Lonely Planet Local Ksenia Elzes was born and raised in St Petersburg and has lived there for almost 30 years. Petersburgers might joke about the weather and how you see the sun only for one week in a year here, but Ksenia insists this isn’t true and feels incredibly proud to be a part of this city because of its immense beauty and incredible history.
Ksenia believes St Petersburg is a city people want to come back to – and as a Lonely Planet Local, is on a mission to show people that today it’s one of the best travel destinations in Europe.
When I have friends in town… I make sure they start with good old classic sights – the Hermitage with its spectacular artistic treasures, the Russian Museum because of its huge collection of Russian avant-garde, and the Mariinsky Theatre, which is one of the greatest ballet companies in the world. When we’re done with the essential dose of culture, we start exploring St Petersburg’s vibrant gastronomic scene. One of my favourite options is Duo Gastrobar, a small place where you should book in advance. The two head chefs (who are also the owners) cook up incredible dishes with simple and readily available local ingredients – try their famous squash spread, catfish with burnt cauliflower cream and prunes with salted caramel for dessert.
For a great view of the city… I’d recommend visiting Bellevue Brasserie at Kempinski Hotel Moika 22. It’s a rooftop restaurant with huge windows, and in summer they open the outdoor terrace. I guarantee that you haven’t seen such beauty anywhere else: the Hermitage from an unusual perspective, plus the golden domes of all the churches and cathedrals in the city as the restaurant has a 360-degree view.
When I’m up for a big night out… my friends and I usually start with some cocktails at Daiquiri (dbar.ru) or Poltory Komnaty (facebook.com/poltory.komnaty), or if we prefer wine, pick one of the trendy wine bars, for example Vinostudia. After that we go to Tanzploshchadka (facebook.com/tancploshadka) for dancing; they bring DJs from all over the world who mostly play house music. (Also, they serve amazing street food – think Alsatian tarte flambée and burgers – so if you don’t want to change locations, you can eat here and stay for a party.) Good old Dumskaya street can be a bit trashy but fun. I used to party there when I was a student and nowadays it’s still very popular with the younger crowd.
You can’t go wrong if you head to… Rubinshteyna ulitsa – Russia’s longest restaurant street. There’s something for everyone here. One of my favourite spots is Vinny Shkaf (alldaywine.ru): the food is out of this world, and the wines even more so. They use only local ingredients and the dishes are very creative. I advise ordering three to four starters you can share with each other, such as herrings on bread with cranberries. This place has a funny slogan: ‘Drink wine and don’t give up!’ and the very knowledgeable staff will help you with the wine list. It’s definitely a necessary pit stop before visiting the Theatre of Europe. I’m a big theatre fan and this is my favourite venue in the city; also, you’ll be pleased to know that their best plays come with English subtitles.
If you like haute cuisine… but dislike the whole white-tablecloth-and-chandelier ritziness, E.M. Restaurant (emrestaurant.ru) is for you. It’s open only for dinner and only a few days per week. There are only a few tables, too, one waiter and two chefs who prepare your food right in front of you in the open kitchen. The menu changes once a month and you can check it out online beforehand.
For cheap eats… go to Marketplace canteen and Obed Bufet cafeteria, both centrally located on Nevsky prospekt. You’ll find everything there – literally! I usually go for wok dishes or soups – the classic Russian borscht is good in both places. Also, you can order takeaway food to enjoy it outside.
For best buys… go to Galeria. It’s the biggest shopping mall in the city. On weekends they usually open a market (check the ground floor) where you can find small local brands – great if you’re looking to buy something special (from souvenirs to clothes). However, it’s very crowded on weekends, so I prefer to go there on weekdays and in the morning. Also check out the small shops at ETAGI – I usually buy design and art books there.
A typical weekend involves... making syrniki for my husband and daughter for breakfast. Syrniki are traditional Russian cottage-cheese pancakes and it’s my favourite Russian food. You can find syrniki in almost every place that offers breakfast. If the weather’s good, we go to one of the city’s parks by bike and have a picnic there. If you’re in the city centre, head to New Holland island – with all sorts of cultural events, this is the latest must-visit for everybody. If you want glamour and desperately need to spend some money, go to Belmond Grand Hotel Europe on Sunday to try their famous Sunday brunch. It’s the best in town, period.
I have a 1.5-year-old daughter... and I’m happy to say that recently the city has become very child-friendly. In almost every cafe or restaurant you’ll find a menu for kids (and I’m talking about real food, not French fries and milkshakes). Also, in every big shopping mall (for example, Galeria) there are special amusement centres and parks where your kids can spend hours.
One thing I hate about St Petersburg... is the traffic. I love my car, but sometimes you should just take the metro. It’s 10 times faster.
When I want to get out of the city… I make sandwiches and hot tea, take a book or an iPod and go to Park Alexandria in Peterhof. It’s always quiet and relaxing there, and this is a perfect place for lying on the grass and looking at the clouds. The weather has to be good, of course. If not, you can always pick one of the imperial palaces to explore – the Catherine Palace in Pushkin or the Grand Palace in Peterhof.
I know I’m a Petersburger because... I always feel proud of the city I live in. A few months ago, I helped an old lady cross the Nevsky prospekt. Yes, I know, that’s such a cliché – but I can’t forget what she told me then: ‘Thank you, dear, you are a real Petersburger’. I’m not sure what this really means, but this was the best compliment I’ve ever heard.
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