Four months abroad in Russia allowed me to see a side of the world, and of people, that I never thought I would experience. I was able to connect with people and explore another culture at length, familiarizing myself with another way of life that in turn caused me to reflect upon myself. Along the way, I found some incredible places hidden around the city that I found myself connecting with.
Here are five of my favorite hidden gems in St. Petersburg that I discovered during my semester abroad.
1. Novaya Gollandiya / New Holland
New Holland Island is a tiny triangular island in St. Petersburg frequented by locals for a dose of culture and fun. Named “The Bottle,” New Holland’s donut-shaped shopping and food center has it all. The entire first floor features many different types of restaurants, from sushi to coffee shops to Italian. Traipse upwards and you’ll find local modern clothing shops with activewear and streetwear, along with a few avant-garde bookstores. Head up one more floor and you’ll find yoga, ballet, and cycling studios. Outside The Bottle is an ice rink where you can get the true Russian experience by ice skating in the frigid cold with other Russians while maintaining the guise that you’re not cold at all. New Holland is an utter gem of St. Petersburg.
2. Sokol Coffee
I found this one on Instagram first and just knew that I had to see it for myself. Their “shtick” at Sokol is that they draw a portrait of every single customer onto their coffee cup. Yes, every single one. After placing your order, you walk over and stand in front of one of their artists while they draw you onto your cup, and then they make your coffee. It’s definitely one of the most unique coffee shops that I’ve ever been to, and it’s well-known amongst the younger locals of St. Petersburg. It’s right next to one of St. Petersburg’s biggest department stores, DLT, and also just a short walk from Nevsky Prospekt, the biggest street in St. Petersburg, and yet it lies in a relatively quiet street, unscathed by the masses. Essentially, Sokol is conveniently located in the middle of St. Petersburg’s bustle, without the actual bustle. Come here for some quiet down-time with a personalized coffee featuring a portrait of you before heading back out into the city lights.
3. Formula Kino – Galleria Mall
If you’re a film buff in Russia who still wants to keep up with the latest releases, the movie theater in Galleria Mall usually has the biggest movies in English with Russian subtitles, rather than being dubbed over with Russian. This is pretty hard to find in St. Petersburg, and Formula Kino was one of the only theaters that we found that offered this option. Just check online for the subtitled showings of the movie you want to see, or ask a worker at the counter. Now you can enjoy that classic movie theater feeling as if you were at home! I went to Formula Kino to see Bohemian Rhapsody in English with Russian subtitles, and I adored being able to see the movie in its original form while still picking up new vocabulary words along the way by connecting the English speaking with the written Russian.
4. Berthold Centre
This one was shown to me by one of my Russian friends. It’s a place that I would have never spotted on my own, and I’m so grateful that I was given the opportunity to experience it. Berthold Centre is located in the alleyway of a street, featuring a coffee shop and vinyl shop along a corridor, with a few shops and restaurants located around a courtyard just beyond the corridor. Above the courtyard there is a winding staircase that you can climb to get a lovely view of the surrounding area. Berthold is said to be frequented by a young, “bohemian,” and “hipster” crowd, and it holds a great amount of charm for such a small space.
5. Podpisnyye Izdaniya
Before I came to Russia, I made a short but sweet list of places that I wanted to see before I left, and this was one of them. A family-owned bookstore of nearly 100 years, Podpisnyye Izdaniya features an incredibly unique selection of books and magazines. Their specialties are design, music, art, and fashion, but they also have picks on many other topics as well. The set-up of this shop is rather intriguing, with a magazine display along a staircase that leads to an upper-level coffee shop which looks out on the book shop. The book shop itself is stacked floor to ceiling with every type of book imaginable, along with a small nook for quirky gifts, souvenirs, and journals. If you love artsy, then this is absolutely the place for you.