Opera and Ballet
No trip to St. Petersburg is complete without seeing an opera or ballet performance. The Mariinsky is perhaps the most well-known institution, but it is by no means the only theater in the city. Tickets are sold throughout the city at kiosks and shops called Teatralnaya Kassa, which charge a nominal fee for "insurance," which is theoretically optional. The theater box offices themselves sell tickets directly, too, and usually for the same price. Sometimes blocks of tickets sell out at the kiosks but tickets are still available at the theater or vice versa, so it is worth checking both places if you have your heart set on a particular performance. It is possible to take not-so-small children into some performances if you take a private box, although you will need to ask when you buy your tickets.
Do not buy your tickets "online". "Online" prices are 10x higher than the actual price and are geared for foreigners who don't know Russian.
- Mariinsky Theater, Theater Square 1, 326 41 41. The Mariinsky Theater (formerly the Kirov, which is the name the troupe still uses when touring abroad) is world-class for both opera and ballet. There are English supertitles for operas sung in Russian; operas in other languages have Russian supertitles. Performances are offered in two halls: the main theater, and the newly-built Mariinsky Concert Hall. Tickets can be purchased on the theater's website.
- Mikhailovskiy Theater, Ploshad Isskustv 1 (Between the Russian Museum and the Grand Hotel Europe), 595 43 05. The exterior is not as recognizable as the Mariinsky, but the interior is nearly as grand, and the theater hosts both Russian and foreign headliners in opera and ballet.
- St. Petersburg Opera, Galernaya Ul. 33 (West of the Bronze Horseman), (812) 312 3982 (firstname.lastname@example.org). An intimate theater (half-sized stage, and only about 150-200 audience seats) which puts on the major repertory operas at a lower price than the major theaters and has a fascinating foyer - one has to see it to believe it.
- Conservatory Theater, Theater Square 3 (Across the street from the Mariinsky Theater). While the hall itself is not lavish - quite sterile, really - a good option for seeing Russian and repertory operas cheaply, performed by faculty and students of the conservatory where Tchaikovsky (and many other famous figures from the Russian music world) studied.
- Theater on Vasilyevsky Island, Sredny prospect 48, +7 812 323 02 84. If it were in New York City, it would rather be an 'off-Broadway' theater. But being in St. Petersburg it's a big but cozy theater on a big but cozy island. They stage Russian and foreign drama, e.g. The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Without a Dowry by Alexander Ostrovsky, Uncle Vanya by Anton Chekhov. They neither turn plays into 'performances for schoolchildren' nor into manifestations of underground art. They don't change dramatists' texts but choose the angles to show that a 150-year-old play isn't just a 'piece of art from the gorgeous past' and is still reflecting human life.
- Youth Theater, Pionerskaya ploschad 1, +7 812 712 41 02. Don't take the theater's name literally! They do stage Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs by Brothers Grimm, The Moomins by Tove Jansson, The Emerald City by L. Frank Baum and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. But the theater isn't for children and teenagers only. Here you can see Plays by Samuel Beckett, King Lear by William Shakespeare, Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury, Poor Folk by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, A Profitable Position by Alexander Ostrovsky and Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. Leave your age outside the theater but remember to take your heart and mind with!
- Theater of St. Petersburg State Theater Arts Academy, Mokhovaya 35, +7 812 273 04 32. The theater inherits the building from Tenishev School where Vladimir Nabokov studied. It obliges it to... Frankly speaking, it obliges the theater to nothing but does create a specific atmosphere. It's a theater and a school simultaneously. The auditorium is a deep wooden amphitheater with long and armless benches. The directors' talent is to combine this antique interior with fresh stage ideas. The actors are the students who are finishing the academy. As a part of their finals, they make a performance. They stage Odyssey, Don Juan, Romeo and Juliet, A Street Car Named Desire and many other plays. The repertoire changes every year. The actors often regard the house as a part of the stage. Don't be shocked when somebody suddenly jumps from nowhere to the bench next to you. Here you have a unique chance to see the actors who have learned everything to perform well but aren't influenced by any theater with its intrigues and other paraphernalia yet. It's the theater where actors not only can show their best. They have to do it. Otherwise, they will flunk their final exams.
The music scene in St. Petersburg is diverse, with several classical, jazz, and pop concerts to choose from each week. Tickets are available at the same Teatralnaya Kassa locations as ballet and opera tickets, although tickets to pop concerts - especially the US and European stars on tour - sometimes use exclusive distributors. For pop and rock concerts, unless you buy tickets for the dance floor (tanzpol), you are expected to sit quietly in your seat as if you were at a ballet - ushers are vigilant about keeping the audience from standing up, dancing, or cheering (polite applause is allowed, but that's about all).
- Several of the ballet and opera theaters above also offer orchestral and recital performances, so those are not repeated below. Also, don't forget the many small clubs where up and coming bands play.
- St. Petersburg Philharmonic Grand Hall, Mikhailovskaya Ul. 2 (Entrance across from the Grand Hotel Europe). A world-class orchestra which records and tours abroad. The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals.
