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15 Recommendations for Students in St. Petersburg

by Elizabeth Wenger
15 Recommendations for Students in St. Petersburg, Russia | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia

The thing about St. Petersburg is that there is a lot to do. This city has a lot of museums (I mean A LOT of museums), bars, and restaurants. It can be overwhelming to pick what you want to do next. I thought it would be nice to compile a list of some of my favorite, somewhat-less-visited places as well as a few things to do if you’re in the city and unsure of how to spend your time.

Here is a list of 15 cool things to do in St. Petersburg.

Assembled in no particular order:

1. Visit a Cat Cafe

Cat Cafes are exactly what they sound like: a place to drink coffee or tea and visit with cats. If you’re missing your pets from home, I strongly recommend visiting a Cat Cafe. The Republic of Cats is a particularly good one. There, you can do a meet in greet with the diverse population of cats they have there. It’s possible to get a tour where a cat expert guides you through the cats and tells a little about each breed. The whole thing is set up like a “cat republic” and you get a “passport” when you enter. It’s definitely oriented toward children, but people of all ages can and do go! They even have one cat that is the designated “mayor.”

NOT ADVISABLE FOR PEOPLE WITH CAT ALLERGIES (obviously).

Note: If you love animals, you should not go to the St. Petersburg Zoo which has tiny cells and poor animal conditions.

2. Go to an organ concert at one of the smaller cathedrals

Keep your eye out for organ concerts, like the ones at Ekaterina Cathedral on Vasilievsky Island or in Peitrekiersche Cathedral just off of Nevsky. It is a unique experience to go to a concert where the instrument is playing behind your back and the musician is too high up on a balcony for you to see them! At Ekaterina Cathedral, they even turn the lights off so you can close your eyes and just listen to the Organ. These concerts frequently feature guest accompaniment. I went to one with a violist who came down from the balcony to perform a solo piece. These concerts are inexpensive and a good way to spend an hour or more while checking out the inside of a smaller church or cathedral.

3. Visit the Buddhist temple, Yelagin Island, and take a walk around one of Petersburg’s wealthiest neighborhoods.

If you have good weather, I highly recommend visiting Yelagin Island, a huge park-island that’s nice for a stroll. Take the metro to Staraya Derevna and walk onto the Island from there. Before you cross the bridge onto Yelagin Island you will pass Datsan Gunzechoyney, a beautiful Buddhist temple by the shore.  If you follow a map right, you should be able to get to Kamenny Island, where some of the largest homes in Petersburg can be seen behind large fences. It’s a nice way to get out of the house and do some dog watching as well!

4. The Museum of Soviet Arcade Machines

This “museum” is more of a gaming center. All machines are playable and VERY Soviet. Don’t let the name deter you if you aren’t a “museum person.” This is sure to be far from the typical museum experience.

5. Udel’naya Market

This market, located by Udel’naya metro station, is exciting and unique. Among the things that can be found there: old Soviet hats and patches, Ushankas, instruments (accordions, balalaikas, and more), coin sets, books, and plenty of busts of Lenin. I once even saw a stuffed armadillo! The best day to go is Sunday, around 10 or 12 when most of the stands are open. You’ll see some wild things and will definitely find a unique gift for your friends back home.

6. Watch a movie or go shopping at the Galleria

A huge mall on Nevsky Prospect, this is sure to be a hit with anyone who misses shopping. Many of the stores are familiar and the modern architecture will bring you right back to America’s biggest malls. If you’re missing that good American consumer culture, you’ll find it here.

Note: Inside the mall there is also great movie theatre! But if you’re looking for a cooler movie watching experience check out some of the smaller theatres around Nevsky and in the downtown area.

7. Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art

Located on Vasilevsky Island, this museum has two wings. One wing is dedicated to temporary exhibits. Across five floors you can see international contemporary artists. If you cross to the other wing you will see the permanent collection which is jam-packed with Russian Modern art. On most floors they also have small theatres for art-films and performances. Though its a bit pricier, the museum will keep you busy for several hours and is well worth it for any art-lover.

8. Kunstkamera

A strange museum. Officially tagged as a “Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography,” among its collection are artifacts from different world cultures and items from Peter the Great’s stockpile of scientific oddities. If you’re into the obscure and morbid, you’ll be sure to get a kick out of the hall featuring the oldest items in the collection: the skeleton of an extremely tall man Peter invited to his court, formaldehyde-jarred animals, and yes, even preserved babies with congenital anomalies. If you are not into seeing double-headed and taxidermied creatures, I still recommend going, just skip this room!

9. Anti-cafes

Anti-cafes were started in Russia not long ago. The concept is: you pay for your time, not for the products. Most of the time, when you enter them, you are given a punch card indicating the time of your arrival. You stay as long as you want, paying a little bit per minute. At anti-cafes you can get free coffee, tea, and snacks. My favorite is The Palace, an anti-cafe not far from Kazan Cathedral. It’s huge with multiple rooms including a game room and music room. A great place to stay for a while doing homework or just hanging with friends.

10. Dom Knigi

Located on Nevsky Prospect, this famous bookstore has something for everyone. Plenty of books, journals, and souvenirs. This is also a great place to purchase supplemental learning materials like Russian textbooks, dictionaries, and study guides. If you’re missing English, they also have a wide selection of English literature.

11. Alexander Nevsky Monastery and Cemetery

This has some famous graves including: Fyodor Dostoevsky, Ivan Krylov, Modest Mussorgsky, Alexander Borodin, Pyotr Tchaikovsky, Ivan Kramskoy, and more. You’ll want to take the metro to Ploschad Alexandra Nevskogo.

12. Eat Georgian Food

I know you’re in Russia, but you have got to try Georgian food! There are lots of great places in Petersburg to get a taste of some Georgian traditional dishes. Check it out and try to find a place with live music! Don’t be afraid of livers and hearts, these are the best bits of the meat!

13. Get some Shawarma

You won’t have to look far to find a place to eat Shawarma. There are Shawarma stands on nearly every corner when you’re out in the Sleeping Districts and in some cases, several on the same corner. Downtown also, you’ll be sure to see Shawarma places on every street. It’s a great place to grab a quick bite to eat. Just be careful! It can also be a great place to get minor food-poisoning.

14. Visit a Jazz Bar or Local Brew Pub

Petersburg has lots of jazz bars which are a nice way to spend a calm evening. If you want to try local flavors and are into craft-breweries, check out some of the Brew Pubs. Bukunin and Jawsspot are great choices as they have wide selections of local and international craft beers.

15. Sing your heart out at Poison, a karaoke club — and check out Dumskaya

If you’re more into clubbing, you can’t go wrong with Dumskaya. Always busy and full of clubs and young people, this is your best bet. Many of the clubs have multiple floors and plenty of dancing. You should also check out Poison, a karaoke bar with multiple locations (one is on Dumskaya, but I recommend the one on Rubenstein which is slightly bigger). Poison may surprise you as most of the songs are ones you can sing along to. English-language music is extremely popular in Russia so you can become an instant hit if you sing one without an accent.

This post was contributed by Elizabeth Wenger, who has spent her spring semester studying abroad with AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia.

15 Recommendations for Students in St. Petersburg, Russia | AIFS Study Abroad | AIFS in St. Petersburg, Russia

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