It might be unusual, or original to say the least, to go on a city trip to St Petersburg in Russia. But I absolutely recommend it. It’s only a short flight from most European airports (less than 3 hours from Amsterdam for example) and now that the Russian Rouble has lowered in value, it’s very affordable.
St Petersburg is quite a large city, so if you only have a (long) weekend I recommend sticking to the Historic Heart. Most of the highlights are in this area, as are many nice restaurants and bars. Below are my recommendations of St Petersburg with, as always, a big focus on where to eat (healthy). Short on time? Then just watch my 1.5 minute video at the bottom of this page.
What to do?
Water is never far away in this city, and a boat tour is a great and efficient way to discover the city. There are several companies offering boat tours and both the prices as the quality of the boats is similar. Anglo Tourismo however offers tours in English. They have tours several times a day, they last 1 hour and 20 minutes and cost 1000 Rouble (around 15€ at the time) each.
All the main sights in the Historic Heart are within walking distance from one another.
If you enter via the main street (Nevsky Prospekt) you’ll find Kupetz Eliseevs just across Fontanka the river. Not really a main sight, but a nice first glimpse of St Petersburg. Kupetz Eliseevs is probably the most kitschy food hall you’ll ever encounter, making it great to just have a peek inside to see the chandeliers, fake tree and sugar coated pastries. From there you take a right to find the Russian Museum, housing a big collection of Russian art.
Around the corner of the Russian museum you’ll find the Church on the Spilled Blood, which appearance is a lot more cheerful than its name. You can walk around the church to see all of its sides and its several domes. The domes almost look like cake decorations! The inside is covered with beautiful murals made of small mosaic tiles. Just pretend you don’t see the giftshops gathered at the exit and just enjoy the beautiful mosaics that even cover the entire ceiling.
A short walk takes you to the famous Hermitage, the biggest art museum in the world. Buy your tickets online beforehand or at the ticket machines (no need to stand in the big queue). Art lovers can easily spend a whole day at the Hermitage, but with its vast collection of art from all over the world it’s almost impossible for anyone to get bored. Even if you’re not into the Dutch masters, Egyptian mummies or Greek statues, you can still admire the grandeur of the building and its interior. The former palace has the beautiful Jordan staircase, impressive staterooms and a golden, mechanical peacock clock. And then I didn’t even mention the exterior yet.
From The Hermitage you can already see the golden dome of St Isaac’s Cathedral. Like almost everyone I skipped the museum housed in the Cathedral and went straight up the stairs to the dome for beautiful 360° views of the city.
Where to eat?
There are plenty of nice eating and drinking options within the Historic Heart, below I’ve listed my seven favorites. All the places on this page have an English menu available.
One of my favorite options in St Petersburg is Marketplace. They have several outlets in the city, including two on Nevsky Prospekt. Marketplace takes self service to the next level. When you enter you get a card, then you’ll go to one of the several sections and place order, after your meal you show your card at the register to pay. Most of the food at Marketplace is on display, making it very easy to pick your favorite. They have many vegetarian options here and always a wide selection whether you’re here for breakfast, lunch or dinner (or desserts and cocktails which are for sale upstairs). Pictured are Russian cheese pancakes, granola and a poached egg burger that we had for brunch. The interior with lots of wood, plants and Banksky-like graffiti make it a great place to linger.
A bit more healthy is Ukrop. They have four branches in the city, one is just off Nevsky Prospekt, near the Church on the Spilled Blood. Ukrop proves that you don’t need meat to eat varied and super tasty. They have many vegan, raw and/or gluten free options. Choose a nice salad with soup, or go for one of their main dishes like ravioli, burrito or the Ukrop burger. And don’t forget to leave some room for dessert like their matcha cheesecake or a raw, gluten free carrot tart.
Just one block down from the most central location of Marketplace you’ll find Biblioteka. A big 3 story building housing a formal restaurant, a casual cafe and a bar. The cafe (on the ground flour) serves American style food like burgers with fries. But the real attraction at Biblioteka according to me is the walk-in-closet for cakes! You can pick your favorite from a big selection of cakes and pies on their menu or have a look at the cakes on display. The waitress will get them out of the ‘walk-in-closet’ for you.
On Gorokhorvaya street, near St Isaac’s Cathedral, you’ll find three really nice restaurants. Potatoes and Mushrooms (Kартофель с Грибами) is the first in line. They serve their version of the Dutch dish ‘kapsalon’. In the Netherlands it’s an unhealthy fast food dish but their take on it is much tastier. They have several versions but it all includes roasted potatoes at the bottom of your bowl with several toppings on top. It’s quite a high calorie meal so if you’re looking for something less filling you can always go for one of their roasted potato plates, for example the one with rosemary pictured above. Potatoes and Mushrooms doesn’t sell soda but has nice homemade lemonades instead.
Just one block further you’ll find the Clean Plates Society. Maybe named this way because the food is so tasty you want to lick your plate clean. They have a nice interior with wooden walls and a U shaped bar. They have several vegetarian dinner options which they’ve conveniently listed in a separate section. This places is also great for snacks. I’m a big fan of their (vegetarian) appetizer set with hummus, aubergine caviar, cheese, lobio (beans) and pita bread.
Just a short stroll down the street, across the Moyka river, you’ll find Zoom Cafe. This small restaurant is quite popular, so reserve ahead or be prepared to wait for a table. Once seated you can release your inner child with the blank paper placemat and provided coloring pencils. The varied menu has many healthy options. And even though they only have a few options for vegetarians, their tofu burger with soy mayonnaise is delicious.
Bekitzer is a bit further out, east of the Fontanka River. But well worth the walk if you like Israeli food. This bar serves great falafel pitas for a quick bite and several smaller dishes with which you can make your own tasting menu. They have hummus, baba ganoush, labneh and roasted cauliflower just to name a few. There isn’t much meat on the menu and since dairy is not a necessity in the Israeli cuisine, vegans will also have enough to choose from.
On my YouTube channel you can find all my travel vlogs (and recipe videos). Here’s the video showing you the highlights of st Petersburg in less than 2 minutes: