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St Petersburg tourism and Mariinsky tips

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I would like to plan a trip to St Petersburg next year in May time and need some recommendations.

 

Other than a trip to the Hermitage, Winter Palace, Theatre museum, Faberge museum and of course the Mariinsky, is there anything else which I shouldn’t miss? 

 

Any hotel recommendations?

 

Is the city walkable or is it the sort of place to hop in and out of taxis?

 

When would the 2020 season be announced/bookable as I would probably plan my timing around that.

 

Thanks!

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If the weather is good when you are there, do try to get out of town to see the Catherine Palace and Peterhof.

 

When the Mariinsky's new season's subscriptions are announced, that will give you a partial schedule for the month, but the complete schedule is unlikely to be released until about 2 months prior.  I suggest that you also take a look at the Mikhailovsky's schedule when making your plans.

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Posted (edited)

Another vote here for Peterhof - and the best way to get there is by hydrofoil, which is fun!

 

Of the churches, the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and St Isaac's Cathedral (which is still technically a museum IIRC) are the most impressive IMO - their relative modernity (both are 19th century) is reflected in the light and open interiors, which contrast strongly with e.g. St Basil's in Moscow.

 

And yes, the centre is eminently walkable :)

Edited by Lizbie1
Typo
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Thanks both! Looking at prices for both theatres- they seem a lot more expensive than the ROH.... Any seating tips also greatly received!

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I agree with the above suggestions, especially Peterhof. Allow plenty of time to wander in the gardens after seeing the palace.

At the Mariinsky you can get a cast list (similar to that at the ROH) in English for the equivalent of about 50p. I didn't have to ask - the usher offered to get one for me and delivered it to me at my seat about 5 minutes later.

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Catherine Palace is lovely, and so is Peterhof, though I would only go to Peterhof is the weather is nice as the fountains are glorious in the sunshine. Didn't look inside Peterhof actually, but the grounds are worth a visit. Catherine Palace is a must see but be warned if you go without a tour the queues can be long so plan to get there early.

 

I don't know if I would say the city is walkable - generally the main sights are quite close but it depends where you're staying. You have to walk a lot of the time anyway as unlike central London each metro stop can be a 10-15 minute walk away anyway (rather than 5 in London).

 

Generally I found the city to be incredibly touristy (and this is compared to Florence/Rome etc). By this I mean that whilst a lot of other European cities have a good mix of independent travellers and tour groups, I found St Petersburg to be primarily tour groups with little independent travellers. This made things like the museums/palaces a bit of a pain, as huge tour groups would get priority and queue jump and the sites didn't really seem that helpful for independent travellers (e.g. getting to Catherine Palace independently on a local bus is doable but the bus has no clear stops announced so you need to be paying attention and when it looks busy indicate you want to go to Catherine Palace to the locals around you and they'll tell you to get off). This meant in my experience, in other cities where I could do a few sites in one day, with St Petersburg I found it was best to focus on one main priority sight I wanted to see that day, and then have a list of additional things which I would do if I had time but it depended entirely upon queues and how busy the priority sight was. 

 

In short - it's a beautiful city but don't expect to do too much otherwise you may exhaust yourself - pick one 'must see' each day and then plan around that. And depending on finances you may want to join a few group tours if time is precious, as this will enable you to queue jump in certain venues as well as arrange transportation for Catherine Palace/Peterhof. Enjoy! 

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Great topic to post!

 

Any tips for taking a class as an english/french but non-russian speaking ballet class taker?

 

(In Paris, you never take a ‘ballet class’, you take a ‘danse classique’ class.  What is the equivalent in Russian (in roman not cyrillic alphabets) does anybody know?)

 

#Balletourism

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Posted (edited)

All of these suggestions are great...here are some others:

 

When I visited St. Petersburg with Mr. Drew we really enjoyed taking a boat ride in the canals -- it gives a wonderful perspective on the city's architecture. There are a lot of tour boats but ones in English are much less frequent, so as it was our last full day, we actually just jumped into a small sized boat we saw about to start a tour where the commentary (taped) was in Russian. We didn't understand anything that was said, but everyone was very nice (and as we got on the boat rushed to give us a blanket and also rather sweetly pantomimed--mixed with the one or two words of English they knew--to warn us to be careful when the boat approaches lower bridges) and we just loved seeing the city from that perspective. It also got us to parts of the city we would not otherwise have seen. And of course if you plan it properly you will be able to take a boat ride where the commentary is in English. (There are also boat rides that go on the Neva which we did not have time to do.)

