There’s no getting around it: even with a weak rouble, St Petersburg is no longer a cheap destination. Hotels and dining can be expensive, as are admission prices to many top-tier sights. However, a visit here needn't break the bank as there are plenty of free or cheap attractions and activities, as well as discounts and ways to make your budget go further.
You can visit the Hermitage for free on the first Thursday of each month. Yelagin Island is free on weekdays. And the following are always free: Nabokov Museum, Alexander Nevsky Monastery, Grand Choral Synagogue, Piskaryovskoe Cemetery, Kazan Cathedral, Sampsonievsky Cathedral, Rizzordi Art Foundation, Geological Museum, Loft Project ETAGI, Red Banner Textile Factory, Nikolsky Cathedral, Mendeleev Museum, Buddhist Temple and Sigmund Freud Museum of Dreams.
As well as these excellent museums and sights, there’s a wealth of gorgeous parks that make great picnic spots. In central St Petersburg try the charming Mikhailovsky Gardens and Summer Garden; the wide open spaces of the Mars Field; the overgrown beauty of the gardens at the Alexander Nevsky Monastery; the spacious and pleasant Tauride Palace & Gardens in Smolny; and the brand new park on New Holland – all free and perfect on a sunny day.
Another great-value thing to do is to take yourself on a tour of the city's most impressive metro stations, which will only set you back R45 – or R35 if you have invested in a stored-value metro card!
If you’re a student, get an ISIC card before you travel, as most places won’t accept any other form of student card as evidence of your status. If you want to see a lot of the Hermitage, it’s well worth booking the two-day ticket online, which is great value and allows you to visit the museum’s other, lesser-known buildings at no extra charge. The same goes for the ticket to the Russian Museum, which allows access to all its four venues over three days. Senior citizens and children also sometimes get free entry, but will need to bring some proof of age with them, such as a passport.
- Try to get the Russian price at museums wherever possible – if you have a local friend, go along with them and keep quiet at the ticket office.
- If you plan to use the metro a lot, buy a magnetic card (R60) and buy trips in bulk to save money.
- Eat set business lunches (biznes lanch) in restaurants, which are great value and very filling. Many other places offer a discount of around 20% on all bills for meals between noon and 4pm Monday to Friday.
- Book in good time for the theatre, opera and ballet to get the best choice of seats and to not be limited to the most expensive.