Saint Petersburg

Solo Travel in Saint Petersburg

The backstory

Back in February, when travel was still a normal thing to do in Europe and Russia, I visited Saint Petersburg or Piter as Russians usually refer to it. I went there straight from Moscow, and that, I believe, changed how I saw Saint Petersburg in many ways. I spent quite some time in Moscow: six weeks in total. This allowed me to get to know it very well, and I’m more fond of places where I spent longer periods of time: London, Valencia, and even Rome where I spent only three weeks. The only exception must be Ljubljana, where I studied, but that’s a whole different story.

I think that Moscow is a hard city to compete with, at least within Russia. This is exactly what my friend and fellow Workawayer told me after her weekend trip to the cultural capital; she sort of hated it and was glad to be back in the actual capital. Consequently, I entered the city with all this prejudice in my head: that the weather is shit, that there’s traffic everywhere and that Moscow is just prettier and has more things to do. I still think these are all valid points, but that doesn’t mean that Piter isn’t a wonderful city, because it is!

Palace Square

Solo travel

My biggest problem in Piter was that I was somewhat lonely and lost. I had just finished a six-week volunteering experience where I met lots of people, had a great time and was basically never alone. And then suddenly I was on my own, hating the hostel I was staying in and constantly thinking that I booked the stay for too many days. I was looking forward to taking the train to Finland and visiting my friend.

The fact that I booked the hostel for six days, however, meant that I had enough time to see everything on my list and take it easy at the same time. I wanted to take it easy because I felt tired and sort of sad; I was experiencing a fraction of my post-Erasmus depression from 2017. I was able to have slow mornings, cook some of my meals and return to the hostel in the late afternoon instead of right before bed, which is what I usually do when travelling with someone else. The fact that I was somewhere completely alone for the first time ever gave me lots of time to think, listen to music, watch Russian films, try to read Tolstoy in Russian and, of course, the opportunity to go wherever I wanted, without having to adapt to anyone.


Shitty weather and strange hostels

I’ll just say this before finally getting to what I actually did in Saint Petersburg: this is a city to visit in the warmer months. It’s windy, and cloudy, and it rains and snows often. Piter has many beautiful parks, buildings, monuments, the riverside and the seaside, and these just can’t be enjoyed in the same way when it’s freezing cold and it’s raining or snowing on you. Also, do yourself a favour and don’t go to the hostel Old Flat on Nevsky because it’s full of weirdos who live there permanently, and the receptionists are unfriendly. I have no idea what it’s like in other hostels, but I’m booking another type of accommodation when I’m visiting this city again (which I definitely am) or at least I’m dragging someone else along.

A few things about Saint Petersburg

Saint Petersburg is sometimes referred to as the Venice of the North; this is due to its canals. It honestly didn’t remind me of Venice, even though the canals are definitely beautiful. It’s also supposed to be the most European city in Russia. I’ve only seen Moscow and Piter, so I can’t compare it with other cities, but it does look very different from Moscow; the buildings look Central European. Tsar Piter I established the city in 1703, and Italian architects planned it, which explains the buildings. Piter is an important port and has 4.7 million residents, which makes it the second biggest city in Russia. Saint Petersburg is a city of culture: it’s home to more than 200 museums and 50 theatres; various exhibitions, concerts, ballet and opera shows take place here all the time. The city is just a couple of hours on the train from Europe (Finland).

What’s worth seeing in Saint Petersburg

Nevsky Prospect

Nevsky Prospect is a 4.5-kilometer-long high street. It’s constantly full of traffic, people and life. The street is filled with bars, restaurants and shops, lined with beautiful buildings, and the sky is only visible through the many tram cables. You’ll notice several side streets and canals when walking up and down Nevsky Prospect.

Nevsky Prospect
Nevsky Prospect

The Hermitage or The Winter Castle

The Winter Castle used to be the residence of Russian tsars. It’s built in the Baroque style and is now home to the museum Hermitage. The museum is absolutely huge; you can spend hours, even days in it. It offers artwork and exhibits from all over the world and from various eras. The Palace Square, where the Winter Castle is located, is of great historic importance too: it is where the Bloody Sunday and the October Revolution took place.

The Winter Castle
The Winter Castle

The cathedrals

I’m not a church person and rarely enter them, so I haven’t been inside any of these, but some sure looked wonderful from the outside: Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, St. Isaac’s Cathedral, Kazan Cathedral, Smolny Cathedral and Peter and Paul Cathedral.

Kazan Cathedral
Kazan Cathedral

Peter and Paul Fortress

The fortress was founded as the citadel of Saint Petersburg. Today the fortress is the central building of the State Museum of the History of St Petersburg. It’s located on Hare Island where the beaches are perfect for observing the sunset over the wide river Neva.

Peter and Paul Cathedral
Peter and Paul Cathedral


Petergof was the summer residence of the royals, sometimes referred to as the Russian Versailles. It lies right next to the sea and has beautiful gardens and architecture. The problem is that the place is pretty grim in the winter (I mean, it’s a summer residence for a reason). When I was there (in late February), the fountains didn’t work, and it was windy and cold.


Park of the 300th Anniversary of Saint Petersburg

The park lies right next to a beautiful sandy beach and the Lakhta centre, the tallest building in Europe. The park itself must be more beautiful on warmer days as it has fountains. The beach made for a pretty interesting sight, though: some parts of the sea were still frozen!


Places I didn’t get to see

The first on my list is the Catherine Palace in Tsarskyoe Selo. Other than that, I’d really like to revisit Petergof. Most of all, I want to come here for the White Nights in June. That’s when the sun doesn’t set and the city is bursting with events, concerts, festivals and other activities.

What I loved the most

I found myself truly happy twice during my visit to Piter, and both included water. The beach next to the 300th-anniversary park was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. That evening, I also got to see a beautiful sunset from the beach on Hare Island. This day was special because it was sunny, and this is a rare occasion in this city. Another time when I was very much into the city’s vibe was the first evening when I took a walk along Nevsky Prospect and witnessed many bands performing outside. The fact that I knew quite a few songs made me feel like I achieved the purpose of my stay in Russia.

Hare Island
Hare Island

What I disliked

I didn’t like how grey the city looks most of the time. But most of all, I disliked the hostel. My food kept going missing, the first receptionist was rude, the second didn’t speak to me at all, and the guests were borderline creepy.

Final verdict on solo travel

I already knew that I was a social girl, but Piter told me that this is especially true when it comes to travel. Apparently, I really enjoy having someone I can talk to in person about what I see and experience. I missed having someone to keep me company in the weird hostel. I missed everyone I left in Moscow and looked forward to meeting my friend in Finland. At the same time, I was missing everyone back home, including my comfortable bed and my clean kitchen. I was counting the days – and I never do that when I travel, except when I’m worrying about how little is left.

Piter might not be as great as Moscow, at least not in my eyes, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t great. We deserve a second date.

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