A fans’ guide to Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg is one of Russia’s most picturesque cities. Home to the country’s iconic FC Zenit football team, it’s a city full of history and wonder.
Known at different times as both Petrograd and Leningrad, St Petersburg is just over 300 years old, yet it’s crammed full of incredible sights and amazing stories of achievement, hope and, at times, suffering. As the place where Russia’s most famous revolution took place, it’s effectively the birthplace of communism. And while today, traces of the city’s Soviet past still remain to fascinate foreign visitors, St Petersburg is one of Russia’s most Westernised and progressive cities.
Also known as the ‘Venice of the North’ (because of its dozens of canals and waterways) and an open-air museum, you’ll never tire of exploring this wonderful place. And because it’s not that far from the Arctic Circle, football fans will have the added benefit of enjoying the city’s ‘White Nights’ – that time of year around the summer solstice when the sun’s rays never fully leave the sky. Being so far north, the sun only just dips below the horizon for a short time each night, meaning you can party from dusk till dawn with the locals, who also traditionally make the most of this special time of year.
Where to stay
As one of Eastern Europe’s most visited cities, St Petersburg is hardly short of places to stay. From simple backpackers’ hostels to some of the world’s top hotels and everything in between, you’re sure to find what you’re looking for in this dazzling tourist destination.
You’ll find many of the world’s top hotel chains in the city, but there are also plenty of independents which may prove more to your liking, offering more in the way of individuality and tradition.
Of course, location is also an issue. St Petersburg Stadium is in the north-west of the city, so finding somewhere to stay nearby may be your priority. But with the city’s extensive public transport facilities, and in particular its cheap and efficient metro system, getting around should be pretty straightforward. And remember: your FAN ID allows you to travel free on selected routes.
Whatever your accommodation needs, we can make all the arrangements for you. Check out the website or call us on 0207 985 1234.
St Petersburg Stadium – which is the new home of the city’s FC Zenit – will have a capacity of around 68 000 for its World Cup matches, and occupies the site of the former Kirov Stadium. Completed in April of last year at an overall cost of over $1 billion, it’s one of the most expensive stadia ever built.
The first official match it hosted took place on 22 April of last year, when Zenit beat Ural 2-0 in a league match.
Source: Wiki Commons, Andrew Shiva
The stadium looks like a spaceship, its roof held up by four masts. It will host four first-round group matches, a quarter-final, a semi-final, and the match for third place. It also hosted four matches during the 2017 Confederations Cup, including the final.
Its towering stands are spectacular, the views out to the Gulf of Finland from behind the seats are wonderful, and its ‘spaceship’ design is unmistakable. And for a few thrills before the football kicks off, the vast park on the approach to the ground contains a number of white-knuckle rollercoaster rides.
Located on the western tip of Krestovsky Island in the north-west of St Petersburg, the stadium lies about 7.5 kilometres from Palace Square in the city centre. The nearest metro station is Krestovsky Ostrov on the purple line 5, which runs right through central St Petersburg. You then have a pleasant 25-minute walk from the station to the stadium through Maritime Victory Park.
Alternatively, buses 10 and 25 stop a little closer to the stadium, just a 15-minute walk away. Bus 10 runs through central St Petersburg, while bus 25 runs through the northern parts of the city.
What to see
St Petersburg is the artistic and cultural capital of Russia, drawing people from all over the world to marvel at its stunning architecture and drink in the history of the place. Admittedly, any fan’s priority in travelling to the World Cup is to watch their team hopefully progress through the competition and share the atmosphere of this amazing sporting occasion. But it would be a shame to travel to St Petersburg and not experience some of the unique attractions on offer.
The city’s State Hermitage is the biggest museum in Russia, housing over three million precious paintings, sculptures, items of glasswork, porcelain, ancient artefacts… Partly housed in the former Winter Palace, it’s a true gem of Russian and world history, attracting thousands of visitors every day.
Travel a short distance from St Petersburg and you’ll find Peterhof. Home to seven imperial palaces and gardens and 23 museums, this ‘Russian Versailles’ is one of the country’s most visited tourist attractions. Created on the orders of Peter the Great, its most popular highlight is its fountain system. Every day at 11.00 am, thousands of tourists gather in the lower garden to watch them burst into action. Why not join them – you’ll be glad you made the journey!
