To glimpse a bit of St Petersburg’s local life we asked a local journalist Tanya Barashkova to talk to us about St Petersburg. We talked about things to do in St Petersburg, non-touristy St Petersburg and how Saint Petersburg is different from Moscow.
You’ll be surprised you know nothing about the city and its life after reading your 270-page Lonely Planet book. Our 1400-word article will help you getting to know the cultural capital of Russia.
Tanya, do you like your city?
I was born and raised in St. Petersburg, and when all this beauty is around you 365 days a year, you just stop noticing it. Before moving to Moscow I thought the difference between the two cities is a stupid stereotype. I was mistaken. Me and Moscow, we just didn’t understand each other. At all. This is how I turned into an enthusiastic tourist and lover of St Petersburg, walking aimlessly through the streets and photographing everything on my way.
Photo shooting in St Petersburg
Good shot, in my opinion, is the one that tells a story, which captures a moment of life, which will make you imagine what was before, what will happen after. But it has little relevance to Instagram. Instagram is just about pretty pictures, sunsets, sunrises. The brighter, the better. Little story, more glitz.
There is a very interesting church near the metro station Chernyshevskaya – St. Ann’s Church. Once there was a fire, now the interior is gradually renovated by voluntary donations. Very atmospheric place. Now it’s a popular venue for art exhibits, concerts and even fashion shows.
For summer sunrises, sunsets head to the Park of the 300th Anniversary of St Petersburg. There’s great-a great beach and fantastic views of the Gulf of Finland. The other shore is not visible. Sometimes it seems that you are on the southern seas here. Ideal place for meditating, summer festivals and yoga classes.
There is one more monument to the good angel straight on a bench in the Izmaylovo garden.
In summer, the Botanical Garden is your place for photo shoots, a very picturesque area, there are many unusual and rare flowers are planted.
And in winter, beautiful Central Park is like a winter castle with real reindeer, living here.
There are amazing buildings on Kolokolnaya Street, designed in the Russian style, decorated with mosaics.
Make sure you take a sneak peak into a coutryard at Zhukovsky, 6. Artists painted graffiti devoted to fairy tales of a great Russian poet Pushkin, a painted cat- scientist apparently has good karma and attracts all the cats of the district.
If you want cool architecture, check a wonderful Lion Bridge, a small, narrow, wooden, and, of course, with the lions. Take a stroll down pedestrian streets like Malaya Sadovaya and Malaya Konuschennaya. Don’t skip the streets with a small boulevard in the middle (Bolshaya Konuschennaya, Furshtatskaya and Prospect Chernyshevskogo, which, by the way, leads to the waterfront with a monument to Russian ship Poltava.
Local vibe in St Petersburg
Petersburg is a city of creative, friendly and open people. We have cozier bars, less cars, less fuss. More small cafes and bars where the owners themselves are working behind the counter. We are more Europeans, perhaps, than the Muscovites. We don’t leave tourists in trouble. We have a different music. And we have more rock and jazz. We are bar capital. Well, in addition to cultural and North.
Yes, St. Petersburg is a creative zone for creative people. Well, I guess, it is true. Musicians, street artists, street actors… Creativity is an intimate process, based on human relationship, and St Petersburg has this sincerity, this bond between people, this warmness.
New way to travel
I don’t like professional guides. I hate tourist groups. If I had friends in every town, wherever I swerved, this would be a perfect way of traveling for me – with local friends, exploring off the beaten path.
This winter I went to Nizhny Novgorod to hike through huge snowdrifts. St. Petersburg hasn’t had such winter for several years, by the way.
I think that’s the best way to discover a new place – by staying away from tourist clusters.
Insider’s tips to tourists in St Petersburg
Tourists generally are only aware of the main attractions. And this is nothing.
I strongly advise tourists to jump off the main tourist routes, and turn away from Nevsky for a bit more improvisation. Off the beaten track in St Petersburg hides a lot of interesting and lively places.
Well, if improvisation scares you, you can always find some non-trivial tours to the roofs, jazz bars rock places, abandoned mansions, ancient palaces. Private tours in St Petersburg is the guaranteed way to get the insider’s perspective of the city.
The main museum of modern art – Erarta – features U-space where you can see space installations. The installations come to life. One, for example makes you feel like a midget from a fairy tale about Masha and the Three Bears. Everything is huge. Chairs, tables, crockery. So much fun!
People in St Petersburg
For me the city is not just the beautiful buildings and streets, it goes together with the people. It is the people, the locals who create the atmosphere. In Moscow, people are angry. If you remove these angry people from there, you can find nice places, you can even walk. But, unfortunately, there are too many angry people out there to remove. I can not understand the old female employees at the Tretyakov Gallery, they look at you with contempt and hate you, you can feel it.
Here in St Petersburg the staff in the Hermitage are all angels. You walk around, take pictures, and they come to you and secretly whisper to your ear which paintings are best for your photoshoots.
Coffee shops in St Petersburg
More Coffee! and Coffee in the Kitchen are very laid-back places with artsy interior. Coffee 3 is good place, too. View of the Botanical Garden, full-length windows and a barista, who ready to tell you everything about drinks make this coffee shop very special to me.
The most comfortable anti-café where you pay for time and get free coffee and cookies is Tsiferburg on Bolshaya Konuschennaya, 9. You can meet a lot of interesting people here, listen to live music and socialize.
St Petersburg Cafes
I advise you The Dreamers on the Fontanka. It’s kind of a coffee shop, but with the full menu with unusual combinations. My friend had pasta with seafood and black currant sauce here. And they treat you as an old friend.
Another original café is Bureau of Sweet Architecture Roobiescookies. Sweet Lollipop-portraits of famous people, writers, and cartoon characters. Chocolate busts of Lenin and many other interesting sweet personalities.
St Petersburg Bars
We have bars at every corner in Saint Petersburg. Apotheke bar at Lomonosov 1 can boast real professionals with extensive experience. All cocktails there are pure magic. You don’t come here to get drunk, you come to this place to talk to alco-connoisseurs and get enlightened about the alco-art.
The largest collection of gin in the city is in Gin Tonic, somewhat hidden place in the courtyard on Ligovsky.
Tipplers at Zhukovsky, 17 is very good for cocktail classics. The staff looks like American prisoners and the interior of the bar looks like an American prison. Surprisingly, it’s always very cozy here.
By the way, at Zhukovsky, 6 there is a wonderful artsy patio. Graffiti based on Pushkin’s fairy tales. An underground artist known Valerius took part in the creation of this art. His paintings are exhibited in galleries in Russian and Europe.
Best city views
It’s worth to climb up the St. Isaac’s Cathedral colonnade. It’s really very beautiful. Especially on summer evenings. In the summer season colonnade is open almost around the clock. Of course, it’s more expensive, but you don’t do it every day, right?
Take a walk along Petrogradka. Nothing special here, but the architecture is very different from that on the Nevsky, with a lot of Gothic elements.
If you’re taking St Petersburg shore tours you’re already in a great position to get the scenic views of the city, with all the bridges, embankments, and iconic vistas.
St Petersburg vs Moscow
Petersburg is somewhat heartier. The City for Dreamers, I’d call it.
Here the bustle is an exception rather than the rule, and in Moscow it’s the opposite. You can’t find a peaceful street in Moscow. Everybody constantly rushes somewhere.
In St Petersburg if you regularly come to a coffee shop or bar, especially with owners at the counter, they’ll remember you, smile at you and treat you in a special way. I love it. In Moscow everything is for the show. It feels flashy, fake, artificial.
Different rhythms of cities, different music, different atmosphere and people. Moscow is the story about the night clubs. In St. Petersburg there few clubs. We love to relax in bars where you can hear jazz, or vinyl set in a modern electronic processing.
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