St Petersburg is an easy city to get around, and there are plenty of transport options. Our guidebook mentioned eight, and we managed to use seven of those during our trip. Here are some details, interspersed with pictures of my favourite Ladas when I forgot to take a photo of the actual vehicle.
Although big, St Petersburg is a great city for a wander. It’s so beautiful that you can’t help but want to walk, and the tourist attractions in the centre are quite close together, so it’s not too much of a stretch.
The good news is that the street signs are in both cyrillic and roman script, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding your way.
We walked so much when we were in St Petersburg that I spent the first half of the trip coating my feet in more and more surgical tape to prevent blisters, before finally giving in and buying some new shoes. My amazing Russian shoes were the comfiest I’ve ever had and I miss them on a daily basis – even when replaced with exactly the same model in Belgium, they just weren’t the same.
Fast, efficient and cheap, I was really impressed by the metro in St Petersburg. I also felt very safe within the stations and on the trains. One thing I loved about the metro was the women sitting in booths at the bottom of the escalators shouting at anyone who sat down or did anything else against the rules.
Something to bear in mind is that a station can have up to three names depending on the number of lines which connect there. For example, Spasskaya (4), Sadovaya (5) and Sennaya Ploshchad (2) are all in one station.
You can read more about the beautiful stations which are tourist attractions in their own right here. Apparently the metro stations in Moscow are even more impressive, but I don’t see how that can be possible!
To get from the airport to the city, we took a bus to the nearest metro station. A conductor came round to sell us our tickets, and we needed to buy an extra one for each suitcase.
I’m always a bit unsure about getting buses in places I don’t know well, as you’re never sure how clear it will be that you’ve reached your destination. We were with a local, so it was fine, but I’m sure you could ask the conductor or a fellow passenger if you needed help. Having the name of your destination written in cyrillic will help.
An important thing to remember about the bus tickets is that if you are given one where the first three digits add up to the same amount as the last three digits, it is lucky and you must eat it. You can save it up for a snack at a later date if you don’t need the luck right then.
The tram system in St Petersburg is one of the largest in the world, although it seems to be shrinking all the time.
We didn’t manage to fit in a tram ride, but from what I heard they are slow and break down frequently. They usually run in the middle of roads, so they are also subject to delays if traffic is bad (which it often is).
On the plus side, they are less busy than the buses, which are often packed.
I wouldn’t go back to St Petersburg specifically to try this method of transport, but when I do return, I’ll try to fit it in for a full house!
Trolleybuses are a strange bus/tram hybrid, which look challenging to drive. You need to keep your bus stuck to the wires overhead for power, but you don’t have rails to guide you. Since seeing them for the first time in St Petersburg, I’ve become fascinated by them. Excuse me while I geek out.
Trolleybuses have a lower set up cost than a tram system, because of the lack of rails. They’re also a bit quieter and better at climbing hills. Another benefit is their ability to do more to avoid traffic or collisions.
They’re electric, so they have an environmental and noise-level advantage over a normal bus. They’re also better at hill climbs, so very useful in a hilly area. On the downside they can’t overtake each other, and they’re not as easy to divert, due to the need to stay attached to the wires.
Minibuses are privately run, and follow set routes. You have to shout to the driver that you want to get off at a particular place as you’re getting close.
We were due to take a minibus to one of the palaces outside the city without Vlad. This required phoning a friend to see which number minibus to take, then being given a note in Russian to pass to one of our fellow passengers so that they could tell us when we needed to shout for the driver to stop. In the end I was too hungover to take a trip which had such high chances of ending with us getting lost and dying in the Russian countryside, which was a shame.
We did take one inside the city, and with Vlad to do the shouting. It was a confusing experience, and I don’t know if it made me feel better or worse about the idea of going it alone.
Taxis and Chastniki
Official taxis are quite hard to find, but if you just stick your hand out while waiting at the side of the road, a random car will probably stop and give you a lift for payment.
We actually took a taxi but agreed the price like you would a chastnik, and on the way to the airport, we booked a taxi, but I’m fairly sure it was a chastnik that turned up.
Chastnik drivers are usually pensioners, students or foreigners trying to earn a bit of extra cash, and I get the impression that they’re pretty safe, but there are always exceptions – never get into one which is already carrying other passengers. I don’t know if I’d use a chastnik if I was travelling alone or didn’t speak Russian, so I’d say use your common sense. Would you get into an unlicensed taxi cab or hitchhike in your own country?
Only joking, I don’t think this one moves.
There are a couple of toilet buses dotted around near the main attractions. I never tried them out, but I can imagine they’re a bit grim.
How many modes of transport have you used in St Petersburg? Did my guide book miss any?