With its art-filled palaces and iconic canals, St Petersburg – or St Pete, as expats and English-speaking locals affectionately call it – is undoubtedly Russia’s most beautiful city. The former capital of the Tsarist empire is today’s cultural capital of Russia. St Petersburg is a treasure-trove of delights, home to magnificent canal-side mansions, spectacular art galleries and world-class museums. Its dining and nightlife scenes are among the country’s best, with scores of cafés, restaurants and bars to suit all tastes and budgets. And with a wide range of accommodation options too, Rough Guides uncovers the best places to stay in St Petersburg.
The city centre is compact, making it easy to explore on foot. To reach the sights that lie north of the Neva River, including the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Erarta Museum of Contemporary Art, you can hop on the city’s efficient metro, which will whisk you there in a flash.
With so much to see and do, it’s hard to know which is the best area to stay. To help you make the most of your trip, what follows is the lowdown on the city’s best districts.
The Tsentralny District, or Central District, is the most obvious area to pick when deciding where to stay in St Petersburg. You’re smack in the centre here, with the city’s major sights all within walking distance. It's a pleasant stroll to Kazan Cathedral, the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood and the Hermitage, home to one of the largest collections of art in the world. With scores of restaurants, bars and hotels catering to all budgets, the area buzzes with locals and tourists alike at virtually all times of day.
Best for Old World splendour:Belmond Grand Hotel Europe
With its sumptuous suites, glistening stained-glass windows and caviar bar, this is one of the finest hotels in the city to rest your head.
Best for budget fun: Baby Lemonade
This fun, quirky hostel offers wacky rooms inspired by the 60s, 70s and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s an attractive open-plan kitchen, making this an ideal choice for self-caterers.
With a smattering of cultural sights, the sophisticated district of Admiralteyskiy is a great spot to bed down if you’re looking for somewhere to stay in St Petersburg in a central location but away from the crowds. Located just west of the city centre, the area is home to the city’s celebrated Mariinsky Theatre, where a number of nineteenth-century Russian composers premiered their works. Admiralteyskiy District is also home to St Isaac’s Cathedral, whose gilded dome glistens on the St Petersburg skyline. Be sure to climb the 262 steps to the outside colonnade to soak up the gorgeous views.
Best for style without breaking the bank: Chao, Mama
This modish spot feels more like a boutique hotel than a hostel. As well as dorms, there are sophisticated apartments decked out in particularly tasteful contemporary furnishings (think Moroccan lanterns, rustic wooden tables and black and white photographic prints).
Best hostel for trendy types on a budget: Soul Kitchen
This funky hostel is something of an institution on the St Pete’s hostel scene. Cool and fashionable, it offers gorgeous spic-and-span interiors, with a wonderful open-plan kitchen and welcoming dorms. Each has individual reading lights, sockets and privacy curtains.
Tucked away to the northwest of the city centre is the Vasileostrovskiy District. As the site of the Saint Petersburg State University, the area has a laidback student feel and a relaxed vibe. Staying here will give you ready access to informal eateries and low-key nightlife venues catering to a young crowd. It’s home to cultural attractions, too, including Erarta, the country’s largest private museum of contemporary art, and the Kuntskamera. The latter, Russia’s oldest museum, was founded by Peter the Great to promote scientific research.
Best hotel for a taster of Tsarist Russia:Trezzini Palace
Set in an eighteenth-century palace, this luxury hotel can feel a little ostentatious. There's an abundance of glittering chandeliers and no shortage of glistening gold fittings. Rooms feature classic-style furnishings, with antique furniture and marble bathrooms.
Best hotel for a break from the tourist crowds: Nashotel
Bright splashes of colour – violet, green and yellow – liven up the interiors of this contemporary hotel set on a quiet street away from the hubbub of central St Petersburg.
Slightly removed from the hustle and bustle of the city centre, the Petrogradsky District is where to stay in St Petersburg if you’re after some quiet and a dose of culture. This area is home to one of the city’s most famous sights, the Peter and Paul Fortress. You’ll find plenty of other attractions here too, including the St Petersburg Planetarium and the Botanical Garden, one of the oldest in Russia.
Best for a sophisticated affordable stay: The Faces Kaleidoscope
This contemporary three star oozes youthful vibes. There's dim lighting, stylish wooden fittings in the rooms and splashes of greenery here and there, all a short walk from the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Best for travellers on a shoestring: Hotel and Hostel Sovremennik
Bursting with colour, this hostel is all bright yellows, pinks, reds, blues and greens, with dorms painted a kaleidoscope of hues. Walls are decorated with an unusual motley of patterns and themes, from stripes to footprints and cherries.
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Top image: General Staff Building situated on Palace Square in Saint Petersburg, Russia © Chubykin Arkady/Shutterstock