When you visit St Petersburg there are the standard must-see tourist attractions – the Church of the Saviour on Blood, the Hermitage Museum, and Winter Palace. But what are the most unusual things to do in St Petersburg? This was the first city on my big Trans-Mongolian adventure which took almost a month as I winded my way through Russia and Mongolia before finishing on the Great Wall of China!
Here are my top 5 unusual things to do in St Petersburg that will show you a different side to the city. They are guaranteed to make you fall in love with this incredible city (like I have), and you will be booking your next visit before you have even left!
Street Art Museum
The St Petersburg Street Art Museum is a bit hard to find, but once you do find the entrance you will not be disappointed.
The museum is in the acting Laminated Plastics factory in the East of Saint Petersburg. There is one main building which houses one of the key artworks – ‘Practices of growing up’ by Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai. This piece is an enormous figure of a naked girl, looking down at a classroom full of children (find out more about the artwork).
Outside, there are lots of different pieces and murals over the walls, each one more brightly coloured than the last.
There is a wall of shipping containers that houses a DJ booth as well as a bar. Make sure you chat with the bartenders and borrow one of the games (I recommend Jenga), and take your time to have lunch and a few drinks while enjoying the atmosphere.
It is also a great place to people watch. Most of the visitors are young, hipster women in their 20’s with big cameras. Apart from the hipster bit (we didn’t pack hats or crop tops), we blended right in!
Address: St. Petersburg, shosse Revolyutsii, 84
How to find it: When you get to the address listed, turn to your right and walk past the petrol station to the main street. Turn left and you will see containers with SAM on the top – the entrance is there.
Cost: Check their site for more information as entry times and prices change based on exhibitions and season.
The metro stations in St Petersburg are an experience in themselves. The metro is easy to use and not nearly as busy as the trains in Moscow.
For the price of one ticket, you have unlimited time on the metro and you get off the train at as many stations as you like as long as you don’t pass through the barriers.
Luckily, the beautiful murals and artwork are all next to the platform so you can visit all of the stations listed below with one ticket. Plus, almost all of them are on the same line.
Stations to look for:
- Avtovo (line 1) – this station is my favourite. It has magnificent columns and chandeliers that make you feel like you are in an underground Russian palace.
- Kirovskiy zavod (line 1) – this station has a number of bas-reliefs representing Soviet heavy industry.
- Ploshad Vosstanyia (line 1, 3) – this station also has some bas-reliefs. These represent revolutionary events in Russian history. This station and Kirovskiy zavod would have been better as part of a tour because we didn’t really know what we were looking at.
- Admiralteyskaya (line 5) – which is the deepest station in Russia and the second deepest in the world (the deepest is in Kiev). Once you are inside you can’t really tell that it is deep, except for the fact it takes close to 10 minutes to get from ground level down all the escalators to the platform. I really liked all the murals at this station as well. St Petersburg is a navy city and they are very proud of their maritime history.
Get lost! Take the metro to the last stop (any line) and have a look at some Khrushchyovkas, or old-Soviet style apartment blocks. You will feel like you are in a completely different city – and the dilapidated buildings make for great photos!!
Cost: 31 roubles. To buy a ticket, go to the ticket booth and just use your fingers to indicate how many tickets you would like, or go to one of the ticket machines which are in both English and Russian.
Udelnaya flea markets
I loved these flea markets and could have spent all day exploring all the stalls to find hidden Soviet treasures. While we did spend many hours here, I luckily ran out of cash so couldn’t buy too many things.
The Udelnaya flea markets range from wooden stalls to blankets on the ground selling everything from computer parts to WWII artefacts and pre-revolutionary antiques. You really can find anything here, even if sometimes you have to look through piles of dusty artefacts to find something special.
For me, this was the perfect place to do my Christmas shopping for my family (stop reading now family members or you will know what you are getting!). I bought a beautiful pair of antique reading glasses, a kitsch Soviet-style drinking flask, and a really cool Soviet camera that apparently works (I am doubtful).
Make sure you bring lots of cash because there aren’t any ATMs around and you don’t want to miss out on buying something special.
Address: Skobolvesky pr Vyborg Side.
How to find it: Get off the metro at Udelnaya, exit to the right-hand side and follow the crowds until you cross some train tracks. You will be in some permanent stalls which are piled high with clothes and shoes. Keep walking through these stalls until you come to the independent stalls (some on the ground) and then start looking for treasures!
A rooftop tour is something that I had never even thought was a ‘thing’, but apparently, it is in St Petersburg. Although from what I can tell, they are illegal… however, there are still a few companies which offer them. An experienced rooftop walker with a set of keys will take you onto the roof of one or more buildings and explain a bit more about Russian history.
This tour isn’t for the faint-hearted, the unfit, or those with slippery shoes. You climb up about 7 or 8 flights of stairs before climbing up 2 ladders. When you get to the top, you will find yourself in a Soviet lookout that was used during the war to keep watch on the skies.
After looking around (catching your breath), you then walk across the rooftops. The roof is made from sheets of metal that seem to bend and make cracking noises under your feet. The tour doesn’t run on rainy days and I’m not surprised because it was quite slippery when we were there.
The view of Nevsky Prospekt is something special and I am really glad I took the tour. Our guide is hoping to start his own gallery which focuses on photography taken from the rooftops of St Petersburg. If you are interested in seeing these photos, send me an email – I don’t want to get him in trouble!
Tips: Wear shoes with good soles.
Cost: 900 rubles per person
Ресторан, a ‘Soviet apartment’ restaurant
This restaurant was recommended by our guide from a free walking tour around the city. Our guide told us that the décor was like a Soviet apartment but we didn’t really understand that until we arrived and saw the place for ourselves.
It really was like being in someone’s apartment. The restaurant has a few different rooms but each of them has a very homely feel. The only annoying thing is a television playing old Russian tv shows featuring children with high-pitched, squealing voices. Unfortunately, you can’t turn down the sound.
There are lots of choices for traditional Russian food – we ordered beef stroganoff, pelmeni, and stuffed cabbage and each of the dishes was more delicious than the last. The food isn’t too expensive and the service is good. The restaurant is part of a chain but this one is particularly tasty not to mention that it is conveniently in the centre of the city which makes it the perfect lunch stop after building up an appetite exploring.
Restaurant name: Ресторан
Address: Near Church of the Saviour on Blood
St Petersburg was the first stop on my Trans-Mongolian adventure. Don’t stop reading here!