So why not explore what else is on offer? Here’s a 48 hour itinerary that will guide you through the hidden side of Saint Petersburg. As a local, of course.
Day 1: 09:00 – 13:00
Maybe not everyone knows that tea has been a very popular and beloved beverage in Russia for centuries. The cool Lebedev’s Cafe, renamed after its equally cool patron, is probably the only place in Saint Petersburg that has the Krasnodar tea – the traditional Russian tea – on the list. Further north, close to the Summer Garden, our Spotter Elena recommends a visit to the Stieglitz Museum. Founded by baron Alexander Stieglitz to educate the students of the industrial design school he opened in the same building, the museum is one of Saint Petersburg’s hidden pearls off the beaten trail. The building itself is quite impressive, and the collection showcases an interesting collection of European and Russian pieces of applied arts, most of them dating back to the 16th – 18th century.
Day 1: 13:00 – 19:00
Rule Instagram and compulsively post pictures of Soundouk, one of the oldest conceptual art and food places in town. Its theatrically beautiful interior (which in itself a good enough reason to go) matches its tasty and eclectic food choice. And if it’s peculiarity that you’re after, Christina would strongly advise you buy a ticket (that is, old coins) for the Museum of Soviet Arcade Games. Saint Petersburg is probably one of the few cities in the world that boasts hundreds of museums, but no other will offer you the opportunity to discover first hand how USSR children and teenagers entertained themselves.
For later on, take an even longer leap into the past and walk through the Passage, a sophisticated 19th century shopping mall opening onto Saint Petersburg’s main street, the impressive Nevsky Prospekt. Also, if you walk along Nevsky towards the Admirality and venture into the streets of the historic centre, try to spot Vse Svobodny. This cosy bookshop is tucked away in a courtyard and for obvious reasons mostly only locals know it exists. If you are not acquainted with Russian you might find it hard to read any of the books they sell, but the environment is so homey and intimate (plus, one of the rooms has been turned into a tea room) that it just makes for the perfect place to rest and warm up your bones.
Day 1: 19:00 – 23:00
When it comes to your first dinner in Saint Petersburg, the choice is between contemporary and traditional. With no more than 20 seats, Duo is one of the latest additions to the city’s culinary scene and it has quickly established itself as one of the most innovative and tastiest (and fairly cheap) gastropubs in town.
On the other hand, Severyanin‘s menu features dishes from the culinary tradition of Northern Russia (Severyanin means ‘Northerner’ in Russian). Its interior is reminiscent Saint Petersburg’s apartments at the beginning of the 20th century and the restaurant often hosts music and poetry evenings too.
From contemporary to traditional to Soviet kitsch: Produkty‘s interior is furnished with pieces from the 50s and 60s, and offers a good, updated list of cocktails. Alternatively, Brimborium is a young spot offering a variety of home-made tinctures. The owners can be spotted working there too and as far as we know they are always eager to talk and explain their drinks and food menu.
Day 1: 23:00 – …
Who said Saint Petersburg cannot compete with Moscow in terms of nightlife? In the last year the city has seen a lot of events and places popping up. Khroniki Bar is located in an area where a lot seems to happen, and it’s one of the favourite hangouts of the creative and cultural crowd of the city. Further to the western part of the centre, Mishka Bar is a hipster spot well-known among Saint Petersburg’s teenage hipsters but, if like our Spotter Dmitry you’re not afraid of feeling too old, just head there: the place hosts sets of local DJs and the bartenders fix some great cocktails.
Day 2: 09:00 – 13:00
More tasty desserts await your morning appetite at Gosti, a homey restaurant and confectionery shop close to Saint Isaac’s Cathedral (its Napoleon cake won first price in the local bakeries’ competition, just saying). Within walking distance is Rosphoto. Hosted in a fine building dating back to the 18th century, Rosphoto showcases the best contemporary photography and photo-related exhibitions, from well-known national and international masters to younger, emerging talents. In case you’re interested in digging further into Saint Petersburg’s noble past, on the Moika River stands the Yusupov Palace. Back in the days the Yusupov family was among the richest in Russia and owned several palaces throughout the whole country, but the Moika Palace (this is what it is also called) was their main residence. The art pieces collected by the family is now part of the Hermitage collection, but the building was largely kept unchanged.
Gloomy detail: Rasputin was killed here, after which his body was thrown into the river.
Day 2: 13:00 – 19:00
A vegetarian restaurant fusing together Indian and Russian cuisine: that’s how Rada & Co could maybe be defined. Don’t be fooled by the fact that it’s a self-service canteen: dishes (and desserts!) are extremely tasty. Alternatively, Kvartirka is a nice exception to most tourist trap cafes and restaurants you can find on Nevski Prospekt. Once again, thanks to its traditional Russian menu and vintage interior, you will be taken back to USSR times.
Kvartika is at a convenient distance from the Museum of Nonconformist Art. The museum is part of the Art Space Pushkinskaya, 10 and is home to a modern, eclectic collection of art pieces made by Leningrad ‘non-official’ painters in 1980-1990. Definitely one of those museums that has to be visited if you want to know more about the city’s more contemporary art and cultural scene.
Another art space, another piece of history. Etagi is a multi-vocational space that, unlike others in town, has managed to stay afloat and rule in Saint Petersburg’s art scene since 2007. This cultural project has developed throughout the years and now encompasses local designers and thrift shops, food takeaways, a bar, a cinema, an indie cinema… and so forth. Just head there and check it out, you could absolutely end up spending the whole afternoon there!
Day 2: 19:00 – 23:00
Alas, it’s your second and last night in Saint Petersburg… a great excuse to celebrate in style! – and to reserve a table at Big Wine Freaks, a fancy new wine bar/restaurant (not in the city centre, so it’s best to take a cab). The interior is decorated with original, vintage Scandinavian design pieces, the food is excellent (the chefs interned at the hyper-celebrated Noma of Copenhagen), the wine list is, as noted by our Spotter Sergey, “jaw dropping”… do we need to add more?
Wanna go easier without renouncing coolness? This time in the centre, the Mexico-themed El Copitas is hidden in a typical Saint Petersburg inner yard (book in advance, or no one is gonna open the black metal door to its entrance). Needless to say, food and drinks are mostly inspired by the rich culinary tradition of the Central American country.
For later on, you might either want to grab a cocktail (or two, or three, or more) at the wooden counter of the Big Liver Place, whose team of bartenders is among the best ones in town, or head to Kamchatka, not far from the Peter and Paul Fortress. Once the coal boiler room where Victor Tsoi, front man of the rock band Kino, worked as a stoker, Kamchatka is a nostalgic venue celebrating the alternative Russian music scene of the 80s – definitely a nice and ‘exotic’ surprise for non-Russian rock fans.
Day 2: 23:00 – …
If you happen to be in Saint Petersburg, especially during the weekend, you will notice that it’s not uncommon for many places to stay open until early in the morning. Right next to Dumskaya – a dodgy and noisy (and fun!) bar street – is Motion. Unlike its neighbours, Motion is much quieter, and the quality of their cocktails is much better. Not far from here, you can drink more and dance in a bar that is also a laundrette: Stirka 40°, says Dmitriy, is quite an institution in town. The place is tiny, but it’s always packed with people dancing to electronica – this is no big deal in Europe, as it’s clearly not here either.
Still convinced Saint Petersburg is an open-air museum frozen like the Neva in winter?