 

I think the Peter and Paul fortress is also very much worth a visit--there is the Cathedral on the one hand which is where the Russian Tsars are buried (now including remains of NIcholas II and family) but also a prison where many political prisoners were held. It makes for a very dramatic contrast.

 

Maybe not for everyone, but if you enjoy visual arts and want to look at paintings beyond the madhouse crowds of the Hermitage, there is the the State Russian Museum which is on another stunningly beautiful square--where the Mikhailovsky Theater is located as well. It's a Russian Art museum that begins with icons and medieval works and takes one through more or less contemporary works.

 

As ballet fans, we also made a point of going by Rossi Street where the Vaganova Academy is located--this is not near the Mariinsky Theater though which is a little away from most of the "major" tourist sites. Rossi street has striking neo-classical architecture and backs up into the Alexandrinsky Theater and the whole architectural perspective created seemed to us well worth seeing for its own sake even if one didn't care about the Vaganova Academy.

 

As far as walkability goes--the nearer you are to the Mariinsky the further you are from a lot of the other major sites. Around St. Isaac's Cathedral is possibly a good in-between location, but I'm a little uncomfortable advising on this issue, because everyone has different thresholds when it comes to walking--I'm pretty limited--and different needs when it comes to hotels. We had one guide who was surprised we didn't stay in a more central location, but we prioritized being nearer to the Mariinsky. However, if you are jumping in and out of taxis in St. Petersburg there is a chance you will be taken for a ride in more than one sense of the word. So that's one tiny negative. I would say perhaps, wherever you stay, try to restrict taxis to when you absolutely need them. 

 

I think you can guess that though I only visited the one time, I LOVED St. Petersburg. I hope you have a wonderful trip.

 

 

Edited by DrewCo
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Posted (edited)

Pushkin's house is very interesting, and it's very near to the Hermitage on the Moyka canal  - it's the place where he died after the duel.

http://www.museumpushkin.ru/eng

Also the cafe he left from to go to the duel is fun to eat in - it's very atmospheric, and near to his house.

Literary Cafe Nevsky avenue, 18, Sankt-Peterburg

With regard to taxis, there's a fixed price for anywhere in the city, and if you only use taxis that are linked to the hotel or a restaurant then they're fine. They're actually very cheap because of this fixed rate, but we never hopped in and out of ones we didn't know - we arranged with the taxi from the hotel to take us and pick us up when we were going to the theatre in the evening. That seems to be what most people do. During the day the city is very walkable, though you have to go on the metro at least once - it's quite something!

We found that it was worth paying more for good seats in the old theatres, but not in the stalls as there's no rake.  We paid more than we would at the ROH. We always went for the front row of the dress circle, as the seats in the second row are not so good and the view tends to be  a bit restricted.  In the new Mariinsky 2  all the sightlines are good. Avoid any performances in places like the Hermitage Theatre - they're for tourists and although OK they're not the same as going to the Mariinsky or Mikhailovsky.

We loved it and have been back 3 times now. We chose to go in the winter (Jan and Feb) when there were very few tourists - in May it will be getting busy as the cruise ships may have started to arrive (see JNC's comment).  When we were there the Hermitage was very quiet and we were able to wander round and see whatever we wanted without any queues.  In May it might be necessary to plan your time there more carefully. We never felt that it was overly touristy, although there was some snow and the canals were frozen!

Edited by J_New
adding information about season
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Also meant to say that they don't normally post the season very early - just a couple of months ahead in my experience, which does make planning difficult. We went on our own, not with a group, and just swung into action once the programme was announced. if you are travelling independently you have to fix up the hotel before you can apply for a visa.

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Ah - I wonder whether that has anything to do with the Mariinsky not having bought into the "live broadcast" fever?

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Posted (edited)

Not sure, Alison - it seems to have always been like that. But another thing I just thought of with tickets is to book them on the actual theatre sites, not any other. There are lots of  sites like Ticketmaster that you might think are the right place to buy tickets, but actually you can't choose where you sit and they're marked up (a lot!). The official theatre sites are very easy to use,  just like the ROH, and you can choose where you sit - but if you google 'ballet tickets' they aren't the first sites that come up - you have to look for them. 

 

Sorry - I'm getting carried away with my postings, but we've just enjoyed our visits there so much!!

