Saint Petersburg Travel Guide

Saint Petersburg Travel Guide

Curation by Yasmina Rodríguez, words by Laura Tucker

As the birthplace of some of the world’s greatest literature, music and visual art, and host to world-class opera and ballet productions, Saint Petersburg may be Russia’s second city but it is by no means an underdog. As well as high art and lavish architecture, natural phenomenon is also a prominent attraction. In the summer months, during White Nights festival, peachy twilight takes over and Saint Petersburg’s riverbanks bathe in romantic hues for hours on end. In winter meanwhile, the golden Cupolas of St. Isaac’s rise confidently out of the snow-blanketed skyline. LGBT visitors should be aware of rising anti-gay sentiment nationwide and use good common sense in public areas and caution when meeting through gay hook-up apps. Relative to the rest of Russia however, Saint Petersburg is a fairly liberal city and if you dare a trip you’re likely to be pleasantly surprised! Follow Mr Hudson’s Saint Petersburg travel guide for insight into the city’s best bits.

The best hotels in Saint Petersburg

Pushing the definition of lavish to its limits is the city’s hotel scene. Out Saint Petersburg gay city guide starts with the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe, a showstopper designed by Italian architect Carlo Rossi back in the early 1900s, when royalty and cultural luminaries such as Tchaikovsky, Debussy and the Romanovs all graced the marble-floored, art-lined lobby. Now firmly Art Nouveau with its showpiece stained-glass windows, the Hotel Belmond, conveniently located just off Nevsky Prospekt, offers guests boutique shopping experiences, a caviar lounge and spacious rooms with original balconies.

Not to be upstaged is the Four Seasons Hotel Lion Palace, on the site of a restored 19th-century imperial palace, where guests can enjoy the royal treatment. Within its dramatic heritage interiors, find grand suites with walk-in closets, marble bathtubs and open fireplaces, perhaps even a private balcony overlooking St. Isaac’s Cathedral. As an extra treat, try the on-site spa.

Photo: Evstratov

Photo: Evstratov

A relative newcomer in town is The State Hermitage Museum Official Hotel, an over-the-top neoclassical homage giving the city’s long-time icons a run for their money. Inspired by the museum of the same name, the hotel’s opulent features include a soaring atrium, replica bronze castings and period artwork throughout. Enjoy calming cream and pastel yellows right through to your gilded chamber suite, styled in Greek marble with handmade Italian furnishings. Over on the banks of the Mokya river, in the heart of the city’s business and culture district is Lotte Hotel St. Petersburg. Boasting rather more understated luxury than the above, the Lotte Hotel instead wows guests with impeccable hospitality, delicious Japanese cuisine and buffet breakfasts, not to mention stunning views of St. Isaac’s from the rooftop bar. After a day of exploring, get sweaty in the hotel’s fitness centre before relaxing in their authentic Balinese spa.

One last lodging worth a mention is Boutique Hotel Albora, offering unique luxury rooms each inspired by Mariinsky Theater’s legendary ballet performances. As well as a beautiful concept, guests also benefit from the spa, fitness centre, refined restaurant and a secluded location in an historical part of the city.

Boutique Hotel Albora 3 Saint Petersburg

Boutique Hotel Albora

Boutique Hotel Albora

Boutique Hotel Albora

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Pack good footwear because our Saint Petersburg gay travel guide has got some serious ground to cover

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Recommended hotels in Saint Petersburg
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St. Isaacs Cathedral | Photo: Ilia Schelkanov

St. Isaacs Cathedral | Photo: Ilia Schelkanov

Things to do in Saint Petersburg

Pack good footwear because our Saint Petersburg gay travel guide has got some serious ground to cover. We’ll start with the St. Isaac’s Cathedral colonnade providing some much-needed perspective on the sprawling city. The classical colonnade runs atop the cathedral and stands as one of the largest orthodox basilicas in the world. After checking out the main hall, make sure to climb the 262 steps up to the colonnade (open until 10:30 pm between May and October) to glimpse the pink-tinged cityscape at sunset. Another equally great way to spend a long summer afternoon is via a River Cruise along the Neva River, taking in some of the best Saint Petersburg points of interest and architecture as you go. From the docks, go searching for some culture in the form of Artmuza, a modern art museum on Vasilevsky Island among a cluster of other cool creative initiates. Perfect for art lovers, Artmuza covers several floors with various galleries, design studios, fashion houses and other creative agencies. In addition to a functioning theatre and rooftop terrace café,  at Snega Gallery visitors can glimpse specialized ateliers create traditional Russian costumes and patterns. The Berthold Center is another hip cultural centre over on the mainland just off Grazhdanskaya Street. Surrounding the courtyard café area you’ll discover restaurants, an independent bookshop and various artistic studios. With its grassroots origins and art collective concept, the Berthold Center sparks with creative energy, fast gaining a reputation for its amazing festivals and concerts.

