In this guide, I’m sharing my top unusual things to do in St Petersburg Russia, as chosen by a born and raised St. Petersburg resident. Ever since I moved to Amsterdam, I’m making sure to keep up with new places in my hometown, and there are many – believe me! This list will point you to some unusual things to do in St Petersburg Russia that are missing from the touristic itineraries. Well, mostly. If you are in town for the first time, check out my 3 days in St Petersburg guide for first-timers!
The main attractions of St. Petersburg alone could keep you occupied for weeks. And there is so much in the city worth seeing! These places are a tad less obvious than going to watch Swan Lake or exploring the halls of the Hermitage, but they are too filled with the city’s charm. Some of them you won’t find without a tip from a local. Therefore, this post. And so, without further ado, let’s get into the list!
Here are the contents of today's post:
- 1 Top Unusual Things to Do in St Petersburg Russia:
- 1.1 Enjoy the bird’s eye view on St. Petersburg from the Aerolift
- 1.2 Discover St Petersburg’s tumultuous history
- 1.3 Explore retro trams in the Museum of Urban Electrical Transport
- 1.4 Sip cocktails at a casino table in a secret underground bar
- 1.5 See the informal side of St. Petersburg on a rooftop tour
- 1.6 Enjoy modern art in the Erarta museum
- 1.7 Discover the creative cluster on New Holland Island
- 1.8 Eat traditional Pyshki in a Soviet bistro
- 1.9 Drink unlimited coffee and play games at an anti-cafe
- 1.10 Discover St. Petersburg’s unique well-courtyards
- 1.11 Go on an Indiana Jones adventure escape room quest
- 1.12 See the whole of Russia in miniature
- 1.13 Go on an indoor “room” concert in one of St. Petersburg’s best museums
- 1.14 Get a dose of sugar rush with a Mickey & Monkeys overshake
- 1.15 Enjoy the sights from Loft Etazhi viewing platform
Top Unusual Things to Do in St Petersburg Russia:
Enjoy the bird’s eye view on St. Petersburg from the Aerolift
There are many viewing platforms in St. Petersburg, with one of the newest ones being the Aerolift stationary air balloon. The adult ticket costs 2000 rubles and offers a great view over the Bolshaya Nevka and Neva rivers, the famous Cruiser Aurora and St. Peter and Paul’s fortress. The length of the flight is kind of short – only 15 minutes. The balloon only moves up and down to 150 meters high, so there’s no flying above the city.
It’s not the cheapest attraction compared to more traditional platforms such as the St. Isaac Cathedral, but it sure is fun! You can buy tickets on the day however depending on the wind, there might be weather cancellations. You will find the balloon at Pirogovskaya embankment 5/2.
Discover St Petersburg’s tumultuous history
From being the window to Europe, a brilliant jewel city built by Tsar Peter The Great, to becoming Leningrad after the Russian Civil War, the city is filled with remnants of life long gone. There is a story behind every facade, from the unique way the city was built to the literary legacy of the city. The best way is to go on a walking tour that takes you a bit further than the main landmarks. Get Your Guide has a couple of tours that offer an unusual perspective on the city that I think you might like:
- Yusupov Palace and Rasputin Exhibition Guided Tour
- St. Petersburg: Communist Leningrad Tour
- Dostoyevsky Walking Tour of St Petersburg
- St. Petersburg Like a Local: The Legends of a City
Explore retro trams in the Museum of Urban Electrical Transport
St. Petersburg is one of the cities where visitors can use many different electric forms of transport: the metro, the bus, the tram and the trolleybus which looks somewhat similar to a caterpillar. If you look up in the city center you will no doubt see many wires allowing seamless communication through the streets.
View this post on Instagram
Доброе утро. Ещё один пост про #трамвайныймузей в #СанктПетербург. На сей раз – вертикальные фотографии. Милые морды трамваев и мое креативное #селфи. Обратите внимание, синий вагон – это конка. У него нет мотора. #трамвай #музей #транспортноефото #троллейбус #санктпетербург #питер #stpitersburg #tramway #trolleybus #museum #traveling #путешествия #музейэлектротранспорта
One place that offers more insight into different historical transport in St. Petersburg is the Museum of Urban Electrical Transport. I recommend you go on a tour because you will get to explore the insides of the trolleybuses and trams during the excursion. You can take pictures and act like a child as well, nothing is off limits 🙂
There is also a retro 1920’s tram going through a historical route in St. Petersburg on the weekends that starts from the museum. It will take you from the museum to Stachek square, both ways for only 200 rubles.
Sip cocktails at a casino table in a secret underground bar
One of my favorite discoveries during my last St. Petersburg visit was the lovely cocktail Bar Kabinet in the very heart of the city. Its exact location, however, is disclosed only after bookings, and is shrouded in mystery. The underground bar has an official dress code policy. Those guests who come in jeans are offered luxurious Harry Potter-style cloaks. There is a live jazz band playing late into the night as well.
