Saint Petersburg is a city and a federal subject of Russia located on the Neva River at the head of the Gulf of Finland on the Baltic Sea. Founded by Tsar Peter I of Russia on May 27, 1703, it was the capital of the Russian Empire for more than two hundred years (1713–1728, 1732–1918). Saint Petersburg ceased being the capital in 1918 after the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the city has been rapidly making up for lost time and is by far the most cosmopolitan of Russia’s cities.
Saint Petersburg experiences a humid continental climate of the cool summer subtype, due to the distinct moderating influence of the Baltic Sea cyclones. Summers are typically cool, humid and quite short, while winters are long, cold, but with frequent warm spells. The average daily temperature in July is 22 °C (72 °F); summer maximum is about 34 °C (93 °F), winter minimum is about ?27 °C (?17 °F). The average annual temperature is +4 °C (39 °F). The River Neva within the city limits usually freezes up in November-December, break-up occurs in April. From December to March there are 123 days average with snow cover, which reaches the average of 24 cm (9 in) by February. The frost-free period in the city lasts on average for about 135 days. The city has a climate slightly warmer than its suburbs. Weather conditions are quite variable all year round. Average annual precipitation varies across the city, averaging 600 mm (24 in) per year and reaching maximum in late summer.
Saint Petersburg is home to more than two hundred museums, many of them hosted in historic buildings. The largest of the museums is the Hermitage Museum, featuring interiors of the former imperial residence and a vast collection of art. The Russian Museum is a large museum devoted to the Russian fine art specifically. The apartments of some famous Petersburgers, including Alexander Pushkin, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Feodor Chaliapin, Alexander Blok, Vladimir Nabokov, Anna Akhmatova, Mikhail Zoshchenko, Joseph Brodsky, as well as some palace and park ensembles of the southern suburbs and notable architectural monuments such as St. Isaac’s Cathedral, have also been turned into public museums. The Kunstkamera, with its collection established in 1714 by Peter the Great to collect curiosities from all over the world, is sometimes considered the first museum in Russia, which has evolved into the present-day Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. The Russian Ethnography Museum, which has been split from the Russian Museum, is devoted to the cultures of the people of Russia, the former Soviet Union and Russian Empire. Other notable museums include the Naval Museum hosted in the building of the former stock exchange and Zoological Museum, the Railway Museum, Museum of the Siege of Leningrad, Museum of the History of Saint Petersburg in the Peter and Paul Fortress and Artillery Museum, which in fact includes not only artillery items, but also a huge collection of other military equipment, uniform and decorations.
No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without seeing an opera or ballet performance. The Mariinsky is perhaps the most well-known institution, but it is by no means the only theater in the city. Tickets are sold throughout the city at kiosks and shops called Teatralnaya Kassa, which charge a nominal (usually about 20 RR) fee for “insurance,” which is theoretically optional. The theater box offices themselves sell tickets directly, too, and usually for the same price. Sometimes, blocks of tickets sell out at the kiosks but tickets are still available at the theater, or vice versa, so it is worth checking both places if you have your heart set on a particular performance.
A tour of the canals by boat is a great way to see the city in the summer. The typical tour is through the Moika, out to the Neva to see the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Cruiser Aurora, then in through the Fontanka (sometimes as far as the Mariinsky Theater). Tours start at many points along the route and return to their starting point – hawkers for different boat companies abound – and the boats may or may not have a cafe and toilet on board. Almost all tours are in Russian.
Saint Petersburg’s metro is the second largest underground railway system in Russia (Moscow being the first). It is arguably the cheapest and most effective way to get around the city. The trains are fast and run frequently (during rush hours, intervals go as low as 30 seconds between trains). The metro costs 17 RUR per entry regardless of the distance. Metro maps can be found in every train car, often with station names in the Latin alphabet. Names on station walls, however, are in Cyrillic, so if you are unfamiliar with the language, it may make sense to “count the stops” to your destination or keep your ears open, the conductor will let you know what station you are on. The Saint Petersburg metro can be unbelievably crowded during rush hour. Traveling during this time is a risky kind of sport and one should avoid unnecessary journeys if not used to big crowds. The Subway is also a major tourist attraction in itself thanks to the beautiful decorations of the stations.
A more scenic, but slower way to see Saint Petersburg is by tram. In recent years, due to traffic troubles, some tram lines were removed from the centre of the city. They cost 16 RUR.
Buses and trolleybuses are cheap (16 Rubles) and frequent. Tickets are sold by a conductor sitting in the bus. Every bus has its own conductor. If the conductor is absent, then tickets are sold by the driver. However, buses and trolleys on main routes are frequently overcrowded. Buses to suburbs cost 16 or 32 RUR within the territory of St. Peterburg.
Route taxi (marshrutka) is sometimes the fastest way to get somewhere. Taxis are 14-20 seat vans, usually white or yellow, always with a letter K and route number plate (K-28). Often they are small Chinese or Turkish buses. There are no regular stops; you must tell the driver when you want to get out, or wave while on the roadside to stop one. You must pay to the driver at entry, usually from 18 to 24 RUR.
At night, the city is divided in two by the Neva; all the main bridges are drawn up at night except during the winter, when ice makes the river impassable. Try to make it to your side of the river before the bridges go up. Otherwise, you could find yourself stuck on the wrong side of the river until morning. One bridge – Volodarsky – will permit you to cross the river from around 3:45 am to 4:15 am. Most other bridges are drawn all night long, from around 1:45 am till 5:15 am.