russian Museum and Mariinsky Theatre.
If you’re looking for the royal treatment, you might consider the Four Seasons. The 19th-century imperial Russian palace has been restored to its 1820s origins, replete with heritage interiors and unrivaled hospitality courtesy of Les Clef d’Or concierges. If you’re really looking to live like a tsar during your time in St. Petersburg, splurge on a residential-style suite with views of Saint Isaac’s Cathedral and Alexandrovsky Garden.
This over-the-top hotel may have just opened in 2013, but since its ambitious debut it’s been giving St. Petersburg’s most iconic grand dames a run for their money. Taking cues from its storied partner, the State Hermitage Museum (which is about a mile away), the neoclassical stay introduced a soaring atrium, replica bronze sculptures and canvases, and opulent period interiors worthy of the tsars. In fact, rooms reflect the imperial style of the Winter Palace’s original chambers right down to Greek marble, handmade Italian furnishings, and gilded plaster ceilings.
SEE + DO
The State Hermitage Museum came from less-than-humble beginnings, having been founded by Empress Catherine the Great in 1764 after she inherited an impressive collection of fine art. Now one of the largest art museums in the world, the emblematic Neva River complex—which includes the Winter Palace, Small Hermitage, Old Hermitage, New Hermitage, and Hermitage Theater—houses upwards of three million pieces from Egyptian antiquities to modern Rembrandt and Matisse canvases.
The illustrious, imperial-style Mariinsky Theatre has quite a history, having premiered its fair share of Pyotr Tchaikovsky operas and hosted legendary prima ballerinas like Anna Pavlova. Take a seat under the cherub-frescoed ceiling for an opera, ballet, or orchestral concert you won’t soon forget.
One of the most recognizable and architecturally astounding sights on St. Petersburg’s skyline, the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood is more than just an IG photo-op. Hugging the Griboedov Canal, the medieval church is a marvel of mosaic icons and ornate domes worthy of an hour or two spent inside. Another Russian Orthodox cathedral, St. Isaacs’s neoclassical design is more traditional with a central dome (plated with pure gold), four smaller domes, and Corinthian columns. Climb the 300 steps to the cathedral’s colonnade and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the city.
Discover both established and up-and-coming Russian artists from regions like Perm, Krasnodar, Ufa, Novosibirsk, and more at Erarta, the largest private museum of contemporary art in Russia. Inside the Stalinist-style building, a permanent collection of more 2,800 pieces is displayed and eight experimental “U-Space” installations (rooms meant to elicit emotions) can be booked for private 15-minute sessions. In the “My House—My Fortress?” space, visitors get a sense of what is was like to live in communal Soviet-era flats, while in “Childhood,” a room full of gargantuan furniture makes it easy to reminisce on your younger years.
There’s no bad time to nurse a drink at Corinthia Hotel St. Petersburg’s lobby bar, but on Friday and Saturday nights, libations are accompanied by live jazz. Pull a chair up to the marble-topped bar for a strong Nevsky Punch, Moscow Mule, or vodka straight up.
You can get a good vodka nearly anywhere in St. Petersburg— Khroniki included—but if you’re doing it right, you’ll go for the spot’s specialty: Leningrad-era wine. Beyond 20th-century spirits, the bar is unmistakably Soviet, with gilded antique chandeliers, white tiled walls, and wooden bar tables (sans stools, of course). You won't find a rowdy crowd here, but it's more than ideal for quiet conversations among friends.
Griboedov isn’t a St. Petersburg secret by any means, but the cult club has been a part of the underground scene since it started hosting alt rock gigs in a subterranean bomb shelter in 1996. Today, the divey joint delivers a house party atmosphere with DJs, daily performances by local musicians, and retro Soviet disco nights.
Sometimes, flying first class is an unnecessary expense, but if you’re jetting from JFK (or another U.S. hub) to Russia, then you’re in it for the long-haul. Go for business class on Turkish Airlines and you’ll be treated to welcome drinks, pre-dinner mezes, chef-prepared meals, a dessert cart, and a flat-lay seat fit for sleeping. With a stopover in Istanbul, you’ll also get to enjoy the Turkish Lounge—with stations and stations of Turkish delicacies (don’t skip the simit—a Turkish bagel), a movie theater, sleeping rooms, and showers—before finishing the final leg of your journey to St. Petersburg.
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