Russia, St. Petersburg starter kit
Reasons to come: If you want to relax St. Petersburg the same as any other russian city is a wrong place to come. Slow, expensive and inadequate services, inconvenience of everything will be your permanent companions. Better go to Turkey, or to Finland. The only reason to come here is to learn and to see something. You will see things and history from another side of the world, from inside a big white spot on world's map, as you can see Russia on TravelPod.
Climate: +7...-30 deg.C in winter and +10...+30 deg. C in summer. I strongly advise you to have umbrella or something for rains in summer we have a lot of them. From the middle of May to the middle of July a phenomena of white nights is observed. That means it does not get dark at night because we are very close to the North Pole. One of my friends once described the night in our early summer as "two hours of inky twilights". This period is considered romantic young people walk a lot, take boat tours, etc. I do not remember anyone mentioning "Black days" in winter, when it gets light at 10 a.m. and dark at 5 p.m., and I wonder if they find it romantic in Finland, which is some 500 km to the north from us and must have the same phenomena, even brighter.
Time: we have Moscow time that means GTM+3 to this +1 hour in summer the same as they have in Europe.
Population: 5 million people, the second biggest city in Russia, quite industrial and prosperous due to the sea port and a lot of educated people.
Airport: it is very small and provincial compare to what you are accustomed to. On the way back do not behave as if you were in some other place, please, come 2 hours before your departure time capacity of the airport is really low, and its operation is really not perfect. Connection of the airport to the city is inconvenient, though it is not so far from the center. Normal cost of the taxi from airport to the center for the daytime is 600RUR (16 USD). There is a bus №39 and a lot of private shared taxies, you will distinguish them by prefix "K". They are a bit more expensive (25RUR 0.69 USD) against 18RUR=0.5USD charged by the municipal bus #39). They go to the metro station Moskovskaya.
Transportation: So, in the day time you will be delivered to the destination safely and cheaply. Metro closes at 23.30 and opens at 6.30. Entrance to the metro will cost you 18 RUR=0.5USD, the fee is charged for entrance, no one bothers where exactly you are going and with how many transfers. To enter you have to buy a coin like thing, called zheton. Another opportunity is a smart-card, which may contain as many entrances as you buy. It looks like a blue credit card, you just press it to the white circle on the gate and the gate opens for you, and you keep your smart card with you to use for the next entrance. Public transportation is quite well developed. Here you can plan your rout by public transportation to destination address (or object) you specify http://spb.rusavtobus.ru/en/. The city is interconnected with metro (or subway), buses, trolleybuses, trams and shared taxies which are actually private minibuses, which go some exact rout but stop wherever you request along this rout, unless it is not forbidden by traffic rules. The request is supposed in Russian, and the thing will not stop unless someone requests. Metro is good and safe, though crowded and has no instructions in English inside. You badly need Cyrillic alphabet to use metro without assistance of someone local, consider that people normally do not speak English. It may sound funny, but our metro can be really regarded as a tourists' attraction. Contrast to just low and narrow tiled tunnels in London, most of our metro stations are works of architecture, some of them real gems, though crowded of course. I especially advise you to see Pushkinskaya a wonderful and unusual example of Stalin's Empire Style, built in early 1950-s.
Meals: 30USD would be enough to have a very good diner vine including. Business lunch will be something like 7USD. Now we have a lot of cafes, restaurants everything, I just wander will they survive the breakdown or not? Though, some things are special. Any prospect of having a breakfast out will be not earlier than 9 a.m., and not many places offer it. Most of the cafes open at 10-11 a.m. So, if you are an early bird do not neglect what they offer in your hotel.
Medicine: I do not think you will find our healthcare very modern, but they will help.
Toilets: For a visit to a public toilet you will be charged something like 0.5USD, and it may happen to be not perfectly clean and comfortable. Slide unnoticed into some cafe (they are required to have some toilet anyway), or try some luxurious hotel, like Europe, Nevsky palace or Redison. Here your foreign look will play for you.
Accommodation: Mini-hotels are good. All of them belong to post-soviet period. Many of them have good locations and occupy the premises of an apartment in a porch of some dwelling house. A porch of the dwelling house may look terrible do not be scared, it's just state of repair normal for the historical center and it does not imply any danger. In the mini-hotel itself everything will look quite good. Something of acceptable quality must cost 100-150USD/ day.
Attractions: Once I heard a girl from russian province, who walked along Nevsky prospect, asking: "Is there any non-historical building here?" Sorry, all of them historical, between 18th and 20th century, really beautiful. It is difficult to find a view, which would not please with beauty. St. Petersburg was a capital of huge and prosperous Russian Empire until the revolution of 1917. It was built by the best European masters as "a window to Europe" as the city is often called, and Nevsky is the aristocratic part of this capital. You will be impressed.
Hermitage museum: a huge art museum occupying the Winter palace former winter residence of Russian Tsars and some nearest buildings. It has a collection of foreign arts, no worse than Louver, a really good one. As a true traveler, I think, you have been in Louver. Here you will see the works of the same greatest artists of the world, just different from those in the European collections. If you are a fan of fine arts, go to the Hermitage (open from 10.30 to 17.00 and to 16.00 on Sundays, Monday is a day off, about 9USD).
