Alt Cities: Traversing St. Petersburg

Sitting on the border where east meets west, St. Petersburg is one of a kind, straddling two different worlds in one fell swoop. At once European and Asian, the Russian city merits being seen up close, and if you want to make the most of the place, it pays to go a little off the beaten track. Visiting the cultural city is best done over a period of a few days; with plenty of art, food, and history on show, you’re going to want to take your time. The city is most certainly at its best during this time of year; after the thaw, there are countless events and offerings. Want to really get to the root of Russia’s second city? Here’s everything you need to know.

Despite being founded over two hundred and fifty years ago, The Hermitage museum is one of the most rapidly changing cultural spots in the city of St. Petersburg. With a new contemporary art wing having been added in 2014, the mammoth gallery is the perfect place to get lost in the history of the image, offering up every kind of work imaginable in this sweeping, multicultural space. While the entirety of the space is far too big to take in over the course of one day alone, The Hermitage lends itself particularly well to guided visits. Pick your preferred area of art and drink it all in.

If you prefer taking more of an underground approach to the whole cultural scene, however, you should make a beeline for the Co-op Garage. One of the most talked about spots in the city, the Co-op Garage is the place to go for an authentic look at St. Petersburg’s nightlife scene; it attracts people from miles around with its good food and relaxed vibes. While you might come for the pizza, you’re bound to stick around a little while longer for the atmosphere — just don’t expect a quiet night!

Independent bookshops run riot through the streets of St. Petersburg, and while there are a huge number of fantastic reading hotspots from which to choose, few do literature quite as well as Podpisnie Izdaniya. As well as containing what is perhaps the finest collection of independent literature anywhere in the city, the bookshop is a meeting ground for some of the best minds in St. Petersburg. Pull up a comfy pew, select your book, and wash it down with a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee. With beans provided straight from the Bolshe coffee company, you might not want to ever leave.

While public parks are all over the place in a city like St. Petersburg, few are attracting as much of a buzz as recently opened New Holland. Having undergone a huge renovation process, the newly minted park was reopened to the public in 2016, offering a whole range of updated cultural goodies. As well as hosting public art and children’s activity centres, New Holland is home to regular concerts, sports events, and even has its own on-site farm. Take a stroll along the board of the river Neva and take in the park’s stunning views.

Picking yourself up a memento of your trip is all part and parcel of travelling and, rather than heading to the same old tourist traps, why not try making your St. Petersburg purchase as authentic as possible? Udelka is the flea market to end all flea markets and, spanning a huge area just next to the railway tracks, it hosts every kind of item under the sun. Want to pick up a trinket from Leningrad, an outfit from the USSR, or your very own vintage leather suitcase? At Udelka, you’re bound to find all sorts of treasures.

Hannah Lamarque
Hannah is a freelance writer and copy editor living in Europe. She writes about travel, art, design and culture and loves discovering hidden places in the cities that she visits.