Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург) is the cultural capital of Russia, known to the entire world as the Northern Venice. If you ask foreign tourists what city has been the most impressive on their tour to Russia, the response will be pretty obvious – Saint Petersburg. This is a unique city with amazing sights, museums, cathedrals, palaces, and monuments.
The historical downtown of Saint Petersburg is included into the UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites just like historical centers of Paris, Rome, and Venice. The Hermitage, the Kunstkamera Museum, the Mariinsky Theatre, the Peter and Paul Fortress, Saint Isaac's Cathedral – this is just a small number of attractions known worldwide.
Saint Petersburg is also well-known because of its bridges. The city of bridges would be an appropriate name for this city – in total, there are 580 bridges in Saint Petersburg and suburbs, and 20 of them are bascule bridges. There are 68 rivers and channels in the city that make up 42 large and small islands.
All tourists mention the unique atmosphere of Saint Petersburg that makes the city stand out among other tourist places. After the first visit, the city will stay in your heart forever, and you would like to come here over and over again.
To enjoy your stay in Saint Petersburg to a full degree, it is recommended to pay special attention to accommodation. It is not easy if you don’t know the city very well and have no idea about the location of the places you want to visit.
In this article we will cover the main tourist districts of Saint Petersburg. It should be noted straight away, that if you plan to spend most of the time exploring tourist attractions, then you definitely should stay in the historical center. It will help you save a lot of time on traveling, plus staying in a historical district is much more exciting than staying in a residential area.
What Area is the Best to Stay in Saint Petersburg?
Let’s take a closer look at three main tourist districts of the city – the historical downtown, the Petrograd Side and Vasilyevsky Island.
- Historical Downtown of Saint Petersburg – this is the district with the most number of attractions. Here you will find the main street of the city Nevsky Prospect – stretching for almost five kilometers from the Admiralty to the Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery. The Hermitage, the Russian Museum, St. Isaac’s and the Kazan Cathedrals are located here, too.
- The Petrograd Side is well-known thanks to the Peter and Paul Fortress, but this is not the only sight worth visiting here. In this district you can see the Prince Vladimir Cathedral, the zoo and the Artillery Museum.
- Vasilyevsky Island is the western seaside district of the city. Here you will find the famous Rostral columns, Old Stock Exchange and the Kunstkamera museum, the Menshikov Palace and Saint Petersburg University.
Historical Downtown of Saint Petersburg
Historical downtown of Saint Petersburg is an ideal choice for those tourists who would like to experience the splendor of the city and its unforgettable atmosphere. The historical downtown is, however, a vast territory that is confined by the Neva and Fontanka embankments and Gorokhovaya Street. This district consists of a few quarters in the very beginning of Nevsky Prospect. From here you can walk to the main sights, including the Palace Square, the Hermitage, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, the Russian Museum, the Church of the Spilled Blood, the Kazan Cathedral, and even to the Peter and Paul Fortress.
Nevsky Prospect (Невский проспект) is the main street in Saint Petersburg, there are always lots of tourists and locals here, this is the most exciting part of the city with all the best shops and boutiques, restaurants and cafes, numerous hotels. Most of expensive hotels of global chains are located on Nevsky Prospect, but if you move into the streets branching off this main street, you will be able to find less fancy mini hotels and very budget-friendly hostels.
Actually, there are lots of hotels on Nevsky Prospect itself and on nearby streets, but if you want to experience Saint Petersburg in full, I recommend to choose a hotel closer to the Palace Square. It does not mean that hotels farther from here are worse or that if you stay on the other end of Nevsky Prospect you will have to walk a lot. To be honest, you will have to walk a lot in Saint Petersburg in any case, otherwise you will miss a lot of interesting stuff. And from the other end of Nevsky Prospect you can easily reach the historical center by metro. The thing is that the district between the Neva and the Moyka rivers (near the Palace Square) conveys the atmosphere of historical Saint Petersburg in the best way because these quarters witnessed the formation and development of the city. The next part of Nevsky Prospect – from the Moyka River to the Fontanka River – is absolutely different, it is loud and a bit chaotic here, there are many restaurants and cafes, theatres and nice shopping places, for example, Passage and Gostiny Dvor.
If you move farther along Nevsky Prospect, up to the Vosstaniya Square (Uprising Square), you will notice again that the street is changing – there are many business offices here and stores, as well as entertainment centers. Once you pass the Vosstaniya Square Nevsky Prospect is different once again, the district is quieter and more peaceful, there are less tourists and pedestrians here, but the main sights are also farther away. In the proximity you will only find the Saint Alexander Nevsky Monastery here.
