Hotspots Moscow and St Petersburg

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Recently I traveled to mysterious Russia to discover Moscow and St Petersburg. A not so common destination for many Europeans I quickly noticed from the reactions when I told people around me as well as from the local tourism: mostly Chinese and Japanese. I believe it’s an underrated destination. it is really beautiful and it’s not any less compared to popular cities in the west. Do not be put off by the visa procedure. It may cost a bit more time and money than a weekend in Barcelona, ​​but that is wel compensated on the spot since the food, drinks and a place to stay are considerably cheaper than in the Netherlands or Western Europe.

Before you leave

Visa

I did everything myself that had to do with arranging the visa. I can therefore also say that it’s definitely possible. You do not need expensive visa agencies for this. This site explains the procedure to obtain a tourist visa for Russia in The Netherlands (written in Dutch): https://ruslanding.nl/russisch-visum-nederland/

What I did do is choose the visa desk instead of the embassy to deliver the papers and to collect the visa. The visa desk has much more extensive opening hours and things go a little smoother there. You pay 35 euros more at the visa desk but that’s worth it. Tip: you have to leave your passport at the visa desk for about 10 days. So keep this in mind if you have planned another holiday or business trip soon after your visit to the visa desk.

Language

Be prepared for a country where very few people speak decent English. I haven’t really been able to have a full conversation anywhere. Not in the hotel, not in restaurants, not in the street and not even in the plane (way to go Pobeda airlines, first airline where the stewards and stewardesses do not speak English). However, many things can be made clear with hands and feet. But it is better to omit more complex questions. That is why it is useful to learn the Cyrillic alphabet by heart. You may not speak Russian, but you can recognize more quickly whether you are already at the right metro station or say which dish you want in a stolovaya J on which later more.

Hotel

Whether you are staying in Moscow or St Petersburg: book your hotel in advance and make sure it is near a metro station because that is the easiest way to get around. By booking in advance you have a more pleasant arrival at customs. In my visa procedure they asked for my hotel information and I had to provide a hotel name and address and show a valid reservation.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg has an interesting vibe. It felt like a combination between Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Venice. This was due to the use of color, architecture, canals with bridges and beautiful parks.

Stolovayas

A relic from Soviet times: a government-run canteen. This sounds uglier than it is. Forget about the school canteen. These stolovayas, at least the ones I have visited, are nicely decorated and offer good food for very little money.

They are actually always written in Russian, so look for a ‘Столовая’. The one stolovaya is more luxurious/better than the other, but do not expect any translations from the dishes. If you are lucky, there are sometimes symbols on the display with a ‘chicken’, ‘leaf’ or ‘fish’ symbol. If you can at least read the Cyrillic script, you can say what you want. Otherwise you’ll get a surprise plate by using hands and feet to indicate :p In St Petersburg I had a great dinner at Stolovaya N01 on the Griboyedov channel embankment 14, near the Church of the Savior on the Blood. Also a must if you are fascinated by the beautiful Russian churches with colorful domes.

Summer garden

This park is especially a must in the summer and the months just before or after. Then the fountains are on and the complete picture is nice and green. Take some food with you and enjoy a lunch here on a bench with a nice view!

Address: Kutuzov embankment 2

Isaac Cathedral

Visit this church but especially buy a ticket for the top: you have a beautiful view over St Petersburg. You have to climb a lot of stairs: more than 300 steps that go up in a circle. I got sick a few times so stop and focus on a point in between is not too much to ask for, there really seems to be no end. But once you are at the top you are rewarded quite well.

Address: St Isaac’s Square 4

view-st-petersburg

Hermitage

Of course you do not want to miss this. For many people even the reason to go to St Petersburg. My tip: go early and get your ticket at the machine. That goes much faster. In any case, it struck me that many places of interest have a machine next to the cash registers and that almost no one uses them. Use it to your advantage. Often there is also an English option on the vending machines.

Address: Palace Square 2

Married couples

If you walk in St Petersburg on a Saturday (and perhaps on weekends in general) you will regularly see brides and grooms. At first I thought of a coincidence, but for it to be just that I have seen too many during one (rainy) day. Of course it is also beautiful for wedding photos so I get it. But it is funny to see and pay attention now that you know it beforehand!

