Moscow and St. Petersburg, being the two largest cities in Russia, are often compared and contrasted.
While the time I spent in Moscow was not enough to truly acquaint myself with the soul and spirit of the city, I feel as though I can make many surface comments on the feel of the Russian capital in contrast to St. Petersburg, my current home away from home.
One of the most obvious differences between St. Petersburg and Moscow is size.
Boasting a population of about 13 million, Moscow is well over twice the size of St. Petersburg. For scale, New York City has 8 million people, meaning that the Russian capital is significantly larger than New York City, the most populous city in the United States! In St. Petersburg, there is a much quieter spirit along the streets, while Moscow definitely has somewhat of a higher-strung, New York-like energy.
Since Moscow is significantly larger than St. Petersburg, this means that the metro system must be larger as well.
And that it is. the Moscow metro is an absolute mammoth, with 16 lines and 256 stops. It isn’t as scary to navigate as that sounds. It’s not so bad once you’ve worked your way around the basics of how it works, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t huge! On the flip side, St. Petersburg’s metro seems minuscule in comparison, with its 5 lines and 69 stops. I had the metro station here down pat after just one ride, whereas I think that I still have a ton to learn about Moscow’s system in the future.
Culturally, the two cities differ greatly as well.
St. Petersburg is called the “Venice of the North” or the “Window to The West,” as it is not quite as Russian as it is decidedly more European. This is likely due in part to its closer proximity to Europe, being only a train ride away from Finland. Because of this, the two cities have different vibes to them, with Moscow being more fast-paced and not quite as “warm”-feeling as St. Petersburg.
Additionally, Moscow is culturally much more traditionally Russian as well. St. Petersburg is home to many architectural structures created by Western Europeans such as Rossi, Rastrelli, and Montferrand, while Moscow’s style features mostly classically Russian designs mixed with modernism. Thus, St. Petersburg’s closer proximity to the European way of living mark it as the “culture capital of Russia,” as it has more of a melting pot of influences.
Apart from these factors, people in Moscow are also a bit less “forgiving” towards the use of English, and won’t go as out of their way to help you out with your Russian as they may in St. Petersburg. This isn’t to say that they are rude in any capacity, but rather that they will not spend as much time on every single person they happen to run into in a day, as they have things to do and places to be – that’s big city life!
I absolutely adore both cities and, though I spent my semester in St. Petersburg, I would say that I honestly preferred Moscow a bit more. The big-city vibes that it gave off along with the unmatchable feeling of being lost within the sea of a crowd are completely enamoring. I definitely recommend both Moscow and St. Petersburg to anyone who comes to Russia, as they are both decidedly Russian yet unique enough from each other to make both locations completely worth a visit to each.