Edited by J_New
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J_New, it’s a long time since I was in Russia: do you know if they still have dual pricing for Mariinsky tickets, with locals paying less? If so, that’s something to watch out for and another reason to buy direct from the Mariinsky - you don’t want to pick up a ticket from a 3rd party which you aren’t entitled to use.

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That I’m not sure, but if there is double pricing  we can’t avoid paying the foreigner rate. I haven’t tried to buy a ticket from anywhere other than the theatre, and had no trouble doing that online. We also bought tickets at Mariinsky 2 just by walking in - a spontaneous purchase to see Xander. But you are right to warn about getting tickets from touts or 3rd parties - I think in Russia it’s best to do things by the book.

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7 minutes ago, Lizbie1 said:

J_New, it’s a long time since I was in Russia: do you know if they still have dual pricing for Mariinsky tickets, with locals paying less? If so, that’s something to watch out for and another reason to buy direct from the Mariinsky - you don’t want to pick up a ticket from a 3rd party which you aren’t entitled to use.

 

They do still have dual pricing with locals paying a discounted price.

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If you want to be in a hotel near to the Mariinsky side then there is the Rossi Hotel just at the end of the road where the Vaganova school is but may be a bit pricey as its just off the Nevsky Prospekt. 

I stayed in the St Petersburg Hotel not the most central but not far from a metro station and a really fab view over the Neva and part of the city.

i think it depends how long you are there as to how much to see I loved it but did find it exhausting getting around some days but then we were having to dash around from one end to the other on some days! 

Definitely don't miss the Mikhailosky I really loved that theatre and the Company there.....you can buy tickets easily from these kiosk places....we bought some tickets from UK and some when there in the end. 

I was there in November and it snowed every day....so got the full on Russian experience!!

I would love to go back again in the White Nights time which is in May/ June.

 

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I highly recommend the Alexander House hotel.  Very comfortable rooms, fabulous food, wonderful staff who all speak English, right on a canal at the end of which are the Maryinstky theatres, so only a 10-15 minute walk.  Not too far from there into the centre (but as someone said, it depends on how well you walk).  When I went, it was early February and there was snow on the ground, but it was still fine to walk everywhere just in normal boots.  It is a beautiful city and as with most places the best thing is to walk around, and you do come across all kinds of places/things.  I walked across the frozen Neva river and it was somehow an incredibly emotional experience.  I would go back like a shot.  I was there for three nights and saw the Maryinsky each night, but I don't suppose I will ever be that lucky and privileged again!

 

Here's a link to the hotel:

 

https://www.a-house.ru/

 

Something to bear in mind:  quite a few places were closed on a Wednesday, so make sure you look things up before you go.  Of course, it might be different in the summer time.  Another thing to bear in mind:  my friend has just had to stump up £250 for an entry visa.  When I went four years ago, it was £70!!

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Posted (edited)

Wow Sim that visa  cost is extraordinary! 

We were there in November 2016 and I think the visa cost about £80 then!

Is your friends visa just an ordinary tourist visa?

Edited by LinMM

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I've just been listening to one of my old Bolshoi recordings, which prompts me to say: if you don't mind opera and if the Mariinsky is doing either Eugene Onegin or Queen of Spades and there's no interesting ballet on that evening - GO! No-one does the big two Tchaikovskys like the Bolshoi and the Mariinsky - there's over a century of knowledge and love of them in every phrase coming out of the pit. Even when the playing or singing is on the ropey side, I'll forgive them anything for the phrasing: I miss it dreadfully.

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I guess that's for two people, Sim ...??? The visa is about 125 for one person, I think - plus a little for expenses ... :) 

 

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The current cost of a tourist visa - single visit - is £140: you have to allow 20 working days. If you want a visa more quickly I think it costs £180.

The application form is labyrinthine, with some obscure questions, and time-consuming to complete - "are your parents alive; if not when did they die" .- etc. But you recover quickly - ! - and the administrative ordeal is forgotten by the time  you arrive in St Petersburg!

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For the visa application you also have to come to London to give fingerprints. Mine cost around £120 two summers ago, although this was through an agency so slightly more expensive.  

 

As I was travelling independently and in hostels rather than hotels, I got my visa via Real Russia travel agency (I also booked my trans siberian train tickets with them). Obviously you pay a little more (but actually it was fairly reasonable I thought for the service they offered), and still have to fill out a lot of paperwork but it does take a lot of the pressure off, so depending on how convenient it is for you to get to London and how much of a risk you want to take booking hotels in advance for the visa paperwork I would recommend them. (Of course what a lot of people do is book hotels and then cancel them later but I didn't really want to do this). 

