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Why Go to St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg stands at the geographic and cultural borders of the west and east. And though the city is inspired by the intricate and ordered architecture of Western Europe, it is still infused with a vibrant and persevering Russian spirit. St. Petersburg largely owes its dualistic nature to its founder, Peter the Great, an unabashed lover of all things European who commissioned the city's streets and architecture to resemble his favorite western cities. And the results of the Tsar's great experiment? A grand European-style city, replete with long boulevards, narrow canals and grand public squares. It's also an epicenter of distinctly Russian culture, as the place where literature and music greats like Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev all found their voice. Moscow might be known for its luxury and decadence, but St. Petersburg offers compromise: between the expensive tastes of Russia's capital and the often-overrated (and just plain crowded) cities of Western Europe.

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St. Petersburg Travel Tips

Best Months to Visit

The best time to visit St. Petersburg is from mid-June to September. Although it's expensive, St. Petersburg's near 24 hours of sunshine and White Nights celebrations are not to be missed. Summers are generally cool but pleasant, with temperatures dropping to the lower 50s, so be sure to pack accordingly. Traveling to St. Petersburg in the winter is rare; winter days are short, and temperatures will dip well below freezing.

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What You Need to Know

  • Bring your Russian dictionary English is widely spoken in major hotels and restaurants, but you'll find very few English speakers outside the tourist districts. You'll hear Russian and see Cyrillic almost exclusively, so it's best to be familiar with the alphabet before your trip.
  • Bring your t.p. St. Petersburg has a surprising small amount of public restrooms, and an even smaller amount of clean ones. Carrying a travel-size roll of toilet paper and hand-sanitizer around with you is probably a good idea.
  • Be prepared for secondhand smoke Russia is a smokers' country, and St. Petersburg is definitely a smokers' city. Non-smoking sections are still uncommon, but the practice is catching on in larger establishments, so be sure to ask if you have a preference.

How to Save Money in St. Petersburg

  • Get a smart card If you plan on using the metro often, invest in a smart card at the ticket counter. The plastic cards can be loaded by the trip or the day, saving you between upward of $4 USD.
  • Book early Making your hotel reservations up to a year in advance -- especially if you intend to visit during June's White Nights Celebration -- can save your wallet some pain.
  • Protect your pockets Pickpockets are prevalent in St. Petersburg, so make sure to keep a close eye on your belongings in crowded areas.

Culture & Customs

English is spoken in major hotels and restaurants, but you'll find mostly Russian speakers in the more local areas like the market or small inns. Some helpful Russian greetings include the informal hello (priv-EYET), the formal hello (ZDRA-stvooy-te), the informal goodbye (pah-KAH), and the formal goodbye (Dah svih-DA-nee-ye). Saying thank you (Spa-SEE-ba) is always nice as well.

Tipping for service is common practice in Russia, and according to TripAdvisor, the typical tip usually ranges between 10 and 15 percent. 

What to Eat

You'll find hundreds of culinary hotspots in St. Petersburg, especially along Nevsky Prospekt, ranging from large luxurious eateries to the sprawling, local markets. Fortunately, food prices are more reasonable than in Moscow. Local dishes include hearty soups, cabbage, beef dishes, and of course, the Russian crepe, or blini. Try this Russian pancake that's stuffed with butter, caviar or other fillings a treat for the adventurous foodie; its available at fast-food type stands around the city. 

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Safety

St. Petersburg has a mixed reputation when it comes to safety, but most agree that it has improved from the chaotic time immediately following the fall of the Soviet Union. The city has its share of gangs and there have even been incidents of neo-Nazi assaults. According to TripAdvisor , racism is "unfortunately still alive and well in St Petersburg. Please bear this in mind if you are of black or Asian origin." According to many, LGBT travelers should also exercise caution moving around the city.

Be very careful when crossing roads, as drivers don't always yield to pedestrians here. Use crosswalks and only cross when vehicles have come to a complete stop.

Getting Around St. Petersburg

The best way to get around St. Petersburg is public transportation; otherwise, you can walk around  Nevsky Prospekt, the main thoroughfare. There's an extensive bus and metro system with lines that run throughout the center and into the city’s outskirts. Tram or trolley is best for short journeys through downtown. For trips to the suburbs, try the metro system. Rental cars are available at the Pulkovo Airport (LED), but acquiring the proper driving documents can be a hassle. Taxis are also a prevalent (though at times, unsafe) way to move around.

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Entry & Exit Requirements

Acquiring a visa to travel in Russia is a bit more complicated and expensive than visiting other countries. Every foreign traveler entering Russia must have a Russian-based sponser (like a hotel, tour company, university or relative).  In addition to a valid U.S. passport, you must also obtain a travel visa from a Russian embassy or consulate prior to arriving in Russia. If you plan to stay in Russia for more than seven days, you have to register your visa and migration card (the white paper document given by the border police on first entry to Russia) with the Federal Migration Service. Visas can cost anywhere from $160 to $250 per person, depending on the length of your stay. For more information on entry and exit requirements, visit the U.S. State Department  website .

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