Travel Tips For Saint Petersburg, Russia
As a Cold War child, I was always fascinated by the Soviet Union. It just seemed so dark, so cold, and so impersonal. As an adult, an opportunity to go to Russia arose and I quickly signed on. Once there, I soon found out that my preconceptions were far from true. Russia is a wonderful country filled with history, great food, and interesting people. Saint Petersburg is the most “European” of the Russian cities and a good place for the intermediate traveler to begin their Russia adventure. But, that is not to say there aren’t a few tricks to making your experience better.
Visa, not MasterCard
Actually they do take MasterCards, but I was referring to the immigration office when you arrive. The Saint Petersburg airport (LED) is small and a breeze to pass through. The problem is you need to get that visa. Listen, I know it’s tempting to go to the nearest consulate and wait in line to save some money to try to get a visa, but trust me, don’t do it. If you want to go to Russia, find a service that does it for you. The paperwork is a pain (it’s still that way because both countries refuse to change it since the Cold War), it is going to cost you a couple hundred bucks, and you’ll have to FedEx your passport to some address in the big city. Scary, I know, but it is worth every penny. These companies have relationships with the consulates and can more or less “skip” the line. I got my visa in less than a week. Other people I know have waited months and wasted hours in line. Find a reputable company and just do it!
The Main Street in Saint Petersburg: this and it's side streets contain all you need: ATM's, grocery stores, bars, restaurants etc.
Learn Some Russian
Most of the people under the age of thirty speak some English, but many of the “older” folks do not. It is very helpful if you can memorize a few phrases before you go. There are a few iphone Russian translator apps that can be downloaded for free or you can learn the old fashion way by looking in back of a tour guide for key terms and phrases. The pronunciation is difficult, but like most people in foreign countries, they will appreciate your effort.
Money, Money, Money.....Money
Too many people get worried about having enough cash when they travel. They shouldn’t. We aren’t talking about Lenin’s city here anymore. Saint Petersburg is a cosmopolitan city with areas of great wealth and ATM’s everywhere. Just be sure to take out a good amount when you go to the machine so you pay less in transaction fees. Check with your bank and credit card companies to see what their foreign transaction fees are. You’d be surprised; many are extremely affordable, hence making the safety of carrying only a card, instead of mounds of cash, much easier on the pocketbook (especially if you are robbed). This brings me to my next point.
Skinheads, Gypsies, and Drunks
Some websites will tell you that Russia is full of crime, racism, street people, and vodka soaked youth roaming the streets. I saw no evidence of this, at all (well except for the drinking in the streets, which is legal). Russians, particularly the youth, are very friendly and want to talk to you about the United States or England or wherever you may be from. They want to practice their English, they want to talk politics, and they don’t want to start trouble. So, just be safe, the way you would in any big city and you’ll be fine. I saw some Police, but none of the “shook me down”. This appears to be a 1990’s phenomenon.
Weather, Fashion, and Nightlife
There is not much to say about Saint Petersburg weather. In the winter, it stinks, but still has a beauty that few cold locations can boast. For a few months in the summer it is comfortable, yet slightly muggy. That being said, you do not see Russians in Saint Petersburg wearing shorts. They are very fashionable people. Most are dressed as if they are going out to a club or fancy restaurant, even if it is the middle of the day. So bring your best “casual” threads and you will fit right in. The nightlife is vibrant, although dominated by the under 30 crowd. Russians love to dance and dance they do, all night until the sun comes up. If you are there during the weeks known of the “White Nights”, the sun never goes down and neither does the party. Just take a nap after dinner and you’ll be fine.
Have A Great Time
Russia, particularly Saint Petersburg, is a wonderful place to visit. Whether you go there on your own, as part of a cruise, or for business, you will have a great time if you prepare and educate yourself about the amazing city.
See my article on the attraction highlights of Saint Petersburg below:
- Saint Petersburg, Russia: Sights and Attractions
Saint Petersburg is filled with many wonderful and culturally relevant attractions. This article offers some suggestions as to what should not be missed.