 

If you're staying longer than a week (I think it's a week but double check this) you also need to ensure you get registered with the local police - a lot of nice hotels will do this for you but hostels/airbnbs won't. I have to say I was never asked for this paperwork either in Russia or when leaving Russia but I didn't want to fall foul of Russian bureaucracy. 

 

One way to circumvent the visa is by coming via an organised cruise (from Helsinki etc) and staying less than 48/72 hours but I spent four days in St Petersburg and the city and sights are definitely worth at least this, if not more if you want to do day trips to the palaces so I highly recommend a longer stay if you can afford it! 

 

St Petersburg is beautiful and well worth it though! 

 

 

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Thanks so much for all of this really useful info- I am getting really excited about planning a trip and hope I can manage to wait until this time next year!

 

Visa info really useful (if perhaps a bit daunting) and thanks for hotel info too.

 

 

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Yes I assume the visa cost I quoted above is for two people.  The cost adds a bit of a whack to the total cost of the trip, but as others have said the hassle and the cost are worth it to see that beautiful city!

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Yes applying for the visa for the first time was a bit of a nightmare as some of the info they wanted was no longer available( address and phone number of the College I went to forty years about!!) and then all the holiday destinations and dates from the previous ten years .....I had to be a tad creative with these as couldn't remember exact dates and in one instance which particular year we went to Turkey etc!! Anyway they obviously didn't check these with too much fastidiousness as I got the visa! 

You can ring them up for help with the application but the phone rate is at a premium rate so have exact questions you  need to ask at the ready! 

Im still sure the cost of the visa ( it was only a week) was between £80 and£90 back in 2016 but we were a group going as part of a big Dance Convention ( still under tourist though) don't know whether that made any difference. We had to be members of CID. 

 

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Well - when I went there on a working visa I had to get tested for HIV!

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2 minutes ago, Lizbie1 said:

Well - when I went there on a working visa I had to get tested for HIV!

 

Wow!

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Posted (edited)

Well Lizbie they obviously thought you wouldn't be able to resist the charms of the Russian men while working there!! 🤔🙃😉

Edited by LinMM
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I believe there is now a Faberge Museum  - the items therein are what were bought from Forbes - I saw Forbes in NYC and it was fabulous so if you like the Russian Imperial Easter Eggs go see!!!  When I went we took an escorted tour for safety reasons as I don't speak Russian.  Our very efficient guide took us to Hermitage/Winter Palace, Peter Paul Fortress, Admiralty, Yusopov Palace (Rasputin), Catherine Palace (Amber Room!!), Alexander Palace, Pavlovsk, the Peterhof was done en route back to the airport so we got no time to fully explore the gardens plus it was early April and they were only just removing the winter covers off the statues and fountains.  It is a huge city with HUGE buildings so hone in on what you really like - the Winter Palace was fab but I didn't get much out of the bits of the Hermitage we saw as the art works were not to my taste for eg.   Hotels might have special access too the one we stayed at offered guests access to the Golden rooms at the Hermitage for a fee.

At the Mariinsky OLD theatre don't get stalls tickets they're awful  as no rake whatsoever and I could not see Giselle as had huge man in front, so get a seat on one of the tiers.  We also went to Valery Gergiev's restaurant - just for a dessert - it was lovely the curtain ties were made of pointe shoe ribbon with pointe shoes on the end!  An interesting quirk was they weighed the ice cream at the Mariinsky on an old fashioned set of grocers scales when I went LOL!!  Definitely try the local blinis with caviar! Enjoy!

 

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I second Sim's recommendation for Alexander House. The restaurant there will stay open until very late so you can eat after the ballet and the food is excellent.

 

I suggest for taxis that you download Yandex app, it  is like Uber and we found it cheap and very reliable. 

 

The Mikhailovsky is a jewel box of a theatre with a lovely cafe serving delicious cakes, I highly recommend the chocolate eclairs. In Sarafanov and Lebedev they have 2 of the best male dancers in Russia so it would be an extra treat to see them. The tickets are considerably cheaper than those at the Mariinsky.

 

Finally, with regard to the obtaining of visas it really is worth checking the visa processing centre website for holiday closures so you can save yourself a wasted trip for example when they shut May 1st to 5th for Russian holidays :)  

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