St Petersburg offers a reasonable range of activities including kayaking, cycling, cooking courses and relaxing in a banya (hot bath). There are winter sports such as ice-skating and skiing as well as spectator sports including ice-hockey and soccer: the local team FC Zenit St Petersburg plays at Krestovsky Stadium, which hosted the 2018 World Cup.
If you’re looking for a uniquely Russian experience, then head to the nearest banya (steam bath) of which St Petersburg has several, both standard and luxury. Enter the parilka (steam room) stark naked and sit back and watch the mercury rise. To eliminate toxins and improve circulation, bathers beat each other (never too hard!) with a bundle of birch branches, known as veniki. It's actually an extremely pleasant sensation. When you can’t take the heat, retreat. A public banya allows access to a plunge pool, usually filled with ice-cold water. The contrast in temperature is invigorating, energising and purifying.
The city's most popular spectator sport is soccer; local team FC Zenit St Petersburg have regularly been champions of the Russian Premier League and winners of both the UEFA Cup and UEFA Super Cup in the past. The team plays at the new 21,500 capacity Krestovsky Stadium, used as one of the venues for the 2018 World Cup as well as other international games. Ice hockey is another crowd pleaser; SKA (www.ska.ru), the premier club, celebrated their 70th anniversary in 2016 and play at the Ice Palace.
As the seasons change so do the types of outdoor activities that are on offer. Winter sees Yelagin Island morph into a top location for ice-skating and cross-country skiing. The same location and Krestovsky Island are both good spots to hire bicycles or go in-line skating. For downhill skiing (nothing too challenging as the terrain is fairly flat) there are small ski resorts in a radius of 10km to 20km around the city, including Ohta Park (www.ohtapark.ru), Krasnoe Ozero and Tuutari Park.
Warmer weather brings the opportunity for kayaking around the city's canals and rivers. Contact Wild Russia to go further afield to Lake Ladoga for yachting and kayaking, as well as off-road biking, parachuting, quad biking and rock climbing outside the city. You can also charter yachts and motorboats via the agency Solnechny Parus.
Or you could hit the beach – there's a city-centre one facing the Neva beside the walls of the Peter & Paul Fortress (this is where people famously sunbathe standing up against the stone walls), or head out of town to lovely Beach Laskovy at Repino.
Need to Know
Tickets for most major sporting events can be bought online from either the venue or ticketing agencies such as www.bileter.ru and https://spb.kassir.ru.
- Bani are normally segregated by gender, unless you group-book a private one.
- Apart from a sheet to wrap around you and dry off, you'll be naked in the banya.
- Food and drink is usually available, but you can also bring your own – drink plenty of water to keep hydrated.