Accommodation in St Petersburg doesn’t come cheap, and it pays to book well in advance as places fill up during the White Nights and throughout the summer. The hospitality industry has improved enormously in the past decade, however, with Soviet hotels now largely a thing of the past, replaced instead by a range of brightly decorated hostels, mini-hotels and luxury options.
There has been a revolution in hotel accommodation in St Petersburg and a large expansion of modern, professionally run establishments. Old Soviet fleapits have been reconstructed as contemporary and appealing hotels, some of the city centre’s most desperately derelict buildings have been rebuilt as boutique or luxury properties and the overall standards of service have risen enormously. That said, most hotels are still fairly expensive, with a lack of good midrange places in the city centre. Though they do exist, they tend to get booked up well in advance (particularly during the summer months), so plan ahead if you want to stay in the Historic Heart.
Mini-hotels are a St Petersburg phenomenon. While most aspiring hoteliers are not able to pay for the renovation and conversion of entire buildings themselves, lots of small-time entrepreneurs have been able to buy an apartment or two and create a small hotel in otherwise normal residential buildings. Due to their individuality and the care that often goes into their running, mini-hotels are some of the best places to stay in the city. They also tend to be well located in the centre of the city where demand for rooms is highest. On the downside, they are by their very nature rather small places, so rooms book up quickly.
Once a city with just a handful of very average, far-flung and depressing hostels, St Petersburg now positively spoils budget travellers with a wide range of places to sleep for well under R1000 a night. Central, well run, safe, clean and with free wi-fi, this new generation of hostels is sure to be embraced by anyone coming to Russia for the first time on a budget. Hostels here tend to be run by enthusiastic staff who themselves have travelled widely and are passionate about sharing their knowledge of their home town with travellers. Book ahead to ensure you get a place at the hostel you want.
As hotels for individual travellers tend to be fairly expensive, even in midrange categories, renting an apartment is a great option and St Petersburg is full of large flats that are regularly rented out to tourists. Security is generally very good, with multiple locks on doors, entry phones and well-lit corridors. Many local travel agencies offer apartments, and the city's profile on the usual home-sharing websites is well established.
Sleep like a Tsar
If you’ve always wanted to sleep in a tsarist palace, here is your chance. Peter the Great built his summer palace at Strelna, a town about 24km from St Petersburg, and now it is Putin’s presidential palace, used for international meetings and state visits. Putin houses his guests on the grounds at the Baltic Star Hotel. If it’s not otherwise occupied, you could stay here, too. Besides the 100 well-appointed rooms in the main hotel, there are 18 VIP cottages on the shore of the Gulf of Finland, each equipped with a private dining room, study, sauna, swimming pool and, of course, staff quarters for your entourage.
Need to Know
- It is essential to reserve at least a month in advance for accommodation during the White Nights (late May to early July).
- Booking online via a hotel's website is usually the cheapest method, as there are few accommodation websites worth bothering with, and most hotels post their best rates online.
Tipping hotel staff and porters will only be expected in the very top hotels in St Petersburg, although it will always be appreciated for good service.
Breakfast is nearly always a buffet (shvetsky stol), and except in four- and five-star hotels, will usually be fairly unexciting, with limited choices.