- Lifestyle & Sports
- 06 Jun 17
Offering an irresistible mix of old-world charm and hip contemporary culture, St. Petersburg is one of Russia's must visit destinations. By Eamonn Seoige
Where exactly is it?
Russia’s second city, fondly known as the ‘Venice of the North’, is undoubtedly one of the world’s most beautiful metropolises. Founded in 1703 by Tsar Peter the Great, it has a population in excess of five million and has retained much of the old-world grandeur of the Imperial age, prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution.
How do I get there?
There’s no direct flight between Dublin and St. Petersburg, but there are many alternative routes. Lufthansa are currently offering very competitive rates from Dublin, connecting via Frankfurt. With a bit of luck you’ll make it there inside six hours. However, if time’s on your side, it’s possible to travel by ferry to St. Petersburg from both Tallinn in Estonia and the Finnish capital Helsinki. Crossings range from between 15 to 19 hours.
What language do they speak?
The official language is, of course, Russian. However, there are small populations of migrants from many Eastern European and Baltic countries. In addition, there are pockets of inhabitants from the former Soviet Republics to the east including Uzbek, Kazakh and Tajik communities.
What is the local beer like?
As the locals are most definitely fond of a tipple or two, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to beer in Russia’s second city. There’s an excellent range of smooth tasting and affordable pale lager brands, including Ochakovo, Baltika and Rifey. My personal favourite is Baltika Dark, although Baltika Porter gives it a good run for its money.
What’s the transport like?
Getting to, from and around St Petersburg is a doddle. The downtown area is serviced by an extensive public transport network, which also connects outward to the city’s many cultural attractions. Choose from an extensive network of metro, trolleybus and bus routes. Another option is to hop on a city minibus known as a marshrutka, but just remember that St Petersburg’s rush hour traffic is pretty severe. If you fancy checking out a slice of Scandinavia, there’s regular ferry crossings to either Helsinki or Stockholm.
What’s the food like?
Similar to many eastern European countries, Russian cuisine is hearty, broth-based and often rich in calories. One classic from this region that’s well known to Irish foodies is beef stroganoff, a tasty beef stew prepared from sliced steak and a sour cream, onion and mushroom based sauce. Solyanka, meanwhile, is a spicy broth prepared using a tomato base and infused with a broad selection of meats – including bacon, veal, hotdog and ham – as well as assorted pickles, capers, lemon and herbs. Also worth sampling is borscht, a beet-based soup with added vegetables and herbs that normally comes served with a dollop of cream as garnish.
What’s the nightlife like?
St. Petersburg was the birthplace of Russia’s rave scene in the ’80s. However, it was the breakup of the Soviet Union in the early ’90s that kickstarted huge growth in the city’s range of pubs, clubs and venues. Unlike Moscow, the atmosphere is more relaxed and, while there is a heavy door presence at the bigger places, it’s generally a cordial and welcoming atmosphere. In terms of real bars with a relaxed vibe, the part of town to check out is Dumskaya Street, where strict dress codes are absent and tourists, locals and students boogie the night away.
Amongst the best haunts are the Soviet-themed Chirt Poberi, a kitsch-filled haunt where some of St. Petersburg’s best up-and-coming rock bands come to road-test new material. Fidel is another local hotspot, famed for its cheap cocktails and raucous atmosphere, but the truth is that this entire area is alive with excellent and welcoming dive bars.
What are the touristy things to do?
Number one on the list has to be the world-renowned Hermitage museum. Founded in 1754 by Catherine the Great, the Hermitage merits a day-long visit. From ancient Egyptian artefacts to Picasso, and everything in between, this is a museum of truly epic proportions. If you fancy a slice of premier level ballet or opera then look no further than the world class Mariinsky Theatre, while you should also make time to view St. Petersburg’s wonderful architecture – including the famous multi-coloured domes – from the comfort of a canal barge. The central avenue that bisects St. Petersburg, known as Nevsky Prospekt, is the beating heart of this great city. Its historic buildings and shopping districts ensure it’s buzzing from dawn ’til dusk.
What should I bring home?
There’s lots of choice! Traditionalists will love the classic design of Matryoshka Dolls, or possibly a piece of jewellery from the iconic House of Fabergé. Another old favourite is homeware from the Imperial Porcelain factory. However, for something more hip and modern, check out one of the many design stores showcasing the produce of local artists. Particularly funky are the wooden badges made by the Waf-Waf company, celebrating everything from famous Russian writers to the hipster beard!
When should I go?
Whilst experiencing the ferocity of the Russian winter might appeal to some, the summer is the optimum time to check out St. Petersburg. Balmy weather, outdoor activities, festivals and kicking nightlife make a visit in June, July or August a must.