The Soviet museum (Muzey Sotsialisticheskogo Byta)

Nice for both people with their roots in a Soviet country, and for those who have not experienced that time. For the first group a trip down memory lane, for the second a history lesson. The museum is fully furnished with original items from the Soviet era and divided into clothing, toys and furniture. You can dress up as a Russian general or experience what it was like to be a child in the Soviet Union. The museum owners will gladly tell you in all their enthusiasm about this ‘great time’. I leave in the middle whether that was really true 😉 A ticket costs about 2.50 euros and as a student you get a discount!

Address: Griboyedov channel embankment 15

 

Moscow

Moscow University

If you like architecture and want to see an impressive building up close, you’re well off in Moscow anyway. The city is full of it. But I really think it’s worth mentioning Moscow University. And it reminds me of a building in America I can’t remember the name of, very annoying. Shout out if you know which one I mean!

Address: Lomonosovskiy Prospekt (metro station Universitet or Lomonosovskiy Prospekt)

moscow-university

Izmailovo market

If you would like to buy some souvenirs, you should buy them here. Prices are much lower than in the rest of Moscow and in St Petersburg. I bought thick winter socks with a cozy bird motif, a typical Russian item that I encountered in several places. But in the rest of Moscow they asked twice as much as at the Izmailovo market and in St. Petersburg even three times as much. Also the well-known matryoshkas, flower scarves and winter hats are sold here for a fraction of the price. Probably because of the many competing sellers. There are hundreds of stalls and there is also a nice second-hand market on the upper part. The market is the most extensive on the weekends, between 11:00 and 15:00. Metro station Petrayanskaya (closest) or Izmailovo.

Visit a bunker

If you really want to go back in time you should definitely visit a bunker. You really feel like you’re in times of war. Very weird if you have never lived through one. It costs quite a bit because the visit, as far as I have seen, is only with a guide/as a tour. But it is really worth it. An example of an open bunker is Bunker 42, which also includes a museum and a restaurant(!). Fun fact: you have to descend 18 floors to get there. Wow.

Address: 5-Y Kotel’nicheskiy Pereulok 11

The metro

Not just a means of transportation but also a mobile museum. Nowhere else in the world can you find so much art and details in metro stations as in Moscow. Where I found the St Petersburg metro much more austere, the one in Moscow is really cool. Not all stations are equally impressive, but a few of my recommendations are:

  • Arbatskaya (from the blue metro line)
  • Kievskaya (from the brown metro line a.k.a. inside circle)
  • Novolobodskaya (must if you like stained glass!)
  • Komsomolskaya (from the brown metro line a.k.a. inside circle)
  • Aviamotornaya
  • Ploschad Revolutsii
  • Taganskaya (from the brown metro line a.k.a. inside circle)

Buy a day ticket so you can go on and off the metro as often as you like. You do not check out, you only check in. The exit gates open automatically. A day ticket costs about 3 euros and that is really cheap, especially considering the long distances Moscow has. A one-way ticket is about 80 cents so the day ticket is a good deal if you want to see all this underground beauty. The day ticket can (as far as I have experienced) only be bought at a counter. Then you just get a paper day ticket. At the vending machine you can load all kinds of products on their variant of the public transport chip card, so perhaps also a day ticket. But I did not find the machines handy because many pages in the vending machine were only available in Russian. Especially in St Petersburg this was really impractical. If you want to buy single tickets you can easily do so in English at the vending machine in Moscow. In St Petersburg, the singles are ‘coins’ and those coin machines were not in English at all.

The Aerospace Museum (Memorialniy moezey kosmonavtiki)

If you are interested in space travel, this is definitely recommended. Also fun for children!

Address: Prospekt Mira 111

The Red Square

Not to be missed in Moscow and always crowded. So if you want a nice picture with not too many tourists you will have to get up early. The Red Square is very efficient if you only have a short period of time in Moscow because on this square you will find the Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, the Historical Museum, GUM and the Mausoleum of Lenin. The square is regularly (partly) closed for activities/events so a bit of luck might come in handy. But once you’re there it’s really impressive <3