I forgot how much I loved Saint Petersburg.
My recent Russia trip marked my first visit back to Saint Petersburg since 2011, when I spent almost six months living there. This time round, I immediately found myself falling in love again with everything I’d missed – the beautiful European architecture, the bustling Nevsky Prospekt and the long summer nights.
But I discovered something new, too. In the four years I’ve been away, Saint Petersburg has become hipster.
I never really thought of Saint Petersburg as being a very cool city – that title seemed to be jealously protected by Moscow – but it seems like Russia’s second city has caught up. In fact, only this week the city was named in a list of top destinations for Yuccies (the post-hipster fad) by Skyscanner.
So the celebrate the city’s new-found cool edge, here is the ultimate alternative guide to St. Petersburg.
On our trip, we found Gorokhovaya Street (улица Гороховая) to be the epicentre of all things hipster. The street is one of the original three radial roads, stretching from the Admiralty south to Zvenigorodskaya. Between the Admiralty and Griboyedov Canal, there are no end of cool bars, small restaurants and cosy cafes.
Dumskaya Street (улица Думская) is a great area for cheap bars. Popular with students, the street is home to a number of long-standing alternative dive bars where a shot of vodka will only set you back 100 roubles – that’s around £1.10 or €1.50. Dumskaya is also home to Central Station, Saint Petersburg’s gay club.
See & do
To experience the latest craze in Saint Petersburg, you have to take to the rooftops. Over the past year or so, this Russian-take on parkour has boomed in the city, with countless Instagram accounts from resident adrenaline junkies showing off the city from new angles. (Try Boltenkov for a taster.) But if you want to get in on the fun, there are plenty of Rooftop Tours available, too. We didn’t do one so I can’t vouch for the safety of the tours, but there were signs everywhere to advertise this latest trend.
Check out this article from The Guardian for more information.
Arguably the city’s premier hipster hangout, ETAGI Loft Project is an all manner of things rolled into one: in one building you can find an art gallery, an exhibition space, a hostel and a café. The venture has been going for some years now and while we didn’t manage to squeeze in a visit on my recent trip, the open bright Green Room Café was a popular choice while I was studying in the city. The scheme seems to have gone from strength to strength and now regularly holds events and concerts.
Metro: Ligovskiy Prospekt | Лиговский Проспект
When the weather is good, head over to Zayachiy Island (Заячий остров), home of the Peter and Paul Fortress. Here you’ll find the city beach and a small park area, which is bustling with cool young people and families whenever the sun is out.
Metro: Gorkovskaya | Горковская
Another option is Yelagin Island (Елагин остров), a park island popular with rollerbladers and cyclists. You can even take to the island’s lake in a rowing boat.
Metro: Krestovksiy Island | Крестовский остров
Restaurants & cafes
If you’re looking for somewhere to eat in St. Petersburg, then your best bet is Gorokhovaya, where you’ll find plenty of restaurants and burger bars.
Candies by Coffee Room – ul. Gorokhovaya 11
Home to possibly the best Full English Breakfast I’ve had outside of the UK (take note, Germany), Candies is a cosy little café which serves up great breakfasts and decent mains. Part of the Coffee Room franchise.
I’m Thankful for Today – ul. Gorokhovaya 24
Another popular Coffee Room hangout, I’m Thankful for Today occupies a cosy little corner on the Griboyedov Canal. The interior is very shabby chic, with window booths, long central table and mismatching chairs. The Big Burger is delicious.
Leica – Griboyedov Canal 29
A colourful sub-street café on Griboyedov Canal, Leica has a large food menu, but also serves up a few decent cocktails with shooters. We popped in for a Long Island Iced Tea on the way to Dumskaya.
Zoom Bar – ul. Gorokhovaya 22
A firm favourite from my 2011 days, Zoom Bar is an intimate café on Gorokhovaya that serves up great light bites. Zoom is a popular place so be prepared to wait for a table. The exterior is now a colourful green garden brightening up the street.
Clean Plates Society – ul. Gorokhovaya 13
At first glance, Clean Plates Society looks a bit like a nightclub (how many restaurants have a mirror ball?) but inside you’ll find a relaxed restaurant-cum-bar with a small but appetising menu and lots of Bohemian charm. A good place for dinner and drinks.
Bars & clubs
St. Petersburg has plenty of great bars to choose from over a few different neighbours, so take your pick. Za zdrovye!
Craft Brew Café – Malaya Morskaya ul, 15
One of the most surprising finds on our trip was Craft Brew Café, a mere stone’s throw from our hostel. The chic bar has a large selection of both foreign and domestic beers and ciders, with an extensive array of options from Saint Petersburg. The staff weren’t particularly knowledgeable about their drink selection but if you know what you want, it’s a great place to go. There is also a decent-looking food menu.
Dacha – ul. Dumskaya 9
A stalwart on the cheap student scene, Dacha is a typical dive bar with a decent atmosphere. Though lively most nights of the week, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays are the best.
Fidel – ul. Dumskaya 5
Two doors down from Dacha, Fidel offers a more extensive menu and a more exciting atmosphere, though it definitely exudes the same more-shabby-than-chic charm. We went on a Thursday and there was a DJ playing anything from techno to S Club 7.
Radio Baby – ul. Kazanskaya 7
Though we didn’t have time to visit this hipster gem this time around, Radio Baby was a staple choice during my time living in St Petersburg. The bar-cum-club has an open-plan layout consisting of four interlocking rooms, with a long bar and makeshift dancefloor. Judging by the website, the place has had a new lick of paint since my last visit and looks a lot better for it.
Mod – Griboyedov Canal 7
Another old haunt we couldn’t revisit, Mod is a cool but pricey club during the winter, which opens up a lovely rooftop terrace with BBQ in the summer. Entrance to the terrace was free on my last visit, though this may have changed. The perfect place to enjoy the white nights.
Though it lacks the choice of Moscow, St Petersburg is home to some great hostels.
During our time in St. Petersburg, we stayed at Simple Hostel on Gorokhovaya, found right in the heart of the city’s historic centre. The hostel was small but welcoming with modern bathrooms and handy storage. Stay tuned for a full review!
Another option we considered was Soul Kitchen, a design-led hostel with hipster-friendly interiors and fantastic reviews. Maybe next time?
Would you visit Saint Petersburg as a hipster?