Museum of Russian Arts or Russian Museumthey have a collection of russian artworks, which is really good and bright, and deserves attention a lot of things to see and to learn, not necessary to be a fan of fine arts (open every day from 10.00 to 17.00, on Monday from 10.00 to 16.00, Tuesday is a day off, about 9USD). Many of the paintings are good illustrations of Russian life and history.
Savior on Blood: a memorial church in imitation of the ancient russian architecture, a lot of stone carving very beautiful. It was built on the spot where a very good and democratic Russian Tsar Alexander II was murdered by a terrorist.
St. Isaac's cathedral: huge and impressing, magnificent, really beautiful, easily accessible. I advise you to buy also a ticket to colonnade. For your own money you will have to clime about 100 m up to the colonnade, but the view deserves the sacrifice.
Jusupovs' palace. Probably you know, who is Grigory Rasputin. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grigori_Rasputin So, you can visit the very palace where Rasputin was murdered. In the above Wikipedia article they have a picture of Moika Palace this very place. Though, it is not so easily accessible. The palace preserves all things and decorations original and rents out its rooms for very rich banquet parties too much absorbed in commercial activities a bit forgetting the role of a museum. In summer the excursion should be ordered something like 2 months in advance.
Dostoyevsky. Probably you know his famous novels "Crime and Punishment", "Karamazov brothers", "Idiot", etc., you could have them at school. If you are a fan of the great writer, go to his flat (they have a museum there). Someone local can take you to the real places described it the novels. Dostoyevsky described very truly the real scenery inhabited by pore people. This will be another part of the city not a trace of imperial magnificence. Here I advise you to see some of the yards. Normally they are locked, but have patience, wait until someone comes to unlock the gate and follow him (or her). They would not object. We call this "well-yard". In such yard you feel like you are inside of a big well formed by the house walls with just a small square of sky over your head.
Peterhoff a wonderful summer residence of Russian tsars on the sea shore (a suburb) with a lot of fountains very beautiful. The main architectural idea was to make an improved and enlarged copy of Versailles, and it was a success. I advise you to go there by boat (mooring place is just by the Winter Palace, 30USD two ways. Entrance to the Peterhoff park will be 12USD). I advise you not to enter the palace but to enjoy the park. The place is wonderful and flooded by tourists.
Catherine's palace another summer residence of Russian tsars in the suburb called Pushkin. Also very beautiful, and it has a famous amber room http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amber_Room This palace is not easily accessible. Prepare for queuing and fighting I warned you, not many things will be easy, but this place deserves fighting. Here I advise you to come by taxi. Train is not convenient it will make you tired, and the subsequent strong emotions from the palace will be killing. (Open from 10 to 17 every day except Tuesdays end the last Monday of each month, about 30USD).
Pavlovsk one more royal suburb... No fountains, no amber rooms but also very beautiful. This park is popular rather among locals, than foreign tourists a good place to relax. Now one local "oligarch" tries to restore traditions of the place organizing free of charge public concerts (classical music mostly) it the park's pavilions.
Peter and Paul Fortress. It has two main places of attraction: Peter and Paul Cathedral where all the members of Russian royal family are buried beginning with Peter I and the prison where political prisoners of the empire were kept quite comfortable compare to what I heard about soviet prisons.
The Engineering Castle, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Bronze Horseman
The list seams to be endless.
Boat trips. The city is situated in the delta of a huge river called Neva, so it is crossed with a lot of smaller rivers and channels, Neva including. Walking along Nevsky you will see a lot boat trips advertised. Resist the temptation. Actually they offer a trip along channels accompanied by a lecture in Russian through loudspeakers for good money of 15USD. The lecture is loud there will be no chance to outcry it. There is a place where you can hire a boat for your own with a guide or without a guide. This will cost something like 120USD per hour. I advise you to include Neva into your trip. This will be impressing.
People. They look sever from the first sight no one smiling, all of them emerged in their thoughts
At the second sight they are better and even friendly, but they do not speak English.
You haven't been in St. Petersburg unless you have
Seen a ballet or opera in Mariinsky theater
Mariinsky is of course the most famous and the biggest, though there is another place more expensive and better in my view The Hermitage Theater. It is small and exquisite, located in the former home theater of Russian emperors. If you do not like classical music, I advise you our Jazz Club (Shpalernaya 31) or Jazz Philharmonics (on Zagorodniy prospect).
Walked through Nevsky prospect
Walked along the Palace Embankment
Seen the Bronze Horseman
Been in the Hermitage museum
Enjoyed the White Night
You have not been in Russia unless you have
Had vodka with a cucumber cooked specially like pickles, but without any vinegar some salt added to control fermentation. I'm not sure about vodka, but cucumbers known as "salted cucumbers (soloniye ogurtsi)" are excellent.
Tried borsh a soup made of bit root, potatoes, meat and other optional vegetables. Really good if cooked properly.
Bought a wooden spoon painted in Hohloma style for your domestic needs.
Tried kvas a traditional soft drink.