Five things to do in St Petersburg during the World Cup in Russia, or any time
Soccer fans descending on Russia’s second city for the Fifa World Cup are spoiled for choice when it comes to diversions away from the matches – but you don’t need the excuse of a sports tournament to pay a visit
Are you heading to Russia to watch your team in the World Cup this summer? If you’re going to be in St Petersburg – base for England, Costa Rica, Saudi Arabia and South Korea and host city for a semi-final and third place play-off – you’re in luck. Russia’s second city offers plenty for the visitor to explore beyond the St Petersburg Stadium.
1. Impressive churches
One thing St. Petersburg is not short of is churches. There’s the Church of the Saviour on the Spilled Blood just off Nevsky Prospekt, with its opulent mushroom minarets and intricate interior mosaic frescoes, while over near Palace Square, St Isaac’s Cathedral affords visitors to its upper-level colonnade a 360- degree view across the rooftops of the city.
The largest Russian Orthodox place of worship in the city, with soaring ceilings and lavish golden interiors, it is well worth a visit.
2. Wish for a win at Chizhik-Pyzhik
Perched on a stone embankment just above the Fontanka River, Chizhik-Pyzhik is a tiny statue of a bird that is said to bring good fortune if you manage to land a coin on its ledge.
Designed by Georgian screenwriter and director Revaz Gabriadze, it is one of the smallest statues in Saint Petersburg at just 11 centimetres tall. It is so tiny, in fact, that finding it is part of the fun, so keep your eyes peeled and make sure you have plenty of coins in your pocket while you perfect your aim.
If you get one of them to stay on the ledge, your wish for victory might just come true.
3. Snap a period selfie
Local performers dressed in period costume can often be seen milling about outside most of the city’s most tourist hotspots, and provide some irresistible photo ops. Snap a selfie with Peter the Great or Anna Pavlova in front of the State Hermitage Museum (hermitagemuseum.org) or pose with Pushkin outside the State Russian Museum (rusmuseum.ru).
The museums themselves, especially the Hermitage with its world-class art collections, are worth a visit too.
4. Shop up a storm on Nevsky Prospekt
With its miles of department stores and souvenir shops, the main thoroughfare in St Petersburg is the ideal place to stock up on everything you need to cheer on your side. Team jerseys, scarves, flags (no vuvuzelas this year, please) are among the World Cup-related articles to look for.
Otherwise, go traditional and grab a few faux Fabergé eggs and a stack of Russian dolls for the mantelpiece, or pick up that copy of War and Peace you have always been meaning to read at one of the numerous bookstores dotted all over the city.
Podpisnie (podpisnie.ru) on Liteyniy Prospekt has a great little cafe inside where you can peruse your literary purchases while watching the world go by outside.
5. Celebrate – or drown your sorrows – with a shot of vodka
No trip to Russia is complete without sampling some of their its famous export: vodka. There are countless bars and restaurants dedicated to the national drink all over St Petersburg.
To really push the boat out, head to the Caviar Bar at the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe (belmond.com) to sample the finest tipple paired with a caviar tasting set. For something more low-key, check out any of the more local bars, such as Sibirskaya Korona on the corner of Nevsky Prospekt and Fontanka Embankment, for live music and speciality snacks such as cured meats and smoked herring with fried garlic bread to go with your tipple.
Getting there: Emirates flies offer daily flights from Hong Kong to St Petersburg via Dubai, with journey times of around 18 hours including transit time.
Staying there: for a cosy base right in the heart of the city, check out the excellent-value A Boutique Hotel (a-boutique-hotel.hotelsinsaintpetersburg.net), or the swanky Petro Palace Hotel (petropalacehotel.com) just a few steps from Palace Square and St Isaac’s Cathedral.