Now, when you have an idea of what to expect from Nevsky Prospect, I can recommend a few nice hotels and hostels. For tourists on a tight budget a good option is Admiralty Hostel, located between St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Palace Square, RiverSide Morskaya Hostel, that is a 10-minute walk away from the Hermitage, or Almaz Hotel that is also located within an easy reach from the Palace Square.
And finally, if you are used to a certain level of comfort, and always stay in five-star hotels or just want to feel like a royal in majestic Saint Petersburg, I recommend Domina Prestige or Four Seasons Lion Palace located in the heart of the city.
Hotels on the Petrograd Side can also be a great accommodation option. There is less commotion here compared to the above-mentioned district, and geographically, this district is located on the other side of the Neva River, almost opposite the Palace Square. This is still the historical center of Saint Petersburg infused with amazing atmosphere of past centuries. The places that are definitely must-see in this area are the Peter and Paul Fortress, the legendary Cruiser Aurora. Tourists with kids would probably like to go to the zoo or to the planetarium.
The walk to Nevsky Prospect from the Peter and Paul Fortress will take you just 10-15 minutes, and the Petrograd Side is also connected to other parts of the city with a metro line.
An interesting accommodation option here is, for example, Stony Island Hotel. It is located near the metro station and you can take a walk to the Peter and Paul Fortress – it will take you 15-20 minutes.
A good option for families with kids is Hotel Park Krestovskiy. It is located a bit farther in the island, and it will take you 20 minutes to get to the Peter and Paul Fortress but the hotel is surrounded by the park and is located near the embankment of the channel. There is a theme park nearby. However, you should keep in mind that it is pretty far from the metro station (20 minutes on foot) but the hotel provides free of charge shuttle buses to bring its guests to the metro station.
Good budget-friendly options in this district are Artefact hotel and Hostel 1912 – from here you can get to the Peter and Paul Fortress in just 15 minutes, and you can take a metro to the Palace Square and to the Hermitage – it will take you just 10 minutes to reach there.
Vasilyevsky Island is another district that is perfect for tourists. First, it is bordering both on the Petrograd Side and the Palace Square which means that all attractions are within an easy reach. Second, as a rule, there are less tourists here, and it means the district is quieter and peaceful. At the same time, the choice of hotels is just as good as in the both previous districts. Third, there are some really interesting tourist attractions here within a walking distance. For example, the Menshikov Palace with the atmosphere of Saint Petersburg of the 18th century, or the Kunstkamera – the first museum in Russia, founded by Peter the Great. Finally, if you come to Saint Petersburg to take part in an exhibition or a conference, this district is a great choice because most of the events are held in the exhibition center Lenexpo located on Vasilyevsky Island.
There is a good selection of accommodation options here. You can stay in luxury hotels or budget-friendly hostels. If you want to stay in a fancy place, then I recommend Solo Sokos Hotel Vasilievsky or Courtyard by Marriott St. Petersburg Vasilievsky. Tourists with a limited budget would find hotels Kapitel, Talisman or Ejen attractive.
Things to Consider When Choosing a Hotel in Saint Petersburg
There are a lot of accommodation options in Saint Petersburg – from five-star hotels of the leading global hotel chains to hostels and mini-hotels with just a few rooms. If you want to have the best experiences from visiting Saint Petersburg, stay in the historical downtown. There are of course hotels in other districts, farther away from the main sights, but those worth your attention will not be less expensive, and the atmosphere there will be absolutely different.
The period of ‘White Nights’, or northern nights (May-June), is when it is very tough to book a room in Saint Petersburg. If you plan to visit the city during this period, you should think well ahead. Many hotels increase their rates for these months, and if you want to save on your trip, it is recommended to choose a different time for your journey.
Hotels on Nevsky Prospect are the most expensive, but if you walk for just a few minutes away from the main street, you will find less expensive accommodation options.
Many mini-hotels or hostels are located in residential buildings, and tourists have difficulties finding them because they don’t expect a hotel to be there. However, you should not avoid such hotels. As a rule, they are renovated and provide all the comfort that they promise on their websites. Some of them might not have an elevator, though, and if that is an issue for you, ask the owners about this in advance. Besides, most mini-hotels have small rooms and there might be an issue with an extra bed for a child. Once again, this is something you should ask hotel managers about.
Always pay attention to feedback tourists leave on booking websites. It is not enough to only read a description of the hotel. If the description says that hotel is “just 20 minutes away from the railway station,” you should ignore this one, because Saint Petersburg railway station is located pretty far away from main attractions, and it is not always convenient to get to the city center from there. Tourists’ reviews, as a rule, have information about how things really are.
Finally, there is one more thing to take into account. If you choose a hotel on the Petrograd Side or on Vasilyevsky Island, you should remember that from May to October from 1 am to 4-5 am the bridges that connect these districts with the central district are raised and you are at the risk to stay on the wrong side if you don’t get back on time.