The best thing about the bar is the ambiance and concept. The tables are done in imitation of casino playing tables, with the cocktail menu served on look-alike playing cards. You can choose between the four elements: Fire, Water, Earth, and Air. In return, the bartender will deal you a hand of cards, a different cocktail on each. You get to choose your cocktail from whatever cards you drew. It’s the perfect spot for a romantic evening. You must book your table, or you will never find it otherwise. Shoot them a message through their Facebook page, they reply quite quickly.
See the informal side of St. Petersburg on a rooftop tour
The view of St. Petersburg from the rooftops is truly and utterly unforgettable. Depending on how comfortable you are with climbing to dizzying heights, you might prefer a more relaxed tour to just one rooftop where you don’t have to do any risky climbing.
Of course, if you’ve ever seen a Russian dashcam video, you might know we can be reckless and have a big disdain for official rules and regulations. That means that if you are willing to risk your neck and experiment, you might get to see totally safe roofs that are normally closed to visitors. This means you are okay with assuming responsibility for your own life, trust the guide and are ready to be amazed!
I took such a tour with Vlad, known on Instagram as @VladislavKarpyuk. He has over 145K followers and loves sharing absolutely insane views of St. Petersburg. He also runs his own tours. Last summer my friend and I went on a tour of the St. Petersburg lobbies in historical houses, as well as several rooftops with views. Much recommended!
Enjoy modern art in the Erarta museum
The Erarta Museum is one of the best places to enjoy modern art exhibitions in St. Petersburg. Granted, it’s a bit out of the way on the Vasilievsky Island but definitely worth the journey. Aside from a variety of ever-changing displays, Erarta also created a concept of U-Space which is an interactive installation. A separate ticket is required for the 15-minute experience which immerses you into a different dimension and an emotional journey of its own.
View this post on Instagram
Discover the creative cluster on New Holland Island
The island of New Holland got its name for being a part of the St. Petersburg neighborhood which resembled the canals of The Netherlands most strongly. Once this island housed Mendeleev’s Laboratory and even a radio station which transmitted that the Civil War was won in 1917 by the Bolsheviks. These structures were destroyed, but some historical monuments remained.
There’s the Arch of New Holland, and there’s the unique circular prison building nicknamed “The Bottle”. It now houses a collection of showrooms and one-of-a-kind stores. The rest of the island has transformed into a creative space for lectures, with an open-air stage for performances and movies. There’s an ice skating rink that’s open during the winter season from mid-November up to mid-March. And, of course, the beautiful pond with art installations, floating flamingos and a tiny artificial beach for those desperate for a decent tan. During the winter season there is an open-air ice-skating rink, and all kinds of Christmas fairs during the festive holiday season.
Eat traditional Pyshki in a Soviet bistro
The Soviet era was famous for many things, but one remnant of the time that you must experience for yourself is the typical Russian crumpets bistro on Bolshaya Konyushennaya Street, 25. The cafe opened its doors in 1958 and has since served nothing but crumpets with coffee from a vat.
The prices have remained as liberal as during the Soviet times, with a cup of coffee for 35 rubles, one crumpet for 15 rubles, cash only. Just so you get an idea, 15 rubles currently equals 0,21 U.S. dollars. The interiors are typical Soviet in their lack of general comfort. You can eat by the tall standing tables or grab a seat and use wrapping paper for napkins. Impressed yet? Well, you will be once you bite into the tastiest pyshki on earth.
Drink unlimited coffee and play games at an anti-cafe
View this post on Instagram
18 марта, 19:00/ Концерт композитора @romankhalilulin Он — талантливый российский композитор, яркий представитель современенной музыки. Его композиции – это иллюстрации, воплощенные посредством звука, в которых каждый способен услышать разнообразие гармонических красок и завершить некоторую недосказанность своими собственными переживаниями. 18.03, 19:00, Набережная реки Фонтанки, 20. Вход: по тарифам Цифербурга. Ph: @missannakot
The concept of anti-cafes has caught on in St. Petersburg and Moscow very well, with dozens of them open throughout the city. In an anti-cafe, you pay for only the amount of time you spend in it. You get unlimited coffee, tea, and biscuits in return. The general price tag hovers around 2 rubles per minute, with a price cap, where you can’t spend more than 500 rubles or you only pay for the first 4 hours.
Why would you go there? Well, the anti-cafes are fantastic for winding down and taking a breather in between your explorations, especially if all you wanted was to sit down and just chill for an hour. They stock up on board games and books, and many have music performances, poetry reading evenings and more.