- St. Petersburg Philharmonic Small Hall, Nevsky Prospekt 30 (Next to the Metro station on Nevsky Prospekt). The Small Hall (Maliy Saal) of the Philharmonic hosts excellent chamber music performances and recitals.
- Jazz Philharmonic Hall, Zagorodny Pr. 27 (South of Nevsky Prospekt, use Vladimirskaya Metro Station). Offers a variety of jazz performances several times per week.
- Ice Palace (Ledoviy Dvorets), (At Prospekt Bolshevikov Metro Station). One of several sports arenas that also serves as a concert hall for pop and rock concerts.
- Oktyabrskiy Concert Hall, Ligovskiy Prospekt 6 (Near Ploshad Vosstaniya). Pop and rock concerts in an auditorium close to the city center.
Most cinemas in St. Petersburg show Hollywood films dubbed in Russian. Art cinemas like Dom Kino often show independent American or British movies subtitled in Russian. DVDs of American/European films are also often dubbed. There have been crackdowns on sellers of bootleg DVDs so it may be difficult or expensive to find DVDs in English these days. There are several DVD stores in the city - often near Metro stations - and it is worth asking about films in English.
Annual Message to Man international documentary, short, and animated films festival takes place in June or July, screening many films in English.
Modern cultural centers
- Dom Kino, 12 Karavannaya Ulitsa (Near Gostiniy Dvor Metro Station), 314 56 14. Sometimes shows films in their original language.
- Avrora Cinema, Nevksy Prospekt 60.
St Petersburg is considered to be a cultural capital of Russia not only because of Hermitage but also because it attracts people working in creative industries.
There many young artists, musicians, designers, etc. This kind of people has their own places, so-called "creative spaces" (креативные пространства in Russian). It's interesting to see young designers and programmers working or tourists sleeping in ex-palaces on the river bank.
Rooftops of St Petersburg
- Loft project Etagi (Этажи), Ligovsky prospekt, 74. The oldest and biggest cultural center. Cafe, hostel, designer shops, book store, etc.
- Taiga (Тайга), Dvortsovaya naberezhnaya, 20. Cultural center on the river bank. Good view over Petropavlovskaya fortress. Designer shops, offices, hostel, bar, ping pong, etc.
- Fligel (Флигель), ulitsa Vosstaniya, 40. Recently opened cultural center. Bars, cafes, hostel, shops, etc.
- Creative spaces tour, ploschad Vosstaniya. Tour over cultural centers listed above run by Olga Polyakova, a local activist in the creative industries.
St Petersburg is a beautiful city. But there is no observation platform like in Paris or London. Because of the constructions law that forbids building skyscrapers in the historical center. So there are few options where you can get a great view.
- St Isaac's Cathedral, Isaakievskaya ploschad. The highest church in St Peterburg has so-called Colonnaded Walkway at 43 meters height.
- Rooftop tour, Nevsky Prospekt. There are many young people in St P, who call themselves roofers. The roofer guide offers a rooftop tour right on Nevsky prospekt. This one is safe and legal. And it has very unique location.
- Rooftop restaurants. Moskva, Makaronniki, Mansarda, Terrassa and some others. There are usually very expensive.
A tour of the canals by boat is a great way to see the city in the summer. The typical tour is through the Moika, out to the Neva to see the Peter and Paul Fortress and the Cruiser Aurora, then in through the Fontanka (sometimes as far as the Mariinsky Theater). Tours start at many points along the route and return to their starting point - hawkers for different boat companies abound - and the boats may or may not have a cafe and toilet on board. Almost all tours are in Russian.
Walking around with locals
- Anglotourismo Boat Tours, Fontanka Embankment 21, +7 921 989 47 22. Canal boat tours in English, departing from near the Anichkov Bridge (Nevsky Prospekt and Fontanka) in season (May 2 - Sept 30).
- You can also walk along the canals and admire the numerous bridges, some of them very interesting (like the Bank Bridge).
The alternative way to explore St Petersburg is to know it from inside, walking and talking with locals and trying local activities. Those people who have lived here for years would like to tell you plenty of stories, open some secret places (as roofs or courtyards, etc.) and treat you as a friend.
- Sputnik (Tours by locals), +7 (950) 028 0370 (email@example.com). Tours by locals for 1 to 10 people. Some tours are free and others are cheap. Many of them are unique like Russian cooking classes, rooftop, flea market, Uzbek food tours, art galleries, lofts, etc.
- Petersburg Voyage (Tours by locals), +7 (967) 513 26 80 (firstname.lastname@example.org). Daily Tours in English in small groups. A good way to find out about St. Petersburg more!
- Discover Walks St Petersburg, Sytninskaya st. Saint Petersburg 197101, (email@example.com). Meet actual Native of St Petersburg in addition to exploring major landmarks. Join a walk with locals who will "decode" the city with you, and also learn from an insider about local events and festivals, about where to shop, good places to eat or drink, secret places locals keep to themselves. Several tours to join every day.