If only for its sheer size, Russia is a country like no other. Naturally, then, it is one of the most common destinations on travel bucket lists everywhere. The capital city of St Petersburg is easily one of the most attractive prospects.
St Petersburg attracts over two million foreign visitors annually, as well as double that from domestic visits. If you are planning to become one of them, it’s vital that you make the right preparations before arriving. Here’s all you need to know.
Getting A Visa
Tourists require a visa to visit Russian soil, and St Petersburg is no different. The exact specifications can vary depending on the nature and length of your visit, as well as your origins. The best advice is to conduct the necessary research before booking flights and accommodation. After all, rejection would render those other purchases futile.
A holiday visa is unlikely to be rejected without good reason, but the process can take several weeks. Keep this in mind, however, and you shouldn’t go far wrong.
Preparing For Language Barriers
The Russian language is a very difficult one to learn especially for English speakers as it is not derived from Latin. The fact that Russia uses the Cyrillic alphabet only makes things more difficult. Particularly with written communication.
Some locals will speak fluent English while many others have a basic grasp. Nonetheless, learning a few stock phrases and investing in a translator App could make a world of difference to your comfort. Despite reputations, most Russians are helpful when asking for directions and similar advice.
Adapting To The Time, Climate & Currency
St Petersburg falls under Russia’s Time Zone 2, meaning it is UTC +3. Given that it doesn’t utilise daylight saving, the severity of time difference will vary throughout the two periods of the year. For European travellers, it’s unlikely to cause major disruption to routines. However, Americans will need to prepare for that change.
Like most of Russia, the capital city has a cold climate. This is particularly true in the winter months, with temperatures often dipping to -5 degrees centigrade. Snow is quite common too. The summertime is a little brighter with up to nine hours of sunlight and temperatures of 22 degrees.
The currency used in St Petersburg is the Russian Ruble. Depending on your country of origin, exchanging to this before arrival can be challenging. If you intend to arrive with foreign denominations, USD and Euros are preferred. However, British pounds can be transferred in some places.
Getting To The City Centre
In spite of being the capital of such a huge country, St Petersburg is served by only one major airport. Pulkovo Airport is split into two terminals, with the international flights going/coming from the second.
The terminal is 17km away from the city centre, but St Petersburg airport transfers are quick and affordable. City buses are even cheaper but will take a lot of time. Moreover, the lack of a train service means that those facilities are often packed.
Moving Around The City
Once in the city centre, moving around is relatively easy. The public transport infrastructure is very good. In addition to an advanced railway system, buses serve up to three million passengers per day. Meanwhile, taxi services are readily available for those needing to use the roads in a quicker fashion. Inner city traffic can build up, though, particularly at peak times.
The city’s Metro is served by five lines. This is used by over two million people each day and is often a tourist’s preferred method of travel around the city. Once in the central areas, though, many of the main attractions are nearby. Therefore, travel by foot can be the best solution.
Finding Places To Eat
Russian cuisine is very diverse, and it’s particularly visible in the array of restaurants in St Petersburg. The country is known for a variety of hot and cold soups. As for main dishes, stroganoff, pickled herring, and caviar are winning options. Eastern European sauerkraut is another common feature that can be found in most local restaurants.
Due to its tourism trade, St Petersburg additionally boasts food from all four corners of the globe. Unadventurous eaters can even stick to chains like McDonald’s if they choose. From cheap eats to fine dining, the Russian capital is accommodating for all.
Building An Itinerary
When visiting St Petersburg, you’ll be determined to see and experience all of the best things it has to offer. Given the difficulties posed by the language barrier, it’s always worth planning ahead. This is the only way you’ll avoid missing out on major attractions.
St Petersburg boasts many family activities including various zoos and aquariums. Divo Ostrov amusement park is another winner while Piterland Aquapark can be a great source of indoor fun.
The city also provides political and historical hot points at every turn. Palace Square, St Isaac’s Cathedral, and the Neva embankments are just three examples. Many of those cultural attractions can be enjoyed autonomously or as part of a walking tour. Biking tours are another solution in various places.
Entertainment facilities are rather interesting too. Whether it’s enjoying the ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre or watching Zenit at the Krestovsky Stadium doesn’t matter. Soaking in that culture of art, sport, and general nightlife is an important part of gaining the full Russian experience.
Even if you are visiting for business and have limited leisure time, the capital offers the chance to experience amazing things. Even in the winter months when the weather is a little adverse, the enjoyment never ends. As long as you’re organised, it can be a truly wonderful place for both short and extended breaks.
The Final Word
Preparing for a trip to this Russian city does require both legal and practical preparations. Thankfully, the rewards to be gained from taking those steps are huge. Get it right, and your Russian adventure will surpass even your wildest expectations. What more could any visitor want?