Nevsky Prospect is the main thoroughfare through St Petersburg. You can spend a day simply walking from one end to the other, enjoying the many fascinating sights and places to eat and drink along the route. It stretches for over 2 miles, and as well as its countless restaurants and cafes lining the pavements, it’s also the best place for shopping in St Petersburg. Where better to pick up some souvenirs of Russia 2018?
The colourful Church on the Spilled Blood with its onion-shaped domes stands in the historic heart of St Petersburg, not far from Nevsky Prospect. It commemorates the memory of Alexander II, one of Russia’s tsars, who was fatally wounded by a terrorist on this very spot.
One famous monument you may have seen on TV (especially if you’re a fan of ‘Top Gear’ and saw them race through the city) is the Peter and Paul Fortress, with its huge golden spire reaching up to the heavens. St Petersburg’s official citadel, it marks the spot where Peter the Great founded his new city back in 1703. Inside its Peter and Paul Cathedral is where you’ll find the tombs and graves of most of Russia’s tsars.
If you have the time, travel just 16 miles from St Petersburg to visit the Catherine Palace with its unique Amber Room. This stunning palace was created by the daughter of Peter I, Russian empress Elizabeth, in honour of her mother, Catherine I. The highlight of any visit is the spectacular Amber Room, but the whole ensemble and its grounds are well worth seeing.
Like Moscow, St Petersburg’s subway is a tourist attraction in its own right. It’s so deep that locals spend about 50 hours a year on the escalators alone. The subway itself is like a museum, its vestibules and platforms decorated with great artworks, precious stones, mosaics, and gilded crystal chandeliers. And the good news for travelling fans is that all stations have signs both in Russian and in English. For the most stunning stations on the network, take the red line, and keep a special eye out for the Narvskaya, Kirovsky Zavod and Avtovo stations.
A great way to take in some of the best views the city has to offer is from the water. A boat ride along St Petersburg’s rivers and canals is a great way to see how the city developed as one of Russia’s main sea and river ports. In total, St Petersburg has 93 natural rivers and channels, and 20 man-made canals, the main one being the River Neva. Most of its tourist attractions are built on their banks, so what better way to see some of the best of what St Petersburg has to offer than by relaxing on the deck of a tourist boat?
St Isaac’s Cathedral is the biggest in St Petersburg and one of the city’s tallest structures (its golden dome can be clearly seen from all across the city). The giant dome is made of cast iron covered with about 100 kilos of pure gold. The interior decoration is equally striking with its abundance of gold, marble, paintings and mosaics. Today, the cathedral operates as a museum, but still welcomes worshippers early in the morning.
For a taste of the city’s more recent history, the legendary cruiser Aurora is well worth a visit. Russian tsar Nicholas II and his family attended its launch ceremony in 1900. Anchored at Petrovskaya embankment, the ship is a museum and monument to the Great October Revolution, having fired a blank shot on 25 October, which symbolised the start of the Revolution.
There are countless other sights across the city, all well worth a look. You could start with Senate Square with its famous statue of the Bronze Horseman – a monument to the city’s founder, Peter the Great, which opens out onto the River Neva. Not far away is the Admiralty building, which personifies the idea of Russia as a maritime power. The Admiralty’s tower, with its weather-vane in the shape of a small sailing ship, is one of the city’s most easily recognisable symbols.
Then there’s the Alexander Garden, one of St Petersburg’s finest outdoor places, teeming with locals at any time of the year. The garden is decorated with fountains and busts of Russia’s classical authors such as Gogol, Zhukovsky and Lermontov, as well as the composer Glinka. Or head for Palace Square with its Alexander Column, topped by a figure of an angel which was made to resemble Emperor Alexander.
Alternatively, the Mikhailovsky Palace is the venue that hosts the Russian Museum with its excellent icon collection. Or maybe you’d simply prefer a little jogging or cycling through St Petersburg’s many parks, gardens and squares. Or check out the city’s skate parks, go-cart track, horseriding facilities…
Bars and restaurants
Like Moscow, St Petersburg is awash with great places to eat and drink … and watch the matches, if you haven’t got a ticket. Wherever you are, you’re never far from a bar or eatery to suit your taste and budget. There are plenty of suggestions on the official Russia 2018 website.
Watch for free
All 11 World Cup host cities have their own Fan Fest site, where fans can gather and watch all the matches for free on the giant screen. St Petersburg’s is located on Konyushennaya Square, in the heart of the historical city centre, right next to one of the city’s main sights – the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. With a capacity of around 15 000 fans, it’s the next best thing to being in the stadium and cheering on your favourite team in person!