If Russian ballet is your thing, the Mariinsky Theatre remains one of the country’s most respected establishments, built in 1859 and since hosting some of the world’s greatest opera and ballet performances. Brought into the 21st century with its state-of-the-art second stage, the Mariinsky Theatre on Theatre Square is the perfect space to experience productions such as Swan Lake, The Nutcracker or musical masterpieces such as Tchaikovsky’s The Queen of Spades. To soothe the aches and pains of a long day of Saint Petersburg sightseeing, Degtyarnyye Bani public bath and spa has exactly what you need. This ‘banya’ style bathing has been commonplace in Russia since the days before private showers and is now a local pastime for those keen to enjoy steamy, eucalyptus leaf massages and other cleansing spa treatments.

Photo: Andrew Trunov

Photo: Andrew Trunov

The Gold Fountains of Peterhof Palace | Photo: Anastasiya Romanova

The Gold Fountains of Peterhof Palace | Photo: Anastasiya Romanova

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Recommended experiences in Saint Petersburg
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What to see in Saint Petersburg

Descend down into the city’s subway stations to experience both unique design and convenient public transport. Easy to navigate and no two stations alike, make sure to pass through Avtovo, Zvenigorodskaya, Pushkinskaya, Bucharestskaya and Sportivnaya, to catch sight of tiled murals, large art installations and the odd statue. Up at street level, there is more grand design to marvel at in the form of The Grand Palace and the Lower Park of Peterhof. One-time home of Peter the Great, Empress Elizabeth and subsequently, Catherine the Great, today the Grand Palace maintains intrigue thanks to its glittering halls, original furnishings and art-filled galleries fit for even the most showy of royals. Of its top features is the Chesme Hall, the Picture Hall and Peter’s Study, capped off with the plush kingly stylings of the Throne Room. Just outside the grounds of the palace is the Lower Park of Peterhof. Appreciate the fresh air with a stroll around its countless gilded fountains, statue-laden walkways and picturesque canals.

Another park worthy of a wander is Catherine Park which extends from Catherine Palace with the main entrance on Sadovaya ul. At its centre lies the Great Pond with various structures and pavilions dotted around, such as the Cameron Gallery and the baroque-style Grotto Pavilion. Additional finds include a towered Turkish Bath, the Marble Bridge and Concert Hall which comes alive on Saturday evenings with various music events.

Peterhof Palace | Photo: Igor Schubin

Peterhof Palace | Photo: Igor Schubin

A proud feature of the city’s skyline is the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood, an elaborate five-domed Russian Orthodox church decorated throughout with mosaics. The sight of an assassination attempt on Tsar Alexander II in 1881, this St. Basil-inspired church holds a rich and intriguing history, spanning Soviet-era troubles and 30 years of restoration in the 1970s.

The art of Fabergé is much-loved worldwide but it’s Russia that is home to the original creator and most famed examples. The Fabergé Museum in Saint Petersburg’s Shuvalov Palace will introduce you to Carl Faberge’s largest collection of unique jewelled works, considered as national cultural heritage. A slightly more up-to-date attraction is the Street Art Museum based in the industrial zone of Okhta. Although far from the typical Saint Petersburg things to do, here you’ll find a collection of huge mixed-media murals set inside a former boiler house among still-active factories. Find the works of some of Russia’s top street artists, such as Timothy Radya, Kirill Kto and Nikita Nomerz, as well as Pasha 183 widely considered to be ‘the Russian Banksy’. In addition to guided weekend tours, the museum regularly hosts outdoor concerts and events.

Photo: Alexander Nikitenko

Photo: Alexander Nikitenko

Hermitage Museum | Photo: Artem Bryzgalov

Hermitage Museum | Photo: Artem Bryzgalov

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Enter Mari Vanna to be instantly transported into a 20th-century Russian apartment where Soviet pop plays and borscht is served in a large ceramic pot

Where to eat in Saint Petersburg

With its hearty and earthy food culture, dining in Saint Petersburg is a unique experience that’ll leave you smiling and stained with beetroot. Despite its Soviet-era struggles, today the city’s culinary scene thrives, offering great takes on classic dishes such as borscht, stroganoff, pelmeni and caviar, alongside international cuisine and fusion dining on the main street of Navsky Prospekt.

Enter Mari Vanna to be instantly transported into a 20th century Russian apartment where Soviet pop plays and borsht is served in a large ceramic pot. The food itself reflects modern day excellence served in generous portions with a side of Russian hospitality. The meat-lovers among you will instead head straight to Blok, on the top floor of the Leningrad Centre, in order to experience traditional Russian cuisine created with the highest quality meat and served alongside signature cocktails named after Russian traditions. As well as fancy steak and Sichuan-style sea bass, the Art Deco décor and sweeping skyline views on the terrace are all added reasons to visit.

Blinis Russia

Relax while enjoying top Italian cuisine at rooftop restaurant Makaronniki , which offers casual yet outstanding takes on classic Italian dishes, presented alongside prosecco cocktails and an enormous terrace with stunning views. Another casual rooftop offering is Parusa na Kryshe providing diners with panoramic views, in addition to European and Italian fare prepared on their Josper grill. Those looking for cocktails and hookah will also leave satisfied. Earlier in the day, brunch aficionados should check out the bourgeois hideaway Kvartira Kosti Kroitsa, an elegant circular restaurant and bar overlooking Nevsky pr. Here you’ll find an eclectic menu of Asian-style noodle dishes, risotto, fish & chips and even a full breakfast menu, making for the perfect wake-up call. The only way to enter is with the secret code and directions, so remember to call ahead!

