Above my bed, there is a nice map of the world. And it is that kind you can scratch off. Honestly, I am very proud of mine. The other day I was just lying on the bed, feeling not very well. And that is when I decided to add another visited spot on my map.
For you who are not familiar with term Hero City, I am talking about Saint Petersburg, former Leningrad. It earned its nickname Hero City after WWII for heroism against Germans. During three years of siege over one million people died but the city didn’t fall. Today it is the second-largest city in Russia, and spoilers alert, it’s absolutely gorgeous!
Saint Petersburg was founded by Tsar Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th century, and it is considered the cultural capital of Russia. It was almost destroyed during WWII but you won’t be able to tell! The government put a huge amount of resources into the restoration of the city and all main historical buildings, which was mostly finished in 2003 (because of 300 years anniversary of the city), and it looks amazing.
I have to admit I was a little worried about going to Russia. Will I see marks of communism? Do they speak English? Is there Wi-Fi everywhere? Yes, I realize those thoughts are weird and I was overthinking but on the other hand, all I learned about communism just took over, okay? Plus, it is not so easy to get to Russia, the process of getting visa is very bureaucratic. Also, there are still places in Russia you are not allowed to visit… You can say I have a wild imagination but who knew?
I still can’t say how the rest of Russia looks like (and I am realistic about that) but Saint Petersburg has blown my mind. Excellently working public transport, clean streets, nice looking buildings, public Wi-Fi, nice people…Totally worth the trouble with getting a visa.
Anyway, here is a list of my top things to do and see in Saint Petersburg.
Opening of the drawbridges
I know, if you are traveling on a budget, you are thinking that it does not make much difference if you watch it from a pier for free. Well, yes and no. The opening itself would be fine from the land. But they don’t take you only to the bridge. The Neva river tour is also included. And I will never forget that moment when we went from a small canal to the huge Neva, and all the old and beautiful buildings of Saint Petersburg were lit up. That view was stunning.
Visit at least one Orthodox church
If you like history, you have probably visited many churches already. But Orthodox churches are different. There are few very famous in Saint Petersburg, and I would recommend Saint Isaacs Cathedral, The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood or Kazan Cathedral. They are all beautiful with decorated interiors. The Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood took my breath away though because its interior is completely made with mosaic. It is so big, colorful and detailed!
Get to know the history of tsars
Saint Petersburg is a city founded by Tsar Peter the Great. Obviously, he is a very important part of Russian history, and you will find his traces everywhere together with all Romanov family. The destiny of Romanovs is dark and sad but where else is the better place to learn what led to their fall?
Visit some palace
You have many options here. Go see Tsarskoje Selo in Puskin with a famous Amber room or visit Peterhoff with its cool gardens. Both are out of Saint Petersburg so you can see little more of Russia on your way there. Also, make sure you check out afterwar pictures. Pretty much everything was almost completely destroyed, and they did amazing job restoring.
Try local food (or Georgian food)
There are many cheap and good options. Don’t worry and try food chains like Brynza, Teremok or Pelmenya. Food is reasonably priced and very good. And if you don’t need to keep your budget in mind find yourself a nice spot with river view and try fresh caviar. Some days are pizza days though. Saint Peterburg has you covered. You will find many Italian restaurants, kebabs, sushi or McDonald’s (the name looks so funny in Russian alphabet). Also, I can highly recommend Phali-Khinkali. The food is amazing, all the interiors look great and the prices are affordable too.
Overall, Saint Peterburg is a hidden gem. It is not very touristy, the city itself is stunning. and history is breathing from every corner. In my opinion, the only con is the language. But if you put a little tiny bit of effort and learn at least alphabet so you can read signs you will be fine. Oh, and visa. Getting visa there sucks. But it is totally worth it!