View this post on Instagram
Такой солнечной и по-настоящему весенней фотографией привлекаем ваше внимание! В среду, в 17:30, у нас состоится вторая лекция из ЕГЭ-курса «Романовы». Рассказывать будет Александр Шадрин, победитель Всероссийской олимпиады для школьников по истории в формате ЕГЭ, студент Финансового университета при Правительстве РФ, набравший 93 балла за экзамен. О чем будет речь: 1. Окончательно разберёмся с XVII-м веком: Проанализируем важные реформы эпохи Фёдора Алексеевича и Софьи 2. Поговорим о культуре этого столетия 3. Начнём изучать деятельность Петра I: разберём ключевые изменения в политике и экономике Российского государства начала XVIII века. Если не понимаете, зачем было воевать со Швецией больше 20-ти лет или проводить европеизацию, то обязательно приходите! Вход: по тарифам Цифербурга.
Looking for directions?
- Try Ziferburg on the Fontanka embankment, 20. It has a beautiful retro space right next to Saint Michael’s Castle. It’s easy to find and it’s in the heart of the city. They host poetry readings, concerts, have a piano and the best balcony with views directly on the St. Michael’s Castle.
- Try Playloft Gaga if you’re a fan of board games (they have an extensive list of games in English) and looking for a rooftop view. It’s my favorite place to meet up with friends. You can bring your own food or order delivery straight to the loft. The address is Malaya Morskaya, 15/7, the entrance is from the side of Gorohovaya street.
Discover St. Petersburg’s unique well-courtyards
When St. Petersburg was built, Tsar Peter The Great wanted to mimic the beautiful row of connected facades in Amsterdam, creating a wall of interconnected buildings. Later on, when more and more rental houses were being built for profit, the owners tried to maximize their profits by using all the space they had, lest it is wasted. Do you know that St. Petersburg was built on swampy ground? It was especially difficult and expensive to make sure the ground was ready for building. Enter the typical St. Petersburg well-like courtyards.
Surrounded by all 4 walls, with a small patch of blue sky gazing down on you, these courtyards are the heart and soul of the city. To visit those, watch out for gates which will lead you inside. They are easy to get into as long as you wait for a local to exit, unlocking the gate for you.
Don’t want to wait? Book a tour of the city instead with someone who knows all the ins and outs. Want to visit on your own and need at least a couple of addresses?
3 Spots to Find Well-courtyards
- Nevsky Prospekt, 3.
- The Courtyards of the St. Petersburg State Capella: entrance from Moika embankment, 20.
- Malyy Prospekt P.s., 1Б will bring you to the very courtyard on the picture above.
Go on an Indiana Jones adventure escape room quest
What’s that, you say? An escape room? You could do this literally anywhere!
Not quite. Believe me when I tell you that escape rooms are a great deal in St. Petersburg. The imagination behind those themed adventures is fantastic, with many offered in English at very reasonable prices.
See the whole of Russia in miniature
Did you know that St. Petersburg has a Grand Maket Russia museum where you can see the whole of Russia in miniature? This model is the second largest in the whole world and takes up 800 m². All of Russia’s time zones are included, as well as all the major cities. Every 12 minutes or so the day changes into night, completing the illusion. The details are very captivating so prepare to spend more than just a couple of hours going through the different model spots.
Tickets cost 480 rubles, and the ticket office works from 10 a.m. to 7.15 p.m. The address is Tsvetochnaya str., 16. It’s out of the way but easy to get to by taking the metro to station Moskovskiye Vorota, then walking.
Go on an indoor “room” concert in one of St. Petersburg’s best museums
Classical music reigns supreme in St. Petersburg. Aside from the ballet and operas of Mariinsky Theatre, there are many opportunities to enjoy a small concert in the compact museum halls that are often unannounced in most travel guides.
You can get tickets to concert performances in the ticket offices of the following museums: The Vladimir Palace; Sheremetevskiy Palace, Chalyapin Memorial Apartment and Rimsky-Korsakov Museum.
Get a dose of sugar rush with a Mickey & Monkeys overshake
Oh, the monstrosities served in the gorgeous Mickey & Monkeys restaurant! From the decadent Adventure Time shake to the wild Shakeburger with a REAL hamburger on top, this place is arguably the most Instagrammable cafe in St. Petersburg.
View this post on Instagram
The food is good in general, although practically any other dish will be cheaper than the 830 ruble shakes, which are the most expensive on the menu. This spot is super popular is I recommend booking a table in advance (to book on weekends you’ll need at least a party of 4). You will find the large 5-room space in all its tiled-floor glory on Gorokhovaya st. 27!
Enjoy the sights from Loft Etazhi viewing platform
What better way to spend summer in a city like St. Petersburg than enjoying the rare good weather spell on a rooftop overlooking the city? The view platform on top of the creative Loft Etazhi is a must in good weather. The Loft is in the heart of the city and functions as a creative space for art exhibitions, showrooms and, most importantly, an open-air terrace. The entrance costs 100 rubles and the rooftop is open from 9:00 a.m. to 9 p.m.