More modern cuisine can be had at Bourgeois Bohemians, a wine and food concept affectionately referred to as BoBo. Order the nine-course evening set for the ultimate experience, where local produce is prepared with high attention to aesthetics. Then there’s Tartarbar, a 36-seater, reservation-only restaurant centred around a crystal chandelier showpiece and walled in by abstract versions of Gainsborough and Roslin artworks. The menu features tartar, carpaccio and ceviche served alongside a quality selection of wines.

Heading upscale, we have the open kitchen concept of EM Restaurant where a reservation is a must. Come hungry to enjoy a seven course menu of unexpected elements such as reindeer, smoked perch, red cabbage sorbet and squid-ink coloured foie grass. Vegans are also catered for on Sundays. Lastly, we are eyeing premium Italian eatery Il Lago Dei Cigni, located on the banks of Lebyazhy Pond in Krestovsky Island Park. Head chef Vincenze Verdos combines both classic and modern Italian dishes with a side menu of divine confectioneries and a vast wine list complete with a rare label collection.

Photo: Anastasia Zhenina

Photo: Anastasia Zhenina

Photo: Andy Art

Photo: Andy Art

Shopping in Saint Petersburg

Be the envy of your friends back home with some quality Russian garb. Strellson is a perfect place to start, dealing in stylish menswear designs for city living. Among their wide range of clothing, you’ll find everything from formal suits and casual jeans. Another impeccable menswear offering is Mint which brings together smart-casual apparel with practical styles. As well as warm winter coats from Spiewak, Mint also offers Scandinavian brands such as Han Kjøbenhavn and Our Legacy, Eastpak backpacks and shoes. For everything under one roof, head to luxury shopping centre Babochka where you’ll find over 200 well-known, global clothing brands, from Gucci to Ermenegildo Zegna. The concept store Nevsky 152 is particularly notable for its modern shopping concept across two floors, constantly updated to reflect the latest ‘Hypebeast’ trends. At some point, it will be time to stock up on some local specialities and for these, you’ll want to visit Saint Petersburg’s best grocery stores. Kupetz Eliseevs is the first, an elegant, Style Moderne food emporium, selling everything from branded tea and handmade chocolate to caviar and freshly baked goods. The animatronic window displays and wine-cellar cafés make this an elevated trip for groceries. Second, we have Caviar Russia Store for rather more specialised needs. The largest caviar store in Russia, here you’ll find over one hundred high quality, responsibly-produced caviar products from Russia’s leading aquaculture companies, in cooperation with the World Wildlife Fund.

Photo- Bombie H

Photo: Bombie H

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There are a number of scattered gay bars in Saint Petersburg, where the most liberal and loveable people in the city gather

Saint Petersburg Nightlife

While Saint Petersburg’s gay scene remains largely underground, there are a number of scattered gay bars in Saint Petersburg, where the most liberal and loveable people in the city gather. Other gay-popular hubs worthy of a visit include Apotheke, a well-hidden cocktail bar featuring a horse-shoe bar, jazz soundtrack and intimate atmosphere. There’s no menu so you’ll have to trust your bartender to mix up something suited to your discerning taste. To experience the best of Russian bar culture, however, there is no better choice than Orthodox, a place where Russian liquor takes pride of place as the base for artistically styled cocktails named after the Russian artists who inspired their creations.

Another highlight of our Saint Petersburg gay nightlife guide is Buddha Bar St Petersburg, a creative and eclectic hub where you’ll want to spend the entire night experimenting with the unique drinks on their ever-changing cocktail card, full of unexpected flavours and colourful spices. This lounge bar, overlooking the Neva River, not only offers over 70 types of Champagne but also a range of Asian fusion dishes, perfect for post-opera nibbles in dazzling surroundings.

Photo: Mark Pan4ratte

Photo: Mark Pan4ratte

Raising the tempo in Saint Petersburg after dark is the small queer hangout known as Malevich Bar. Located just behind Vorota Station in a darkened courtyard, here you’ll find laid-back liberals enjoying political conversation over inexpensive drinks. With an entry fee of 300 roubles, and open to anyone from Wednesday to Sunday, Malevich Bar is famed for its satirical drag shows, lively crowd and unique social nights that host boxing, tango and singing classes early on. One last stop of the night is to Saint Petersburg’s largest gay club, Central Station. Always alive with activity and open almost 24/7, this club draws a sophisticated crowd of men largely between 25 to 40 who come for the elegant – uncharacteristically friendly – service staff and the wide variety of music ranging from Russian pop to international DJ events.

Photo: Mark Pan4ratte

Photo: Mark Pan4ratte

Photo: Hu Chen

Photo: Hu Chen

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